Lone Wolf - Diana Palmer


It was snowing. Esther Marist was cold and frightened walking along the highway. She pulled her blue fox jacket closer around her and nervously pushed back a long strand of platinum blond, curly hair. She was still wearing the gray wool slacks and the purple silk blouse she’d put on that morning. There was a dark stain on the hem of one pants leg. It was blood. Her mother’s blood.

Her pale blue eyes stared into the darkness without really seeing it. Her mother, Terry Marist, had just been killed in front of her eyes, from being picked up and literally thrown down the staircase by her latest gigolo boyfriend.

Terry had several homes. This one was in Aspen, Colorado. It was the prettiest of the lot. They’d come here against Terry’s wishes, several weeks ago, because her gigolo boyfriend was meeting somebody. Esther hadn’t been able to hear all of it, but there had been something said about Terry financing a scheme of his that two partners were involved in. They were going to meet the men here. Darrin had forced the two women into Terry’s Mercedes and driven them here from Las Vegas, where Terry had reluctantly financed several days of reckless gambling by her vicious boyfriend.

Terry had finally realized what Esther had known from the beginning, that Darrin was dangerous and money-crazy. But it was too late. Esther’s mother had paid the price, and if Esther couldn’t get out of Aspen before Darrin Ross found her, she’d be paying it as well.

Her mother had tears in her blue eyes as she shivered and clawed at her daughter’s cold fingers. Her leg under her short dress was twisted horribly from the fall. Her blond hair was covered in blood from where her head had collided with one of the banisters. She was gasping for breath and then Terry realized that there was a cut on her mother’s throat. Blood was pulsing out of it like a water fountain. Esther knelt beside her mother and frantically tried to stop the flow with her hands, but she couldn’t.

“I’ll call an ambulance!” she told Terry quickly, glancing up the stairs in fear that Darrin would come. She started to pull her cell phone out of the pocket in her slacks and remembered that she’d left it upstairs in the drawer of her bedside table, charging.

“No,” her mother choked. “Too late. I’m . . . dying.”

Terry put the huge seven-carat pink diamond ring she always wore into Esther’s palm and closed her daughter’s fingers around it. “Keep the will I gave you last night. Keep the ring, too. He thinks . . . I put it on the dresser, like he . . . told me to. Run,” she whispered frantically. “I’m so sorry . . . ! You can go to . . . your . . . grandfather . . .”

But before she could say anything more, she made an odd little sound and the light left her eyes. Her pretty face was white from the blood loss. Upstairs, the boyfriend was cursing. “Where is it?” he was raging. “Where’s that damned ring? I saw her put it . . . right here . . . on the dresser!”

Esther felt for a pulse, but her mother’s eyes were open, her pupils were fixed and dilated; darkness was settling in them, just like when one of Esther’s pets had died and she’d watched the same thing happen to their eyes. Terry was dead. Darrin had killed her! Tears ran down her cheeks as she took one last look at her only refuge in the world. Her mother was gone and she would be at the mercy of Terry’s murderous boyfriend.

Esther knew better than to stay. Darrin Ross was drunk and he was very dangerous when he drank. He’d taken up with her mother weeks ago, despite Esther’s pleas. But he loves me, her mother had said with a laugh, and you’ll get used to him. Esther hadn’t. And once he started knocking her mother around when she wouldn’t give him as much money as he wanted, Terry Marist had realized the mistake she’d made. Darrin was abusive and frightening. Terry was sorry, but she was too afraid to try and leave him.

He’d become obsessed with the enormous diamond ring that Esther’s mother had been given on her eighteenth birthday by her father. Even though they were estranged, Terry Marist spoke of her father sometimes and told her how kind he’d been to her