Authors: Kendra Elliot
“Elliot once again proves to be a genius in the genre with her third heart-pounding novel in the Bone Secrets collection.”
—Romantic Times Book Reviews
“Here’s a whodunit that will leave you gripping the pages so tightly your knuckles will turn white.”
—Romantic Times Book Reviews
“Completely original, with a tremendous nail-biter of a plot, readers will be hooked from the very beginning.”
—Romantic Times Book Reviews
The characters and events portrayed in this work are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2013 Kendra Elliot
All rights reserved.
No part of this work may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by StoryFront, Seattle
Cover design by Inkd
Lacey Campbell gazed out at the Pacific Ocean from the
little deck of her hotel suite, took a sip of her early morning coffee, and
sighed in pleasure. It was going to be a gorgeous, warm day. Not a cloud in
sight at the crack of dawn. Almost unheard of at the Oregon Coast. Today, the
blue of the water rivaled Hawaii. She could almost forget that she’d been
inspecting the cracked mandible of a murder victim at the medical examiner’s
The hotel was perched on a cliff fifty feet above the
crashing waves, giving a spectacular coastline view. Did she want this site for
Jack’s sister, Melody, had booked them a weekend at the
luxury resort, hoping to convince them to hold their wedding at the venue next
summer. The location was remote, hard to reach, and extremely exclusive. It was
going to put a serious dent in someone’s wallet.
Two hundred guests were on the preliminary list, and Melody
was already chomping at the bit to lengthen the list. She felt that her brother
had an image to keep up in Portland—that as the owner of the city’s biggest
development corporation, Jack Harper should flaunt the “wedding of the year.”
The term made Lacey’s stomach churn. She was ready to run
away to Vegas. Or Reno.
She hated to disappoint her father, but she wasn’t a party
girl. She was an only child. Her mother had passed many years ago. Running away
with Jack to get married on a beach in Hawaii was sounding better every day.
Sun, surf, warm breezes, and declaring her love to her man before God.
No one else needed to be there.
A wedding should be personal. Not a big party for everyone
else. Maybe some girls wanted the big dress and big day with all eyes on them.
Not her. She only needed one person’s attention.
That person’s hands slipped around her waist, and he pressed
his chest against her back, enveloping her in a hug. She’d known the second
Jack had stepped onto the deck from their hotel suite. A peace had swept over
her from his presence. He’d rescued her from a burning hell last winter.
Literally. When Bobby DeCosta had decided that Lacey needed to pay for her role
in convicting his serial-killer brother, Jack had come face-to-face with a
murderer. And won.
They hadn’t been separated since that day except to go to
work. She worked at the medical examiner’s office as a forensic odontologist,
and Jack ran Harper Developing, a huge company with projects all over the
Jack’s scruffy cheek brushed her face, and she steadied her
cup of coffee.
“Good morning.” Jack’s voice was full of sleep.
She nestled against him. “Good morning. Can you believe this
“Outstanding. Makes me consider taking up cliff diving.”
“That icy ocean water would kill you.”
“Then how about a jump in the pool? Or some time in the hot
Lacey followed Jack’s gaze to the artistically landscaped
pool and hot tub. “I can’t believe someone is in the hot tub this early,” she
Her eyes narrowed at the sight of the woman in the hot tub.
“Jack?” Her voice cracked as Lacey stared at the body floating facedown in the
hot water, yards of white fabric swirling around her.
“I see her.” Jack was already running back through their
room. “You call 911. I’m getting down there.”
Jack had been too late, and Lacey could see on his face that
he was taking it hard. A former cop, he had a driving desire to save the world.
But this woman had been long past saving. Lacey and Jack stood back from the
scene at the hot tub, watching the two local policemen decide what to do with the
dead bride on the flagstones. The woman’s legs were partially covered by her
wedding dress, and a veil trailed from her hair back into the tub.
Seaport was a small town. Extremely small. The two cops
seemed stunned to have a body on their hands. Lacey eyed the bruising around
the dead woman’s neck; this was a possible homicide.
Where was the groom?
She and Jack had spent several minutes alone with the woman.
Jack had hauled the body out of the hot tub and was doing chest compressions by
the time Lacey arrived, her cell phone connected to 911. She’d known at once
that there was no hope, but Jack’s training and optimistic nature had pushed
him to try. After being assured the police were on their way, she’d run to the
front desk to alert the staff. At six in the morning, there was one clerk at
the desk, a girl whose name tag said “Jessica.” She’d called the manager at
home and started to follow Lacey to the scene, but halted when she saw the dead
body in a dress and veil.
“I’ll get something to cover her up with,” Jessica said,
backing up with her gaze locked on the white flesh.
“Get some sheets. We don’t want to cover her, but we can
block your guests’ views,” Lacey said, scanning the balconies of the rooms
surrounding the pool. No curious eyes met hers.
Jessica froze. She couldn’t be more than twenty years old.
“We can’t leave a body by the pool.”
Lacey pointed at the front-desk area. “Go get the sheets.”
Jessica shakily nodded, turned, and dashed away.
Lacey had pulled some chairs into position to block any
direct view from the hotel rooms. She knew enough about a crime scene to not
throw something over the victim before police had arrived. Yes, she would love
to give the woman some dignity, but once she’d seen the marks on her neck and
exchanged a knowing glance with Jack, she knew they had to preserve any
If they hadn’t destroyed it already.
The first cop to arrive, Mathews, had given Jack a bit of a
hard time for pulling the body out of the hot tub. Jack had flushed and
snapped, “If you’d been in that tub, would you want me to blow some air in your
lungs or worry about where I stepped?”
The cop had shut up.
Now, Lacey and Jack simply watched. Mathews and the second
cop, Garcia, seemed to struggle to get their thoughts in order. Jack had to
prompt them to secure the scene.
“Never seen a dead body before,” Lacey heard Mathews whisper
under his breath.
She wished she could say the same. As a forensic specialist
for the state of Oregon, she dealt with death on a daily basis. Her role
usually came late in an investigation, after the remains had been cleaned, and
she had simply bone and teeth to deal with, but there had been plenty of cases
where she’d had to look directly into the mouth of death in its original
setting. She was skilled at ignoring the smells of decay and keeping her focus
where she was comfortable: the teeth.
Sometimes she was the last hope for identification. Finding
a positive match in the dental records was the highlight of her job. Attaching
a name to a Jane Doe. Usually her cases were comparisons. Someone already had
an idea of who the body was, and the medical examiner could locate dental
records. But sometimes the cases were complete mysteries, turned over to her
and the forensic anthropologist to uncover clues to the identity.
She studied the body sprawled out on the flagstones. The
woman had long dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. Lacey couldn’t guess her
age. Water and death tend to distort a person’s features, and fortunately, the
woman’s veil covered the upper half of her face. Lacey was amazed that Jack had
even tried CPR.
“It’s my job,” he’d muttered after she’d pulled him away
from the body, begging him to stop.
It wasn’t his job. It hadn’t been in a long time. Jack had
walked away from the police force after being shot and watching the pregnant
woman he’d been trying to protect die before his eyes. Apparently you could
quit being a cop, but you couldn’t take the cop instincts out of the man.
Even though the body in the hot tub had been facedown in the
water when Lacey had spotted it from her balcony, the purpling of her skin on
her calves told Lacey the woman had been on her back for a period of time after
Had she died in the tub and then eventually rolled over?
That was a question for the medical examiner.
“Who are they going to send out here?” Jack whispered.
She knew Jack was asking which pathologist the medical examiner’s
office would send to process the scene. This town was a good three hours from
the main Portland office where she worked.
“I don’t know. Probably someone from the county office,
since it’s closer.”
“Her legs are really bruised,” Mathews commented to the
other cop. “Do you think she was hit by a car and then dumped in the hot tub?”
Garcia shrugged his shoulders.
Lacey tried not to choke.
A new male voice spoke up. “That’s lividity. Blood pools
where gravity pulls it once the heart can no longer circulate it. She was on
her back for some time after death.”
Jack spun around. “Terry?” He shook the big man’s hand and
slapped him on the shoulder. The newcomer was dressed in jeans, but had a badge
attached to his belt. He was the size of a linebacker.
“Jack Harper! How come dead bodies turn up whenever you’re
around?” asked Terry.
Lacey’s jaw dropped, stunned that someone could be so
insensitive to Jack’s past, but Jack laughed it off and turned to Lacey.
“Do you remember Terry Schoenfeld? He responded the morning
they found the skeleton of that Co-Ed Slayer victim on one of my properties,
and before that we were on the Lakeview force together. We go way back.”
Lacey faintly remembered the big cop from their only meeting
one day last winter. That was the same day she’d met Jack. She’d been on the
job. Called to a snowy recovery site to examine the dental work of the
Jack turned back to Terry. “What are you doing out here?” He
gestured to the badge and squinted at it. “You decided Lakeview wasn’t a small
enough police department, so you transferred to Seaport?”
“The wife grew up here and always wanted to move back. She
loves the ocean. When I saw they had a chief of police position open, I
applied,” Terry answered. “Money’s about the same, but the workload is a lot
lighter even with the increased responsibility.”
“You’re the chief?” Jack’s eyes lit up. “Congrats.”
“I have been for ten days. Thanks for bringing the first
murder in two decades to my town.” Terry moved his focus back to the body, and
his demeanor changed at the sad sight. “Ah, damn it,” he whispered.
“Lacey spotted her from our balcony,” Jack said, gesturing
toward their oceanfront suite. “I ran down and hauled her out. Tried
compressions, but she was long gone.” He swallowed hard. “She was floating on
her stomach when I found her.”
Terry nodded, his gaze still on the dead woman. He moved
closer and squatted next to the body. He pulled a pen out of his pocket, using
it to carefully move the wet veil covering the top half of her face.
“Holy shit!” exclaimed Mathews. “That’s Patty Marino.”