by: Mary Burton
Genre: Romantic Suspense/Mystery
Release Date: March 29, 2016
Publisher: Kensington Books ~ Pinnacle
The Smallest Mistake
Three went in; one came out. For five years, no trace has been found of two high-school friends who went hiking in the woods near Nashville. The third teen, Amber Ryder, was discovered at the bottom of a ravine with a broken arm, head trauma--and zero memory of the horror that put her there.
Will Put You
What started as a cold case has become a fresh hell for forensic technician Georgia Morgan. Another woman's body is found in the woods, and it leads to the missing teens' remains. But while Georgia works with Amber to try and reawaken her memories, her gut tells her the worst is yet to come.
At A Killer's Mercy
Homicide Detective Jake Bishop can't be sure whether Amber is an expert manipulator or the killer's next target. Either way, he's determined to protect Georgia. Because the deeper she digs into the past, the deadlier the secrets that emerge, and a nightmare years in the making is about to come to a bloody, terrifying end…
Homicide Detective Jake Bishop smiled at the determined clip-clop of Georgia’s feet moving down the carpeted hallway of the homicide department. She always moved as if the demons of hell nipped at her feet. Never relaxed. Never smiling. Buttoned up tight. She was a live wire of determination, drive, and shouldering a need to prove herself.
Today they were scheduled to brief Deke on the Marlowe/Reed case; otherwise, Jake would have taken the day off. The last three days he and his partner, Rick Morgan, had been chasing down a killer who shot two men in east Nashville. It took days to interview witnesses and piece together the fragments of the men’s lives. Both, it turned out, were meth dealers unworried about cutting into the business of a rival group. They found the shooter last night shortly after midnight sleeping in the back room of a pool hall. The arrest was textbook and by four a.m. the man was processed and in jail awaiting arraignment. Rick, running on empty, went home for sleep and time alone with his new wife, Jenna, a former Baltimore police officer who was a trained forensic artist. She now freelanced her forensic drawing and sculpting skills to several jurisdictions in the region. Once a missing child herself, she specialized in missing children cases and often charged a very minimal fee to cover expenses. In her spare time, she painted portraits thanks to a growing reputation.
Jake should have packed it in for the day but didn’t want to miss the fireworks sure to follow Georgia, who now rushed past his open door toward Deke. Finding his office empty, she emerged frustrated and ducked into Rick’s office.
He always liked the way Georgia pinned her red hair up on her head and how the curls wriggled free to form a collection of ringlets at the base of her neck. On a humid day, her hair went into all-out rebellion, as much as the sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose did every time she tried to cover them with makeup. Her neatly tucked shirt tugged at her narrowing waistband as if it also hated being constrained. Every aspect of the woman was in full battle mode.
However, she was always cool, all business, and kept him at arm’s distance. That had once suited him fine. There were plenty of women to warm his bed other than her. But six months ago that all changed. He was in Rudy’s grabbing a beer when Georgia took center stage. The red curls tumbled around her shoulders and she traded the blue button-down shirt, khakis, and steel-toed boots for a sleek silk top with a V-neck that dipped between her breasts, designer jeans hugging her round hips, and rhinestone studded boots. He took special notice of her as would any man with a pulse in the bar.
KC had leaned forward. “You like? Wait until she sings.”
“She can’t be that good.” He sipped, cold beer sliding over a parched throat.
“She’s gonna rock your world.”
And she had. He was never so transfixed as he was as when Georgia cradled that microphone in her long fingers and sang Faith Hill’s “Breathe.” Shit. He still got hard when he thought about the moment.
“Deke went to get coffee,” Jake called out to Georgia.
Seconds passed and then she stood in his doorway careful not to cross the threshold. “We have a meeting at ten.”
He tapped his watch. “Can’t wait.”
She folded her arms. “You read any of the files?”
“Not many. But I’ll get up to speed quickly. Besides,” he said grinning and leaning back in his chair, “you’ll give me the Cliff Notes, right?”
She closed her eyes for a moment, shaking her head. Before she formed a response, Deke’s voice sounded in the hall. Without a word, she turned and vanished into Deke’s office.
Figuring this was the meeting on the Marlowe/Reed case, he rose from his desk, straightened his jacket, and ambled toward Deke’s office. As he grew closer, he heard Georgia’s clipped words sharpening each consonant. She sounded ready to boil over.
“She tracked me down at Rudy’s.” Georgia held a rolled-up stack of papers in her left hand. “Someone here told her I was at Rudy’s. Not cool to give out information like that. How do I know someone is not going to cap my ass while I’m onstage with a bright spotlight in my eyes.”
“Do you have a name?”
“I tried to ferret it out but no one is talking . . . yet.”
“Okay. I’ll see what I can find out. What did Amber say?”
Jake leaned on the door frame. “Amber Ryder?”
“She tracked me down at Rudy’s last night.”
“How did she know to look for you?” Jake asked.
“I called her a week ago.”
“And you didn’t think to tell me?” Slight annoyance flared. “We’re partners on the case, right?
She sat in one of the two seats angled in front of Deke’s desk. “There wasn’t much to tell until now, and now I’m telling you all I know.”
Instead of sitting, Jake remained standing, feet slightly braced. Her little end run clipped the edges of his good humor. He cut his teeth as a cop on the streets of South Boston before he picked up stakes and moved to Nashville seven years ago. He had learned a few things about Southern niceties and could even employ them when it suited, but when angered, the boy from Southie with the hot temper came out swinging. “Going forward, we work the case as a team. No exceptions.”
Blue eyes sharpened. “Sure.”
Deke leaned back in his chair. He was tall with broad shoulders that filled the white starched dress shirt with sleeves rolled up to his forearms. A carbon copy of his old man, Jake still found himself doing a double take when he saw Deke glower as well as the old man. Deke had headed homicide for two years and recently married local defense attorney Rachel Wainwright, who was as bullish on defense as he was prosecution. There’d been a few side bets on how long the two would last.
Unlike Georgia, Deke and his brothers, Rick and Alex, had jet black hair. Deke’s had turned more salt and pepper in the last year. He jokingly blamed the gray on his new wife whom he adored.
Deke studied Georgia as he always did—a bit perplexed and annoyed. “Georgia, tell us what she said.”
“Like I said, I called her a few weeks ago. I was halfway through the files and took a chance I could quickly catch up with her. She didn’t answer.”
Deke tapped an index finger on the arm of his chair as he leaned back. “Two missing kids, one found. As you both realize, Dalton Marlowe wants closure and no more delays. It’s going to take cooperation to make that happen.”
Neither answered, but neither argued with Deke.
“It was a hell of a case,” Jake said. “All hands on deck. I’ve never seen so many man hours dumped into one case.”
Georgia wasn’t exactly frowning but no smile was in sight either. “We all volunteered for search crews.”
“I wish I had a nickel for all the times I walked through Percy Warner Park,” he said. “It was fall and one of the warmest on record. We never found a trace of the two other kids.”
She folded her arms, openly regarding him. “Did you ever interview Amber during the case? You weren’t mentioned in the files.”
“I was present while she was interviewed once. She was adamant that she didn’t remember what happened in the woods. Her story never varied.”
“And you believe her?”
“It was all a little too convenient for me. However, she passed the polygraph test and the body language experts all cleared her. Even the docs said her concussion caused by the fall could have created the amnesia. But I never could swallow it.”
“Why?” Georgia challenged. “That’s a lot of science backing her up.”
That was a trait he liked. She never took anything at face value. She was always pushing, prodding, wanting more until she found the truth. “Never could give you a solid reason.”
“Gut instinct?” Her gaze danced just a little with humor.
“Yeah, Dr. Science. My gut. I couldn’t boil it down to anything that could be proven in a court of law but the twitch I get around liars was there.”
Many a cop relied on instinct and the intangibles when they interviewed suspects. Sensing what not to ask was just as important.
Eyes narrowing, a sign she was processing, she turned back to her brother. “As we all agreed, I also pulled the clothes Amber wore at the time of the fall. I reexamined the items a few days ago and collected more samples including hair fibers and a stain. I’ve sent it all off to the state lab for retesting. No answers yet, but could you lean on the lab?”
Deke shook his head. “You sound like Rachel. She’s always pushing for faster, more detailed DNA testing. The lab crews hate the sound of my voice.”
She unrolled the papers she was clutching and tried to flatten them out, but they rolled back up as if they too didn’t want to take orders. “But they do listen to you.”
Deke’s newly minted wedding band glinted in the light as he twirled it on his finger. “What do you think you’ll find this time?”
“I don’t know. But the testing is a little more fine-tuned than even five years ago.”
Jake ran his fingers down his Brooks Brother tie, absently making sure it was straight. “They find data now that’s so specific, the lab techs don’t even know what it means.”
Deke’s scowl deepened, accentuating the lines around his mouth and his eyes.
“You better than anyone, Detective Bishop, understand the value of fresh eyes,” he said. “This case is worth a second look. And with Amber now back in town, we might have a shot at solving it.”
“That case got thousands of looks five years ago. But Dalton Marlowe has political juice and it’s coming to a head.” Jake didn’t like being boxed into a corner but he understood better than anyone the power of a grieving overprotective parent with influence. “Five years. Tests change. People change their stories. It’s still worth a look.”
“How much time have you invested in the case files so far, Georgia?” Deke asked.
“Eighty hours,” she said. “All my spare time in the last few weeks. The sooner I get any test results back on DNA, the sooner I can develop new leads. I’m not on anyone’s priority list so it will take months.”
Deke’s chair squeaked as he leaned forward. “You’re preaching to the choir. I’ll rattle the cages.”
“Thanks.” Her grin was sweet and friendly and Jake guessed she used that same smile a thousand times since she was a tiny girl. She was expert at wrapping her big brothers around her little finger.
“That case was full of dead-ends.” Jake liked the smile, but refused to be manipulated by it.
“Don’t you want to know what happened to those kids?” Georgia’s voice rose an octave.
“Sure. And I’ll give the case one hundred percent. But the search and investigation back in the day was pretty damn extensive.” Truth was he liked the idea of giving this case a second look. Two kids remained missing. His argument now was based solely on pissing Georgia off. He could dish out as well as he took from her.
“It’s a start,” she said.
“Retesting forensic evidence is a small but integral piece of the puzzle. Most cases are solved by a detective’s legwork.” Jake shook his head. “If this case is cracked, it’ll be because someone is now willing to talk.”
She was too professional to roll her eyes, but for him, she did anyway with a shit-eating smirk.
Jake shook his head as he looked directly at her. “You, Georgia, aren’t always nice to people. You’re about as subtle as a crowbar.”
A nod of acknowledgment lobbed his way. “I’m nice to some people.”
Deke laughed, but quickly caught himself and sobered his expression. “Your heart is in the right place, but you can be so direct that you put people off.”
She glared as if daring his smile to reappear. “I can’t help it if they have thin skins.”
Jake shook his head. “I’ll do the talking.”
“Bishop’s right, Georgia,” Deke said before she could rebut. “You’ll have to do more than read case files and retest DNA. Bishop excels at the interviews. Did you make a witness list while you were reading the case files?”
As much as she wanted to work this case alone she was smart enough to realize it would take them both. “I did. I also have a ten-page synopsis.”
“Perfect.” Deke rose. “You two work out the details and make something happen. Now get out of my office.”
©Mary Burton 2016
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New York Times and USA Today bestselling suspense author Mary Burton’s writing has been compared to the works of Steig Larson*, Lisa Gardner**, and Lisa Jackson***. Her latest books, I’ll Never Let You Go, Cover Your Eyes and Be Afraid are the first of four set in Nashville and featuring the Morgans, Music City’s preeminent law enforcement family. Vulnerable completes the quartet in April 2016. Her earlier, highly praised novels include Senseless, Merciless, Before She Dies, The Seventh Victim, No Escape, and You’re Not Safe.
The author of twenty-seven published novels and five novellas, Mary is a member of International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Novelists, Inc., and Romance Writers of America. In addition to her writing, she is highly regarded for her “Unraveling Romantic Suspense” workshop and her day-long program “Writing Your Book…The First Step.”
A Richmond native with family roots as deep as the nation’s, Mary has made her home there for most of her life. Her work also includes contemporary women’s fiction written as Mary Ellen Taylor.
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