Authors: Elicia Hyder
I laughed. "Well, the only things to do around here in the fall, besides looking at leaves, are hunting and watching football. If you're not into either of those, you're screwed in the fall and the winter."
in my mind.
"I thought you guys have some ski slopes around here—" he began.
I held up my hand to silence him. "Hold on. When is hunting season?"
His face twisted with confusion. "What?"
I tugged on his sleeve. "Seriously! When is hunting season?"
"Well, it depends on what you're hunting. Deer season is the biggest sport, and it usually runs from September to January depending on what weapon you're using and where you are in the state. Why?"
My eyes widened. I put the beer on the counter and gripped his forearms. "September to December!" I almost shouted at him. "The murders happen during deer season! The killer is a hunter!"
"NATHAN, ARE YOU at home?" I shouted into the phone as I buckled my seatbelt.
"I just got back. Why?" he asked. "Are you all right?"
"Warren and I are on our way to your house." I looked at Warren and moved the phone away from my mouth. "Turn right."
"Umm… excuse me?" Nathan asked.
"Nathan, I know what the connection is with the dates," I said. "The killer is a hunter! These girls are buried in the woods. I need a topographical map and a list of hunting areas. We'll be there in ten minutes." I disconnected the call before he had the chance to object.
I looked over at Warren. "Are you sure you don't mind?" I asked. "I wouldn't do this if it weren't a big deal."
He shook his head. "No, I get it. I'm not sure if McNamara is going to let me in the house though."
"He will if he wants my help," I said. "Take the next left."
Nathan was brooding when he answered the door, but he nodded hello to Warren and let us inside. He motioned toward the office. "Come on back."
He had a topographical map up on the board with pins stuck in the areas where the girls disappeared. "Did you get the list?" I asked.
He nodded. "It's on the computer," he said. "What is all this about?"
"Remember how we said all this time that this killer is seasonal?" I reminded him. He nodded and I gripped his forearm. "Hunting season is during the same time frame. That's the only thing that has made any sense to me so far about this whole case!"
He laughed and crossed his arms over his chest. "That's a long shot, Sloan."
"Maybe," I agreed, looking down at the computer screen. "But it's better than any other lead we've had."
Nathan stepped over behind me. "But deer season is the busiest time of the year in those woods. Why would the killer hide bodies during such a high time of traffic? And how would he do it without being seen?" Nathan shook his head. "That doesn't make sense."
"I think the idea has some merit," Warren said. "If I were going to bury bodies in the woods, I would do it when I knew a lot of different tracks were going to be covering up mine. And, the wildlife service makes sure the woods are cleared of poachers every day at sundown."
Nathan turned and shot him a hateful glare "Given this a lot of thought, have you?"
I punched him in the arm. "Shut up, you brat. He's just trying to help."
"He shouldn't be here," Nathan mumbled.
That was it. I whirled around at him. "OK. I'm putting an end to this crap right now!" I pointed at Warren who was sitting on the couch eating my bag of Doritos. "Let me remind you, Detective, that this man wouldn't be here if it weren't for
You put me in the middle of the media spotlight and he saw me. That's not his fault. And neither of us are here because this is what we want to be doing right now. As much as I like you, Nathan, I would really rather be working on my own mystery that I've been trying to solve all my life—figuring out what I am! We are here because you begged for my help on this case. So you can either stop being a jackass right now, or I'm walking and you're on your own."
By the end of my rant, both of their mouths were hanging open.
I leaned toward him. "Do we understand each other?"
He nodded, snapping his mouth shut.
I put my hands on my hips and looked back at the map. "Now, where was I?"
"Poachers," Warren answered with a mouthful of chips.
"Right." I tapped my fingernail on the computer screen. "If we try and narrow these down to a small search field, we can check it out and just see what we find."
"You don't want to start here in Asheville," Nathan said. "There's way too much hunting ground here to cover."
I looked at the map. "Which of these areas where girls went missing has the least amount of hunting land?"
"Raleigh," they said at the same time.
I looked at Nathan. "Where can you hunt around Raleigh?"
"Private or public?" he asked.
"Public," Warren answered. "If it's the same guy, nobody has access to private hunting land all over the state."
Nathan squeezed his eyes shut. "OK, public game lands would be Jordan Lake or Butner-Falls around Raleigh." He grabbed a marker and circled the areas on the map. "Butner-Falls would be closest to the murders, but we're talking about an area of about ten square miles."
"Minus the water," I said. "Wait, could the bodies have been dumped in the water?" I looked between the two of them as I waited for an answer.
Warren shook his head. "Very doubtful. I imagine that river system has a really fluctuating current. Even if someone weighed down the body, chances are still high that it would eventually surface when it was swept to the smaller waterways."
"So, ten square miles minus the water," I said.
Warren crossed the ankle of his boot over his knee. "We could cover that in a day. We won't need to hike all of it."
"We?" Nathan asked, surprised.
Warren shrugged. "You can't exactly call in a search team with our unreasonable suspicion. So yeah, I'll do it if you want my help."
I leaned against the desk. "Warren, is there any kind of time limit on these bodies? The ones in Raleigh disappeared about twelve years ago."
He shook his head. "There's no expiration date on death."
Nathan and I both halted at his statement. "Good point," Nathan finally said.
"I'm heading back that way tomorrow. If you guys want to come, you can ride back together, and I can go on home," Warren offered.
I held my hands up in the air. "So, we're doing this?" I asked.
Nathan put his hands on his hips and shook his head. "This is such a long shot."
"I think she's on to something," Warren said.
I wrung my hands. "I'm right. I know I am."
Nathan sighed. "Yeah. Let's do it. One big happy family going on a hike in the woods."
I clapped my hands together and squealed.
"We're going to need some supplies if we're going to be trekking through the woods all day," Warren said. "I didn't bring any gear with me."
"I've got a couple of packs we can take," Nathan said. "Sloan, do you have any hiking boots?"
I laughed. "Nope."
"Where is a sporting store around here?" Warren asked.
"River Hills," I answered.
"Good. We'll need some hunter safety orange this time of year too," Warren said.
"We can go do some shopping on the way home," I told him.
Nathan leaned against his desk. "What time do you want to head out tomorrow?"
Warren shrugged. "I'm up at four."
"So, five?" Nathan asked. "That would put us there by nine."
I frowned. "Five in the morning?"
"I promise you'll live, babe," Warren said. He stood up and offered his hand to Nathan. "See you in the morning then?"
Nathan hesitated for a moment looking down at Warren's outstretched hand. I elbowed him in the ribs, and he finally shook it. "Yeah. See you in the morning. Thanks," he said.
Warren and I left Nathan's house and went shopping for hiking supplies before picking up dinner and heading back to my house. "I'm sorry our day on the couch got pretty screwed up," I said as we lugged bags up my front steps.
"I'm here. That's all that matters," he said.
I unlocked the front door and smiled back at him. "You're pretty remarkable."
He smirked. "No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are. You hardly know me, and yet you're willing to go to all this trouble for me and another guy that you don't even like. That's really impressive." We walked inside and I flipped on the light.
He placed the bags in his hands behind the sofa and carried the beer to the refrigerator. "I think even though it's only technically been a week, I know you pretty well." He smiled over at me. "And, this is important to you and you're important to me."
"Just know I really appreciate it," I said. "And Nathan does too even if he's kind of an ass about it."
He started laughing as we went back to the living room. "Holy crap, you went off on him back there. That was one of the sexiest things I've ever seen in my life."
I put the movies we had picked out on top of the DVD player. "He deserved it. Everything that has happened here recently really is all of his doing."
He groaned and hooked a finger in my belt loop, turning me around to face him. "Oh, don't say that. I don't want to have to be grateful to him at all for bringing us together when I know he's trying to work his way in here when I'm not around."
I put my hands on his strong chest. "Nobody is going to be doing anything when you're not around." I looked up at him and motioned between us. "This is different."
He nodded and rested his forehead against mine. "
doesn't even begin to cover what this is."
I closed my eyes and mindlessly traced my fingernails up his forearms. "We've still got to take this really slow until we know for sure."
"Sloan." His voice was commanding.
I looked at him.
He cupped my face in his strong hands.
When his lips touched mine, the rest of the world was obliterated. Every nerve in my body pulsed with energy as I melted into him. His fingers tangled in my hair and pulled my head back, forcing my mouth to open for him. I could no longer tell where his lips ended and mine began.
After what felt like an eternity that could never last long enough, he broke the kiss. The break in energy was like a shower of ice water. We were both breathless.
His deep voice was rough and desperate. "If we don't stop now, I'm not going to be able to."
"I know," he whispered.
* * *
Warren didn't sleep in my bed that night. We possessed superpowers, but defying temptation after that kiss wasn't one of them. There was a fine line between 'playing it safe' and 'who cares if it might be incest', and that line was sandwiched between Warren Parish's perfect lips. That mind-blowing kiss was the first thought in my head when I woke up to the sound of a knock at my door the next morning.
"You awake?" Warren asked.
He was already showered and dressed in the tactical pants and black and bright orange pullover he had purchased the night before. I groaned and rolled over away from him. His boots clunked against the hardwood as he crossed my bedroom.
"What time is it?" I asked into the dark.
"4:15," he answered. "I let you sleep in a little longer."
"Fifteen minutes. You're not very generous," I whined.
The bed sank under his weight, and he ran his hand along my back. "How did you sleep?" he asked.
"Terribly." I thought of how well I had slept in his arms before. "You ruined me."
"I slept like crap too." He began massaging the muscles around my spine. "Come on. I made coffee."
I felt him move to get up, so I twisted my arm around and grabbed a handful of the front of his shirt. I pulled him toward me and he leaned down over my back.
His hand slid along the length of my arm till his fingers tangled with mine underneath my cushy pillow. "This is a bad idea," he moaned.
His warm breath dampened my skin as he dragged his lips across my neck.
"I don't care," I said.
For a second, I felt his weight press into me, but he quickly pushed himself off the bed. I rolled onto my back and looked up at him. He put his hands on his hips and shook his head. "You've got to get out of that bed,
He pointed at me. "Get up. I'm going downstairs." He turned on his heel and left my room before I could tempt him any further.
When I came downstairs, ten minutes later, he was leaning against the kitchen counter drinking a cup of coffee. He smiled over the top of the mug. "Good morning, you evil woman."
I yawned and reached for an empty mug. "There is no such thing as a good morning."
He wrapped his arms around my waist from behind. "That's not entirely true. For a moment there, I was very tempted to make this a really good morning," he said, his lips against my ear.
I poured my coffee and smiled over my shoulder. "You know, it's not too late to say screw it all and just go back to bed."
He pulled away and pointed at me again. "Don't even start."
I laughed and looked at the clock on the oven. "I'm surprised Nathan isn't here yet."
The doorbell rang. Warren shook his head and pushed passed me, smacking me on the backside as he went. "Adrianne's right. You are a freak."
"Those are big words coming from the guy who can sniff out dead bodies," I teased.
Warren chuckled as he pulled the front door open. "Morning," he said, stepping aside.
Nathan walked in. "Morning." He wiped the bottom of his boots on the welcome mat. "It's pouring out there."
Warren followed him to the kitchen. "I checked the weather in Raleigh. This storm will be there by the time we get there," he said.
I frowned. "Ugh."
"It will be better for us. There won't be as many hunters in the woods," Warren said. "I'd rather get wet than get shot."
Nathan laughed. "For real." Nathan's eyes fell on my new back door. He put his hand on his hip and glared in my direction. Under the brim of his ball cap his eyes echoed the patch on his hat that read, 'Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.'