Deadly Fear Page 34

“And he was the one at the airport, the one sent to pick up Agent Kennedy?”

It would have put him right at the scene. When he’d called, had he really been checking the terminal? Or had he been driving Sam’s unconscious body away?

“Yeah, you know he was the one…”

She opened one of the files she’d taken from Davis’s office earlier. “And you’d already told me that he transferred back here from Gatlin, Louisiana.”

Davis’s Adam’s apple bobbed. He seemed to shrivel, just a bit. “Not Lee. I’d know.” He pointed a finger at her. “He’ll be here soon, and you’ll see! He’s not hidin’ anything. He didn’t hurt those people! We need to find the real killer!”

Luke glanced at the clock. Nine-fifty-three a.m. “Maybe this will all be cleared up soon,” he said.

Monica glanced back at him, the doubt clear on her beautiful face.

“Or maybe not,” he murmured.

Ten forty-two a.m. Sheriff Davis was sweating. Not a trickle of sweat, but a full-on glistening forehead, beads coating his upper lip, dark patches staining his shirt.

Luke crossed his arms and glanced at Monica.

“No one knows where your deputy is.” She shook her head. “The man managed to vanish awful fast.”

A knock sounded on the sheriff’s door. Davis’s eyes widened and Luke knew hope when he saw it.

Then Vance walked in.

Hope died fast.

Vance strode stiffly into the room. He was sweating, too.

Interesting.

“Sheriff.” He nodded to Davis first, then shot a quick glance Luke’s way, then Monica’s. “You still lookin’ for Lee?”

Monica nodded slowly. “Where is he?”

Vance licked his lips. “I-I don’t know—”

“You two have always seemed pretty close to me,” Luke pointed out. “Like good friends.”

“We are good friends.”

“Then be a friend,” Monica said, “and tell me where he is so that we can clear up a bit of miscommunication.”

Vance’s eyes jerked to Davis. “You think it’s one of us, don’t ya, sheriff?”

“No,” it was Monica who answered. She hadn’t taken her eyes off the deputy. “That’s what I think.”

Vance turned his stare on Luke. The deputy parted his lips, then seemed to hesitate.

Luke tensed. “There something you need to say?”

His jaw flexed. “I-I saw Lee.”

“When?” Monica’s demand.

“About two hours ago, maybe three.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “I was just coming on duty. I was… um, a little late because I had to drop a friend off at her place on the way in.”

Yeah, he knew all about the guy’s plans from the night before. “What happened?”

“H-he was mad—talking about you. Said you were suspecting us of the killings.”

Monica’s brows rose. “So much for keeping this quiet.”

Right. Like she’d really wanted it quiet.

“I told him there was nothing to worry about. I told him.”

“Maybe there isn’t anything for you to worry about,” Luke said. He noticed the sheriff had sunk down into his chair even more. Davis wasn’t a bad guy, not by any means. From what he’d seen, the guy tried his best to keep order in Jasper. Davis had never counted on a serial setting up shop in his quiet town.

No one ever counted on that.

And Luke knew that, though Davis had been fighting the idea—on the outside, anyway—that someone from his office could be involved in the crimes, the sheriff was starting to see the full picture. The knowledge was right there, in the pain that etched across his face.

The pieces were adding up, and everything was starting to point to the missing Lee Pope.

“Lee stormed off. I tried to stop him, but—” A shrug. “I think, uh, I figured he just needed to cool off for a while.”

Or maybe he’d needed to run.

“You don’t know where he was going?” Monica asked.

Vance rubbed his palms over the front of his pants. “No.”

Monica raised one eyebrow. Just one. He remembered that look from their training days. One eyebrow up meant she thought the suspect was lying. “You’re not trying to protect him, are you?”

“Lee hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s just probably sleeping off his beers somewhere. He wasn’t due on shift ’til nine.” Said fast. Too fast. People talked fast when they were nervous.

“Do you really think you know him?” Monica pressed, and her gaze was so intent on the deputy.

A grim nod. “Yeah, I do. I’d stake my life on his innocence.”

Luke barely controlled a wince. Dude really needed to be careful. “Then if I were you, I’d hope good old Lee shows up for work soon.”

Vance’s cheeks flushed, a shade lighter than his hair. “You’re lettin’ the real killer get away.”

Monica’s gaze never wavered. “No, I’m not.”

CHAPTER Seventeen

Be mine, Valentine. Monica squinted as she stared at the pages of data Ramirez had faxed over from the SSD.

Kyle West’s mother had died on Valentine’s Day. She’d been killed in a “suspicious fire” at their house.

“Suspicious, my ass,” she muttered. The stove had been turned on, and accelerant was discovered in three areas of the house. That was a whole lot more than suspicious. That was clear-cut arson.

Kyle had been eleven at the time. He’d made it out. After he’d climbed through his bedroom window, he’d run to a neighbor. But his mother hadn’t been so lucky. She’d gotten trapped when part of the den’s ceiling fell on her.

She’d burned before help could arrive.

Monica’s fingers smoothed over the grainy photo of Kyle. She died. But you got out.

And then went—where? To live with May? As she battled schizophrenia? She’d read the notes on May. When she’d been medicated, May would have seemed almost normal. But without her meds…

Seeing people who weren’t there.

Hearing voices.

What had it been like for Kyle, living with May?

She studied the arson data again and a chill skated down her spine. Okay, yeah, that was one hell of a coincidence.

Valentine’s Day. Fifteen years ago.

The same night that Hyde had pulled her out of that closet, and Romeo’s reign had ended.

Too bad she didn’t believe in coincidences.

The same night. And Romeo had been close to Gatlin, close enough for the deputies to come over and help out on the scene.

Holy hell. Monica sprang to her feet and yanked open the door. “Luke!”

He and Kenton had their heads together, staring at a computer screen. They were trying to track Lee’s car.

“Luke!” Louder this time, and with a desperate edge.

His head snapped up and he focused on her.

She took a deep breath and felt all eyes on her. “We need to talk.” Alone. There was too much tension in that office already.

He slapped Kenton on the shoulder and stalked toward her. The weight of all eyes bored down on her. So much suspicion.

Melinda walked past, gave her a slow nod. “Agent Davenport.” Ice could have dripped from those words. Actually, it did. Hell, that’s right. Lee had dated Melinda in high school. Had she been the bad break-up that sent him to Gatlin? That relationship would definitely explain the arctic blast.

But another hour had passed, and there had still been no word from Lee.

There wouldn’t be any word. She knew that.

So the other deputies could be pissed, they could be uncooperative, but it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.

Monica shut the door behind Luke. “Something you should know.” The place was so small they were almost on top of each other.

He waited. Looked strong and sexy and—

I won’t lose him. The case was about to go to end game. She wouldn’t let it explode on her, and she would not risk him.

Because if she was right, the killer would be coming for her soon, and he’d try to use Luke against her.

Think like them. Yeah, that’s what she was doing. She couldn’t turn it off, but she could use it.

Luke was her weakness, and she couldn’t afford to be weak.

Not with the killer watching.

“Kyle West’s mother died the same night that Hyde brought down the Romeo killer.”

A slight flaring of his eyes. “Bullshit.”

“Afraid not.”

He gave a soundless whistle.

“It was two counties over. Most of the deputies had been called in for backup on Romeo. The fire, um, let’s just say it didn’t get as much attention as it should have.”

“What—”

“I’m pretty sure Kyle killed his mom.” The first kill. All the signs were there. He’d started on the night that Romeo stopped killing. “I suspect he’s been killing since then. Maybe at first, his mother’s death cooled his need, and he was able to go a couple more years before he hurt anyone else… but the need would have come back.” A compulsion. That’s what some serials said they had.

The compulsion to kill.

“But Kyle West is dead,” Luke told her, speaking slowly, thoughtfully. “He’s not our guy, Monica, even if he did kill his mother.”

“I want to talk to the officer who found his body.” Another note she’d made. “The report I got said Kyle was killed in a wreck just outside of Mobile, Alabama.”

“And what, you’re thinking maybe our boy Kyle wasn’t the one who died in that crash?”

Monica gave a small shrug. As elaborate as he liked to make his crimes, the way he liked to set the stage, faking a death would be nothing to him. “Anything’s possible.”

Luke stared at her, green eyes glittering. “That’s for sure.”

I won’t lose him.

“So if Kyle is still alive, then where’s Lee Pope?” He asked the question of the hour.

“That’s what we’ve got to find out.” And time was ticking away far too quickly.

His lips parted. “Wait a minute—hold up—you’re not looking at him for the kills, are you?”

No, not at Lee. “There’s no way Lee Pope is Kyle West.” If West was the killer. And it was sure looking like he was. The SSD had tracked Martin’s cell phone and, sure enough, it had placed him in a New Orleans hospital. Not in Gatlin. “Lee Pope grew up here, people know him. They can verify his identity.”

“Sonofabitch.” Understanding dawned in that deep voice. The voice that could make her want. Make her yearn. “You think he’s a victim?”

“Anything’s possible,” she told him again, because she couldn’t be one hundred percent certain. Lee wasn’t Kyle West, and if they could find out for certain who’d died in that accident near Mobile… maybe Kyle was still in the game.

And maybe Lee was a killer. After all, he’d been in Gatlin. He could have known Saundra. And he’d been the one at that airport when Sam’s plane arrived. Lee was also the deputy who sure liked his cigars.

They were running out of time. “I need to—Luke, I really need you to trust me on this case, okay?”

“I do,” he said instantly.

But it wouldn’t be that easy. “I haven’t always been honest with you… I haven’t—I know being with me isn’t easy.”

He smiled then, a slow curve of his lips that made her heart race and her ni**les tighten.

Not now. No time.

“Baby, I never said I wanted easy.”

But she had. Pity she’d never gotten that. “I-I want to give us a chance, okay?” She was fumbling this, but she had to get the words out. There wouldn’t be any more regrets for her. Not this time.

She’d be damned if she regretted anything else she did. Like she’d told Davis, there was no point looking to the past. Just don’t make the same mistakes in the future. She wouldn’t make any more mistakes with Luke.

Time to start saying just what she felt. Time to take risks and live. “I’m going to catch this killer, and then you and me… I want a real chance.” It would be hard because she was hard. She wasn’t used to trusting on a personal level.

Sure, she trusted the gang at SSD. She trusted them to keep her safe, to watch her back, but she’d never trusted them with her secrets.

Only Hyde. And now Luke.

“I wish I’d told you the truth years ago,” she whispered. If she couldn’t make it with Luke, she wouldn’t make it with anyone.

His fingers brushed down her cheek and curved under her jaw. The touch heated her flesh. Just his touch, and she wanted him in the midst of hell. “The first time I saw you, I thought you were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.”

And she’d thought he hadn’t even noticed her. But then he’d crossed that room, smiled at her, and started smooth talking with that soft drawl of his.

Tempted from the first.

She rose onto her toes and kissed him. Her fingers dug into his hair, and she tasted him.

Wrong place, wrong time. Didn’t matter.

Fear rode her. The case was going to explode soon, and she didn’t want to lose him.

His tongue thrust into her mouth, and she gasped against him. That first thrust of his tongue always made her gasp as pleasure slipped through her.

Her ni**les brushed his chest. Her thighs rubbed against him.

The sex during the night had been unlike anything she’d ever had before.

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