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Cold Hearted (PAPERBACK)

Cold Hearted (PAPERBACK)

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When a double homicide shocks a small college town, a tenacious detective is forced to work with a brooding FBI profiler to track down a serial killer, in this award-winning Romantic thriller by New York Times bestselling author Toni Anderson

 

I freaking loved this book! How have I not read anything by this author before now?" ~Becky on Books... and Quilts.

 

Hunting For A Killer Who Doesn't Play By The Rules...

 

Detective Erin Donovan expects life to settle down after the arrest and conviction of a serial rapist who terrorized her college town last summer. Then two young women are brutally slain and the murders bear all the hallmarks of the campus rapist. Did Erin arrest the wrong man? 

 

Her job is at stake and tensions are high. Just when it looks like things can't get worse, the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit sends a profiler to assist the investigation—in the form of a man Erin has never been able to forget. 

 

Three years ago, former Marine scout sniper Darsh Singh’s feelings for Erin had him breaking all his rules. Now his only interest in the former NYPD detective is figuring out if she screwed up an investigation and helped send an innocent man to prison. 

 

Being forced to work together rekindles their attraction, and as Darsh and Erin fall for each other, the predator fixates on the female detective hunting him. Can they identify the killer before he makes Erin his final victim? 

 

All the Cold Justice® can be read as standalone titles. Hot romantic stories with thrilling plots and guaranteed happily ever afters—they do contain strong language.

 

 

WINNER of the BOOK BUYERS BEST for Romantic Suspense. Finalist in the National Excellence in Romance Fiction Awards, and the Booksellers' Best Award for Romantic Suspense.

Read a Sample

Chapter One

He spotted her across the street, blonde hair shining like polished gold in the sunlight, her lithe body tormenting every Y-chromosome in a hundred yard radius. He pulled out his cell and took a snapshot to immortalize the moment. He’d thought she said she was returning later in the week. Obviously he’d been mistaken. He dialed her number and watched her pull out her phone. He waited
for the matching smile to form on her lips, for her eyes to light up. Instead, she checked caller ID, grimaced, and let the call go to voicemail.
Horror rushed through him as she re-pocketed the phone and turned back to her companion. What the fuck? He kil
led the connection and collapsed to a nearby bench, hidden from sight by a mass of tangled bushes.
He’d thought she loved him. That she wanted to be with him...
God! He’d given her everything she needed, laid it out like a feast on a platter with a fucking apple stuffed in its mouth. She played you, dumbass.
Fury flayed his skin. Rage so hot and pure that the blood coursing his body burned his bones. She thought she could dismiss him? Like he was nothing? Like he hadn’t risked everything for her? His hand strangled his phone as he imagined it squeezing her alabaster neck.
A noise brought him back to himself, and he drew in a long breath.
A laugh.
A giggle.
His head jerked up. Students milled around. They were relaxed and happy after winter break. The monster had been caught. They were safe. Life could go back to normal.
Sheep.
How could they think they were safe when the person they were having coffee with might be a predator dreaming about ripping into their soft, white underbelly? Why were they so willing to swallow bullshit as long as it was confidently labeled “truth”?
The system was broken. Bad guys walked free every single day. Good guys rotted. Innocents died.
Idiots.
A cute freshman smiled shyly at him from the bench opposite. He stretched his mouth into an answering curve that revealed nothing of the shock and disappointment that still rippled through him. Women liked him. So why the fuck did she think it was okay to ignore him?
A plan formed in his brain—a plan that buzzed along his nerves with the blistering speed of electricity.
Should he do it?
It might mess up things, and he didn’t want to go to prison, but it would certainly get her attention. His brain raced over the possibilities. He knew how to do this. He knew how not to get caught. And it might keep things interesting. Life had been pretty fucking boring lately and, as he’d found out last year, there was nothing quite as satisfying as revenge.
The student hiked her bag on her shoulder and got up to leave. He eyed the flirty plaid skirt she wore over opaque black tights and tall black boots, then jogged to catch up with her. Made a joke. Made her blush.
It was almost too easy.
He laughed and realized he was enjoying himself again. The excitement resurrected something inside him that was both heady and familiar. Something that scared him enough to
keep it tightly leashed and under control. Something he’d denied himself for ten long months.
He reined in the thrill that fizzed through his bloodstream. He needed to be careful. The memory of the disgraced former quarterback reminded him he couldn’t afford to get cocky. No way in hell did he intend to share the asshole’s shame and degradation. But he knew the system. Knew the flaws. She was going to regret not taking that goddamned phone call for the rest of her life.
***
Cassie Bressinger smoothed out the single sheet of paper and read Drew’s small, cramped handwriting for the seventh time that day.
Cass,
I was trying to figure out something interesting to tell you, but after only a month I’m already running out of material. I mean, there are only so many adjectives I can invent to describe the three shades of gray that make up the decor here—snot, Minnesota, and dead rabbit are my newest favorites. I probably wouldn’t win any prizes in English class, but as I got kicked out I guess it doesn’t matter.
Three shades of gray—hmm, there might be a book in there somewhere...
Fifty Shades this place is not. Not to say there isn’t plenty of banging going on from the grunts and groans I hear at night. Someone somewhere is enjoying the fuck out of somebody else.
I think it’s consensual...
An ironic concern for a convicted rapist but, hey, who wants to be predictable?
Honestly, Babe, I’m at the stage where protecting my own ass has become my #1 priority. Luckily, I’m a big motherfucker and spent years on the gridiron, staring down people desperate to drill me into the ground. I could do with my offensive line in here though...
Crap.
I didn’t mean to talk about this shit and I’m running out of writing paper so I don’t want to start over. Plus, my fingers are getting cramps from holding a pen. Yeah, me, former star athlete whose hands were supposed to be his golden meal ticket. Getting cramps from writing a freaking letter! More irony :)
Enough about me. How are you? What’s happening with your courses this semester? You said you were going to try and get into law school. Please don’t do that because of me!!! The last thing I want is for you to be stuck in a stuffy courtroom listening to god-awful testimony and watching people’s lives disintegrate. Run away and join the circus. Take a year off and travel the world.
Seriously.
And make sure you write and tell me all about your adventures, okay? I’m living vicariously. And if you want to have sex with other girls —that’s okay. Feel free to write and tell me all about that, too. Kidding! Well...kind of kidding and now kind of horny, which is a pain in the ass. Obviously the DA was right to classify me as a dangerous sex fiend.
Fucker.
Okay, gotta go. Time for me to go line up for sloppy mashed potatoes and sausages that look like severed fingers... Ugh, okay, just grossed myself out.
Don’t worry about me—I got this.
Love you. Miss you.
Drew. X
Someone knocked on the door and Cassie jumped. Tanya Whitehouse sauntered in before Cassie had a chance to hide the letter.
“That from Drew?” Tanya was wearing skinny jeans, her favorite strappy black top, and sparkly earrings. Her lips glowed in glittering magenta. Going out. Doing normal things like a normal person.
Cassie popped a shoulder and nodded.
“He okay?” asked Tanya.
“He’s incarcerated with rapists and murderers for crimes he didn’t commit,” she bit out. “What do you think?”
Tanya placed her perfectly manicured hand along Cassie’s forearm. “You know what I meant.”
Always patient. Always reasonable.
Cassie swallowed the anger. She wasn’t patient, and she wasn’t reasonable. But Tanya was only trying to help. All her friends had been nothing but supportive throughout this entire nightmare.
“He says he’s okay.” Cassie swallowed the knotted lump of grief that had taken up residence in her throat and tried to find her rationality. “I think he just says that to make me feel better.”
“You going to visit him?” Tanya asked gently.
Cassie nodded. “I’m driving over with his dad at the end of the month. Drew doesn’t want me to come, but I—”
“Maybe he’s right.”
Cassie sat up on the messy bed. She knew where this was going. “Please don’t tell me I’m wasting my life. Drew is my life.”
Tanya grabbed Cassie’s hand and squeezed hard enough to hurt. “I just don’t want you to be sad for the next thirty years.”
Her vision blurred, but they both pretended Cassie wasn’t crying. Even she was sick of the incessant tears. “I won’t be.” She was lying. “Anyway, he can still appeal.”
There was an awkward silence when Tanya didn’t say anything. Cassie’s gaze shifted to the image on the front of a magazine. Easier to look at some movie star complaining about her messed up childhood than dealing with the sort of truth that dug holes in your soul.
“Hey,” Tanya said brightly, “there’s a party over at Riddell Hall. Wanna come with?”
Cassie shook her head.
“Come on. It’ll be fun,” her friend urged.
Going to a party would remind her of all the times she and Drew had hung out. She didn’t want to acknowledge the aching void of his absence—especially not in public.
“I have an assignment due tomorrow. I really need to finish it.” She crawled over to her bedside table in search of a tissue.
Tanya lightly flicked the magazine, mockingly. “Well, you better get on with it then.”
Cassie slumped back to the bed, ashamed of how pite
ous she’d become. “I can’t face seeing people,” she admitted. “Not yet. Maybe coming back to school was a mistake.”
“You did great. Take it slowly. You’ll get there, and we’ll all be waiting for you on the other side of this.”
Cassie nodded. The problem was there was no ‘other side.’ Drew’s loss was like a rip in her chest that got bigger every day. “The world thinks he’s a monster.”
Tanya wrapped her arms around Cassie in a quick hug. “We love him. We know he’s a good guy and would never touch those lying bitches.”
“I don’t know how this could have happened.”
“You can’t lock yourself away forever, Cass.”
But she wanted to.
She didn’t know why she’d come back this term, but hanging around her parents’ house with nothing to do was worse. Christmas had sucked balls. Now she needed to figure out a way to move on without giving up on the man she loved.
She gripped her friend. “I love you, Tan. I’m sorry I’m such a bitch.”
“I love you, too, baby.”
She forced herself to pull away and wiped her eyes. “I really do have an assignment to finish.”
“Then get to it, slacker.” Tanya gave her arm a noogie.
Cassie forced a smile. She’d blown off cheerleading practice earlier today, and if she did it again, the coach would throw her off the squad. She didn’t care, except it would screw with her scholarship, and her parents weren’t wealthy. She couldn’t afford to get thrown out of the program, and she needed a good GPA to have a hope of getting into law school. But every time the football players ran onto the field in their black and gold jerseys, it was like someone was pouring acid in her eyes. Knowing everyone’s life went on while Drew sat locked up in a cell. Her throat constricted. Some days it felt like the pain would consume her whole.
She stood and pushed her friend toward the door. “Go. Have fun. Kiss some hot guys for me.”
“If I can find someone worthy enough, I intend to do a lot more than kiss him. So don’t
worry if I don’t come home tonight. I’ll text you.” Tanya grinned. “Mandy’s studying in her room. Alicia is still at the library but said she’d be back just after ten as per usual. She might come to the party later, so if you change your mind...”
“Maybe,” Cassie lied. “You be careful out there. Guard your drink,” she warned. Because if those women had been raped, there was still a dangerous criminal on the loose, and no one knew it.
“I will, honey. Jillian’s going to be here any minute to give me a ride.”
“Go. Have fun.”
Tanya turned and smiled at her sadly, touching her arm. Cassie felt the punch of it near her heart. “You’ll get through this, Cass. You don’t have to forget Drew, but you need to keep living your life. He’d want you to do that.”
Cassie’s lip wobbled as she remembered what he’d said in his letter. She crossed her arms over her chest as she watched her friend jog down the stairs, grab her coat, and race out the front door. She had to believe a miracle was going to happen and that Drew would be freed, but it seemed futile. The judicial process was so slow it took months to even schedule a court hearing. In the meantime Drew was forced to live amongst killers and thieves. Getting raped in the showers wasn’t something anyone should have to worry about. Who could live like that?
That bitch Donovan had a lot to answer for. The blonde detective probably thought this was over.
It wasn’t. It would never be over.
Anger grounded her. Without it she’d be so damn lost.
Across the hall, Mandy turned her music on full blast. Cassie slipped on her noise-canceling headphones and stared at her computer and thought about the paper she needed to finish. Instead she pulled out a pen and notepad and started to write back to the man she loved, stopping only once to wipe away the tears that insisted on falling.


Chapter Two

Detective Erin Donovan got into her Ford F-150 truck, slammed the door, and turned the key in the ignition. The five-liter V8 engine roared to life. Today was her first day back after a Hawaiian vacation, and she was reeling from the ferocious drop in temperature combined with jet-lag that battered her senses.
She blasted the heater, giving it time to defrost the thin skim of ice that coated the interior of the windshield. She should check job vacancies on the islands—they needed cops in Hawaii, too, right? Living in Upstate New York was like living in a frickin’ refrigerator.
The town of Forbes Pines in St. Lawrence County was less than fifty miles from the border. They were so close to Canada they could practically smell the polar bears. She snorted at her own joke. Forbes Pines was a highbrow college town of about fifteen-thousand people and, up
until about seven months ago, the natives had been friendly. The southern outskirts of town bordered the Adirondacks, and the whole area was spectacular, especially in fall when the trees changed color.
No matter how beautiful, it still didn’t feel like home. After the sensational trial that had ripped the town apart last December, she doubted it ever would.
She jammed the edges of her down parka together and rubbed her chapped hands. As a police officer, she prioritized access to her sidearm over comfort, but there was a fine line between safety and stupidity. Tonight she was seriously questioning which was more likely to kill her
first—the cold or a perp. The mercury was in the low teens and sidewalks were piled with dirty ice and slush. It hadn’t snowed since Christmas Eve nearly two weeks ago. Not that she’d cared—she’d been too busy soaking up the sun on the white sand beach.
It had been her first vacation in years, and she hadn’t wanted to come back. She frowned, trying to remember the vacation before that. Her stomach lurched like a drunk on the subway when she did. Her honeymoon. God. The reminder was like a blow to the kidneys that robbed breath and made her insides bleed. She closed her eyes and was immediately assaulted by the image of Graham putting his off duty SIG Sauer P239 to his head. Her limbs twitched in a never-ending battle, torn between running toward him and running away.
She jerked her eyes open, heart pounding, sweat clammy on her skin. Her breath formed a cloud of vapor. Damn. She’d thought she was over the flashbacks. A tap on the glass had her heart exploding in her chest. She swiveled in her seat. Shit.
Ully Mason, a patrol officer from the Forbes Pines Police Department, stood on the tarmac, stamping his size twelve boots on the unyielding ground. Trying to get her breathing under control, she moved her hand away from her sidearm and buzzed down the window.
“Got a call about a possible intruder at Cassie Bressinger’s place.” He eyed her steadily from under thick dark brows.
“Again? I thought things had calmed down over there?” Erin’s head hurt. Dispatch had been getting almost nightly calls for months now. She’d thought the fun and games had ended with the trial. Obviously not.
A small smile curved Ully’s mouth. He was a good-looking guy, and he knew it. “Guess they heard you were back.”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” The college kids had a better grapevine than Crimestoppers. Officially she was off duty, but if these bogus calls didn’t stop, the chief was going to have a coronary. “I’ll meet you there. If we don’t find any evidence of an intruder this time, we’ll arrest the caller for wasting police resources.” She checked her watch. Ten p.m. “Let’s see if we can figure out a way to put an end to this bullshit.”
“I need to gas up on the way over.” Ully wrapped his fingers over the top of her window. “Don’t go in without me. I can just see the head of the cheer squad swearing under oath that she shot you in self-defense.”
“She’d enjoy it, too,” Erin agreed.
Ully let go of the glass and walked away to his black and white cruiser. Erin buzzed her window back up. As far as Cassie Bressinger was concerned, Erin was the devil incarnate. Maybe she’d give Cassie something to bitch about this time.
The frost finally cleared and warmth filled the cab. The Forbes Pines PD shared the large rambling red brick monstrosity of City Hall with the courthouse, DA’s office, and city offices. Politicians and lawyers liked to grandstand on the marble front steps. Cops and criminals skulked in the back entrance.
Erin pulled out of the police station and took Roosevelt Road, then turned right along Main Street past the beautiful park that gave the town a natural elegance. Tall elms and wrought-iron benches lined the central walkway. On the other side of the park, the old sandstone edifice of Blackcombe College gave Forbes Pines a dignified, moneyed air. The college dominated every aspect of the town with at least half the population being students, or former students who couldn’t bring themselves to move on. Faculty and staff made up a large proportion of the rest of
the town, and most of the local businesses depended on the university for survival.
She often kidded with the other cops that they were more like campus cops than real police officers. That was before the trial made international headlines and cemented her position as Most Hated Woman in the county. Erin drove onwards, intending to do a big loop around the southern perimeter of university grounds to where the sorority and frat houses were located on the far eastern edge. She wanted to get a feel for the mood of the place in the wake of Drew Hawke’s conviction. It would take Ully at least ten minutes to fill up, so she had time. Term had started today and, despite the hour, there were plenty of students milling around in small groups. They eyed her truck suspiciously as she drove slowly by. Outside one of the large frat houses she locked gazes with Jason Brady, wide receiver for the Blackcombe Ravens. Wearing track pants and a Raven’s long-sleeved tee, he stood on the curb next to his jeep with his hands on his hips. He spat on the ground and mouthed the word cunt as she drove past.
Good times.
She carried on, past the gym complex, the faculty of science. Another half mile, and she cruised up and down the streets either side of Cassie Bressinger’s house. No sign of anyone lurking. She stopped the truck a few houses down from the small clapboard building. Many of the houses in this neighborhood were rented to students. A few belonged to low income families—research assistants, sessional instructors. Cassie Bressinger’s neighbor had a small plastic swing-set on a postage stamp-sized front lawn.
Last time Erin had visited this address, she’d arrested Cassie’s boyfriend. No wonder the girl was about as friendly as an injured boar. There was a light on deep inside the belly of the house but nothing outside or downstairs. She tried Ully on his cell but couldn’t raise him. There were
several reception dead zones, and the gas station was in one of them. She didn’t have a police radio in her truck tonight.
She sat for a moment with the engine running, then felt ridiculous. She’d spent five years as an NYPD beat cop, and one year as an NYPD detective. She wasn’t some rookie who needed her hand held. Unlike most TV shows depicted, detectives didn’t normally work in pairs. Especially not in small rural departments. They worked alone, and they got the job done without a trusty sidekick.
Cassie and her friends were probably sitting in the dark watching her and laughing their asses off, planning to repeat the routine, ad infinitum. Erin turned off the engine and killed the lights. She grabbed her flashlight from under the seat and got out of the truck.
Last year had been the most grueling of her professional career, but it had ended with a conviction of the serial rapist who’d terrified campus. She should feel safer, they all should, but this was a football town, and the players ranked right up there with Holy Trinity. By arresting the star quarterback she’d brought herself nothing but trouble, and right now, she was about as popular as Pilate after the crucifixion.
A siren went off in the distance, the sound echoing for miles across the stark winter landscape. A dog barked a few houses down, but the street itself was deserted, everyone tucked up warm and cozy in their homes—like she should be.
Dammit.
She crossed the road, then climbed the three steps of the sagging front porch. There was a moth-eaten couch to the right. Standing to the left of the door she knocked and waited. An eerie silence greeted her.
“Forbes Pines PD.” She knocked harder. “Cassie Bressinger, you reported an intruder. Open up, please.” No one wanted cops in their neighborhood so she’d make sure the locals knew exactly who was responsible for this late night visit. She knocked again.
Where the hell was Ully?
If she’d really thought there was an intruder inside the house she’d kick down the door, but she doubted the chief of police wanted that sort of heavy-handed police work. He wanted the incidents to die down naturally without escalating the drama.
A plan that currently wasn’t working.
There was a narrow path between the fenced yards of this house and the next. She made her way through, the edges of her coat brushing the wood on either side. At the back of the property she stood on tiptoe and swung the flashlight over the top board. She shone her beam into the shadowy recesses, revealing overflowing trashcans and several boxes of empty bottles stacked outside the back door. No sign of a break-in.
Something launched itself against the fence beside her, and the whole thing shook violently. Her heart ricocheted between her ribs and her spine. A frenzy of barking told her it was just a dog—Jesus H. Christ. The damn thing was lucky she hadn’t shot it.
The jolt of adrenaline ramped up the tension and dialed her mood up to pissed. She strode back to the front of the house, intending to hammer on the door, but saw one of Cassie’s roommates walking toward her along the sidewalk.
“What are you doing here?” Alicia Drummond demanded loudly. She carried a pile of books, and a hostile attitude. The feeling was mutual.
“Police received a call about an intruder from this address,” Erin told her with a smile thatcould rip flesh from bone.
“Sure they weren’t talking about you?” Alicia scoffed. She was a snotty law student on the fast-track to becoming a snotty defense attorney.
Erin kept her retort to herself. Her mother always said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Of course, her mother was one of the few members of the family who wasn’t a cop. Her father’s response was always, “You have the right to remain silent. Use it.” Erin lived by
his maxim.
Alicia balanced the heavy books under one arm while she dug for her keys. “We don’t want you here. You need to leave before I make a complaint.”
“Nice try, Alicia.” Erin leaned against the siding. After only a few hours’ sleep and a five-hour time difference, she had zero tolerance for bullshit. She just wanted to go home to bed. “I need to talk to Cassie, because she’s the one who reported the intruder. I’m going to need her to come down to the police station and make a full report. Anyone else
in the house at the time of the call also needs to come in.” The more inconvenient she made the consequences of this prank, the sooner they’d get the message that this was not okay. Cops had better things to do with their time.
Alicia threw her a look of utter loathing. Then she went inside and flicked on the hall light. She went to slam the door in Erin’s face, but Erin stuck her boot in the gap.
“Alicia,” she warned with enough of an edge that the girl met her gaze. “Cassie needs to stop making false reports before she gets herself into serious trouble.”
Alicia’s gaze narrowed. “Fine. I’ll tell her to stop being so resentful just because the cops locked up her boyfriend for thirty years. I mean, what’s thirty years?”
“Tell it to the judge and jury. I’m not the one who convicted him.” Erin removed her foot, and Alicia slammed the door shut in her face. Erin dragged a hand through her hair. These young women were so full of righteous indignation she actually admired them. Pity the guy they believed in was a violent scumbag.
She headed back to her truck, wondering where Ully was and whether she should wait for him to turn up or just call him on her drive home. A scream rent the air and raised every hair on her body. She turned and ran back toward the house and collided with Alicia on the garden path. The woman who hated her guts threw herself into Erin’s arms and sobbed loudly. “Oh, my God. Oh, my God!”
“What is it?” asked Erin.
“They’re dead!”
Erin’s heart raced even as she braced herself for some dumb practical joke. “Who? Who’s dead?” She took a step away from the hysterical girl and made Alicia sit on the curbstone. “Who is dead?” she repeated sharply, trying to penetrate the fog of hysteria that encased the usually
unflappable law student.
“C-Cassie and M-Mandy.” Alicia’s skin was gray, her expression shell-shocked.
If this was a joke, Erin was going to make them all go before the judge. A black and white cruiser pulled up in the street behind them. Ully. Finally.
He joined her. “Sorry, someone ran a red, and I pulled them over.”
“We have a report of two fatalities inside the house,” she told him.
Ully’s eyes widened as he radioed for backup. They’d both assumed this was another false alarm. Her pulse thumped heavily in her veins. Had she screwed up? Had she been outside feeling sorry for herself as someone slaughtered two girls inside?
She pulled her Glock from its holster and climbed the steps. Ully did the same, and they entered the front door fast, clearing the downstairs room by room—the living room and kitchen, downstairs bathroom. A door off the kitchen had probably once been a dining room but had been converted into another bedroom. Alicia’s books and bag were strewn carelessly on the bed.
It was quiet inside, the ominous feeling of dread moving sullenly through the air.
Erin jerked her chin toward the stairs and up they went. The door to the first room on the left was wide open. A girl lay on the bed staring unseeingly up at the ceiling. Erin recognized her from the trial last year, but didn’t know her
name. There was bruising on her neck, and the whites of her eyes were spotted red.
Erin ignored the way her heart jerked in her chest and moved to the center of the room as she and Ully finished searching the space. Once they were sure no one was hiding in the closet or under the bed, she pressed her fingers to the girl’s carotid.
The skin was warm, but there was no pulse.
Erin caught Ully’s gaze and shook her head, and they moved to the next room, checking under the bed, behind the door, and in the attached bath. Empty.
Horror spiked as they entered the last bedroom. Signs of a scuffle were obvious. Papers and bedding lay strewn across the floor. Jagged shards of a broken mug were scattered on the carpet. Cassandra Bressinger lay naked, spread-eagle, wrists and ankles bound to the four corners of the bed. The same MO Drew Hawke had reportedly used to rape his victims, except she was face up, and battered until she was almost unrecognizable.
Erin and Ully exchanged a glance. Had they been wrong? About Drew? About Cassie’s crank call? Shock and horror and an awful sense of culpability ripped through Erin. If she’d broken down the door earlier, would she have saved the lives of these two young women?
To ground herself, Erin focused on the ritual of the job. Secure the scene. Assess the victim. She and Ully cleared the room, made sure there was no threat to life before Erin pressed her fingers to the side of this girl’s throat. No pulse. She hadn’t been dead long, but long enough for her lips to turn blue and eyes to glaze over.
Careful of where they stepped and what they touched, she and Ully cleared the rest of the house. Sirens screamed as more uniforms started to arrive.
“Secure the perimeter,” she told the senior patrolman. She didn’t want every cop in the town trudging through the crime scene or seeing the bodies. “I’ll make the calls.” Crime scene techs, the coroner, their boss. “And get someone to take Alicia Drummond to the police station to get a statement before she talks to anyone else.”
Ully nodded and was already speaking into his radio.
The first call Erin made was to Harry Compton.
“What the hell do you want?” he answered groggily. There were only two detectives on the small Forbes Pines PD, and only one of them had recently taken a Hawaiian vacation.
“Double homicide on Fairfax Road.”
“Fuck,” Harry said and hung up.
A man of few words.
Then she called Chief Strassen and told him the case they thought they’d won last month was far from over. And the town that hated her guts was about to crucify her.
***
A bitter north-wind funneled down the street, an omen for the hostility Darsh Singh was bound to encounter in the next few minutes. It was still dark out. Snow lay in dirty patches on the barren ground. He’d thrown on the clothes he’d been wearing earlier that day, grabbed his belongings, and hightailed it to the airport. Now a thin navy windbreaker with “FBI” stenciled across the back in acid yellow was all that stood between him and a polar vortex determined to suck New England into the cold depths of hell.
He’d been on a job in Boston when he’d gotten an urgent call from Acting Supervisory Special Agent Jed Brennan. On medical leave since before Christmas when Brennan had taken a bullet during an assassination attempt on the president, the agent had stepped in as temporary head of BAU-4 after ASAC Lincoln Frazer snapped his Achilles tendon during a criminal apprehension on the Outer Banks the day before yesterday. Considering Frazer had bagged a
serial killer who’d been active for nearly twenty years, Darsh figured it was a small price to pay.
Darsh’s own desk was overflowing with active case files. A series of rapes in Portland. A cluster of homicides in DC, not to mention the white slave ring he’d been working in Boston. But within twelve hours of coming back to work, Jed Brennan had received an anxious phone call from the Department of Justice about a potential goat-rope—a double homicide at Blackcombe College, Forbes Pines, Upstate New York.
Blackcombe was renowned both as an undergraduate teaching institution and a world-class research facility, but that wasn’t the reason for its more recent brush with fame. The media spotlight had been focused sharply on the town following the high-profile trial and conviction of the star quarterback for a series of rapes last year. The trial had ripped the town apart with opposing camps coming to blows on the courthouse steps and a near riot occurring when the verdict was read.
Brennan had pulled Darsh off his other cases and told him to make this his priority.
It was a delicate situation. Darsh had been tasked with not only examining the latest murders, but profiling the other crimes as well. To figure out if these new killings were a coincidence, a copycat, someone deliberately trying to make the Hawke conviction look shaky, or if the local
PD had messed up and doomed an innocent man to prison. And he had to do it without pissing off the locals when they knew they were gonna be put under the microscope.
Darsh pushed through the crowd of spectators who
lingered despite the lateness of the hour and the sub-zero temps. He hoped someone here had the smarts to photograph the onlookers in addition to the crime scene. Killers often came back to observe the chaos they wrought. It was all part of the thrill. Unlike most fictional killers and rapists, the real life versions were generally as smart as a thumbtack. He flashed his creds at the police officer manning the outer perimeter and ducked under the tape. “Agent Singh. FBI. I need to speak to whoever’s in charge.”
“You’re FBI?”
He ignored the skepticism. “That’s what they told me when I graduated the academy.” He pocketed his gold shield as the officer shouted to one of her colleagues before leading him to the two-story clapboard house surrounded by yellow crime scene tape.
“Sorry.” The rookie was flustered. A dark blush worked its way into her cheeks and matched her cold-looking nose. “I wasn’t expecting a fed to show up.”
Darsh signed his name on the log, put paper covers over his boots, latex gloves on his hands, and walked into the house. It was just as cold inside—front and back doors were wide open. At least it would slow decomposition.
The rookie button-hooked a right and walked up to a blonde who wore a gray pantsuit beneath a black parka with a fur-lined hood. The blonde had her head down but seemed vaguely familiar.
She looked up, and a pair of smoky blue eyes collided with his. Every neuron in his body sparked to life as recognition slammed into his gut. Her pupils dilated, but apart from that, she betrayed no visible reaction.
Fuck.
There was no smile. No “Hey, how’re ya doin’?” But then their last encounter had been conducted under very different circumstances. Horizontal. Naked. Panting.
She’d turned him inside out in a way no one else ever had, and that was before he’d found out she was married.
He glanced at her left hand. Bare.
His pulse sped up, as if he hadn’t learned his lesson the first time. She tucked her fingers up her sleeve, perhaps sensing his gaze.
The rookie spoke into the blonde’s ear, and the woman narrowed her eyes, clearly weighing the professional implications of his presence rather than the personal ones. Darsh stared right back. Under his jacket, he wore black tactical pants, a black T-shirt, ATAC boots—much the
same as he’d been the first time he’d bumped into her in a bar after spending an intense, sweaty day training with the FBI’s HRT. She’d been at Quantico doing a training course for law enforcement. He’d been about to go undercover and was supposed to be keeping a low profile. He hadn’t told her he was part of the FBI’s BAU—but his omission didn’t come close to hers. And it still burned that he’d slept with a married woman.
Her mouth turned down at the edges, and he tried to forget the fact he’d spent hours kissing those lips—and every other inch of her body. As if reading the direction of his thoughts she glared at him and turned to the evidence tech she’d been talking to, dismissing Darsh like he was a nobody.
He shoved down a grin. If it hadn’t been the scene of a double homicide he’d have laughed. He was used to working with women who busted balls for breakfast. He actually enjoyed the challenge of them. He stood waiting patiently until she deigned to speak to him. Forty-six seconds later, she walked across the room to where he’d planted himself beside the door.
“You’re FBI?” She held out her hand for his creds. Took them and examined them carefully. “Not a Marine then?” she muttered under her breath, proving she definitely remembered their night together three years ago.
“Once a Marine always a Marine,” he told her truthfully.
“Semper Fi,” she muttered sarcastically.
Always faithful.
“Well, that’s my motto.” He plucked his creds out of her grip, and she flinched.
Up close, those unusual eyes stood out against creamy
skin and thick dark lashes like a wash of color in an otherwise pale complexion. There were shadows beneath them, bruises of fatigue dappling tender skin, speaking of a double shift dealing with brutal reality. He told himself it
didn’t matter. All that mattered was helping catch this killer and making sure the local cops weren’t incompetent hicks.
“This isn’t a federal case.” Irritation frosted her tone.
Hell, snowmen were warmer than this woman appeared on the surface—except he knew that beneath the icy exterior was a core of molten fire. “No, ma’am.”
“Detective,” she corrected, those sharp eyes of hers apparently tracking his thoughts. “Detective Erin Donovan.”
“Detective.” He inclined his head, inexplicably relieved she hadn’t lied about her first name. He’d taken one look at the sexy blonde and been smitten. At first they hadn’t exchanged surnames or life histories, both wanting a no-strings hook up. But by the end of the night he’d wanted to know everything about her—except the one thing he’d discovered. He cleared his throat. “Your chief requested assistance from the BAU. I’m it.”
Her boss, at the urging of the governor, had indeed called the FBI for assistance. None of the local cops needed to know the DOJ was also involved.
“BAU? You’re BAU?” Her expression became less antagonistic now that she knew he wasn’t a field officer who might try to wrest the case from her. But the question remained in her eyes—why lie about being a Marine all those years ago? A spark of apparent understanding lit her eyes, but he couldn’t begin to guess what she was thinking.
“I guess we both lied to get what we wanted,” she said in barely a whisper.
A night of burning-hot sex. The memory of it seared the air between them, and that pissed him off. As a trained sniper, he never made the same mistake twice—that went double for his personal life. He kept his voice to the same low whisper. “Only I didn’t have a spouse back home waiting for me.”
“Gold star for Agent Singh.” She looked him in the eye, raised that stubborn chin of hers, and got back to the job at hand. “Serial crimes generally involve more than two bodies, and have a cooling off period between crimes. Why is BAU involved here?”
“Because after the rape trial last year this town doesn’t need a killer on the loose.” A little truth went a long way. “The faster you solve this thing, the better.” They held each other’s gaze, but he didn’t back down. Neither did she. “You have anyone photographing the crowd outside?” Divert her attention. Give her a reason to value his input.
Her eyes widened, and she swore. “Geoff,” she spoke to a man packing up his photography gear. “Get some more exterior shots and make sure you get plenty of the crowd in case the perp came back.”
“Right, boss.” The photographer unzipped his camera with
the resigned air of a man not getting any sleep that night.
“We did it earlier, but I should have thought of doing it again a few hours later. The perp might have gotten curious as to what was going on. Thanks.” She nodded curtly.
“The bodies are still here, correct?” He got a much better sense of the killer’s mindset when he saw victims in situ.
And this was a volatile situation and a sensitive case. The quicker they figured out who’d killed these girls, the better for everyone. He took a step toward the stairs, but she side-stepped, blocked him, and they collided hard. He grabbed her upper arms so she didn’t fall on her ass and tried to ignore the fact her soft breasts were pressed up against the hard wall of his chest. The dilation of her pupils and flaring of her nostrils told their own tales, even as her jaw flexed and eyes narrowed. They stood glaring at one another like angry lovers—or a couple of wary dogs going head-to-head over territory.

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