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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Chapter 3 of "Blood Vice" & #99cent Launch Sale! #TuesdayBookBlog

Blood Vice is releasing in 1 week!!! As promised, here's another preview, of chapter 3 this time. If you missed the first two sneak peeks, you can find Chapter 1 HERE, and Chapter 2 HERE.


Order your copy by July 2nd to take advantage of the special 99¢ launch sale!

Kindle | Apple | B&N | Kobo



 
Detective Jenna Skye bombs her first week on the St. Louis Vice Squad when she's bitten by a vampire in a supernatural brothel. Her day only gets worse from there. She wakes up in the morgue and discovers that her partner is dead. Before the sun rises, she realizes she is too.

Jenna vows to continue their investigation until justice is served, but a werewolf squatter, an unexpected visit from her estranged sister, and a nosy FBI agent stand in her way. Not to mention her fresh aversion to sunlight and a thirst for something a little stiffer than revenge.


"Blood and Thunder"
(Blood Vice Book 2)
Coming August 22nd, 2017 


Being a vampire isn’t easy. Jenna Skye thought she could pull it off without giving up her old life, but the compromises are taking a toll. Jenna’s sister Laura is eager to return to her glamorous life in Hollywood, and Mandy, Jenna’s werewolf partner, is getting sick of playing her K9 sidekick to get around the police department’s red tape.

Jenna’s never been good with change, but with her human existence slipping further and further out of her reach, she has no choice but to accept FBI agent Roman Knight’s offer to join the supernatural police force ruled by House Lilith. Her first assignment? Help hunt down a serial killer targeting new vampires in St. Louis…like her.

Pre-order at your favorite retailer today!

Kindle | Apple | B&N | Kobo



Blood Vice (Blood Vice Book 1) 

Chapter 3



I stood frozen for a long moment, staring at the bloody keys on my kitchen counter. They had been in my pocket last night. I remembered stuffing them in there with a handful of mints I’d swiped from Will’s desk before we left the precinct. They should have been in evidence with everything else that had been on me when my body was found. What the hell were they doing here?
The sandwich and chips were alarming, too. My memory was a bit scrambled, but I wasn’t one to leave food lying around for the bugs to snack on. Someone had been here. Someone was still here, I realized as my ears pricked at the sound of creaking floorboards behind me.
I ducked just in time. A baseball bat whooshed over my head. As I spun around to get a visual of my attacker, a foot landed in the center of my chest, sending me backward over the counter. The chips and sandwich went flying. My hand slapped out to brace my fall, and I managed to snag my bundle of keys before flipping ass over elbows and landing in a mangled heap on the floor.
I hurled the keys over the counter, trying to buy myself time as I scrambled to my feet and into the pantry where I kept a spare .380 hidden in a breadbox on the top shelf. When I spun around and took aim at the intruder, my breath caught in my throat.
The girl was a hundred pounds tops, all razor-sharp bones under flushed skin. Her tangle of brown hair was wet and dripping onto the collar of one of my mother’s terrycloth bathrobes. The bat shook in her hands, and her eyes darted back and forth between the gun and my face.
Shit, shit, shit,” she chanted.
I lowered the gun an inch but kept it trained on her. “What are you doing in my house?”
“You were dead.” She gave me a twitchy, nervous shrug. “I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“So you stole my keys and decided to help yourself to my amenities?” I was beside myself. What kind of person took keys off a presumably dead body? Wait— “You were at the warehouse.” I lifted my gun again as a knot tightened in my chest.
The girl shifted her weight from foot to foot as if preparing to bolt. “Hey, I tried to help. I was just…too late. Or so I thought,” she added under her breath. Her gaze slid down to my neck.
“What happened down there? What did you see?” I squeezed the grip of my gun tighter to keep my hands from trembling.
“Nothing! Okay?” She blew out a disgruntled sigh and tilted the bat back to rest over one shoulder. “Your secret’s safe with me.”
“Secret?” Nausea stirred in my stomach. Maybe I didn’t want to know what had happened in the basement. What if I’d done something even worse than watch my partner die?
I swallowed and panted my next few breaths while my vision clouded over, washing the room and the strange girl in shades of red. That was new. Something was definitely wrong with me. Vin was right. I needed to schedule an appointment with my doctor.
The girl squinted at me. “Oh, man. You don’t know. Do you?” She took a tentative step toward me, her hands wringing the neck of the bat.
“Get back!” I shook the gun at her, determined to hold my ground. “I’m… I’m—” Placing you under arrest for breaking and entering. The words were there, but my train of thought had barreled ahead before I could get them out.
If I turned her in, I wouldn’t be the one interrogating her about what had happened at the warehouse. I wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the investigation—not now that my partner was dead and I’d spent the day in the morgue. I’d be required to take a few weeks of leave and go through a dozen therapy sessions before Mathis even considered giving me another case.
Someone else had probably already taken over the investigation. They’d be interviewing me soon, and I didn’t have half a clue what to tell them. I needed to find out more first, and this girl was the only lead I had. But calling her sudden appearance luck was premature, especially considering she’d made herself a little too at home for my liking.
 “What were you doing in that basement?” I asked, trying to keep the panic out of my tone.
The girl sucked on her bottom lip and lowered the bat to the kitchen counter before sliding onto one of the barstools. “Probably the same thing you were.”
“And what is it you think I was doing?”
“Looking for those missing girls.” Her eyes met mine for a brief second, and then she looked down at her hands. “I promised I’d come back and bust them out.”
I recognized her now, from a photograph in the file. It had been dated, taken when she was in foster care. Maybe eighth grade. “Amanda?”
“Mandy,” she said, giving me an offended sneer. “Mandy Starsgard.”
“Are you homeless?” I asked, deciding I could forgive her for breaking in if that were the case.
She glanced around the kitchen and cocked an eyebrow. “Not at the moment.”
“Well, Mandy,” I said, finally lowering my gun to my side. “I’m going to need you to tell me everything you know. Who runs this prostitution ring? Where are their headquarters and other locations of operation? Do you think you could identify them and their affiliates from a suspect lineup?”
Mandy let out a hiccup of a laugh and grinned at me. “You don’t give up, do you? Not even death stands in this one’s way.”
“I had an aneurysm,” I said, blushing at the absurdity of Vin’s theory. “Or something like that. It’s nothing, and I’m sure my doctor will agree tomorrow.”
“I wouldn’t be too quick to check in with your doc.” The amusement faded from Mandy’s expression. “The humans can be problematic and draw a lot of unwanted attention from the higher-ups.”
And just like that, my hope evaporated. I stared at her, wondering if maybe I should call a psychiatric ward rather than the police. Taking her statement about the warehouse incident seemed a bit futile at this point, but even mentally ill people provided useful tips from time to time.
“Yes, the humans. Such a pain,” I said, unable to keep the sardonic tone out of my voice.
Mandy picked a stray potato chip off the counter, one of the few that had survived our introduction, and popped it into her mouth. “You think I’m crazy. That’s okay. You’ll figure it out soon enough.”
I sighed and tucked the .380 into the waistband of my pants. “You can stay here tonight, but tomorrow, I’m taking you to the station so you can give your statement, and then to the woman’s shelter.”
“I don’t need a shelter,” Mandy snapped. “I need to find the Scarlett Inn and bust my friends out before it’s too late. Girls don’t last long in that place, not even the ones they turn.”
“The Scarlett Inn? That’s what they call it?” I wanted to be excited by the new detail, but my faith in Mandy as a reliable source had been crippled. I couldn’t take her seriously now. My focus shifted to the unquenched thirst that had plagued me since waking in the morgue.
I yanked open the refrigerator door and grabbed a bottle of orange Gatorade. Mandy gave me a horrified look as I twisted the lid off.
“This isn’t going to end well,” she said as I turned the bottle up and chugged.
The liquid burned on my tongue and gums, almost as if it were carbonated. Or half-cut with battery acid. The sensation only worsened as the drink ventured down my throat and sloshed into my empty stomach. It gurgled once, twice, and then I was suddenly a stunt double for the Exorcist. The Gatorade spewed across the room in a wide arc, creating a vomit rainbow over the countertop before sloshing against the back of one of the chairs at the kitchen table.
Mandy had retreated from my trajectory in the nick of time and pressed herself against the back wall next to the sliding glass door. “Told you so.”
I gave her a dirty look. “How could you have possibly known that would happen?” I wiped my chin off with the back of my hand and then coughed up a clot of blood across my knuckles. That wasn’t a good sign.
“You need blood,” Mandy said, creeping back to her abandoned barstool.
“I hardly see how a transfusion is going to help.”
“To drink.” She raised both eyebrows and gave me a pointed look. “And don’t even think about asking me. I would scrub toilets in a truck stop before opening a vein for a bloodsucker.”
“Bloodsucker?” I swallowed and winced at the searing pain in my throat. And I’d thought I was thirsty before. “Maybe I should stick to water.” I opened a cabinet and pulled down a glass.
“Water won’t be any better. Maybe hold your head over the sink this time?” Mandy suggested.
I ignored her warning and filled my glass at the tap. I meant to take a small sip, but I was so thirsty. Before I could stop myself, I’d downed half the glass, greedily gulping until cool water spilled over my chin. It soothed my tongue and throat. For a few seconds anyway. And then I was choking and gagging up water over the sink like I’d just survived the Titanic.
“What. The. Hell?” I glared accusingly at Mandy.
“I tried to tell you.” She sighed and rested her chin in the palm of one hand. “You’re dead, Miss Detective Lady. But don’t take my word for it. Have you checked your pulse yet?”
“What?” I shouted at her. I wanted to roll my eyes, but my fingers were already pressed to the side of my neck, searching. It felt like a million years, but I did finally feel a gentle pulse against my fingertips. “Ha! I have a heartbeat. What now, crazy pants?”
She snorted and rapped her knuckles along the counter’s edge. “How many beats would you say per minute?”
My fingers went back to my neck, and after a few seconds of waiting, my patience evaporated. “I’m not a damn doctor. I’ll schedule a physical tomorrow, and everything will be fine.”
“If you do that, House Lilith will sic their agents on you,” Mandy said, a serious note creeping into her voice. “I won’t help you if they get involved. They kill mutts like me for sport.”
“Nothing you say makes any sense!” I screamed at her. I was starting to lose my cool. Not being able to keep anything down and choking up blood probably hadn’t helped. I seized the dishtowel hanging off the oven door and wiped my hands and face off while I waited for my temper to dissipate. “You probably have some contagious disease that you’ve passed on to me—”
“I’m healthy as a horse.” Mandy gave me a smug grin. “My digestive tract and heart work fine, but then again, I’m not the walking, talking, bitching undead.”
“I’ve had about enough of this. I’m calling the police.” I snatched the phone off the wall cradle beside Mandy, but before I could punch in any numbers, she ripped the entire base free with one hand, leaving a gaping hole in the drywall. The plastic cracked and groaned in her grasp, and the inner workings wheezed out a dying ring.
“You want my help finding those girls, and I want yours,” she hissed. “So quit being stupid and get your shit together. We have work to do, and I don’t have time to coddle a baby bloodsucker through the change.”
I ground my teeth and stared at her until my vision turned red again. My hand went to the .380 in my waistband, but I didn’t get a chance to draw it. The doorbell made us both jump, and the heavy pounding that followed sent my lagging heart into overdrive.
“Skye, open this damn door before I kick it in,” Captain Mathis shouted from my front porch.
I was going to strangle Vin.
 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Chapter 2 of "Blood Vice" #SneakPeek #TuesdayBookBlog

The release of Blood Vice is 3 weeks out!!! I'm really pretty tickled with this new series and can't wait to share it with everyone. ♥  If you missed the first chapter I posted a couple of weeks ago, you can find it HERE. Chapter 2 is below, and I'll be sharing chapter 3 shortly before the release. Also, Blood and Thunder (Blood Vice Book 2) is now up for pre-order. I'm so in love with these pretty covers that Rebecca Frank made!




Detective Jenna Skye bombs her first week on the St. Louis Vice Squad when she's bitten by a vampire in a supernatural brothel. Her day only gets worse from there. She wakes up in the morgue and discovers that her partner is dead. Before the sun rises, she realizes she is too.

Jenna vows to continue their investigation until justice is served, but a werewolf squatter, an unexpected visit from her estranged sister, and a nosy FBI agent stand in her way. Not to mention her fresh aversion to sunlight and a thirst for something a little stiffer than revenge.







Being a vampire isn’t easy. Jenna Skye thought she could pull it off without giving up her old life, but the compromises are taking a toll. Jenna’s sister Laura is eager to return to her glamorous life in Hollywood, and Mandy, Jenna’s werewolf partner, is getting sick of playing her K9 sidekick to get around the police department’s red tape.

Jenna’s never been good with change, but with her human existence slipping further and further out of her reach, she has no choice but to accept FBI agent Roman Knight’s offer to join the supernatural police force ruled by House Lilith. Her first assignment? Help hunt down a serial killer targeting new vampires in St. Louis…like her.



Kindle | Apple | B&N | Kobo


Blood Vice (Blood Vice Book 1)

Chapter 2

As a St. Louis cop, I was no stranger to the county morgue. Of course, I’d never seen it from this particular angle. Or while wearing less than a co-ed on spring break.

Goosebumps spread from my shoulder blades to my ass, picking up again at my calves, all pressed against an ice-cold metal table positioned under an overhead light. My tongue felt like sandpaper against the roof of my mouth, my muscles concrete encasing rebar bones. If I were dead, then this was surely rigor mortis.

The pong of ammonia and disinfectant permeated the air, and as my focus sharpened, I heard a trickle of music cut through the ringing in my ears.

“Don’t tell my heart, my achy, breaky heart,” someone sang along. I prayed for God to strike them dead.

When my prayer went unanswered, I turned to get a better view of hell. That’s what this had to be. It was the very spot where my life had ended. The first time, anyway.

I counted the cold chambers stacked against the wall to my left. Two down and three across. That’s where my mother’s body had remained until her autopsy was finished, and my sister and I were allowed to bury her. That was the last time I’d seen either of them.

The music and the grating voice grew louder. I twisted my head to the right and found Vin Hart, the morgue’s new forensic pathologist, pulling on a pair of blue gloves. His eyebrows lifted, and he scrunched his face a few times as if trying to encourage his glasses to move farther up the bridge of his nose. Then he picked up a scalpel from a metal cart and turned toward me.

“Vini, Vidi, Vici,” I croaked, the high school nickname sounding less teasing and more like a plea coming from my dry throat.

Vin squealed—a full-on, being-eaten-alive-by-a-giant-tarantula squeal. He stumbled backward, knocking over the metal cart and scattering his horror film arsenal across the linoleum floor. Then he squealed again and tried to climb up onto the counter that spanned the wall behind him, dislodging a desk lamp and the small clock radio crooning suicidal country music. Because, apparently, this place wasn’t depressing enough.

The scalpel was still clutched in Vin’s gloved hand. He pointed it at me as I moaned and sat upright on the autopsy table. My muscles and tendons protested, cramping agonizingly under my skin. I tried to stretch my neck from side to side, but that only made things worse.

“Y-y-you’re dead!” Vin shrieked.

I glared at him and covered my breasts with my arms. “Where are my clothes?”

He squinted at me as if I’d asked a trick question. “I…uh… I had to cut them off. They were covered in blood anyway. You wouldn’t want them.”

I cocked an eyebrow. “Well, Pervy McPervertson, think you could find something else for me to wear?”

“You didn’t have a pulse. I swear!” Vin held up a gloved finger with his free hand. “This is not my fault. They delivered you in a body bag and everything.”

With all the bizarre questions rattling around in my head, clothes should have been the least of my worries. But interrogations were hard enough when dressed. Nudity took things to a whole new level.

I stared at Vin, watching his mental wheels turn as his pupils constricted until I could once again see the milk chocolate color of his irises. He glanced down at his hand holding the scalpel and quickly discarded the blade on the counter before peeling off his gloves.

“I have some gym sweats in my car,” he said, easing his way around the perimeter of the room. It was as if he expected me to give chase. And here I thought our high school feud had zapped that delusion.

Vin cleared his throat when he reached the exit. “Uh, I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere,” he added, closing the door behind him.

“Right.” I snorted and hugged my chest tighter as a shiver shook my shoulders.

There was a sour pit in my stomach, and it felt as if it were burning right through to my navel as I desperately tried not to think about the fact that Vin Hart had cut off my clothes while I lay unconscious on a metal table in a morgue. Nope. Nothing creepy about that.

The room felt as if it were spinning around me. Slowly at first, but gaining momentum as I tried to recall how I’d ended up here. The basement, the crazed suspect, the dog… Will. The dots were all there. I just couldn’t connect them into anything that made sense. I closed my eyes and pressed a hand to my face, trying to swallow the bile building in the back of my throat.

Something thudded against the door, and Vin’s clumsy return snapped my attention back to the here and now. His sneakers squeaked on the floor as he inched toward me, digging his hand down into a gray duffle bag.

“Here.” He tossed a wadded bundle of clothes into my lap from a safe distance away.

“Thanks,” I said, before realizing the clothes were damp from his most recent workout.

“I’m so sorry, Jenna.” Vin’s eyes welled, and he turned his back without me having to ask.

“Don’t sweat it,” I said, making a face at the ragged sweatpants he’d loaned me. I stuffed my shaky legs into them before easing off the table and jerking them up my thighs. They were too big, but I managed to tighten the drawstring enough until the waistband stayed around my hips.

“I really am.” Vin sniffled. “I swear, you didn’t have a pulse. This is incredible. We need to call Captain Mathis—”

“I’ll call him later,” I said, yanking his pit-stained tee shirt over my head. “I want a hot shower and some food first. Maybe a nap.”

Vin ran a hand through his dark hair and let out a nervous laugh. “You’ve been in a locker since six this morning.” He glanced down at his watch. “That’s fourteen hours, Jenna. Can you imagine if you’d woken up in there?”

I tried to remember what time Will and I had stormed the warehouse. Will.

“Where’s my partner?” I asked, my eyes migrating back toward the cold chambers.

“Your partner?” Vin stole a glance over his shoulder before deciding it was safe to look at me.

“Detective Will Banks?”

“Oh.” His eyes drooped at the corners as he pushed his glasses up his nose. “He didn’t make it. I’m sorry.”

“Which one?” I took a step toward the cold chambers, trying to read the names on the doors. I spotted my own and swallowed. Fourteen hours. How was that possible?

“Are you sure you want to do this right now? I mean, after everything you’ve—”

“Which one?” I repeated, taking another step forward.

“Here.” Vin circled the autopsy table and gave me a sidelong glance before he grasped the lever of a door next to my vacated chamber. At least I’d been in good company.

The table slid out of its cubby with a sigh. And then Vin folded the sheet back, revealing Will’s ashen face and the swell of his shoulders. I begged my heart to turn to stone. I’d have myself a long, hard cry later, but not here. Not in front of Vin or over Will’s body. He deserved better than that from me. I thought of his family.

“His wife…” I said, a lump welling in my throat before I could finish the question.

“She was here this morning,” Vin said. “With their daughter.”

I belonged in hell. It should have been Will who survived the basement. Not me. It had been my dumb mistake. And I didn’t have anyone waiting at home. No one depended on me. Hell, I didn’t even have a house cat to complain about my absence.

A blossom of old scar tissue was nestled below Will’s exposed collarbone. He’d been shot there while making a drug bust with my mother. I remembered visiting him in the hospital the week before my high school graduation.

“You’re smart for going to critter school, Jen,” he’d said to me, his thumb hovering over a morphine pump grasped in his free hand. “At least you’ll know when you’re working with an animal.” I should have heeded his warning and stayed in the vet program. But when my mother died later that year, I buried my dreams with her.

I pressed a finger to the mound of scar tissue and heard Vin suck in a soft breath. A lecture about not touching evidence was winding up. I could feel it. But Will wasn’t evidence. He was a lifeline that had kept my mother’s memory alive. That had kept me grounded once she was gone.

My eyes trailed away from the familiar scar and up to Will’s neck. A jagged gash ran from behind his ear to the hollow of his throat. The skin had been folded back and in on itself, but I could see the depth of the wound where it gaped open here and there. My stomach roiled, and my hand went to my throat, feeling for the damage I knew I’d sustained.

But there was nothing. Not even a scratch. My skin was perfectly intact and as cool and smooth as marble. That couldn’t be right. I covered my mouth and tried to think. Nothing made sense right now, and I couldn’t decide if I was delusional or just dehydrated. I need some water, I thought as my tongue scraped the roof of my mouth again.

“What’d you put down on your initial report for my COD?”

“Uh.” Vin cleared his throat. “I couldn’t find any injuries, despite the fact that you were covered in blood. I was thinking aneurysm or stroke perhaps.” I snorted, and his ears turned bright pink. “The autopsy would have been more conclusive. Obviously, that won’t be needed now.”

“An aneurysm?” I folded my arms as Vin replaced the sheet over Will’s face and slid him back inside the cold chamber.

“I don’t know.” He took a deep breath and frowned thoughtfully. “Maybe you saw the assault on Detective Banks, went into shock…and had a nosebleed?”

“And it hit pause on my pulse for fourteen hours?”

“It’s nothing short of a miracle.” Vin nodded, agreeing with my sarcastic assessment. “You should really be checked out by your regular MD. I’ve already gathered any evidence from, uh…your person—” He paused to clear his throat again, and his face flushed. “There were no defensive wounds. No signs of rape—”

“Make me a copy of the report,” I snapped. The air in my lungs burned. My hand migrated back up to my neck. Something was missing. This wasn’t right. I needed to go back to the scene.

Vin’s face creased. “I’ll have to clear it with Captain Mathis first. That’s classified information for a case you’re not assigned to.”

“Excuse me?” I ground my teeth together as I stared him down. “You just stripped me naked and poked and prodded my unconscious body, and you wanna tell me your findings are classified?”

He took a step back. “I’m really sorry, Jenna, but it’s protocol. I can call Captain Mathis now if you want. I’m sure he’ll approve the request right away.”

“Forget it. I’ll read the report when I head into the office in the morning. You know, before I file a sexual assault claim.”

“Jenna.” His face crumpled, and he gave me a wounded scowl. “Don’t say that. I feel horrible enough as it is.”

“Yeah, I could really tell how broken up you and Billy Ray were when I came to.”

“Music helps me focus. It gets lonely down here by myself.” His eyes glossed over, and despite my building fury, guilt slugged me in the gut. I took a deep breath. And then another.

“I guess my gun and badge have already been taken into evidence?”

Vin nodded. “Your wallet and everything else, too. We really should call the captain—”

“I swear to God, if you try to lecture me on protocol again, I’m going to stuff you into one of these cold lockers.”

His lips snapped shut. “Got it.”

“Can I borrow a few bucks for a taxi?” I gave him a tight smile. Following my threat, the sudden request probably made me look like a schoolyard bully after his lunch money. “I’ll pay you back,” I added when he hesitated.

Vin untied his scrubs and began stripping them off. “I can drive you home.”

“Great. Let’s go.” I tugged the sweatpants up higher on my hips and made for the exit.

“But how are you going to get inside without your keys?” he called after me.

“Let me worry about that one, Vin.” I held the door open and waved my arm to hurry him along.



* * * * *



Vin drove a rust-spotted, lime-green Volkswagen Beetle. It was a classic model that came with all the classic problems. The thing lumbered like a dying bear through Friday night traffic down I-170, making what should have been a fifteen-minute drive to my house take closer to thirty minutes.

I sank into my seat as a semi blared its horn and moved into the next lane over to pass us. The streetlights and headlights and flashing billboards made my eyeballs feel like they were boiling in their sockets. I tried to roll the window down to get some fresh air, but the lever came off in my hand.

“Sorry, I’ve been meaning to get that fixed.” Vin gave me a nervous smile and cleared his throat for the fifth time. “The radio works fine, though, if you’d like—”

“If I die in this Nazi deathtrap, it will not be to the sounds of Waylon and Willie.” I propped my elbow on the windowsill of the door and covered my eyes with my hand. Maybe feigning sleep would keep him from dragging the conversation down memory lane. That’s where I always ended up with Vin. He couldn’t help himself.

“So, are you going to the reunion in August?” he asked, drawing an immediate groan from me.

“No.”

“Why not? You’re one of the most successful graduates from our class.”

I snorted. “Says the guy with a doctorate.”

“Says the guy who carves up dead bodies for a living,” he grumbled. “Trust me, hunting down bad guys is way more impressive.”

“Oh, yeah?” I pulled my hand away from my face and scowled at him. “Think everyone will think it impressive when they find out that I got a nosebleed and passed out while my partner was being murdered ten feet away?”

Vin swallowed, and his hands tightened on the steering wheel. “You don’t know that’s what happened, and you won’t know until you get a proper physical.”

I resumed glaring out the window.

We finally exited off the highway and headed east on Olive Boulevard. I breathed a little easier then. My precinct was in the opposite direction. Vin’s persistence that we should contact the captain had me worried that he might deliver me to his doorstep straightaway.

I wasn’t ready to face Mathis. I needed time to collect myself and remember something useful to the case. Without that, all we’d have to talk about is what a complete and utter failure I was as a detective. How I’d rushed in without backup and gotten my partner killed, all in my first week on the vice squad.

My throat swelled every time thoughts of Will entered my mind. God, what was I going to tell Alicia and Serena? They’d expect answers from me, even more so than the captain would. Even more than the local news hounds, who would undoubtedly come knocking for a statement—about my partner’s fate and my peculiar resurrection. I didn’t have answers for anyone. Not even for myself.

Vin’s hand squeezed mine unexpectedly, and I jumped.

“What?” I blinked a few times to keep my tears in check before glancing up at him.

“We’re here,” he answered slowly. His mouth opened as if he wanted to say more but feared I might chew his face off.

I pulled my hand away. “Thanks for the ride. I’ll return your clothes tomorrow.”

“Keep them,” he said, giving me a lopsided grin. If he expected me to swoon over skunky gym sweats, he was dumber than he looked.

“Okay, then.” I pushed the passenger door open, cuing a gasp from Vin.

“Let me get that for you,” he said, opening his own door.

“I’ve got it.” I scrambled out of the car as fast as my aching body would allow and slammed the door behind me. “Thanks again,” I said over my shoulder as I headed up the front lawn. The grass was dewy on my bare feet, and it glistened in the yellow glow of my porch light.

“Don’t forget to call your doctor in the morning and make an appointment,” Vin shouted to me. He stood in the fold of his open door, one arm resting on the roof of the Beetle.

“Yup.”

“And don’t forget to call the captain, too. Soon,” he added.

I gave him a half-hearted salute from my front porch, hoping it would prompt him to get back into his car and leave. I really didn’t want him to know where I kept my hide-a-key. Of course, if he tried to use the thing, I’d have a perfectly legitimate reason to kick his ass—something I’d fantasized about since high school.

Vin’s brow creased as he stood there watching me. When it became apparent that he wasn’t going to leave until I was safely inside, I huffed and stepped off the porch.

The mulch in the front flowerbed stuck to the bottom of my feet as I made my way to the flower box under my bedroom window. I stuffed my hand down behind a cluster of morning glories and dug around in the dirt until I found the faux rock with my spare key hidden inside. Not the cleverest of tricks, but it hadn’t failed me yet. I hurried back to the porch and unlocked the deadbolt on the front door.

“Goodnight,” Vin called as soon as had I stepped inside.

I threw my hand up, sparing him a quick wave before slamming the door shut behind me. I pressed my back against the living room wall and breathed in the cool air. It smelled like oranges and vanilla. It smelled like my mother.

My eyes brimmed with tears as Vin’s headlights flashed through the window. I was finally alone with my grief, and it came for me with a vengeance. I slid to the hardwood floor and sobbed myself into hysterics in record time. Misery and I were old friends.

Before I graduated from the police academy, I’d been required to see a shrink. They wanted to make sure my head was in the right place since my mother had died only two years before. I think they expected me to have a chip on my shoulder. A score to settle. But that wasn’t what I was doing there. I wasn’t some crazy, orphaned girl with a vendetta.

Toni Skye hadn’t just been a hero in the department. She’d been my hero. My childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian had been born out of a desire to someday work with her on the K9 unit. I was a timid, tiny girl who loved her mommy. I was terrified of guns, and Disney villains gave me nightmares—especially Cruella De Vil. I didn’t want to be a cop. But I loved animals. Well, mostly Maggie. She had been enough to plant the seed.

I didn’t find the strength to follow in my mother’s footsteps until after she was gone. It felt as if it were the only way to be close to her, to keep her memory alive. This was my way of honoring her.

The academy shrink didn’t think so. She said I was having trouble letting go, but that was better than wanting an excuse to rough up suspects in some screwball quest for blind justice. So she’d cleared me. Her final word of advice had been that I should take some time to grieve properly. I’d had about all the grieving I could stomach. And there was nothing proper about it.

When my sniveling hiccups finally tapered off, I pulled myself off the floor and clicked on the lamp in the corner of the living room. My mind was already in recovery mode. I was well-accustomed to this process. Step one: cry face off. Step two: drink a gallon of water. Step three eluded me as I rounded the corner and clicked on the kitchen light.

A half-eaten sandwich and bag of potato chips had been left open on the counter. Right next to my bloody house keys.