Excerpt: Perfectly Toxic

Book 2: CORE Above the Law

Excerpt: Perfectly Toxic Book Cover

You know, a long time ago being crazy meant something. Nowadays everybody’s crazy.

—Charles Manson


Welcome to the House of Archer

The House of Archer, Bower, Georgia

Monday, 5:26 p.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time


“I THINK I broke her.”

Fear sickened Rodney Archer as he stared at the small bundle swaddled in the white afghan Gramma had crocheted. No movement. No sound. He looked to the baby’s mother who sat on the wooden porch step. “What did you do?” He took a jerky step away from his car and approached her.

Adeline lifted her shoulders and shook her head. Her mess of long dark curls hid her face, her eyes. He needed to look into her eyes, to know if whatever she’d done had been an accident or if Adeline had…slipped again.

The screen door behind Adeline groaned. He glanced up, and met Gramma’s gaze. The old woman stepped onto the weathered porch. “I think we should bury her in the family plot. No reason to call anyone about this.” She sniffed and glared at the back of Adeline’s head. “Lord knows we don’t need a minister. After all, how would we explain…this?”

“Shut up, old woman.” Adeline let the bundle dangle over her knees. “I don’t need to hear your senile nonsense right now.”

Rodney rushed to the porch and took the baby from Adeline. “Gramma’s right. We’ll bury her in the plot. No marking.”

Adeline stared up at him, squinting against the late afternoon sun. “You’re a doctor. Maybe you can fix her,” she said, her tone holding no apology, no remorse. “You can fix anything.”

His throat tightened. Rigor mortis had already set in, meaning the child had been dead for at least two to six hours. Sadness and rage settled on his filthy soul. The baby had been doomed from conception. She’d been created by the wicked, born of the depraved and had never had a chance. Even if she had survived, the child would never have left the House of Archer. No one but him, Adeline and Gramma knew of her existence. No one could ever know…especially now. Adeline’s sickness was misunderstood. It scared those who looked at anything abnormal as bad, frightening.

Lately, Adeline frightened him. She hadn’t been able to take her medication during the pregnancy. During the three weeks since the baby’s birth, she’d gone back to the pills—or so she’d said. If she was still taking her pills, he suspected that she needed a stronger dose to combat the high level of extra hormones running through her body. Whatever she needed would have to happen fast before she did something that would send her to prison.

Adeline stood, brushed the dust from the back of her pale-pink cotton nightgown, then poked at the bundle. “Well, aren’t you going to even look at her and see if I really did break her?” The corner of her mouth turned up in the tiniest smile. Her green eyes glittered with challenge and—damn her—amusement.

“I checked the baby,” Gramma said, her voice strong and filled with outrage. “She’s gone. Rodney, you need to change your clothes and start digging. We can’t have her lying about, not in this heat.”

“Put her in the cellar. It’s cool there. Right, Rod?” Adeline licked her lips. “Unless you’re down there doing vigorous activities.”

How could he hate someone he loved so damned much? Rodney stared at her, remembered the night he’d discovered her in the cellar. Oh, God, how he’d had no willpower, no fight against her wicked seduction.

“Enough,” he said, then looked to Gramma. The old woman scowled at him, her narrowed eyes accusing. As if this was his fault. Which it was. If he hadn’t planted his seed, the pregnancy wouldn’t have happened. Guilt weighed on his chest like an anvil. He hadn’t murdered his daughter, but he knew what her mother was—a fucking psychopath.

Ignoring Adeline, he carried the child up the steps, then handed her to Gramma. “I’ll come for her when I’m finished digging the grave.”

“Need any help?” Adeline asked.

“Haven’t you done enough?” Gramma’s voice shook with outrage. “Go to your room and don’t come out until you’ve been called.”

Adeline sauntered across the porch. The sun shone through the sheer fabric of her nightgown exposing her sexy curves. “Don’t tell me what to do, you old bitch.” She grinned. “Or I just might break you, too.”

Gramma clutched the baby to her chest and gasped. “After all I’ve done for you? For both of you?”

Rodney touched the woman’s arm. “Go inside.”

Gramma raised her chin and narrowed her eyes at Adeline. “Don’t ever threaten me again, or I’ll force you to leave,” she said, the threat falling flat due to the fear in her eyes and voice.

Once the old woman entered the house, he turned to Adeline. “Why don’t you go lie down?”

“You know, that’s a great idea.” Her hips swayed as she neared him. “It’s been an emotionally exhausting day.” She reached down and rubbed her hand along his crotch. “I could use some comforting. Why don’t you nap with me?”

He grabbed her wrist. “Because I have to bury our daughter.” Rodney shoved her away, then went inside. Twenty minutes later, now dressed in old jeans, t-shirt and boots, and standing at the edge of the family plot, Rodney plunged the shovel into the ground. He’d wanted to bury the baby closer to the oak tree, but knew the roots would give him an issue. Instead, he chose the vacant spot next to his mother. Matilda Archer had been a patient, nurturing woman who’d had the misfortune of loving a cold, ruthless son of a bitch. How could his mother have ever loved his father? After the first strike, she should have left Dean Archer, and Gramma should have protected her. But the old woman hadn’t. Either out of love, loyalty or fear of her son, or hatred for his mother, the woman had never once admonished Dean.

Rodney grunted as he thrust the shovel into the earth. He should hate Gramma. He certainly didn’t love her, but since she had been the victim of an abusive husband, he supposed Gramma assumed abuse was part of life.

He tossed dirt onto the growing pile. No matter how many times Adeline had angered him, he hadn’t and wouldn’t raise a hand to her. He’d never bought into that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree nonsense. He was a strong believer in nature versus nurture, and would bet anything that his grandfather’s father had also had no problem hitting a woman.

The strong scents of dirt, grass and tobacco tickled his nose. He stopped digging for a moment, expecting a sneeze that never came, and stared at the bright blue lobelia bush his mother had planted after his father had died. She had chosen the flower when she’d learned the beautiful plant symbolized hate and spite. His mother had wanted the plant’s roots to travel deep into the ground, stretch until they’d reached his father’s casket, then burrowed inside the wooden box. Matilda Archer had wanted her husband to know, even in death, how much she had hated him. That had been ten years ago and the plant, despite never being cared for through frosts and droughts, still thrived, his mother’s hatred keeping it alive.

Rodney wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans, and picked up the shovel. Would he come to hate Adeline just as much? They were born for each other, meant to be together through good times and in bad. She was his second half, the one person who truly understood him. He loved her deeply, the bond they shared, the secrets…oh, God, the passion. He slammed the shovel into the dirt, then tossed a chunk to the side. That couldn’t happen again, no matter how much she tempted him. He refused to take advantage of Adeline’s mental state or risk impregnating her again.

She killed our daughter.

He should weep for the tiny soul, but he couldn’t, not when she should have never been brought into the world. The baby hadn’t been right. He wasn’t a pediatrician, but he was an M.D., and suspected lack of oxygen right after birth had done something to the baby’s brain. It hadn’t helped that the baby had been born one month early and without proper neonatal care. But he hadn’t been able to take Adeline to a hospital in time for the child’s delivery, and instead had delivered her himself during a violent storm.

His throat tightened and he stabbed the earth again. He should have taken the baby to the hospital instead of listening to Gramma. He should have taken her there and left her, let another family have her. She could have had a chance. Or she could have ended up like her mother.

Sick. Diseased.


“You’re going to have to do something about Adeline,” Gramma said.

He tossed more dirt on the pile. “I am doing something.”

“That’s right. You’re digging your child’s grave because her crazy mother is a murderer.” Gramma grabbed his arm, stopping him. “Rodney, I sleep with my door locked and a gun under my pillow. When you’re not home, I carry a bat with me wherever I go. I don’t trust Adeline. She hates me. The only one she loves and will listen to is you. Lord knows I’ve tried to talk sense into that girl, but she won’t have it.” Gramma drew in a deep breath. “She belongs in an insane asylum.”

“We’ve been over this before,” he said, his patience with the old woman waning. “If she’s taken to a mental health institute, they’ll misdiagnose her and she won’t get the help she needs.”

“I don’t think anyone can help her.” Gramma gripped him tighter, her nails digging into his skin. “Please, Rodney. I’m tired of living in constant fear. Every Sunday I go to church and pray Adeline will die, or run away and never come back. What kind of woman does that make me? I hate what she’s done to me, how she’s taken my morals and has warped them. If you’re not careful, she’ll do the same to you.”

Rodney knocked his grandmother’s hand away. “No, she won’t. Not after I finish developing the proper medication to balance her and make her normal.”

Gramma folded her arms over her chest. “That girl doesn’t know the meaning of the word. I know damned well she killed that college girl.”

The police had accused Adeline of stabbing her college roommate, but they’d had no evidence to prove it. Nothing. Not a hair or minutest fiber, and the detectives had been forced to let Adeline go. The police had investigated him, too. Fortunately, he’d helped Adeline dispose of the evidence the detectives had desperately needed before they’d searched his apartment. Eight years later, the case remained unsolved, the girl’s family forced to live without closure and justice for their daughter.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rodney said.

“I absolutely do. And don’t even get me started on your cousin.”

There had been times over the years when he regretted not turning Adeline over to the police. One of those times had been four years ago when his fifteen-year-old cousin, Geoffrey, had gone missing. The last person seen with him had been Adeline. Since Geoffrey had been a troubled kid, taking the divorce of his parents hard and dealing with bullying at school, local police assumed the boy had run away.

“No one knows what happened to Geoff,” he lied.

During a hot, summer day the year after Geoffrey’s disappearance, Adeline had taken him for a long walk on the vast fifteen hundred acres that now made up the Archer property. Over two hundred years ago, the acreage had quadrupled in size, and the Archers had been one of the wealthiest families in the state. Although land had been lost, the house his ancestors had built had survived the Civil War, the Great Depression, storms, droughts and murder. Natural bogs, forests and tall grasses now covered the once thriving plantation. Adeline had walked him through the pine forests they’d at one time explored together, until they’d reached a small pond. She’d stopped him there and had pointed to the pond, which was an abnormal shade of blue, as if someone had scooped buckets of the Caribbean Sea and filled the chasm with its turquoise waters. He’d been so mesmerized by the odd, yet beautiful shade of the water, he hadn’t noticed the stark white bones lying near the bank until Adeline had pointed to them.

“I guess Geoffrey didn’t run away after all,” Adeline had said with a tsk.

Terrified, petrified, he’d stared at the skull of his aunt’s son, at the large gaping hole at the temple, and had fallen to his knees. He’d asked her why, and she’d simply answered, “Why not?”

“Why do you continue to defend and protect her?” Gramma asked. “She is evil. From the moment I laid eyes on her, I knew she wasn’t right. Just like the baby she killed today. Don’t get me wrong, my heart goes out to the child, but in a way, Adeline has done the world a favor by taking the baby’s life and—”

“Stop it,” Rodney shouted. He threw the shovel to the ground and gripped his grandmother by the upper arms. Through the haze of his grief and rage, the thinness of her skin, her boniness, registered, but it hadn’t erased the urge to snap her arms, then her neck. “Adeline was right. You are a stupid old bitch. And you need to mind your place. I will fix this.” The shock and fear in Gramma’s eyes had him loosening his grip and regretting his outburst. “Just stay away from Adeline.” He patted her arms. “I’ll take care of everything.” He stepped away, then bent for the shovel.

“How? With your experiments?” Gramma moved toward his daughter’s grave. “You tried and failed. Your drug killed people and your reputation.”

He clenched the shovel. “Those people killed themselves.”

“After they murdered others.” She clutched her neck. “Your drug turned crazy people crazier.

“The tests were inconclusive,” he argued. But deep down he knew Gramma and anyone else who had pointed fingers at him were right. Something had gone wrong. The drug had worked during the final testing phase. The chemical combination he’d created had proved to deaden certain urges—lust, the need to hurt, to dominate. The drug had made the test subjects empathetic toward others, not violent, and the pharmaceutical company who had backed him and paid him handsomely for his concoction had been thrilled. Medizen Pharma would, thanks to Dr. Rodney Archer, help rid the world of violence, one psychopath at a time.

When certain members of the U.S. government had heard about Rodney and his findings, they’d become interested in the drug, and testing had been permitted at a federal prison. Five convicts, who were known to have psychopathic tendencies, were chosen. These men would have taken Rodney from the unknown, unobtrusive M.D. and pharmacologist that he was, and had him featured on the cover of Time magazine. He’d been featured all right, but not because the masses had praised him for his brilliance, or for helping those who couldn’t stop the need for violence eating at their brains. No. Reporters had trashed his reputation. They’d called him Frankenstein or compared him to Joseph Mengele, the Nazi doctor who’d famously performed horrific experiments on Jewish prisoners. It hadn’t helped that Medizen Pharma was a German-based company.

After the convicts who’d taken the drug had murdered fellow inmates and guards before killing themselves, Medizen Pharma had been sued by the prison. Rodney had been immediately dismissed without severance. He’d been forced to work at his hometown’s local clinic treating scraped knees and the occasional broken bone. In a way, he should be grateful he could still practice medicine, and that the civil suits originally brought against him had been dropped. But he wasn’t. He was determined to prove the drug worked. For Adeline’s sake, he had to.

“Stick with what you know and stay out of my business,” he finally said to his grandmother.

“As long as Adeline lives in my house, your need to fix her is my business. I know you’re experimenting again. You need to stop this nonsense at once. You can’t change what the devil has created. I’ve talked at great length with Pastor Landen about this, and about you.”

Screw Pastor Landen. The man was a hypocrite who could probably use a dose of his drug. Rodney had seen the bruises on Landen’s wife and their son. Either the two of them were the clumsiest people to walk the Earth, or the good pastor was beating them.

Ignoring the tears in Gramma’s eyes, he continued to shovel. “I don’t care what he has to say, and I don’t want you talking about me or my business with anyone, understand?”

“Pastor Landen said that some people are born a certain way, while others are created.”

“Nature versus nurture? It’s a tired argument and one I don’t feel like having with you right now.”

“Adeline, she was born a certain way,” she continued anyway. “I just know it. No one can create a person like Adeline. And no one can fix her. She has the devil inside and—”

“Enough.” Rodney turned on Gramma. “I don’t want to hear another word about the devil. Ever. There’s no such thing. What’s wrong with Adeline has nothing to do with demons and everything to do with her brain. This is a medical, not religious issue. And I will fix her.”

“Why bother? She’s a lost cause, hopeless and pure evil. You’ve already destroyed your career for her. She’s killed your child, and I know to the marrow of my old bones that she killed the college girl and your cousin. Do you want to live with the guilt when she kills again? Because you will be guilty. You could have stopped her, but you chose not to.”

“Like you could have stopped my father from beating my mother?”

Gramma stiffened. She lifted her chin and averted her eyes. “That was different. A woman has a place. That’s what I was taught by your granddad, and your father needed to teach your mother the same.”

“And you think Adeline is crazy.” Rodney shook his head. “Go away and let me finish digging.”

“Fine. I’ll finish preparing the child for burial. Would you like to see her?”

“No. Just do what you have to do.”

“Oh, I will. You have until the end of the week to make a decision about Adeline. Either she leaves, or I’m going to contact the sheriff and tell him about what she did to the baby.”

Rodney stepped away from the small, shallow grave and crowded the old woman’s space. His size should have intimidated her, but the tough old bag held her ground, despite being over a foot shorter and one hundred pounds lighter than him. “You will tell no one about the baby. You will not discuss me or Adeline to anyone. You will mind your business or the next grave I dig will be yours.”

Gramma gasped. “How dare you threaten me? After all that I’ve done for you, for that crazy little ingrate. Your loyalty should be to me, not her.” She took a step back and narrowed her eyes. “I won’t go to the sheriff, but if you won’t make her leave, then I want both of you out of my house. See how well you do on your own without the money you no longer have.”

When the old woman turned away, he stared at the back of her gray head. If he were a different man, the mad scientist the press had claimed him to be, he’d sic Adeline on Gramma and give new meaning to the Big Bad Wolf.

A tap at his shoulder had him flinching. He quickly turned and glared at Adeline. “How long have you been here?” he asked.

“The entire time you’ve been. You should take off your shirt,” she said, her tone seductive, as she ran her hand along his chest. “I love seeing my man’s muscles work. It’s so sexy.”

“Stop it.” He gripped her wrist, love and hatred hollowing his heart and soul. “You need help.”

“Or Gramma’s going to kick us out of her shitty, rotting house? Sounded like the old woman doesn’t think anyone can help ease my wicked ways. Maybe I should go see Pastor Landen and let him try to drive the devil from my mind. A pastor’s semen would be just as good, if not better than holy water, don’t you think?”

Jealousy ripped him in two. He gripped her tighter and pulled her close. “Stay away from that man.”

She shrugged. “Since my man won’t touch me…”

“You shouldn’t be thinking about sex, but about the baby you broke. My God, Adeline. You carried her for eight months. Your body kept her alive. She was part of you, of me. How could you do it?”

Adeline sighed. “How could I not?”

“Because deep down you’re a good, kind, caring person. I know it. I feel it. It’s why I can’t ever stop loving you.” He touched her cheek. “We used to be so close. We had the same goals, the same dreams. If I can make you better, we could still make those dreams happen.” Like him, and despite being accused of murder, Adeline had graduated with a Doctor of Medicine degree and also had a Ph.D. in pharmacology. She had worked alongside him when he’d been developing his drug, and had quit her position with Medizen Pharma when he’d been fired. She was smart, creative and business-savvy. Once she was well, together they could become unstoppable. “Whether you want to go back into medicine or not, I’ll support you. I just want you better. But you have to help me help you.”

“What about Gramma?”

“What about her?”

“She’s giving us the boot, unless you plan to stay here and want me to leave.”

“You’re not leaving.”

“So, again. What about Gramma?”

He let go of her, then went back to shoveling. “I’ll talk to her. She’s upset about the baby. Once she cools off, she’ll realize that she needs us here to help take care of the house and property.”

“You and I both know that’s not true. Gramma has plenty of money. She can hire someone to help her.” Adeline walked over to the bright blue lobelia bush, then knelt next to it and plucked a flower. “How close are you to finalizing the new drug?”

“I feel like I’m close,” he answered. “But even when I do have it right, I’m not sure how I can test it.”

She plucked another flower, then stood. “Of course you know how.” She grinned. “I’m the perfect lab rat. After all, it’s for me, right?”

Satisfied the hole was deep enough for the tiny baby, he stepped out of it, then used the hem of his shirt to wipe the sweat from his face. “I told you before, I’m not experimenting on you.”

“Afraid I’m going to off you and Gramma, then kill myself?” she asked.

He looked at her, saw her eyes trained on his bare abs, then dropped the shirt. “You know that won’t happen. Someone at Medizen Pharma deviated from the chemical combination we knew worked.”

“And yet you took the blame.” She dropped the flowers into the grave. “We could experiment on Gramma.”

He chuckled and looked toward the house. “Maybe the drug will knock the religion out of her.”

Adeline smiled. “I’m being serious. What did Gramma say? No one can create a person like me. And no one can fix me. Right?”

“Gramma doesn’t understand you the way I do.”

She held up a hand. “The old woman understands me just fine, and you know it. Hear me out—if you can’t prove the drug works, you’ll never be able to move out from under the mad scientist stigma. Do you really want to work at the local clinic making thirty-five grand a year? After spending ten years studying your ass off, I’d think you’d want more from life.”

Rodney hated everything about the clinic. The lack of equipment, resources and medication. Half of the six nurses who rotated shifts should have retired years ago. The receptionist was a gossip. One of the doctors was a drunk, while the other was a tree-hugging liberal who claimed he’d gone into medicine to help people and give back to society, not for the money or prestige of being a doctor.

That was well and fine for the tree-hugger, but not for him. He’d gone into medicine with the lofty notion that he could make a difference in other people’s lives, maybe be the brilliant scientist who found the cure for cancer. Hell, if he found the cure for herpes he’d be lauded as a saint by those stuck with the virus. He’d wanted the prestige and money the tree-hugger hadn’t. He still did. The only way he could salvage his career and his personal life would be to make his drug work. If he didn’t fix Adeline and she ended up institutionalized or, even worse, in prison, he wasn’t sure if he could go on with life. She understood him like no other. He loved her more than himself, even if he hated her for the horrible choices she’d made.

“Of course I want more,” he said. “But I’m not going to experiment on Gramma.”

“Then I guess you’ll have to find a couple of psychopathic rats to test the drug. That should be easy,” she said with heavy sarcasm and a roll of her eyes. “What’s the difference? Gramma’s pushing eighty. It’s not like she has many more years in her.”

His grandmother might be seventy-eight, but the woman was as spry as a sixty-year-old. “No. I will not even entertain the idea. I doubt Gramma would, either.”

“Why in the hell would we tell her? Look, strap her to a chair, give her some hallucinogenic drugs, then fuck with her head. I have a journal filled with what to say to her while she’s going through the change.”

The change. Adeline’s words chilled him. “A journal you wrote?”

She nodded. “There wasn’t anything else to do while the baby was inside me and you were at work. I certainly wasn’t going to hang out with the old bag of wrinkles all day. So, I started doing a little experimenting of my own.”

“On Gramma?”

“Nope. But, damn, I was tempted.” She moved a little closer. “While you were trying to figure out where your drug had gone wrong, I had the foresight you didn’t. Without a test subject, your drug is useless and your career is dead. Since it’s not like you can run an ad offering money to any psychopath or sociopath willing to be a guinea pig, we would need to be creative.”

He wiped a hand down his face and stared at her. “What did you do?”

She grinned. “I didn’t hurt anyone if that’s what you mean. But I did create a kickass hallucinogen that doesn’t give the user rainbows and sunshine. It’ll give them gray clouds and darkness. It agitates the brain and stimulates emotions, namely the darker ones like hatred, jealousy, aggression. The user doesn’t care about the consequences of their actions or who they hurt.”

“Stop,” he shouted. “Who did you test this on?” Oh, God. She would go to jail and he would, too, if the police found out and thought he was mixing illegal narcotics in his home lab.

“Myself. But I wasn’t a good test subject. After all, I already tend to head to the dark side, and I was six months pregnant.”

“You took drugs during the pregnancy? Christ, our child—”

“Never had a chance anyway. Let’s move on,” she said with a sigh. “I video-taped myself while I was on the drug I like to call A-Line.” Adeline gave him a quick grin. “The thing was, I didn’t have to tape myself. I remembered everything I did. Yes, there were hallucinations, but it was strange how I could control them and make them work for me.”

Rodney had smoked weed back in high school, but had never taken any other drug. He had no personal experience to compare to what Adeline was describing, yet he was intrigued. “Define control.”

The glitter in her eyes should have scared him. He’d seen that same look before and knew what it meant. Adeline had been a bad girl.

“You know how much I hate Gramma, right? Well, this drug amplified my hatred. It made me want to kill her. I know, how is this so different from how I usually feel about Gramma? I can’t explain it, but it was different. The drug showed me the ugly, spiteful, hypocritical bitch she is. I swear, I could see past the granny façade and straight to her cold heart. It was amazing.” She let out a wistful sigh. “As much as I wanted to smash her head against the kitchen sink, then take a knife and split her wide open, I knew I shouldn’t.”

“Shouldn’t or couldn’t.”


“Because I’d be angry.”

She laughed. “No. You’d get over it. You always do. I didn’t kill her because it wasn’t the right time. I knew I’d have to be smart if I were going to get away with murder.” She gave him another quick grin. “Again.”

He ignored that last remark. Adeline loved shocking people, and he wouldn’t allow her the satisfaction. “So you think you’ve created a drug that could give the user temporary homicidal impulses, correct?”

“Oh, I know I did. But that’s not all. I think if you continuously give it to a person, and heighten their surroundings with violent videos, music, subliminal messages, it’ll warp them enough that they’ll maintain those homicidal impulses even after the drug is out of their system.”

Rodney folded his arms across his chest. “And you want to do this to Gramma.”

She nodded. “Let me finish. Once the drug is out of their system, we give the psycho we created your drug and, voilà,” she said with the snap of her fingers. “He’ll be back to being a model citizen.”

What Adeline suggested went beyond wrong. No matter how much he wanted to prove that his product had worked, he wouldn’t experiment on his own grandmother.

“The journal I mentioned has the drug facts, along with pages of what I think we could use for subliminal messages.” She took his hands, and forced them from his chest. “Rod, I believe in you. I always have. I know you can prove to the world that your drug works. Let me help you do that.”

“You can help, but I’m not experimenting on people.”

She gave his hands a squeeze. “Okay, so suggesting we use Gramma wasn’t a good idea.”

“It was a terrible one.”

“What about someone who’s homeless?”

Appalled with himself for being remotely intrigued by what Adeline presented, Rodney pushed her away, then bent and picked up the shovel. “This conversation is over.” Gripping the shovel tight, he walked away.

“No one would ever know,” Adeline continued as she followed after him. “We have acres of places to hide a body. That is, if something goes wrong.”

He turned on her. “Listen to yourself. What you’re saying has murder written all over it. I’m trying to stop you from killing, not encourage it.”

“I know all that, silly.” She tapped his chest with the tips of her fingers. “And I wouldn’t let you get involved in anything that could jeopardize your career. If you went to prison, what would I do without you?”

She would become worse and have no one left to care for her. She could take a job and survive, but for how long? And how long would it be before she killed again? When he glanced away, she took his chin in her hand and forced him to look at her. “I love you. You’ve stuck by my side no matter what I’ve done. The choices I’ve made…I can’t take them back. And I’m truly sorry that I’ve burdened you with my secrets. I’m also sorry that my actions don’t show how much you mean to me.”

This was the Adeline he missed and loved. He brushed her long, dark hair away from her face and cupped her head. “I love you, too. But we can’t hurt people.”

“And we might not. We’re both doctors. We can make sure that the person is healthy enough to handle both of our drugs. We’ll watch their reactions and make sure they can’t leave and hurt anyone, or try to hurt themselves.”

She made it sound so simple, yet there were a couple of huge flaws in her plan. “How do you suggest we keep the test subjects from going to the police?”

“We pay them. Just like the sperm donor clinics. We’ll offer a homeless man seventy-five bucks per day, plus food and a bed.”

“And Gramma? This won’t be something we can keep secret from her.”

Adeline wrinkled her forehead. “Yeah, the old lady’s a problem.” She brightened. “We can send her on vacation. Doesn’t she have a sister or cousin living in Arizona?”

“A cousin.” Good God. Was he seriously entertaining Adeline’s idea? If they were caught drugging homeless people, they’d both go to prison. But, if they were successful, he could have Adeline and his career back. They could start fresh. End up working side-by-side developing new drugs to help people. Hell, if his drug was a success, he could help rid the world of violent psychopaths and sociopaths. He could possibly win the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

“See? We can send Gramma to the cousin’s for a month, do our little experiment and not have to worry about her blabbing to her church people.” Adeline looked over his shoulder and frowned. “Here comes the old lady now.”

“Are you about done digging?” Gramma called.

Rodney stepped away from Adeline. “I’m finished,” he said, walking toward his grandmother. “I’ll take care of burying her.”

Adeline took his hand in hers. “I’ll help you.” She looked between him and Gramma. “I’m sorry for what I did to her.” Tears trickled down Adeline’s cheeks. “I know that doesn’t mean much now, but I truly am sorry. She deserved better. I think the both of you do, too.” Her face crumpled as she let out a sob and bent her head. “I’m so sorry.”

Adeline shocked him by falling against Gramma. Based on the widening of the old lady’s eyes, Adeline had shocked her, too.

Gramma’s face softened. “We need to get you some help, honey. Let Gramma make it all right,” she said, hugging Adeline close. “You’re sick. I know deep down you didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”

“I didn’t,” Adeline sobbed. “I’m so sorry. So, so sorry.”

As Gramma comforted her, Rodney kept his hand in Adeline’s and gave her a gentle squeeze. She looked over Gramma’s shoulder and met his gaze.

Then smiled and winked.