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Authors: Virna DePaul

Tags: #Romance, #Suspense, #Fiction

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BOOK: Shades of Temptation
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She blinked rapidly against the entreaty in his voice. Against
the wash of tears she felt in her eyes. “Will you let me past yours?”

“Don’t you know? I lowered my guard where you’re concerned a
long time ago.”

She swallowed hard, sensing the truth in his words. He’d been
revealing tidbits about himself over the past few days. Not just to support his
opinions, but to truly let her see him. She remembered how easily he’d shown her
the knife scars at his side. And how natural it had felt when she’d kissed them.
Touching someone never came that naturally to her. Being touched was even harder
for her. “It’s not easy for me,” she whispered.

“I know.”

She pulled his head down and kissed him. This time, she focused
on how she felt and how he felt against her. Warm. Hard. Pleasurable.

Safe. Just like before, she felt safe with him.

And that was so intoxicating to her that she felt the exact
moment it happened. She lowered her guard and completely let him in.

Jase seemed to sense the difference in her immediately and
responded in kind. With a ragged groan, he angled his head and kissed her
deeper, while at the same time he hoisted her up so her legs tangled tightly
around his waist. She pushed at his open shirt, wanting to be rid of any type of
barrier between them, but he thwarted her by trailing urgent, sucking kisses
down her throat and lower. With his shirt still half-on, her hands dove into his
hair and guided his mouth to one aching nipple. He drew it into his mouth,
sucked softly, then harder until she whimpered and arched in his arms.

“That’s it,” he whispered against her. “Give me all you’ve got,
Carrie. I want it all.”

He carried her to the bed and laid her out on it, twisting
himself away from the grip of her clinging legs in order to wrestle off his
clothes. When she realized what he was doing, she relaxed and enjoyed the view.
Against the soft, feminine backdrop of her bedroom, his muscles rippled and he
thrust out heavily, eager to be inside her.

She held out her arms. “Now. Please. I don’t want to wait.”

“But you’re going to wait,” he said even as he leaned down to
kiss her again. “I haven’t had a chance to taste you yet and I can’t go another
second without it.”

She gasped when he grabbed her behind the knees and tugged
until her legs dangled off the bed. Kneeling between them, he kissed her stomach
then tickled her naval with his tongue. The protest she’d been about to utter
drifted away. As much as she ached to be filled by his hard length, the idea of
him pleasuring her with his mouth was enough to have her flinging her arms above
her head and closing her eyes with anticipation.

Given everything she knew about him, she expected him to be the
best she’d ever had.

She wasn’t disappointed.

He used his tongue like a lethal weapon, destroying every
preconceived notion she’d ever harbored about her body or its ability to feel
pleasure. The lightest of licks made her tremble, while a nip of his teeth or a
firm dragging motion with the flat of his tongue had her hips arching
desperately off the bed and her stifling a moan by biting her lip.

He didn’t like that. “Don’t hold back. I said I wanted
everything and that includes hearing your pleasure, Carrie.”

He gave her no choice but to grant him what he wanted. His
fingers dove between her legs, assured but gentle. Curling his tongue around her
clitoris, he filled her channel with one thick finger, then two. He pursed his
lips and sucked her. The stimulation blasted her to another time and place where
only pleasure existed. Crying out, she gripped at the sheets for dear life,
certain that she was going to shake apart but not caring. Whatever remained of
her when this was over was his anyway.

How had she ever thought she could resist this man?

When her climax eased, she was panting and Jase was laying
curled over her with one hand cupping her and one cheek resting on her stomach.
Drowsily, she lifted her fingers and ran them through his hair.

“Now that you’ve tasted me,” she croaked out, “can I have you?
Please?”

Slowly, he lifted his head. His eyes burned with desire and
intent.
Hell, yeah,
they said.
You can have me and then some.

Oh, my,
she thought, licking her
lips.

Slowly, he rose, placed his palms on either side of her head,
then paused. “Take me in your hand. Guide me inside you,” he whispered.

His words had her going from sated to something else entirely.
Greedily, she wrapped her hand around him. Though she intended to slip him
inside her right away, she couldn’t resist sliding her hand down his length then
up again. Down. Then up.

He closed his eyes and hissed. But he bore the torture she
administered for several minutes before finally gasping, “Now, Carrie. Before
it’s too late.”

She guided him to her entrance and he’d already pushed partly
into her when she cried, “Wait. You’re not wearing a condom.”

He froze.

“Do you have one?” he said. “Please tell me you have one.”

“You don’t?” she asked, trying to tease him.

He got a desperate look in his eyes.

“It’s okay,” she said quickly. “I have one. It’s old but…”

With a grimace, he pulled out of her and she scrambled to the
bathroom. When she returned, he was laying on the bed, his arm covering his
eyes. He was shaking.

Vibrating with his need for her.

“Stay there. I like that position,” she said.

Quickly, she knelt beside him, rolled the condom on, then
straddled him.

Before she knew what was happening, he flipped her over,
gathered her wrists in one hand and stretched her arms over her head. Startled,
she stared up at him.

“You’ll have to wait your turn. Right now, I need you like
this. I need to ride you hard, Carrie.” But he paused, obviously waiting for her
permission to continue.

She opened her legs wider. “Please” was all she said.

He thrust, cleaving into her and filling her so thoroughly that
she cried out.

Again, he froze, but this time he released her wrists. “Are
you—”

She clasped his ass. “Move, damn you,” she said. “Take me.
Hard, just like you said.”

With a groan, he let go. Over and over again, he pulled out of
her then pushed heavily back inside. Their hips slapped together, their chests
rubbed, their lips caressed and their hands cherished. They were all over each
other, inside each other, no part left unexplored. “Oh, God, Carrie, I’m
coming,” he yelled just before she felt him release inside her.

With a final lunge, he embedded himself inside her as deep as
he could go, arched his back and, with teeth clenched, groaned out his pleasure.
As he did, he cupped her breasts and tweaked her nipples between her fingers. It
was the final stimulation she needed before being thrust into her own
earth-shattering release.

* * *

J
ASE
HELD
A
SLEEPING
Carrie as he caressed her hair. She looked
peaceful. Relaxed and content in a way he rarely saw her. Of course, that might
have something to do with how charged up and tense he normally felt around her.
Just like his parents, they were two live wires constantly sparking off each
other. It kept things interesting, but how long could that kind of intensity
survive before it turned dangerous?

Before their impassioned natures turned their relationship into
something like the one his parents had once shared?

Yet there was no denying they worked well together. That his
laid-back manner complemented her more in-your-face style. Look at the huge
progress they’d made on The Embalmer case in a relatively short time.

Plus, Carrie had been right when she’d reminded him he’d never
raised a hand to her, not even when she’d bitten him. He couldn’t imagine
striking her in anger; in fact, all he could picture using his strength for was
protecting her. From anyone and anything that made her feel sad or not good
enough. Because she was more than good enough. For the job. For him.

But she’d made it abundantly clear that she viewed last night
as a not-going-to-happen-again kind of thing.

He just wasn’t ready to give her that. But it wasn’t as if she
was going anywhere. Not yet. They wouldn’t be working the same case, wouldn’t
see each other nearly as often, but they’d still see each other plenty. He’d
have time to adjust to his own feelings for her, and time to get her used to the
idea of them together, too. He wasn’t exactly sure how he was going to
accomplish either. All he knew was that the longer he held her in his arms, the
less he wanted to let her go. Ever.

His thoughts were interrupted by her ringing phone. He swiftly
picked up before it could wake her. She shifted and moaned, but didn’t open her
eyes.

“Hello?”

There was a long pause followed by a sigh. “Agent Tyler?” It
was Commander Stevens.

He winced and glanced down at Carrie again. Probably wasn’t the
best idea he’d ever had to answer her phone. “Yes, sir. Can I help you?”

“I’m assuming Agent Ward is with you?”

“Yes,” Jase said.

“Just as well. I need to talk to both of you anyway. How long
until you can be at my office?”

Not missing the tension in Stevens’s voice, Jase gripped the
phone tightly. “Is there a problem?”

“Several. But at the moment, the most pressing one is a new
victim. It looks like we were wrong. The Embalmer didn’t kill Kelly Sorenson. At
least, it doesn’t appear so. There’s a copycat, and he’s not ready to call it
quits just yet.”

CHAPTER TWENTY

S
AFETY
IN
J
ASE

S
ARMS
. That and a
whole lot of pleasure were what Carrie had been seeking. Despite the darkness
and danger that had forced them to work together on The Embalmer case, she’d
wanted to end that partnership with something sweet and life-affirming. And for
a few precious moments she’d gotten it.

She clearly remembered that moment when she’d opened her entire
heart to Jase. Soaked him in. Her fear had vanished. All her insecurities and
doubts had gone with it. In his embrace, she hadn’t been planning a future with
him, exactly, but she hadn’t been quite so focused on the impossibility of one,
either.

Until Jase had woken her and told her about Commander Stevens’s
call.

She replayed Jase’s words from the night before.

No one escapes life unscathed, Ward. That
just isn’t how it works.

The safety she’d felt in Jase’s arms had been exactly what
she’d thought it was.

Illusory. Temporary.

Bowers was dead, but another killer was still on the loose.

Again, the murder victim was a woman. Again, she’d had her
eyelids cut off. But again, the method of her death and the disposal of her body
were completely different from any that came before. This time, her skin had
been peeled from her in wide strips. Given what she knew about Bowers and his
fascination with horror movies, Carrie couldn’t help thinking about the movie
about a serial killer mentoring an FBI agent, enabling her to find another
killer who starved hostages in a pit and ultimately took their skin for
transformation purposes. She hadn’t watched it herself, but it had been such a
blockbuster hit that her cop friends had talked about it for months.

Unfortunately, despite their initial theory that the killer had
targeted both Cheryl Anderson and Kelly Sorenson because of their connections to
Sequoia College, Tammy Ryan had no apparent connection to the college at all.
They’d immediately backtracked and returned to McGill’s with Ryan’s photo, but
no one could recall seeing her, whether in Kelly Sorenson’s company or
otherwise. According to family and friends, including Susan Ingram, Ryan and
Sorenson hadn’t known each other. And no one they’d talked to, none of their
friends and acquaintances, none of the strangers they’d managed to track down
and none of the other employees who’d worked at McGill’s, could remember seeing
Kelly Sorenson at McGill’s past eight o’clock the night she’d been killed.

That’s what currently troubled Carrie the most. Susan Ingram
had said Kelly had called her around nine that night. It was at that time that
Kelly had said she was leaving with her charity-case client. The timing of
Kelly’s call had been verified by the caller ID on Ingram’s phone. Yet even
though many people could remember seeing her that night, most of them recalled
her leaving at about eight.

Carrie had contacted Kelly’s cell-phone company to get the
records of incoming and outgoing calls from Kelly’s cell-phone number on the
night she’d been murdered. However, it would take upward of two days before they
could get her that information. Now, she was also waiting for phone records from
Tammy Ryan. When she had both, she’d cross-check them for duplicate numbers to
see if the same person, the same killer, had called both of them.

Still, despite the fact Sorenson had been dismembered and Ryan
hadn’t, it was a logical assumption that they’d been killed by the same person,
someone who, whether it was coincidental or not—and they were all betting
not—had decided to cut off his victim’s eyelids around the time Dr. Bowers was
doing the same to his victims.

Even with the frustration pulsing through her, Carrie quietly
closed the file she was reviewing and kept her voice calm. She didn’t have to
explode for Jase to know how on edge she felt; he likely felt the same way.
“This has to end. We have to figure out how he’s picking them. Why he’s picking
them.”

“The eyelids are a clue,” Jase said. “They have to be. And that
means he’s probably leaving other clues behind, as well.”

“How? He’s changing his method of killing them. Of disposing of
them.”

“Maybe that’s a clue in and of itself. The variety. He
dismembered Sorenson’s body. Left her head posed on a stump. With Tammy Ryan, he
strangled her, then stripped her of her skin, leaving her body intact. In both
cases, however, he did things to them that damaged their exteriors. Could that
mean anything, coupled with the eyelids? Because unlike The Embalmer, this
killer—”

Carrie nodded. “This killer wanted their eyes to stay open
while
they were alive. But why? According to the
coroner, he didn’t actually start taking Tammy Ryan’s skin until she was dead.
If that was true for Sorenson, too, then unlike The Embalmer, who supposedly
embalmed his victims while they were still alive, this second killer didn’t
necessarily want his victims to feel pain.”

“If he wasn’t hurting them while they were alive, what else
could he have been doing? Talking to them? But if talking to them was so
important, why cut off their eyelids?”

“He didn’t want them to hear him. He wanted them to
see
him,” Carrie guessed, adrenaline rushing through
her veins as they talked and, in her mind, got into the head of a killer more
and more. “Maybe they knew him. Or maybe not. Maybe the point was they hadn’t
recognized him? Hadn’t seen him the way he thought they should?”

“That makes sense. But what was it they didn’t see?”

“You know,” she said slowly. “The second victim. The way she
was killed. It’s like the victim in that horror movie that’s so ingrained in pop
culture right now. The one about the cannibalistic doctor. Given that Bowers’s
crime was based on a horror movie…”

They went on the internet. Minutes later, Jase nodded. “It
makes sense. The eyelids? Horror movie. Stripping the skin off your victim?
Horror movie. And as we now know, dismembering a body and propping a head on a
tree stump?”

“Also a horror movie,” Carrie said softly. “So he’s a
horror-movie buff, too. He’s not copying The Embalmer so much as he’s copying
horror movies. The eyelids are just a component of that.”

“Was he copying Bowers or is it just complete coincidence? What
are the chances that two serial killers could be killing based on the same
horror movie at the same time and not be connected somehow?”

“I’d say it would be possible but for the specificity of the
eyelids. I’d never heard of that movie. It’s too obscure. With that detail in
common, I think it increases the chances that they knew each other. Or, at the
very least, that this second killer knew of Bowers’s crimes and decided to copy
them for his own sick reasons.”

“Right. If you’re a horror-movie buff, it would only take that
one detail getting out to catch your attention. The Embalmer kills his victims,
somehow it gets leaked to the second killer that he’s cutting off eyelids, he
decides to do the same thing for whatever reason, but because he doesn’t know
the full M.O. of The Embalmer’s killings, or because the embalming doesn’t hold
the same significance for him, he decides to wing it and use methods of killing
from horror movies. Let’s run with it.”

“Run with it how?”

“Do some word searches on the internet that are related to the
horror movies we’ve identified so far. See if there’s any kind of connection
with other movies. Or if anyone is talking about murders duplicating horror
movies. Do some searches for classified ads. Anyone soliciting actors to act out
scenes from horror movies. That kind of thing.”

She nodded. As much as she’d resisted the idea at first,
working with Jase was a huge benefit for her. He was smart and was teaching her
to think outside the box. Again, she had no doubt she would have eventually
thought to do the same things on her own, but who knew how long it would have
taken her to do it? They were clearly at their most optimum when they were
working as a team, bouncing information off each other.

“So you think the victims might be wannabe actors? I didn’t
pick up on that in any of the background information.”

“Could be that we just haven’t asked the right questions. They
might not have been actively pursuing acting, but maybe they have some kind of
interest in the theater. Some secret passion that someone could have taken
advantage of. Since Tammy Ryan was a relative recluse, we should probably start
with Susan Ingram. Find out if Kelly Sorenson had an interest in horror movies.
And we need to contact the FBI. See if we can get any of their profilers to look
over what we’ve got and give us any suggestions.”

Carrie had another thought. “We also can’t forget that Bowers
invited his staff to watch movies with him. Who else might he have invited? His
patients? We need to talk to his entire staff again. Get a warrant for his
medical records and talk to his patients, as well.”

Hours later, Commander Stevens heard back from the FBI. “They
agree the horror movies might be a key piece of evidence in the case. They’re
happy to help out in any way they can. But I can tell the FBI’s very impressed
with the two of you. If what you wanted was to make a good reputation for
yourselves and our team, you’re definitely doing that. Good work. But let’s keep
the focus on our local victims and stopping the person who’s killing them.”

“Unfortunately,” Jase responded, “we haven’t found out much
more. None of the victims are movie buffs. Sorenson enjoyed the occasional
horror movie, but she liked a wide variety of genres. It doesn’t show a link
between Sorenson and Ryan.”

“I’m sure you two will figure it out. Just keep working it. But
you can’t continue to work it alone. You both look exhausted. I know you’ve been
burning the midnight oil for days straight. You need to take a break.”

“We can’t take a break, sir. Not with a second victim just
having turned up.”

“It’s not a suggestion, it’s an order, Carrie. You know the
protocol. We give our detectives several days to get a jump on these cases, but
you’re not superhuman. You’ve already solved one complicated serial-killer case.
You need to pace yourself if you’re going to solve this second one. We’ll bring
in a couple of detectives from SFPD who’ll work under you, following up on the
leads that you’ve already set in motion. It’ll be just enough downtime so you
can actually get some sleep and some food into your bodies. I don’t want to hear
another word about it, do you understand?”

Carrie nodded. Jase said, “Yes, sir.” However, they looked at
each other, plainly not happy with the turn of events. When Commander Stevens
left, Jase turned to her. “It’ll take him a couple of hours to get a team of
detectives in place and ready to roll. In the meantime, I’ve been thinking of a
few things and wanted to run them by you.”

“Go ahead,” she said. “I’m all ears.”

“Remember when you mentioned the eyelids earlier? The fact
Sorenson’s killer cut them off while she was still alive? That the killer wanted
her to see him? On the outside. Maybe he picked them for the same reason,
something to do with their exteriors. Something we’ve missed. The Embalmer
picked women with light brown hair. What do Sorenson and Ryan have in common?
We’re missing something.”

“Let’s look at their ‘before’ photos again.”

They did. And once again came up empty.

Frustrated anew, Carrie stood and began to pace. “The only
thing I see is that Kelly Sorenson was gorgeous, and, even though I wouldn’t
have thought it was possible, Tammy Ryan was even better-looking. Also in her
favor was that she was a competitive athlete. How helpful is that?”

“Maybe more helpful than you’d think,” Jase said slowly.

“Really?” she asked doubtfully.

“Let’s go with it for a second. He’s picking them for how they
look. No resemblance at all, but the second even more beautiful than the
first.”

“It might just mean he was attracted to each of them.”

“But with the eyelids, with the idea of him wanting them to see
him, when they hadn’t before, I think it increases the chances that the person
we’re looking for isn’t as good-looking. Or at least, is someone these women
wouldn’t be interested in.”

“So that means what? That we’re looking for someone who isn’t
attractive?” Carrie asked. “Isn’t that a huge stretch?”

“Think about it. Remember what I told you? That my childhood
affected why I date the women I do? Serial killers usually have some trauma in
their background that they’re trying to deal with through the murders. Something
about beautiful women ignoring him plays a part in this guy’s M.O. And I’m
betting it’s not just them ignoring him because that wouldn’t trigger the type
of rage that would warrant slicing off someone’s eyelids.”

“So if they didn’t ignore him, they rejected and ridiculed
him?” she clarified. It really did make sense, she thought. “According to Susan
Ingram, Kelly Sorenson described her client that night as a ‘charity case.’”

“Maybe she wasn’t the only one to think so. Maybe he’s been
ridiculed his whole life. For some kind of physical defect?”

“Bowers was a plastic surgeon. Someone who’d be contacted to
fix a physical defect.”

“Right. But what if this defect was something he couldn’t
fix?”

“How long until we get that warrant to look at Bowers’s medical
records?”

“Not long. So we need to look for records of someone with a
physical disability?”

“Not just any disability. Something on the outside. Something
that would make others react violently to him, and as such make him take out his
resentment in a violent way, as well.”

* * *

B
RAD
TOUCHED
HIS
FACE
, which felt smoother than it had in years.
Tammy Ryan had been the right choice. The rush of power he’d felt when he’d
begun to cut her had been exhilarating. The end result miraculous. His scar was
almost gone now.

BOOK: Shades of Temptation
10.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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