Authors: Patricia Bradley
Tags: #FIC042060, #FIC042040, #FIC027110
© 2014 by Patricia Bradley
Published by Revell
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
Ebook edition created 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
“Daniel” font license agreement:
To Jesus, my Lord and Savior
Death unfolds like a budding flower,
Unfurling in majestic power.
Until then, my love . . . until then.
Black roses last week, now spidery words scrawled on a scrap of paper with “Meade Funeral Home” printed across the top. Someone was stalking her, and they wanted her to know it.
Taylor Martin sucked in a sharp breath and tried to ignore the icy shiver traversing her body.
He was here.
Hair raised on the back of her neck. She turned in a circle. Heavy clouds hung low, shrouding the tall firs with their mist. An air ambulance waited in the clearing to lift off for Seattle as soon as Beth Coleman’s vitals stabilized. Only a few members of the search and rescue team remained at the crime scene, packing their gear.
Whether he was one of the men who came out to comb the woods for the kidnapper and his victims, or he’d simply followed her here to this remote area southwest of Seattle, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that he’d been close enough to touch her, to put the note in her pocket.
To kill her.
An artery in her temple pulsed. He had to know she volunteered her profiling skills to the Newton County Sheriff’s Department.
A puff of wind brought a light fragrance. Old Spice. The scent her dad had worn. She frowned, seeking the source of the aftershave, but only encountered Dale Atkins striding toward her. The leathery-faced sheriff was her advisor and, tonight, her chauffeur. It wasn’t him—Dale was a Grey Flannel man.
Perhaps the stranger with him? Her gaze flicked over him, barely registering the broad shoulders, plaid shirt, and jeans. No, too young for Old Spice. She looked past him and realized the scent had dissipated.
Had she imagined it?
The sheriff touched her arm. “You’re white as a sheet.”
She held up the scrap of paper. Old Spice tickled her nose again. She sniffed it and made a face. Aftershave lingered, potent. Another piece to add to the puzzle.
“Taylor, what is it?”
“This was in my coat pocket.” She shoved the paper at him. “Someone wants me dead.”
Dale scanned it, his eyebrows pinching together in a frown. “How did it get there?”
“I don’t know.” Taylor wrapped her arms across her stomach.
He tore a sheet from his notebook and folded it into a pouch before putting the note inside. “Have you worn your jacket all day?”
“Not all day.” Her teeth chattered, and she ran her hands up and down her arms. “Lunchtime. I took it off then. Slipped it back on when the helicopter arrived for Beth Coleman.”
Dale took off his black cap with “Newton County Sheriff” across it and smoothed his gray hair. “Could it have been in your pocket awhile?”
“No.” She fisted her hands. “I haven’t worn the jacket since it came from the cleaners.”
“Are you sure?” He waved his hand at the expanse of Douglas firs. “We’re—”
“I know where we are. In the middle of a logging road a hundred miles from nowhere.” She caught her breath as heat crawled up her face. This was not like her. “I’m sorry. Can I see the note again?”
Taylor unfolded the pouch and studied the words. The cadence and the words reminded her of a student in her victim profiling class—the Goth student who’d been popping up in odd places, like the pharmacy and the jewelry store. The one she figured had left the anonymous boxes of candy on her desk and then the flowers.
The black roses were what made her zero in on him—they matched his black hoodie and black jeans and black hair—black everything—but she’d dismissed it all as a student’s crush. But candid photos and now this note were not things she could just dismiss. “Scott Sinclair has been following me, and a couple of his papers had notes like this doodled in the margin.”
The stranger stiffened. “I don’t know what’s in that note, but Scott wouldn’t hurt anyone.”
The words shot from his mouth, his Southern accent zinging Taylor, reminding her of how syllable by syllable her ex-fiancé had hammered her drawl away. For the first time, she really looked at the man who stood shoulder to shoulder with the six-foot-one sheriff. Around her age, maybe a little older. Thirty at most. And with the saddest, most beautiful hazel eyes she’d ever seen.
Taylor took in the planes of his face and wondered whether he fought a losing battle with his beard each day or if the five o’clock shadow was deliberate. Either way, he carried it well. But he didn’t look like law enforcement, which was what Taylor assumed he was when she had seen him with Atkins earlier. Up close, she realized he wore his hair too shaggy for a cop. More like a lumberjack. Probably with the search and rescue team.
She cocked her head at him. “And you know this, how?”
“I’m sorry,” Dale said. “I should have already introduced you two. Nick Sinclair, Dr. Taylor Martin from Conway University. She found the link between the kidnapper and the Colemans.”
The sheriff put his hand on her shoulder. “This young lady is
well known in the field of victomology and teaches a pilot class at the university. She aims to be the best profiler in the country one day. Personally, I think she’s already the best.”
Taylor’s cheeks blazed at the sheriff’s high praise. But she wasn’t that young. She’d be twenty-nine in exactly one month, June seventeenth. She looked away, catching sight of the air corpsman as he slammed the helicopter bay shut. She hoped Beth Coleman made it to Seattle.
Dale chuckled. “She doesn’t like me bragging on her, either.”
She shrugged. “It’s not really about being the best, just doing my best.”
He nodded toward the stranger. “Nick is a writer.”
Taylor almost snorted. “Researching a book, I suppose.”
“No. I’m looking for my brother. Scott Sinclair.”
Maybe Nick’s tough love campaign with his alcoholic brother had been all wrong. He tried to wrap his mind around the accusation this Dr. Martin had leveled at Scott. Kind of hard when the woman had taken his breath away. Not that he hadn’t noticed her statuesque beauty when he first arrived at the crime scene earlier in the afternoon.
She had the kind of beauty found in high-class fashion magazines—raven hair pulled into a silky ponytail and cheekbones most models would kill for. But it’d been the startling blue eyes that drew him in like a boy to candy. Right now, they were flashing lightning bolts at him. Just like Angie’s when he’d rubbed her the wrong way. “What do you have against my brother, anyway?” The private investigator’s report hadn’t indicated bad blood between Scott and the professor. Only that he’d taken a couple of her courses.
“Nothing.” She tapped the pouch. “This sounds like something he’d write.”
His brother a stalker? No way. “Do you mind if I read it?”
“You’ve got to be kidding. This is evidence.”
“What does it say, then?” He didn’t blink under her intense scrutiny.
“It’s a poem,” she said finally. “‘Death unfolds like a budding flower, tentatively . . .’”
She could quit reading any time. The poem sliced through his memory with the precision of a laser.
Unfurling in majestic power . . .
“You say it’s on a funeral home’s letterhead?”
Was it possible . . . no. Scott would never hurt anyone. But he had still lived at home when the verses first appeared in one of Nick’s short stories. Nick licked his lips, his conscience prodding him to reveal the words were his. “This poem—”
Three hundred yards away the helicopter screamed to life, drowning out his voice, and the moment of confession passed. He turned toward the chopper, blinking against the wind that whipped his body. Less than a minute later a steady
filled the air as the orange chopper lifted with the victim.
When the noise abated, the sheriff cleared his throat. “Be a miracle if Beth Coleman makes it to Harborview alive.”
“Yeah.” Even though he wasn’t from the Seattle area, Nick had heard of the level-one trauma center. He said a silent prayer as the chopper disappeared over the tree line. Taylor, he noted, said nothing, her blue eyes unreadable.
A deputy called to the sheriff, and with a nod, Atkins pocketed the note and left them.
Taylor stuffed her hands in her pockets. “So, why are you here looking for your brother?”
“Because he’s the only family I have left, and I haven’t seen him in almost three years.” Not since he showed up drunk at Angie’s funeral.
Her expression softened. “I’m sorry about that, but why here? At this crime scene?”
“Oh.” He’d misunderstood her. “I didn’t intend to come to the crime scene. I had a lead Scott was in Newton, and when I
stopped by the sheriff’s office this afternoon to discuss it, Sheriff Atkins wasn’t in since he was here, but I overheard the dispatcher give directions to one of the search and rescue teams, and I sort of tagged along, thinking I might get a chance to talk with the sheriff.”
“But you stayed. And it’s almost eight o’clock.”
The beautiful professor had noticed him. A pang of guilt tempered the pleasure from that knowledge. Then the undercurrent of her words nailed him. “Okay, so you were right. I figured out pretty quickly the sheriff doesn’t know where Scott is, but I was here, and I thought I could help . . . and I don’t often get a chance to do research like this.”
She rested an elbow on one hand and tapped her finger against her jaw. “Okay, that explains why you’re here today, but what took you so long to look for him? You said he’d been missing for three years.”
“I didn’t say he was missing.” He flushed. He didn’t know this professor, and he certainly didn’t want to air all his problems with his brother. Or that he’d been practicing tough love, hoping Scott would hit rock bottom and reach out to him. Except it hadn’t worked, and recently he’d felt an urgency to locate his brother. “I . . . had cut off contact with him and lost track of where he was living. I only engaged the investigator recently.” He stiffened at her questioning gaze. She was waiting for why, but why was none of her business.
“I see. Well, if you find your brother—”
A man hurried toward them holding his small daughter tight against his chest. The sheriff had identified him earlier as the victim’s husband, Jim Coleman. Nick’s gaze shifted to Taylor, and the naked longing in her eyes rocked him. A knife twisted in his heart. He’d seen that look before in his wife’s eyes when she’d talked about wanting children.
“Thank you, Doctor.” Jim grasped Taylor’s hand, pumping it.
“Nothing to thank me for—just doing my job.” Taylor nudged
a rotted branch with the toe of her shoe. Dank spores blew over the rotting leaves, filling the air with their musty scent.
Jim hugged his daughter closer. “No. You’re the only one who believed me. You saved my daughter and my wife.”
Little Sarah blinked open her eyes and pulled her thumb from her puckered lips. “Will Mommy be okay?”
The child’s chocolate-brown eyes stared up at Taylor, her brows knit together. Alarm darted across the professor’s face. “I—”
“I told you, honey. She’ll be fine.” Coleman smoothed a strand of blonde hair from her eyes. “She’s going to the hospital . . . I promise. They’ll make her all better.”
It was plain Taylor didn’t want to mislead the child, but as Sarah continued her doe-eyed gaze, Taylor sucked in a breath. “I’m sure your daddy’s right.”
“Thank you,” he mouthed, then nodded and hurried to his car.
“You did the right thing,” Nick said.
Taylor exhaled a long breath. “I don’t know. What if she doesn’t make it?”
“She could definitely use a miracle.”
This time there was no mistaking Taylor’s pursed lips.
Taylor stared at the ground, seeing the image of Beth Coleman lying in the wet leaves, blood staining her cashmere sweater. Miracle? That meant she’d have to pray, and if she thought it’d do any good, she would. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe in God or that she didn’t believe he answered prayers for some people. He just didn’t answer hers.
“Sorry to have to leave you, but I have work to do.” She turned to walk up the hill where Dale was wrapping up the investigation. “If you find your brother, call the sheriff, please,” she called over her shoulder.
“Wait, I’d like to discuss Scott with you.”