Authors: Lisa Childs
She’ll do anything to expose her sister’s killer—even reunite with an ex…
After six years hunting The Bride Butcher, FBI agent Jared Bell is as determined as ever to find the ruthless murderer. So when the killer strikes again, he’ll stop at nothing to bring closure to the case—and the first victim’s sister, Rebecca Drummond. Including staging an engagement to lure the madman into a trap…
It’s been years since their torrid rendezvous, but as Jared’s fake fiancée, Becca can no longer ignore their attraction. Or the secret she’s been keeping from him. For now, she needs to focus on bringing her sister’s killer to justice—and insist on using herself as bait to do it.
“I want to get you closure. I really want to find Lexi and her killer.”
“I told you—”
He pressed his fingers over her lips. Then his eyes—those eerie pale brown eyes—darkened as his pupils dilated. His fingers slid across her mouth…caressingly.
He jerked his hand away from her mouth. “I know who you think killed your sister. I know.”
And she waited for him to refute her belief as he always had. But he stayed silent again.
“You’re not telling me I’m wrong this time,” she said.
He emitted a weary-sounding sigh. “I’m not as cocky as I was six years ago.”
He was different. No less serious or determined or driven, but perhaps a little less confident. Lexi’s case had shaken his confidence.
And maybe it had him second-guessing himself.
Because now he uttered the question she’d been waiting for him to ask since she’d overheard his confrontation with the reporters.
“Is he my son, Becca?” he asked. “Is Alex mine?”
writes paranormal and contemporary romance for Harlequin. She lives on thirty acres in Michigan with her two daughters, a talkative Siamese and a long-haired Chihuahua who thinks she’s a rottweiler. Lisa loves hearing from readers, who can contact her through her website,
, or snail-mail address, PO Box 139, Marne, MI 49435.
Books by Lisa Childs
Special Agents at the Altar
The Agent’s Redemption
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for more titles.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Special Agent Jared Bell—
The FBI profiler has had only one serial killer elude him, but that killer has hurt more than Jared’s career—he’s threatening the woman Jared loves.
She lost her sister six years ago to the Bride Butcher serial killer and she’ll do anything to stop him from killing again—even put herself in danger.
Rebecca’s six-year-old son could be in danger, too.
The young bride disappeared six years ago from her last fitting for her wedding gown. Although her body was never found, she had lost too much blood to have survived.
The reporter has launched his career covering the Bride Butcher serial killer. But how does he know so much about the killer?
Lexi’s abusive fiancé is Rebecca’s number-one suspect in her sister’s murder, but he has an alibi Jared couldn’t break.
The young bride’s disappearance compels Jared to check himself out of the hospital against doctor’s orders. Maybe that concussion is why he goes to Rebecca for help finding the bride.
Amy Wilcox’s fiancé might not be too upset that she’s gone.
Lexi’s male best friend had always been in love with her, but she never returned his feelings. Maybe he didn’t want anyone else to have her if he couldn’t.
The Bride Butcher serial killer—
The killer can’t resist Rebecca as bait.
With great appreciation for my sisters,
Jackie Lewakowski, Phyllis Elsbrie & Helen Glover
Bulbs flashed, and Jared Bell flinched with each bright light as he ran the gauntlet of reporters with their microphones and cameras. “Special Agent Bell!” they called out to him as he walked past where they had lined up along the residential street. “Special Agent Bell!”
He ignored them or at least he tried to ignore them as he ducked under the crime scene tape across the end of a driveway.
“Have you found her body yet?” a reporter hurled the question at him. Even though Jared wasn’t looking at the guy, he recognized the artificially deep voice of Kyle Smith, and he wasn’t surprised Smith had showed up. This narcissist didn’t just report the news; he tried to make himself part of the story—at least of this story, this case. He was as relentless as he was insensitive.
Jared flinched at the question, hating how it would hurt whatever member of the missing girl’s family might have heard the question or would hear it on a later news broadcast.
They were anxiously awaiting news—any news—of their missing loved one. They didn’t need to hear it like this—on the news. They needed to hear it from him directly—as soon as he learned something.
“Have you ever found Lexi Drummond’s body?” another reporter yelled out the question. “It’s been five years.”
. Lexi had been the serial killer’s first victim. And no, her body had never been found. Her family still waited for closure. But he had nothing to offer them. No body. No suspect. No clues...
If his head hadn’t already been pounding from the concussion he’d sustained a few days ago, it would have started hurting then. Pain throbbed inside his skull where he could feel his heart beating—fast and frantically. As an FBI profiler, he had caught a lot of killers over the years—but not this one. Lexi Drummond’s killer had eluded him and killed again and again and again.
Now the killer had taken another girl. Another victim...
Jared would find her, though. She would not become another Lexi Drummond. Not in any way. He had gotten way too involved in Lexi’s case and way too involved with Lexi’s family. He’d failed them and himself.
For the first time in his career, his professionalism had slipped. But that had happened only that one time; he wouldn’t let it happen again.
Jared ignored the reporters and flashed his shield to the officer posted outside the duplex. Then he slipped through the open front door. The girl hadn’t been abducted from her home, but the police were searching it for any clues to who might have taken her.
Jared had to study all the aspects of the case in order to construct a profile of the killer. He studied the crime scenes, the evidence—if any—left behind, the manner in which the victim was killed, and he profiled the victim, too. He didn’t believe this killer randomly chose his victims. So getting to know them better would help lead Jared back to their killer.
But hopefully Amy Wilcox was only missing. Hopefully she wasn’t dead yet—like all the other victims. Even though Lexi Drummond’s body hadn’t been found, too much of her blood had been discovered at the crime scene for her to have survived whatever wounds she had suffered. Six years had passed, but he could still see all that blood. So much blood...
He blinked away the memory of that horrific crime scene and focused on his current surroundings. Amy Wilcox’s duplex was painted in fun colors—bright greens and yellows, like a highlighter that outlined the many picture frames hanging on the walls.
To get to know her better, Jared studied those pictures. There were photos of her water-skiing and rock climbing and running races. As athletic as she was, she wouldn’t have been easy to abduct—which explained the signs of a struggle at the primary crime scene: the ransacked and blood-spattered dressing room from which she’d been abducted.
She had almost gotten away from her assailant there. Maybe she would get away from him again. Jared moved on to the next picture and froze, his whole body tensing.
She wasn’t alone in this picture. She had her arm around another girl who was laughing into the camera with her. Unlike Amy who had dark hair and eyes, this woman was blond with sparkling blue eyes and a dimple in her right cheek when she smiled.
* * *
, Rebecca Drummond pushed hard on the off button of the remote. The TV screen flickered before going black but not before she saw
face again. Special Agent Jared Bell. With his reddish-brown hair and light brown eyes, he was still handsome—maybe even more handsome than he’d been six years ago because his features were more defined, more rugged. Dark circles rimmed his eyes and faint bruises darkened one side of his face.
The reporter’s words rang in her ears: “FBI profiler Jared Bell checked himself out of the hospital against doctor’s orders in order to take over the investigation into the disappearance of Amy Wilcox, which confirms speculation that she is the latest victim of the Bride Butcher serial killer.”
Horror gripped Rebecca, paralyzing her. She wanted to run, but she couldn’t move from the couch where she was sitting. She could only think of... Jared.
He had been in the hospital.
How badly had he been hurt that he had checked himself out
He was obviously still obsessed with the case. Obsessed with finding a killer that he already would have found had he listened to Rebecca.
But he had refused to listen to Rebecca about anything. Seeing him again should have brought back anger or pain or resentment. Instead, other feelings—so many other feelings—rushed over her, overwhelming her.
She grabbed a pillow from the couch and wrapped her arms around it, but she wanted to wrap them around herself—to hold herself together. The doorbell dinged, startling her into jumping and letting out a short cry of surprise.
The door shook as a fist pounded on it now. And a deep and familiar voice called out, “Are you all right?”
He’d heard her. She couldn’t hide now, like she wanted to hide. She’d promised him that he would never see her again. She hadn’t
on him because he was investigating her sister’s disappearance. Her face heated as even now, all these years later, the embarrassment rushed back.
She had been a fool to think herself in love with Jared Bell. And she would be an even bigger fool to open the door and let him back into her life.
The door rattled harder. “I’m coming in!”
He would break it down; she had no doubt that he would, just like he’d broken down the walls of her grief and pain and opened her heart to him.
She had rebuilt those walls since she’d seen him last. She wouldn’t let him back into her heart. But she had no choice about letting him into her life. She opened the door just as he was putting his shoulder to the wood, and he stumbled inside the living room.
He spared her a quick glance before visually searching the room for any threats. Even battered from whatever had sent him to the hospital, he was still in full protective FBI mode. He turned back to her and asked, “Are you all right?”
No. She hadn’t been all right with seeing him on her television—even though she had seen him on the news occasionally over the past six years. She certainly wasn’t all right with him being in her house.
She shuddered to think of it—of
meeting. But that wouldn’t happen. She would get rid of Jared quickly. She would make certain he was long gone before Alex came home.
She nodded and assured him, “I’m fine. The doorbell startled me because I wasn’t expecting anyone.” Not for an hour yet. “Especially not you.”
His handsome face moved with a slight wince at her jab. But she knew that she hadn’t really hurt him. He would have had to care for her to be able to hurt him.
“Why are you here, Jared?” she asked, and then reminded him, “You were the one who thought it best we didn’t see each other anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t handle anything very well concerning your sister’s case.”
“My sister’s case...” That was all Rebecca had been to him—just part of a case. She was the one who had foolishly thought they were more.
“Why are you here?” she asked again. “You didn’t come here to apologize.”
“I should have,” he said, as if just realizing it himself.
The man was a genius. A real one. He had graduated high school at thirteen, college with a doctorate in criminal psychology at nineteen and then had been recruited into the FBI. He had worked many cases—solving them all—before he’d come up against her sister’s killer. And lost...
Jared was a genius when it came to other people but he was completely oblivious when it came to himself.
She shrugged. “That was a long time ago.” She wanted him to think she had moved on, but it felt like yesterday that she had lost him—so soon after tragically losing Lexi.
“I’m sorry,” he said again, and the sincerity was there in the gruffness of his deep voice.
She didn’t doubt that he was sorry, but she didn’t care. She just wanted him gone.
“Why are you here?” she asked, impatience fraying her voice into sharpness. This was the tone that always—finally—got Alex’s attention.
“Have you seen the news?” he asked. “Do you know about...?”
She grimly nodded as concern tightly gripped her heart. “There’s another girl missing. She was abducted from the last fitting for her bridal gown.”
It could only be one killer. Her sister’s.
“I need your help,” he said.
But he hadn’t come to her when those other women had been abducted. He hadn’t needed her help then. Why was he asking for it now—when he hadn’t listened to her six years ago?
“I already told you who killed Lexi.”
He sighed—that long-suffering sigh that irritated her. Then he pulled a photo from a file he had clasped under his arm and held it out to her. “I need you to look at this.”
She grimaced and backed away from him. The last thing she wanted to see was another crime scene. She already had one that she could not get out of her mind. “No.”
“Don’t call me that,” she snapped at him. To Lexi, she’d been Becca. And to him...when she’d thought he actually cared about her.
But all Jared Bell cared about was his career—and how this one unsolved case could damage it.
“What should I call you?” he asked. “Ms. Drummond, or Mrs....?”
“Rebecca,” she said, refusing to reveal her marital status. It wouldn’t matter to him anyway since it had nothing to do with the case.
“Rebecca,” he repeated. “Please look at the picture.”
She closed her eyes, and that old crime scene flashed through her mind: the wedding dress soaked with blood spilling out of the trunk of Lexi’s car.
Her body hadn’t been in the trunk. But it didn’t matter. The coroner had confirmed she couldn’t have lost that much blood and lived.
Lexi was forever gone.
“I need your help,” he said again. “Please...”
She forced herself to open her eyes—to look. It wasn’t a crime scene. But it might have been worse to see Lexi like she was in that old photo—alive with happiness—because it reminded Rebecca of how much she’d lost.
Just like seeing Jared again reminded her of how much she’d lost...
Panic pressed on her lungs, stealing her breath. “You need to leave,” she said.
She planted her palm against his chest. Even through his suit and shirt, she could feel the warmth of his skin and the hardness of his muscles. But she pushed him toward the door. “I can’t help you—because you won’t listen to me.”
“Rebecca, I want to talk to you about Lexi—about how she knew this girl.”
She shook her head. She couldn’t look at the picture again—of her and the missing girl. “Ask Amy Wilcox’s family.”
His amber-colored eyes darkened with emotion. “I asked them.” And from his grim expression, it hadn’t gone well. “They had no idea that Amy had known Lexi.”
She shook her head. “I had no idea, either.”
“We need to compare their pasts,” he said, “and find out where their paths might have crossed.” Mercifully, he turned the photo over to the white back. But then he pointed to the date on it. “This was taken the month Lexi disappeared. That’s too great a coincidence. We need to figure out their connection.”
She shook her head again.
“Bec—Rebecca, I need your help,” he implored her.
Heat arced between them as he stared at her. She avoided his intense gaze, averting hers. Then she noticed the clock on the wall behind his head, and her panic returned with even more intensity. She had no time to answer his questions. “You need to leave now!”
Before Alex came home—because if Jared saw him he would have more questions.
More questions she couldn’t answer...