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Chapter One

Trudging up the three flights to her apartment, Darlene Foxx was caught between animal metaphors: hungry as a horse and tired as a grizzly bear come winter.

Snow melted against the heat of her fingers when she removed a glove and carelessly combed through her hair. A part of her still expected to feel thick, flowing waves instead of short, silky layers. Hair--another thing she hadn't been able to afford. Not the salon-babied stuff she'd worn since she'd escaped her parents' house at eighteen.

She moved down the hall to her door, one of the few on the floor with a welcome mat still in front of it. If anyone in the building had held any illusions about New York City before, they'd dragged their welcome mats back behind triple locked doors after a rash of robberies had hit the neighborhood a month ago. Each burglary had followed the same pattern: Victims returned home from work to find their doors wide open and their lives scrubbed clean of valuables the way a kid's face got scrubbed clean of dirt by a fastidious mother.

Darlene wasn't worried. She'd been extravagant with money from the day she'd started making her own in New York City. The only humble part of her life had been her apartment, which was cheap and sparse on accommodations. But she'd always figured it was what you put into a place that made it interesting.

Letting herself into her apartment now, Darlene saw a shell of what had been her home. She'd beat any thief to pawning her valuables. Desperate times call for desperate measures, she'd told herself while accepting only a small portion of what her movie-theater-screen size TV, deluxe stereo, VCR and camcorder were worth. Luxurious furniture had been replaced with functional, second-hand pieces.

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