Authors: Virna DePaul
Tags: #Romance, #Suspense, #Fiction
“No. But I assumed that would be coming. I figured they’d send
someone over from SFPD. DeMarco is heavily involved with his caseload. Granger
is acting supervisor. And you…”
The air was suddenly too thick to breathe.
I wouldn’t want to work with.
Not day in and day out. That would be too much. Too distracting.
“You’ve got your own caseload, right?” she said instead,
looking down at the envelope in her hand.
“Yeah,” he said simply.
Something in his tone suggested he was holding back, but she
didn’t push it.
She held up the manila envelope in her hand. “So what about the
letters he’s sent?” she asked. “Fresno P.D. didn’t get anything from them.” She
picked up an identical envelope and handed it to him. “These contain The
Embalmer’s first two letters. He mailed them in Fresno. Generic self-sealed
envelopes, generic stamps, no forensic evidence left behind.”
Jase opened the envelope she’d handed him and carefully pulled
out two plastic baggies, one that contained the letter and one that contained
the envelope it had been mailed in. “The envelope and letter went through a
printer. Any idea what kind? Laser or ink jet?”
Carrie frowned. “Would that matter?”
“Ink jets are much more common now. If it was printed on a
laser printer, which is more rare and involves buying expensive toner
cartridges, it wouldn’t hurt to check Fresno supply stores to see if anyone
purchased them or toner around the times of the murders. Little needle in a big
haystack, but we’re tossing out all possibilities, right?”
She grinned. All of a sudden, she didn’t feel as if she was an
outsider. Even when Jase had been questioning her, she’d been pissed, but she
hadn’t felt out of place. She supposed that meant something, right?
“No other links between the victims?” Jase asked.
“They ranged from late twenties to early fifties. Nothing in
common except their careers and hair color. Brown.”
“One of those is likely significant, then. Maybe he’s choosing
them because they remind him of someone. A teacher he had.”
“That’s what I thought. Or his mother. A girlfriend. But
where’s he picking them from? The schools? Don’t you think a stranger hanging
around at schools would be noticed?” She chewed her lip, then said, “So maybe
he’s not a stranger. Maybe his job gives him access to a variety of different
schools. Maybe he delivers school supplies, so it doesn’t matter what the grade
level is. Everyone needs paper and pencils, right?”
Jase nodded. “That’s exactly the kind of thinking that’ll close
this case. You’re digging deep for the microdetails, but what about the broader
things? Why’s he killing them the way he is?”
She sat forward, wincing a little when pain shot up her injured
leg. Automatically she rubbed it. “There’s two things that are obviously
significant. He embalms them and photographs them in that state. And he cuts off
their eyelids, which isn’t part of the embalming process. The eyelids are
probably some kind of trophy. Something he takes with him, along with the
photographs, to replay the murders in his mind. But we also have to assume they
have symbolic significance, don’t we?”
Jase’s attention had been on her leg, which she’d continued to
rub. When she stopped talking, his gaze returned to hers. “Maybe not. Does he
take the eyelids when the victims are alive or dead?”
“Let me check.” She turned back to her table and pulled out
Steward’s autopsy report. Scanned through it. “It says here she was already dead
when he cut off her eyelids.” She checked Johnson’s autopsy. “Same thing for the
“If he cut off their lids while they were alive, I could see
the lids meaning something. For example, that the victims had vision problems.
Or that he was fixing their vision. But what kind of problems? You might want to
confirm whether the victims wore glasses.”
“Got it.” She began to pace. “Now, about the embalming. He does
it when they’re still alive, and at some point during the process, they die. He
gives attention to every last detail. He’s trying to preserve them. At first,
he’s preserving their bodies and then their images on film. But he doesn’t pose
them. Which seems to suggest it’s the embalming itself that is the important
thing rather than how they actually look in the photographs.”
Jase leaned back on her sofa, legs sprawled out in front of
him, arms stretched wide. He looked comfortable. Right at home. And somehow,
despite the gruesome facts they were talking about, having him here felt right
to her, too.
“But then he burns them,” he pointed out. “Why?”
“The preservation is symbolic. Or a task he needs to complete
for his own satisfaction. Maybe the burning suggests that preservation isn’t
“Not deserved? Or rejected?”
“Right.” She closed her eyes, took off her glasses and rubbed
the bridge of her nose. Not only did her muscles ache, especially those in her
leg, but she’d been working the case for so long today, her mind was beginning
to feel muddled.
“You don’t wear glasses at work,” Jase said, his voice closer
than she’d expected.
She looked up. He was now standing several feet from her, his
gaze intense. “No, I wear contacts.”
“I would have expected you to wear glasses. To add to your
professional, back-off image. But I understand why you don’t. It would highlight
a weakness, wouldn’t it? One you want to hide. Just like you’re trying to hide
that your leg is bothering you right now.”
“And you’re trying way too hard to psychoanalyze me, Jase.”
“Maybe, but am I right?”
“My leg is healing and I have P.T. exercises to do. That’ll
loosen things up before I go to bed. As far as why I don’t wear glasses to work,
it’s so I don’t have to worry about misplacing them. You and Lana should get
together if you really want to delve into the workings of my subconscious
“So you’re still seeing Lana? Did she sign off on assigning you
She glowered at him and opened her mouth to shoot off a sharp
retort, but he shook his head.
“Never mind,” he said. “It just slipped out. Like I said
before, I care about you.”
She wanted to believe him. Badly. But his increased
interest…his desire to help her… Both competed with the knowledge that he’d
wanted the lead on The Embalmer case. That he probably still did. As far as Jase
was concerned, she’d always be part and parcel of the job. She had to remember
that. Still, that didn’t mean he couldn’t care about her, too. Even just a
little. “Thank you, Jase,” she said simply. “I don’t take that lightly.”
He glanced down at her leg. “You were starting to limp. Why
don’t you let me help you with your P.T. exercises and then rub you down before
you go to bed? That way you’ll be ready for your big day tomorrow.”
She burst out laughing and he grinned. “What? Too obvious?”
“Just a little,” she said. “Besides, you’ve spent enough time
helping me. And I don’t want to keep you. It looked like you had better options
for where you were going to spend the night than with me, working a case.”
“You like throwing up my dating habits to me, don’t you,
Carrie? Why is that? Personally, I think it’s because I scare you and talking
about me with other women gives you a convenient shield.”
She shrugged. “I just noticed the brunette you were talking to
was pretty, that’s all. She looked like your type.”
“And what, exactly, do you know about my type?”
“The same thing everyone else does. Gorgeous. Sweet. A good
time in the sack and not a whole lot of problems out of it.”
“And you think less of me because of that? Because I want my
personal life to be as simple and pleasurable as possible?”
“No. I understand why you’d want simple pleasures on your off
time. I just define simplicity a little differently and choose to focus on my
“Hmm.” He glanced around, walked back to the sofa and sat down
again. When she just stared at him, he patted the cushions beside him. “So, if
you’re not scared and you know you’re not my type, sit beside me and let me rub
your leg out for you.” His gaze held a distinct challenge, one she immediately
wanted to run from.
Instead, maybe because of all their talk about his women and
his type and her not being either one, she was feeling ornery enough to do what
he said. “Fine. I already told you, I’m not too proud to accept your help. Let’s
see what these magic fingers of yours can really do, Jase.” Casually, she
dropped onto the sofa hard enough that she bounced, then swung her feet onto his
lap. Lying back, she folded her hands behind her head and stared up at the
ceiling, trying to control her escalating heartbeat and erratic breathing.
For the longest time, Jase didn’t touch her. When he finally
did, when he cupped his big palm over the arch of her right foot, she closed her
eyes. And prayed like hell she’d be able to hide just how very, very much she
wished she was his type, after all.
* * *
out to be Jase’s lucky day.
Not only had he spent the past hour talking shop with Carrie,
in her private sanctum no less, but now she had her bare little feet in his lap,
obviously willing to let him put his hands on her to prove that he didn’t scare
But he knew that wasn’t true. And she sure as hell scared him.
Even so, he wasn’t a fool. He might never get the chance to touch her like this
again, so he planned to enjoy it while he could.
She had small feet, and her toenails were painted a soft pink,
the color so subtle he’d thought they were bare. He cupped his fingers around
one of her arches and began to massage the bottom of her foot, alternating
between kneading and pressing deep with his thumbs.
Her involuntary moan of pleasure made him swell, and he shifted
her feet slightly away from his erection. Despite the massage he’d started, she
was tense, her limbs rigid. To distract himself and her, he murmured, “You said
you were concentrating on your career. So DeMarco was wrong? You haven’t been
dating your way through SWAT?”
The foot he held jerked slightly, but he held on and moved to
massage her toes. They were adorable. Perfectly shaped. He’d never paid much
attention to feet before, but he could see himself quickly becoming enamored
with this woman’s toes.
“I—I still date occasionally,” she breathed. “I’m not a freak.
I have needs just like anyone else.” When Jase’s hands stilled, she snorted.
“Sorry, I set myself up with that one, didn’t I? But this feels good. I could—”
She yawned. “I could almost fall asleep. I think you have magic fingers, after
“Close your eyes.”
To his surprise, she did. He worked on her feet for several
more minutes, then pushed up the hems of her sweats. Her eyes flew open.
“It’s okay. I’m just going to massage your calves. Close your
It took longer this time, but eventually she did as he said.
With firm pressure, he squeezed her slender calves, working the muscles there.
Though she was strong, she wasn’t at all bulky with muscle. She had the lithe
limbs of a dancer, muscled but not overblown. When he was done, he gently
skimmed his fingers over her right thigh.
“This is where he shot you,” he said.
Her eyes were still closed, but she’d gone still. Her breathing
quieted. She nodded.
“How firm should I be when I massage it?”
“The pressure you’ve been using is fine. It’ll help tomorrow,
and I won’t be so sore. But if you’re tired—”
In reply, he began stroking her thigh through her sweats. Using
a firm but gentle pressure, he kneaded the tight muscles before moving to her
other thigh to do the same. He kept alternating his attention between them. Each
time he shifted his attention from one thigh to the other, his fingers trailed
near the juncture between them and she sucked in a breath. He became hypnotized
by that intoxicating rhythm: kneading her flesh, stopping to move to her other
leg, but only after she gave him that soft, sexy inhalation.
At one point, he pulled her thighs farther apart to get a
better grip, and she whimpered. His eyes shot to hers. She was watching his
hands just the way he’d been. Her face was flushed and her eyes dilated. Her
Shit. He was breathing hard.
He wanted to push her thighs even farther apart to make room
for his hips. Wanted to press his aching flesh into hers and confirm that she
was warm and wet the way he thought she was.
For several shaky seconds, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to
stop himself from doing exactly that. Maybe she sensed it, because she moved to
swing her legs off him. He automatically held on so she couldn’t.
“Jase,” she said softly. “Thank you for my massage. But I think
you should leave now. Please.” She smiled up at him, and he saw it then. All her
desire. Her regret. She wanted him just as much as he wanted her. But she’d
never let herself have him. Not without putting up a damn good fight.
With a sigh, he released her. Quickly, she got to her feet and
tugged the hems of her sweats down. She glanced at the clock on her wall. “Not
too late,” she said brightly. “Who knows, maybe the brunette is waiting up for
you.” She walked to the door and swung it open.
Slowly, he followed. He didn’t bother responding to her blatant
attempt to push him away. “Tragic circumstances aside, this was fun. Working
with you. It’s been a while since we’ve talked shop together.”
“Thanks for all your help. I appreciate it.”
“I’m always here if you need another opinion. Or another
She smiled slightly. “Good night, Jase.”
Just before she shut the door behind him, he caught the edge of
it, stopping her from closing it. He leaned closer. “Hey, Carrie?”