Authors: Ashley Quinn
looked at Marcie who was trying to keep it together and mouthed. “Okay,
Marcie.” They listened to Caleb educate them on the red-tailed hawk for
several more minutes before Marcie managed to cut in and distract the boy with
the promise of a snack.
got up and scampered away toward the kitchen.
grabbed Marcie’s hand before she could follow her grandson. “Thank you,
Marcie. He did great. We’ll see ourselves out and if you need
please call. Day or night.”
nodded and gave Gemma a watery smile.
heart broke as she watched the woman leave the room. She could only imagine
the depth of that woman’s pain.
warm hand curving over her shoulder brought her back. She offered him a
tremulous smile and retrieved her purse before walking outside. Once ensconced
in the car Gemma couldn’t hold back the tears any longer.
sank gratefully into Ben’s chest as he pulled her as close as he could across
the center console, her earlier awkwardness with him forgotten. She needed his
wove a hand through Gemma’s hair and wrapped the other around her back as she
wept against his chest. He was amazed she’d held it together this long. He’d
delivered a lot of bad news and conducted a lot of interviews in his day, but
what had happened in that house had to be one of the most intense experiences
of his adult life. Marcie’s pain had been palpable as she’d sat there and
listened to her grandson describe the man that could very well be her
Gemma. Gemma was amazing. She’d kept her head through it all and managed to
extract some very useful information out of what could have been a very reluctant
witness. And now she wept for the child and his grandmother. For her friend.
He just hoped she wept for herself too.
continued to stroke her back as her sobs died down until she was just sniffling
against his chest. Ben wrapped her rich chestnut hair around his hand and
pulled slightly to tip her head up. “I know it doesn’t seem like it, but it
will get better.” He knew that firsthand. He’d lost more than one friend to
violent acts on the battlefield. It always felt like someone had ripped the
heart from his chest and stomped it to pieces in the dirt, but the pain
eventually dulled to the point he could take a deep breath again.
sniffed again and nodded. “She was such a sweet person. Why would someone
want to hurt her? Hurt her son by taking away his mother?”
don’t know, darlin’, but I intend to find out,” he vowed. Ben dropped a kiss
on the top of Gemma’s head. “I will find him.”
looked up as there was a knock on her office door just as she was about to head
back out to the arena for her next appointment. Her colleague, Stacy Mathis
stuck her head around the door.
Pam said your brother’s on TV.”
rest of Stacy’s body followed her head through the door. “It has something to
do with Diana’s death.”
swung around and turned on the TV mounted to her office wall. Ben’s handsome
face filled the screen, her brother and the sheriff standing in the
let out a low whistle. “
your houseguest? Wow.”
waved her hand to silence Stacy. When Gemma had gotten up this morning Ben and
Tristan had already left. Tristan had left her a note saying he didn’t know if
they’d be home for dinner, but that he’d call her later. She wanted to know if
they’d uncovered anything new since yesterday. Gemma and Stacy listened
attentively as Ben explained the circumstances of Diana’s death and her connection
to the cases in Tennessee and Virginia. He asked the public to come forward
with any information related to any of the murders or anyone with knowledge of
a dark green SUV seen hanging around schools and national forest areas then
gave the description Caleb had given them of the man he’d seen in the SUV as
well as Gemma and Marcie’s description of Andrew Emerson. Ben took a few
questions from the journalists then ended the press conference.
turned off the TV and stared at the blank screen. They must be having trouble
tracking down the park ranger and Diana’s male friend if Ben was asking the
public for leads.
so crazy that this happened to Diana.” Gemma started as Stacy’s voice broke
into her thoughts. “She was such a nice person.”
nodded. “I know.” She grabbed her keys and walked out the door, locking it as
you know if Caleb will be in for his session tomorrow?” Stacy asked.
not sure. I’m hoping Marcie keeps to his routine as much as possible. It’ll
help him deal with all of this,” Gemma said thoughtfully.
she’s told him?”
shrugged. “I don’t think Diana was supposed to come back until today, so I’m
not sure if she’s put it off or not.”
poor boy.” Gemma wrapped an arm around Stacy as Stacy wiped away a tear.
couldn’t agree more.
pulled open the door to the front office of the equestrian therapy and riding
center where Gemma worked. He had an appointment to see the director about
getting a list of employees and to interview the staff about Diana. Ideally,
he’d like a list of clients as well, but at this point he didn’t have enough to
get a warrant for the list. He gave his name to the receptionist and she
showed him through to Mona Roth, the center’s director.
quickly outlined what he needed from the center and Mrs. Roth was happy to
help. She offered him the staff conference room to conduct his interviews. He
asked her the questions he meant to ask all of her staff then asked her to draw
up a schedule for who he could interview when. He didn’t want to disrupt any
therapy sessions. He had a feeling Gemma would skin him alive if he did that,
even if it was part of a murder investigation.
the time the final person left the conference room later that afternoon, Ben had
a full-blown headache. No one had seen the car or either of the men hanging
around. Ben felt like he was chasing his tail on this case, just like he had
with the previous victims. None of his leads seemed to go anywhere. No car. He
couldn’t find Andrew Emerson, or Ranger Jack. Even the autopsy had yielded few
clues that Ben hadn’t already known they’d find. Her legs were crushed just as
he had predicted and she’d died from asphyxiation. Dr. Tate was still waiting
on toxicology reports, but Ben knew the lab would find ketamine in her system
just like all the others. The only thing new they had gotten were some fibers
near where the rope had been tied and a few from her hair. Until they had
something to match them to though, they had nothing.
walked out of the small meeting room and down the corridor to the arena. He
hadn’t talked to Gemma yet. He was holding out hope she’d seen the car hanging
around the center, but she hadn’t mentioned it yesterday on their drive back to
Marshall or that evening over dinner.
had been an awkward affair. Gemma had hardly spoken through the meal and
Tristan had eyed them both speculatively. Ben tried to ignore the tension and
just eat, but it had been damn hard. Gemma had finished her meal then quietly
excused herself. Ben and Tristan hadn’t seen her the rest of the night. Ben
had retired shortly after. He was dog-tired from the night before and in no
mood to sit there while Tristan gave him the big brother stare. As far as Ben
was concerned what happened between him and Gemma was none of Tristan’s
business. Not that anything
happening or was going to. Still, in
the mood he’d been in, if Tristan had pressed the issue Ben
decked the younger man.
pushed open the door that led to the arena and walked up to the corral fence.
Gemma was on the far side of the arena leading a child with braces on her legs
around atop a gray horse. He watched quietly, marveling at the ease with which
she put people. The child astride the horse couldn’t be more than six, yet she
looked completely relaxed and happy as Gemma gave gentle guidance. She was a
natural with kids; people in general, really. He was still in awe of her after
watching her work with Caleb yesterday.
came around the end of the arena and up the side where he was standing. He
knew the moment she became aware of him. Her posture stiffened slightly and
her smile became a little strained. He hated that he put her on the defensive,
but he had a feeling it had more to do with the attraction they felt for each
other than any animosity toward him. She’d been nothing but polite to him.
And he knew he certainly felt more defensive when she was around. If he didn’t
raise the shields high and bolt them down they’d soon be finishing what they
started on the couch.
nodded at him as she passed, but didn’t stop. Ben waited patiently as she
finished her session with the young rider and handed the child off to her
waiting mother. Ben hopped the fence to help her as she began to lead the
horse back to its stall to be groomed and tucked in for the night. They worked
in silence until the horse was taken care of. Ben followed her back to her
was the first to break the silence. “I’m assuming you’re here to interview the
nodded. “Already done. I don’t suppose you’ve noticed that green SUV Caleb
talked about have you?”
shook her head. “No. I wracked my brain all evening until I fell asleep for
either the men or the car and I can’t remember seeing either before. I’m
sighed. “I figured as much when you didn’t mention it.”
silence descended again. Ben’s patience snapped. This was ridiculous. They
were staying in the same house and even if he checked into a hotel they’d still
be seeing each other frequently.
stepped forward until he was close enough to touch her. “Listen, about the
other night. I don’t know how we ended up the way we did, but it’s not a big
deal. We just got caught off guard and we were still half asleep.”
telling yourself that, Davidson. Maybe you’ll eventually believe it.
He couldn’t help but scoff at his own thoughts. Still. He had to try.
wouldn’t look at him, but she nodded. “Right.”
ran a hand through his hair. Time to try pretending they were past it.
“Tristan got caught up in another case and said he’d grab a bite in town
tonight. I’ve got a bunch of case files from the previous victims to go over
again. How about we go grab some dinner before I closet myself away?” he
looked at him then. After a moment she nodded.
followed that damn FBI agent after the press conference. He’d ended up at the
equestrian center where that woman he’d strung up in the woods took that son of
hers. He watched as the agent finally exited the building with one of the
therapists, a hand resting on her back as he guided her to the car. Agent
Davidson had certainly been in there long enough. It had given him plenty of
time to think. How the feds had gotten to the crime so quickly was beyond
him. It usually took the FBI several days to get involved. And he was in a
new state. This shouldn’t even have been on the cops’ radar as a serial
must have flagged his M.O.
He couldn’t let anyone stop him. Not until everyone got his message.
meant he needed to stop Agent Davidson. Which wouldn’t be easy. The man was a
he watched Davidson interact with the therapist an idea formed. Maybe there
was another way…
need to get some supplies first.
tried to relax as she sat down across from Ben in the booth at the Mexican
restaurant they’d chosen. Like it or not, she was going to see a lot of him
until this case was either solved or it went cold. She didn’t want to live on
eggshells until that point. She’d go nuts.
don’t think about that night. Don’t think about how hard his chest was or the
way his hips felt pressed to—
Gemma quickly cut off
that train of thought. That wasn’t going to help. He was her brother’s former
CO, she reminded herself. He’s too old for you. He doesn’t live here.
repeated that mantra several more times until she could look at him without
remembering what his body felt like and how his clear blue-green eyes had
darkened to the color of the turbulent ocean when aroused.
She was thinking about it again. Gemma picked up her menu and hid behind it.
She stayed there until the waiter came to take their orders. Then she had to
face Mr. Tall-dark-and-gorgeous.
cleared her throat. Maybe conversation would distract her. At least it would
make her focus on something other than those broad shoulders that filled his
side of the booth. “So, where are you from, Ben? You have a drawl.” Gemma
had noticed the southern lilt to his voice the first time he’d spoken.
he answered. “I was born and raised just outside of Richmond.”
do you live now? You’re investigating this case, so I’m assuming you’re close.”
nodded. “I work out of the Richmond field office. I got lucky. When I got
out of the academy there was an opening there and I applied for it. It made my
mother very happy to have me home after so many years.”
noted the fondness in his voice when he spoke of the woman. “You’re close with
mostly. My brother and I don’t always see eye to eye, but we get along.”
many siblings do you have?”
I have a sister as well. I’m the oldest.”
waiter came with their drinks. Gemma took a hearty gulp of hers, savoring the
coolness. It had been hot again today. The barn and arena were air
conditioned, but it was such a large space that it was always just a touch warm
in the summer.
how did you end up sharing a house with your brother?” Ben asked.
smiled. “When he came back after his stint in the Army he was on the Asheville
police department, but he had always wanted to be in Marshall. When a
detective position opened with the county he applied. It was about the same
time I finished up my degrees and took the job at the center. Our parents
decided that they wanted to travel the country and offered us the use of the
house. It didn’t seem logical for Tristan and me to rent apartments or buy our
own houses while our parents’ house sat empty. We’d still have to do the
upkeep on it while they were away.”
your parents are off gallivanting around the US?”
nodded. “They bought a fancy RV and go where they feel like. Right now,
they’re in Arizona exploring the Grand Canyon. They come home for holidays and
our birthdays then they head out again.”
waiter appeared again, this time with their meals. Gemma finally felt herself
relax and they fell into easy conversation as they ate. When they finally left
the restaurant, Gemma was surprised to see how low the sun had sunk in the sky.
She didn’t realize they had sat and talked so long.
drove them back to the equestrian center so Gemma could get her car. He pulled
up next to her Wrangler and Gemma climbed out. Ben came around the vehicle.
you for dinner,” Gemma said as she craned her neck to look up at him. She
wasn’t short at five-foot-seven, but he had at least half a foot on her.
had a nice time,” she said softly, staring up at him. The waning light made
his eyes look like liquid silver and cast shadows on the hard edges of his
face. He looked like he’d been carved from granite.
too.” His voice rumbled low and washed over her senses. Gemma pushed the
unlock button on her remote and fumbled for the door handle behind her. She
needed to get in her car and drive away or she was going to do something
foolish. Like lean into that hard body and kiss him.
reached around her and grabbed the door handle. It brought him much too
close. She could smell his spicy scent all around her and his cheek brushed
her hair. Gemma gulped and closed her eyes against the onslaught of desire.