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She gave him a rundown on Noah Spivak’s arrest. “Did you verify Adam Miller’s alibi?”

“Sort of.” Brody frowned. “His client verified that they talked in the parking lot before leaving the club. He refused to sign an official statement because he isn’t sure of the amount of time involved.”

“So Adam has a weak alibi.”

“The client was nervous. I’m going to keep working on it. I’m still working my way through interviewing the waitstaff, valets, and caddies at the golf course. A background check on the client is pending.”

Stella made a note on the board. “Unless you break Adam’s alibi, Spivak is our only suspect. For now. We really need a search warrant for his parents’ house and his car. To get that, we have to establish a link between him and our victims.” Being at the church wasn’t enough.

“But there’s something that bothers you about him as a suspect.”

“Missy wasn’t sexually assaulted. If Spivak tortured and killed her, there would have been a sexual component to the murder.”

“Then we keep looking for other suspects,” Brody said. “I found something interesting in Lyle Jones’s background check.”

“Dena’s physical therapist?” Stella asked. “I thought we checked his record.”

“He’s clean in New York,” Brody nodded. “But he has two old assault charges on his record in New Jersey from four and five years ago.”

Stella found Lyle’s picture and pinned it to the bottom of the board. “He’s a long shot, but maybe we should take a closer look at him.”

Brody leaned forward. “When were you going to tell me about the photo you received this morning?”

“I haven’t seen you all day, and the chief wants it kept quiet.”

“You should have told me immediately,” Brody said.

“I told Horner.”

Brody huffed.

“I know. I’m sorry. I should have called you,” she admitted. He was right. She’d gotten caught up in the investigation, but her own safety had to be a priority, whether or not she liked it.

Brody pointed. “Promise me you won’t let it happen again.”

“All right.” Stella moved to stand in front of the two photos of the Green crime scene where they hung on the board, side by side. “Why would Missy’s killer want me to see the scene? Forensics couldn’t lift any prints from the envelope or photo.”

Brody’s gaze fixed on the pictures. “He posed her carefully, and he wanted you to see that. She wasn’t discovered for a day and a half. Her body position changed, either from the wind or animals. But what bothers me is that he sent it directly to you.”

Stella lifted a shoulder. “He probably saw me on the news.”

“I don’t like it.”

“I don’t like it either, but there isn’t anything I can do about it.” Though Stella wished she could avoid the media, dealing with them was part of the job, especially when her boss kept shoving her in front of the cameras to prove he was an equal opportunity employer.

“I’m following you home.”

“I was going to finish my notes first.”

“Well, now you’re not.” Brody stood, his posture stiff.

“You’re right.” Stella packed up her briefcase. “I can finish at home. And thank you.”

“I’m saying this both as your superior and your friend.” Brody escorted her to her car. “You are to take backup with you everywhere. Me, Lance, Mac, someone. I don’t even want you walking to your mailbox alone. You are to take zero chances. Whoever killed Missy Green has singled you out for special attention.”

Chapter Nineteen

The air was sticky and hot as Mac climbed into Stella’s cruiser late Friday morning. Her charcoal slacks and white blouse were all business, as was the weapon at her hip. But she’d have to wear a Sumo wrestler costume to cover those curves.

She turned to hand him a take-out cup of coffee.

“Thanks.” He fastened his seat belt and took a long sip. Sleep hadn’t come easily the night before. The insomnia had nothing to do with his wound. As the ER doc had promised, pain wasn’t keeping him up at night. At worst, his stitches itched. It was thoughts of death that invaded Mac’s dreams. A woman lying on a dark road. Cheryl, Lee, and the Colonel all made special appearances until Mac woke sad and frustrated. He couldn’t even escape his grief in sleep.

Stella’s gaze lingered on his face. “No time to shave?”

“Rough night.” He reached up to feel his jaw. Stubble rasped under his fingers. “I thought you liked the scruff.”

“I do.” The blush on her fair cheeks sent a warm wave of pleasure through him. Why didn’t he dream of her last night? His imagination did a fine job of conjuring the feel of her skin under his hands, the taste of her . . .”

Yeah. Those images would keep the nightmares away. He made a mental note to think of her the next time he closed his eyes. A vision of Stella, naked in his bed, flashed into his mind.

Not now.

He refocused on the conservatively dressed woman next to him, dressed being the key element. Her hair was wound into its usual tight bun, exposing the delicate line of her jaw and the column of her throat. Her cotton blouse was buttoned up far too high. What was that? A purple shadow outlined the left side of her jaw. He reached out and turned her face to catch the light. “Is that a bruise?”

She pulled her face out of his gentle grip. “It’s nothing.”

Anger surged.

“Who put it there?” Mac barely recognized his voice.

“A suspect.”

“When?”

“Last night.” Stella turned the car around and drove away from his cabin. “It’s not a big deal. Gianna called me to say she’d seen a strange man creeping around her NA meetings.”

“So you went and staked it out?” While Mac had been hanging out with the family, she’d been working the case. Alone.

“I took a uniform with me, and we caught him. Getting him into the handcuffs was a challenge.” She frowned.

“Do you think he had something to do with Dena’s disappearance?” Whoever he was, Mac wanted to smash his face.

“No. He’s a suspect in Missy Green’s murder.” She checked her phone. “I’m waiting for Gianna to return my call so I can get her to ID him.”

“Have you found anything to connect the cases?”

“No. Maybe I’m wrong and they’re not related.” She turned the rearview mirror to examine her face.

As much as Mac hated to see that mark on her face, he said, “Gives you street cred.”

She smiled, then winced as if the motion hurt. “Always good.”

“Where are we going?” He gulped coffee.

“The drug treatment center Missy used. The New Life Center for Hope.” She glanced at him. “Like I told you on the phone. You don’t have to come with me. This might not be related to Dena’s case.”

“Then again, maybe it is,” Mac said. “I read the case files. Both women are about the same age. They both have dark hair. Both the murder and the abduction were violent crimes, and they occurred within days of each other.” He paused. “Besides, I trust your instincts even if you don’t.”

Blushing, Stella settled into her seat, her fine-boned hands low on the steering wheel.

“What do you know about the center?”

“It’s run by a Dr. Randolph. He has no pending malpractice suits and no criminal record.” Stella tucked a stray hair back into her bun. “His center is supposed to be the best. People come from quite a distance to get treated there.”

“The Who’s Who of rehab?”

“Something like that.”

“Do you always wear your hair all coiled up like that?” He regretted the question as it left his lips.

“Our chief takes the dress code very seriously.” Stella sighed. “My other option is to buzz it above my ears.”

He pictured the way her hair had looked tousled and damp the night he’d crashed his Jeep. “The bun is awesome.”

“I think so, too.” Her grin eased the pressure in his chest. The more time he spent around Stella, the more interest he had in his hometown. He enjoyed the kids, too, and Hannah and Grant when they weren’t too pushy. Was it possible that the good memories would eventually outweigh the bad?

“I’m taking you with me, but you have to behave.” She shot him a bossy look, which was just plain hot. Stella could push him around anytime. Hell, she could handcuff him and—“I’d like to get on the doctor’s good side, so please don’t body slam anyone,” she said with a direct gaze that made his blood hum.

“Yes, ma’am.” Might be interesting to see those handcuffs on her wrists, too. Padded of course. Mac would never leave a mark on her perfect skin. He stared out the windshield. “I’ve been thinking about Missy’s case. Heroin as a weapon seems odd if she was tortured.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Why inflict pain on someone and then give them a painless death?”

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