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Laura Griffin Sampler: Tracer Series and Whisper of Warning

Laura Griffin Sampler: Tracer Series and Whisper of Warning

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Published by Simon and Schuster
Catch up with the Tracer series read chapters from Untraceable and Unspeakable, and a bonus chapter from Whisper of Warning.

About Unforgivable:

TRACING KILLERS IS MIA VOSS’S BUSINESS.
AND HER WORK JUST GOT PERSONAL.

At first, Mia Voss thinks it’s just bad luck when her already lousy day ends with a carjacking. But what seems like a random incident is followed by another sinister episode. A DNA expert, Mia has made it her mission to put away vicious criminals. Suddenly, she’s become the target of one. And the only way to protect the people she loves most is to deliberately destroy her reputation and risk letting a killer walk free.

Once, Mia trusted Detective Ric Santos. That was before Ric let his turbulent past ruin his chances with Mia, the sexiest, most intriguing woman he’s ever met. But he can tell when she’s lying—and when she’s scared. The key to catching a sadistic madman lies within a long-buried cold case that has haunted Mia for years. Only she can uncover the truth, but first, Ric will have to get her to entrust him with her secrets . . . and her life.




Visit www.lauragriffin.com

Everybody loves the compelling suspense novels of

LAURA GRIFFIN

UNFORGIVABLE “Razor-sharp suspense, sizzling-hot
Catch up with the Tracer series read chapters from Untraceable and Unspeakable, and a bonus chapter from Whisper of Warning.

About Unforgivable:

TRACING KILLERS IS MIA VOSS’S BUSINESS.
AND HER WORK JUST GOT PERSONAL.

At first, Mia Voss thinks it’s just bad luck when her already lousy day ends with a carjacking. But what seems like a random incident is followed by another sinister episode. A DNA expert, Mia has made it her mission to put away vicious criminals. Suddenly, she’s become the target of one. And the only way to protect the people she loves most is to deliberately destroy her reputation and risk letting a killer walk free.

Once, Mia trusted Detective Ric Santos. That was before Ric let his turbulent past ruin his chances with Mia, the sexiest, most intriguing woman he’s ever met. But he can tell when she’s lying—and when she’s scared. The key to catching a sadistic madman lies within a long-buried cold case that has haunted Mia for years. Only she can uncover the truth, but first, Ric will have to get her to entrust him with her secrets . . . and her life.




Visit www.lauragriffin.com

Everybody loves the compelling suspense novels of

LAURA GRIFFIN

UNFORGIVABLE “Razor-sharp suspense, sizzling-hot

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Published by: Simon and Schuster on Oct 27, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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Laura Griffin Sampler

Snapped - Laura Griffin’s Newest Novel
SOPHIE BARRETT THINKS SHE’S LUCKY TO BE ALIVE. SHE MAY BE DEAD WRONG. On a sweltering summer afternoon, Sophie Barrett walks into a nightmare. A sniper has opened fire on a college campus. When the carnage is over, three people—plus the shooter—are dead and dozens more are injured. Sophie escapes virtually unscathed. Yet as details emerge from the investigation, she becomes convinced that this wasn’t the random, senseless act it appeared to be.

Whisper of Warning
WILL HE HELP PROVE HER INNOCENCE... OR LEAD A KILLER TO HER DOOR? Courtney Glass has been in trouble all her life, but nothing tops being an up-close witness to a brutal murder. Until she’s accused of the crime.

Read excerpts from a Tracer trilogy

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Parking on campus was a bitch and so was Sophie. Or at least, she was in a bitchy mood. She was hot, hungry, and doomed to spend the better part of her lunch hour waiting in line at the registrar’s office. But then she spotted it—a gleaming, perfect, gorgeously empty parking space not fifty feet in front of her. The green flag indicating time still left on the parking meter was the cherry on top of her lunchtime sundae. “Thank you,” she sighed as she rolled past the spot, shifted into reverse, and flipped her turn indicator. She had just started to ease back when an old-model vW zipped up behind her. “Hey!” Sophie pounded her horn as the Bug driver whipped into her spot while pretending not to see her. She might as well have been invisible. “Unbelievable!” Sophie jabbed at the window button and leaned out to yell at him. “Yo, Fahrvergnügen! That’s my spot!” A horn blared behind her and she glanced around. Now she was holding up traffic. She shifted into drive

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and muttered curses as she scoured the busy streets for another scrap of real estate large enough to accommodate her Tahoe. Of course there wasn’t one. She glanced at her watch. damn it, she was going to be late getting back to work, and she’d long since used up her tardy passes. With a final curse, she pulled into an overpriced parking garage three blocks downhill from her destination. After squeezing into a spot, she jumped out and dashed for the exit, pressing numbers on her cell phone as she went. “Mia? Hey, it’s me.” She stepped onto the sidewalk and blinked up at the blindingly bright sunlight. “What’s up, Soph? I’ve got my hands full.” “Shoot, forget it, then.” “What?” “I’m at the university,” Sophie said. “I was going to ask you to cover the phones for a few minutes if I’m not back by one.” “I’ll get down there if I can, but—” “don’t worry, I’ll get diane to do it.” diane was the assistant evidence clerk at the delphi Center, where Sophie worked, but she wasn’t exactly known for her cheery disposition. “She owes me a favor, anyway. We’re still on for margaritas with Kelsey, right? Six o’clock?” “Schmitt’s,” Mia confirmed. “See you there.” Sophie dropped the phone in her bag and continued uphill. The sun blazed down. Her blouse grew damp. Her tortured feet were a testament to the folly of buying victoria’s Secret sandals on clearance. After waiting for a break in traffic, she darted across the street and felt the heat coming up off the asphalt in waves. Jeez, it was hot. Thank goodness she was signing up for a night course. At last she reached the grassy quadrangle and enjoyed

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a few patches of shade as she neared the registrar’s office. Students streamed up and down the sidewalks, talking with friends and reading text messages. Sophie gazed wistfully at their cutoff shorts and tank tops. Once upon a time she, too, had lived in grunge wear. She didn’t miss the clothes so much as that time in her life, when she’d had nothing more to do than go to keg parties on weekends and cut class to hang out with her boyfriend. Now both those pursuits seemed worse than trivial— they seemed wasteful. How could a few short years make such a difference in her outlook? She marveled at the irony—here she was plunking down her hard-earned money to attend a class she would have happily ditched just a few years ago. The perfect revenge for her I-told-you-so parents, only they’d never get the chance to say that because she had no intention of telling them she was back in school. This was her private mission, and if she failed to accomplish it, no one would ever have to know she’d tried. Sophie navigated the busy sidewalks, longing for a pair of Birkenstocks instead of heels. She glanced again at her watch and knew, without a doubt, she was going to be late. Crack. She halted in her tracks. People shrieked behind her, and she whirled around. Her gaze landed on someone sprawled across the sidewalk. A man. Sophie stared in shock at the jacket, the tie, and the bloody pulp that should have been his head. Crack. Someone’s shooting! The words screamed through her

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brain as she scanned her surroundings. She was in an open field. She was a clear target. More shrieks as she bolted for the trees. A staccato of bullets. Clumps of grass burst up at her and she fell back, landing hard on her butt. Before her eyes, a woman collapsed to the ground, clutching her throat. A child in pigtails howled. Crab-walking backward, Sophie glanced around frantically. What was happening? Where was it coming from? Screams echoed around her as people ducked and dove for cover. She rolled to her knees and lunged for the nearest solid object—a cement block at the base of a statue. She crouched behind it, gasping for breath, every nerve in her body zinging with terror. Where is he? More gunfire. More screaming. Sophie cupped her hands over her head and tried to make herself small. “She lent it to you? That’s the best you got?” San Marcos Police detective Allison doyle scowled down at the pimply-faced perpetrator and waited. It didn’t take long. “She didn’t say that exactly.” “What did she say, exactly?” “Well, it was more like understood, you know?” The kid slouched against the door to his dorm room. “Like I could use it long as I wanted, so long as I returned it.” “I see.” Allison nodded over his shoulder, at the array of loot spread out on his single bed: four iPods, two BlackBerrys, and an iPad not even out of the box—which constituted the reason for her little visit to this room that smelled like gym socks and God knew what else.

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“What about the iPods?” Allison asked. “You borrow them, too?” A girl burst into the hallway. “Someone’s shooting! Oh my God, people are dead!” Allison yanked out her Glock and rushed down the hall. “Who’s shooting? Where?” “The quad! Someone’s killing people!” “Go into your rooms and lock your doors. Now! Stay away from the windows.” Allison raced across the lobby and out the glass door. It was like stepping into an oven. She took an instant to orient herself, then took off for the university quadrangle just as her radio crackled to life. “Attention all units! Active shooter on campus! South quadrangle!” The usually calm dispatcher sounded shrill, and Allison felt the first twinge of panic. “Reports of casualties. All units respond!” Allison jerked the radio from her belt. “doyle responding.” Jesus Christ. “Where is the shooter? Over.” For a moment, silence. Then a distant wail of sirens on the other side of town. Allison sprinted across University Avenue and did a double take. Cars were stopped in the middle of the road, doors flung open. The engines were running, but the cars were empty. “Shooter’s location is unknown,” the dispatcher said. “I repeat, unknown.” Jonah Macon stared at the dilapidated house where absolutely nothing had happened for the past seven hours. He hated surveillance work, and not just the boredom of it. His six-foot-four-inch frame wasn’t designed to be crammed into the back of a van for days on end.

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“If I drink another cup of this coffee, my piss is gonna turn black.” Jonah shot Sean Byrne a look of disgust but didn’t respond. “Nice image,” Jonah’s partner Ric quipped, tossing his Styrofoam cup into an empty Krispy Kreme box. Ric Santos had volunteered to bring breakfast this morning, and the doughnut shop was just around the corner from his girlfriend’s place. So here they all were—bored, caffeinated, and jacked up on sugar that needed to be burned off. Jonah leaned back in his seat and popped his knuckles as he stared at the video monitor. “Seriously, how late can he sleep?” Sean asked. “I’m about to bust in there and drag his skinny ass out here myself.” “Movement at the door,” Jonah said, and everyone snapped to attention. A man stepped onto the porch, finally breaking the monotony. Jonah’s team had been in the van since before dawn, waiting for their subject to kiss his girlfriend good-bye and lead them to the crib where they were ninety-nine percent sure their murder suspect was holed up. Sure enough, they watched onscreen as their subject got some good-bye tongue action before tromping down the rickety front-porch steps. “Think he’s stepping out for a paper?” Sean asked sarcastically. “I’m not sure he can read.” Ric eased out of the bucket seat in back and slid behind the wheel while Jonah reached for his radio to give the guys in the car down the block a heads-up.

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The phone at Jonah’s hip buzzed. Then Ric’s phone buzzed. Then a snippet of rap music emanated from Sean’s pocket. Everyone exchanged grim looks as they took out their phones. Jonah answered first. “Macon.” “Get to campus, ASAP! Where’s the SWAT van?” “Perkin has it,” Jonah told his lieutenant. “He’s up in Austin at a training op—” “Someone’s shooting people all over the quad! Get over there and suit up. Grab everyone you can.” Jonah braced himself against the side of the van as Ric peeled away from the curb. From the look on his partner’s face, Jonah knew he was getting similar instructions. “What’s your setup?” Lieutenant Reynolds demanded. Jonah was already leaning over the backseat to do a quick inventory of the cargo space. “Two shotguns, a rifle, and a couple of flash bangs.” His pulse started to pound. “How many shooters?” “We don’t know.” “What kind of weapon?” “We don’t know that, either. We don’t know shit! All I got is a bunch of hysterical 911 calls, someone’s gunning down people on the lawn. Some kid just got shot off his bike. ETA?” Jonah glanced through the tinted windows as a blur of storefronts raced past. “Two minutes, tops.” “Okay, then you’re it, Macon. I’m fifteen minutes out. You guys got any Kevlar?” “Three vests and a flak jacket.” “Take all of it. And call me when you get there.”
• • •

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Crack. Another burst of cement on the nearby sidewalk. Sophie huddled tighter and looked back at the howling little girl. “Get down!” Sophie shouted. From the pavement, an arm reached up and tugged weakly at the girl’s shorts. The arm was attached to a hugely pregnant woman who was lying in an everexpanding pool of her own blood. Dear Lord. Someone had to get them out of here, but there was no one. The campus that had been crawling with students just moments ago was now a ghost town. Sophie darted her gaze around. Where was the shooter? She eased up slowly and peered around the base of the bronze statue. Crack. An agonized scream behind her. Sophie recoiled. She peeked beneath her quivering elbow and saw a man hunched at the base of a flagpole, clutching his bloody ankle. Sophie’s gaze was drawn to the corpse behind her, now baking on the sidewalk. At the edge of the grass, another man lay sprawled across the ground, a backpack beside him. A student. Sophie’s heart jackhammered against her rib cage as she watched the flies already buzzing around him. This can’t be happening. The crying intensified. Sophie glanced again at the child, who was hunched over her mother, sobbing uncontrollably. She had to be only two, maybe three years old. The woman twisted onto her side, probably trying to shield the girl with her body. They were behind

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a large oak tree, thank goodness. But if the child moved too much— Crack. Glass shattered on a building nearby. Crack. Crack. Crack. One by one, the second-story windows exploded. She thought of those shooting games at carnivals where the targets were little yellow ducks. Sirens grew louder as Sophie scoured the rooflines for any sort of movement or muzzle flash. She went from building to building all around the quadrangle, searching the red tile roofs and the highest row of windows. Her gaze came to rest on the white limestone monolith that sat atop the hill, overlooking the entire campus like a giant Sphinx. And suddenly she knew. The gunman was on top of the library. And from there he could see everything.

CHAPTER 1

M

ia Voss needed a fix. Badly. On a normal day, she would have stood strong against the temptation. But nothing about today had been normal, starting with the fact that it was January seventh and ending with the fact that for the first time in her life she’d actually been demoted. Her stomach clenched as she turned into the MinuteMart parking lot and eased her white Jeep Wrangler into a space near the door. Her cheeks warmed at the still-fresh memory of standing stiffly in her boss’s office, gazing down at his weasel face as he sat behind his desk, meting out criticism. At the time, she’d been stunned speechless, too shocked to defend herself. Only now— six hours too late—did all of the perfect rejoinders come tumbling into her head. Mia jerked open the door to the convenience store and made a beeline for the freezer section. If ever a night called for Ben & Jerry’s, it was tonight. For the first Thursday night in months, she wasn’t stuck at the lab. For the first Thursday night in years, the only items demanding her attention were a sappy chick flick, a cozy blanket, and a

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pint of butterfat. Tonight was for wallowing. Mia slid open the freezer door and plucked out a tub of Super Fudge Chunk. She tucked it under her arm, then grabbed a pint of Chunky Monkey as well. As long as she was sinning, why not sin big? That motto had gotten her into trouble on more than one occasion, but she continued to follow it. “doc Voss.” She jumped and whirled around. A bulky, balding man in a brown overcoat stood behind her. He crouched down to pick up the carton that had rolled across the aisle, then stood and held it out to her. “Good stuff, isn’t it?” “Uh, yeah. Thanks.” She stared at him and tried to place him. He was a cop, she knew that much. But he wasn’t someone she’d seen recently, and she couldn’t pull a name from her memory banks. “Not as good as mint chip, though.” His droll smile made him look grandfatherly. “My wife’s favorite.” She noticed his shopping basket—two pints of mint chocolate chip and a six-pack of beer. His gaze drifted down to her fur-lined moccasins and a bushy gray eyebrow lifted. “Slumber party?” For her quick trip to the store, Mia had tucked her satin nightshirt into jeans, pulled on a ratty cardigan, and slipped her feet into house shoes. She looked like an escapee from a mental ward, which, of course, meant that she’d bump into a cop she knew. Nothing like reinforcing that professional image. Yes, it was shaping up to be a banner career day. Mia forced a smile. “More like movie night.” She glanced at her watch and stepped toward the register. “It’s about to start, actually. I’d better—”

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“don’t let me keep you.” He nodded. “See ya around, doc.” Mia watched his reflection in the convex mirror as she paid for her groceries. He added a couple of frozen dinners to his basket and headed for the chips aisle. The name hit her as she pulled out of the parking lot. Frank Hannigan. San Marcos Pd. Why couldn’t she have remembered it sooner? Something hard jabbed into her neck. “Take a left at this light.” Mia’s head whipped around. Her chest convulsed. In the backseat was a man. He held a gun pointed right at her nose. “Watch the road!” She jerked her head around just in time to see the telephone pole looming in front of her. She yanked the wheel left and managed to stay on the street. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. Her hands clutched the steering wheel in a death grip. Her gaze flashed to the mirror and homed in on his gun. It was big and seriouslooking, and he held it rock-steady in his gloved hand. “Turn left.” The command snapped her attention away from the weapon and back to him. Her brain numbly registered a description. Black hooded sweatshirt pulled tight around his face. Navy bandanna covering his nose and mouth. dark sunglasses. All she could see of the man behind the disguise was a thin strip of skin between the glasses and the bandanna. He jammed the muzzle of the pistol into her neck again. “Eyes ahead.” She forced herself to comply. Her heart pounded

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wildly against her sternum. Her stomach tightened. She realized she’d stopped breathing. She focused on drawing air into her lungs and unclenched her hand from the wheel so that she could shift gears and turn left. Where are we going? What does he want? Her mind flooded with terrifying possibilities as she hung a left and darted her gaze around, looking for a police car, a fire truck, anything. But this was a college town, and whatever action might be going on tonight was happening much closer to campus. How was she going to get out of this? Cold sweat beaded along her hairline. Bile rose in the back of her throat. The engine reached a high-pitched whine. She’d forgotten to change gears. Her clammy hand slipped on the gearshift as she switched into third. Think. She glanced around desperately, but the streets were quiet. The nearest open business was the dairy Queen two blocks behind them. “CenTex Bank, on your right. Pull up to the drivethrough.” Mia’s breath whooshed out. He wanted money. Tears of relief filled her eyes. But they quickly morphed into tears of panic when she realized that his wanting money didn’t really mean anything. He could still shoot her in the head and leave her on the side of the road. She, of all people, knew the amazingly cheap price of a human life. A wad of cash. A bag of crack. A pair of sneakers. She could be dead before the ATM even spat out the bills. The cold, hard muzzle of the gun rubbed against her cheek. Her breath hitched, and her gaze went to the

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mirror. She remembered the police sketch of the Unabomber, a man in a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses who spent years on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. Mia once met the artist who had drawn that sketch. As a forensic scientist at one of the world’s top crime labs, Mia had connections in every conceivable area of law enforcement—but at this moment, they were useless to her. At this moment, it was just her and this man, alone in her car, a gun pointed at her head. Stay calm. Make a plan. She maneuvered the Jeep up to the teller machine, nearly scraping the yellow concrete pillar on the left side of her car. Too late, she realized she’d just ruined a potential escape route. She closed her eyes and swallowed. She thought of her mom. Whatever happened, Mia had to live through this. Her mother couldn’t take another blow. Not on January seventh. She turned to face him with a renewed sense of determination—or maybe it was adrenaline—surging through her veins. “How much do you want?” She rolled the window down with one hand while scrounging through her purse for her wallet. “Five thousand.” “Five thousand?” She turned to stare at him. She had that much, yeah. In an IRA account somewhere. Her checking account was more in the neighborhood of five hundred. But she wanted more than anything not to tick this guy off. She gulped. “I think my limit is three hundred.” She tried to keep her voice steady, but it was wobbling all over the place. She turned to look at him, positioning her

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shoulders so the camera on the ATM could get a view into her car. It probably couldn’t capture him from this angle, but it might capture the gun. “I can do several transactions,” she said. The barrel rapped against her cheekbone. She would have a bruise tomorrow. If she lived that long. She turned to the machine and, with shaking fingers, punched in her code and keyed in the amount. Three hundred was the most she could get. Could she get it twice? Had her cable bill cleared? Mia handed him the first batch of twenties and chewed her lip as she waited for the second transaction to go through. Transaction declined. Her blood turned to ice. Seconds ticked by as she waited for the man’s response. despite the sweat trickling down her spine, her breath formed a frosty cloud as she stared at the words flashing on the screen. That’s it, she thought. I’m dead. She reached a trembling hand out and pulled the receipt from the slot. She could make a break for it right here. Except that her doors were pinned shut by the concrete pillars on either side of her. She could speed to the nearest well-populated area, which was a Walmart three blocks away. Could she get there before he shot her or wrestled the wheel away? “Back on the highway.” The command was laced with annoyance but not quite as much disappointment as she’d expected. She put the Jeep in gear and returned to the highway. As she shifted, she glanced at the familiar Mardi Gras beads hanging from her rearview mirror. Somehow they

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steadied her. This was her car, and she was in the driver’s seat. She could control this. “How about Sun Bank?” Her voice sounded like a croak. That bank was past Walmart. Maybe she could swerve into the lot and make a run for it. “Hang a left.” Mia’s hands gripped the steering wheel. Her gaze met his in the mirror. She couldn’t see his eyes, but she could read his intent—it was in his tone of voice, his body language, the perfectly steady way he held that gun. Left on the highway meant out of town. He was going to kill her.

CHAPTER 2

C

inco Chavez went looking for Troy at the bayside dump where he spent most of his weekends. As usual, the dockhouse was packed. Cinco waded through the throng near the bar and spotted Troy in the pool room surrounded by smiling women, empty longnecks, and half-wasted oil riggers who thought they were in for an easy buck. “Wazzup, T?” Cinco claimed a stool next to a threesome of blondes in low-cut tops. Troy glanced up from the green felt. “Not much.” He gave the cue ball a smack and pocketed two stripes. The big guy leaning against the wall looked pissed. Troy chalked his cue and rounded the table to line up another shot. Cinco sat on the stool and listened to his stomach growl. Breck had called him in early this morning, and he hadn’t had anything besides coffee all day. “Hey, you eaten yet?” Cinco asked. Troy didn’t take his eyes off the table. “Nope.” He tapped the cue ball and waited a few beats as the final stripe dropped into a side pocket.

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“Let’s go grab some ribs. I’ll tell you about the fed.” Troy chalked his cue and surveyed the table. “I already talked to Maynard.” He glanced up at his opponent, who was about to lose his roll. “Corner pocket.” But the guy didn’t have a clue. He stared down at the layout, unable to imagine how Troy was going to pull off a shot like that when the table was littered with solids. He crossed his arms and sent a smug look over Troy’s head to his buddy on the other side of the room. Troy’s eyes sparked at the challenge. Cinco sat back to watch as his friend zeroed in on the shot with total concentration. The room went still. The stick kissed the cue ball, and it glided across the felt. It bumped off the wall, slid back across the table between two solids, then magically slowed down just as it neared the eight. Plunk. The women let out a collective sigh. The roughneck scowled. Troy didn’t react at all, except to lean his cue against the table and pick up his beer. “Maynard tell you about the meeting?” Cinco asked. “More or less.” Troy held out a hand and coolly accepted some twenties. The guys stalked off, bumping into the waitress, who had had finally made it around to pick up empties. Jamie flashed a smile at Troy. “Get you another beer?” “Nah, I’m good. Hey, didn’t I see you at the marina earlier?” Jamie’s smile faded as she filled her tray with empty bottles. “I saw them bring in that girl.” She glanced at Cinco. “I heard she was found on the island, not the mainland. That true?”

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“Yep. Mainland is the sheriff’s turf, not ours,” Cinco told her. “She was found in the park.” “You guys know who she is yet?” “Not yet.” “So . . . what can I bring y’all?” Troy handed her the money. “I’m heading out, thanks. Keep the change.” Then he turned and gave Cinco his full attention. Meanwhile, the women were busy eyeing Troy’s butt. Shit, when Cinco wanted a woman, he had to work for it. All Troy had to do was show up someplace in faded jeans. “Man, I need some ribs.” Cinco said again. “You want to come hear about the fed or what?” Troy shrugged. “What’s to hear? Maynard said she’s a stiff.” “Maybe a little.” Cinco recalled the suit, the shoes. But he also remembered the slender body and the clear blue eyes. “Smart, though.” They elbowed their way through the crowd and pushed open the wooden doors at the front of the bar. The air outside smelled like fish and diesel from the shrimp boats that chugged past this stretch of bulkhead all day long. Troy’s car was parked in its usual spot up front. He jerked the keys from his pocket and unlocked it with a chirp. “I gotta work tonight.” Cinco sighed. very few people knew that behind Troy’s laid-back attitude was a workaholic. Cinco had never met anyone who could spend so many hours pounding away on a computer.

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“Same book?” Cinco asked. “Nah, this is something else.” He gave his friend the once-over, noticing the tension in his face for the first time. And suddenly he got it. “You’re worried, aren’t you?” Cinco asked. “Why should I be worried?” Cinco just looked at him. “Hey, call me after the autopsy.” Troy stepped over to the low-slung black Ferrari and pulled open the door. Cinco shook his head. The man was in denial. “You got problems, bro. Breck blew her off, but Cisernos was listening. I could tell.” “I’m not worried.” Troy slid behind the wheel, and the engine purred to life. He backed out of the space, shifted gears, and roared off. Elaina stared down at the flat tire. A blowout. Not a gunshot. She knew what gunshots sounded like, and this had definitely been a blowout. So why had she nearly jumped out of her skin? Elaina yanked open the passenger’s-side door and leaned inside the car to switch on the hazards. It was fine. No big deal. She’d never changed a tire before, but there was a first time for everything. If she could handle the Academy, she could handle a freaking flat tire. She grabbed the owner’s manual from the glove box and looked up “Tire, Changing.” She flipped to the correct page as the traffic whizzed past her. Stepping away from the road into the weeds lining the highway, she

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skimmed the instructions. Eight simple steps. Pictures, even. She glanced around at the dimming sky. She’d be out of here in no time. She walked around to the trunk and popped it open with her key chain. After shoving aside all the gear— flak jacket, evidence kit, emergency flares—she peeled back the carpet. And stared at the empty, tire-shaped space. Of course. This was a Bucar—a Bureau car—and someone had obviously made use of the spare already without bothering to replace it. Sirens sounded behind her, and she felt a rush of panic, followed by relief. Followed by panic again. Blue and red strobe lights reflected off the Taurus as Elaina slammed the trunk shut. She turned to face her rescuer, who was almost certain to be one of the stonyfaced cops who’d witnessed her humiliation in front of Breck earlier. The police unit rolled to a stop on the shoulder. The driver’s-side door opened, and Elaina could just make out a man’s silhouette in the white glare of the headlights. Gravel crunched under his shoes as he approached her. “Ma’am.” He stepped out of the headlight beam, and finally she saw his face. Maynard. Just her luck. And interesting that he should happen along at this particular moment. Had Breck told him to tail her off the island? “Looks like you got car trouble.” “A blowout,” Elaina said. “I was about to change it, but the spare is missing.” One of his eyebrows tipped up, and she could tell he

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was having trouble envisioning her changing anything in a suit and heels. “Go ahead and pop the trunk,” he said. “We’ll have a look-see.” “Trust me, it’s empty. Is there a service station around here?” She glanced back toward town, but the fading light made it difficult to read the signs along the highway. “Lemme make a call for you.” “Thank you.” Maynard turned around and went back to the unit. He got inside, and she watched him pull out his radio. Elaina jerked open the driver’s-side door as she adjusted her plans for the evening. She was stuck on Lito Island for the next few hours, if not longer. She retrieved her briefcase, her cell phone, and the gym bag containing her brand-new iPod. She grabbed her purse, where she’d stashed a small paper evidence bag containing a cigarette butt. She thought of Troy Stockton. Was he watching? She glanced up and down the road again. “Truck’s on the way.” Maynard trudged toward her car again. “Guy’s name’s don, with don’s Automotive. He can get you fixed up and on your way within the hour.” Elaina felt a prick of annoyance. She studied Maynard’s face and made a snap decision. “Thank you, but I’m staying.” He frowned. “Staying?” “Yes.” She hitched her purse up on her shoulder. “I’ll just need a lift to my hotel.” “And where’s that?” “The Sandhill Inn.”
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Gina Calvert spent the final four days of her life in Room 132, known to hotel staffers as the Sand dollar Suite. Elaina slipped the key card in the lock, pushed open the door, and stepped into the darkened room. She smelled mildew and lemon furniture polish as she ran her hand over the wall and located the light switch. The room flooded with a yellowish glow. Elaina took in the simple decor: wrought-iron bed, blue-and-white quilt, bleached oak nightstands. She pulled the door shut behind her and secured the bolt, then the latch. She dropped her bags on the blue chintz armchair and glanced around. On the closest nightstand sat a white princess phone. Elaina stared at it and felt a wave of dread. She owed her boss an update. Maybe she’d shoot him an e-mail and hope he didn’t get it until Monday. That would give her two days to recover from this afternoon’s disaster. She’d underestimated the politics down here. It wasn’t just about jurisdiction or expertise. It was about stroking the right egos, playing the game. She should have presented herself as a helpful federal agent, here to observe and lend a hand. Instead, she’d come across as a know-it-all, and Breck had been more than happy to put her in her place. She pulled out her cell and called her best friend. “Weaver.” She sighed. Just the familiar sound of his voice made her feel better. “I’m at the Sandhill Inn,” she told him. Pause. “didn’t they release that crime scene, like, three months ago?” “I’m spending the night here.” She sat down on the

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bed and started unbuttoning her shirt. Even the room felt humid. “I got a flat tire.” “So call a tow truck,” he said in a low voice. “You’re only what, fifty miles from here?” “Forty.” “Why are you staying, then?” “Why are you whispering?” “I’m in the surveillance van with Scarborough and Garcia,” he said. “Southwest Bank branch office.” “I shouldn’t keep you.” “Forget it. They’re both on the phone.” But she felt guilty, anyway. Elaina’s partner was possibly the only agent Scarborough liked less than he liked her. It was probably the magenta ties. Her boss was of the don’t-ask-don’t-tell-don’t-advertise persuasion. “So what happened? Why’d you decide to stay?” “I don’t know,” she said. “I guess because they wanted me to leave.” “Atta girl. Hey, you need a ride tomorrow?” “I’ll be fine. I think I’ll spend the weekend here, see if I can get anything.” “Good luck. See you in the office Monday.” She felt bolstered, like she always did after talking to Weaver. Hanging up, she scanned the room again with a fresh eye. It was quaint. Charming, actually. With the right man, the place might even pass for romantic. Had Gina brought a man back to this room during her brief vacation? did she pick up strangers at bars? Was she a loner? Most profilers focused their attention on the perpetrator. Elaina—possibly because she was a woman—believed it was just as important to study the

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victim. If she understood the victim, she had a much better chance of figuring out how she’d crossed paths with her attacker. Elaina walked into the bathroom and turned on the light. The tiny room had a black-and-white-checkered floor and a claw-footed tub. She caught her reflection in the mirror above the sink. Strands of hair had come loose from her bun, and mascara smudges darkened the skin beneath her eyes. How did women wear makeup in this climate? It practically melted off as soon as she left her apartment every morning. She unwrapped the soap and scrubbed her face clean. Then she returned to the bedroom and snatched up the carryout menu from the nightstand. She gave it a brief perusal, then called in an order for pepperoni pizza and a two-liter bottle of Coke. After hanging up the clunky phone, she crossed the suite to the sliding glass door. This room had a view of the beach, according to the hotel clerk. Elaina pulled back the curtains, gazed down at the lock, and sighed. Whatever she’d been, Gina Calvert hadn’t been very security conscious. Elaina slipped off her heels and stepped outside. The sound of breaking waves lured her toward the edge of the patio. A half moon had risen in the east, and she gazed at it for a moment, then turned back to face the suite. The slider’s lock was flimsy but had shown no sign of damage, according to police reports. ditto the lock on the bathroom window. Had he come in through the hallway? If so, no

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one on staff had seen him. Or if they had, they hadn’t reported it. So how had the killer entered her room? “He came in off the beach.” Elaina gasped and reached for her gun.

CHAPTER ONE

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elanie bumped along the pitted road, almost certain she wasn’t lost. She peered through the darkness and drizzle, searching for nonexistent landmarks. Had she missed it again? No way. First left after the low-water bridge— She spotted the yellow porch light and sighed. Finally. Sex and Mexican food. She’d been craving both all day— in that order—since Joe had called to tell her he was off tonight. The Blazer pitched down, then up again, its worn shocks responding to every rut as she neared the house. She pulled in behind Joe’s Honda and noticed the house’s darkened windows. Maybe the game had ended. With a giddy rush, she gathered up the carryout bag and pushed open the door. The smell of warm tortilla chips mingled with the cool dampness of the spring night. She glanced at the house again— And froze. The back of her neck tingled. She heard a voice from her past, a faint echo at first, then a whisper. She gazed

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at the house through the raindrops as the whisper grew louder. Go, go, go! And she did, numbly dropping the takeout food and yanking the door shut. Turning the key and shoving the Blazer into gear. Shooting backward down the driveway, then retracing her course, only the gentle bumps were bone-jarring now as she sped toward the highway with a hammering heart. He was there. How did she know? She just knew. Something about the house told her, something she could figure out later. She tried to keep the Blazer centered on the road as she rummaged for her phone. Her trembling fingers dialed Joe. Voice mail. Tears burned her eyes. She reached the paved highway and slammed on the brakes just as a sports car zipped past. Think, damn it. What would Alex do? The tires shrieked as Melanie pulled onto the highway and groped for a plan. She had one. She had a plan. What was it? She took a deep breath. Her emergency kit was in the back. She could leave this instant, no stops. She could go to her safe spot. But what about Joe? She slowed again. She had to go back. A pair of headlights winked into her rearview mirror. The objective part of her brain registered the height, the shape, the spacing. The rest panicked. She floored the gas pedal. Her pulse skittered as the

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car behind her sped up, too. The speedometer inched past sixty, but still the lights behind her refused to fade. Her hands clenched the steering wheel. Her heart pumped furiously. He couldn’t have found her. Not now. Why hadn’t she listened to Alex? A curve in the road. She jerked the wheel, then struggled for control. She felt the spin coming, felt her stomach drop out as the tires glided across the asphalt. Brakes squealed—or maybe it was her scream—and a wall of bushes rushed at her. Metal crunched. Her nose hit the wheel. Then nothing. Just the rasp of her breathing and the tip-tap of rain over her head. No air bag. She clutched her abdomen and tried to take stock. Blood, warm and coppery, seeped into her mouth. He’s coming. The thought spurred her body into action. She pushed at the door, heavy because of the angle. She was in a ditch. She threw her shoulder against the door and muscled it open. Branches snapped at her cheeks as she heaved herself out of the car. The only light nearby was a head lamp, now buried in leaves. Rain pelted her face. She blinked at the surrounding gloom and tried to orient herself. She heard a low rumble—like thunder, but not. It was a pickup, diesel engine, somewhere behind her. She listened, paralyzed with terror, as the rumble ceased and a door slammed shut. He was here. The nightmare she’d imagined so many times, in vivid detail, was happening. She clawed wildly at the vines and branches. Panting now, she crashed like an animal through the woods. No car. No phone. No emergency kit.

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A distant whir growing nearer. Tires on pavement. She scrambled toward the sound. She broke through the foliage just as the car whizzed by. “Help!” she screamed, waving her arms at the shrinking taillights. Her mistake hit her. She ducked back into the bushes, but it was too late. He was right behind her, closer now, so close she could hear his grunts and breaths. Move! she willed her rubbery legs. She choked back a sob as he came closer, closer. Then smack! she was on the ground, her legs pinned. No air, no breath. She scratched and elbowed and kicked, her heel hitting something soft. A moan. She jerked herself free and lunged for the road. Another car—she heard it, saw its lights beckoning her to safety. Just a few more feet . . . She reached for the light, the pavement. She clawed at the gravel. “Help! Stop!” A hand clamped around her ankle and dragged her back. Two days later Alex Lovell downed her last sip of tepid coffee, slung her camera around her neck, and checked her watch. Late again. Fortunately, the subject of today’s surveillance liked to sleep in. Less fortunately, he lived in his girlfriend’s apartment near campus, which meant parking was going to be a bitch. As a backup plan, Alex grabbed the orange traffic cone that lived in the corner of her office and helped her get away with damn near anything. Outside, an early morning downpour had snarled traffic. Alex cast a glance over her shoulder as she hur-

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riedly locked the office. Cars inched along Lavaca Street, and she tried to decide which route to UT would be fastest. A shadow fell over her. “Scuse me, ma’am?” She surveyed the man’s reflection in the glass door before answering. Boots, jeans, western-style jacket. His six-foot frame was augmented by a cowboy hat. Was this guy for real? “Think I might be lost,” he drawled. She turned around. “Cattle Raisers Association’s two blocks over.” He smiled slightly, and the lines bracketing his mouth deepened. “I’m looking for Lovell Solutions.” She nodded at the words etched on the glass door beside her. “Looks like you found it.” “Are you Alexandra Lovell?” “Yes,” she said, certain this wasn’t news. “I have something to discuss with you. Only take a minute,” he added, as she glanced at her watch. “What’s your name?” “Bill Scoffield.” “What do you do?” “I’m a lawyer.” She eyed him skeptically. Tufts of white hair peeked up from his shirt collar, and a slight paunch hung over his belt buckle. She put him at fifty-five. Her gaze dropped to his boots, shiny black ostrich. She’d been in Texas long enough to recognize expensive footwear. She thought about this month’s receivables. “Five minutes,” she said, glancing at her watch again. She dropped the cone on the sidewalk and unlocked

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the door. “And I’ll hang on to that SIG while we talk, if you don’t mind.” You would have thought she’d asked him to surrender his dick. His gray eyes narrowed as he fished the pistol out from the holster beneath his jacket. He passed it to her, butt first. She led the way into her air-conditioned reception room. It lacked a receptionist. Alex glanced at the door to her messy office, which thankfully was closed. As the visitor removed his hat, she walked behind her assistant’s recently vacated desk. “Little paranoid?” He glanced pointedly at the security camera mounted up near the ceiling. She shrugged. “You can never be too careful.” The last man she’d let in here armed had put her in the hospital. Alex nodded at a vinyl chair. “Have a seat.” She placed the pistol on top of the file cabinet behind her and settled into a swivel chair. “What can I do for you, Mr. Scoffield?” He deposited his hat, brim up, on the mini-fridge beside him. “I’m here on behalf of a James Bess. I have it on good authority that his estranged daughter hired you a few months back.” “I don’t know any Bess.” “Melanie Bess? Married name Coghan?” “Never heard of her.” “Well, that’s too bad. See, Melanie’s come into some money, and it’s my job to get it to her.” He watched her, as if to see whether “money” was Alex’s magic word. Sometimes it was. But at the moment she was more interested in determining this guy’s agenda.

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She tilted her chair back. “Where’d you say you were from again?” “Midland,” he said. “drove in this morning.” “Long trip. You probably should’ve called first.” They stared at each other for a moment. He pulled a photograph out of his jacket pocket and slid it across the desk. “You recognize Melanie?” The picture showed a smiling teenage girl posing for the camera in a cheerleading uniform. Curly hair, laughing brown eyes, dimple. She looked a lot like Alex had in high school, only blond and popular and with big breasts. “She’s pretty,” Alex said. “I’d definitely remember her.” “Listen, Miss Lovell.” He leaned forward and rested his elbow on the desk between them. “I really need to find Melanie. Her daddy just passed away. She’s got a lot of money coming to her, and I bet she could use it. Last I checked, she wasn’t exactly flush, if you know what I mean.” “Have you tried the Internet?” Alex tipped her head to the side. “The online White Pages can be an amazing resource these days, if you’re trying to find someone.” He frowned at her across the desk. She watched neutrally as he stood and tucked the photo back into his pocket, then rested his hands on his hips and gazed down at her. “How good are you at finding people?” “If you can afford it, I can find them.” “How much to track down Melanie Bess?” She shrugged. “I’m pretty booked up right now. It would take me at least a few days to get to it.” “The money’d be good.” He produced a business card and passed it to her.

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She stood and slipped the card into the back pocket of her jeans. “I’ll think about it.” He collected his hat, and she followed him to the door. When they were out on the sidewalk, she returned the pistol, and he wedged it back into his holster. “You think about my offer, now.” He tipped his hat and strolled away. In the side mirror of her car, Alex watched him head east, toward Congress Avenue, and turn the corner. She took out her phone and keyed a three-word message. She flagged it “urgent” and pressed Send. Alex drove a five-year-old Saturn that got great gas mileage and almost never went into the shop. A surveillance vehicle it was not. despite a battery-powered fan, Alex spent her morning sweltering in the Saturn’s front seat and waiting for a subject who never showed. By lunchtime, she was ready to call it quits. But the guy’s insurance company was her top-paying client, and they were giving her good money to tail him with her camera wherever he went. So Alex stayed. And sweated. Between PowerBars and a sprint to the corner gas station for a much-needed break, she made dozens of calls searching for any trace of Melanie Bess. By evening, she’d found one. Alex was on the move again now, still unable to believe it. The low-profile life she’d gone to great lengths to set up for Melanie was no more. Melanie had quit her job, canceled her utilities, and moved out of the Orlando apartment she’d rented under a corporate name just six

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months ago. And then Melanie committed the cardinal sin for women on the run. She came back. The news burned in Alex’s chest as she navigated the ruts of the gravel road. All that effort, and her client had come right back to the place she’d tried so hard to leave behind. Alex passed a weathered wooden sign for Shady Shores RV Park. She crossed the low-water bridge and hung a left at a gnarled oak. Another quarter mile of scrub brush, and there it was: 15 Moccasin Road, the house number stenciled right on the mailbox. Alex gazed with apprehension at the modest wooden cabin. It was so small. And dark. The dread that had been nipping away at her for hours took another bite. Alex scanned the nearby cabins and trailers. Some had been boarded up, others simply abandoned. Most lakefront property in Austin was expensive, but this scrap of land looked to be the exception. She glanced at the rusty spires rising over the tree line. The nearby power plant probably wasn’t doing much for property values. Alex parked in front of the house and unfolded herself from the car. She shook out her stiff legs and studied the overgrown yard. No cars, no sounds. The place seemed deserted. Maybe it was, and Melanie was merely using it as a dummy address. And maybe Alex was giving her too much credit. Six months. Six months and she’d come right back to Austin. What was she thinking? All that time, all that wasted effort . . . Alex nursed her anger. It was easier than dealing with the steadily creeping fear.

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A breeze stirred the cypress limbs overhanging the house. Goose bumps sprang up on her arms, and she rubbed them away as she trekked across the weedy lawn to the front stoop. The screen squeaked as she pulled it open. No bell, so she rapped on the wooden door. Alex let the screen slam shut and walked around back, where she found a sagging wooden porch. She mounted the back steps and tried the doorknob. Unlocked. “Hello?” She listened intently, but heard only the faint buzz of motorboats in the distance. With a growing sense of foreboding, she stepped over the threshold. The kitchen was tiny, with a 1950s fridge, a gas stove, and a Formica table in the center. Alex walked through the room. She picked up a Budweiser can from the table and shook it. Half empty. Warm. In the living room, a tired tweed sofa took up the wall beside the front door, opposite a surprisingly new flat-screen TV. Magazines littered the coffee table: People, Cosmopolitan, TV Guide. Alex put down the beer can and shuffled through them all. The issues were current, but no mailing labels. She peeked her head into the bedroom. A queen-size bed with a plaid green bedspread dominated the space, hardly leaving room to walk. On the nightstand sat an empty water bottle. Alex stepped into the cramped bathroom and pulled back the shower curtain. Pert shampoo on the side of the tub and a pink razor. Nothing on the sink. She returned to the kitchen and spied a bit of white plastic on the floor. An earbud. Just one. She picked it up. It looked like it belonged to an iPod.

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A blinking red light on the kitchen counter caught her eye. Two messages on the answering machine. Alex tapped Play. A long beep, and then a woman’s voice— not Melanie’s—filled the room. Hey, it’s me. Gimme a call. Another long beep, and then a dial tone. Alex went to the back door and peered out. Almost dusk. The bushes and trees formed a shadowy purple backdrop, allowing only fleeting glimpses of the lake beyond. She caught a flutter of movement by the water and stepped out onto the porch. Nothing. Just her eyes playing tricks on her in the twilight. She pulled the door shut behind her with a thud and tugged her phone from her pocket. She dialed Melanie, yet again, as she made her way down the steps. For the fifth time today, she waited through the computergenerated greeting. “It’s me,” she said. “I really need to hear from you. I—” Alex halted and stared at the shoe print on the step. Not mud. Was it . . . blood? She squatted down and illuminated the print with the light from her phone. Blood. dried. Old. But definitely blood. Her gaze traveled up the steps, to the door. More droplets, a smear. She stood up suddenly and felt dizzy as her gaze followed the trail from the door out to the yard. Feet heavy with dread, Alex followed the narrow dirt path through the grass. She batted her way through the mesquite bushes until she stood on the spongy shore of the lake. She gazed out at the water, at the distant twinkle of houses on the opposite side. Guilt, thick and bitter, clogged her throat.

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Alex jumped, startled, as her phone beeped. The call had ended. She should call the police. Or 911. But she couldn’t do it. She had to think of another way. The photo flashed into her mind—a teenage Melanie with curls and dimples. Alex gripped her phone and cursed. Something snapped, like a twig, and she glanced over her shoulder. Behind the windows, an orange flicker. Fire. The earsplitting blast knocked her off her feet.

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ill gazed down at the woman sprawled flat on her stomach with her arms covering her head. “Courtney.” He crouched beside her. “That wasn’t a gun.” She looked up at him with terrified eyes. “What was it? That noise?” He tried for a soothing voice. “I don’t know. Something in your kitchen. It wasn’t a gunshot.” She glanced at his sidearm. He hadn’t even reached for it, that’s how certain he was that they weren’t in any danger. She seemed calmed by this, but then her cheeks flushed, and he knew she was embarrassed. He offered her a hand and pulled her to her feet. “It sounded like an explosion.” She peered into the kitchen. He doubted she realized she had a death grip on his fingers. “Let me see,” he said, tugging his hand away. She glanced down and flushed even redder. He stepped into the tiny kitchen. A broom was propped up against the counter, and wisps of hair covered the floor. He remembered she was a hairstylist at some place with a fancy Italian name. Apparently, she was moonlighting. In the middle of the floor stood a trash can brimming

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with bottles, jars, and plastic containers. An exploded tube of biscuit dough sat on top. “Found the culprit.” He picked up the can of dough. She stood beside her breakfast table now, looking uncomfortable. “It did sound kind of like a gunshot,” he lied. She brushed her hair out of her face and blew out a breath. Then she sank into a chair. “Sorry.” She closed her eyes. “My nerves are frayed.” Will picked up an empty glass on the counter. He filled it with tap water and placed it on the table in front of her. This visit was netting more information than he’d expected. Her behavior was that of a victim, not a perpetrator. Yes, her story still had holes in it, but he was becoming more and more certain she hadn’t killed her ex. The gunshot residue could have resulted from her struggle with the shooter. Then again, maybe his brain was getting muddled by those tight pants she had on and the bra she wasn’t wearing. He needed to keep his distance. “You eaten anything tonight?” He leaned back against the counter. “no.” She sipped the water. She wouldn’t make eye contact, and her cheeks were still pink. “You should eat something. And get a good night’s sleep.” The doorbell rang, and she jumped to her feet. She hurried into the living room, and he followed. “Check who it is.” She glanced through the peephole. “My neighbor.” She went back into the kitchen and returned with a Tootsie Pop. She unlocked the door to reveal a grinning

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little boy of about seven or eight. She handed him the lollipop and said something Will couldn’t hear. After the kid was gone, she kept her hand on the doorknob and turned to face him. “Thanks for bringing over my purse.” She was done talking. Which was okay. She obviously needed some rest, and he’d already learned more than he’d expected. He could come at her again later. In his experience, questioning a person on different occasions was more effective than hammering away for hours. It was especially useful to catch people off guard. They got flustered when they weren’t expecting to see you, making it more difficult to lie. As he stepped over the threshold, he examined her door. It had a sturdy latch and a dead bolt. “You have an alarm system?” he asked. “no.” He glanced up and down the block. It wasn’t a great neighborhood, but it wasn’t terrible. The streetlights glowed brightly, and the lawns appeared reasonably well maintained. He looked her in the eye. “Lock up behind me.” “I will.” When he was halfway down the sidewalk, he glanced back at her over his shoulder. It was probably his imagination, but she seemed sorry to see him go. Courtney Glass was in trouble again, and nathan had the colossally stupid urge to help her. He watched APD’s newest recruit cross the parking lot. Hodges stopped beside the unmarked Taurus, looking none too happy to see him.

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“Thought you were on the Goodwin case.” “Waiting on labs,” nathan said. “Figured I’d give you a hand this morning.” They got in the Taurus, and Hodges didn’t say anything as they pulled out of the lot. “Take Lamar to Ranch Road 2222,” nathan advised. “You’ll miss the traffic on Loop 1.” Hodges didn’t comment, but followed the instructions. The tension in the car was thick, and nathan was getting some definite hostility. “You and Webb got a list of suspects yet?” nathan asked. A microscopic nod. “You want to tell me who’s on it?” Hodges reached into the back and retrieved a brown accordion file from the floor. nathan opened it. Under a tab labeled poi, he found a thick sheaf of papers. nathan combed through. The Persons of Interest included two middle-aged males who had been arrested for armed robbery in various local parks. Also included were three women: the most recent Mrs. Alvin, Courtney Glass, and Alvin’s ex-wife, who had gotten royally screwed in their divorce. “You guys thinking murder for hire?” nathan asked, examining the ex-wife’s driver’s license photo. With the exception of a ten-year-old DUI, she’d never been in trouble with the law. “Don’t know,” Hodges said. nathan skimmed the info on Courtney. He felt the weight of Hodges’s gaze on him as he reached the last page. “Funny, you didn’t mention her arrest back in January,” Hodges said.

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“Jail supervisor released her just after she came in. There’s no paperwork. How’d you find out about this?” “Lopez told me.” nathan nodded. Lopez had been one of the beat cops patrolling Austin’s bar district when an extremely intoxicated Courtney took a hammer and a can of spray paint to Alvin’s red Porsche Carrera. “Don’t pull that crap again,” Hodges said. “You got something relevant to this case, you tell me.” nathan closed the file. The kid was right. And once again, nathan regretted calling in favors to get Fiona’s sister off the hook. At the time, he’d thought he was doing a good deed for a mixed-up young woman and a personal favor for Fiona, who had gone the extra mile for him more times than he could count. And since Alvin had wanted everything kept quiet, it had been a relatively easy favor to pull off. He should have known it would come back to bite him in the ass. “You’re right, I should’ve said something,” nathan admitted. “And I see where you’re going with this, but I gotta tell you, I don’t think she did it.” Hodges kept his eyes on the road. “Either way, it’s relevant. If you’re boning her sister, I don’t want to know about it, but don’t hold out on me again.” nathan shook his head. “I’m not boning her sister. Hell, I’m the best man in her wedding next month. You should be worried about yourself, not me. That woman’s manipulative. She’s also volatile, and she lies like a rug.” “But you don’t think she did it.” “That’s right,” nathan said. “I understand you need to

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look at her, but don’t waste all your time there. There’s more to this thing than a mugging or a pissed-off ex-girlfriend.” Hodges clenched his jaw but stayed silent. He didn’t seem to like getting advice, but nathan didn’t much care. This was an important case, and he didn’t want it fucked up. Ranch Road 2222 snaked through the hills of west Austin. The hot, hazy morning promised a sweatdrenched afternoon, and here they were, dressed for the occasion in dark suits so they wouldn’t stand out among the mourners. “This thing’s gonna be a Who’s Who of big Democrats,” nathan said, moving on to an easier subject. “Alvin was a hot-shot plaintiff ’s attorney. Won a hundred-million-dollar lawsuit against a tractor company about two years ago. This winter he won another sixty mil in some pharmaceutical case. Wife’s family is in the meat-processing business. They call her the Weenie Queenie.” Hodges shot him a look. “I kid you not. Woman’s worth a fortune.” Hodges turned left at a light, indicating that he hadn’t needed nathan’s directions to find the church. Alvin and his wife were members of a small Episcopal congregation in Lakeway. Once upon a time, the town had been a haven for retirees who liked to play golf, but Austin’s recent population boom had expanded the city boundaries, and Lakeway was now practically a suburb. Many of the houses there were expensive custom-built mansions with views of Lake Travis. Alvin’s home had been purchased after his big windfall two years ago, and the most recent appraisal put the property at $3.5 million. Hodges pulled into a parking lot surrounded by white

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crepe myrtles. The funeral didn’t begin for another half hour, but the lot had started to fill up. So far, the cars were a mix of Lexuses, BMWs, and suped-up SUVs. The gray Taurus would stick out, and Hodges had the sense to park it in the shade of a tree where it would be less noticeable. From their vantage point, they had an unobstructed view of people filing into the church. Hodges retrieved the accordion file from the floor at nathan’s feet. “See that man right there?” Hodges glanced up. “Gray suit?” “Yeah. He’s the CEO of FireBreaker, that big software company.” “Security software?” “That’s the one,” nathan said. “And that blonde in the dark blue? She’s a litigator with Wilkers and Riley, Alvin’s firm.” nathan’s gaze lingered on the attorney. She probably played well in front of any jury that included red-blooded men. But Hodges was too busy scanning the area to admire her. So far, this guy was an ice man. The only thing he’d reacted to so far, really, was being cut out of a piece of information. “Who’s the guy in the seersucker suit?” he asked. nathan followed his gaze. “no idea.” “And the short guy near the door?” “Don’t recognize him.” “What about the woman in red? Three o’clock.” nathan looked over. “Well, what do you know? It’s Alvin’s ex.”

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The forty-one-year-old barely resembled her driver’s license photo. She had short dark hair. She wore a neatly tailored red suit and low-heeled shoes. Everything about her looked understated, except the color she’d chosen, which seemed to broadcast her feelings about the deceased. A teenager shuffled along beside her in khaki pants and an ill-fitting navy blazer. “Doesn’t look like she’s grieving much,” Hodges observed. “Ah, you wouldn’t expect her to. She supported him all through law school teaching kindergarten. Then he dumped her flat when he landed a job at Wilkers and Riley.” “Traded her in for the hot-dog heiress?” “nah, she came later.” “So that’s Alvin’s first kid.” Hodges glanced at the file. “According to the will, he’ll inherit ten million dollars on his twenty-fifth birthday.” nathan whistled. “Wow.” “Yep.” He turned to Hodges, impressed. “You got a warrant for the will?” “Executor of the estate filed it the day after the murder. It’s a public record.” “Usually takes longer to get the probate wheels turning,” nathan said. “Guess someone’s in a hurry to divvy up that money.” “Ex-wife’s the trustee on the kid’s funds until he hits twenty-five.” nathan considered the possibility. “Who’s that?” He followed Hodge’s gaze up the sidewalk. A tall guy

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with a trim build and a shock of white hair stood at the door glad-handing people as they filed in. “That’s Jim Wilkers,” nathan said. “Founding partner at Alvin’s firm.” “He doesn’t look too broken up.” “nope. Fact, doesn’t look like anybody’s doing much grieving.” At last the hearse pulled up to the church. A black limousine rolled to a stop just behind it. Several men in dark suits got out, followed by a petite woman in a slim-fitting black dress. Hodges had met her Monday when he and Webb had performed the miserable duty of informing her that her husband was dead. A little girl clambered out of the car. She wore a lavender dress and white shoes. She had the same golden hair as her mother, only hers was natural. “You meet Mackenzie yet?” nathan asked. “no.” “She’s his only other child, that we know of,” nathan said, watching the four-year-old cling to her mother’s leg. “And I’ll never understand why rich people name their kids after consulting firms.” Hodges’s attention was focused on the side mirror. nathan checked the one on his side and noticed the white hatchback parked on the other end of the lot. It was under a tree, just like the Taurus. “know who that is?” Hodges asked. nathan studied the driver’s silhouette. It appeared to be a woman with short-cropped hair and sunglasses. She didn’t seem in a hurry to go into the church. “nope.”

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“Can you read the tag?” Hodges asked. “not from this distance. We can get it on the way out.” The hearse was open now, and a casket was being removed from the back by half a dozen men who ranged in age from thirty to sixty. nathan recognized a local judge, but the other pallbearers weren’t familiar. Their names had been in the paper, though, and Hodges could add the obit to the file, if he hadn’t already. The young detective’s phone buzzed, and he jerked it from his pocket. nathan waited, learning virtually nothing from this end of the conversation. Hodges had a talent for keeping things to himself. Finally he ended the call and tucked the phone away. “That was Webb.” “Yeah?” “A jogger stumbled across our murder weapon at Zilker Park.” Six months without a sip of alcohol, and now Courtney had had three vodka cranberries in five days. She didn’t need to keep track, really, but it had become a habit. One of the defining goals of her life was to avoid ending up like her mother. “Another Cape Cod?” The bartender flashed her a smile and nodded at the empty glass. “no, thanks.” She returned the smile, but stopped just short of flirting. She wasn’t in the mood right now, and her head was killing her. Where the hell was Jordan?

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When her friend had asked her out for drinks and tapas at Emilio’s, Courtney had initially said no. But Jordan kept repeating the invitation, and Courtney knew it was hopeless. Jordan was determined to take her out for her birthday, and Courtney was tired of being at home. She hadn’t slept well all week, and the unending nights alone were starting to make her crazy. Courtney heard a few bars of Gwen Stefani and pulled her cell from her purse. The sleek flip phone was a recent purchase, a little early birthday present to perk her up after an extremely crappy week. “Omigod, I’m so sorry!” Jordan’s voice filled her ear. “Where are you?” “Have you been there long?” “Almost an hour,” Courtney said. “I’m on my third bowl of olives.” “Briana made me stay and do inventory!” Jordan wailed. “I’m going to be here all night. Did you know we were changing lines?” “I heard this morning.” Briana, the salon owner, had recently decided to switch product lines after the main one they stocked began appearing in grocery stores. Bella Donna was nothing if not exclusive. Courtney had seen the floor-to-ceiling boxes in her boss’s office this afternoon and was grateful she hadn’t gotten stuck there with Jordan. “You need a hand?” she asked anyway. She couldn’t stand the thought of going back to her empty house. In the past four nights, Courtney had organized every closet and cabinet in her tiny home. She’d caulked her shower. She’d

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given herself facials. She was fresh out of projects, and if she watched one more minute of reality television, she was going to need a padded cell. “Absolutely not,” Jordan said. “No one should have to spend their Thursday evening this way. It’s cruel and unusual punishment. We’re supposed to be celebrating!” “Don’t worry about it,” Courtney said. “My real birthday’s not until next week, anyway.” She motioned the bartender to bring her check as Jordan ranted about their boss. After voicing her sympathy, Courtney managed to get off the phone. “My birthday’s next week, too.” She glanced over. The guy beside her had been eyeing her for fifteen minutes and evidently thought he’d found an opening. “Oh, yeah?” She smiled at him, trying to guesstimate how much gel he must have used to get his hair to look like an otter’s. He had his BMW key chain in plain view on the bar, and she deducted points for cheesiness. “So you’re a Sagittarius? Or a Capricorn?” His looked confused for a second. “Uh, Capricorn.” Of course. She fished a twenty from her purse and slid it under her glass. “And what about you?” He smiled and leaned closer. “What’s your sign?” She shouldered her bag and slid off the stool. “Do not disturb.” “Hey, wait.” Beamer Man was determined. “Let me buy you another round.” “no, thanks.” “Come on, it’s your birthday.”

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“no. Thank you.” She turned away and nearly smacked into a big, broad chest. “You’re leaving.” Will Hodges gazed down at her with those whiskey brown eyes. “Trying to.” He sent a very scary look over her head at the guy with the otter hair. “Come on.” He took her elbow. “I’ll give you a ride.” Before she could respond, he steered her through the crowd and pulled open the heavy wooden door. They stepped out of the noisy bar into the damp August night. “What are you doing here?” she asked, supremely aware of his hand on her arm. “Looking for you.” “Yes, but why?” “I need to talk to you.” Her feet moved down the sidewalk, and she started to get uneasy. How had he known she was here? And was she being arrested? Taken in for more questioning? Her relief at seeing him turned to nerves. “So talk.” She pulled her arm away and pivoted to face him. He wore a dark suit and a stern expression. He rested his hands on his hips, and she noticed the butt of his gun poking out from the jacket. “You changed your hair.” “Very good, Detective,” she said, crossing her arms. She’d abandoned ebony with scarlet highlights in favor of a cool claret. She’d needed a change. Jordan had given her a trim, too, freshening up her long layers. “So what did you want to talk about? Besides my hair?” He glanced up and down the sidewalk. “not here.”

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“Fine. Let’s go back inside.” Anywhere but the police station. She hated that place. She’d been there twice in the past six months, and just the thought of returning made her queasy. He reached over and opened the door of an ancient Chevy Suburban. “Get in. I’ll drive you home.” “This is your car?” He nodded. She pursed her lips and looked it over. The tan truck had three dings on the passenger’s side alone. It was rare to meet someone who drove a car older than hers. She got in, marveling at the cracked vinyl seats. Will obviously wasn’t a man who used cars to impress women, and she felt strangely grateful. “Watch your feet.” The door squeaked as he pushed it shut. She smoothed her hair and tugged at her hemline as he went around to the driver’s side. The black halter dress had seemed perfect for hanging out at Emilio’s with Jordan, but now Courtney felt too exposed. She was getting goose bumps up and down her arms, and it wasn’t the slightest bit cool out. Maybe it was Will. He radiated testosterone, and she’d been going through withdrawal. Every time he came near her, her senses went on alert. Will got behind the wheel and fired up the truck with surprisingly little trouble. “How did you know I was here?” she asked him. “Your sister told me.” So he’d been talking to Fiona. She didn’t know if this was good or bad. Fiona had left a message on her cell phone

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about an hour ago, and Courtney wished now she’d taken the time to listen to it. “How’d you know I needed a ride?” “You don’t have a car.” This was true, but she could have rented one. Had he been checking up on her? Of course he had. He was an investigator. She was part of his case. Courtney folded her hands in her lap and struggled not to fidget. She sensed the interrogation coming and tried to steel herself. “What did you do today?” he asked, pulling into traffic. “I worked.” “What else?” He slid a glance at her legs, and she felt a hint of satisfaction knowing this big Robocop was actually human. “Some chores around the house.” She pulled her purse into her lap and rooted around for a lip gloss. “What else?” She looked at him. His gaze was fixed on the road now, and she had a chance to study his profile. He had a strong, square jaw and a straight nose. His neck was thick, and his arms strained the fabric of his jacket as he steered the Suburban. This man was very big and very intimidating, although it wasn’t his size that made her uncomfortable. “That’s about it.” She flipped down the visor. no mirror, of course, so she glossed her lips without one. She’d gone with pouty lips tonight, which required maintenance, and dramatic, smoky eyes. It was her go-to evening look. They stopped at an intersection, and he glanced at her. His gaze strayed down to her mouth. “What?” She dropped the tube back into her purse.

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“I’m trying to figure out why you’re lying.” “I’m not lying. And what the hell business is it of yours how I spent my day?” “You were at Alvin’s funeral,” he said. “I saw you.” She tossed her purse on the floor and looked straight ahead. “Light’s green.” Then they were moving again. They cruised down the street in his hulking Suburban, and she tried to pinpoint how he’d spotted her. She’d spent hours getting ready. Her wig was fabulous. Her own sister would have had trouble recognizing her. “Why are you lying to me?” He glanced at her. “Who says I’m lying?” He shook his head slightly. Her stomach tightened, and she felt fear bubbling up. He could see through her. He could see everything. Somehow he knew what had really happened, and she was going to go to jail. “Just be honest, okay? You’ll be doing yourself a favor.” She bit her lip, contemplating the possibility. Just be honest. Easy for him to say. He wasn’t under suspicion of murder. He hadn’t been targeted by a killer. He wasn’t spending his nights going room to room in a tiny duplex, switching on lamps and listening for prowlers. “So I was there. So what? It’s a free country.” She crossed her arms and dared him to challenge her. Going to someone’s funeral wasn’t a felony. “The question is, why were you there? And why the Alias costume?” She didn’t want to look at him. “Several reasons.” He waited, and the only sound was the rumble of the old engine.

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“I wanted to see his daughter,” she said. This was the truth, but she felt weird saying it. Why should she have any interest in some little girl she’d never met? A little girl whose family she’d nearly wrecked by having an affair with her self-absorbed father? “You wanted to see Mackenzie Alvin.” “Yes.” “Why?” This was the weird part. “I don’t know.” She shrugged. “I just feel, I don’t know, connected with her or something.” He glanced at her. “Connected how?” “My dad died when I was little. I guess I just empathize with her.” She sighed and folded her hands in her lap. “But she looked good. I watched her mom with her, and I feel better now. I think she’s going to be okay.” Unlike Courtney had been. And Fiona. When their dad had died, their mom had pretty much gone to pieces. She’d jerked her kids out of school, moved off to California to “get a fresh start,” and then proceeded to go from man to man, looking for the next love of her life. When she wasn’t on the hunt for a guy, she was consoling herself with alcohol while Fiona tried to raise a kid sister. Fiona was only a few years older than Courtney, but she’d been a mother to her most of her life. It had taken more than twenty years and a cross-country move for Fiona and Courtney to get away from the mess their mom had made of their lives following their father’s death. But Mackenzie’s mother seemed to have her act together. And she had money, too, which would help. At least

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she wouldn’t be desperately seeking a husband to help support her. Courtney glanced over at Will. He was staring at the road again. Maybe he thought she was full of crap. “Why else?” he asked. “Why what?” “You said ‘several’ reasons.” She looked out the window. Familiar houses flew by, and they were almost to her street. If she made up a lie, she could be finished with this conversation in a matter of minutes. If she made it a believable lie, he might just leave her alone for a few days. Before he hauled her back in for more questions. She tugged at her hemline again and cleared her throat. “I thought I might see him,” she said, going with the truth. “See who?” “The man who attacked us. I thought he might be there.” He pulled up to the curb just in front of her house. Amy’s white Hyundai sat in the driveway, and Courtney realized how Will had recognized her at the funeral. It had been there Monday, too, and he was observant. Parked behind the Hyundai was the pickup belonging to Amy’s boyfriend, and Courtney guessed they’d kissed and made up after the argument she’d overheard earlier this evening. That was the thing about living in a duplex—you were in your neighbors’ business whether you wanted to be or not. “Why would he come to the funeral, Courtney?” She brought her gaze back to Will. He seemed to be searching her face for answers. He knew she was hiding something.

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“It wasn’t a random robbery, was it?” “I don’t think so,” she said. It hadn’t been a robbery at all. The ski-mask guy had tried to kill David and make it look like a murder-suicide. Someone wanted them both dead, and Courtney blamed for it. She’d been racking her brain for days trying to come up with a plausible reason. “And did you see him at the funeral?” She shook her head. “I don’t think so. I would have recognized his body and his eyes. At least, I think I would have. no one even looked close.” Will stared out the windshield, drumming his thumb on the steering wheel. He seemed deep in thought. Abruptly, he cut the engine and got out of the truck to come around to her side. She was home. Another night alone. She was so wideawake, it felt as if she’d spent the evening at a coffee shop instead of a bar. The door squealed open, and she got out. “Thanks for the lift,” she said, as he slammed the door. He stood there, staring down at her, and she got the impression he wanted to read her thoughts. Was he trying to solve his case, or was it something else? His face gave nothing away until the brief instant when his gaze dropped to her mouth. An impulse came over her. Maybe it was the vodka. Or the summer air. Or the girl in the lavender dress who reminded her how lonely she’d been as a kid. Maybe it was lust. Whatever it was, she gave in to it. She went up on her tiptoes and kissed him. He stood there, ramrod straight,

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holding her waist but not kissing her back, while she moved her mouth softly against his. She was getting to him, she knew. She could feel it in his tense response, in the tightness of his stubbled jaw under her fingertips. And then it wasn’t the vodka making her mind swim, but the heady realization that she had an effect on this giant man. She licked the corner of his mouth, and his control broke, like she’d known it would. And then she was up, off her feet, kissing him, and he was kissing her back, as he gripped her hips and pressed her against the truck. His mouth felt hot and powerful, and he tasted faintly of peppermint. Suddenly he stepped back, and her feet slid to the ground. She blinked up at him. His big chest heaved up and down. “Come inside,” she whispered. He wanted to. Desire was written all over his face. But then he seemed to shake it off. Just like that, his eyes went cool. “I can’t,” he said. She smiled up at him, that warm, coy smile she’d known for ages but hadn’t practiced lately. He looked away. “I’ll walk you to the door.” “You don’t have to.” Anger flashed in his eyes. “I will.” He took her elbow and propelled her up the path, like a disobedient child on her way to time out. “You don’t need to walk me,” she said, feeling pissy now. It was easier than feeling hurt. “I need to get you in safely.” They reached the door and she plucked her keys from her purse. She unlocked the door, gritting her teeth while

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she did it because she could feel him next to her, this massive presence that didn’t need to be there. She buried her temper and turned to him with a big smile. She reached up to wipe the lipstick off his lower lip. He flinched at her touch, and she knew he was going to have a rough night. Good. She wouldn’t be the only one. “night, Detective,” she purred. “Sleep tight.” She stepped into the house and pulled the door shut behind her. He’d kissed his suspect. And not just kissed—he’d come about five seconds away from dragging her off to bed. Five years he’d worked to become a homicide detective. now here it was, the first lap out of the gate, and he’d nearly fucked it up. She was a suspect. He knew in his gut she didn’t do it, but he was definitely in the minority with that opinion. Cernak was convinced she’d pulled the trigger, and he’d made it clear he expected Will to coax a confession out of her. But Will couldn’t bring himself to coax because—despite the lies—he was 99.9 percent certain she was innocent. But maybe he was wrong. Maybe the mere thought of having sex with a woman as hot as Courtney Glass was short-circuiting his brain. no. He’d been there the night of the biscuit dough. He’d listened to the 911 call. He’d seen her that afternoon at the park. She’d been truly, deathly afraid. She may have lied about how it went down—actually, he knew she had—but that didn’t mean she’d killed the guy. He was close to certain

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she’d been one of two intended victims. He just needed to gather the evidence to exonerate her and figure out who was behind it all. Then he could kiss her all he wanted. And drag her off to bed, too. Christ, he was screwed up. Why had he allowed himself to be alone so long? Lifting weights was great, but there was only so much frustration he could work off at a gym. At some point, soon, he needed a good, soft woman. not that Courtney was good. Or soft. She’d probably hand a guy his nuts on a platter if he messed with her. Will couldn’t visualize her as Alvin’s trophy girlfriend, but he had no trouble at all imagining her trashing his Porsche. He pulled into a parking space at his low-rise apartment complex on the south side of town. The building was generic. His one-bedroom unit was generic. His cheap furniture was generic. And he didn’t really give a damn because for the past five years even the most mediocre accommodations, by American standards, had seemed like the Ritz to him. That’s what three years of sleeping on the hard ground did to a person. Three years of dust, and cold, and trekking through the mountains, hunting men and being hunted. Three years of camping out among villagers who drank from the same irrigation ditches where they bathed, and washed dishes, and butchered meat. He parked and made his way up the metal flight of stairs to his place. On his doorstep was a package, and he stooped to pick it up, instantly suspicious. Cookies. Chocolate chip, from what he could see through the light blue Tupperware. Another luxury not common in Afghanistan.

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He let himself into the apartment and tossed his keys on the table by the door. He threw the bolt. In the kitchen he saw the flashing message light of his answering machine. He pressed the button to listen while he opened the lid to the Tupperware and read the note tucked inside. Thanks! XOXO Lori. Mystery solved. The woman whose new TV he’d hauled up the stairs had made him cookies. A telemarketer droned into the phone as Will pondered this new development. Lori from next door was single. Pretty. A little short for him, but big deal. He chomped into a cookie. She was a decent cook and had a brand-new HDTV with surround sound. What was he doing messing around with his suspect? It was beyond dumb. He deleted the second telemarketer and condemned to hell whichever utility company had given out his number, which should have been unlisted. nathan’s voice came on, and Will stopped chewing. “Hodges. Where are you? Your cell phone keeps kicking me to voice mail. Ballistics just came back and—” Will pressed Callback. nathan picked up immediately. “Shit, man. The phone stays on. How am I supposed to reach you—” “Tell me about the ballistics.” “We got a match. The Beretta and the slug.” They had their murder weapon. This was real progress. “That’s not all,” nathan said tightly. “What else?” “The weapon’s registered to Courtney Glass.”

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