She swallows hard, then pulls herself together and begins to systematically work the scene with me, taking photos, sweeping for any clues. There’s nothing I can see. Nothing but blood and tissue and absolute horror.
Except for the note, covered in blood. The handwriting is likely the victim’s, just like the previous three.
Do you see what happens to know-it-all bitches, Lila? Bitches who think they’re better than everyone else? They get their fucking face ripped off. I hope you enjoy the last few days of your pitiful life because I’m about to end it.
Jordan snaps photos of the note before I seal it up and pray there is a print on it.
But there won’t be.
This fucker is careful.
“The ME just arrived,” Tanner calls from the living room. “Are you ready for him?”
“Send him in,” I confirm. Pierce, the best Medical Examiner in Louisiana, steps into the room and swears ripely.
“Poor girl,” he says with a sigh. “What the fuck, Asher?”
“My sentiments exactly,” I reply. “Can you give me a TOD?”
He nods and works his magic, testing her body temperature. “She’s been dead for roughly twelve hours.”
“Not long after study group,” I murmur. “We’re done with her. I want a full sweep after you take the body. Prints, hair, everything. If there’s something here, I want it.”
I march out of the apartment, rage boiling in me. “I’ll meet you at the office. I want those pictures printed right away so we can add them to the board. We’re missing something. We’re starting from the beginning.”
Jordan nods and walks to her car as I walk to mine, climb in, and speed all the way back to the office. I need to look at my notes.
He’s getting more violent. More angry.
I’m stalking through to my office when my phone rings.
“Captain, I’m walking into my office right now.”
“I want a report, in my office, in an hour.”
“You’ll have it.”
I end the call and hold on to my temper by the skin of my teeth as Jordan joins me, shutting the door behind her, the new crime scene photos in her hands, which she passes to me and I begin to add them to the murder board I have in the center of the room, covered in photos and notes on the previous victims.
“She was twenty-one,” Jordan says as she reads the report on her iPad. “Sociology major. Decent grades. No boyfriend that we know of.”
“Where is she from?”
I turn to look at her. “Her hometown.”
“Shreveport,” Jordan replies. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking that we’re missing something. Maybe the connection is as simple as being from the same town.”
“Asher, the connection is Lila.”
I prop my hands on my hips and stare at the photos of four girls who shouldn’t be dead. My heart stills at Lila’s name.
“Are you going to be able to handle this? After everything you went through with your wife—”
“My wife doesn’t have anything to do with this.”
But Jesus Christ, I can’t go through losing someone else to a maniac.
“You know what I mean.”
“Are you saying I can’t do my fucking job?” I spin and glare at her. “I’m doing the job, Jordan.”
“I’m not saying that. But it’s clear that you have feelings for Lila.”
“Crystal.” She shakes her head and leans her hip on my desk. “She needs to be told about the notes.”
“Asher, he named her specifically. He threatened her. She needs to know so she can protect herself.”
“I’m protecting her.”
“God, you’re stubborn. Telling her about the notes—”
“Will only terrify her.”
“It would terrify me,” she agrees. “But if I found out later that you’d withheld that information from me, I’d be mighty pissed off.”
I sigh and rub the back of my neck. “You’re right. I don’t like it, but you’re right.”
“If you weren’t in love with her, I wouldn’t have to talk you into telling her.”
“I’m not in love with her.” I smirk and shake my head.
“Right. That’s why you’re rubbing your heart right now.”
I glance down, surprised to find that I am, indeed, rubbing my aching heart. The thought of anything happening to her sends a panic through me that I haven’t felt in four years.
And she and my daughter are alone right now.
“Get comfortable,” I say and pull my phone out of my pocket. “We’re going to be here a while. I want to go back to the very beginning and read every report, every note all over again while we wait for the ME and crime scene reports to come in.”
“Just do the job, Jordan.”
She nods as I dial Mike’s number. “Hey, man.”
“Hey, I need you to do me a favor.”
“I love peanut butter sandwiches,” Casey informs me as she nibbles on her sandwich, sans crust, with her little fingers propped up to keep her drying nails from getting messed up. “And this nail polish is so pretty!”
“I love it too.” I finish my sandwich and sit back on the couch, watching the sweet girl as she eats delicately. “Thanks for letting me polish your nails.”
“Are you kidding? This is great! Can we play in your makeup?”
I have a moment of panic as I think of the expensive stash of makeup in my drawers, and then figure, why not? You only live once.
“Sure. Let’s go.” I lead Casey into my bathroom and spread eye shadows, blush, liners, mascara, and lipstick on the countertop. Her pretty green eyes widen at my loot.
“Wow,” she says reverently. “You don’t look like you wear that much makeup.”
“That’s the secret.” I wink at her and study her coloring, wanting to choose just the right shades for her. “You don’t want to look like you wear a lot. You choose colors that accentuate what you already have.”
I laugh and choose an eye shadow. “I’ve just been doing this for a really long time.”
“Can I do you after you do me?”
“I’m already wearing makeup.”
“You could take it off,” she says.
“True. Okay, I’ll take it off.” I grab my makeup remover and wipe off my eye makeup, then smile at Casey.
“Awesome.” I boost her up onto the counter so she’s eye level with me, making it easier to work, and choose a brush.
“Close your eyes.”
She complies and sits still as I brush eye shadow on her eyes, add liner, mascara and blush. I don’t want her dad to show up and think that I’ve turned his daughter into a harlot.
But playing with makeup is fun. Hell, I loved playing with it at her age. I still do.
“So, you’re definitely a girlie girl,” I comment.
“Yes. Do you have glitter?”
I chuckle and reach for a bronzer with sparkles in it. “Glitter coming right up.”
“Right on.” She offers me her fist to bump, and I comply with a laugh just as my phone pings with an incoming text.
Asher: Thanks for helping me out. Not sure how long I’ll be here, so my brother Mike is going to stop by and get Casey. It’s okay to open the door to him.
I just love how he’s now dictating who I can open the door to.
“That’s your dad. Your uncle Mike is going to come get you.”
“Already?” she asks with distress. “But we’re having a spa day!”
My lips twitch. “You’re right. I’ll take care of it.”
Can you give us at least an hour? We are having a spa day. And don’t get mad at me for putting makeup on her.
“You’re really pretty,” Casey says as she watches me text. “Like, really pretty.”
“Thank you, sweetheart.”
No problem. Thank you for being so patient.
There is no need to be patient with this adorable girl. She’s funny and smart and enjoys the same things I do. Why would I need to be patient with her?
My pleasure. Really.
I tuck my phone away and make the finishing touches on Casey’s makeup, and it occurs to me that for someone who doesn’t do kids, I’ve taken quite a shine to this sweet girl.
And what’s not to love? She’s smart and respectful and funny. Asher has done an amazing job with her.
They’re both special. How could any woman have left them?
“Okay, you can look now.”
“Oh!” she exclaims when she turns around. “I’m so pretty!”
“Yes you are.”
“I haven’t had this much fun since my mom died.”
I school my features, trying not to let her see that she’s shocked the hell out of me. Her mom died?
She chooses some colors and goes to work on my face.
“I’m sorry that your mom passed away, sweetie.”