Authors: Rachel Trautmiller
OTHER TITLES by RACHEL TRAUTMILLER
Copyright © 2016 Rachel Trautmiller
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or any other—except for brief quotations in printed reviews and articles without prior written consent of the author.
Individual Novella Cover Design by Rachel Trautmiller
Published by RT-Miller Press
Edited by Cheri Hagnauer
Photo © 2014 by Mere May Studios
Previously published in
SMOKE AND MIRRORS: A ROMANTIC SUSPENSE COLLECTION 2016
This book is a work of fiction. When real establishments, organizations, events or locales appear, they are used fictitiously. All other elements and all characters in this novel are drawn from the author’s imagination.
In the eyes of some, it is an obsession.
To you, Dad.
Thank you for showing me what following a dream looks like.
A sudden surge in crime has left two homeless women dead and Detective Amanda Nettles' Alzheimer's-riddled mother as the prime suspect. Between raising a teenager determined to thwart every protective effort made, and a city hell-bent on shunning her new family based on preconceived ideas about the past—and fear about what the future might hold—she'll have to decide if her obsession with protecting Charlotte is bigger than the needs of her family. Or if they are one and the same.
And if breaking the rules means the end of everything, as she knows it.
Baker Jackson Robinson knows all about protecting the seemingly innocent. Except this time he's able to see the big picture a little clearer and the facts aren't adding up. With his wife playing a dangerous game of hide-and-seek with a remorseless serial killer, he doesn't intend to let her fight alone.
No matter what anyone else says.
**This book is part of a
Reading the books in order will heighten your enjoyment of the characters within each story.**
Paige’s Journal Entry
DURING MY TIME away, I often thought of home. What my mom—the woman I have called Mom since birth anyway—might be doing. If she and my dad missed me. Did they go into my room, pick up the sweater I’d left on the floor the day before I disappeared and press it to their faces? For just a minute more of hope. A lingering bit of my scent, prolonging the daydream they’d had of the three of us as a family.
Did they think about everything our lives should have encompassed, at the moment of their deaths? Did they die without hope?
I’ll never have answers, never utter those questions, not even to a woman who seems like she might understand. A girl only gets the perfect family once. No amount of
talking it out
can erase the truth. I was taken captive—stolen from my adoptive parents’ home—and lived, when so many others didn’t. I see their faces every day. I’m not naive enough to think that will ever change.
Amanda—a biological aunt I’d never met until the day she rescued me—believes one day she’ll be able to make everything right. It is evident in everything. Like the way she fusses over me, but is afraid to get too close, as if I might break at the slightest touch.
As if giving me a home after my ordeal and shoving me in counseling will restore the girl I once was.
It doesn’t change the blood rushing through my veins connecting me to family—some of them dead for heinous crimes, and others just dead because of their way of life.
And if Amanda and Robbie knew I’d even glimpsed the woman who is my biological grandmother, they’d freak out.
I can’t help wondering when they’ll get it.
Damaged is damaged.
RULE NUMBER ONE: Stick to the truth.
When doing that isn’t possible—omit. Defer. Detour. Circumvent.
And then get out. Don’t linger. Never, ever look back.
Even when she followed the ingrained-from-birth rules, the sick carousel never stopped. It ebbed, for small periods of time, allowing reprieve that usually left her with exhaustion heavier than an eight-ton boat anchor. Left her wondering where the next attack would come from, and when.
Alleviation wasn’t on the horizon today, with relief so quick it seemed more fiction than reality. Instead, a climbing swirl attacked the lining of Detective Charleen Davis’ stomach.
If she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, concentrated on anything but the suffocating June heat kicking up the stench of rotting garbage, unwashed flesh, urine and the metallic odor clinging to the prone body lying in front of her, she might be okay.
A layer of sweat popped up across her brow. A spot trailed down her back in a chill that left her insides a quivering mess. It aided the humidity in dampening her blazer and slacks. She must look like she’d come to this crime scene straight from the gym, without changing clothes.
If she blocked all of that, she might make it. Might keep her breakfast where it belonged and not have to wash her shoes this week. Or have Amanda asking if she was sick or pregnant. On drugs, hungover or…
None of those things.
There was no explaining it. No truth to give. Nor a quick exit. She’d accepted that. It didn’t stop people from prying, giving her funny looks, or avoiding her as if she were invisible.
“I asked for Detective Nettles.” The male voice grated up Charleen’s nerves and had been doing that for the last ten minutes. Ever since she’d been called on-site and discovered Rupert Dillon was somehow involved.
The guy had the worst timing ever, which illuminated how far out of her element she was. She hadn’t expected to see him. Hadn’t prepared for his nuances or anything else. Just walked in as if today was a normal day and she was a normal girl.
Aren’t you just the idiot of the bunch?
“I’d prefer it if you called her.” The edge of panic slipped into his voice as if he were faced with a toddler doing this job instead of…
An experienced detective.
It didn’t matter that her
was subjective at best.
Charleen opened her eyes. She tried blocking out the young woman lying on the asphalt, curled on her right side, behind Gamegon’s imposing structure in downtown Charlotte. A lopsided pool of red soaked the clothing stretched over a swollen abdomen. It spread around the left side of her body and to the unforgiving surface, covering a fetus that never had a chance. Tattered, dirty clothing hung from an otherwise skinny frame.
The clear waves of heat rising from the ground halted at the cold stillness emanating from this woman. The steady silence in an activity-filled area teeming with cops, medical personnel and other detectives amped up the buzz inside Charleen’s veins. It was impossible to think, let alone breathe.
Every body was cold—even when they weren’t. Lifeless. Gone. Untold stories locked behind blue lips and sightless eyes.
Her stomach surged upward. She didn’t move, and instead swallowed back the salty mixture in her mouth.
Get it together.
Amanda probably wouldn’t want to run for the nearest bathroom. Wouldn’t need to pray to God she made it, knowing that wouldn’t happen. No, she’d assess the scene with calm. See the big picture in seconds. Have the Crime Scene Unit whizzing around in anticipation of finding that piece of evidence she knew was tucked just out of sight.
And if that wasn’t the case, she’d do
to find their guy—or girl.
Case closed. Even if it meant risk with too low a payout.
Charleen pressed the back of her forearm to her mouth. She was stuck with freakin’ Rupert Dillon and a CSU with which she had no rapport. And a body that barely functioned most days.
“Are you going to call Amanda or should I?” His deep voice shot sharp aggravation through her system.
She resisted sending a glare in his direction. “She’s busy.”
The senior detective should have taken more than two weeks off following their last case. Discussing the logic of it with Amanda was the equivalent of having a conversation with a brick wall.
She wouldn’t change her mind. She was back at work with a full caseload, trying to act like the world hadn’t changed.
It had. It always did.
The man standing in front of her produced a phone from his suit pocket. “Then I’ll call my brother.”
The word screamed through her body and hovered on top of all the other emotions charging throughout. Dealing with Jordan
Rupert would be a complete nightmare. Her personal life was enough of one, she didn’t need the professional side following suit.
She stood and removed the gloves from her hands, then swiped the phone from his grasp and closed it with a resounding click.
“What the…?” A dark head whipped toward her. Brown eyes focused on her face, then bounced to the device in her hand, assessing her as if she might do something crazy.