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Anson

 Prelude

Patchy fog, as thick as pea soup one second and wispy tendrils the next, sailed past the car as it sped along the freeway. The smell of blood in his nostrils reminded him of the woman he’d left behind, sparking frustration from a mission left unfinished.

Reliving the fear in her eyes as she watched her friend’s life drip away made his fingertips itch to show her the true meaning of terror. Her defiance had amused him, at first, made the game more interesting. Matching wits with the lovely Geraldine had pleased him, and he looked forward to it again. Leading her to Charleston had been the back-up plan; a just-in-case scenario should the bayou prove a disappointment.

Even if his mission had been successful, Charleston had always been his next destination; he knew too much about the people there to simply walk away. As it stood, the people gave him power, leverage to exact his revenge on the bastard Barnes with the added benefit of torturing sweet Jeri’s soul in the process. Frustration turned to pleasure as Anson realized that the bayou had been nothing more than a prelude; the real game was about to begin.

 

Bayou-Butcher

Prologue

“But Mommy, I’m so c-c-c-cold.” The child’s thin t-shirt and shorts offered little protection from the chilly temperatures in the small walk-in freezer.

“I know, baby, I know. Hug your knees with your free arm, like Mommy. See?” Trying to keep the terror from her voice and her child, the young mother smiled across the span of silver metal to where her daughter was chained to the floor. Thick metal links ran between a large floor bolt and a cuff around her own wrist, limiting her range of motion to less than a foot.

“Where did the bad man t-t-t-take Daddy?” The little girl wanted to be brave, like Princess Merida in her new favorite movie, but it was hard to be cold and scared and brave at the same time.

“I don’t know, honey.”

Her mother’s voice, choked with tears, caught on the last word. Tears sprang into the little girl’s eyes, spilling over long black lashes and cheeks that were already a chalky, bluish white from the cold.

“Is Daddy c-c-coming back?” The little girl’s voice was quieter now; she was afraid to hear the answer.

“Your daddy will come for us when he can, sweetheart. He loves us very much.”

“I know. We love Daddy, t-too.” Wiping her nose on the sleeve of her t-shirt, the little girl smiled weakly at her mother. She had only ever known strong, unconditional love from the two people who cherished her above all else. Her world would not be complete without the father who adored her, so she knew he would return.

“Yes we do, baby. We love Daddy, too.” Her eyes widened as she saw her beloved daughter’s eyes close and her body go limp.

“Anna,” she screamed, “Wake up.” The woman still held out a sliver of hope that they would get out of this alive, or she would have allowed her daughter the peaceful death that would surely follow unconsciousness.

“C-c-can’t Mommy. Too t-t-tired.” Anna mumbled and drifted deeper into her dreams.

Before Anna’s mom could utter another word, the door to the freezer unit opened. Blood splattered the thick black apron covering the man’s torso and dripped from white sleeves saturated with red.

Fear, colder than the metal floor she sat on, gripped her heart and soul. A glance at the carnage just outside the open door showed the fate of her husband. Pulling at the chain like a wild animal, she struggled to reach her daughter, to somehow protect her from the madness shining from the monster’s eyes.

“Don’t worry none about your cub, little momma, it’s not her time.” His fist came out of nowhere, stunning her with the blow. Kneeling down beside the unconscious woman, bloody hands unlocked the chain from the bolt on the floor, using it to drag her forward. “It’s your turn now. I’m saving the best for last.”

Chapter One

“It looks like the man was killed first, then the woman. The little girl was dead before he got around to her. See how the wounds are clean, compared to the other two?” The coroner from St. Margaret Parish, Louisiana was accustomed to death, but not to the brutality someone had unleashed on these bodies. Still, he refused to show the revulsion he felt each time he looked at the snapshots taken where the family was found.

“Time of death?” Agent Jackson Smythe of the FBI’s Special Serial Crime Division had often witnessed the senseless brutality that one man could inflict on another, but even he had never seen the likes of this bloodbath.

“Hard to say. The body temps don’t fit a normal timeline. Some of the body parts were partially frozen when the fishermen spotted them. Others had already begun to decompose, which we expect in the semi-tropical heat along the bayou.” The coroner walked to the sink and began washing his hands. “I can tell you they weren’t left long in the Wildlife Refuge. That much blood attracts gators and they don’t leave any clues.”

“What else can you tell me, Doc?”

“The man and the woman were both alive when the perpetrator began to cut. Cauterization marks indicate that he purposefully stopped the blood flow from the major arteries, probably to keep them alive longer. I’d say you’re looking for one sick son-of-a-bitch.” Turning his back to the body parts lining three of his four tables, the coroner handed Jackson a file. “It’s all in here. I’ll be around if you have any more questions.”

“Thanks. I’ll be in touch.” Jackson took the file and headed for the door, his free hand already reaching for his phone.

“One more thing, Agent.” Jackson turned at the sound of the doctor’s slow southern drawl.

“Yes?”

“It was a blessing that little girl was already dead before he went to work on her.  I’ve never seen a body so small ripped apart that way.”

Jackson acknowledged the sadness the other man couldn’t hide with a nod. He waited until he was in the hall before making the call.

“Jackson, what’s the story?” Agent Jeri Forbes, Jackson’s boss, held her breath as she waited for the news she dreaded most.

“It’s bad, Jeri. I think the team should be here. My gut tells me this unsub’s just warming up.”

“Dammit.” Jeri’s breath escaped on the word. “Tell me what you know.”

“Family of three; father, mother, late twenties, and their six-year-old daughter slaughtered and left beside a stream in the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge.”

“What makes you think the unsub’s a serial, and not someone targeting this family?” Jeri searched for any reason to hand this case off to another FBI team. She had successfully avoided revisiting her home state for over ten years; she would continue to avoid it as long as possible.

“For one thing, the types of cuts on all three bodies were inconsistent; he used more than one weapon. The M.E. positively identified a meat cleaver as the primary tool, but he also found cuts that could have been made from a saber and a small hunting knife.” Jackson took a breath. “Once you see the images you’ll understand what I mean when I say that the unsub had too much fun to stop now.”

“What else?” Jeri’s voice was quiet.

“It appears the family was taken from their home, but nothing in the house is disturbed. High end electronics, jewelry, even cash was left behind, so we know that robbery was not the motive. I do believe the family was targeted, but for some reason known only to the killer. I also know they won’t be the last.”

Jeri was silent a long time as she digested Jackson’s report. “Send me the files, I’ll take a look.” She finally said, still hoping for a reason not to go back to Louisiana. “And Jackson, next time you take a vacation, turn off your phone.”

 

“Three murders, but only one family unit. Technically not a serial, not yet. But I agree with Jackson, this unsub is just getting started. We need to get down there, start a working profile.” Jeri directed her voice to the speaker phone on her desk for the benefit of Adam Gold, her partner. Cara Watson, the remaining member of her team and Jackson’s partner, sat across from Jeri, scrolling through the gruesome images of the Bayou murders.

“So much rage, especially with the little girl, Anna.” Cara commented. “The M.E. said she was already dead before the unsub began cutting, so why is her body the most destroyed?”

“He was angry that she was dead, that he didn’t get the pleasure of killing her the way he liked. I believe these are his first human kills; look at the differences between the cuts on the man’s limbs and the woman’s. His cuts were much more crude on the man; by the time he started on the woman, he had already perfected his technique somewhat.” Jeri had spent enough time studying the images; she didn’t need to see them again.

“There’s definitely a difference,” Adam added, “but then he loses it on the child. I agree, this one will kill again, probably soon. I’ll leave from Atlanta this afternoon and meet you in Louisiana tonight.”

“Wait until Monday morning to leave, Adam. There’s no need for all of our weekends to be ruined,” Jeri told him. “Enjoy your time with Kelly. Cara, Jackson and I can handle this until then. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.”

“Thanks, Jeri, if you’re sure, I’ll do that.” Jeri and Cara heard Kelly’s voice in the background. “Kelly sends her love, says to tell you that her guestroom is always ready for you.”

“She’s a sweetheart, tell her thanks.” Jeri smiled, grateful once again for the woman who had finally stolen her partner’s heart. Adam deserved someone as wonderful as he to share his life. “We’ll see you Monday.”

Chapter Two

“Breakfast dishes in the sink, but not the dishwasher, coffee pot still half full, Friday morning paper spread on the table.” Jeri turned slowly around the small kitchen, grateful that the St. Margaret Parish police department had left the scene intact.

“No signs of a break-in. Either they knew him and let him in, or he let himself in through an unlocked door.” Cara peeked out the kitchen window. “This side of the home is private, nothing but woods behind us.”

“It’s a sunny morning, early enough that the air is still fresh, or as fresh as it gets down here, so maybe they opened the back door while they had breakfast. The unsub could have been inside at the kitchen table within a matter of seconds.” Jackson walked quickly from the back door to the table, standing behind the chair with the Winnie the Pooh plate.

“Threatening the child with a gun or a knife is one way to ensure that the parents cooperate.” Jeri nodded agreement. “So he’s inside, he’s in control. Now what?”

“Get the family to his vehicle. Both cars registered to this house are still in the garage, so we know the unsub uses his own.” Cara looked down at the ground behind the house. “No obvious tire tracks in the grass back here. The garage is situated to the side of the house, so he could have walked them out the garage door, straight into a van.”

“Did any of the neighbors report seeing a van here Friday morning?” Jeri asked as she followed Cara through the garage.

“No, no one noticed anything out of the ordinary. Not unusual, given the time of day it went down. All of these houses have similar designs; the kitchens are in the back. Most of the homeowners are working families with school-age children, so it stands to reason that they’re on the same schedule as the victims.” Jackson walked down the driveway, several feet from the garage entrance. “I can see the home across the street from here, but not before. The unsub had plenty of room to park his vehicle out of site, thanks to those shrubs.” He nodded at a large azalea bush covered in foliage but no flowers.

“Folks around here like their privacy,” Cara added, motioning to the wall of shrubs to the right of the house, completely blocking the view of the neighbors next door.

Fighting a suffocating sense of déjà vu, Jeri ignored the cloying moisture in the air tinged with the faint smell of fish. Like most of the homes she lived in growing up, this neighborhood was close enough to stagnant water that the fishy odor was a permanent feature. The locals didn’t even notice it, but Jeri never forgot it.

“You alright, Boss?” Cara noticed how pale Jeri had looked from the time they landed last night. She looked even worse this morning.

“I’m fine, Cara, thanks. The fishy smell is getting to me, I guess.” Jeri walked to where Jackson stood in the driveway, missing the questioning look that passed between him and Cara. The smell of fish affecting Jeri had not even registered with them.

“Someone had to come out to get the newspaper. There’s no slot for it on the mailbox, so it must be tossed to the front door.” Jeri cut through the grass, straight to the front door. “Even if the paper landed this far from the front walk, the azalea would block the vehicle from view. Going with the theory that the back door was opened, the family would likely hear the car, especially parked this close to the house. The unsub must have been here, parked, before the family woke up.”

“With the window rolled down, he could probably hear the back door open; it’s just a few feet around the corner of the house.” Jackson pointed out.

“He would have to know the layout of the house.” Cara added.

“Not necessarily. Like Jackson said, the homes in this subdivision have similar designs; if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. The unsub could live in the area, or he could have done some work here.”

“What drew him to this family? And why take them all? We all know how rare it is for a serial to target more than one victim at a time.”

“Rare, but not unheard of. This unsub victimizes the family unit; the mother, the father or the child would not appeal to him if they were alone.” Jeri headed back into the house, through the garage. Jackson and Cara followed. “My guess is that he’s angriest with the mother figure. He wanted her to see what happened to her husband and know that the same would happen to her child. Classic psychopathic sexual sadist.”

“But he doesn’t have sex with any of the victims.” Cara flipped through the coroner’s report, looking for something she missed.

“He gets off on the brutality, not physical sex.” Jeri explained. “Sexual sadists are often impotent, deriving pleasure from the physical or psychological torture of their victims. In this case, the unsub killed the father first, leaving the mother and her daughter even more vulnerable.”

“Would he have made them watch him kill the father?” Cara asked.

“Possibly, but probably not since we think this was his first kill. He likely wanted to practice in private. His next victims may not be so lucky.” Jeri told her.

“Lucky? That’s the last word I would use to describe this family.” Jackson added.

“You know what I mean. Imagine how much worse it would have been for the mother and child to watch what that bastard did to their husband and father. It takes torture to a whole new level, one that this particular unsub is more than capable of visiting.”

“What’s with the frozen body parts?” Cara wondered aloud.

“It’s a puzzle,” Jackson admitted. “It appears that some of the body parts were on ice, but some weren’t. It’s possible that the unsub was hedging his bets with the gators. The parts that weren’t frozen would entice alligators to the dump site. As the frozen parts thawed, the smell would get stronger, thereby increasing the time for a gator to swim by and find them.”

“That makes sense. It was a fluke that the fishermen came upon the dump site so quickly. If not, we might never have known what happened to this family.” Jeri began to pace around the small kitchen.

“Are we sure the fishermen are cleared? We all know how some serials prefer to be involved in the cases they create.” Cara leaned against the doorjamb, staying out of Jeri’s way.

“The fishermen were a couple of teenagers, both of whom are probably still throwing up. We’re running background, but I don’t see them being involved.” Jackson told her.

“What made him target this family? They seem perfectly normal; humble home, both parents employed, both active in the community, but not overly so.” Jeri nodded to the calendar taped to the fridge. “She was a room mother for Anna’s class; he volunteered with the local food bank. Anna played soccer and took dance classes. From the outside looking in, this is an average, happy family. So what was the draw for him?” Jeri continued to pace as she spoke.

“You.” A voice from the doorway had all three agents whirling towards the sound, weapons drawn.

“Ethan.” Shock was evident in Jeri’s voice and in the way her hands suddenly began to tremble. Lowering her gun, she motioned for Jackson and Cara to do the same.

“Hello, Jeri.” His voice still had the lilting cadence of a refined Englishmen with overtones of Australia’s Gold Coast. Lines that were not present two years ago gave his beautiful face more character, but it was the dichotomy of emotion in his eyes that made Jeri catch her breath. Sadness, joy and what looked like fear swam in his clear green gaze.

Jeri took one step forward as she holstered her gun, then stopped. The same emotions she saw reflected in Ethan’s eyes churned within her own soul. Instant, uninhibited joy at the site of him gave way to deep sadness over the way he’d fooled her so completely before. Fear that her foolish heart would betray her once again stiffened her spine and hardened her tone. “What are you doing here?”

Jackson and Cara moved as one to stand between Jeri and Ethan. With his hands in his pockets and his casual stance, the stranger posed no physical threat to Jeri, but the tone of her voice and the expression on her face triggered their protection instincts.

“I’m here to help you with this case.” Ethan held up his hands, showing Cara and Jackson that he meant no harm. They remained rooted to the floor in front of Jeri.

“Guys, it’s okay. This is Ethan Barnes. He’s with Interpol.” Jeri tried to make her voice casual and professional, but she wasn’t certain that she pulled it off. “Ethan, this is Cara Watson and Jackson Smythe, part of my team.”

Ethan extended his hand to Cara, then to Jackson. “Pleasure. Sorry if I startled you, but I have information about your unsub that you need to hear.”

“The Director didn’t mention that you were consulting on this case.” Jeri welcomed the walls she felt sliding into place around her. Stepping into the familiar role of Unit Chief increased her armor and offered a degree of separation.

“That’s because he didn’t know. I’m working undercover, strictly on a need-to-know basis. You all need to know, so I’m here.” Ethan admired the way Jeri covered her surprise and took control of the situation.

“What did you mean when you said that Jeri was the reason the unsub was drawn to this family?” Jackson knew about Ethan Barnes, he’d read the old Casanova Killer case file where Barnes was undercover as Jeri’s wealthy companion.

“Do you mind if we sit down? I’ve just come off of a long flight and an even longer chase around the world.” Ethan moved farther into the room, then stopped abruptly. “Have you swept for bugs?”

Confused as to the reasoning behind his question, Jeri shook her head. “No, should we?”

Ethan frowned, then nodded. “Most definitely. In the meantime, maybe we can speak outside.”

Jeri studied his face, noting the shadows beneath his eyes and the slight slump in his shoulders. Finally, she agreed. “Jackson, ask the Sheriff to make a sweep, ASAP.” Without waiting for his response, she turned towards the front door. We can speak on the porch.”

Two rockers and a wooden swing added to the cheery, welcoming atmosphere on the porch. Jackson flipped the switch for the ceiling fan before he settled beside Cara on the swing. Jeri pulled one of the rockers to the porch rail, creating a circle for their discussion.

“Okay Ethan, tell us what you know.”

Bayou Butcher is available for your favorite ereader at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

In Casanova Killer, Jeri and Ethan meet for the first time as they work to capture a serial killer stalking young women in San Francisco.

Casanova Killer

Prologue

The sapphire waters of the Pacific churned into frothy white spray against the rocky coastline of Muir Beach.

“It’s like a painting,” Jenna remarked as she removed her strappy sandals. The planked boardwalk outlining the cliff ridge high above the shore did not appear friendly to stiletto heels, especially ones that cost more than most monthly mortgage payments.

“Wait until you see the view from the point.” The man she knew as Robert smiled and held out his hand. She took it.

The first coral streaks of sunrise complemented the ever-brightening blue water as they strolled along the snaking walkway. The majesty of the landscape was theirs alone, for the moment.

Jenna sighed. It had been a magical evening; dinner at a new bistro followed by dancing at the exclusive Portman Lounge. Robert knew how to treat a woman. His impeccable manners and attention to her every whim reaffirmed her decision to cheat on John, her lover of several years.

Long used to the finer things in life, courtesy of her married lover, Jenna especially enjoyed being visible on a man’s arm in the city that she loved. John gave her the lifestyle she craved, but hidden rendezvous and trysts tailored to his schedule soon grew tiresome. Meeting Robert changed all of that.

The timing couldn’t have been better, she marveled once again. John had no sooner left on a weeklong business trip than Robert had appeared by her side. His natural charm, movie-star good looks and British accent drew her to him immediately. The Rolex shining from his wrist and the Maserati he left parked at the curb didn’t hurt either. The past week had been a whirlwind of sightseeing adventures, prosaic phone calls and romantic evenings. Jenna was head over heels.

As the blunt end of the walkway came into view, Jenna’s Robert congratulated himself on a flawless execution. The past few days had been perfect; the woman beside him practically oozed her adoration.

“Ooh, I wish I’d brought my camera,” Jenna skipped the last few feet, pulling Robert along behind her. “The view is stunning!”

“It certainly is,” Robert’s voice warmed her even as his breath tickled her neck. Standing close to her back, he wrapped one arm around her waist and pulled her against him. She wiggled against his erection, just enough to let him know that she noticed.

The sound of the waves, crashing against the rocks below and the ever-constant wind masked the snap of the stiletto blade opening.

“Till we meet again, my sweet.” He murmured and quickly drew the blade in a single line across her throat. With no more effort than tossing garbage into a pail, he flung Jenna’s body over the wooden rail to the sea below.

Chapter One

“Get your size fifteens off my desk, Dawes.” Nate Banks scowled at the man lounging in his office.

“Sorry, Boss.” Dylan Dawes replied automatically as he passed a hand over his eyes and slowly straightened. “Just catching a few winks.”

“You can sleep on the plane.” Nate tossed a file into Dylan’s lap as he passed. “We leave for California in an hour.” The desk phone beeped loudly as he depressed a single digit. “Jerry, my office,” he barked into the speaker not waiting for a reply.

“What’s up?” Dylan asked, opening the folder, his fatigue forgotten at the prospect of a new case. The team had just wrapped the nasty business of chasing one Michael Phillips across three states. The self-proclaimed Phantom had eluded them for two months, killing sixteen teenagers in the process.

They were due for a break, but as one of the few teams the FBI trained in profiling and tracking serial killers, the Special Serial Crimes Division rarely knew any downtime.

“What’s up, Boss?” The female voice echoing Dylan’s question preceded the woman into the room by scant seconds. Jerry Forbes, Dylan’s partner and friend, dropped into the second chair facing Nate’s desk. Dylan, long accustomed to her striking beauty, shook his head at the bright sparkle in her eyes.

“How can you be so perky? We’ve been up for three nights straight!” He grumbled, then grimaced when she poked him in the arm.

“One of the benefits of youth, old man.” She teased, even though Dylan was only a few months older than her. Turning to Nate, she became serious. “What’ve we got?”

“Three women murdered, in and around San Francisco. Throats slashed, bodies left in remote areas. All of the victims were affluent brunettes, aged twenty-five to twenty-nine.” Nate recited the facts. “The last one was found yesterday, much quicker than the others. She’d only been dead for six to eight hours. The other two went undiscovered for seven and twelve days, respectively. No DNA evidence on any of the victims, thanks to the time lapse and the weather conditions in the area. Finding the latest victim so quickly gave us our best shot at DNA, but it rained most of the day, washing away whatever might have been present on the body.”

“Was the discovery a lucky fluke, or do you think he’s getting bored with waiting for notoriety? Jerry asked.

“Hard to say. He tossed her over a cliff leading down to the Pacific. The spot is a popular viewing point for tourists and locals alike, but theoretically she could have lain there for weeks without being noticed.”

“Who found her?” Dylan asked.

“A local news team doing a touristy-type puff piece flew over the area in a helicopter. A flash from a crystal on the dead woman’s shoes caught their attention. Before they realized it, they’d broadcast the woman’s body live to three counties.”

“Let me guess; now it’s viral.” Jerry spat out in disgust.

“You know it. Never underestimate the public’s fascination with a gruesome murder. Anyway, it establishes the pattern so we’re on it.” Nate sat back, templed his fingers and looked at Jerry. “We need you undercover on this one.”

“How so?”

“You’re his type: tall, beautiful, brunette. Now we just have to turn you into a socialite. Oh, and a mistress.” He tried to hide his grin as he watched the meaning of his words sink into Jerry’s consciousness.

“Socialite? Me?” Jerry shook her head. “Mistress I can handle, no biggy, but a socialite?” She leveled an incredulous gaze at first Dylan and then Nate. “I don’t really have to go to parties and all that stuff, do I?”

“You’ll have to live your cover, you know this.” Nate stood, bringing the meeting to an end. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”

“Easy for you to say, you grew up fancy, I didn’t.” Jerry grumbled as she walked to the door.

Dylan laughed. “I find it curious that you’re more comfortable playing a mistress than you are in the role of a social butterfly. Anything you want to confess, Forbes?”

“Bite me, Dawes. At least you don’t have to get all dressed up and make small talk with highfalutin strangers, or does he?” She asked Nate.

“As a matter of fact, yes, he does. Every mistress needs a keeper.” Nate’s eyes crinkled at the expression on Dylan’s face.

“Come on, Boss, you know I hate that crap. With your background, you’d be perfect as Jerry’s keeper.” Dylan flashed a grin at Jerry, knowing that she’d hate the terminology. “You grew up in that world, tossing Jerry and me into it is like serving hot dogs at the opera.”

“My background is the problem. I know people in the circle you’ll be infiltrating. They know me. The unsub is likely part of that group; we don’t need to spook him before we get a handle on his identity.” Nate stopped before entering the hallway and turned to face his agents. “You’ll both be fine. Don’t let the cover get in the way of the mission. The unsub thinks he’s untouchable; he’s already stalking his next victim.”

“You said the victims were affluent. Do you mean they’re wealthy in their own right, or wealthy thanks to their benefactors?” Jerry looked pointedly at Dylan.

“The latest victim was solidly middle class, but her married ‘benefactor’ kept her in style, complete with a six figure bank account. The first victim’s expenses were covered by a corporation, one that her companion owned. He’s not married, she came from old money, so their arrangement could have been a social tit for tat.” Nate nodded at the folder Dylan held. “Uncover the circumstances for the second victim’s lifestyle. We should know if ‘mistress’ is truly part of the victimology or if it’s a by-product. Good question, Jerry.”

“Thanks, Boss.”

Nate nodded. “Get packed, guys. Wheels up in forty-five.”

Chapter Two

“We appreciate the assist, thank you sir.” Nate raised the window shade on the Learjet as he disconnected the call. So much for sleeping their way across the country.  His one-sided conversation with the FBI Director of International Relations had already awakened Jerry and Dylan; at least they had made it to Colorado before the call came in.

Nate tossed his cell onto the table separating the four captain’s chairs. “Change of plans, guys. Better get some coffee.” He rubbed the sleep from his eyes as Dylan accommodated the three of them, bringing back three steaming mugs from the kitchenette in the rear of the cabin.

“Thanks,” Nate told him and sipped the warm liquid. “Seems like our unsub has been busy across the pond,” he began.

“Europe?” Jerry felt the cobwebs slowly melt from her brain.

“England, Central London specifically, and the Italian Riviera.”

“Both are playgrounds for the rich and fabulous.” Dylan said wryly. “Our boy likes the finer things.”

“Interpol is sending an agent to work the case with us. Ethan Barnes has been tracking the unsub across Europe, he’ll meet us in San Francisco.” Nate nodded to Jerry. “He’ll be your partner for this one. Dylan and I will work behind the scenes.”

Jerry didn’t care for the idea of pretending to be the mistress of an agent she’d never met before; living in close quarters with a man she knew, respected and yes, even had a small crush on was enough of a challenge. Now she had to get cozy with a stranger. She knew better than to complain; Nate would not be putting her in this position if he had a choice.

“Whatever you say, Boss.” Nodding in Dylan’s direction, she grinned. “He can’t be any worse than this one.”

Grateful for her easy acceptance, Nate nodded. “Barnes has already established a cover as a wealthy playboy. No point in duplicating efforts.”

Dylan, thrilled with the turn of events, decided not to tease Jerry about being an international plaything. “I take it the unsub’s signature is the same?”

“Identical, down to the right to left slice across the neck. His victims are all beautiful brunettes, loaded or wealth-accessible. They spend their time shopping, being pampered or otherwise occupied with the man paying their bills. He killed three in Central London and four in Italy.”

“What about the drop zones, Central London is not exactly filled with remote locations.” Dylan questioned.

“He left the bodies in warehouses, south of the city. That’s all I know, at the moment. Barnes can fill us in on the details, but the Director says he’s confident that our unsub and the ‘Casanova Killer’ are one in the same.”

“You’re kidding, right? Casanova Killer? Jeez, sounds like a bad Gothic novel.”

“Exactly, but that’s how he’s known in Europe. Courtesy of the press, I’m sure. Apparently Barnes was closing in when the unsub disappeared two months ago.”

“Lucky us, he surfaced in San Francisco.” Dylan gathered their coffee cups for a refill.

“What’s his timeline?” Jerry flipped open her laptop and began making notes.

“Six months in London and two months on the Riviera.”

“Three kills already in San Francisco in less than a month. He’s escalating.” Jerry’s fingers flew over the keys.

“He may be compensating for the time he laid low, between Italy and here.” Dylan offered his opinion along with the fresh coffee.

“It’s not unusual for a serial’s initial kills to be spaced farther apart while they perfect their technique,” Jerry added.

“True. It’s also possible that San Francisco offers a more fertile hunting ground for his preferences.” Nate opened the manila folder housing the bulk of the information they’d received from the San Francisco Police Department. “Let’s make a quick profile, based on what we know of his US kills.”

“All three victims are white females in their mid-to-late twenties with similar socio-economic circumstances, though their backgrounds differ. All were brunettes between five feet ten inches and six feet tall.” Nate began reading from the police reports.

“Hopefully the victimology of his European kills will clarify whether or not being a mistress is a crucial part of his signature.” Dylan remarked.

“Any restraint marks?” Jerry asked.

“No ligature marks present on any of the bodies. The toxicology report isn’t back yet on the latest victim, but the first two revealed no signs of drug use. If he’s restraining them, his methods leave no trace.”

“Did he kill them at the disposal site?” Jerry stopped typing as Nate flipped through the pages.

“Yes and no. All three women had their throats slashed at the top of a steep incline. They were still bleeding out when he tossed them down the hill.”

“He must be well over six feet and in good shape, or he wouldn’t be able to maneuver them over the edge so easily.” Jerry added Dylan’s observations to the list.

“Assuming they were not restrained, they must have gone with him voluntarily.” Jerry mused.

“Gives credence to the term ‘Casanova Killer’; maybe he romances them before he kills them.”

“Possibly, but let’s focus on what we know about these murders, charming European moniker notwithstanding.” Nate passed Dylan the coroner’s reports. “No defensive wounds on any of the women. They probably didn’t see it coming”

“So he stands behind them, close enough to slice their throats without them putting up a fight. No restraints and no defensive wounds suggest that the victims were comfortable with him, unless he surprised them somehow.” Dylan reclined his seat and closed his eyes to aid his concentration. “Did the victims have vehicles on site?”

“Good question.” Nate shuffled the papers again. “The victim’s cars were all found at their residences. So he must have taken them to the kill site.”

“What about interviews with friends and neighbors? Any man other than their ‘keeper’ on the scene?” Jerry wrinkled her nose in distaste. “We really need a better word than ‘keeper.’”

Dylan grinned, but his eyes remained closed. “Take your pick: Sugar Daddy, Main Squeeze, Companion, John…” his voice trailed off.

“’John is inaccurate, they’re not prostitutes, not in the strictest sense of the word. These women were not doing anything illegal.” Jerry protested.

“One of the men paying the bills was not married, so ‘mistress’ is also inaccurate across the board. Let’s not get hung up on semantics. Call the boyfriends ‘companions.’” Nate looked up at Jerry. “To answer your question, no, the first two victims did not have a new man in their life, at least according to the few interviews that the police conducted. No info on the latest victim.”

“We should dig a little deeper. Chances are good that at least one of the woman confided in her best friend, if she was seeing someone other than her companion.” Jerry made a few notes.

“Good idea. We’ll re-interview their closest friends.” Nate nodded at Jerry. “Though you’ll probably have better luck getting close to them while you’re undercover.”

“What, you think there’s some sort of club or local hangout for mistresses?” Dylan laughed.

“No, smartass, but Jerry will be new in town, she’ll need to join a yoga class or frequent the same spa or whatever it is these women do all day.”

“Yoga. Yuck.” Jerry made a face. “I could get behind spa visits, though. It’s been awhile since I’ve been pampered. This assignment may not be so bad after all.”

“You’d better hope that none of the besties are into dancing. I’ve seen your moves.” Dylan nudged Jerry with his toe.

“Besties? What are you, thirteen? And I’ll have you know I can cut a rug with the best of them. You’re just jealous that I’ll be spending my days with the ladies who lunch while you’ll be hitting the pavement or twiddling your thumbs on surveillance.” Jerry sneered at him, but he missed it.

“Cut a rug? What are you, sixty?” Dylan chuckled, but still didn’t open his eyes. He knew that keeping them closed would only make Jerry more aggravated. “Besides, I’d much rather investigate the unsub than attend fancy-schmancy parties and work on my tan.” Dylan peeked at Jerry beneath his lashes, smiling at the thundercloud covering her face.

“At least I’ve got sense enough to fit into those fancy-schmancy parties. It’s a good thing Interpol is sending their own agent, maybe now we won’t blow the cover.” Jerry sniped.

Nate was accustomed to Dylan and Jerry’s back and forth, so it was easy for him to ignore their banter as he scanned the remaining contents of the police files. There seemed to be a lot of information missing, either by a transmission mistake or through shoddy police work. Surely the locals interviewed more than one neighbor and one friend of the first two victims. He made a mental note to request the complete files when they landed.

“Okay, if we assume the victims go with him willingly and are comfortable being close to him, then he’s either part of their social circle or he meets them through their daily activities.” Nate tapped his fingers on the armrest.

“He could be anything from a valet at a restaurant they frequent or the guy installing their cable.” Dylan sat up and reached for his laptop. “We should check for any overlap during the last month of their lives.”

“Sure, check, but I doubt that a woman who’s living a life of luxury, courtesy of one man, would be willing to risk that falling apart for the cable guy.” Jerry knew in her gut that she was right. “However, she might be willing to trade up.”

Dylan and Nate both looked at her. “Trade up?” Nate voiced their common question.

“Sure. Better looking, more money, maybe even marriage material so she can get the whole enchilada, not just the peripheral pocket change.” Jerry considered her theory before continuing. “Maybe our unsub is not only part of her circle, but the crème of the crop. Or at least he’s making it appear so, to her.”

“So the unsub infiltrates her world, entices her to date him with a bigger bank account and his single, ready for marriage status, then goes in for the kill. Literally.” Dylan nodded his head. “I like it, it fits.”

“It’s definitely a possibility.” Nate agreed. “We’ll know more when we get Interpol’s take on their unsub.” Nate stroked his chin absently, a sure tell that he was in deep thought. “That scenario also fits the unsub’s European moniker, Casanova Killer. You may be onto something, Jerry.”

“Based on that theory, I think we should extend the age range of the standard profile in a case like this from a white male in his mid to late thirties to one in his mid to late fifties.” Dylan stretched his long legs into the aisle.

“Agreed.” Nate nodded, Jerry typed as Nate continued. “We know that his signature here is the same as for his kills in Europe. Selecting victims with similar physical characteristics, leaving them in plain sight in remote locations, killing them with a left to right slash across the throat and his socio-economic preferences are the primary factors that led Barnes to believe he’s relocated to San Francisco.”

“He’s either simulating wealth, or he is wealthy. If he’s playing a role, the props for that lifestyle are not cheap; he’d need a lucrative source of income just to buy the wardrobe and transportation to pull it off.” Jerry stopped typing and considered the situation. “His source of funds could be from other criminal activities. I mean if your passion is killing, then what’s to stop you from robbery or dealing drugs?”

“Barnes may shed more light on that, but it’s a good point. We’ve caught more than one serial by following the money trail.” Nate nodded. “But if he’s dealing, it’s high end. I doubt we’ll find this one on the street corner.”

“That brings up another point. I wonder how sure Interpol is that his first kills are the three in London. It’s rare for a serial to start off without leaving a trace. He could have begun with prostitutes or other high-risk victims in order to perfect his craft.” Dylan yawned and stretched.

“Surely they thought of that.” Jerry commented. “It’s textbook profiling.”

“I’m not so sure Interpol is big on psychological profiling. They’re more into following concrete leads than insolating character traits and tracing patterns.” Nate answered.

“No wonder they haven’t caught him yet.” Jerry mumbled. “What do you know about Barnes?”

“Not much, he’s based in London and he’s been with Interpol for eight years, primarily undercover. That’s it, other than the fact that he’s already established a cover we can use.”

“Speaking of, what about my cover?” Jerry asked.

“You have a bay front condo, very posh, I might add.” Nate grinned at her raised eyebrows. “A personal shopper is filling your closet as we speak. You’re all set to be the perfect pampered princess.”

“Sounds great, do I get to keep the clothes?” Jerry looked hopeful.

“Not hardly. We’re doing this on San Francisco’s dime. They’re very eager to put this to rest sooner, rather than later.”

“Serial killers don’t exactly inspire tourist traffic,” Dylan scoffed, “but this one is so specific that the average person is exempt.”

“His target victim pool is one of the reasons we have such a large budget on this assignment. Who do you think donates to the arts and helps make the city what it is in order to attract the tourists?  The people he’s targeting. Don’t forget that two of the victims had married lovers. Our unsub’s actions caused an investigation that put a serious kink in their extracurricular activities.”

“So our investigation is also funded in part by an element of the elite private sector.” Jerry grinned. “Somehow, that makes me happy.”

“Hey, you play, you pay.” Dylan quipped.

Nate ignored his remark. “You’ll also have a limo at your disposal; the driver is one of ours from the San Francisco office. That way, you’ll have backup when Barnes isn’t around.”

“If our theory holds, the unsub will likely make contact when I’m alone. Do we know the three victim’s routines?”

“Jimmy’s working on it. Only two of the women had a driver, the third drove herself around. He’s pulling the GPS info for the month before her death to try and establish some sort of routine. He should have something for us by the time we land.”

“I still can’t believe the agency hired someone so young for tech support. What is he, twelve?” Dylan had been waiting for the newbie to screw up, but so far his support had been invaluable.

“Age is just a number, old man.” Jerry teased. “Besides, Jimmy’s legal, barely, and he’s a hell of a lot better than the last tech guy they gave us.”

“True, but he still seems too young for the job.”

“You’re just jealous that you didn’t graduate from MIT when you were eighteen.” Jerry poked Dylan’s outstretched leg with her toe.

Dylan rolled his eyes at her, then continued. “Maybe it’s not the women he’s targeting as much as the men. Jimmy should look for overlaps in their lives as well.”

“He’s doing it as we speak.” Nate commented, pleased that Dylan made the connection. These two were the best of the best, in spite of their constant back-and-forth nonsense. He was proud to have them on his team.

“Doesn’t seem like there’s anything we can do until we land.” Dylan moved to a seat at the back of the plane. “Wake me when we get there.”

Enjoy the first three chapters of the Littles:

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Prologue

The woman’s eyes shot daggers of pain-filled hatred into the black, soulless eyes of her son. Naked and gagged with arms and ankles bound behind her, the woman lay sideways on top of a cold, metal table. 

“One more strip should do it.” The man, grown weary from hours dedicated to his mother’s torture, sliced another section of skin from her exposed arm, this one near her shoulder. “We must give our furry friends incentive to feed.”

Stepping back, he admired his handiwork. He’d been careful not to make any of the cuts too deep, he didn’t want her bleeding out. No, exsanguination would be too good for this whore. Smiling, he imagined a long, slow death in the same darkness in which she’d happily trapped him as a child.

Weeks of starvation while she became rat food seemed a more appropriate way for the bitch to go. He would visit, from time to time, maybe even remove the gag and let her beg for life. Or death.

“I suppose I should thank you, while your mind is still clear.” He told the moaning woman. “Without your example of maternal love, I might never have realized my true mission. It is my duty to save other Littles from she-devils like you. It will be my pleasure to punish them for a lifetime.”

As if she weighed next to nothing, he picked up the woman who gave him life and tossed her into the basement closet that would become her coffin.

Chapter One

“You’re a snob, pure and simple.” Jeri aimed her voice at the speaker atop her desk. “Just because a movie has less than a four-star rating, doesn’t mean that it’s bad. Some very good movies have three stars, two stars even.”

“Oh yeah? Name three. Hell, name one.” Dylan looked across the room at his wife, Roni, casually arranging recipe cards for her next show. His heart tripped as it always did when he looked at her. God, he loved that woman.

“I’ll send you a list.” Jeri grinned and continued. “That’s really not the point. The point is your misguided snobbery. You’re basing your opinion on everyone else’s. If your preferences are dictated by mass opinion which, by the way, usually correlates with the studio’s advertising budget, you’re potentially missing out on …”

You’re the one who’s missing the point.” Dylan interrupted, ready to hunker into a meaningful discussion on the merits of filtering and time management in regards to wasting 90 minutes on a movie that sucked. Jeri stopped him, mid thought.

“Come in,” she called in response to a sharp knock on the door. Dylan frowned as he listened to the brief exchange.

“There’s been another one in Georgia.” Dylan recognized Adam Gold, Jeri’s partner. His deep baritone was hard to miss. “They just called us in. Briefing in ten.”

Jeri nodded solemnly as Adam’s head disappeared behind the door. “Dammit, dammit, dammit.” Jeri swore, forgetting for a moment that Dylan was on the phone.

“What’s happening in Georgia?” Dylan’s tone changed from carefree to concerned.

Jeri jumped slightly at the sound, then sighed. “Murder.” Her voice was thick with anger. “Particularly gruesome murders” She swallowed hard.  “Children.” Her voice nearly broke at the thoughts of those brutally killed at the hands of a monster.

Dylan lowered his own voice, reading the distress in hers. “How many? Where in Georgia?”

“Three, so far. In the mountains, northwest of Atlanta. He chooses his victims from small communities. More impact for his kills.” She began packing her desk, preparing to leave for an extended stay in Georgia. If her gut was right, and it usually was, this bastard was just getting started.

Dylan felt an old tug, one that drew him towards danger and the satisfaction of stalk and capture. More than anything, he loved locking away the dregs of society. Well, more than almost anything. Since marrying his beguiling witch, he found it near impossible to be away from her for any length of time.

“Go get him. Be careful.” His voice was low, but fierce.

“Always am.” Jeri snapped her briefcase closed. “I’ll be in touch.” She disconnected the phone, her mind already running over details of the first two murders. Both children were seven years old, both had been abducted in broad daylight from their homes. Both mothers were stay-at-homes and both were present in another part of the house when he took their only child. The method of both killings was also the same, Jeri made a conscious decision to skip those details. She and her team would dissect every bit of gory minutia as they worked to discover the unsub’s identity. “Unknown subject, my ass.” She muttered on her way to the conference room. “This one’s a coward. It takes a big man to prey on little children.” Her sarcasm was not lost as Adam joined her.

“Add sadist with mommy issues to that list.” He held open the door, letting Jeri go in first. No matter how outdated the concept, chivalry was as much a part of his character as was his easy charm and dedication to the job. With his movie star good looks and family connections, he could have had a career in politics, was groomed for it in fact, but he chose to serve as a federal agent, much to the disappointment of Adam Gold, Sr.

Jackson and Cara, partners and fellow field team members, were already seated and studying split screen images of the three victims on the wall monitor.

Jeri cringed and held back the bile that automatically rose to her throat. Some things you never got used to. “Another little girl.” she commented. “I wonder if he’s decided on a preference.”

“Possibly, but it could just be that she met the rest of his needs. Only child, aged seven, work-at-home mom, rural town.” Cara touched the fingertips of one hand with the index finger of the other as she reeled off the characteristics.

“What are the differences?” Jeri asked as she took her seat.

“The biggest change is the time between the abductions and the kills. The first two abductions were spaced over two months. He held Jeffrey for three days and Angela for two before killing them.” Jackson switched the screen to a timeline. “He took Lucy Carson yesterday, just two weeks from his last kill. And he only kept her for one day.”

“That had to be a blessing,” Adam murmured as he scrolled through the images on his tablet. “Did he call the family this time?”

“Only once, last night.” Jackson read from his notes. “The transcript is the same as the others. Initially, the child is crying, screaming for mommy. He lets that go on for up to ten seconds before he outlines in gory detail just what he plans to do to their child. Meanwhile, the child is still screaming and begging for Mommy in the background. Each phone call lasts about a minute, plenty of time to track it.”

“But that would be too easy.” Jeri nodded for Jackson to continue.

“Damn right, and this bastard’s anything but easy. The burner phones trace back to grocery stores in the area. We’re working on video footage, but that’s tricky. The problem is that there’s little to no digital imprint in the backwoods of Georgia. None of the stores where the phones were purchased have cameras. If the phone numbers were not tied to product codes, we’d have no idea where he made the purchases.”

“What about tracking the phone?” Adam asked.

“Sure, but it’s no good. He calls on the edge of cell tower range about a hundred miles from the town where he takes the victims. After each call, he disables the phone until he needs it again. He ditches the phone after each kill, always in a very visible spot.”

“He’s arrogant. He thinks he’s smarter than law enforcement and he’s taunting them. Taunting us.” Jeri tapped her finger on the table, absently. “Are the children recorded or live on the calls?”

“Not sure,” Cara made a note. “Jimmy should have the originals by now, I’ll ask.”

“If it’s recorded, tell him to isolate any background noise. Maybe we’ll get a clue where he’s taking them.” Jeri’s eyes narrowed. “It has to be isolated, but that’s not difficult in this terrain. Where was Lucy taken?” She ran her fingers lightly over the little girl’s name. Lucy Carson, a blond haired, blue eyed beauty with dimples and a thousand watt smile. The image on Jeri’s tablet looked nothing like the image on the wall screen.

“Coker, near the North Carolina border. He dropped the phone at a ranger station in the National Forest, just over the North Carolina line.” Cara changed the wall screen to an area map of western Georgia. “The ranger came off patrol and found the phone on his desk, smeared with blood.”

“Just like the other two.” Adam commented. “Is that why they finally called us in? He crossed state lines?”

“No. The governor’s office reached out before the phone was located. They know they’re in over their heads.”

“Show the hometowns on the map.” Jeri asked. Instantly, three red dots appeared. “Now add in the locations where the bodies were found.” Three blue dots appeared, each within the area created by the first three dots.

“Connect the dots.” Adam stood, moving to the screen for a closer look. “That’s almost perfect.” Two isosceles triangles lit the screen, one intersecting the other.

“Mark the locations where the phones were found.” Jeri instructed. A third perfect triangle appeared, intersecting the first two.

“He dumped the phones in locations dead center of the distance between the abduction sites.” Adam mused. “He’s made a star.”

“Or he’s making a star. This pattern could overlap and increase exponentially.” Jeri tossed her tablet on the table. “It could also be a complete coincidence, but I doubt it. The pattern means something to him. Or he’s sending a message. What’s the relation between the time of death and the phone calls?”

“The one and only call to Lucy’s parents came nine hours after abduction, same as the first two. Jeffrey’s parents also received two more calls, one 27 hours after the abduction and the last 45 hours after the abduction. He called Angela’s parents only once more, 36 hours after the abduction.” Cara scrolled between pages on her tablet, reciting the information as she found it.

“The numbers form a pattern, just like the kill zone. There has to be something to it.” Jeri began to pace. “Cara, ask Jimmy to run the data for mathematical significance, as well as for similarities to other crimes. Don’t stop with regional, go national. This guy is too precise for these to be his first victims.”

“On it.” Cara began typing a message.

“If the son of a bitch is leaving us a pattern, let’s follow it,” Jeri continued. “He started in Dixon, with Jeffrey, took Angela from Eula and then moved on to Coker. He left the bodies’ halfway between the children’s hometown and his next target area.”

“Each body was posed for maximum effect in a central location. He left Jeffrey on a bench outside of a movie theatre. Clientele, mostly teenagers, left the late showing and found him.” Adam saw Jeri cringe at his words, even though she knew the details as well as he did. It amazed him that such a sensitive soul would chose a career dealing with the worst of humanity. But she was also tough as nails; he reminded himself, the FBI was lucky to have her.

“And Angela?” Jackson asked. He and Cara had not been following the cases as closely as Jeri and Adam.

“Angela was left on the steps of the county library that serves both Eula and Coker.” Jeri told them.

“And Lucy was on top of a picnic table in a park popular for after-school activities.” Adam read from the report. “He likes an audience.”

“Look at the topography of his kill zone.” Jeri interrupted. “There’s nothing larger than two lane roads connecting the towns and most of the terrain is mountainous. No way could he move quickly from one place to the other.”

“There’s a lot of hiking trails and back roads in those mountains. Locals would know the best way to maneuver.” Jackson added.

“He could be local, or recently local.” Jeri was pensive. “I’ve no doubt that he’s done this before. We just have to make the connections.” She glanced over at Adam. “Is Lucy’s cause of death consistent with Jeffrey and Angela? What about her time of death?”

“COD is the same for all three victims. Multiple, excessive stab wounds resulting in exsanguination. He tortures them with shallow incisions for hours before he kills them, removing their eyes, digits and most of their hair. He removes hair from their scalp with what seems to be a dull razor. Multiple abrasions and extensive bruising indicate prolonged beatings. When he’s through toying with them, he stabs them in or near every major organ.” Adam took a breath. “There’s no sign of sexual activity on any of the victims. No word yet on Lucy’s TOD from the Medical Examiner. The other ME reports state that Jeremy died less than an hour before he was found and Angela died approximately two hours before she was found.”

“So he’s not a pedophile, at least not overtly. He’s getting off on the pain he’s inflicting on the children, their parents and the community.” Jeri moved from the window to the table and back again. “A true thrill killer.”

The phone on the center of the table beeped. “The plane’s ready, Ms. Forbes.” The woman’s crisp delivery broke into the room.

“Thanks, Janet. Alright everyone, let’s move.” Jeri stuffed her tablet into her briefcase, grabbed her jacket and led the way.

 

Chapter Two

Kelly Carlisle took a short cut from the Atlanta District Attorney’s office to the Governor’s office just down the street. Her heels clipped along at a fast pace over the steaming concrete sidewalk. It was early April and the city was already getting sticky.

“Why in the world would the Governor’s Aide demand an immediate meeting with me?” She spoke aloud in a barely audible voice. Kelly often talked things over with herself; she was accustomed to her own company. She ran over her current caseload and could find nothing that would warrant an audience with the Governor or anyone in his office. The last big case she tried ended two months ago. Granted, she won a conviction against the depravity that called itself ‘Mr. Sweets’ but that victory was too old to merit a meeting today.

“Won by the skin of my teeth,” she muttered. State law enforcement, under the direction of the Governor, bungled the investigation so completely that it was a wonder the pervert was actually behind bars today. The Governor may finally be responding to her repeated letters blasting his office for the way they handled the Sweetman investigation. She’d made several very constructive suggestions for law enforcement procedural changes, none of which seemed to make one whit of difference so far. “Probably because they’re ignoring me,” she muttered.

A trickle of sweat slid down the back of her neck as she reached the doorway of the glass and chrome building. A cool rush of recycled air welcomed her into the lobby as she strode briskly to the security guard posted at the desk.

“Kelly Carlisle for Michael Easton.” She produced her identification and waited for confirmation.

“Fifteenth floor, Mrs. Carlisle. Room 1502.” The guard handed her identification back to her, along with a visitor’s badge. “The elevators are to your right.”

“Thank you.” Kelly clipped on the badge and moved towards the bank of mirrored doors to wait with a group of distracted professionals. Everyone was either talking or texting on a variety of devices. She often found herself in this type of setting in downtown Atlanta. It always amazed her that she could feel so alone in such crowded circumstances.

As the elevator began its ascent, Kelly twisted her wedding rings absently, a habit she didn’t realize. Her husband, Kyle had been dead for seven years this past Christmas, but she still wore their rings. At first, she couldn’t bring herself to remove them. Now, she wore the rings primarily to discourage advances, not that it always worked. Kelly was a beautiful woman in a semi-powerful position, some men found the combination irresistible whether she was married or not.

When the doors slid open onto the fifteenth floor, Kelly was the last person left in the smoky glass box. Her destination was at the end of a long hallway, denoting the prestigious corner section of the building. Nerves began to plague her like butterflies doing the salsa in her belly as she made her way down the corridor.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she whispered. “Why are you nervous?” As she spoke, her skin began to tingle, sending goose bumps along her arms. The closer she came to the door boasting bold gold numerals proclaiming 1502, the more uncomfortable she became. It wasn’t like being sent to the Principal’s office, it was stronger than that. A feeling of foreboding and trepidation over what lay behind the door descended on her as she stopped, one hand on the knob. Giving herself a mental shake, she turned the handle and entered.

The office was warm, inviting and totally unexpected. A portly woman wearing horned-rim glasses sat behind an oversize desk like a sentry in front of the interior door.

“You’d be Mrs. Carlisle.” The woman stated without preamble. “Go ahead on in, he’s expecting you.” The woman’s southern twang was unmistakable and disarming, but something told Kelly that this woman could be a tiger, if necessary.

“Thanks.” Kelly felt her palms start to sweat, something that never happened. What the hell was going on? She thought, barely managing to keep from speaking aloud.

A small wiry man, proportionally opposite to his gatekeeper, met her as she entered. “So good of you to come, Mrs. Carlisle.  I’m Michael Easton. Please be seated.” He shook her hand briskly, then motioned to a wingback chair in front of his desk. “May we offer you something? Coffee, water, a soda?”

“No, thank you, Mr. Easton. But I would like to know why I’m here.” Kelly sat primly on the edge of the seat. The salsa loving butterflies took it up a notch, making her skin crawl in anticipation.

“Yes, of course.” Easton moved to the corner of his desk and picked up a manila folder. “The Governor was very impressed with your performance during the Gerald Sweetman trial. You handled a very difficult situation with aplomb and efficiency.”

“Thank you. It was my pleasure.” Kelly noticed the look of surprise cross Easton’s face. “I mean that it was my pleasure to lock away such a monster, not that I took pleasure in dealing with a serial killer or in his actions.” Kelly quickly explained. She wanted to relax, obviously this meeting was about a trial that was over and done with, but her butterflies did not cooperate.

“Yes, well, it appears that we have another serial killer operating within our state. Are you familiar with the recent events in Dixon and Eula?” Without waiting for an answer, he continued. “Jeremy Statler, aged seven, abducted from his home in Dixon on January 15th. Found murdered three days later. Angela Conners, aged seven, abducted from her home March 20th, found murdered two days later.” He paused, removed his glasses and shook his head. After taking a deep breath, he continued. “Yesterday, Lucy Carson was abducted from her home in Coker. Her body was discovered this morning.”

Kelly felt a knot begin to form in her stomach as Easton spoke. Every nerve ending felt electrified and her breathing became shallow. Her mind raced back to the past Christmas Eve and the message Kyle had given her. She knew without a doubt that this was the evil he warned her to prepare for.

“Mrs. Carlisle, Kelly, are you okay?” Easton was leaning over her, concern apparent on his angular face.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine.” Kelly hadn’t realized that she’d zoned out. “It’s a shock, is all. It’s rare to have two separate serials operating so near each other. Do you think this one is connected to Sweets?” Kelly had become something of an expert on serial killers during the course of Sweetman’s trial. Images of the young girls he’d raped and mutilated still haunted her.

“No, maybe, we don’t know. The Governor called in the FBI, specifically the Special Serial Crime Division. A team from the SSCD is on its way to Coker as we speak. The Governor would like you to join them and act as liaison between the SSCD and this office for the duration of the investigation.”

Kelly sat back, shock at the request warring with her surprise that the Governor had actually called for help this time. Anger rose at the thought of the precious time and access to resources he’d wasted during the hunt for Sweets. As a rule, Kelly wasn’t very political and had never understood the reasoning behind handling the investigation in-state. At least he was playing it smart this time. Probably because it’s an election year, she thought wryly.

“What exactly would the Governor like me to do?” She asked as her mind swirled with reasons not to get involved. If she was right and this man was the evil Kyle predicted, she had no choice.

Before today, she had almost convinced herself that Kyle’s ghostly visit three months before had been a figment of her imagination. Christmas was rough, no getting around it. She avoided the ceremony, the celebration and the sentiment at all costs. When she came home last Christmas Eve to find Kyle waiting for her with a message, seven years to the day after he had been killed, she thought she’d finally lost it. Nothing like that had ever happened to her before or since, even though she prayed for a visit from her precious daughter, Kaylee, or her parents, also murdered on that fateful night.

“He asks that you assist in the investigation, however possible, and report any and all progress to this office.”

“I’m a lawyer, not an investigator. The SSCD doesn’t need my help in apprehending this guy. You’re basically asking me to be a spy, correct? Give the Governor a heads up in case SSCD discovers something embarrassing, like the fact that the perpetrator is Sweets’ cousin or further evidence that the GBI and the State Police screwed up during that investigation.” Kelly pulled no punches when it came to her opinion on the mishandling of Sweetman’s case. She was convinced that his last two victims could have been saved, had it not been for political ass covering and territorial miscommunication.

“We are well aware of your feelings on the Sweetman investigation and that is one of the reasons the Governor specifically asked that you be the liaison on this case.” Easton began. “Another is that, while you are not an investigator, you are very well versed in the behavioral aspects of serial killers, as evidenced during the trial. The Governor merely wishes you to report the status of the investigation as it happens along with your perceptions. He is very concerned with the safety and well-being of his constituents and he does not believe the SSCD will take the time to keep him informed.”

“Have they agreed to let me tag along?” Kelly’s hands tightened on the chair arm. Desperately trying to quell the bone-deep chill that suddenly overcame her. She knew the answer before he spoke it. This was something she had to do.

“Yes, they welcome your input.” Easton handed her a manila folder, then moved to sit behind his desk, his mission complete. “You’ll find details of the crimes, as we know them, details of your appointment and your itinerary there.” He nodded at the bland, cream-colored file. “We’ve already cleared your reassignment with the DA. Your accommodations in Coker have been arranged, check in this afternoon.”

“You were so certain that I would agree?” Kelly opened the folder to see the faces of innocence side by side with the torturous results of a maniac’s hand. She shuddered visible and quickly closed the cover.

“We were quietly confident.” Easton assured her. “Thank you for your service, Mrs. Carlisle. I look forward to working with you.” With that, she was dismissed.

 

Chapter Three

Pulling the ball cap low on his face, the man in the mid-size Ford SUV watched as two children chased each other around a well-manicured front lawn. The house was nondescript, blue siding was beginning to fade on one side and the front porch was starting to sag just a little. A large maple spread newly leaved branches over the roof and the side yard, creating dappled spots of sunlight on the swing set and the colorful plastic playhouse.

Little Susie Elder lived in the sad blue house. As she was currently gaining on Little Tommy Tyler, the man doubted that she would mind if he took her picture. Gleefully snapping images of the carefree two, he let his mind wander to future possibilities. Little Susie was perfect. But so was Little Tommy. Could he dare take them both? Little Tommy lived right next door, so the logistics were doable. Little Tommy’s mother worked part-time, making the child less desirable, but he could stretch his parameters a bit for a double. Besides, Little Susie’s mother watched over Little Tommy while his mother was at work. The cow would have more reason to be devastated, he thought, more than just losing her own child, her negligence would cause her to lose her friend’s child too.

“Won’t that send them for a loop. Two for the price of one.” He chuckled as he warmed to the idea of taking both children at once. A few pictures later, he placed the camera on the seat beside him and made notations on a legal pad. He would have to watch a while longer and alter his preparations to accommodate both of the Littles, but he was certain that he could do it.

Just then, Little Susie’s mother called to the children to come inside. He noted the time and slowly pulled away from the curb.

~~~~~

If you’d like more information on Kelly’s visit from her dead husband, read Kelly’s Christmas, a short story available here.

Enjoy these snippets and samples from all three books of Timeless Trilogy.

Enjoy this sample from Fate, Book One of Timeless Trilogy. Fate is now free at Amazon and other online retailers.

If your heart can take it, turn up the volume and watch the trailer for Fate here.

Prelude

The edge of the blade felt like ice against her skin. One breath too deep, one movement—ever so slight—would give the knife a taste of her blood. It’s part of the nightmare, she thought, even as she felt the breath of her attacker lightly touch her face.

The nightmares that had been plaguing her for weeks warned of this moment. Images too terrifying to be real flashed quickly across her mind’s eye in an instant replay of her recent night terrors. Running down a long, empty hallway, filled with doorways on either side, chased by some unknown monster that knew her deepest fears. Running towards a movie, scrolling incessantly with images of those she loved most trapped in a fiery hell. Sepia-toned faces, twisted in pain, were a stark contrast to the blue, red and yellow of the flames engulfing them. The echoes of their screams filled the dark, never-ending hallway. She couldn’t look away and she couldn’t stop running; her only escape was straight ahead, towards the horror show.

So far, the nightmares ended with her sitting straight up in bed, breathing hard in a cold sweat. He hadn’t caught her yet.

The all too real feeling of cold steel pressed against her neck gave the nightmare an alternate ending. Kris tried to control her breathing, so her attacker would think she slept. Her mind raced as she tried to think of a way to reach the loaded SIG waiting beneath the extra pillow beside her. She didn’t always keep a gun so handy, but recent events, including the dreams, made it a necessity.

“Wake up, Sleeping Beauty.” The familiar voice spoke the words softly in her ear.

Chapter One

“Kris, get a move on, we’re gonna be late.” The call of Roni’s warning faded as she clattered down the stairs.

Kris groaned, threw off the covers and rolled out of bed. “Why am I so groggy? I feel like I’ve run a marathon.” The sleepy tabby, accustomed to dialogue but not yet in the mood, ignored the mumblings and stretched across the patch of sunlight at the foot of the bed.

“I know, Peg, it’s too early for conversation.” Pegasus yawned, flipped on his back and waited for his belly rub. Kris couldn’t help but give in.

The crash from the kitchen made them both jump, not an easy thing for Peg.

“I’m okay, but you need a new coffee pot.” Roni yelled from the foot of the stairs. “Where’s the broom?”

With a sigh, Kris grabbed a robe and headed for the kitchen. Not a great start to such an important day.

“You didn’t have to come down here. Why aren’t you dressed yet? The shoot starts at seven, and now we have to stop for coffee on the way.” Roni was gingerly picking up the largest pieces of glass from the floor. “Sorry about the pot. I’m so jittery this morning.”

Kris surveyed the damage as she went for the broom. “Don’t worry about it—the pot or the shoot. You know I’ll make you look good. Not that you need my help. Now, move out of the way before you slice those million dollar hands.” An involuntary chill ran down Kris’s spine at the word ‘slice’ but she ignored it.

“They’re not million dollar hands yet. What if I can’t work on camera? Who wants to watch someone crush and mix herbs, anyway? Why am I doing this?” Roni stood and threw the glass away.

Kris paused and shot an exasperated look at her friend. Veronica Myers was possibly one of the most beautiful women Kris had ever met. Naturally thick blond waves framed the face of an angel before cascading over a petite, perfectly proportioned siren’s body. Violet blue eyes, tilted up at the corners rimmed with thick, dark lashes looked back at her with an expression of abject confusion. She would never understand how Roni was blind to her own charms.

“Your remedies are magic, and you know it. You’re doing this because you can offer a viable alternative to expensive pharmaceuticals.” Her response mimicked their ad copy. “Why the sudden case of nerves?” Kris swept the remnants of the coffee pot into the dust pan.

“But what if I freeze when the camera starts? You know crowds are not my thing, what makes you think I can do this in front of a zillion people?”

“A, because you won’t be doing anything in front of zillions, it’s just me and three crew members. B, because you’re so passionate about your remedies that you’ll forget we’re even there, once you start. And three, because this infomercial will give both of our careers a major boost.” Kris went to Roni and gave her a quick hug. “Remind me again why we’re up at five. We’re ten minutes from location. Did you want to give your nerves time to marinate?” Kris saw the worry lines deepen on her friend’s face. “Stop that, you’ll be great; no, you’ll be wonderful, fabulous, amazing…should I go on?” She smiled.

Roni laughed lightly and Kris felt her own tension ebb. “I know I’m being silly, but this is a new world for me. You’re used to it. Thanks for doing this, by the way. There’s no way I could even attempt this without your help.”

“My pleasure. Like I said, we’re both gonna do well with this. I can feel it.” Kris started back towards the stairs.

“Whoa, is that just an expression, or can you feel it feel it. You know, one of your premonitions. I could sure use a little psychic insight about now to build my confidence.”

It was Kris’s turn to laugh. “Sorry, Roni, no premonitions, just good old instinct. With your looks and charisma and my talent, we can’t help but make this project a winner.” Kris took the stairs by twos. “I’ll be ready in a jiff; we’ll get breakfast on the way.”

Kris caught her reflection in the bathroom mirror on her way to the shower. She noted the circles under her eyes, a testament to the early hour or to her disturbing sleep patterns, she wasn’t sure which. Bright green eyes stared back at her, nearly covered by unruly brown curls that often had a mind of their own.

Kris started the shower and felt another shiver along her spine. It’s true that she had not had any visions about their project, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going on, and going wrong. Lately, she awoke with the strangest feelings, almost as if she was being watched.

The visions or premonitions or whatever you wanted to call it were just part of her genetic make-up. She’d always had visions, sometimes in the form of dreams, which gave her insight into events yet to be. The visions had a mind of their own, she had no control. Scientists who studied the paranormal would refer to her as a precognitive.

The hot shower spray felt like heaven on her sore muscles. That was another thing. Why was she so sore every morning? She’d been doing nothing out of the ordinary; no extreme workouts, no real exercise of any kind, unless you counted running around the studio. Her career as a freelance television producer kept her busy, but not active to the point of achy muscles.

Something was definitely going on, but there was no point in dwelling on it now. She had a show to produce and, she hoped, a star to make.

Snippet from Spellbound, Book Two of Timeless Trilogy

Setup~Veronica has just discovered the wealth of magickal knowledge passed to her from a long line of powerful healers.

Snippet:

“Nearly 100 years of potions, poultices, tonics and cures, all made with herbs, vegetables and spices.” Roni was in awe as she placed her hand on the stack of journals. As soon as she touched them all together, she felt a jolt run from her hand straight to her core. These handwritten remedies, passed down for generations, were more than her birthright; they were a part of her. Along with the jolt and the knowledge came an unmistakable sense of power that she had never before experienced. The force of energy sprang from the truth of the moment combined with the privilege of her history.

Author’s Note~ What would you do if you discovered that you’re a witch? Not just any witch, but a powerful enchantress descended from a line of impressive magickal healers. Roni Myers, beautiful, talented and passionate about finding natural remedies from herbal mixtures hides her insecurities behind a charming, gregarious façade.

     Follow Roni’s journey as she learns secrets that she never before imagined were possible and finds love in the most unexpected place.

     Can she learn to trust the magick of her birthright before evil claims it as its own? Will she open her mind and her spirit to the power of three in time to save her legacy and her life? Acceptance, faith and love are the keys to her salvation, if she can only believe.

 

Sample from Destiny, Timeless Trilogy Book Three

The smoke was so thick she could barely discern the outline of her own hand as she felt her way across the floor, moving towards the door. She hoped. Disoriented and strangling, she used most of her fading breath to call to him.

“Nathan,” she coughed, “Nathan where are you?” She strained to hear anything beyond the roar of the flames devouring the hallway. The floor was becoming hotter, all but singing her bare hands. The long petticoat was a blessing and a curse; the sturdy cloth protected her legs from the heat as she crawled, but the fire would surely burn the fabric into her skin upon contact.

“Sandy, over here.” She heard his voice call to her from the direction of the window. What was he doing? They were staying on the fifth floor; a drop from this height would surely kill them as quickly as the fire. So it was a choice, then, she thought. Burn to death, or crash against the rocky shoreline, then be washed out to sea. No, she thought fiercely as she turned to crawl toward his voice. We will not die, not like this.

Flames began creeping beneath the closed bedroom door as she blindly made her way through the dense, black fog. After bumping head-first into the bed post, she reached for the linens and dragged them with her to the window. “Nathan, say something,” she croaked.

“Here, come here.” She felt the gush of air as she heard the window slide open.

The oxygen filling the room began chasing away the smoke while inviting the flames to come closer. Tendrils of fire teasing the doorway flared into a raging inferno wall, speeding toward them.

“NO,” she cried as Nathan disappeared amid the red and yellow haze. “NATHAN…..”

 “Cassie, wake up.” She heard Roni’s voice and felt the touch of a cool hand on her face.  “Cassie.”

She came out of the dream gasping for air, tears streaming down her face. She couldn’t speak. The horror was too fresh. She had lost him again.

“Cassie? It’s Roni, can you hear me? It was just a dream. You’re okay.” Roni didn’t think she would ever become accustomed to Cassie’s dreams. One minute the house was quiet and peaceful, the next Cassie was screaming or crying, or both, as if she were dying.

“Not a dream.” Cassie whispered. “A memory.” She covered her eyes with her hand and began to sob quietly.

Roni knew enough to let her cry it out. Whoever was invading her memory dreams must have died again. Third time this week. Wait, Roni thought. Cassie had called out for Nathan. Weeks ago, she had also mentioned that the mystery man’s name was Nathanial. Could Cassie’s love be Dylan’s friend, Nate?

Realization dawned as Roni considered Cassie’s strange behavior around Nate. Ever since Dylan’s former boss at the FBI had arrived in Charleston, Cassie had not been herself.

“You’ve been holding out on me.” Roni whispered as she stroked Cassie’s hair soothingly. The sobs were subsiding, but Roni knew Cassie wasn’t yet ready to talk. She waited until the tears were barely a trickle, before bringing her a wet wash cloth.

“I’ll start the coffee. Come down when you’re ready.” She left Cassie’s bedroom door open and moved quietly down the hall.

Cassie lay with her eyes closed for a long time, grateful for the cool cloth and the privacy. Thoughts of Nathanial’s death crept into her consciousness, unwelcome and unbidden. She accepted the fact that she had lived countless times before, always with the same man, Nathanial. Memories of their lives together and his many untimely deaths assaulted her regularly during dreams. Up until now, she had only dreamed of her own death when it coincided with his. While she wasn’t positive that the fire consumed her, it seemed likely.

Not all of her memory dreams were nightmares. She blushed as she thought of the passion they shared throughout the centuries. Silky nights amid lush surroundings, steamy encounters beneath the stars and sizzling moments in faraway places she didn’t recognize replaced the flames that took him from her this time.

Remembering the love they shared was the best way she had found to recover from the death dreams. Wondering about Nathanial Banks also worked. From the moment she met Dylan’s friend, Cassie knew that he was hers. Had always been hers. But did he know it? She recalled their most recent encounter when he had asked her to dinner. He called her “Cassandra”, something no one in the group ever did. She was always Cassie or Cass, never Cassandra. It was the only clue she had that he was aware of what they were to each other.

Days had passed since Nathanial had asked her out, but she hadn’t heard a word from him other than a quick text asking to postpone their dinner and telling her that he’d call. She knew through Roni that he and Dylan were busy closing the paperwork on the Xander case, the truly evil man who recently tried to kill Roni. Cassie shuddered and pulled the covers up to her chin. She hated thinking about that time, but it was Roni’s trouble that brought Nathanial to town. He had merged with their close-knit group as if he had always been part of it. 

Group was not the right word, Cassie thought. She, Kris and Roni were closer than sisters and had been from the start. “Instant family,” she whispered. Something each one of them needed as they navigated their freshman year of college.

Nick had been there almost from the beginning; he and Kris met shortly after the three girls began living together during their sophomore year. The two became inseparable, up until graduation, so Nick became part of the family. Now, after a ten year separation, Kris and Nick were getting married in little more than a week.

Dylan had joined their little clan a few short months ago, but Cassie felt as if she had known him for years. He was the big brother she’d always wanted. Dylan and Roni were getting closer by the day. From the glow on Roni’s face when she spoke of him, Cassie wouldn’t be surprised if wedding bells were in their future, too.

The aroma of fresh coffee made its way to her bedroom, prompting Cassie to throw back the covers and slide out of bed. It was a new day. She smiled as she thought of the possibilities.

“I was beginning to think you’d fallen back asleep.” Roni greeted Cassie with a steaming mug of coffee. “Feeling better?”

“Yes, thanks. Sorry I woke you again.” Cassie took a sip, then quickly gave up. Too hot. She idly picked up the newspaper ad on top of the stack. “Anything good on sale?”

“Probably, but I’d really rather discuss Nate, or Nathan, whichever you prefer.” Roni was determined to tackle Cassie’s dreams head on. She hated seeing her friend tortured on a regular basis; maybe talking about it would help.

Cassie looked up sharply, then tossed the paper aside. Taking a deep breath, she asked, “How did you know?”

“It was kind of hard to miss. You screamed his name while you were dreaming this morning. Is the man in your dream really our Nate?”

“Yes.” Cassie answered without hesitation. “But I prefer Nathanial, though he’s been Nate and Nathan in my memories.”

“Talk about a small world,” Roni said softly. “How long have you known?”

“From the first time I met him, last week when Dylan brought him over.” Cassie sighed and rubbed her temple.

“How can you be sure?” Roni went to the fridge and brought back a fruit platter. She placed it in front of Cassie, along with a bottle of Advil.

“It’s his eyes. They haven’t changed, not in hundreds of years.” Cassie opened the bottle and fished out two pills. “Thanks,” she smiled at Roni, noting the creases in her brow. “Hey, stop worrying. It’s fine. It’s more than fine.”

“I’m not worried, but I am concerned about the content of your dreams. He’s died three times this week alone. Not to mention the other times that I’m sure you’re keeping to yourself.”

Cassie had the good grace to look properly chagrined. “There have been a few others. But I’ve remembered good things, too. The memories haven’t been all bad.”

“Does he know?”

“About my memory dreams? No. Reincarnation is not my idea of a conversation starter.” Cassie wrinkled her nose.

“I wonder if he’s having dreams, too?” Roni gave voice to Cassie’s thoughts. “Or remembers you in any way?”

“Good question.” She thought a minute, before sharing the little she knew with Roni. “He asked me to dinner this week. Rather, he asked ‘Cassandra’ to dinner.”

Roni’s eyebrows shot up. “Cassandra? Who calls you Cassandra?”

“Nathanial.” Cassie smiled.

 





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