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Authors: Debra Webb

Dark Whispers

BOOK: Dark Whispers
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A chilling new spin-off series from
USA TODAY
bestselling author Debra Webb sure to keep you up all night...

Former homicide detective Clint Hayes has his first client as a private investigator: a fragile beauty he isn’t sure he can trust. An injury has left Natalie Drummond with gaps in her memory, and she sees and hears things that aren’t there. But she’s sure she shot an intruder in her Birmingham mansion. So where’s the body, the gun, the evidence? When it’s clear someone is trying to kill his vulnerable client, Clint appoints himself her protector, working overtime not to fall for her. But someone is dead set that Natalie never regains her memories—or makes new ones with Clint.

“You really do think someone wants to harm me?” Natalie asked. “That it’s not my imagination?”

“Isn’t that why you hired me?” Clint asked.

She stared into Clint’s dark eyes and pressed a hand over her mouth to hide the way her lips trembled. Yes. But why would anyone want to harm her?

Those dark whispers she had tried so hard to close out just before she drifted off to sleep each night these past eight or so weeks nudged her now, echoing deep in her mind. She closed her eyes and let them come. Laughter, soft, feminine... Then the raised voices—a man and a woman. Was it a real memory? Something from before her fall? Something from childhood?

She waited until Clint had parked in front of her home to say, “I don’t intend to stay holed up in this house. I can’t...do that.”

He put his hand on her arm. “Wherever you go, I go.”

Dear Reader,

I am so pleased to bring you
Dark Whispers
, a new beginning for my Faces of Evil series for Harlequin Intrigue. The characters are very close to my heart, and I am certain you will enjoy following former FBI profiler Jess Harris Burnett as her private investigation agency reveals evil that lurks behind the seemingly ordinary. Next month be sure to look for
Still Waters
. And there will be more to come!

Harlequin Intrigue has been my home for nearly two decades and I am so excited to continue being a part of this amazing family. So many of you write to me and I appreciate every letter! Keep them coming. Along with the Faces of Evil series, Harlequin Intrigue and I will be bringing you more Colby Agency stories in the future. Look for Colby Agency: The Next Generation soon! It’s hard to believe but Victoria’s granddaughter, Jamie, is all grown up and ready to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps.

I have more exciting news. My new most chilling series yet, Shades of Death from MIRA Books, is coming in the spring of 2017, starting with
No Darker Place
. But be sure to pick up the ebook prequel,
The Blackest Crimson
, to get the terrifying backstory.

You can follow me at
www.debrawebb.com
and sign up for my newsletter for news about my latest releases.

Best,
Deb

DARK
WHISPERS

USA TODAY
Bestselling Author

Debra Webb

Debra Webb
is the award-winning
USA TODAY
bestselling author of more than one hundred novels, including reader favorites the Faces of Evil, the Colby Agency and the Shades of Death series. With more than four million books sold in numerous languages and countries, Debra’s love of storytelling goes back to childhood on a farm in Alabama. Visit Debra at
www.debrawebb.com
.

Books by Debra Webb

Harlequin Intrigue

Faces of Evil

Dark Whispers

Colby Agency: The Specialists

Bridal Armor

Ready, Aim...I Do!

Colby, TX

Colby Law

High Noon

Colby Roundup

Debra Webb writing with Regan Black

Harlequin Intrigue

Colby Agency: Family Secrets

Gunning for the Groom

The Specialists: Heroes Next Door

The Hunk Next Door

Heart of a Hero

To Honor and To Protect

Her Undercover Defender

Visit the Author Profile page at
Harlequin.com
for more titles.

Get rewarded every time you buy a Harlequin ebook!
Click here to Join Harlequin My Rewards
http://www.harlequin.com/myrewards.html?mt=loyalty&cmpid=EBOOBPBPA201602010002

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Clint Hayes—
A former homicide detective and the most experienced investigator on Jess’s new team. Clint is certain he can help Natalie, but he has a few dark secrets of his own.

Natalie Drummond—
Natalie suffered a traumatic brain injury two years ago and now she’s trying to get her life back together…only dark whispers and equally dark secrets from the past keep haunting her.

Jess Harris Burnett—
Former FBI profiler and deputy chief of major crimes. Jess has joined forces with her old friend Buddy Corlew in a private investigation agency in an effort to help victims of crimes the police can’t always resolve.

April Drummond Keating—
Natalie’s sister wants to help, but is she hiding too many secrets of her own?

David Keating—
Natalie’s brother-in-law is far too focused on running for office to worry that she might be in danger.

Heath Drummond—
Natalie fears her brother believes she might be losing her mind.

Vince Farago—
He was supposed to be Natalie’s friend, but was he really only out to get ahead of her at the firm?

Mike Beckett—
How long has he been watching Natalie, and for whom?

Art Rosen—
The partner at the firm Natalie considered a friend and mentor. Was she wrong all those years?

Lori Wells, Chet Harper, Chad Cook—
Detectives from Jess’s former major crimes team who give her a hand whenever the need arises.

Dan Burnett—
Birmingham’s chief of police and Jess’s husband.

I have met many people in this life but few have proved to be
so dear to me as the wonderful Marijane Diodati. Thank you,
my friend, for caring so very much for me and for my stories.
I will cherish you always.

Chapter One

4th Avenue
North
Birmingham,
Alabama
Monday, September 19, 3:30 p.m.

Former Deputy Chief Jess Harris Burnett repositioned the nameplate on the new
old
desk in the center of her small office. A matching credenza stood against the wall beneath the window. She had a nice view of the street, unlike her partner whose office window overlooked the not-so-attractive alley at the back of their downtown historic building. She’d offered to toss a coin, but he’d insisted she take the nicer view. Buddy Corlew, her old friend turned business partner, actually preferred the office with the potential
backdoor
escape route. He boasted that he’d worked sufficient cheating spouse cases to appreciate the option of a hasty retreat.

Jess sighed as she surveyed her new office space. A couple of bookcases lined the wall to the right of her desk, while framed accomplishments and accolades dotted the left. Her new office didn’t look half bad now that everything was in place. The lingering doubt about the big career change was gone for the most part as were the rumors in the media and even in the department. The people she cared about understood and supported her reasons for change. Though she missed her major crimes team and, to some degree, working in the field, family and friends were what mattered most to her now.

Her closest friends, Detective Lori Wells and Dr. Sylvia Baron, had helped Jess with the decorating as well as the furnishing of the offices. Since the building was one of Birmingham’s oldest, they had chosen to go with a casual vintage decor. Jess arranged the two mismatched chairs in front of her desk and stood back to have a look. “Not bad at all.”

The baby kicked hard and she jumped. Smiling, Jess rubbed her belly. Her husband Dan insisted this child would play football at the University of Alabama just like his grandfather had back in the day. Jess shook her head. She had no desire to plan her unborn child’s college career just yet, much less whether or not he would participate in such a brutal sport. But then, this was Alabama—football was practically a religion. She supposed the idea was no different than her mother-in-law, Katherine, already having Bea, their eighteen-month-old daughter, enrolled in ballet class and baby yoga.

Jess sighed. Her sister, Lily, had warned her that motherhood came with a whole host of new obligations, expectations and no shortage of worries. “And here you are going for round two, Jessie Lee.” She rested a hand on her heavy belly. As frustrating and terrifying as being a parent could be, she wouldn’t trade it for anything. She wondered if their baby boy would have dark hair and blue eyes like his father? Their little girl had Jess’s blond hair and brown eyes.

A bell tinkled in the lobby and Jess wandered out of her office and toward the sound. The private investigation agency she and her old high school friend Buddy Corlew had decided to establish opened on Wednesday with an open house scheduled for next Monday. Had Buddy decided to drop back by or had she left the front door unlocked? Her pulse rate climbed with every step she took toward the entry. She’d spent too many years analyzing and helping to apprehend serial killers to ignore the potential for trouble. Memories of last spring’s ordeal with Ted Holmes attempted to emerge but she suppressed them. That nightmare was over.
Don’t look back.

Buddy stood in the lobby appraising the work Jess and her friends had done. She relaxed. “I didn’t think you were coming back today.”

“Sylvia told me you were still here.” Buddy glanced around the lobby and nodded his approval. “Looks great, kid.”

Buddy was the only person in the world who had ever called her kid. The fact that he still did reminded her that in many ways he would forever be living in the past. His music taste was pre-1990, his long hair was fastened in a ponytail, and he still strutted around in worn denim and scarred leather the same way he had in high school. Enough said.

“Great might be an overstatement,” Jess surveyed the lobby, “but at least we won’t be scaring off clients.” The exposed brick walls and concrete floors looked less like a dungeon with a few carefully placed upholstered chairs and a couple of tasteful pieces of secondhand art purchased at the most recent fundraiser Dan’s mother hosted.

“Did you get your office squared away?”

“I did.” Jess braced a hand on her hip and ignored the ache that had started in her lower back. She’d certainly overdone it today. “I was about to call it a day.”

Buddy glanced at her round belly and smiled. “I can’t wait until Sylvia actually looks pregnant.” As hard as it was to believe, Buddy and Sylvia, Jefferson County’s medical examiner and the daughter of one of Birmingham’s old money families, had married and were now expecting a child.

Jess and Buddy had grown up on the not-so-appealing side of Birmingham and somehow they’d both managed to do okay. Jess had spent most of her law enforcement career with the FBI, first as a field agent and then as a profiler. Just over two years ago she had returned to Birmingham and started a new career with Birmingham PD as deputy chief of Major Crimes. After twenty years separated by their careers and geography, she’d married her high school sweetheart, Daniel Burnett, the chief of police.

Buddy’s life had taken a somewhat less direct route to where they were now. A womanizing rebel in high school, he’d ended up spending a tour of duty in the military right out of high school to avoid trouble with the law. Later, several years as a BPD cop and then a detective had ended on a bit of a sour note. Buddy, however, being Buddy, had bounced back. He’d opened a small private investigation shop and done well. Falling for and marrying Sylvia had changed the man as nothing else could have. He could not wait to be a daddy. The change left a large portion of Birmingham’s female population bemoaning the loss.

“Don’t worry,” Jess assured him, “that will happen soon enough.” She suspected her old friend didn’t have a clue what he was in for. Sylvia would ensure Buddy suffered every moment of discomfort she endured for the next several months.

The bell over the door tinkled again. Jess turned as Clint Hayes strolled in, a box under one arm and a briefcase in his hand. Clint had been a member of Jess’s BPD major crimes team. He’d asked if he might come onboard at B&C Investigations when Jess first announced she was leaving the department. She hadn’t been able to deny that having an investigator with a law degree as well as several years as a detective under his belt was attractive. No matter, she had discussed the idea with Dan before acting on Clint’s request. He had a right to know one of his detectives was considering making the move with her. Dan had been so glad Jess was leaving police work behind, he’d been only too happy to see Clint go with her. That he was handsome and dressed impeccably wouldn’t hurt, either.

“I cleaned out my desk at the department,” Clint announced in greeting. “I thought I’d get settled here.”

Buddy clapped him on the back. “Glad to have you, Hayes.”

“We’ve set up several desks in the large office at the end of the hall,” Jess explained. She and Buddy had taken the two smaller offices. The larger one would allow for several investigators to share the space. A third smaller office would serve as a conference space for meeting with clients. Closer to the lobby was a tiny kitchenette with a narrow hall to the only bathroom and a rear exit. “Take your pick.”

“Just like old times.” Clint flashed Jess a grin and headed that way. Buddy followed, filling him in on the open house planned for a week from today.

For now, Clint was their only investigator. Buddy was working on recruiting. They had interviewed three others so far. Their secretary, Rebecca Scott, who would also serve as a receptionist and occasionally as a babysitter when Lily and Katherine were tied up, was scheduled to start tomorrow. Jess was immensely grateful to find someone willing to wear so many hats and whom she trusted with her child while she met with clients and assigned investigators.

Assessing cases and determining the best way to proceed wouldn’t be that different from her profiler days—other than the fact that they wouldn’t likely be tracking serial killers and hunting murderers. Then again, throughout her career she always seemed to have a penchant for attracting the faces of evil.

The bell over the door jingled again, drawing Jess from the memory of one serial killer in particular. Four and a half months ago Ted Holmes had done all within his power to reach the highest level of evil by resurrecting the persona of Eric Spears and reenacting his obsession with Jess.

Banishing the memories once more, Jess produced a smile for the woman, thirty or so, who stood just inside the door as if she couldn’t decide what to do next. She was petite, around Jess’s height of five-four. Her black hair was long and lush; she was attractive. Her manner of dress, a soft beige pencil skirt with matching jacket and heels, suggested a career woman. Her gaze moved around the lobby, eventually landing on Jess. The fear and hesitation in her expression gave Jess pause.

“I need a private investigator,” she said, her voice trembling the slightest bit.

Jess was on the verge of telling her they didn’t open until the day after tomorrow when the woman added, “I shot a man.”

When she swayed, Jess hurried to usher her into the nearest chair. “Why don’t you have a seat? I’ll get you a bottle of water.”

Their first potential client shook her head. “No. Please.” She put her hand on Jess’s arm. “I need help.”

“Let’s start with your name.” Jess settled into a seat on the opposite side of the reclaimed factory cart that served as a coffee table.

“Natalie Drummond.”

“Well, Ms. Drummond, it sounds as if you might need the police rather than our services. I’ll be happy to call someone for you.” Jess’s first thought was to call Lori. Detective Lori Wells now worked in the Crimes Against Persons division. Jess considered her a dear friend and she was one of the best detectives in the department. It didn’t hurt that Lori’s husband, Chet Harper, was the ranking detective in the BPD’s major crimes team—as well as a good friend.

Drummond shook her head. “You don’t understand. I did call the police, but they can’t help me.”

The woman looked sincere and certainly terrified, but her story didn’t quite make sense. “I’m not sure I’m following you. Why can’t the police help you?”

Drummond wrung her hands in her lap. “The man I shot is missing. They found no evidence of an intruder in my home...even the gun I used was missing.” She shook her head, tears bright in her eyes. “I don’t understand how that’s possible. I shot him.” She looked straight at Jess. “I know I shot him. He fell to the floor. He...he was bleeding. I ran out of the house and waited for the police to arrive.” Her eyebrows drew together in a worried frown. “When they arrived he was gone.”

“Can you remember the detective’s name who came to the scene?” Whatever happened, Ms. Drummond was visibly shaken. That level of fear wasn’t easily manufactured.

“Lieutenant Grady Russell.”

Jess was acquainted with Russell. He was a detective in the Crimes Against Persons division. Russell was a good cop. “Why don’t I give the lieutenant a call and see what I can find out?”

Drummond nodded, visibly relieved. “Thank you.”

Jess stood. “Come with me and I’ll introduce you to one of our investigators.” No reason to mention that he was their only investigator.

Buddy was in his office on the phone as they passed. Jess escorted Drummond to the end of the hall where Clint was organizing his desk.

“Clint, this is Natalie Drummond.”

“Ms. Drummond.” Clint gifted her with a nod.

“Ms. Drummond will explain her situation to you while I make a call to Lieutenant Russell.”

Clint invited Drummond to have a seat. Rather than go to her office, Jess went to Buddy’s and closed the door. When he’d ended his call, she said, “We need a conference call with Russell about our first client. She says she shot a man who is now missing.”

Buddy raised his eyebrows as he set the phone to speaker and made the call. “You always did attract the strange ones.”

He needn’t remind her.

Three rings and Russell answered. Jess quickly explained the situation and asked for any insights the lieutenant could provide.

“We received the call early this morning,” Russell confirmed. “I have to tell you, I think maybe the lady is a little wrong in the head.”

Jess was immensely grateful for the thick brick walls of the historic building that helped ensure privacy between offices. “What does that mean, Lieutenant?” If the man said Drummond was hormonal or flighty, Jess might just walk the few blocks to the Birmingham Police Department and kick his butt on principal.

“About two years ago Natalie Drummond had a fall down the stairs of that mansion her daddy left her. She was banged up pretty good, but it was the brain injury that left her with big problems. According to her family, she still suffers with the occasional memory lapse and reasoning issue.”

“She had a traumatic brain injury?” Jess frowned and rubbed at the resulting lines spanning her forehead. Even two years later, an injury like that could explain Drummond’s uncertainty as to the sequence of recent events.

“That’s the story according to her brother, Heath Drummond,” Russell confirmed.

Now there was a name Jess recognized. “As in Drummond Industries?”

“The one and only,” Russell confirmed. “The brother says she hasn’t been the same since the fall. She spent months in rehab. He thinks maybe she’s having some kind of relapse. About two months ago, she started insisting that someone was coming into her house at night. Every time she told the story it was a little different. The brother decided she was hallucinating. Apparently that can happen with TBIs. This morning she called 9-1-1 and claimed she’d shot a man. We arrive and there’s no body. No blood. No signs of an altercation. Nothing. There was no weapon found on the premises, yet she swears she discharged a .38 at an intruder. She also swears she left him bleeding on the floor.”

Jess exchanged a look with Buddy.

“You believe she imagined the whole thing,” Buddy said.

BOOK: Dark Whispers
6.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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