Federal Paranormal Unit Bundle: Shape Shifter Paranormal Romance (3 page)

BOOK: Federal Paranormal Unit Bundle: Shape Shifter Paranormal Romance
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Ramirez dragged the sheet back. Erica’s stomach clenched and she was glad she’d forgone breakfast. She swallowed, pushing down the urge to vomit. The victim, Lisa, had been strangled. She had also been stabbed, beaten, and mutilated. The word “Bitch” was carved into her stomach.

Ramirez whistled under his breath. “Jesus. Talk about anger. That is some fucked-up shit right there. That girl is way more than dead. She’s an example. Somebody wanted her in pain. More pain than what I see in most victims.”

Buchanan started sniffing, and Erica raised her brows.

“Are you ok?”

He sneezed. “Bleach. This body was thoroughly cleaned before it was dumped.”

She inhaled, but all she got was the scent of the inhibitor under her nose. “How can you tell?”

He scrunched his nose, turned back to her, and took a step back. “Trust me, I can tell. So what’s your first impression, Villa?”

“She was so young.”

She said the words softly while glancing at the girl. The victim’s face and body were a large map of bruises.

“The cuts on the body appear to have been made with a scalpel. I’m not sure about determining this person to be in the medical profession because the pre-mortem lines are jagged.” She leaned over the body and studied the wounds with more intensity. Buchannan and Ramirez walked up and did the same. She glanced up and saw them frown, as if they were trying to figure out what she saw.

“If you look closely,” she pointed a gloved finger toward some of the wounds, “you will notice that the killer started out with smooth lines, but something got the best of him. As if he wanted to hurry up and finish the cutting…”

“What? Like he was excited and wanted to see the words carved so he rushed through the job? Or like he was nervous because he was doing something he shouldn’t be?” Ramirez picked up one of the surgical instruments and studied it with interest.

“I’m not sure,” she whispered. She continued to study the cuts, each one more horrific than the last. Instinct and something inside told her this wasn’t going to be the only one. And she was definitely an example.

Yes, an example to others.
Erica continued to stare at the body. Her attention was on the young girl’s face. She moved around the table, taking in the body from a different angle. Her heart beat in loud thuds in her chest. Curling her nails into her palms, she approached her victim’s face. She tuned out Ramirez and Buchanan and focused on the girl. So young. Alone. Scared.

Irritation mounted at her lack of focus. She took a deep breath and examined the girl’s lifeless features. Colorful bruises marred her cheeks. He beat her because she fought. There are bruises on her knuckles. She didn’t just die; she’d fought to live, and he’d enjoyed the kill. Erica closed her eyes and got a glimpse into a room. Dark. Angry. Fear crawled up her spine when a voice whispered into her ear. “
You will regret your choice
.”

“Can you guys give me a moment to analyze this body? I just think better alone.”

Buchanan eyed her warily while Ramirez nodded. The soft click of the door made her heartbeat accelerate. She turned in a circle to make sure she was alone.

“Ok, Lisa…”

She gulped and stared at the body. Cold shivers racked her. She hated this part but knew it was necessary. Her best and clearest images came from touching the body itself and picking up on residual energy victims left behind.

She walked around the table and stopped by Lisa’s arm. Her lungs fought to get air in. She grabbed hold of Lisa’s cold hand between hers and gasped.

The victim’s heart-wrenching scream filled her ears. Pain, sorrow, and despair all flooded her mind. The movie-like images made her breath catch. It showed her the minute the girl had realized her plight. These were Lisa’s final moments. She couldn’t breathe or move. Darkness surrounded her, and the scent of wood invaded her senses. Lisa’s heart beat so fast she thought she was having a panic attack.

She was in a box, a coffin. Panicked screams tore from her throat, and her hands beat at the wood. She’d been buried alive. Terror, raw and nerve-wracking, filled her mind when she realized she was going to die.

Erica jerked to the present with so much force she fell to her knees. Her body shook. She gulped, trying to catch her breath and still feeling as though she couldn’t breathe. The panic Lisa had felt was still thick and heavy inside her. Tears filled her eyes. It hurt to see someone suffering the way Lisa had been.

Moments later she was standing by the body making notes. She continued to visualize how Lisa had gotten each of her wounds.

The door opened and Buchanan and Ramirez walked back inside.

“Hey, Villa. Did you forget we were out there? Damn it’s hot.” Ramirez wiped his brow.

She went back to studying Lisa’s body. The longer she stared at the wounds, the more it hurt her to breathe.

Buchanan’s voice broke through her connection. “Villa? Are you alright?”

Erica jerked sideways, until she was facing away from the girl, and gulped a breath. When she turned to face Buchanan and Ramirez, both men were watching her. She’d never been with anyone other than Brock when she connected with the victim. “Fine. I’m fine. Let’s go to her apartment. We really need to get moving on this case.”

Before more bodies turned up.

“You sure you’re alright, Villa?” Buchanan asked once they were back inside the Jeep and headed to the victim’s apartment.

She needed to think. She’d already written down the glimpse into the dark room along with the quick flash of struggle she’d seen. It wasn’t enough. More information was needed in order to get a better, much more detailed description of the killer. There was only one way to achieve that.

“Buchanan, just because I saw a dead body doesn’t make me a weakling. Stop looking so scared. It’s not like I’m going to run to you expecting you to protect me.” She batted her lashes and draped the back of her hand over her forehead with a dramatic sigh. “‘Oh hold me, Trent. I’m so scared. Whatever will I do?’”

She made light of the situation, hoping he’d ignore what he’d seen.

Ramirez laughed from the backseat. Erica grinned, but when she turned to Buchanan he wasn’t smiling, he was watching her intently. She turned away from him, put her sunglasses over her eyes, and fought her body’s need to seek him out. The last thing she needed was for him to realize how disturbed she’d been by being near the body.

The drive to Lisa Summers’s apartment complex was short. Once they arrived, Buchanan used the key the deputy had given him to gain access to the place. She didn’t touch anything, knowing the result if she did. After a quick scan of the area, she noticed the place still appeared ready for Lisa to come home. The police report said everything had been left as it had been found. They’d blocked off all access into the apartment.

Sand took over her throat, clogging it and making it hard to swallow. A short-lived moment of indecision stopped her, but she steeled her spine and moved toward the bedroom. Buchanan followed her. She eyed the room with trepidation, strolled into the large space and stopped a foot away from the bed. Even though his presence soothed her nerves, she needed to be alone in the room. Before she got a chance to ask him to leave, he turned toward the door.

“Are you going to be all right in here?” He glanced around at the frilly bedding and curtains. Lisa Summers had been a girly-girl. “I’m going to check around the living area. Call if you find anything.”

“I’m fine. Shut the door behind you,” she ordered. The soft click of the lock let her know he’d followed her request.

Her blood froze as nerves attempted to get the better of her, but she proceeded to the bed and grabbed hold of the comforter.

TWO

 

 

 

Trent went through the victim’s mail, wondering why there were no more persons of interest. He’d scented the place, knowing that Ramirez was doing the same. It was what they did. Shifters followed their senses, and smell was the top one.

Erica was not a shifter. And from what Brock had told him, she didn’t know about shifters. But they were all aware everyone in the unit was special. Each one was just too private to share with the others. Ramirez was the only one who knew his secret. The white tiger shifter had become Ramirez’s best friend years ago, but he had no clue what type of paranormal the others were. He couldn’t scent anything but human in Erica or Donovan. Brock was…different. He couldn’t put his finger on what his leader was, but it was definitely not human.

A muffled sound, coming from the bedroom, made him drop the letters and frown. A second noise, which sounded like a low moan, had both him and Ramirez darting to the bedroom. Erica’s cry increased in volume with each step. He growled, pulled out his gun, and he charged through the door, looking for an intruder. His first instinct had been to shift, but he didn’t want to scare Erica to death.

“What the fuck? Villa?” He rushed toward her when he got no response, still searching around the room for the danger. The scent of her fear was overpowering. He didn’t know what was wrong, but it was making his wolf insane to know she was hurting.

“Erica?” He stopped a few feet from her and stared. She held the comforter in a white-knuckle grip. She struggled to breathe.

“Is she all right?” Ramirez’s voice deepened in readiness to shift.

“Yeah. You go back and make sure nobody comes in here. I’ll take care of her.” When Ramirez walked out the door, Trent frowned at Erica again. She stood completely still, the comforter in her grip. With a few steps, he closed the distance between them until he stood next to her, wincing at the anguish in her face. Her eyes were closed and tears streamed down her cheeks. She whimpered.

“Help me, please.” Her voice sounded clogged with pain and panic. Her distress was so genuine; it made the hairs on his arms rise. Agony, fear, and desperation bled through her plea for help. His wolf pushed at the skin cage, wanting out. His need to protect Erica became his sole focus.

Concerned only for her safety, he grabbed her by the arms, hauled her away from the bed and the comforter, and hugged her tightly. When she started gulping air, he drew away and scanned her face and eyes. She appeared to be in a trance, her eyes cloudy and unfocused.

It scared the shit out of him.

“Erica? Erica!” The shift rushed him, and it was hell reining back his animal. He shook her a couple times until she blinked. Her glassy eyes concentrated on him.

Her breathing slowly returned to normal. “Trent?” The moment he opened his mouth to answer, her caramel skin paled even further and her eyes rolled backward. Her body slumped forward, right into his arms.

Whatever the hell was wrong with Erica, he wasn’t going to leave her in the bedroom that had affected her so strongly. It was clear she sensed things. No wonder Brock was always so protective of her. He picked her up and marched toward the front entrance. When he got to the living room, Ramirez was waiting by the door.

Ramirez frowned at Erica’s limp body. “What happened?”

Trent walked out the door. He hated how a gray color had overtaken her healthy bronzed skin tone, knowing Ramirez would follow behind. “I don’t know, but something made her freak the fuck out.”

“I’ll keep looking to see if I find anything here. I’ll be down in a few minutes.” Ramirez yelled to Trent.

Trent was beyond pissed; he wanted to break something. His wolf wanted to get out and kill. Seeing Erica look so helpless had pushed him to act. Something inside him had snapped when he’d seen his little she-devil in so much pain. It was one thing to watch her tell him off with her cheeky grin. But no matter how strong she was, and he knew she was very strong to be able to work with their team; he couldn’t stand by and do nothing when she was clearly suffering.

He sat in the back of the Jeep with her in his arms at the moment his sharp-tongued harpy was too pale, and it scared him. Possession heated his blood.

The moment he’d met her he’d known she was his mate. Her scent had pulled him immediately, but the way she fought her attraction to him pushed him away. He wanted her. It sucked big-time that she, the one woman he would give everything up for, didn’t pay him any serious attention. No matter what he tried, she was oblivious to his charm.

Well, not entirely. He smelled her desire for his body, but that wasn’t new. He wanted her to get to know him, to want him. Erica was his mate. He knew eventually she’d give him a chance. He was nothing if not persistent.

Caressing her smooth cheek, he called out to her. “Erica? Wake up, Erica.”

Her eyes jerked opened, and she blinked. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Holding you.” Relief that she was speaking so clearly made his breath trip in his chest.

She sat up in his lap and wiggled to get off. The move made him hard as a rock in a second. He was such a sick bastard. Erica had just suffered some kind of nervous faint, and here he was ready to spread her thighs open and slide into her without a second’s hesitation.

“I need a phone,” she demanded. “Right now.” Her voice sounded wobbly as she peered around the inside of the Jeep.

He was about to tell her to take it easy when she reached to the front cup holder and made a quick grab for her cell phone. She sat back down next to him. A moment later, she pressed a few buttons with shaky fingers, put the phone to her ear, and turned her face away from him to stare out the windshield.

“It’s Villa. We went to Lisa Summers’s apartment. My first impression is that she didn’t get a chance to see her killer. She was held inside a box, underground, before he finally pulled her out and strangled her. The wounds, the cuts were made while she was alive. She was able to feel it. She tried to fight, but she’d been drugged.” She bit her lip, rubbing her right temple with her hand.

“I think that allowed him to bury her alive, which was his way of teaching her a lesson.” She sat there unmoving, her posture rigid, and listened to her phone. “No. We’re looking for someone young, strong, and angry. Yes, we’ll go through the friends and any males she had contact with.”

She glanced at Trent and quickly looked away.

Something strange was going on. He could hear the other side of the conversation. Brock kept asking her how she was feeling, but she didn’t answer him. Anger and concern rolled through him in equal measures. This wasn’t his little hellcat, not at all. What had happened? Why was she acting so out of character?

She shifted toward him and handed him the phone without making eye contact. Seconds later she turned and hopped down from the Jeep. He watched her as he put the phone to his ear. “This is Buchanan.”

“I need to ask you to keep an eye on Villa.” Brock’s voice sounded strained.

Erica strolled to the other side of the road, her eyes focused on the river, her forehead creased in a frown. She clenched and unclenched her fists as if trying to calm her nerves.

“Why? What’s wrong with her?”

“Nothing’s wrong with her. She gets a little sensitive around murder scenes.”

“Sensitive?” His temper snapped. “I just saw her freak out. She looked like someone was stabbing her to death.” He roared. “You call that sensitive? Wanna tell me what’s really going on, Sir?”

Brock sighed, a low, tired sound. “Villa is fine. If at any point she can’t do the job I will personally see to her. Until then, do as you’re told. Keep me informed of any developments.”

The phone went dead.
Fuck
! Trent slid out of the Jeep intending to question Erica, but the sound of Ramirez’s footsteps on the gravel path became louder.

Ramirez held a black book in his grasp. He dropped it in the back seat. The book bounced once before settling on the cushion. “I got the victim’s journal. If anything can give us a clue about her life, this would be it.” With a lift of his chin, he motioned toward Erica. “I could scent her fear as you passed me by. Is she all right?”

Trent wished he knew. All he smelled coming off her was panic and fear. He didn’t like either. In fact, his animal was all but going crazy to come out and see to her safety. “I don’t know.”

“You know I would never interfere between you two, I know what she means to you, but I’m here if you need help with whatever’s going on with her.”

“Thanks, man. I know I can count on you.”

While they watched her, Erica turned, slowly making her way back to the Jeep.

“You all right, Villa?” Ramirez grinned. “Dead people’s rooms freak you out too, huh?”

Trent glowered and watched Erica’s lips quirk in a smile.

“You have no idea, Ramirez. Let’s go to the hotel. I’m exhausted.” She sat in the back, leaned her head into the headrest and closed her eyes, effectively shutting them out.

By the time they reached the small hotel, Trent was ready to strangle someone. They stopped at the diner on the other side of the motel before finally making their way to their rooms.

On a normal day he’d love a burger, a beer, and a little relaxation in his room. But after the afternoon’s events, food was the last thing on his mind. Their rooms were adjacent to each other, which made it easier to meet up in the morning or work until late. Ramirez and Erica, room keys in hand, walked ahead of him to their doors. Trent was still fuming, not knowing what to make of what had happened to Erica.

“Well, I’m calling it an early night. I’m tired and need some sleep. I’ll see you both in the morning. Good night, guys.” Erica shut her door before anyone got a chance to reply.

Trent let himself into his room, paced, took a shower, and paced some more. He turned on the television, but all his mind saw was Erica, gripping the comforter in the victim’s bedroom, choking on tears, and begging in fear. It made no sense. Just remembering made his jaw clench. Mindlessly, he flicked through channels, nothing catching his attention. The sound of the shower running in Erica’s room held him entranced. After a while, when he didn’t hear the water any longer, he figured she’d finished and decided it was time to question her.

He threw on some shorts and knocked at her door. She seemed unsurprised to see him.

“I’m really tired, Trent. What do you want?”

Something was definitely wrong when she didn’t call him by his last name. She’d always made it a point to keep that barrier between them, stopping them from getting too personal. Good. Maybe now they could get to know each other better. And while it would take some work, he hoped he could soon—finally—have his mate by his side all the time. He strode in, stopped in the middle of the room, and turned to her.

She shut the door. Exhaustion was evident in her face, and the lingering scent of fear wafted up to his nose. Guilt nagged him to let her rest, but the questions running through his mind didn’t leave him alone.

“What happened today? And don’t give me any bullshit, Erica. I want to know why you reacted the way you did in that bedroom. I need to know what was happening to you. So come clean. What’s wrong?” He hoped she’d open up and tell him the truth, whatever that was.

She leaned into the closed door and folded her arms over her chest, pushing her breasts to the neckline of her low-cut tank top. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Anger simmered inside him and spread through his veins, until he was ready to shake her. He knew what he’d seen. Even if he couldn’t smell her lies, he’d know she was keeping things from him. He’d seen sheer horror in her eyes. He’d also seen a scared woman, a woman begging for help, a woman traumatized by something. What bothered him the most was that he knew that wasn’t the first time she’d suffered that way.

“Stop lying to me. I was there, I saw you freak out holding that bedspread. You were shaking, begging, as if someone was tearing you limb from limb.” He stalked toward her. She flinched. And he was tempted, more than tempted, to drop the questions, but he had to know what was going on. How could he help make the situation better for her?

As he got closer, her stance turn rigid, her jaw clenched, and her lips pursed. “I don’t know what to tell you.” She shrugged and looked down. “I freaked out a little, and that’s it. I don’t even remember most of it now.”

Her arms unwound and lowered to her sides, hands curling into fists. She raised her face, one brow arched high. She was still defensive, and he needed to know why.

“Why are you lying? Just tell me what’s wrong. Stop acting as if what I saw today was no big deal.” He softened his tone to a plea. Shifting closer to her, he lifted his arms, placing them on either side of her head, palms flat on the door, caging her in. “I want to help you. Let me.”

 

Erica glanced up into eyes the color of dark chocolate and wondered what the hell else she could do. Trent was like a dog with a bone about her episode in Lisa Summers’s apartment. She had a feeling that no matter how much she tried to dismiss him, he wasn’t going to go for it. It was difficult enough for her. She still had to get her mind back in order, but all she kept hearing was the dead girl’s screams inside her head. Trying to get her nerves back under control was an exercise in restraint and aggravation. She needed some sort of distraction or she’d lose her mind. The grief inside the victim had been much stronger than anyone she’d ever come across.

BOOK: Federal Paranormal Unit Bundle: Shape Shifter Paranormal Romance
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