Page 4

The roar of an approaching vehicle seized her attention.

Her freezing fingers clenched the skull as she watched through a hazy plastic window while a man on an ATV ripped into the snowy parking lot and spun, deliberately covering one group of cops with thick snow.

Lacey jumped to her feet, pushed aside the tent flap, stepped out, and stared, sucking in her breath.

The cops weren’t going to appreciate that stupid prank.

The men in blue brushed off the snow, and their disgruntled rumblings reached Lacey’s ears. The driver of the ATV gave a shout of laughter as he hopped off and strode toward the incensed group, casually pulling off his gloves.

Was he crazy?

He was tall and walked with confident strides, apparently not concerned with the wrath of the cops. He faced away from her, showing trim black hair below his baseball cap, and she wished she could see his face. To her shock, the circle of cops opened to let him enter, slapping him on the back and shaking hands all around. The knot in Lacey’s spine relaxed.

They weren’t going to kill him.

Fifty feet away, the rider abruptly turned his head and a laughing, steel-gray gaze slammed into hers. Lacey stepped back at the instant onslaught, her eyes blinking. A solid jaw tensed briefly as he looked her up and down. He gave a deliberate wink and grin, and turned back to his group.

Lust in Lacey’s brain jumped up and took notice. Did he just flirt with me?

Very nice. Her limbs warmed.

Lacey’s fingertip slid into an empty eye socket and she gasped, dropping her gaze to the forgotten skull, terrified she’d crunched a delicate bone. She studied it frantically, searching for fresh cracks. Finding none, she exhaled in a low whistle.

Dr. Peres would have her head if she damaged the skull.

Jack Harper coughed and stumbled forward a step in the snowy powder as Officer Terry Schoenfeld slapped him hard on the back. It felt good to be loved.

The rest of the cops peppered him with questions and greetings.

“You drive that tiny thing all the way from Portland?”

“How’s the cushy life?”

“You still owe me fifty bucks from that football game.”

“That game didn’t count. The refs screwed it up. The whole bunch of ’em got suspended for all those lousy calls,” Jack answered Terry, speculatively rubbing at his chin and keeping a straight face as he eyed the circle of cops. The group of men snorted.

Terry’s face turned dark pink and he sputtered. “It was the score that counted. The Ducks won. The other team played rotten enough to let them score two touchdowns in two minutes. Lousy calls or not, you still owe me the money.” Ropey tendons popped in his neck, and he pounded a gloved fist on his thigh.

Jack laughed, joined by hoots from the other cops. Jack had known the exact buttons to push to rile his friend. The University of Oregon’s big ex-lineman would get defensive over any dissing of his alma mater. Jack and Terry had met in high school, then attended rival Oregon colleges before they’d served in the Lakefield police department together.

Before Jack had to leave the force.

The other cops continued to harass Terry, a chorus of male heckling, but a gut-deep instinct made Jack look over his shoulder at the apartment building, and he saw the woman. She stood motionless outside the white tent, intently watching the group. Long, wavy blond hair fell past her shoulders, and the black thick hat she’d pulled down over her ears framed wide, dark chocolate eyes. His gaze locked on those warm eyes, and her cheeks turned pink. Charming.

The warm buzz of attraction started in his gut and shot up to his brain. He gave her a wink.

“’Bout time you gave us a visit.” A cop with a familiar face spoke, pulling Jack’s attention from the striking woman, but Jack couldn’t remember the cop’s name. It’d been too long.

“He’s too busy making money,” Terry complained. “They hunted you down, huh?”

“The answering service forwarded the call from the Lakefield police department to me. Luckily I was in town, and only a few blocks away, visiting Dad.”

“That’s why you’re on the ATV.”

Jack shrugged. “Seemed right for the weather.” He brushed at the snow accumulating on his shoulder and took another look at the tent by the apartment building. The woman had vanished. He twisted his lips. No matter. He was here on serious business. Not to score. Jack gestured for Terry to step aside with him. Behind them, the cops reformed their circle and started grumbling about the weather.

He stared Terry in the eye and lowered his voice. “What in the hell is going on over there?”

Terry tightened his mouth. “Resident found a skeleton in the crawl space this morning.”

Fuck. The cop who’d called him hadn’t been full of shit as Jack had hoped. “What was he doing under the building?”

Terry shook his head. “He wasn’t under the building. He was walking his dog when the animal crawled into a hole in the wall of the foundation. That’s when he found some bones.”

“Are they sure they’re human bones?” The words came out of Jack’s mouth just as an image of the blonde woman flashed in his mind. She’d been holding a skull.

A skull? How’d he miss that?

Terry nodded.

“So the bones have been there a long time?” Maybe they’d been there before Dad bought the building.

“I don’t know. One of the forensic techs was overheard saying the bones were in a pile under the building like they’d just been put there.”