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Authors: Lynette Eason

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Too Close to Home

BOOK: Too Close to Home
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WOMEN OF JUSTICE
BOOK ONE

Too Close
to Home

A NOVEL

LYNETTE EASON

© 2010 by Lynette Eason

Published by Revell
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
www.revellbooks.com

E-book edition created 2010

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—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

ISBN 978-1-4412-0745-6

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Scripture used in this book, whether quoted or paraphrased by the characters, is taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Published in association with Tamela Hancock Murray of the Hartline Literary Agency.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Dedicated to Jack, Lauryn, and Will Eason—

I love you to pieces.

Contents

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

1

“Wake up, partner,” the voice rumbled in his ear as Connor Wolfe’s sleep-drugged mind struggled to keep up. “We’ve found another body. In a dumpster behind the BI-LO off East Main.”

He shifted the phone and glanced at the clock.

The number 2:08 glared at him. Great. Just the way he wanted to start his Monday morning.

“Be right there.” He hung up and closed his eyes for a brief moment before gathering the energy to swing his feet to the floor. Two hours of sleep. Well, he’d gone with less. However, at the age of forty-two, he seemed to feel the lack a lot more than he did ten years ago. Shaking his head to fling off the fog of interrupted sleep, he headed for the shower, wondering if he should wake up Jenna, his sixteen-year-old daughter, or just hope she slept through the rest of the night.

He settled on leaving her a note. Fifteen minutes later, hair still damp, he directed his unmarked Ford toward the crime scene. His partner, Andrew West, would meet him there.

First a cop, then a homicide detective with SLED, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Connor had seen a lot in relation to crime, but this case had him by the throat and wouldn’t let go. Six disappearances and now three dead bodies—and very limited evidence. The first girl disappeared sixteen months ago. When the second victim disappeared two months later, speculation ran rampant. Were the vanishings related?

Then the third girl, Leslie Sanders, disappeared five weeks after that, and SLED had taken over the case. Connor had been the lead detective assigned to it, not only because it was his hometown, but because he’d also requested it. He had a lot of contacts—and he hoped he’d be able to spend more time with Jenna if they were living in the same city for an extended period of time. Since accepting the position as a detective for SLED in Columbia a year ago, Connor had lived there and Jenna had stayed behind with her grandparents against Connor’s better judgment. But he had to make a living, and SLED operatives were required to live within a fifty-mile radius of the state’s capital. However, as long as he was working the case, he could reside in the city where the investigation took place. And be near Jenna so he could work on repairing a relationship he was afraid was beyond help.

On the plus side, he’d been paired up with Andrew West, a new detective working his first case with SLED, but Connor’s closest friend for many years. A man he considered the brother he’d never had. The match had been perfect.

Connor knew in his gut the girls’ deaths were connected— he just couldn’t prove it. The first two crime scenes didn’t even connect the two girls except for one thing. They’d both had a baby.

If this third dead girl showed evidence of giving birth, Connor would know without a doubt they had a serial killer on their hands. He hoped he was wrong.

Was pretty sure he wasn’t.

It was why he and Andrew had been called in on this case. Sheriff Chesterfield usually hesitated about calling in outside help, but was professional enough to admit he needed their help and resources.

Dead girls and terrified parents. Not a pretty combination. Add gullible kids who thought bad things only happened to other people, and he had a potentially explosive situation on his hands. The attorney general’s office and the governor demanded answers he didn’t have, the media wouldn’t let it go, and the mayor had resorted to threats.

Unfortunately, Connor had no idea what to tell them.

And very little to show. A fiber here, a hair there, but nothing that matched up with anything or anyone in the criminal database. Witnesses whose stories conflicted left them with nothing solid. And even the similarities in the witnesses’ stories hadn’t panned out. The killer was so good it was terrifying.

And then there was Jenna.

Connor’s angry sixteen-year-old daughter defied him at every opportunity. When her mother died four years ago in a car wreck, it turned his little family’s world upside down—and dropped him and his daughter into the midst of a battle of the wills.

Flashing lights and a yellow tape barrier ahead demanded his attention. Right now, he had another murder to solve—and at least three more missing girls to find.

Connor wheeled to a stop and hopped out of the vehicle. Even in the wee hours of the morning, a small crowd had formed to gawk at the sight of a crime scene. Quiet murmurs and speculation filled the air as yellow crime scene tape flapped in the occasional gust.

He pushed his way through and flashed his badge to the uniformed officer on the other side of the tape. “Detective Connor Wolfe.”

The man handed Connor a paper suit and booties for Connor to don in order to protect the crime scene, then wrote Connor’s name, badge number, and time of arrival down in the logbook. Connor ducked under and paused for a moment to get a feel for the place. A light breeze held the smells from the various fast-food restaurants, cigarette smoke—and the unmistakable odor of a dead body.

Crime scene investigators worked the area. Serena Hopkins, the medical examiner, hunched awkwardly over the side of the dumpster. She looked up and saluted Connor when he approached, then went back to her scrutiny of the body that lay very near the top. She spoke with her back to him. “Hey there, Connor. Good thing she was discovered when she was. The truck comes first thing in the morning to empty this particular bin. I’ll be finished in a minute and you can come up and have a look.”

“Thanks, Serena.” He shook his head as he did every time he saw the woman in action. Tall, willowy, with straight as a stick, raven-colored hair and ice blue eyes, she was runway model perfect—with a mind so quick Connor finally quit trying to match wits with her.

Never in a million years would he have picked this job for her, but after getting to know her and working with her over the past year, he couldn’t see her doing anything else.

Connor walked closer. The stench in the air grew stronger.

Jake Hollister, thirty-five years old with gray-streaked blond hair, efficiently led the crime scene unit. He knelt easily, examining the asphalt about six feet away from the dumpster. Connor had worked with him in the past. From their first case together, he’d quickly grown to respect and appreciate Jake as a professional who took his job seriously. They often met at the gym for a game of one-on-one basketball.

Connor stuffed his hands in the front pockets of his jeans. “Hey, Jake. Is it Leslie Sanders?”

Jake looked up and nodded, his eyes shadowed. “Yep.”

“Found anything in common with the other two?”

Jake bagged something that might be evidence, tagged it, and tossed it in his collections bag. He stood to face Connor, his frustration obvious. “I found a folded piece of paper, but it’s so ratty, I’m afraid it’ll fall apart if I do anything with it here. The lab might be able to figure out what it is. Other than that, there’s nothing much on the surface. I’ll know more later today.” He sighed and used the back of his wrist to rub his nose. “The only thing that tells me these three murders are linked is the gender and age of the victims—and my gut. According to Serena, this one was shot. They’ve all died differently, but when we get her back to the morgue, I’ll bet Serena’ll find she’s recently had a baby.”

“You know, Jake, this guy is really starting to get under my skin.”

“Yeah, join the club.”

“We’ve been working every medical facility within a thirty-mile radius and nothing. Not a sign these pregnant girls have ever seen a doctor. I don’t get it.”

His phone rang. Frowning, he pulled it out of the clip to check out the caller ID.

Jenna? He gave Jake a sign to hang on and stepped away to answer. “Jenna, are you all right?”

“Dad? Dad? Where are you?”

“I’m at a crime scene, honey. I left you a note on the counter. Are you okay?”

Sniffling. “Yeah, yeah, I’m okay. I didn’t see your note. I . . . um . . . woke up to go to the bathroom and you weren’t in your bed and it . . . I didn’t know . . .” A frustrated sigh echoed in his ear. “I had to make sure you were okay. When are you coming home?”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Why do you have to be a cop? Why can’t you have a nice boring, safe job?” she whined.

Frustration had him shoving a hand through his slowly drying hair. “Jenna, darling, I can’t get into this right now.” He glanced at Jake who shot him a sympathetic look.

“Right. Sorry I bothered you.”

“Jenna—”

She’d already hung up.

Connor sighed and scrubbed the stubble on his chin. Guilt pressed hard on his chest. He knew he let work consume him. At first it was to escape the pain of losing Julia, the wife he’d loved—yet seemed to battle with incessantly.

But now, if he were honest with himself, work was his escape from the stress of constant fighting with a stubborn sixteen-year-old.

When he’d gotten assigned to this case, he leased an apartment so he wouldn’t have to disturb his parents with his crazy hours, and he’d hoped Jenna could stay with him as often as possible. But those crazy hours meant that Jenna ended up staying more with her grandparents than with him, simply so she would have more stability in her life—especially during the school year.

This last week had been a little slower than usual, and Connor was trying to spend some quality time with Jenna. Like last night he’d picked her up from a friend’s house and taken her out to eat. She’d come to the apartment and fallen asleep watching a movie.

Unfortunately, it looked like Jenna wouldn’t be spending any more nights with him. Instead, she was going to have to go back to her grandparents’ for a while. A fact she’d fight him on, but if she couldn’t handle waking up and finding him gone . . .

And she shouldn’t have to handle it. It wasn’t fair to her.

But not much was these days. Poor Jenna.

He sighed and, not for the first time, wished he’d never become a cop. Then again, if he wasn’t a cop, he didn’t know who he would be.

In the confines of his pocket, Connor balled his hand into a fist, resisting the urge to hit something. Slipping the phone back in his clip, he said to Jake, “Guess I’ll have to talk to her tomorrow . . . er . . . later today.” And call his parents in the morning. He turned to the dumpster. “Hey, Serena, can I come up now?”

BOOK: Too Close to Home
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