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Authors: Virna DePaul

Tags: #Romance, #Suspense, #Fiction

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BOOK: Shades of Temptation
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“Thank you, ma’am.”

Mansfield put on a pair of latex gloves and took out his
evidence collection kit and a camera. “I hear it’s pretty bad.”

“You could say that.”

She looked at Jase. “Did Officer Gordon fill you in?”

“Yes. Let me take a look at the body and then we can compare
notes.”

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll be by the car. Just yell if you need
me, okay?” Carrie started walking back toward the road.

Less than a minute later, she heard Mansfield’s gasp. Then
cursing. “Jesus!” he exclaimed. Then retching sounds filled the air as the
veteran law-enforcement officer emptied the contents of his stomach.

She was several feet away when she heard Mansfield say, “She
must be made of steel or something. Nothing gets to her, does it?”

If Jase replied to Mansfield’s question, Carrie didn’t hear it.
But she did hear Mansfield ask, “Jase, what’s wrong? You look—you’re looking at
her like you knew her.”

Carrie froze and waited tensely for Jase to respond. Nothing
but a heavy silence followed Mansfield’s question.

Then Jase said, “I didn’t know her. But I talked to her. Last
night at McGill’s. Her name is Kelly.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

A
COUPLE
OF
HOURS
LATER
, Carrie and Jase arrived at
Kelly Sorenson’s home. Sitting on the couch to Jase’s right, Carrie watched him
closely. His expression gave nothing away. No hint of any inner turmoil he might
be feeling. But she suspected he’d be feeling plenty, and she didn’t like the
grim blankness that had settled on his face ever since he’d matched up the
grotesquely beheaded female they’d found with the same woman that had flirted
with him and DeMarco the night before in McGill’s Bar.

The young woman sitting across from them sobbed, drawing
Carrie’s attention away from Jase. While she was technically a person of
interest in Kelly Sorenson’s murder, it was only because she was Kelly’s
roommate, not because they had any real reason to suspect her. Even so, the fact
that she had a solid alibi—at the same time Jase had been chatting with Kelly at
McGill’s, Susan had been in the middle of an all-night cramming session with
several other students—wouldn’t necessarily get her off the hook. Although Kelly
was a few years older and had already graduated, she’d attended the same college
as Susan did now—the same college where Cheryl Anderson, The Embalmer’s third
victim, had taught English. While Susan might not have killed Sorenson or even
Anderson herself, that didn’t mean she hadn’t hired someone to do it. At least,
that was one theory they had to explore, even though it ranked low on Carrie’s
list of possibilities.

Most homicide victims were slain by someone they knew, but
Carrie’s instincts told her that Susan wasn’t involved. Not only did the woman’s
grief seem completely genuine, there was also the fact that Kelly’s killer had
shown the same strange fascination with removing his victim’s eyelids that The
Embalmer had. There was no way that was coincidental. In addition, what had been
done to Kelly Sorenson hadn’t been the distant workings of a hired killer. It
had been personal. Viciously symbolic. Given that, it was less likely that Susan
was a killer and far more likely that The Embalmer was picking victims he
spotted on campus, but had changed his M.O. in order to throw off the police or,
more likely, just for kicks and giggles. In all probability, Kelly had simply
been a
mushroom,
a term used by law enforcement for
a person who just happened to pop up in the wrong place at the wrong time so as
to catch a killer’s attention.

“We have a few more questions. Do you feel able to continue?”
Jase asked gently.

Susan raised her red-rimmed eyes. After taking a deep
shuddering breath, she nodded. “Yes. Whatever it takes to find the bastard who
killed Kelly.”

“Thank you. You didn’t report Kelly missing even though she
didn’t come home last night. Why is that?”

“I knew she was working, and it wasn’t unusual for her work to
extend into the morning. I was worried when she didn’t show this morning, but I
figured I’d give her a couple of hours. Kelly is—was—a free spirit and didn’t
like to be tied down.”

“You said she was working. But I saw her at McGill’s around
seven. She—uh—” Jase rubbed the back of his neck and looked decidedly
uncomfortable for a moment. Then he plowed forward. “She intimated she was free
for the rest of the evening. Granted, I could have gotten my signals crossed but
she even gave me a card with her phone number.”

Jase’s tone was slightly apologetic. He didn’t want to imply
Kelly had loose moral standards simply because she’d flirted with him.

Susan studied Jase, but she didn’t appear to take offense. “Can
I see the card she gave you?”

Interesting request, Carrie thought, but Jase flushed. “I
didn’t keep the card. I actually tossed it before I left the bar. But I glanced
at it. It was purple. Simple. With a name and phone number, I think.”

Susan smiled slightly.

“You find that amusing?”

“No. I mean, yes. Not amusing, but… If Kelly gave you that
card, it meant she liked you. For you. Not because she saw you as a potential
customer.”

Even more interesting, Carrie thought.

“A potential customer?” Before Jase finished his query, his
face lit with understanding. “You mean she was a…?”

He deliberately let his words dangle so that Susan would finish
the sentence for him.

“A professional escort,” Susan said.

“Forgive me if this seems like a rude question, but why?”
Carrie asked. “Kelly doesn’t fit the profile of most sex-for-pay professionals
we run into. She’s college-educated.” Carrie waved to their surroundings. “She
had a nice place. A nice life. Why go that route?”

Susan hesitated, and Carrie sat forward, urging, “She’s dead.
To the extent we’re interested in anything illegal she was doing, it’s only
because we want to find her killer. Before he does this to some other girl.”

At Carrie’s gentle but frank words, Susan’s eyes overflowed
with tears once again. She sniffed, blew her nose then said, “To put it bluntly,
it was the easiest and fastest way to make the most money. College loans are
ridiculously high these days. She had her own. And she wanted to help her little
sisters go to college, too. It’s just too bad you weren’t interested in her.”
She glanced at Jase with a rueful smile. “If you’d gone home with her last
night, she might still be alive. Instead, she settled for another job.”

Jase frowned. “What do you mean by settled?”

“She called and told me she’d picked up an unexpected job from
McGill’s, although she said it was more a charity case than anything else.”

“What time did she call you?” Carrie asked.

“I—I think it was about nine o’clock. I can double-check caller
ID on the phone.”

“Maybe in a second. A charity case? Those are the exact words
she used?’

“Yes.”

“And did you know what that meant?”

“Not really. I know this is going to sound funny considering
what Kelly did to make money, but she was pretty discriminating about who she
hooked up with. She wasn’t stupid. She was careful. And she had her standards.
Only lately…”

Susan’s voice broke, and she started crying again.

Carrie and Jase looked at each other but said nothing as Susan
composed herself again.

“I’m sorry,” she said as she swiped at her eyes with a
tissue.

“It’s okay,” Jase murmured. “We know this is extremely
difficult for you and we appreciate the fact that you’re willing to talk with us
right now. Time really is of the essence in these types of situations.”

Susan nodded, took a deep breath then said, “Lately, I got the
feeling Kelly was being a little less exclusive when it came to the jobs she was
taking. What she told me last night confirmed it. When she said she was taking a
charity case, she meant that someone was getting lucky because she needed the
money. But for that, it wasn’t anybody she’d ever sleep with.”

Carrie met Jase’s gaze again, then looked back at Susan.
“There’s some indication that the person who killed Kelly might have killed
other women, as well. Can I show you some pictures of the women? See if you
recognize them?”

Susan looked panicked, and Carrie rushed to reassure her, “Just
regular photos. Nothing gruesome, I promise.”

Reaching into the files she’d brought with her, Carrie took out
the “before” photos of The Embalmer’s first three victims. She handed them to
Ingram one by one.

When she got to the picture of Cheryl Anderson, Ingram gasped.
“I know her. That’s Professor Anderson. I had her for American Literature last
year. She’s dead?”

“She’s the latest victim. We’ve tried to keep her name out of
the paper so the press doesn’t interfere with the investigation, and we need you
to keep her identity as a victim in this case a secret. Can you do that?”

Susan nodded vigorously. “Yes. God. Kelly and Professor
Anderson. I can’t believe it.”

“You had Cheryl Anderson as a teacher. Did Kelly?”

“Not that I know of.”

“As far as you know, had the two of them ever met?”

“Again, not that I know of.”

Of course, Susan could be lying. It was entirely possible she’d
had a score to settle with Cheryl Anderson and Kelly, too.

God, things were getting messy. Even messier than they already
had been, and that was certainly saying something.

“Do you work, Susan?” Jase asked.

“No. I just go to school. I’m lucky. My parents pay my way. It
used to make Kelly so jealous….” Susan covered her face with her hands as her
body began shaking with sobs. “Oh, God…”

Again, Jase and Carrie waited helplessly, silently, as the
woman grieved. Instinctively, Carrie wanted to offer the other woman some
comfort, but because she wasn’t sure how to do that or how such a gesture would
be received, she hoped their respectful silence was enough.

When Susan once again raised her head, Jase asked, “What about
her car? Would it still be parked near McGill’s, or would she have driven to her
client’s house?”

“She biked around campus. Used public transportation or got
rides from friends when she needed to.”

“Okay. Almost done here. In addition to Professor Anderson and
Kelly having the college in common, we need to explore any other places they
might have both frequented. Did Kelly spend time at a particular mall, gym or
restaurant?”

“No. She—she liked McGill’s, but you already know that.”

Carrie looked at Jase. At his slight nod, she stood, as did
he.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said. “We’re going to do
everything we can to find out who did this. I need to ask you just one more
thing. Do you have extra copies of Kelly’s cards? The purple card and the other
one, the one she’d use for more professional reasons?”

Susan nodded and slowly, as if it was very difficult for her,
got to her feet. “Yeah. I’ll get them for you right now.”

* * *

L
ATER
THAT
DAY
, the mood in the SIG office was grim. Maybe
that’s because Carrie and Jase were the only ones there, and they certainly had
no reason to be anything but. After their interview with Susan Ingram, they’d
stopped by McGill’s. They’d talked to the manager and gotten a list of employees
who’d worked the night before. Several employees, including the manager, noted
that Sorenson had been a regular, and though she often left with someone
different, she was rarely drunk when she did. Their observations seemed
consistent with a professional working girl who was, just as Susan Ingram had
said, active but at the same time somewhat discerning.

When they’d gotten back to the office, Carrie and Jase had made
a list of everyone they could remember being present that night, whether it was
someone they knew or simply someone they’d seen before. All in all, they had
about fifty people they needed to interview. Although Jase hadn’t seen Kelly
Sorenson after she’d given him her business card, Susan Ingram said she’d called
her from McGill’s several hours later. Chances were someone they knew—maybe even
DeMarco, Jase pointed out—had seen her between the time Jase had left and the
time Kelly had left with her client.

DeMarco, however, had left town for a family emergency, and
they hadn’t been able to reach him.

They were waiting for a call from the coroner, hoping he could
lock down the exact means and time of Kelly’s death. With her body in so many
pieces, Carrie suspected it was going to present a unique challenge, and they’d
be waiting a while.

They hadn’t found Sorenson’s hands at the scene. Their absence
suggested the killer had disposed of them separately, maybe because Sorenson had
fought back and had scratched him. If that was the case, the killer was smart.
Ruthless. Exactly what she would expect from The Embalmer.

Yet what he’d done to Sorenson’s body? It was so different from
what he’d done to the others. The change seemed to indicate a sudden increase of
personal investment and loss of control. The kind of loss of control that came
with mental deterioration? Even if that was the case, he’d still had the
wherewithal to take Kelly’s eyelids. Compared to everything else that had been
done to the victims, it was a small detail but a hugely important one. A serial
killer’s modus operandi could evolve over time, but rarely would he change his
signature, an act that often had nothing to do with the way the victim actually
died but had more to do with fulfilling some kind of need the killer had. As
she’d told Jase the first night they’d discussed the case, she was betting the
eyelids served as some kind of memory prompt for the killer.

Carrie pushed back from the photos she’d been looking at and
rubbed her temples. She glanced at Jase, who’d also been staring at photographs
of the latest murder scene. For the first time since seeing Kelly Sorenson’s
body, Carrie allowed her thoughts to veer toward the personal. Hours ago, she’d
slapped Jase because he’d tried to rip her case out from under her. Even after
Stevens had confirmed he was giving her the lead, Jase had tried to talk the
commander out of it.

Granted, much of her anger at Jase had been replaced by concern
the moment they’d realized he’d had recent contact with Kelly Sorenson. He was
usually such an open book that she’d immediately noticed when he’d pulled inside
himself. For one of the first times since she’d known him, she hadn’t been able
to guess at what he was thinking. Feeling. He wouldn’t be blaming himself, would
he? It seemed ridiculous to think so, but as she well knew, sometimes logic had
nothing to do with the emotions that came with the job.

Yet she wasn’t going to intrude and ask questions. If he needed
to talk to her about it, he would. And besides, now that they were back at work,
now that he seemed to be handling everything okay, some of her anger toward him
had resurfaced.

She still respected him. Still cared about him. But she didn’t
trust him. Not anymore. And she was supposed to work with him?

BOOK: Shades of Temptation
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