The town of Grizzly Falls, Montana, is still on edge in the wake of a serial killer’s capture. Thanks to Detectives Selena Alvarez and Regan Pescoli, the nightmare is over. But a new one is about to unfold. There are two victims so far—their bodies found frozen solid and deliberately displayed. Both are women Selena knew. And each wears a piece of her jewelry.
Selena, Regan, and the entire department are on the case, as is P.I. Dylan O'Keefe—a man Selena got too close to once before. But this killer already knows too much about Selena's secret terror, her flaws, and the past she's tried to outrun. And soon he'll show her that she has every reason to be afraid.
Selena's partner, Detective Regan Pescoli, and the entire department are on the case, as is P.I. Dylan O'Keefe--a man Selena got too close to once before. But this killer already knows too much about Selena's secret terror, her flaws, and the past she's tried to outrun. And soon he'll show her that she has every reason to be afraid. . .
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Afraid To Die
By Lisa Jackson
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2012 Lisa Jackson LLC
All rights reserved.
Her skin was tinged with blue.
Her flesh becoming stiff — which was perfect.
Her eyes, through the ice, stared upward, yet they saw nothing and, unfortunately, she couldn't appreciate how much love, affection and thought was going into this work.
No longer did her shallow breath cause the ice to melt near her nose, and her mouth, thankfully, had closed, her lips perfectly fused together, a darker blue ... like Sleeping Beauty, he thought as he carefully poured another layer of water over her.
Ice crystals formed over her naked body, glazing the youthful flesh, sparkling in the dim lights of his cavern.
Humming along to Christmas music playing from his battery-operated docking station in this, his private chamber, he sculpted. Carefully. With precise attention to detail. Perfection; that was what he was striving for. And he would get it.
He kept his sculpting room at thirty degrees, just below freezing, and his breath fogged as he worked in his underground studio. Though a snowstorm was raging through this section of the Bitterroot Mountains, down here, deep in the caves, the air was calm; not a breath of the wind could be heard.
Wearing a neoprene suit, gloves, boots and ski mask, he silently wished he could strip bare, feel the bite of cold air against his flesh, feel more alive, but that would have to wait. He couldn't be rash, couldn't allow any bit of his skin or hair or even sweat to mar his work.
Besides, there was always that sticky problem of DNA once the police became involved. That would be soon, he knew, because this piece of art was nearly finished. A little more whittling here, a bit of shaving there.
"Oh, the weather outside is frightful," he sang along under his breath as the music reverberated through these linked caves that he'd claimed for his work. Hidden deep in these foothills, the caverns provided a perfect spot. A natural spring provided the water he needed, and battery-powered lights gave off a bluish glow. When he needed brighter light, he donned headlamps to illuminate the areas where he needed to work.
From deeper within his workspace he heard a pathetic mewl and he frowned. Why wouldn't that woman just die, already? He'd given her enough sedatives to knock out an elephant and yet she lay on the precipice between consciousness and death, lingering. And moaning. He frowned, hit his chisel with his hammer and the blade slipped, slicing through his glove and nicking his finger. "Damn!" Blood, his damned blood fell in a singular drop along the ice. Quickly it froze and he, rather than smear it, let it dry, all the time irritated at the delay. Once it was solid, he cut around the rivulet, giving wide berth and making certain that no hint of red disturbed his perfect piece of art.
He was sweating by the time he was finished excavating the blood. Carefully, telling himself to be patient, he began pouring clear water from the spring over that flaw in his masterpiece. Allowing the water to freeze, he waited impatiently before pouring a little more, until there was no hint of a fissure, no blemish visible.
"Perfect," he whispered, satisfied.
He stared down at his artwork, the naked woman encased in ice, and he couldn't help but lean forward, bending close enough to lick one ice-encased nipple. His tongue tingled, the interior of his mouth so cold that a ripple of pure, icy pleasure worked its way through his bloodstream, starting out frigid, but, as his mind created scenarios where his body was rubbing up against her arctic flesh, he felt the tiniest niggle of excitement, the start of arousal.
He rolled his tongue over the ice, imagining the salty taste of her, the bud of her nipple hard in his mouth. He'd sink his teeth in, just a little, to mingle pleasure with pain. He let out a quiet moan as his fantasy emerged.
In his mind's eye, he saw another beautiful woman, her hair falling freely behind her as she ran, laughing, her voice echoing through the wintry forest. Snow had drifted against the scaly trunks of the pines, ice collecting on the long needles.
He raced through thick powder, chasing after her, watching in arousal as she tossed off her clothing, piece by piece, dropping a blouse, a skirt, a scarf into nearby snowdrifts. Finally her bra was discarded and she, in only panties, continued to run.
He was closing the distance and taking off his own clothes, kicking off his boots, but his cold fingers fumbled with the buttons of his shirt, and his jeans, they were difficult to pull off and toss aside, so he couldn't catch her, had to race to catch up.
He thought of what he would do to her, how he would thrust into her, make her cold body turn molten and heat the snow that fell until it melted over her skin.
But in his hand was his knife. The one with the handle made from the antler of a four-point he'd killed three years earlier. He remembered felling the buck, with just an arrow ...
He was closer now ... his heart pounding, his fingers clenched over the hilt of the knife.
Only inches from her, a half step behind when she turned, her lips turning blue, her eyes bright, her cheeks crimson with the frosty winter air. A playful smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. So perfect. Like an angel's.
Then she saw the knife.
Her soft grin fell away. Shock, then horror registered on her beautiful features and she stumbled, nearly falling, throwing up more white powder as panic set in and she ran faster, not playfully, but spurred on by terror.
His nostrils flared. He sprang forward, giving chase.
Within a few strides he caught her, his free hand tangling in her mass of long hair and then ...
All he could remember was the slash of warm blood spraying scarlet over an icy white snowdrift ...
No! He snapped back to the here and now. He couldn't let his mind stray from his work.
The ice was melting in his mouth. His erection was full and bulging, straining against the hot neoprene. Straightening, he felt a moment's disgust for his weakness and forced his ever-willing cock to stand down.
What had gotten into him?
He gazed down at the naked woman and noticed the place where his mouth had melted the ice and left too much of his DNA. Not smart, not smart at all. Certainly not something a person with a near-genius IQ would do.
Quickly, as if in working swiftly he could erase the damage he'd done, he started chiseling out that spot where his mouth and saliva had touched and melted the ice.
The bitch in the back room let out another moan and his jaw tightened. She'd die soon enough and her perfect body would show no bruise or cut or anything that would hint at violence. Then, she, too, would be encased in ice, a perfect specimen, another work of art.
Glancing at his watch, he noted he still had enough time to finish for the day. His wife wasn't expecting him for another hour. Plenty of time.
Carefully, he pumped more water from the stream and poured it over his work in progress. She wasn't quite ready, he thought as he gazed into her wide-open eyes.
But it wouldn't be long.
Thankfully, the moans from the other cave had stilled and he could concentrate again, sluicing water over her while under his breath he muttered, "Let it snow, let it snow ..."
"... let it —" Click!
Selena Alvarez slapped the snooze button on the clock radio, then, thinking twice, turned the alarm off and rolled out of bed. God, she hated that song. Then again she wasn't too big on anything to do with the Christmas season.
She had her reasons.
Not that she wanted to think about them now.
Though it was dark as midnight, the digital readout glowed a bright red, telling her that it was four thirty in the morning, her usual time to get up and get going. For most of the year, she tackled each day as if it were a challenge, but as autumn faded and the days of November bled into the heart of December, she felt that same old ennui that accompanied the holiday season, a definite energy sap that darkened her mood. Her usual take-the-world-head-on attitude hibernated for the winter and she had to work doubly hard to find her usual enthusiasm for life.
"Idiot," she muttered under her breath as she stretched her muscles.
She knew the cause of her change in attitude, of course, but she never discussed it, not even with her partner. Especially not her partner. Pescoli just wouldn't understand.
And Alvarez definitely wasn't going to think about it now.
Her new puppy, a mottled mix of some kind of shepherd and either a boxer or lab, roused in his crate, stretching and barking to be released while her cat, Jane Doe, who always slept on the second pillow of the bed, lifted her head and blinked.
Seeing that Alvarez was awake, the puppy made I-need-to-go-out whines that turned into excited yips. All the enthusiasm she was lacking seemed to manifest itself in the half-grown dog.
"Hey, you know better," Alvarez admonished the pup before letting him out of his kennel. Immediately he began leaping and barking at her despite her best efforts of controlling him. "No, Roscoe! Off! Down!" He streaked into the living room of her town house, running in circles around the ottoman and coffee table before wiggling with excitement at the patio door.
Alvarez glanced at the cat, who'd climbed onto a shelf over the desk and took in the scene with feline disdain. "Yeah, I know. Don't rub it in." Seconds later, she let the dog outside, where he disappeared into the darkened corners of her small yard to, no doubt, lift his leg on every tree, bush and post he could find. It was still snowing, she noted as she closed the slider against a gust of winter air so cold it cut through her flannel pajamas. Through the glass, she saw that the pots she'd left on her patio were covered with five inches of icy white fluff, the lawn, before Roscoe tore into it, blanketed in a peaceful coat of white.
Yet she found no peace or serenity with the snow.
Adopting Roscoe had been a rash decision, especially on the heels of buying this town house, but now it was a done deal and the stupid dog had burrowed a special little spot into her heart.
Despite his faults.
"Pathetic," she told herself.
Bounding back to the slab of concrete that was her patio, he started clawing at the glass of the sliding door. She cracked it open and he tried to race inside, but she caught him by the collar. "Not on your life, guy." Using the hand towel she hung on the door handle for just this purpose, she wiped each of his huge paws before allowing him inside again.
Rarely did she go to the gym now; instead, she ran with the dog, wearing him out before she showered, dressed for the day and left him in the laundry area. It wasn't an ideal setup, but as soon as she was convinced he was completely housebroken, she figured she'd install a doggy door and then could forgo hiring the neighbor woman to walk him at noon. She seldom stayed late at the station any longer, opting to bring her work home with her.
Which was probably a good thing.
But reminded her only that she was alone.
Not that she hadn't dabbled in dating in the past year. A few had been interested in her, but she hadn't returned the favor. She'd dated Kevin Miller, a pharmaceutical salesman who was a gym rat in his spare time and was always talking about his job. He'd bored her to tears. Terry Longstrom was a psychologist who worked with juveniles who'd been arrested, and he'd taken her on a couple of dates, but for all of his good points, she just didn't find him attractive, and as shallow as that sounded, she couldn't pretend to be interested in him. The worst of the lot though was Grover Pankretz, who had once worked in the local DNA lab before his job was eliminated when the company had downsized. A brilliant man but a little too possessive from the get-go. He'd wanted to get serious by the second date. So she'd ended that before it really began. Fortunately all of the men interested in her had moved on, either away from the area or onto new relationships. Terry and Grover, she'd heard, had married.
The truth was simple: She just wasn't ready to date seriously ... as evidenced by her ridiculous fantasy for an older, unavailable man like Dan Grayson, who just happened to be her boss. Typical.
"Face it," she told herself, "you really don't want a man in your life."
She finished with her morning routine and drove to the sheriff's office on Boxer Bluff. Traffic was snarled in the usual places and backed up where a single car had slid sideways just before the railroad tracks. All the while the snow kept falling and her wipers worked double-time to slap the flakes away.
God, she hated this time of year.
It seemed that here, in Grizzly Falls, the Christmas season brought its own share of disaster with it. Despite the holiday wreaths on the doors, the trees decorated and glowing festively in the windows, and the twenty-four-seven deluge of Christmas carols from the local radio stations, trouble lurked in the shadows of all the radiant joy. Not only did domestic violence cases escalate during the holiday season, but, in the past few years, some homicidal maniacs had terrorized the locals.
Not exactly a season of peace and joy.
The road was slick in spots, but her ten-year-old Subaru gripped the road and churned up the frozen, icy streets without any trouble. The Outback was another change in her life, though of course she knew that all the new cars and town houses wouldn't fill the hole inside her. The pets were a step in the right direction, she thought as she pulled into the parking lot of the station. She'd inherited the cat on a case last year, as its owner had been the victim of a vicious murder and she'd felt a connection to the animal, but the puppy had been an intentional, if irrational decision.
What had she been thinking?
Obviously not about pee on the carpet, chewed furniture or vet bills; nope, she'd seen something warm and cuddly, with bright eyes, a wet nose and a tail that wouldn't stop wagging when she'd visited the shelter.
"Stupid," she told herself as she drove toward the station, but she couldn't help but smile. She'd thought Roscoe would be some kind of protection, keep burglars at bay.
Yeah? Then why did you feel as if someone had been in your house last week, huh? Remember that premonition that something you couldn't describe had been changed at the town house? Where was Roscoe the guard dog then?
Of course, it had probably been nothing, just her case of nerves after interviewing Neil Freeman, yet another sicko who had let his eyes run all over her while she questioned him about his dead mother. Turned out the mother died of natural causes ... but his demeanor, his salacious turning of every answer into something sexual and the way he touched the tip of his tongue to his lips as he stared at her had really gotten to her. Which was probably just his intention. Twisted creep!
She told herself again that Freeman had not been in her house and that Roscoe would have let her know it if he had.
And how would he do that? Face it, Alvarez, you're becoming one of those kinds of pet owners. Inwardly, she cringed.
Damn it, she loved that dog and maybe, just maybe, Roscoe was just what she needed. She knew only that no matter what, she wasn't going to give him up.
Wheeling into the parking lot, she turned her thoughts to the weeks ahead. There was the Christmas party for the office, of course, and Joelle Fisher, the receptionist cum Christmas elf, had already decorated the department and started talking about the Secret Santa exchange that she always organized. Alvarez wasn't interested; she just knew that she'd pile on a lot of extra hours over the holidays. That was her Christmas tradition; let the people with families stay home.
It was just easier.
She locked the car, then half jogged through the falling snow to the back door of the building. Stomping the melting white fluff from her boots, she paused in the lunchroom, frowned when she saw the coffee hadn't been made and reluctantly started a pot. Then found her favorite cup, heated water in the microwave and located the last bag of orange pekoe.
A pink box lay open on the table, a few picked-over cookies visible, but she ignored them for now. At this time of year, with Joelle in charge, there were certain to be fresh goodies arriving on the hour.
Unwrapping her scarf, she made her way to her desk, deposited her purse and sidearm, hung her jacket on a hook and started through her e-mail and messages, making sure all the reports were filed on one case, getting ready for a deposition on another and seeing if the autopsy report had come in on Len Bradshaw, a local farmer who died in a hunting accident. His friend, Martin Zwolski, had been with him, and while going through a barbed-wired fence, his weapon had gone off, shooting Len in the back and killing him dead.
Excerpted from Afraid To Die by Lisa Jackson. Copyright © 2012 Lisa Jackson LLC. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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