Carnal Innocence by Nora Roberts - Romance>Suspense/Mystery/Thriller
New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts provides a potent mix of small-town secrets, scandalous romance, and down-home Southern atmosphere as a young woman searching for some bayou R&R finds herself entangled in a serial killer's wicked web.
Burned out and still reeling from a love affair gone bad, world-class violinist Caroline Waverly goes to her grandparents' home in Innocence, Mississippi, for some much-needed rest and relaxation. Instead she finds herself overwhelmed all over again--first by Tucker Longstreet, a charming local with a sideline in no-strings-attached relationships, and then by a deadlier, more disturbing development.
For Innocence is being stalked by its very own serial killer, whose brutal knife blows have pierced the veil of tranquillity in this sleepy Southern town and left a trail of mutilated female corpses in their wake. When a federal agent arrives to investigate, the town's deepest secrets bubble to the surface and suspicion turns on Tucker as the most likely suspect. After Caroline finds the latest murder victim floating in the murky waters behind her house, she too is inexorably drawn into the path of a crazed killer who may be closer than she could have ever imagined.
Summer, that vicious green bitch, flexed her sweaty muscles and flattened Innocence, Mississippi. It didn't take much. Even before the War Between the States, Innocence had been nothing but a dusty fly-speck on the map. Though the soil was good for farming--if a man could stand the watery heat, the floods, and the capricious droughts--Innocence wasn't destined to prosper.When the railroad tracks were laid, they had stretched far enough to the north and west to tease Innocence with those long, echoing whistles of pace and progress without bringing either home. The interstate, dug through the delta nearly a century after the tracks, veered away, linking Memphis to Jackson, and leaving Innocence in the dust.
It had no battlefields, no natural wonders to draw in tourists with cameras and cash. No hotel to pamper them, only a small, painfully neat rooming house run by the Koonses. Sweetwater, its single antebellum plantation, was privately owned by the Longstreets, as it had been for two hundred years. It wasn't open to the public, had the public been interested.
Sweetwater had been written up once in Southern Homes. But that had been in the eighties, when Madeline Longstreet was alive. Now that she and her tosspot, skinflint of a husband were both gone, the house was owned and inhabited by their three children. Together, they pretty nearly owned the town, but they didn't do much about it.
It could be said--and was--that the three Longstreet heirs had inherited all of their family's wild good looks and none of their ambition. It was hard to resent them, if the people in that sleepy delta town had churned up the energy for resentment. Along with dark hair, golden eyes, and good bones, the Longstreets could charm a coon out of a tree quicker than you could spit.
Nobody blamed Dwayne overmuch for following in his daddy's alcoholic footsteps. And if he crashed up his car from time to time, or wrecked a few tables in McGreedy's Tavern, he always made smooth amends when he was sober. Though as years went on, he was sober less and less. Everyone said it might have been different if he hadn't flunked out of the fancy prep school he'd been shipped off to. Or if he'd inherited his father's touch with the land, along with the old man's taste for sour mash.
Others, less kind, claimed that money could keep him in his fancy house and in his fancy cars, but it couldn't buy him a backbone. When Dwayne had gotten Sissy Koons in trouble back in '84, he'd married her without a grumble. And when, two kids and numerous bottles of sour mash later, Sissy had demanded a divorce, he'd ended the marriage just as amiably. No hard feelings--no feelings at all--and Sissy had run off to Nashville with the kids to live with a shoe salesman who wanted to be the next Waylon Jennings.
Josie Longstreet, the only daughter and youngest child, had been married twice in her thirty-one years. Both unions had been short-lived but had provided the people of Innocence with endless grist for the gossip mill. She regretted both experiences in the same way a woman might regret finding her first gray hairs. There was some anger, some bitterness, some fear. Then it was all covered over. Out of sight, out of mind.
A woman didn't intend to go gray any more than a woman intended to divorce once she'd said "till death do us part." But things happened. As Josie was fond of saying philosophically to Crystal, her bosom friend and owner of the Style Rite Beauty Emporium, she liked to make up for these two errors in judgment by testing out all the men from Innocence to the Tennessee border.
Josie knew there were some tight-lipped old biddies who liked to whisper behind...