She ran her long fingers over each of her limbs, caressing the scars and bruises. They were the only parts of herself that felt familiar, that felt real. On her face she traced the faint signs of middle age that had begun to plague her in recent months: the fan of lines around the eyes and lips, the deepening of the purple shadows beneath her eyes, the more pronounced grooves running downward from the corners of her nose. She felt like crying. Not because she was getting older. But because the face was the face of a stranger.
She felt like crying, but she couldn’t, she mustn’t. She had to stay strong for her sister. Her sister needed her. The woman clung to that need desperately, like a newborn monkey clinging to its mother. It was literally all she had to live for.
“Why so sad?”
The man walked up behind her, kissing her neck and shoulders. The gesture should have been tender, but it was not. It was possessive. Chilling. She shivered.
“I’m fine. Just tired.”
“Try to sleep, angel.”
She had changed so much since they first met, but he had barely altered, inside or out. Behind her in the mirror he was still dazzling, his beauty as constant as the sun, as inescapable as death. A few months ago she had dreamed of escape. Now she knew how foolish that had been. Now she hoped only for her sister.
One day soon, he had promised, her sister would be free.
GOOD MORNING, MR. ISHAG. WELCOME BACK!”
David Ishag smiled at his secretary. “Thank you, Sasha. It’s good to be back.”
Oddly, it was good to be back. As perfect as his life was right now, David Ishag was ready for a return to something like normality.
His honeymoon with Sarah Jane had been utterly magical. After an intimate, very private wedding service at the Catholic chaplaincy on Vidyanagara—only David’s best man, Kavi, and Sarah Jane’s colleague Rachel had attended—the happy couple flew to England to break the news to David’s elderly mother before jetting off on a grand European tour.
“Do you think she’ll ever get over it?”
Sarah Jane turned to David as they were touring St. Mark’s cathedral in Venice.
“Who? Get over what? You must stop being so cryptic, my darling. I feel as if I’ve married a Times crossword setter.”
“Your mother. Do you think she’ll ever get over you marrying a Catholic? And one so far beneath you too?”
David stopped, cupping Sarah Jane’s perfect angel’s face in his hands. “Beneath me? You’re so far above me I get vertigo just looking at you.” He kissed her, then staggered backward, clutching at his head. “See? I’m dizzy already.”
Sarah Jane giggled. “Idiot.”
David Ishag had never been one to play the fool, or to go gaga over a woman. But he was a fool for his new wife and he wanted the world to know it. He took Sarah Jane to the finest hotels in the most romantic cities—the Georges V in Paris, the Hassler in Rome, the Dorchester in London, the Danieli in Venice. He made love to her in penthouse suites, on his newly refurbished Learjet and on the deck of his superyacht, Clotilde, as they cruised the Mediterranean together. But as joyous as the trip was, coming home to Mumbai was equally special, because it marked the start of their real life together.
David had expected them to start trying for a baby right away. Sarah Jane was over forty, so they didn’t have time to waste, but surprisingly she was hesitant, insisting on going straight back to work at her school and taking things “day by day.” While David adored her independent spirit, and the fact that clearly her head had not been turned by his immense wealth, part of him wished he could lock her up in his castle and keep her all for himself.
“You need to get back to your other love: work,” Sarah Jane told him. As usual, she was right. Walking into Ishag Electronics offices this morning David had felt a renewed fervor and sense of purpose. He had the energy of a teenager again, which could only mean better times ahead for the business.
I should have gotten married years ago.
“So,” he asked his secretary, “what’s on the agenda?”
As ever, his schedule was packed. After an hour to respond to the most pressing of his thousands of new e-mails, David had a board meeting at nine, a business development presentation at ten fifteen, lunch with the CEO of Zenon Technology, one of Ishag Electronics’ clients, at one, then an afternoon reviewing new product sales figures with his head of components, Johnathan Wray. A board meeting at the end of the day meant David would be lucky if he got home to Sarah Jane before eight o’clock that night.
Sitting down at his desk, he turned on his computer and immediately buzzed Sasha again.
“Book me a table for two at Jamavar for eight thirty tonight. Something secluded, by the fire, if they can do it.”
“Yes, Mr. Ishag. By the way, there’s a gentleman here to see you.”
“There is? Who?”
“He won’t give me his name and he’s not on your schedule.” There was no mistaking the disapproval in Sasha’s voice. “I’ve asked him to leave, but he refuses. He says he must see you in person. Shall I call security?”
David hesitated. A mystery! He’d had a feeling today was going to be interesting. Since he married Sarah Jane—actually, since the day he met her—his life had become one long series of unexpected events. He hadn’t realized quite how dull it had been before.
“No, that’s all right. The e-mails can wait a few minutes. Send him in.”
A few moments later, David Ishag’s office door opened. He stood up, smiling broadly.
“Hello there. I’m David. And you are?”
The smile died on his lips when he saw the gun.
WHO ARE YOU? WHAT DO YOU want?”
Fear coursed through David Ishag’s body. A year ago, the idea of death wouldn’t have fazed him. If it was his time, it was his time. But now that he had Sarah Jane, everything was different. The thought of being torn away from her so soon after they’d found each other filled him with utter terror.
The pistol protruded from the man’s inside jacket pocket. He reached for it. David closed his eyes, bracing himself for the shot. Instead, he heard a polite American voice asking him, “Are you all right, Mr. Ishag? You don’t look well.”
David opened his eyes. The man was holding up an Interpol badge and an ID card. They must have been in the same pocket as the gun.
The relief was so overpowering David felt nauseous. He clutched at the desk. “Jesus Christ. You almost gave me a heart attack. Why didn’t you say you were a cop?”
Danny McGuire looked perplexed. “I didn’t have much of a chance.”
David sank back into his chair. He reached for a glass of water with shaking hands. “I thought you were going to shoot me.”
“Do visitors to your office often try to shoot you?”
“No. But they aren’t usually armed either. Your inside jacket pocket?”
“Ohhhhh.” Pulling his regulation Glock 22 automatic out of its holster, Danny McGuire laid it down on the desk. “Sorry about that. It’s standard issue. Half the time I forget I’m carrying it. Danny McGuire, Interpol.”
The two men shook hands.
Now that his heart rate had slowed to something approaching normal, David Ishag asked, “So how can I help you?”
Danny McGuire frowned. This was going to be difficult. But he’d learned long ago that when you had bad news to break, it was best not to beat around the bush.
“I’m afraid it concerns your wife.”
Those six words ripped into David Ishag more powerfully than any bullet.
“Sarah Jane?” he said defensively. “What about her?”
Danny McGuire took a deep breath. “Not to put too fine a point on it, Mr. Ishag, but we think she’s planning to kill you.”
EVEN IN DANNY MCGUIRE’S NO-NONSENSE, UNFLOWERY prose, it took over an hour to fill David in on the long and convoluted history of the Azrael killings. An hour during which David listened intently, searching for flaws in McGuire’s thinking, for reasons not to believe that any of this crazy story had anything to do with Sarah Jane, his wife, and the one woman on earth with whom he believed he could be truly happy.
When McGuire finished, David was silent for a long time. He wasn’t going to roll over and simply accept that his marriage, his entire relationship with Sarah, had been a sham, just because some unknown police officer told him it was. Eventually he said, “I’d like to see the photographs of the other women.”
“Of course. You can come down to our headquarters and see them, or I can have them e-mailed to you here.”