Authors: Lisa Jackson
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Crime, #Suspense, #Mystery & Detective
“I think the murders are linked,” Pescoli said. “That’s the obvious conclusion, and I think it’s the right one.” She almost lost her train of thought, Blackwater was staring at her so intently, but she went through all the facts again as they knew them, returning to, “. . . the big connection so far is the missing fingers and rings, and that fingerprint. We only hope we’ll come up with a hit and be able to ID whoever picked up Sheree Cantnor’s shoe and Calypso Pope’s bag.”
His eyebrows pinched together. “Not one suspect so far?”
He knew that, too, but apparently wanted her to reiterate. “No. At least not until we identify the print found on both Cantnor’s shoe and Pope’s bag. Or, if our killer is dumb enough to try and pawn the rings or give himself away.”
“You got anything else?” he asked.
“We’re still looking for a connection between the two women, old schools, or boyfriends or friends, even friends of friends, but as near as we can tell at this point the two victims didn’t know each other.”
“Or possibly each woman knew the killer, but not each other.”
Blackwater asked, “You think the killer will strike again? Here?” He pointed to the office floor, but she knew he meant in the general area of Grizzly Falls. “Or do you think he’s moved on?”
Pescoli slowly shook her head. “Just a gut feeling, but no . . .”
Books by Lisa Jackson
SEE HOW SHE DIES
MOST LIKELY TO DIE
YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW
CLOSE TO HOME
Anthony Paterno/Cahill Family Novels
IF SHE ONLY KNEW
Rick Bentz/Reuben Montoya Novels
Pierce Reed/Nikki Gillette Novels
THE NIGHT BEFORE
THE MORNING AFTER
Selena Alvarez/Regan Pescoli Novels
LEFT TO DIE
CHOSEN TO DIE
BORN TO DIE
AFRAID TO DIE
READY TO DIE
DESERVES TO DIE
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
DESERVES TO DIE
PrologueChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20Chapter 21Chapter 22Chapter 23Chapter 24Chapter 25Chapter 26Chapter 27Chapter 28Chapter 29
The Louisiana Bayou
he wasn’t quite dead.
Though her eyes seemed fixed as they stared up at the night sky, her breathing was shallow, her heart still faintly beating as she lay, faceup on the tarp. She was still alive, but barely, only inches and seconds from meeting the grim reaper, which was a good thing, he thought. No longer could she taunt or ridicule anyone. No longer would she ever smirk again. Comatose, so near death that it would take little for her to cross over, she lay on the marshy bank of the bayou, an easy victim.
Crouching over her, he grinned at her ultimate vulnerability. If he wanted to, he could slice her throat and watch drips of blood accumulate over the grotesque smile he would carve into her white flesh.
He considered doing the deed with his knife, a slim switchblade that felt heavy in his pocket.
But no, she was close enough to death already and he had another, more intimate way of slicing her.
Something jumped into the murky water not ten feet away. A bullfrog maybe? It reminded him to get back to work; he didn’t have much time. A full moon was rising, casting silvery shadows through the white-barked cypress, their roots exposed, Spanish moss draping over the dark water. Crickets chirped, fish jumped, and the water lapped gently in the isolated stretch of Louisiana.
Beads of sweat dotted his brow and ran down his face, creating salty tracks that passed over his lips and dropped onto her still body as he took her left hand in his, splaying her fingers easily. Antique diamonds winked in the pale moonlight, their brilliance seeming to mock him. Oh, what those icy stones had meant, the promises that had been vowed, the secrets they held.
A deep, smoldering rage ran through him as he eyed the stones. Using his free hand, he pulled a slim, automatic pocket knife from his pocket and clicked the blade open. It too reflected the moonlight. Without hesitation, he went to work, holding her fingers wide, then cutting quickly, nearly seamlessly slicing her finger off at the knuckle.
She didn’t so much as flinch.
As her blood pumped, he yanked the ring from its ugly stump and felt a welling satisfaction at a job well done.
Straightening, he looked down at her, nearly a corpse, her gauzy dress filthy, her beautiful face condemned to death.
He held her finger in his open palm, the ring now his.
So easily removed.
So easily pocketed.
Satisfied, he kicked the body off its mound, watching it roll down the short bank. With a soft splash, she slipped into the murky water to float for a second, catching the slow moving current, heading downstream and out of sight.
“Good riddance,” he whispered.
He took in several deep breaths and wiped his brow before pocketing his treasure. As he turned back toward the dense foliage, he heard another sound over the chorus of crickets and bullfrogs, a quiet, ominous splash, the sound of a large reptile sliding into the water.
he thought as the creature swam noiselessly under the water’s surface. He smiled as he hurried to his hidden truck, knowing that she was already gator bait.
As if on cue, there was a loud splash, a frantic, sickening roiling of water, a flash of a white belly as the reptile rolled to make its kill, jagged teeth sinking into her skin, vise-like jaws gripping and pulling her under the water until the last bit of air escaped her lungs.
Then all went quiet for a second as the stillness of the bayou surrounded him and only the barest of ripples spread to the surrounding water. The chorus of insects, momentarily silenced, began again.
A fitting end,
he thought. It served the cheating bitch right.
Grizzly Falls, Montana
his has to be the place.
Jessica Williams stared at the dilapidated cabin and her heart sank. Of course she’d been hoping for an isolated place to live, one without the prying eyes of nosy neighbors, but this little cottage went far beyond
, with its mossy roof, sagging porch, and rusted downspouts. At least the windows weren’t boarded over, and there was a garage of sorts, but it was all piled under nearly a foot of snow. She doubted very strongly that there was any central heat within the building. If she’d expected a haven, she’d been sorely disappointed.
For the foreseeable future, this little eighty-year-old building nestled deep in the forested foothills of the Bitterroots was going to be home, whether she liked it or not.
, is what I’m thinking,” she said as she hopped from the cab of her ancient SUV, a Chevy that had over two hundred thousand miles on its odometer, and into the pristine snow. The air was crisp and cold, the snow crusted over and no longer falling. For the last fifty miles of her long journey the Tahoe’s engine light had been blinking on and off and she’d ignored the warning, praying that she would get there before the damn thing overheated or gave out completely. Somehow, subsisting on energy bars, bags of Doritos, Red Bull, and bottled water, she’d arrived after nearly thirty-six hours on the road. She was tired to the marrow of her bones, but she couldn’t stop. Not yet.
She glanced behind her vehicle to what could barely be called a lane where there was the merest break in the trees, just wide enough for her rig to pass. Twin ruts broke up the pristine mantle of snow, evidence that someone was occupying the cabin.
, she reminded herself.
That’s who lives here. That’s my name now. Jessica Williams.
The name felt uncomfortable, like a scratchy coat that rubbed her bare skin, but it had to be worn.
Before she started unloading, she broke a path to the rotting porch and trudged up the two steps. Snow had blown across the porch, a couple inches piling near the door, dark dry leaves poking up through the thin layer.
She inserted her key into the lock. If it were rusted, which she half-expected, she’d be in trouble.
she reminded herself. She tried the key and it stuck, unmoving, in the lock. She rattled it. “Come on, come on,” she muttered under breath that fogged in the air.
She’d rented this place online, and struck a simple deal with the out-of-state owner. She paid him upfront, in cash, no questions asked. She only hoped he held up his end of the bargain.
With a final twist, the lock gave and she was able to push the door open.
“Oh, man,” she said, peering inside. She flipped a light switch near the door and nothing happened, so she headed back to her SUV. She found her flashlight and a roller bag that worked only so-so through the snow as she returned to the porch and the open door. Snapping on the flashlight, she swept its harsh beam over the interior that looked as if no one had been there for a decade. It smelled musty, the air thick with dust. She ran the beam across an old love seat with faded, lumpy cushions and a scarred wooden frame. A coffee table sat in front of it and a rocker, with most of its stuffing exposed, was situated by a river rock fireplace where she suspected birds might roost in the summer. Old nests were probably clogging the flue and that didn’t begin to count the bats.
“Fixer Upper’s Dream,” she said aloud. The ad certainly hadn’t lied about that, nor, probably, “A Hunter’s Paradise.” The terrain and the building were beyond rugged. From the looks of the cabin’s interior, mice and other rodents had been the last house guests and she half-expected a raccoon or worse to be cowering in a kitchen cabinet.
On that she was proved wrong. There were no cabinets. Just a table near an antique wood-burning stove and an empty spot where a refrigerator, or maybe an icebox, had once stood. All the conveniences of home, which had been advertised, were sorely lacking. She’d asked for running water, electricity, a septic system, and cell phone access, if not the ability to connect to the Internet. It seemed she might have none of the basics.
“Great.” She reminded herself that the most important aspect of the cabin, her tantamount request, was isolation, and that had been provided. “La-di-frickin’-dah,” she said, then caught herself.
She tested the toilet. Of course it didn’t flush, but once she twisted the valves underneath the tank, water began to flow. A good sign. She’d been afraid that the pipes had rusted through or were frozen. “Will wonders never cease?” She flushed again and water swirled down the stained fixture. It worked and when she tested the sink, water ran through the faucet, all of it ice cold.
Good enough for tonight.
She toured the rest of the cabin, which consisted of the kitchen, a bedroom, the bathroom, and a small loft tucked beneath a sloping roof. A back porch overlooked a small stream that ambled through the hemlocks and firs that lined its shores. It was nearly frozen over, just a trickle near the middle indicating that the water was still running some.
There were no visible signs of a furnace, nor duct work, just a kerosene space heater tucked into a gun closet, and of course the river rock fireplace with its charred and well-used firebox. “Home sweet home,” she said as she walked through the interior and out the front door. She needed to unload the Tahoe, clean the place up if she could, dare start a fire and settle in for the night.
As she walked outside again, she noticed dusk was settling in, twilight casting deep shadows across the small clearing. A soft snow began to fall again and, of course, cover the tracks her rig had made when she’d turned off the county road twenty miles into the hills surrounding Grizzly Falls.
Surely I’ll be safe here,
she thought, her gaze scouring the woods. There was no way he could find her. Right? She’d covered her tracks completely. Again, she looked at the ruts her SUV had dug into the unbroken snow. If ever there were red arrows pointing to a target, those ruts were it. Worse yet, she felt as if she had been followed, though she’d seen no one in her rearview for miles.
Paranoia crept in with the night stealing across the snowy landscape. She always felt as if someone were only a step behind her, ready to pounce and slit her throat. Absently, she touched her neck and reminded herself that she had friends in Grizzly Falls, people she could trust.
And what good will they do, if he finds you? They can’t save you,
and you know it. No one can.
Despair threatened her just as a stiff breeze kicked up, rattling the branches of trees and swirling around the thin walls of the cabin.
Get over yourself.
The law in Grizzly Falls was supposed to be different from what she was used to, the sheriff a thinking man with deep convictions and an ability to sort fact from fiction.
Dan Grayson would help her.
He had to.
Setting her jaw and tamping down her fears, Jessica hauled in her sleeping bag, a pillow, a backpack, her empty thermos, and a single bottle of water, which, along with half a bag of jerky and a banana that was turning brown, would be her dinner. She eyed the living room, searching for any kind of hiding spot. There was a vent in the back corner of the firebox that allowed for the dropping of ashes and intake of air when opened. That would work for the items she wanted to keep safe but wouldn’t need handy and also act as a decoy if the house were ransacked. In that little niche, she’d hide one set of fake identification documents, the ones she’d used in Denver. But that little hidey-hole wasn’t enough, so she looked for other spots and decided her best bet was to pull off a section of the baseboard, tear out a hole in the wood wall, then replace the board. It was where she’d hide the other ID and money she wanted to stash. She spent the next hour at a spot at the edge of a built-in bookcase. Once she’d whittled out an area large enough, she stuffed her valuables inside and replaced the baseboard.
She thought of her weapons—a small switchblade that fit in her palm she’d keep with her, hidden inside the padding of her bra during the day and up her sleeve at night, and a gun. She’d carry it as well, in her SUV, under the seat, and at night, tucked beneath her head on a pillow. Not very imaginative, she knew, but the tiny pistol would be close enough to grab should an intruder burst in.
Her heart pounded at the thought.
Could she do it?
Pull a trigger?
Take a man’s life?
In a flash, she remembered him, how cruel he was, how he’d enjoyed torturing her. She wouldn’t think twice about blowing the bastard away.
After tucking the Kel-Tec P-32 under the pillow, she let out a slow breath and found her meager dinner.
she thought as she peeled the banana and cracked open the bottle of water. Spreading her sleeping bag over the ancient love seat, she took a long swallow from the bottle, then checked her cell phone. So far, she had service. Maybe the Internet wasn’t an impossibility. But not for tonight. No. After a double check to make certain she wasn’t locking any creatures into the cabin with her, she threw the deadbolts, ate two bites of the banana and, lying on her makeshift bed with the wind keening down the mountainside, decided she’d never fall asleep.
Within two minutes, she was out like a light.
Detective Selena Alvarez sent up a prayer, one she’d learned in catechism, then added a personal request to God that he spare the life of Dan Grayson, who lay comatose in the hospital bed. Tubes and wires were attached to him, monitors tracking his vital signs, the room sterile and utilitarian. A tall man who barely fit on the hospital bed, Grayson was the sheriff of Pinewood County, one of the best men Alvarez had ever known, one she’d once fancied herself in love with. But the person lying under the crisp white sheets and slightly rumpled blankets was a shell of the man she remembered, the vibrant, slow-talking lawman whose eyes twinkled when he was amused and darkened dangerously when he was serious. His skin had a weird grayish tinge under the fluorescent lights, his gray mustache was untrimmed, his breathing labored.
She touched his fingers with the tips of her own, willing him to open his eyes, wishing he’d never stepped out of his cabin and been the target of a crazed assassin. The bastard who had wounded Grayson had been caught and was behind bars and awaiting trial for a variety of charges including murder and attempted murder.
“You hang in there.” Her throat clogged and she chided herself as she was usually in control, her emotions under tight rein.
“A cold bitch,” she’d heard in the lunchroom of the sheriff’s office. It had come from Pete Watershed, a deputy who was quick with crude jokes and thought of himself as an expert when it came to the opposite sex.
“Ice water in her veins,” Connors, the buffoon, had chimed in, sliding Alvarez a sly glance as if he hoped she’d overheard.
She had and had retorted with, “Better than carrying the double I-gene like you, for impotence and idiocy.” Afterward, she’d kicked herself as she rarely let herself be goaded, had prided herself on keeping cool and collected. It was just that Connors was such a dick sometimes.
But the man before her in the hospital bed, Dan Grayson, was one of the best.
She glanced out the window to the still winter night. Snow was falling steadily, covering the parking lot and the scattering of cars parked beneath tall security lamps. She trusted Grayson was safe, but she wasn’t certain he’d survive. Releasing a pent up sigh, she leaned forward and brushed a quick kiss against his cool cheek. Though she was in love with another man, one she hoped to marry, a part of her would always cherish this sheriff who had taught her humility, patience, and empathy.
She left the room quickly, nodding at the nurse on the night shift who opened the electronic doors. They parted and there, on the other side, waiting patiently, probably understanding how conflicted she was, stood Dylan O’Keefe, the man who had been in and out of her life for years and whom she loved.
“How is he?” O’Keefe asked, knowing full well how Alvarez felt about her boss. His eyes, a penetrating gray, were filled with concern.
“Not good.” She flung herself into his arms as tears burned the back of her eyelids. “Not good.”
Strong arms held her close. “Shh. He’ll be fine,” O’Keefe assured her and she took comfort in his lies. “He’s strong. It takes more than a bullet or two to knock that cowboy down.”
Squeezing her eyes shut, she wished to high heaven that she could believe him. And she had to. Despite all of her efforts to bring his assailant to justice, Dan Grayson still had to fight this battle on his own. She’d done all she could, even going off the rails and becoming a bit of a rogue cop—totally out of character for her—to arrest the man responsible for Grayson’s injuries. But she couldn’t help him now. He was fighting for his life and it was all down to the strength of his body and his will to live.
Sniffing, forcing back her own dread, she finally took a step back. “You’re right. He is strong.”
She nodded and O’Keefe pressed the elevator call button. When a soft
announced the car had arrived and the elevator’s doors whispered open, they stepped inside, and once more, Alvarez silently prayed for Dan Grayson’s life.
When Jessica woke up, she was disoriented, her bladder stretched to the breaking point, the darkness in the cabin complete. She found her phone in her pocket and first checked the time. Nearly five
. She’d slept almost around the clock and had a crick in her neck to prove it.