Authors: Rita Herron
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Suspense, #ROMANCE - - SUSPENSE
Sumter scowled at them, then scraped a hand through his already tousled dirty-blond hair. “I don’t know anything.”
Justin took a quick inventory of the inside of the apartment. It was just as rundown as the outside. Faded paint on the walls, worn furniture and stained carpet. The place reeked of cigarette smoke, stale beer and fast food.
A coffee cup filled with muddy sludge sat on the chipped coffee table and unwashed dishes filled the sink.
The man was not only a drunk but a slob.
“We heard that you wanted to get back with Kelly,” Justin cut in sharply.
“I had a thing for her a while back,” Sumter said, tugging at his ratty T-shirt. “But I’ve had other women since.”
“Still, you wanted her back,” Justin said. “Her fiancé told us that.”
Sumter’s eyes narrowed to slits. “She was too good for that jerk.”
“He seems nice to me,” Amanda said. “Like he really loves her.”
loved her,” Sumter said. “And she promised to love me forever. Then Fisher stole her from me.”
“We were just kids back then, Terry,” Amanda pointed out. “Everyone moves on from that first love.”
Terry glared at her through glazed eyes. The man must have been sleeping off a hangover when they’d knocked. And the place reeked of pot.
Perhaps the reason he’d run?
“But you didn’t move on, did you?” Justin asked.
“Yes, I did. I told you I’ve had other women.” He smiled, a cunning evil in his eyes. “In fact, I don’t have trouble in that department.”
“Having other women doesn’t mean you forgot Kelly or that you stopped wanting her.” Justin took a menacing step toward him. “The reunion was coming up and so was Kelly’s wedding. You figured you’d make one last attempt to win her back, so you called her and asked her to meet you.”
Terry dropped his head slightly. “I did ask her, but she had other plans.”
“Plans that didn’t involve you. Plans to marry Raymond Fisher,” Amanda said.
Justin poked Sumter with his finger. “That made you even angrier, didn’t it?”
Amanda’s voice hardened. “So you sent her a text pretending it was from someone else and lured her out to the Old River Mill Road.”
“I did no such thing,” Sumter snapped.
“You ran her off the road, then dragged her from the car,” Amanda continued.
Terry shook his head no, his expression adamant. “No...”
“What kind of car do you drive?” Justin asked.
Terry glanced back and forth between them as if he suspected they were trying to trap him. “A pickup truck,” he said. “I use it for work.”
“What color is it?” Justin asked.
“Black,” Terry said. Realizing he might be in serious trouble, he gave Amanda a pitiful, lost-boy look. “Amanda, you really can’t think I’d hurt Kelly. You’ve known me for years. You know I’m not capable.”
“I know you have a temper when you’re drinking,” Amanda said. “And judging from your breath and the empty bottles in your kitchen, I’d say you’ve been doing a lot of that.”
“Did you know Tina Grimes?” Justin asked.
Sweat beaded on Terry’s forehead. “Tina? What the hell are you asking about Tina for?”
Amanda folded her arms across her chest. “She also went missing months ago—”
“Jesus, you think I took her and killed Kelly?” Sumter’s panicked gaze darted toward the door. “Hell, you’re crazy, Amanda. I’m not some serial nutcase.”
“Just answer the question,” Justin said firmly.
Terry clamped his mouth shut. “I’m done talking. I want a lawyer.”
* * *
such a stupid bimbo. She had fallen for the plan with no questions asked. Had even been friendly.
Friendly after what she’d done.
The sick bitch.
Her body now lay limp, her ivory flesh red and bruised where the belt had tightened around her throat.
Now, what to do with the body?
For so long the others had lain hidden inside the town. No one knew where they were, that they had never really left Sunset Mesa.
But now everyone had returned to town to celebrate, to relive their old high school glory days.
They had to see what had come from those days. That they hadn’t been so glorious at all.
That not everyone felt like celebrating.
And it was time for them to pay for their sins.
“What do you think about Terry?” Amanda asked as they drove back to the sheriff’s office.
Justin worked his mouth from side to side. “He looks good for Kelly’s murder, but I’m not sure he fits the profile of a serial criminal. He’s too out of control with the drinking.”
“I agree. As volatile as he is, he would get sloppy and would have made mistakes by now.”
“Maybe leaving Tina’s body so it could be found was a mistake.”
“True. But still, our killer has to be more organized, methodical.”
“You’re right.” Justin glanced at the clock on the dash. “It’s nearly midnight, Amanda. Let’s call it a night. It’s too late to visit Fisher’s ex-girlfriend.”
Amanda twisted her hands together. “I hate to go to bed knowing we haven’t found Kelly.”
Justin recognized a faint hint of despair in her voice and wanted to assure her they’d find the woman. But there were too many others missing that they hadn’t yet located, so he couldn’t make false promises.
“I understand,” he said instead. “But we’ve done all we can today. Her picture is being run nationwide. Police everywhere are searching for her. You need to get some rest and we’ll go at it again tomorrow.”
Amanda nodded. He was right. But she wasn’t sure she could sleep when images of Tina Grimes’s dead body floated in her head.
Was Kelly going to end up like that?
Was she still alive?
Justin parked, and the two of them climbed out and went inside. Darkness bathed the streets, most of the residents in the sleepy little town tucked in bed for the night.
But were they safe?
It was her job to make sure the residents were protected.
What if she failed?
* * *
in law enforcement long enough to know that Amanda was taking this case personally. As they entered the police station, she poured herself another cup of coffee.
And why wouldn’t she take the case personally? She’d known some of the victims. She knew Kelly Lambert.
And now it seemed that members of her high school were being targeted by a serial criminal. She was probably racking her brain to figure out the reason.
Meaning she probably wouldn’t sleep tonight.
“Have you eaten anything today?” he asked.
She looked at him as if he’d grown a second head. “I can’t even think about food.”
“Amanda,” he said, his voice softening at the tortured look in her eyes. “You can’t do your job if you don’t rest and eat something. Is there anything open this time of night?”
“Do you have food at your place?”
She shrugged. “Eggs, I guess.”
“Okay. Everything in the inn and hotel was booked, so I’m probably going to sack out in your jail. Let me follow you home and I’ll make us an omelet while you grab a shower. With something in your stomach, maybe you can sleep and think more clearly tomorrow.”
“You don’t believe I’m thinking clearly?” she asked, her tone defensive.
“That’s not what I meant.” He released an exasperated sigh. “But once you relax, once we both do, maybe you’ll remember something, or I’ll come up with a more concrete theory than we already have.”
In fact, he planned to spend the night studying the background and files on each of the cases. They had to be missing something.
She glanced at the files on her desk, then stuffed them in a worn shoulder bag. “All right, let’s go. But you’re not staying in the jail. You can sleep on my couch.”
He started to argue, but she threw up a warning hand. “Trust me, it’s not that comfortable, but it’s better than one of the cots in the cell.”
He conceded with a nod. “All right. I want to talk to Renee Daly in the morning. Then question Donald Reisling and his father.”
He gestured for her to lead the way, and he followed her outside. She locked the office, then climbed in the sheriff’s car while he followed her in his SUV.
She lived about a mile away in a small neighborhood with a mixture of older brick, stucco and adobe homes. Most looked well kept, the yards manicured, flowerbeds blooming. Judging from the kids’ toys in the yards, it was a neighborhood of young families.
“Why did you choose this neighborhood?” he asked as he followed her up the cacti-lined walkway. Was she planning a family?
“It was close to town and affordable.” She unlocked the door. “You’ll have to excuse the mess. I don’t have company very often.”
Was that her way of telling him she didn’t have a boyfriend?
“Hey, I’m not complaining. Like you said, anything’s better than the prison cots.”
In fact, he liked her place immediately. It was rustic inside, homey, with soft leather couches, throw pillows and folk art on the walls. The kind of place a man felt comfortable in, not one of those frou-frou women’s showcase homes where the furniture was meant to be looked at but not touched.
He’d once dated a woman with white couches. Who the hell had white couches?
She flipped on a lamp, bathing the walls in a golden glow, then dropped her bag on a desk in the corner. His gaze was drawn to the sultry sway of her hips as she walked to the adjoining kitchen. Even though she was in uniform, he could tell she had enticing curves beneath the plain fabric.
Obviously exhausted, she released the ponytail holder keeping her hair from her face, and shook the wavy strands free.
Unexpected desire instantly bolted through him. The gesture seemed somehow intimate. Although she didn’t seem aware of what she was doing to him. The scent of some kind of feminine spray, maybe a body wash, blended with vanilla.
“Want a beer?” she asked, one hand on her hip as she stopped by the fridge.
“Sure.” She grabbed two from the refrigerator, popped the top on both of them and handed him one while she took a long pull of the other.
His gut tightened as he watched her tip the bottle back. Her slender throat worked to swallow the cold liquid. Then she flicked out her tongue to lick her lips and raw need seized him.
Damn. He wasn’t supposed to be attracted to her. She was a sheriff, for God’s sake.
But she was still a woman. A very sensual one.
“Go shower,” he said, desperate for her to leave the room so he could regain his composure. “I’ll whip up an omelet.”
She studied him for a long moment, an odd look in her eyes. Friendly? Wary? “I’ve never brought a man here,” she admitted softly.
So she didn’t have a boyfriend?
Ridiculous, but relief made him smile.
“Of course this is just work,” she said. “Maybe we can review the files while we eat.”
Disappointment tapped at his desire.
Hell, though, not enough to destroy it. He still wanted her.
Sex was the best stress reliever.
But how would she feel if he suggested a one-night stand? No complications, just hot, raw sex.
She’d probably slug you, sue you for sexual harassment and laugh in your face.
“Sure, just go shower,” he said a little more sharply than he intended.
Her eyes flickered in confusion, but she shrugged it off a second later and made her way down the hall.
Traitorous thoughts of her naked in the shower with rivulets of water streaming down her bare back pummeled him. The sound of the shower kicking on taunted him with what-ifs.
What if they weren’t working a case and they’d just met in a bar and shared a night of passion?
Dammit to hell and back. It did no good to torture himself with the idea of holding her and tasting her. He needed a distraction.
Food. He needed to concentrate on the food he could eat and the investigation.
Sweat beading on his forehead, he scrounged through her refrigerator, hoping an omelet would satisfy this sudden unsettled feeling clawing at him.
Because bedding Amanda was not an option.
* * *
the hot water, Amanda shivered. Had she misread that hungry look in Justin’s eyes a few minutes ago? Her body tingled as the soapy bubbles coated her skin and the water sluiced over her bare breasts.
Heat speared her as she imagined Justin stripping and stepping into the shower with her. His fingers would trail over her naked skin, making her body come alive with desire.
Desire that would bring them both pleasure as they slid their naked bodies against each other, then melded their mouths and tasted the heat simmering between them.
His hands would skate over her back, then lower, over her hips and she’d open wide for him. He’d lift her and she’d impale herself on his rigid length. He would feel so good inside her....
Struggling for control, she ducked her face beneath the water.
Good heavens alive. The tension of the day had definitely gotten to her. She was not the kind of girl to fantasize about sex.
Especially with another law officer.
She would ruin her career forever if she let him know how she felt.
Furious with herself, she scrubbed her body and hair, then rinsed, climbed out and dried off. Whistling a tune her father used to hum beneath his breath, she towel dried her hair and slid on a pair of shapeless sweatpants and a long sleeved T-shirt. Nothing that looked remotely sexy or inviting.
Not that Justin was interested. Was he?
He’s a man. Men are always interested in sex.
But there would be nothing more than that, and she couldn’t indulge in a one-night stand with a coworker.
Heck, she’d tried to be a modern woman and pretend sex wasn’t personal, but she couldn’t do it. Her emotions always got in the way. Besides, she couldn’t give her heart away and chance having it broken.
She tousled her damp hair with her fingers, then headed back into the kitchen. The scent of bacon and eggs filled the space, and her stomach growled. When she entered, Justin had set the table with two of her mismatched plates and poured them both orange juice.
She set the rest of her beer on the table and noticed that he’d opened a second one. Hot buttered toast sat in a stack on another plate in the center of the table. He scooped the bacon on a paper-toweled plate, then flipped one omelet, then another, onto their plates. He’d obviously raided her refrigerator and found the green peppers and mushrooms in the crisper.
“You were pretty stocked,” he said.
She sank into the chair, suddenly ravenous. “I enjoy cooking when I have time. I have a bad habit of making up my own recipes though.”
“Sounds creative. This is about my limit,” he said. “Although I can grill a mean steak.”
Her mouth watered, but just as much for him as the steak.
Their gazes locked for a heartbeat, a moment of charged heat rippling between them. Her nipples hardened as if he’d touched them, and arousal speared her.
“Amanda?” he said in a gruff tone.
“It looks great,” she said, pasting on a cheery smile to diffuse the tension. “Let’s eat.”
She dug in with gusto, and he did the same, both obviously deciding to ignore the moment.
Amanda spotted her series of yearbooks on the bookshelf by the fireplace in the den, retrieved the last two years’, then started flipping through them while she ate. Justin finished off his meal and took another swig of his beer.
She pointed out some random shots of the football games, cheerleaders and pep rallies.
“Here are Avery and Melanie,” Amanda said. “They were the first two girls to disappear.” She flipped the page to a shot of Kelly, Anise, Mona and Julie Kane, the prom queen. “All these girls were friends.”
“What about Renee Daly, Fisher’s ex?”
Amanda searched the photos and frowned as she found a candid of Raymond and Kelly beneath the big tree where the students used to gather to talk. “Here she is.” In the background, Renee Daly stood by the breezeway shooting daggers at the couple.
Was she jealous enough to carry a grudge all these years? And if so, why not just go after Kelly to begin with? Why carry out a ten-year-old vendetta?
Serial killers often came from abused families. None of these girls fit that description and neither did Terry Sumter or Donald Reisling.
She flipped to another page, her pulse hammering at the sight of Donald Reisling in his wheelchair at a basketball game. He was sitting all alone beside the bleachers, his expression angry as if he had no friends.
Because they’d abandoned him. “Now that I think about it, some of the girls said their parents didn’t want them hanging out with Donald, not after they knew he’d been driving drunk.”
“Did he go to college?”
Sympathy for Donald mingled with suspicion. “He lost his basketball scholarship. I heard he went to some kind of technical school, maybe on the internet.”
She pointed to the front row of the bleachers. “That’s Lynn Faust beside Jimmy Acres. He took over the lead spot on the basketball team after Donald was paralyzed.”
Could Donald or his father have hated Lynn and the other girls for turning their backs on him after the accident?
Hated them enough to kill them?