Authors: Virna DePaul
Tags: #Romance, #Suspense, #Fiction
What on earth had compelled her to kiss his scars the way she
had? She hadn’t even been aware she’d been thinking about it until she’d already
had her lips pressed against his naked skin. Who could blame him for taking her
up on such a blatant invitation by kissing her the way he had? As if he truly
desired her. As if she wasn’t a convenience or a challenge, but a woman he
wanted to sink into and stay inside for a good long while.
But that was silly, she told herself. He was Jase Tyler,
playboy cop extraordinaire, and she was Carrie Ward, cop, plain and simple.
Maybe he always reacted that way when a woman expressed sexual interest in
Nervously, she glanced up, hoping he’d have mercy on her and
let things be. But instead of ignoring her the way she’d been hoping and, yes,
half expecting, he came right up to her desk. “I told you, I need to talk to you
She lowered her gaze to the paperwork in front of her. “I’ve
wasted enough time with you, Tyler. I have work to do before I meet with
“Damn it, Carrie. That’s what I want—”
“Hey, Ward. Tyler,” DeMarco called from his desk. He was
leaning back in his chair and flicking a small green card between his fingers.
“Commander Stevens wants to see the two of you.”
Since she wasn’t supposed to meet with Stevens for another two
hours, Carrie frowned. “Did he say why?”
“Just that it had to do with the serial-killer case you’re
She turned to look at Jase. “But why—” Confusion melded into a
dreadful suspicion, one reinforced by his guilty expression. Standing, she
sucked in an enraged breath as betrayal swept through her. “Did you go running
to Stevens about me? Did you tell him your little theory that I don’t deserve
Jase’s mouth tightened. “I never said you didn’t deserve it,
Carrie. And I didn’t come in to talk to Stevens. He came to me, asking whether I
saw any problem with you working the case on your own. And I gave him my honest
answer. That I did.”
“I can’t believe I trusted you,” she whispered. “I should have
“This isn’t a matter of wanting the case for myself, Carrie.
But from what I saw outside McGill’s last night—”
The crack of her palm against his cheek echoed wildly in the
room. Everything went quiet.
“Hey, guys—” DeMarco began.
Jase held up his hand. “Keep out of this,” he gritted out.
“Yes, DeMarco,” Carrie said. “Keep out of this. It’s between me
and this lying, slimy worm who stabbed me in the back. What, I didn’t take you
up on your offer for a roll in the sack, so you interfere with my career?”
“This has nothing to do with you having sex with me, Carrie.
The job never will. When it happens, it’s going to be because you want it just
as much as I do.” He whispered the final words, obviously not wanting DeMarco to
She didn’t have such compunction. “Read my lips,” she said
loudly. “The day I sleep with you, Tyler, is the day I quit the force because I
know for sure I’ve lost my mind. Until then, keep your pop-psychology opinions
to yourself and don’t you ever try to ‘help me out’ again. In fact, stay as far
away from me possible, you got it? Next time, I won’t just slap you. I’ll show
you that my faulty aim with Kevin Porter was a complete and utter fluke.”
“Oh, I have no doubt about that. After all, you’re an expert
markswoman. A silver in the Olympics, right?”
Her eyes widened. “So what? I wasn’t hiding it. But what did
you do? Go snooping through my things last night? Were you digging for
information to relay to the commander? Sorry I couldn’t offer you something more
damaging than my skills with a rifle.”
“Bullshit you weren’t hiding it. You’ve never had a problem
tooting your own horn when it comes to your skills as a cop. So why didn’t you
tell us you were an expert markswoman?”
“You’re deranged. The commander and Mac know. So does
They both looked toward the man in question, who kept his gaze
on his paperwork but nodded. “Yep, I knew, but keep me out of this, okay?”
Carrie turned back to Jase. “I don’t go around advertising my
talents. Unlike you, I don’t need to flaunt what I’m good at. Too bad taking
desperate women to bed is the only thing you’re good for.”
Jase shook his head. “Don’t go there, Carrie. Not after last
night. Not after…” He paused, and she knew he’d barely stopped himself from
mentioning their encounter downstairs. “Don’t play dirty.”
“Or what? You’ll play even dirtier than you already have? Bring
it on, Jase. I dare you.”
He grabbed her by the arms for the second time that morning and
jerked her forward. “You should think twice about that. Damn it, I’m not a
saint, Carrie. One day you’re going to push me too far.”
She shoved away from him. “And one day, I’m going to be gone,
Jase. I’m sick of having to prove myself to you. To the commander. To
“This isn’t about having to prove yourself, damn it. If you’d
“Go to hell,” she snapped. She twirled around and headed up the
stairs that would lead to Stevens’s office.
* * *
Jase turned to
DeMarco, who was staring at him in amazement. Slowly, DeMarco shook his head and
“I didn’t rat her out to Stevens,” Jase said. “He asked me for
my opinion. I told him. That’s all.”
DeMarco nodded. “I’m not questioning you, Jase. Just wondering
how you’re going to get anything done if you have to watch your back every
second. Ward isn’t just pissed, I’ve never seen her so incensed.”
“Yeah, incensed—as in emotional. Maybe even unstable. So what
does that tell you?”
“It tells me things are going to be mighty interesting around
here for a while.”
Interesting, Jase thought as he turned away. Hell, with that
kiss downstairs, things had bypassed interesting and skyrocketed to extremely
complicated in less time than it had taken for Carrie to press her succulent
lips against his skin.
Why had she done it? Her actions had taken him so completely by
surprise that he hadn’t stood a chance of controlling his instinctively
primitive response. He’d forgotten they were at work, that he’d just been using
exercise to physically exhaust himself so he’d be too tired to think of her for
even one more second, and that she was going to be extremely pissed at him, and
with good reason, once Stevens had a chance to meet with her. He hadn’t been
able to form a rational thought except to kiss her and do any other damn thing
she’d let him do to her body as soon as possible. And she’d wanted him to do
plenty. She’d pressed her breasts against him as if they ached for his touch.
Her mouth had opened willingly for the penetration of his tongue, and her own
tongue had come out to play, as well. And her hands? Her hands had attached
themselves to his ass with a demanding need that had practically blown his
She’d done all that for the same reason that she’d kissed him.
Out of sheer desire. But as soon as he’d pulled away and she’d had a chance to
think again, to rein in her desire the way she always did, she’d done just that.
Leaving him jittery and aching and plain fucking confused.
He wanted Carrie. He’d wanted her for a long time now.
He just didn’t know what to do about it anymore.
Because what he had been doing? Ignoring it? Taking his lead
He wasn’t doing anymore.
in the bathroom to get herself
composed. By the time she walked into Commander Stevens’s office, she had things
under control. She didn’t take the offensive. She didn’t start peppering him
with questions or jump to defend herself. Doing so would only put her in a more
vulnerable position. If Stevens had doubts about her competency, let him say
them to her face. Then she’d handle them calmly and professionally, shooting
down his concerns as if they were clay pigeons.
She and the commander made small talk for a while before
someone knocked on his door. When Jase walked in, Carrie barely looked at him.
He took the seat beside her. None of them said a word.
Stevens sighed. “Well, I can see this is going to be a whole
lot of fun. Agent Ward, I want you to know that when Mac came to me with your
request to lead up this serial-killer investigation, he did so with some
Carrie couldn’t disguise her surprise. Honestly, if she’d been
alone, she’d have grasped for her chest because she felt like she’d been stabbed
in the heart. All along, she’d thought Mac was supporting her, but that wasn’t
true at all. “Agent McKenzie never said anything to me about having any
reservations,” she finally said.
“That’s because he didn’t feel his concerns warranted keeping
you off the case.”
“I’m afraid I’m not following, sir.”
“I know. I’m going to be completely honest with you. Even
though it might leave me and this whole department open to yet another
lawsuit? Carrie thought.
What did the commander—?
“Mac admitted he had reservations about assigning you The
Embalmer case,” the commander continued, his unexpected words displacing all
other thoughts from Carrie’s mind. “But he also couldn’t say with certainty that
he’d have the same concerns if you were a man that had been on leave for a month
and requested this assignment. That troubled him. It troubled both of us. You’ve
worked hard here at SIG. You have an impressive case-closure record. The best in
the department, in fact. You’ve earned the right to prove yourself with
something more challenging.”
“I agree with you,” Carrie said slowly, then looked at Jase.
But he didn’t look at her, and he remained silent. “Then why am I here, sir?
With Agent Tyler?”
“Two reasons. First, you’ve never worked a serial case before.
There will be plenty of people wanting to take you down a peg or two, including
“The old lady who…”
Carrie glared at Jase, who stopped talking midsentence. “What
does Kevin Porter’s grandmother have to do with this, sir?”
“She’s filed a wrongful death suit against the state. It’s
nothing I’m worried about, necessarily, but it won’t hurt to have a more
experienced agent work The Embalmer case with you.”
She stiffened, her mouth tightening. “What you really mean is
that if Martha Porter’s claims of incompetence against me prevail, the state
will have a defense against future allegations that The Embalmer case was
mishandled, too. Because a more senior detective would have supervised my every
move. Isn’t that right?”
Stevens didn’t even flinch. “Let me worry about the politics of
the job, Ward. Just know that if I didn’t believe in you, you wouldn’t be going
anywhere near The Embalmer case, partner or not.”
Staring at him, she could see he was being honest. Her
shoulders relaxed slightly. “Assuming that’s going to be Agent Tyler, then which
one of us is going to take the lead? Because I was under the impression it was
going to be me. Has that changed?”
“Not necessarily. Earlier, I asked Agent Tyler his opinion
about whether you should work this case as the lead. He, too, expressed doubt.
But he, too, confessed he couldn’t say with one hundred percent certainty that
his doubt wasn’t the result of the fact you are a woman, and one he cares for on
a personal level to boot.”
Carrie’s eyes rounded. It took everything she had not to glance
at Jase again and to just listen to what the commander was saying.
“The problem is, Agent Ward, as enlightened as we all want to
believe ourselves, you are the only female on this team and we are naturally
protective of you. But I can’t let that stop me from giving you what you need in
terms of your career. So I’m not going to. You’ll continue to be the lead agent
on this case. For now.”
“For now?” Carrie automatically bristled. “Does that mean
you’re simply waiting for me to fail? And let me guess. Agent Tyler here will be
waiting in the wings to take over?”
Commander Stevens held up his hand. “Hear me out. As I already
said, I want Jase to team up with you on this case. It’s a complicated one.”
“It was complicated two days ago and you never said anything
about having me work with Agent Tyler. I anticipated having a partner, of
course, but I don’t need to be babysat.”
“No, but Jase has worked several serial cases before. And he
told me you’ve already discussed several theories about the case with him. Is
She gritted her teeth. It was her own fault for accepting his
help, she thought. “Yes. But this serial killer is a slow-moving one. I have all
kinds of notes prepared for our meeting later today—”
slow-moving. That might not
be the case any longer. As such, things have just changed.”
“Sir?” she asked. Both she and Jase straightened and leaned
forward in their chairs.
“We’ve just gotten word of another possible victim in the
“Another—?” Carrie couldn’t help looking at Jase now. He looked
as surprised as she felt. “But it’s only been three days since SFPD discovered
Cheryl Anderson’s remains. Most serial killers wait months before striking
again, and that’s certainly been The Embalmer’s M.O.”
“I’m not certain this latest murder was actually committed by
The Embalmer. That’s going to be one of the things you’ll be focusing on. Both
of you. You’ll have the lead for now, Agent Ward, but if it turns out we’re
dealing with a copycat, it becomes a whole different ball game. There’s no way
we have the manpower to handle a serial killer and a copycat. And if it’s a
copycat, he won’t be satisfied with just one victim. More will surely follow. I
won’t have any choice but to call in the FBI. They’ll have jurisdiction on The
Embalmer case, leaving you and Jase free to work the second case. That is, if
you’re willing to abide by my orders. Otherwise, I’ll put Tyler on the case with
another officer assisting right now.”
“I understand why things will change in the event of a copycat.
I can take the lead, sir. And I can accept the FBI stepping in if that turns out
to be necessary.”
“Good. SFPD got a 911 call an hour ago from some hikers over at
the Marin County Water Preserve. The hikers found a mutilated female. Patrol
officers have secured the area and are waiting for you to examine the body.”
“So there’s actually a body this time, not just photos? Was the
“I don’t know that. But the body was eviscerated.
“If we don’t know whether the victim was embalmed, how are you
linking this victim with The Embalmer’s victims?”
Stevens sighed and swiped his palms over his face. For the
first time, he looked truly troubled. As if he really questioned their ability
to catch a killer. “Upon being interviewed by the patrol officer, one of the
witnesses said he found a woman’s head. One whose eyelids had been cut off.”