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Cold Deceit (EBOOK)

Cold Deceit (EBOOK)

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A tenacious forensic anthropologist needs protection from an elite FBI Hostage Rescue Team operator as they search for a ruthless killer in this Romantic Thriller by New York Times bestselling author Toni Anderson.

When forensic anthropologist Zoe Miller stumbles across a murder victim in the blisteringly hostile Sonoran Desert, she triggers a chain of events that puts her in the crosshairs of a ruthless killer.

FBI HRT operator Seth Hopper is on secret assignment near the Mexican border when he suddenly finds himself on a rescue mission. The former Navy SEAL is ordered to protect Zoe, whether she likes it or not, which sets them off on a cross-country journey back to Virginia.

Zoe has good reason not to trust a man like Seth, but there is no denying the scorching heat that flares between them, hotter than the desert sun. Can Zoe find justice for the murdered woman? Or will the killers close in to destroy them both…

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Chapter 1

January 16th

Zoe Miller crouched in the dirt under a hot Arizona sun, gently cradling a bleached human cranium as a fly buzzed annoyingly around them both. She wiped sweat off her forehead onto the sleeve of her shirt, grateful for her old floppy hat which protected her from the fiercest of the sun’s rays. At first glance, the skull looked like that of an adult male. The bone was heavier, thicker, the forehead sloping rather than rounded in the way of most females.
Zoe ran her gloved forefinger over the prominent supraorbital ridge that would have once shaped this person’s brow as she considered the empty orbital sockets. More square than rounded—again a male characteristic—
but the edge of bone at the upper margin was sharper than she would have expected and more like that of a female. The lower mandible was missing but the mastoid process was large and distinct, again pointing to a male.
Few forensic anthropologists would make a definitive statement of sex based on the cranium alone. Unfortunately, the pelvis was absent from the scene. Perhaps this cranium belonged to the human remains her friends had found a little distance away, scattered by
The Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner would obtain DNA from the bones and compare it to family reference samples of known missing migrants taken by the Colibrí Center as part of the Missing Migrant Program. If they were lucky, they’d find a match.
Zoe carefully placed the cranium in a box beside the small number of other human bones she’d already collected at this site in the hopes there would be enough to build a meaningful biological profile. Estimates of stature, age, sex, population ancestry of this person would be made, which might lead to a positive ID.
All profiles had to be treated with a degree of caution though. Human populations didn’t have fixed morphological boundaries—instead they graded into one another. Even within a known population, morphometrics fell upon a spectrum at both population and individual levels.
It meant forensic anthropologists had to be mindful of the limitations of the databases they referenced and their own personal experience.
Still, Zoe’s gut was telling her this was part of the skull of an adult male.
Weathered gnaw marks suggested animals had long ago foraged on the soft tissue of the body, indicating this person had probably been dead for about a year. Maybe he’d died shortly after the last time Zoe and her friends had visited this area of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Or perhaps they’d missed him, and this person had been left to decay and disintegrate in this harsh but beautiful landscape that reduced fauna and flora back to dust.
The thought of the latter pained her.
Dirt-encrusted clothing was scattered nearby. A necklace lay in the dirt.
She moved toward the string of beads only to realize it wasn’t a piece of jewelry, but instead a rosary, complete with a small crucifix. She photographed everything with her Nikon before placing the clothing into a paper sack and adding it to the box in the hopes the items would further aid identification. Every piece of information mattered. Zoe held up the red beads and admired the dying rays of the sun as they shone through the cloudy orbs, the light refracted into a soft ruby glow.
The rosary represented hope to some in a dangerous world, but you needed more than a plastic cross to survive a hostile desert environment.
Without a miracle, or good Samaritans providing caches of water and supplies, migrants died. Even with traffickers “helping” them, migrants often became lost in the wilderness and perished.
Or they were betrayed. Forgotten. Sacrificed.
Zoe shook off the feelings of guilt and melancholy. She’d done what she could. It was enough. It had to be.
She and her three best friends had bonded over stainless steel mortuary tables when they’d interned one summer with the medical examiner in Tucson before starting their graduate studies in Phoenix. Over the last six years, the four of them had spent many days scouring the wilderness
for the dead. They were familiar and trusted enough by the ME’s office that they held affiliate status there and were legally allowed to record and, in cases of fully skeletonized remains or those with only ligament attachments—Body Condition Scales 7 and 6 respectively—carefully collect and transport the remains to the overworked mortuary.
Helping to provide closure for heartbroken families was the reason Zoe had once spent all her spare time combing the desert for victims. And the fact she’d been consumed by her need to constantly search for the dead was the reason she’d finally had to leave.
Well, it was one of the reasons.
Zoe wiped her brow again and looked around at the lengthening shadows. It was early January, but the day had been unseasonably warm even for the Sonoran Desert. It didn’t bode well for the upcoming fire season or deadly heat of summer. She took a deep gulp from the large water bottle at her side and then shook the remainder. She was almost out. Out of water and out of time. She needed to head to the pre-arranged meeting point.
She eyed the setting sun with frustration.
The number of remains of Undocumented Border Crossers was increasing to alarming levels. Didn’t matter how vilified migrants might be in today’s geo-political landscape, their
bones spoke of their humanity and their desperation. They didn’t deserve a death sentence for their actions, no matter their legal status.
The wave of sadness nearly overwhelmed her as she gently laid the rosary in the box.
This was the end of an era for her. Her last body recovery in this part of the world.
She’d accepted an academic position that forced her to move far away from Arizona. A part of her felt as if she’d given up, failed. But the issue was bigger than one person, bigger than her small group of fellow volunteers who were always at the wrong end of the search. It was a global problem and needed to be dealt with on an international level. Zoe had a lot of opinions on what might help and was determined to do whatever she could to get the message out.
She wasn’t giving up, but it sure as hell felt like it when she looked at the bones of what had been, until relatively recently, a living and breathing human being—a person very like the one she stared at in the mirror every morning.
“Zoe!” Her name echoed over the rocky landscape.
“Coming!” she shouted back, swatting at another persistent fly.
For old time’s sake, and the fact they couldn’t help themselves, she and her friends had decided to spend their last Saturday together in the desert before Zoe began her long solo trek to her new home in Richmond. This was her last victim, and Zoe would show them the respect that they deserved.
A Phainopepla called out with a distinctive “wurp” on the evening air. She looked around for the handsome, red-eyed, black bird that nested in the Sonoran Desert in the spring, but she didn’t see the individual who’d made the call.
She’d walked farther than she’d intended. They’d decided to search one of the ribbons of washes, west of the main migrant trail that cut across the 500-square-mile preserve. The area was thick with towering forests of saguaro cactus, magnificent organ pipes, hardy mesquite, and specialized desert grasses. The ground was covered in spiky cholla pods and prickly pear cacti that pierced the footwear of the unwary.
A male Anna’s hummingbird with its iridescent green body and magenta head darted past in search of food.
The sun was setting behind the nearby mountains, painting the landscape with vivid reds and golds, so beautiful it almost hurt to look at. As the shadows elongated, the heat was already, thankfully, starting to ease off.
“Zoe!” Karina’s voice once again carried on the breeze, and a shiver skittered over Zoe’s flesh. She looked around, the sensation of someone watching her filling her with unease.
The dead did not scare her.
This area was considered one of the most dangerous National Parks in the country, and it wasn’t only because of the harsh conditions or threats from wildlife.
As if on cue, one of the park’s many rattlesnakes shook its tail in warning. The sound was far enough away she wasn’t unduly alarmed but she scanned the ground as a precaution. The reptiles should be denned up by now, but the warmer weather meant they were still active.
She packed away her tools and camera, stood, peeled off her sweaty gloves into a ball and brushed at the knees of her pants. She hefted her light backpack onto her shoulders and reluctantly picked up the box. A flash of gold, twenty feet away, caught her eye.
She frowned and lowered the box to the ground again, hurrying now because she was fast losing the light. She bent to see a gold medallion on a chain with a broken clasp, caught on the spines of a prickly pear cactus. She pressed her lips together as she considered it. She used her cell to take a few photographs and then jiggled the necklace into a paper envelope. She marked the GPS coordinates on the front, along with the date.
Unnerved by the sudden silence, she glanced around, and froze as she spotted an expensive-looking black and pink sneaker attached to an unmoving leg. The rest of the body was hidden by foliage.
Sorrow hit her in the throat.
“Zoe!” Fred’s voice echoed off the canyon walls, closer now.
Fred, James, and Karina had spread out farther back on the other side of the wash when they’d found something that was likely a human rib.
“Five minutes!” she shouted, her voice cracking. Her friends would be anxious to get out of the desert before nightfall. So was she.
She eased her way past a looming saguaro. The breath left her body as she took in the scene before her.
A woman lay on her front, her head turned to one side. Her jeans were pulled down and completely off one leg, her t-shirt and bra askew. She hadn’t been dead more than a week. From the pattern of decomposition, it was likely she’d been assaulted.
What was wrong with people?
“Gimme one minute!” Her voice was scratchy and raw with tears.
She blinked rapidly and swallowed hard.
Her hand trembled as she used her cell to take a quick series of photographs. Her flash lit up the gathering gloom.
She recorded the GPS waypoint and took a few more shots from different angles in case the medical examiner had trouble locating the exact spot tomorrow. There was no cellular service in this part of the park, but she’d make a call as soon as she found some. It was doubtful anyone would retrieve the body tonight anyway. Resources were always stretched thin and it was hazardous out here in the dark.
She ignored the odor of decomp and buzz of insects. Donning fresh latex gloves, she squatted nearby and took a series of photographs of what was left of the woman’s face.
Zoe spotted something pearly white in the dirt. A tooth. She hesitated, then pulled out another collection evidence envelope and awkwardly scooped up the molar, before placing it in her pocket beside the medallion. It was the sort of evidence that could be easily overlooked. Having found this woman, Zoe felt a heavy weight of responsibility settle over her shoulders.
She straightened and stripped off the gloves, turning them
inside out and slipping them into the pocket of her field vest reserved for garbage.
“Zoe!” Closer now. Karina’s voice was laced with worry because this desert was a dangerous place at night. A no-
man’s land between poverty and prosperity, hope and despair.
With a last reluctant look at the dead woman, Zoe headed back to the main trail and placed a small, yellow marker from her kit next to the cactus where she’d found the medallion. It should help whoever came out here to locate the body and more easily retrieve it.
She picked up her box of remains as her three friends rounded the corner and stepped into view.
Karina planted her hands on her hips and blew a breath up into her hair. “We were beginning to worry about you.”
“Sorry, guys.” Zoe tried to regain control of her emotions as she caught up with them. “I found two UBCs. Some vertebrae and a cranium that might belong to your rib bone. And then another victim, a few moments ago, probably only a week old.”
Karina sucked in a shocked breath.
Fred’s eyes went wide with concern. “Are you okay?”
“Not really. I think there’s a good chance she was assaulted and then murdered.” Zoe shuddered.
They all stared dolefully back along the track.
“Come on. You can call Joaquin from the road. Someone from Pima County will pick her up.” Sympathy flattened James’s lips into a thin line as he ran a soothing hand down Karina’s arm.
Zoe nodded even as she looked over her shoulder toward where the victim lay discarded in the dirt. It felt wrong to walk away and leave that poor woman for another night alone under the stars. She wasn’t suffering any longer though, and Zoe would do her utmost to make sure the
authorities identified her and returned her to her relatives as quickly as possible.
Getting justice was probably unattainable, but discovering an ID would be a good first step.

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Customer Reviews

Based on 10 reviews
Zoe and Seth

Cold Deceit
Cold Justice- Most Wanted #2
Toni Anderson
Zoe Miller, forensic anthropologist and tough as nails humanitarian. Best not to mention her famous mother and father. When she sends out an SOS the calvary comes in the form of the rugged FBI operative Seth Hopper, former SEAL now HRT with a fragile heart.
“Zoe Miller was going to be his downfall…”
A cross country trek with ex’s, possibly a cartel and other unknown danger on her tail is not how Zoe thought her new start at her new job would go.
Tension, danger and suspense builds throughout this fast paced novel which I love, but the characters are the most important part and these are awesome. Seth and Zoe are the leads but being a Cold novel the supporting cast are strong and a little familiar.
This book is part of a series but can be read as a stand-alone novel with hea.
Ms Anderson you have done it again, loved it!
I received an arc of this book.
5 stars

Thrilling, Edge-of-Your-Seat Excitement

Talk about thrilling, edge-of-your-seat excitement, COLD DECEIT has this in spades!! There’s a missing dead body, danger, deception, kidnappings, and some pretty hot, steamy passion, all elements that will keep you thoroughly engrossed in the tale of Dr. Zoe Miller, a forensic anthropologist with deep political family connections, and FBI HRT Operator Seth Hopper, a by-the-book former Navy SEAL who has always been haunted by his unknown family connections. The chemistry between Zoe and Seth can be felt from the very first time their gazes meet, and destiny apparently felt it, too, as they are drawn together when Seth’s placed on a rescue mission into the Arizona desert which turns into a protection detail while accompanying Zoe across the country. This is a fast-paced, compelling, and often gripping story that is sure to keep you completely involved from start to finish. You will definitely find this one almost impossible to put down but well worth your time and enjoyment.

Cold Deceit

Zoe is an forensic anthropologist and Seth is an FBI hostage negotiator. Zoe is determined to solve the case of who's bones she found in a very dangerous place but there are people who will do everything they can to stop her. The first time Zoe and Seth see each other they feel an instant attraction for one another. Seth wants to help and protect Zoe but keep his distance. Zoe and Seth both have insecurities and doubts that will keep them apart and will make it difficult for any relationship to continue. There is danger at every turn and at times they think they will not survive.

This story has the excitement, suspense, and romance you just love in a book. It starts at the very beginning and continued to the very end. The secondary characters were a great addition to the story. Toni's stories always keep you on the edge of your seat and you can't wait to see what happens. I look forward to her next adventure.

Great addition to the series

This book focuses on the FBI HRT which I loved . Seth and Zoe had an instant connection when they first spotted each other and had great chemistry. The action started early in this book and continued throughout without much let up! This book had romance, heat ,action and suspense. Plus we got to meet more of the HRT team which made me happy, I can’t wait to read more about the team. Overall an excellent book in this series and one highly I recommend

Valeri Sullivan
“I’m heavier than I look.”

I said I would be back after reading Cold Silence and in no way, shape or form was I disappointed by the newest installment of the Cold Justice Most Wanted series! I was drawn into Seth and Zoe’s world from page one of their action packed adventure. And those moments thrown in between Ryan and Megan left me wanting their story more than anything! Five stars!