Cherokee Pointe, Tennessee, has seen murder before, but nothing like what has claimed the life of Jamie Upton, heir to the Upton fortune. The crime is so vicious, so personal and filled with hatred, the authorities are certain it had to be someone he knew...someone hiding an unimaginable sadistic streak behind a friendly faeade.
Be Careful Who You Trust...
The number one suspect is Jamie's former lover Jazzy Talbot. The girl from the wrong side of the tracks has always been Cherokee Point's favorite target for gossip and worse. Jazzy knows she didn't kill Jamie...just as she knows she's being watched, stalked like prey...
Be Careful What You Know...
And then the killer strikes again...and again...with the same chilling signature. With no one to believe her innocence except enigmatic drifter Caleb McCord, Jazzy plunges into a small town's long-buried secrets and shocking family sins...each startling truth bringing her dangerously close to a killer determined to make Jazzy the last to die...
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December 31, 2003
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Excerpt from The Last To Die by Beverly Barton
He pounded on her door and shouted her name. Go away, she wanted to scream. Leave me the hell alone. But she knew he wouldn't go. Not unless someone came and dragged him away.
Maybe she should call Jacob and tell him that Jamie was harassing her again. As the county sheriff, he could hold Jamie in jail overnight. Or she could phone Caleb and ask for his help in getting rid of an unwanted mid- night visitor. Caleb had gotten plenty of practice lately as the bouncer at Jazzy's Joint. He'd thrown Jamie out of the place several times recently.
But for some reason, she just couldn't bring herself to pick up the telephone. It wasn't that she wanted to see Jamie. Not tonight of all nights. But she'd been expecting him, had known somewhere deep down inside her that he would pay her a visit after his engagement party ended.
"Jazzy... lover, please, let me in."
His voice was slightly slurred, no doubt the result of numerous glasses of champagne, and not the twenty-dollars-a-bottle stuff either. Probably Moet's Dom Perignon or Taittinger Comtes des Champagnes. Or possibly Roederer Cristal or Pommery Cuvee Louise. Something that cost no less than eighty bucks a bottle. In hosting the big bash celebrating their only grandchild's upcoming nuptials, Big Jim and Reba Upton had spared no expense. Everybody in Cherokee Pointe had been talking of nothing else. The Uptons had hired a catering service out of Knoxville for the engagement party and the rehearsal dinner, the same service the bride's parents had chosen to cater the wedding reception next month.
While Jamie continued banging on the door and pleading with her to talk to him, Jazzy curled up tightly on the sofa and placed her hands over her ears. Jamie had been engaged twice before and hadn't followed through with wedding plans either time. But it looked as if his engagement to Laura Willis might actually end in marriage. If for one minute she believed Jamie's marrying another woman would put an end to his obsession with her, she'd be the first in line to offer them congratulations.
Sure, there had been a time when she'd dreamed of becoming Jamie's wife, but that had been years ago, when she'd been young and foolish. That stupid dream had died a slow, painful death as maturity had given her a firm grip on reality. No way would Jamie's rich and socially prominent family ever accept her; they still saw her as nothing but a white trash tramp who'd gotten pregnant at sixteen.
Did she still care about Jamie? Yeah, somewhere in her heart remnants of that passionate first love still existed. Only a few years ago, she had still been as obsessed with Jamie as he was with her. For the past ten years he had floated in and out of her life, just as he had floated in and out of town. But this time, when he'd returned a few months ago with a new fianc?e in tow,
Jazzy had turned him away when he'd come to her. And one night, when he hadn't taken no for an answer, she had threatened his life. Or, to be more precise, she'd threatened his manhood. And what truly frightened her was the realization that she would have shot him--shot his balls off--if he'd come after her again.
"Jazzy... don't be mean. Please, doll baby, let me come in. Just one last time. Don't you know how much I love you?"
No, damn you, no! You don't love me! You never did. You're not capable of loving anyone except yourself.
While she sat on the sofa, hugging herself, wishing she could block out the sound of Jamie's pleading, memories washed over her, flooding her senses. The first time Jamie had kissed her. The junior/senior prom, when she'd given him her virginity and had known she would love Jamie forever. The day he'd cried when he told her he couldn't marry her even though she was carrying his child. The night he had returned to Cherokee Pointe after his first year of college. They'd made love repeatedly for forty-eight hours, leaving bed only when necessary. The first return visit, years ago, when he'd brought home his first fianc?e--and Jazzy had welcomed him into her arms, into her bed, not caring about his bride to be.
How many times had she forgiven Jamie? How many times had she given him just one more chance? Time had run out for them. She knew it, even if he didn't. She'd turn thirty soon; she had wasted enough of her life waiting for Jamie Upton to give her what she wanted, what she'd always wanted from him. Marriage.
"Jazzy... Jazzy... baby, please, talk to me. Even if I marry Laura, it doesn't mean we can't still be together."
A cold, deadly calm settled over her heart. She stood, squared her shoulders and walked to the door. Her hand hovered over the knob. You're the only one who can end this thing once and for all, she told herself. Do what you have to do to free yourself from Jamie.
Simultaneously Jazzy unlocked the deadbolt and turned the knob. When she eased open the door, Jamie took full advantage and shoved his way into her apartment. Before she could say a word, he grabbed her and kissed her. Impatiently. Brutally. His tongue thrust in- side her mouth. For a split second, she savored his savage possession. Then common sense took charge. She broke away from him, her breathing ragged. He reached out for her, but she sidestepped his grasp.
"I need you, Jazzy. I'm aching, I want you so bad."
"What we once had is over," she told him. "It's been over for a long time. I've accepted that fact. It's time you did."
"I don't love her. I'm marrying her because Big Mama is giving me no other choice. She expects me to marry Laura."
Jazzy laughed, mirthless chuckles. "And God forbid you ever go against what Big Mama wants."
"I'm sorry." His shoulders slumped. "I know I'm a spineless bastard. But if I don't keep Big Mama happy, I could lose everything. Big Daddy's done told me this is my last chance. If I screw things up with Laura, he'll write me out of his will."
Jazzy almost felt sorry for him. Almost. "You know I'll never be your mistress. I draw the line at fooling around with a married man."