Even though the circumstances sucked, she was looking forward to visiting with people she hadn’t seen in a decade. Mabel had been her aunt’s friend so it wasn’t as if Lilly knew her that well but she’d always been so nice. “Are you staying over tonight or uh…” With half the town coming tomorrow she wasn’t sure if it was such a good idea.


“The neighbors have no doubt seen my truck out front the past two nights. Besides, I don’t give a damn what people say.”


She shrugged and took a bite of her apple. As long as it didn’t bother him, she didn’t care if people gossiped.


The rest of the drive to the coroner’s office was quiet. When they pulled into the parking lot she was surprised to see half a dozen cars there. “Who’s here?”


“Probably students.”


They found Hailey alone in her office.


“What have you got for us?” Braden asked as they took a seat across from Hailey’s desk.


Hailey opened up a file on her desk. “I can’t rule it a murder, but I’m not signing off on Debra’s death as accidental either.”


“So what are you doing?” This time Lilly spoke.


“I’m going to hold her for another week until I can make a decision.”


“I don’t understand.” Lilly shifted in her seat.


“I’ve never seen such a traumatic head wound from simply falling down the stairs. There’s too much internal bleeding. It’s like…” Hailey’s voice trailed off as she glanced at Braden.


“What is it? Just say it,” Lilly demanded.


“It’s like she was hit with a two by four or a baseball bat at forty miles per hour. I also found splinters of wood in…” She cleared her throat. “I found splinters of wood that don’t match the banister. I’ve got one of the students running trace evidence on it as we speak.”


Acid filled Lilly’s stomach at the other woman’s words. “What exactly does this mean?”


Hailey glanced at Braden again, then back at Lilly. “I won’t say for certain until I have more evidence, but I think this was a homicide.”


“But why would anyone kill her? Nothing was taken, was it?” She looked at Braden for confirmation.


He shook his head. “No sign of forced entry and nothing was disturbed.”


“She had a key outside and I know she didn’t always keep her alarm on. It was more or less an afterthought for her. That might explain why there was no forced entry.” Bile bubbled up as Lilly said the words. It was entirely possible someone had broken in and killed her, then simply locked up. It still didn’t explain why someone would want to hurt her Aunt Debra though. Everyone loved her.


Braden rubbed a hand over his face and muttered a string of curses. “What if she was killed to get you back to Hudson Bay?”


“Wait, what?” Lilly frowned at him.


“Think about it. For the past few years, you’ve been in and out of the country, almost impossible to track. Am I right?”


She nodded so he continued. “From what we know, whoever this guy is, he has a grudge against both of us. Maybe he wanted us both in the same place at the same time.”


Her muscles tensed as she digested his words.


Braden turned toward Hailey. “Did you say Debra might have been struck with a bat?”


“Yeah.”


He pulled his cell phone out and punched in a number. Lilly glanced at Hailey who shrugged.


“Vanessa? You at the station?…Good. Take the bat we got from Abby Murphy and bring it down to Hailey for testing. Don’t let anyone else touch it. I want you to personally handle this.”


As soon as he disconnected, Lilly pounced. “You think Abby had something to do with this?”


“No, but I think her husband did.”


If someone had killed her aunt just to get to her, Lilly didn’t know that she could ever live down that kind of guilt. A painful vise tightened around her chest. Debra had been the kindest woman Lilly had ever known. Tears burned her eyes but she blinked them away.


“I might have some more good news,” Hailey’s voice interrupted Lilly’s thoughts.


“What?” Braden asked.


“I haven’t gotten a hit on the hair strands yet, but with each victim we’ve found an unusual type of fiber on their bodies. Chiengora.”


“What’s that?” Lilly asked.


“After analyzing it I discovered it’s a type of wool made from dog hair. I added this to the MO we ran with NLETS and about four years ago there were two killings with similar MOs in Vegas. The killer was sloppier and there were no burn marks like the ones on our victims, but there were traces of chiengora fibers on both victims.” She flipped open another file and slid it across the desk for them to view. “Both women were prostitutes. Do either of you know them?”


Lilly and Braden both shook their heads.


“Didn’t think so. I’ve petitioned the Vegas P.D. to send over their files. I should have everything by tomorrow.”


As they both scanned the report, Braden’s phone buzzed. The muted noise was over pronounced in the quiet room.


“Yeah?…What? I can’t hear you…Damn it, hold on.” Braden glanced back and forth between Hailey and Lilly. “It’s Detective Bolinger. I’m going to take this outside.”


Lilly lifted the file off the desk. “May I?” she asked Hailey. When the other woman nodded, she flipped to the next page and scanned the brief report listing wounds and other details.


“Don’t break his heart.” Hailey’s strong words forced Lilly to look up.


“Excuse me?”


“I know it’s not my business, but don’t hurt Braden again.”


“We’re not—”


Hailey held up a hand. “Whatever. I see the way you two look at each other and it’s nauseating. I love him like a brother and I don’t want to see him get hurt. Again.”


Lilly had never been particularly close to Hailey growing up, but they’d had a lot of the same classes and she’d genuinely liked her. Hailey had always been a lot closer to Braden. Hell, everyone in school had wanted to be his friend. She supposed she could get annoyed with the other woman’s brashness, but the fact that the woman was looking out for Braden pushed Hailey up a few notches in Lilly’s esteem.


Getting tangled up with Braden again would be the dumbest move she could make especially considering that leaving him had been the hardest thing she’d ever done. Going to college and years of travelling the world should have erased or at least dulled her attraction to him.


No such luck. And those intense kisses had only whetted her appetite for more. Ignoring Hailey’s stare, she averted her gaze back to the file and tried to focus on what was in front of her.


Yeah, she was in trouble. If she wasn’t forced to be with him 24/7, things might be a little easier. Unfortunately each second she was around him, she wanted a repeat performance of that kiss and despite Braden’s statement that it was a mistake, the heated look in his eyes told her something very different.


Chapter 12


“So what did Perry want?” Lilly asked as she strapped in her seatbelt.


Braden didn’t glance over as he started the ignition. “To let me know that there’s still no sign of Lloyd Redford. His boat’s at the marina, but no one actually remembers seeing him for the past couple days.”


“I don’t understand how he factors into any of this. I don’t even know the man. Have you ever arrested him or something?”


“No. He’s never gotten into any trouble.” Redford was a Vietnam vet who fished and lived off his boat. He attended church occasionally, but he mostly kept to himself. As far as Braden knew, they’d never crossed paths except socially, and that was an occasional thing at best. Technically they hadn’t seen him, just his boat, but they still needed to question him.


Braden wished he knew what was going on inside that head of hers. Lilly had been thrown feet first into a shark pit since returning to Hudson Bay. It was hard to believe that she’d only been in town a couple days and so much had already happened.


From what he could tell, the man they were hunting had been waiting for her to return home to start playing mind games. That was a scary thing. It meant the killer had patience and he didn’t want to get caught.


Lilly’s phone rang, cutting through the silence of the vehicle. She frowned at the caller ID. “It’s private.”


“Answer it.”


Nodding, she flipped it open and pressed it to her ear. “Hello?” Her eyes widened as she spoke. “What do you want?”


“Speaker,” Braden whispered.


Nodding, she held the phone out in front of her and pressed the button.


The mechanical, monotone voice came over the line. “…want to talk to you.”


Braden had missed the first few words, but it was obvious what the guy had said.


“Why are you calling me?” she asked, her voice quavering.


“Tell me about your dreams, Lilly.”


She sucked in a harsh breath. Her mouth opened, as if to respond, but her jaw worked soundlessly.


Braden steered into the nearest parking lot of a coffee shop and took the phone from her hand.


“I know you’re still there. I can hear you breathing.” The mechanical voice sent chills snaking over Braden’s skin.


He could only imagine how much it affected Lilly. “What the hell do you want?” Braden growled.


“Ah, I should have known you’d be listening. I want this slut to suffer. Has she told you about her dreams, Sheriff? Her therapist took very detailed notes. I can tell you anything you want to know about this whore.”


Next to Braden, Lilly wrapped her arms tightly around herself. “If this is the only reason you called—”


The monster continued. “Why didn’t you save Emily, Lilly? She screamed and screamed for you. Do you still smell her burning flesh—”

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