Authors: Cynthia Hickey
RIPPED IN RED
The Pretty Must Die, book 1
By Cynthia Hickey
Sign up for my
for a chance to win a free 14 author serial romance
Written by: Cynthia Hickey
Published by: Winged Publications
Cover Design: Cynthia Hickey
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
No part of this book may be copied or distributed without the author’s consent.
Twenty-five years earlier
m not interested in going to a frat party.” Maureen Monroe opened her beloved copy of
Gone With the Wind
and settled in for a night with her favorite southern belle.
“Stop being a party pooper.” Allison lifted her bangs, sprayed them with hairspray, and then attacked the strands with a hair dryer.
Maureen peered over the top of the book. “Why do you want to go anywhere looking like a rooster?”
“It’s the style.” She grinned. “Blake will be there.”
“Still not interested.”
“Come on.” She faced Maureen. “He’s a fox, and definitely interested in you.”
“You aren’t going to leave me alone, are you?” Maureen sighed and closed her book. “I’m not into the whole college party scene.”
“You should have some fun before you graduate and start hunting down the bad guys.”
She groaned and got off her twin bed and headed for the closet. The night was warm, perfect for the new sundress she’d bought from a nearby thrift store. She changed her clothes and pushed Allison away from the mirror. A quick brush of her red hair and a smattering of lipgloss was good enough for her. “I’m ready.”
“That’s it?” Allison pouted. “I hate how pretty you are with so little effort.”
“Good genes.” Maureen slipped her feet into a pair of flat sandals. “Hurry up before I change my mind.” Allison slung a strappy purse over her shoulder and headed out the door, leaving Maureen to follow.
They traipsed across campus to a field on the outskirts where music blared from boom boxes, laughter filled the air, and already drunk frat boys flirted with anything in a skirt. Maureen plastered a smile on her face and headed to the punch bowl.
One sniff told her it was already spiked. She grabbed a glass of water instead and turned to survey the crowd.
“Hey, gorgeous!” Blake slung an arm around her shoulders. “Smile for the camera.”
Someone snapped their picture.
“Come dance with me.”
“You’re drunk.” Whiskey fumes stung her nostrils.
“Not very.” He grabbed her hand and dragged her to a patch of packed down dirt. A slow song started on the radio, and he plastered her against him, leaning heavily on her shoulders.
“Seriously, Blake, I’m not in the mood.”
His eyes narrowed. “I’m the envy of every man here.”
“So?” She shrugged out of his arms. “There are plenty of pretty girls here dying to dance with you.”
“I don’t want them.” He pouted like a little boy who’d had his favorite toy taken away. “I want you.”
“I need to go to the bathroom.” She headed for a port-a-potty.
He jogged after her.
As she reached for the handle on the plastic door, he grabbed her hand and dragged her into the bushes. “Blake!”
“I know what will get you in the mood.” He nuzzled her neck.
“What have I ever done to give you the impression I’m this type of girl?” She shoved against his chest.
“Plenty,” he growled, pushing her farther into the trees.
Before she could scream, she found herself flat on her back in the leaves, something sharp poking her in the thigh. “What’s in your pocket?”
“My knife. I don’t go anywhere without it,” he muttered against her lips. “Relax.”
He clapped a hand over her mouth. “You can’t tease a man the way you do and not expect repercussions.”
She bucked under him. Her heart hammered against her chest, her breathing rapid.
He fumbled with the zipper on his jeans, then thrust her dress over her head, shoving part of it into her mouth as a gag.
Whimpering, she continued to fight, struggling to reach the knife in his pocket. Anything to keep him from doing what he planned. She screamed behind the gag as he succeeded, then closed her eyes against the attack. When he collapsed on top of her, she grabbed the knife and slashed, thrusting her dress out of her face.
The knife dug deep into the side of his face.
She screamed and rolled him off her, his blood splashing onto her bare arms and chest.
“Hey!” Three college students barged onto the scene.
Blake cupped his torn face. “I’ll kill you.” He pulled up his pants and fled.
Maureen rolled into a ball and sobbed. One of the other men scooped her into his arms. She closed her eyes and gave into the darkness.
hy are you doing this to me?” The beautiful brunette stared up at him with tear-filled eyes.
He tightened the zip tie. “The pretty must die.”
“What? Why?” She sobbed. “What are you going to do to me?”
Hadn’t his response to her first question told her what was on his mind? Stupidity was one of the reasons he had to kill her…and those like her. The world was filled with people who thought their good looks allowed them to trod over those less attractive and more intelligent. No more! He would rid the world of pretty people, starting with those in Clear Springs, Arkansas.
She kicked at him before he could tie her feet. One of her stilettos clipped his chin, cutting the skin. She struggled to her feet and tottered into the bushes.
He shook his head and swiped the back of his hand across the bleeding cut. She could try to run, but he would catch her. Then, she would pay for all the pain he had experienced in his life.
With a sigh, he pushed to his feet and headed after the woman, grabbing the high heel that had clipped him from the dirt. If she lost the other one, the chase would be more challenging. His heart rate accelerated in anticipation. The victims always ran. His mother had run, then screamed, until he silenced her forever. The only one who hadn’t was Maureen. Dear, stupid, teasing Maureen.
His victim’s red dress flashed through the trees. She tripped and fell. He lunged forward, grabbing her hair. With one slash of his razor-sharp knife, he rid the world of one more pretty person who thought most people didn’t matter. His spirit soared with a hawk circling above the forest.
Cassidy Monroe slid her police issued Glock 19 into its holster and rushed out the police department front door. A homicide call warranted quick action before bumbling sightseers ruined the crime scene. “Detective Monroe is headed to the site,” she radioed the one and only other officer in Clear Springs: a new man she had yet to meet since he was assigned to their small office that morning after Cassidy’s former partner took a job in Little Rock. Before that, she’d worked solo for almost a year. Something she had preferred.
“I’m already here. The body is by the creek. Take the road right past mile marker 59.” His deep voice—was that a Scottish accent?—rippled over the airwaves.
She shook her head and slid behind the wheel of her older model jeep. While she was glad not to be the only officer in their small town, she didn’t like being one-upped by the new guy. She set a flashing light in the front window of her vehicle and sped toward the woods. Why did she have to have a partner? In a town as small as Clear Springs, Arkansas, it was quite manageable to work separately.
Twenty minutes later, her jeep bounced down a rutted path barely recognizable as a road. She stopped next to a brand new Ford pickup and cut the ignition. Grabbing her camera and aluminum forensic case, she slid from the jeep and jogged through the trees.
A tall, dark-haired man with eyes the color of a summer sky and a smile that would melt butter, turned to greet her. For the first time in as long as she could remember, she regretted wearing faded jeans and a tee shirt with a small hole under the arm.
“You must be my partner, Cassidy Monroe.” He thrust out his hand, his brogue shooting straight to her heart and sending fire through her limbs.
“Yes, and, uh, you are Colin MacKenzie?” She yanked her gaze from his and focused on the body next to the creek. Since when did her smart mouth get tongue-tied?
“Sorry we haven’t met before now.” Colin squatted next to her. “The call came through before I made it to the office.”
“That’s fine.” Cassidy was at work early every morning and always had her cell phone on for calls that came through during the night.
The body, throat cut, blood soaking into the moss under the victim, was clothed in a scarlet dress. A matching stiletto was placed on a nearby log. Even in death the woman’s beauty was easy to see.
“Do we have an ID?” Cassidy snapped a photo, then moved to take one from another angle.
“Yes.” Colin motioned to a sequined clutch next to the log. “Amber Wilson, a model from Los Angeles who is here visiting relatives. There are signs of a struggle and evidence to show that she ran from her pursuer. There’s something over here that you should see.”
Cassidy joined him at the water’s edge. Written in the dirt were the words, “The pretty must die.”
“That doesn’t sound as if our killer will stop with Amber.” Her blood chilled.
The only deaths they’d had to deal with in their town prior to this were accidental shootings and car accidents. She wasn’t equipped to deal with a serial killer, if this is what they had. She shook her head to clear it. One poor dead woman didn’t mean they had a sicko on their hands. It could just as easily have been an angry boyfriend that killed her. “Where’s the other shoe?”
“Haven’t located it yet.”
The sound of voices pulled her from her thoughts. Sarah Robertson, local reporter and all around gossip, teetered toward them on high heels. “Keep her back,” Cassidy ordered Colin. “She has no sense around a crime scene.”
His brow furrowed, no doubt unhappy that she had told him to keep the woman back, but until Cassidy knew what kind of a cop he was, she was remaining in control. Handsome men, in her experience, were most often more worried about how they looked than working hard. Cassidy prided herself on her no-nonsense approach to fashion. Comfortable clothes, gym shoes, and hair pulled back into a ponytail was her daily uniform.
She finished processing the scene as the EMTs arrived. She stood and glanced around to make sure she didn’t miss anything important. The area was clean. No footprints. Broken branches that showed the path the victim had fled. No torn fabric or strands of hair on low-hanging branches. Finding the culprit was going to be a challenge.
Colin flirted and kept Sarah occupied, his laugh rumbling across the clearing. Cassidy sighed. She leaned against a tree and waited while the EMTs bagged the body and loaded it onto a portable gurney. Since they knew the victim’s identity, the next stop would be to her family. A job Cassidy hated. Their grief always sent her heart spiraling to the pit of her stomach and resulted in her shedding tears into her pillow at night.
“Come on, Don Juan.” She motioned for Colin to follow her. “We have work to do.”
“Could I get a statement, Detective?” Sarah trotted next to her.
“Didn’t Detective MacKenzie tell you anything?” She glanced at Colin.
“No. The man is as handsome as Adonis and as tight-lipped as a clam.”
“I can’t tell you anything until we notify the family.” Cassidy headed for her jeep. “Call me this afternoon.”
“Thanks, Cassidy. Bye, Colin,” she said in a singsong voice. “You owe me a drink.”
Cassidy groaned and climbed into her jeep. “Meet me at the station,” she said before closing her door. They might as well ride together from then on out.
Working with Cassidy wasn’t going to be a hardship. Colin noticed right away that she was thorough and good at her job, not to mention beautiful, despite the plain Jane way she dressed.
He opened the passenger door of her jeep and slid inside. “Would you like me to break the news to the family?”
“I can do it.” Her hands trembled as she placed them on the steering wheel.
“I don’t mind. I have a degree in psychology.”
“Really?” She cast him a surprised look.
“And dual citizenship, not to mention I speak French and Spanish.” He grinned. “I’m more than a pretty face.”
She rolled her eyes and drove from the parking lot. “Spare me. I’m more interested in your mind and how well you can do your job. It doesn’t matter to me what you look like.”
He laughed. “You’re going to be more fun than my old partner. He was past retirement age, overweight, and more interested in doing paperwork than chasing the bad guys.”
“He probably just wanted to live long enough to receive his pension.” She glanced at the navigator in her jeep. “You can do the talking with the family.”
He nodded and stared out the window, remembering how her amazing green eyes had shadowed over when the subject of visiting the family was broached. It was low on his list of pleasant things to do, but perhaps his offer would soften his new partner’s heart toward him. He’d like to be friends with her. He had so few in the States, having left his family behind in Scotland, and turning down a job with Scotland Yard. Killing an innocent young woman would do that to a person.
Funny how life worked. He’d accepted the job in a small Arkansas town to take things easy and found his first case to be a murder. He rubbed his chin, noting he’d forgotten to shave. Life had a strange way of putting a person right smack dab in the middle of something they had no desire to be in.
They stopped in front of a white ranch style house on the outskirts of town. Colin took a deep breath and shoved open his door. What he and Cassidy had to do was nothing compared to what the family would feel.
Taking a deep breath, he rang the doorbell. A middle-aged woman, looking like an older model of the victim, greeted them with a smile.
Colin showed his badge. “May we come in?”
She grabbed her throat, eyes wide, and nodded. “Mark, the police are here.”
A thin man, well over six feet tall, a cup of coffee in his hand, joined them in the foyer. “What’s my girl done now?”
“Is there somewhere we can sit and talk?” Cassidy asked, stepping next to the wife.
Mrs. Wilson nodded. “This isn’t good, is it?”
“No, ma’am.” Cassidy took her by the arm and steered her into a modern styled living room.
Once the parents were seated, Colin perched on the sofa next to them. “We’ll need a positive identification, but we believe we found Amber’s body in the woods. Her identification was close by.”
“Drugs?” Mr. Wilson asked, his words shaky.
“No, sir.” Colin kept his eyes fixed on the man’s, willing strength into him. “She was murdered. I’m so sorry. When was the last time you saw your daughter?”
“Last night. She said she was going to a party,” he said. His chin quivered.
“We hated those parties,” Mrs. Wilson sobbed. “Once she moved to California to pursue modeling, she got involved in all kinds of things no decent girl should be involved in. Now, she’s gone and there is no way she can change her path.” She covered her face with her hands.
“Could the things she was involved in have caused someone to kill her?” Colin laid a hand over Mr. Wilson’s.
“Here in Clear Springs? I don’t see how. The friends she left here are good kids, for the most part.”
“But your first statement upon hearing she was dead was to ask if drugs were involved.” Colin glanced at Cassidy.
“Some pot. That’s all we’ve ever found her to use here, but out there…in that…place, well, she spent some time in rehab for harder stuff.” The pain in the man’s eyes was almost Colin’s undoing.
He fished a business card from his pocket. “If you think of anything else, anything at all, don’t hesitate to call. We’ll be back tomorrow to look through her things. Maybe we’ll find a clue as to who wanted to harm her. Also, if you could get us a list of her friends here in town, that might help.”
Mrs. Wilson nodded. “We’ll head to the morgue right away. My poor baby.
Back outside, Cassidy faced Colin. “We should check her room now.”
“Let them grieve. We’ll be back in the morning.”
“What if something is disturbed?” She crossed her arms. “What if they know her murderer and hide evidence?”
“I can sense things about people.” He opened the car door for her. “They are nothing more than grieving parents. Let them be. Besides,” he grinned, “we have her cell phone. You can spend the next few hours going through her phone log. Come on. We have a killer to catch.”