Authors: Kylie Brant
Tags: #Contemporary romantic suspense, #Mysteries & Thrillers, #Fiction
Book 1, The Circle of Evil Trilogy
Published by Kylie Brant
Copyright 2013 by Kylie Brant
Cover art by
Middle Child Marketing, LLC
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you are reading this ebook and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy.
Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. To obtain permission to excerpt portions of the text, please contact the author at
All characters in this book are fictional.
For all my friends and students at Lincoln School.
If I wrote novels based on my own expertise, the books would be short, indeed. As usual I owe a shout-out to several people who put up with my endless questions in an attempt to lend credibility to the plot.
A big thank you goes out to Division of Narcotics Enforcement SAC John Graham for his prompt responses to my endless nagging. I appreciated all the insights and can heartily agree that the coolest guy in any novel is always going to be the narc
Thanks are also owed to FBI forensic artist Lisa Bailey for her time, talent and knowledge; and for being the inspiration for one of my characters! To John and Justin, the FSA men in my life for answering all things agriculture related. Bruce Reeve, laboratory administrator, generously provided answers about the workings of the DCI Criminalistics Laboratory. And Ryan Boder at suretyCAM Security helped me figure out how to get my villain into the places he shouldn’t be. I appreciate everyone’s help!
As always, any errors were mine alone.
Ed Loebig whistled sharply. The chocolate brown Lab, the pup he had high hopes of turning into a hunting dog, paid him absolutely no mind as it continued to race ahead.
“C’mon, Digger, get on back here. Digger!” The mutt responded to neither a cajoling tone nor a commanding one. It gave Ed one goofy look over its shoulder, tongue lolling like it was having a good laugh at Ed’s expense before continuing to bound from one grassy area to the next, sniffing as if it were in dog heaven.
“I am getting too damn old for this,” Ed muttered. But it was his own fault for taking the leash off the animal. He thought the grassy field would be a fine place to practice the lessons he’d been teaching of ‘come’ and ‘stay’. Damn dog was flagging straight ‘F’s’ in both departments.
Ed gave a quick and futile wish for his hound, Bonnie. Best hunting dog he’d ever had, even up to last year when she’d been ten. But the winter had been hard on the animal, as hard as it’d been on Ed. Arthritis had taken a toll on both of them. And although Ed could still get around well enough to hunt, Bonnie could not. Enter the six-month-old pup, which so far was in the running for dumbest animal on earth.
“Digger. Here, boy. No. Don’t even think about…damn!” Ed reversed course and started for the cemetery gate, hoping to head the dog off. But speed was one thing the half-grown mutt had all over Ed’s beloved Bonnie.
Outrunning the dog was impossible, so he headed back to his pickup. Moments later he was nosing it through the permanently open gates of Oak Hill Cemetery. He saw the dog flopped down under a shade tree, and thought his search was over. Turning off the truck, he approached the animal again, promising himself to confine his lessons to the kitchen from now on until the dog was better trained. If that day ever came.
“Okay. Easy now.” He dug in his pocket for a treat, held it out to get the dog’s attention. “Here, boy. C’mon over here.”
But the pooch saw a squirrel and jumped up to give chase just as Ed made a grab for his collar and missed. The dog lost its quarry at the base of a tree and turned its attention elsewhere. Ed was panting when he caught up and saw it engaged in the pastime that had earned its name.
The neat expanse of dirt leveled over the fresh grave was an open invitation to Digger. Dirt was flying beneath its paws as the dog furiously dug for the sheer joy of the act. Ed took a quick look around even as he started for the dog in a dead run. With his luck Molly Summit would be nearby with her blasted camera and the photo would be splashed all over the front page of the weekly Slater Chronicle, headlined by
Grave Mistake: Animal Owner Ignores Leash Law.
Ed reached the dog and grabbed its collar, dragging the animal back to the pickup. The dog twisted and squirmed, but Ed’s grip was firm. He opened up the passenger seat and hoisted the animal inside. Then he ran back to the grave to repair the damage before anyone else happened by and caught him.
It’d been a couple weeks since anyone from Slater had died, so this grave had to belong to Ida Sweeney. Ed broke out in a cold sweat at the thought of having to explain to the widower Mel Sweeney how his ninety-six-year-old wife’s final resting place came to be desecrated this way. He fell down on his hands and knees, a position that would have his arthritic knee howling for a week, and began frantically refilling the disturbed soil back into the hole.
Something glistened in the sunlight, and he stopped for a moment, peered closer. And then he was imitating the dog, cupping his hands to dig, dirt spraying behind him in an effort to uncover even more.
Fingers of early morning sunlight slanted through the overhead branches and across the grave. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph.” He stopped then, scrambled away, tripped and landed on his ass. His stomach heaved, the breakfast he’d had in the Slater Diner threatening to make reappearance.
Back-dropped against clumps of rich black Iowa topsoil was an unmistakably human hand.
“Sheriff Dumont?” Cam Prescott stopped next to the man who’d been identified for him and stuck out his hand. “Agents Cameron Prescott and Jenna Turner, DCI.”
Iowa’s Story County sheriff was whipcord lean with deep squint lines radiating from the corners of his eyes. He exchanged handshakes with the agents. “Appreciate you getting your team here so fast. Soon as I got the call from Ed Loebig about what he found, I figured this was one to turn over to the Division of Criminal Investigation. We don’t have any open missing persons cases in the county at the moment. I’m guessing this isn’t going to be one of ours.”
“Maybe not the victim.” The two men exchanged a long look. “Could be it’s the perpetrator that’s local.”
They all turned their attention toward where the crime team had used electronic body sniffing devices to draw parameters around the dig site. It had taken Bob Dumont the better part of six hours to make nice with Mel Sweeney about disturbing his widow’s grave. That hadn’t been strictly necessary—suspicion of a crime gave the DCI latitude in the case—but Cam was mindful of the politics of the situation. It never paid to try and make enemies out of people encountered in the course of an investigation. That happened often enough on its own.
He caught a glimpse of an elderly gentleman sitting in the open back door of a sheriff’s vehicle. He assumed it was the widower. “This will take several hours.” Experience told him that much. “One of the state medical examiners will arrive soon. She’ll oversee the actual digging and extraction.” The county examiner was on scene, but questionable deaths were autopsied by the state.
“I’ll stick around, if you don’t mind,” Dumont said. He gave a nod in the direction of the car Cam had noticed. “I promised Mel as much.” The sheriff hesitated for a moment. “I’ll let you be the judge if there’s anything to this, but word got around pretty fast about this find. And I’ve heard from two of the sheriffs in nearby counties. They each took reports in the last several months about someone messing around in some of their county cemeteries at night.”
Diplomacy wasn’t always a trait that came naturally to Cam, so he took his time framing an answer. “I guess that happens a lot with rural cemeteries everywhere. Kids don’t have respect. Go out at night and tear around, try to scare each other.”
Dumont rubbed the back of his leathery neck, burnt as deep a brown as his face, though it was only mid June. “True enough. Get our share of thefts here, too. People stealing flowers, grave ornaments and the like. But Beckett Maxwell—he’s the Boone County sheriff—had something you might find interesting. Said he investigated a complaint over in Madrid back at the end of April. Someone thought the recent grave of a family member had been disturbed. Well, Beckett checked it out, but there wasn’t much to see. He did say that the grave looked freshly dug, the soil turned over like it’d just been done that week. But the fellow buried there had been in the ground almost a month.” The sheriff squinted at him. “Not sure what to make of that, but thought you should know.”
Jenna caught his eye. A dull throbbing started in Cam’s temples. Rural cemeteries like this frequently relied on volunteers or a part-time caretaker for their upkeep. Other than occasional visits for maintenance or to pay respects, the places were largely deserted. The open gates here were a testament to the security measures taken.
Something told him that his new case was about to take a complicated turn.
He traced the tip of his index finger down her delicate spine, feeling like a mortar shell had imploded inside him. His senses remained steeped in her; the texture of her skin, the scent of her hair, the glide of her fingers. She had her face turned away so he couldn’t read her expression. Probably a good thing. He wasn’t sure what would show in his. Stunned pleasure, for sure. The slightly dopey look of a satisfied male. Hopefully none of the uncertainty that was crawling through him. The sensation was as unfamiliar as it was uncomfortable. He bent his head to kiss the curve of her shoulder blade. Watched her slight shiver with fascination.
“This…feels like a mistake.”
He froze, the words raking over him and drawing blood. Ordinarily he’d agree. She was the last person he would have considered taking to bed, though he’d be lying if he claimed he’d never imagined her there. But she wasn’t his type. When it came to relationships he favored them short and hot. And while their interlude had been spectacularly hot…he wasn’t inclined to keep it short. That should scare the hell out of him.
He slid his hand down her thigh then back up, fingers grazing close to her damp heat. “Funny.” He brushed a kiss over her shoulder. “That’s not what I’m feeling.”
“I mean…” She gasped a little when his hand inched higher, and his teeth scraped her skin not quite gently. “We should…if our work…”
“Work is work. This is something else. Let’s let it develop and decide later exactly what it is.”
“Cam?” Jenna Turner ducked her head inside his office. “Dr. Channing just arrived.”
He shoved away from his desk, rose. “About damn time.”
Her gaze flickered. “You could try being nice.” She stood aside to allow him to exit.
“What fun would that be?”
“I’m serious.” Jenna’s voice was low as she trailed him toward the front of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation building. “Special Agent Gonzalez is really going to bat for us when it comes to resources on this case. I don’t remember ever having the long-term expense of two civilian consultants okayed before. First the forensic anthropologist, and now Channing. And you’ve said yourself she’s the best. The offender profile she developed for that rest stop rapist last January helped us track him down in less than eight weeks.”
“Is that when you became president of her fan club?” Cam turned down a hallway and halted abruptly enough to have Jenna running into the back of him. Directly ahead, in a tight knot of DCI admirers was the noted Dr. Sophia Channing, looking like a regal blond queen holding court for her minions.
It was hard to say what it was about her that never failed to set him off. Maybe it was her faint air of royalty, that sheen of breeding. Could be the cool way she had of surveying him, like she was beaming a light into his mind while objectively dissecting it. God knows he’d never been a fan of shrinks. But she brought about a different reaction than most. Probably due to the unflappable poise she exhibited. It always made him want to shock her, to jolt her normally serene expression to something more genuine.
Although he suspected she wouldn’t shock easily. She’d spent the better part of graduate school interning with Louis Frein, renowned profiler at Quantico’s Behavioral Science Unit. In the last decade and a half she’d interviewed the most notorious serial killers in captivity. There was more, much more to the woman than her appearance. He wished he could forget that.
He waited until his presence had the voices of the other DCI personnel tapering off. There was no way Channing could have been unaware of the reason. But when she didn’t turn he said unapologetically, “Sorry to steal the doctor away, guys, but there’s this thing. You know…work.”
The agency’s payroll didn’t run to retaining a forensic psychologist full-time, so like most specialists, Channing’s services were contracted on an as-needed basis. She’d worked with the agency often enough to have met some people here, but he was surprised by this slavish display of devotion.
“So good to catch up with you. It’ll be wonderful to see you all while I’m here.”
Her cultured voice drew smiles all around. Channing didn’t seem to affect others the way she did Cam. Which all in all, was probably a good thing.
With a graceful turn of her heel, she faced him. And he had that same punch-in-the-gut reaction he got every time he saw her again. “Been waiting for you since last week.” They began moving in the direction of his office, Jenna bringing up the rear.
“Since I just finalized things with Special Agent Gonzalez on Monday, I find that highly doubtful.”
“Six unidentified bodies with similar injuries, all buried in the same fashion. Didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure you’d be brought on board.” He was eating up the distance back toward his office, before consciously slowing to match the woman’s gait. He wasn’t used to the kind of woman who’d wear heels to work. Not here. “She said you just had to wrap up a few things. Didn’t expect that to take three days.”
“There was the minor matter of selecting another psychologist to take over the client list for my practice for the duration. By the way, Jenna, I love what you’ve done to your hair. Is it new?”
His muttered remark cost him a punch to the shoulder from the red-haired agent. “It is, thanks. Wasted on the bunch of cretins I’m surrounded with here—present company included—but I like it for summer.” When he turned to look at her pointedly, she began to sidle away. “I believe Agent Prescott wants to catch you up on the case.”
Cam caught the doctor’s eye. “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble,” he said with exaggerated politeness. Stepping ahead of her, he opened his office door, waved her inside. He wondered if it was his imagination that reluctance slowed her progress as she preceded him into the small area. Probably. He swung the door shut behind them. Who could actually move fast on those four-inch stilts she was wearing?
But when the tiny click of the door’s closing had her startling like a deer to a rifle shot, he knew his earlier impression had been correct. His mood darkened accordingly.
He gestured her toward a chair. She set her briefcase down next to one but didn’t sit. Instead, she clasped her hands before her and walked to the working map spread out across one wall. After staring for several seconds she broke away to pace the length of his office, careful to give him a wide berth. The show of nerves was unusual. Dr. Sophia Elise Channing was always poised. Always calm. At least in work related matters.
Cam hitched a hip to the corner of his desk and crossed his arms. Waited. If there was one thing he’d learned about her it was that you couldn’t push the woman into doing anything before she was ready. Even talking.
“Although I’m certain you’ll find it unwelcome, I feel the need to clear the air.”
“The air feels plenty clear.”
The quick look she sent him on her return trip across the room held more than a hint of uncertainty. “Our…encounter…however brief…can’t be allowed to impact our working relationship. In hindsight it’s fortuitous that we broke it off when we did since we’re going to be working closely on this case.”
A slow burn ignited in his chest. In truth it’d lodged there over two weeks ago and been on slow simmer ever since. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy
with you.” He waited, fascinated by the color that washed into her cheeks. He’d never met a woman in his life that still blushed. She had to be a throwback to some genteel ancestor of a sort that was noticeably absent from his own family tree. “But our relationship—short as it was—doesn’t impact our working together. I told you before that it wouldn’t. And not to be a stickler,” he bared his teeth, “but
didn’t call it off and it had nothing to do with work. You kicked me to the curb before I ever caught this case. Since we’re clearing the air we may as well be precise.” He reached out for the baseball that sat on his desk and gave it a toss, retrieving it neatly mid-descent. It was a prized possession, a foul ball hit over left field at Wrigley five years ago that had only cost him a strained shoulder to snag. Well worth it. “I assume Gonzalez gave you a full copy of the case file?”
The color appeared again, a swift tide that came and went in her cheeks, and he immediately felt like an ass. The wonder wasn’t that she’d called a halt to their all-too-short involvement, but that it had ever started in the first place. Outside the occasional case, they had absolutely nothing in common.
Which hadn’t mattered a damn for twelve exquisite nights after he’d happened upon her—pensive and not quite sober—on the outdoor patio of Mickey’s last month.
He opened his mouth to apologize. He had his share of rough edges. They’d actually helped keep him alive in the long months he’d spent undercover on a federal task force a few years ago. Now that he was back to civilization, however, decades of his mother’s tutelage were easier to recall. But the doctor’s reaction forestalled an apology before he could formulate one.
“Of course. I’ve been studying it while I arranged things at my practice.” Her face smoothed into professional lines, and she moved to the large map spread across a bulletin board. Unerringly, she placed one pink polished nail to the red pin, designating the location of the latest victim. “The cemetery in Milo was your last find?”
Discussion of the current investigation beat a post mortem of their not-quite-a-relationship any day of the week. With a minor sense of relief he said, “Monday, yeah. The discovery finally pushed the assistant director into expending extra resources in this case.” One of those resources was Sophie herself. “I’ve still got agents poring over the obits for every small town in a ninety-mile radius of here. If you want to get town residents riled up, just bring in a team with ground penetrating radar and gas chromatography devices and tell people we’re going to dig up grandma’s grave. It’s a real popularity contest.”
“You pushed to go ahead and look for other possible victims.”
He moved his shoulders. If the Story County sheriff hadn’t tipped him off, he wouldn’t have known to do so. Would never have continued searching for more than that first one. Dumb luck. Most people didn’t realize how often that factored into an investigation.
“Yeah, I’ve got plenty of victims. What I don’t have is ID. And without it I’m getting exactly nowhere on motive. And without
“I know.” Sophie tapped an index finger against her lips, something he’d noticed she did when she was thinking. “I started the victimology analysis, but it’s impossible to complete without more information about who the victims are and what they represent to this offender. Have you talked to the ME about the newest body yet?”
He shook his head. “The victim didn’t look like she’d been dead as long as the other five. Less decomposition. Facial features were largely intact, if unrecognizable. Jenna’s working on a forensic drawing.” Jenna was also a trained forensic artist, and the agency used her talents wherever needed. “She and the consulting forensic anthropologist could also work on facial reconstructions as needed for the rest of them if the ME would agree to it.” But since the act would necessitate the severing of the skulls for each set of remains, the always-opinionated pathologist had already vehemently nixed that idea, at least for the foreseeable future.
An expression of delight crossed Sophia’s face. “Forensic anthropologist? Gavin’s here? It will be lovely to see him again.”
“It’s been delightful,” he agreed dryly. He tried--and failed--to imagine a scenario involving him that would elicit a similar reaction from her, short of falling off a cliff. Since he wasn’t the type of man to feel jealousy, he’d blame the burn in his chest to the breakfast burrito he’d wolfed down on the way to work.
“How’s the victim identification coming so far?”
He set the baseball back down in an ashtray on the corner of his desk. “Nothing but circumstantial ID. We’re spinning our wheels going through state, national and international databases with what we have at this point.” Which were hair color, gender, height and very approximate age and weight. That gave them a long list of possible matches across the country for each victim, but they needed a method of positive verification. “We’re also batting zero trying to match victim DNA and fingerprints with CODISmp and AFIS.” Which only told them that the victims had no criminal history and no family member had submitted DNA for a match to any of the missing person databases. Or if they had, the samples hadn’t been entered yet.
“That could mean these are high risk victims,” Sophia pointed out. “The kind no one misses. What about the physical pattern you found with the others? I assume it was present this time, too.” She did sit then, crossing her legs in a graceful movement that drew his gaze. The suit she wore was the color of cotton candy. It was hard to reconcile the woman wrapped in delicate pastels with the same keen intuitive mind that would construct the offender profile on the deviant they were hunting. Her profiles never made for light reading. They were full of the type of details that a woman who looked like her shouldn’t even
about, much less analyze. And realizing exactly how sexist that thought was still didn’t make him feel guilty for it.
Layers. That’s what was so damn fascinating about the woman. He was getting too damn old to appreciate shallow and transparent, regardless of the packaging. More’s the pity.
“This one was tortured, too.” His cell vibrated. He took it from his pocket to glance at the screen, rose and headed toward the door. “You’re in luck. Come with me to the morgue and you can see for yourself.”
“You get five minutes. Then you’re out of here, unless you have a hankering to watch the next autopsy.”
Cam scowled at the petite medical examiner. What Dr. Lucy Benally lacked in stature she made up for in attitude. If he’d ever had a soft spot for raven-haired beauties with an enviable rack, it would have been dashed the first time she spoke. She had a mouth that would shame a sailor, a charm that wore thin quickly. “You called me, remember? At least let us get in the door.”