I See You

I See You

The Hangman

A Criminal Profiler Novel . . .

FBI special agent Zoe Spencer uses skeletal remains to recreate the faces of murder victims through sculpture. Though highly scientific, the process is also sensitive and intimate; she becomes attached to the individuals she identifies, desperate to find justice for each.

As Zoe examines old remains, she sees a teenage girl looking back at her—the victim in a cold case from over a decade ago. Zoe wants nothing more than to tell this young woman’s story and to bring her killer to justice.

Zoe’s case leads her to the victim’s hometown and to homicide detective William Vaughan, Zoe’s on-again, off-again lover. As the two become more involved in the case, they quickly realize that it isn’t as cold as they first believed: someone’s still out there hunting women. And with more women gone missing, time’s running out. Can they work together and stop this madman before he kills again?

I See You Excerpt

Image of suspense author Mary Burton

 

 

Special Agent Zoe Spencer stepped back from the clay bust she had been working on for weeks. The woman’s likeness featured an angled jaw, a long narrow nose, and sculpted cheekbones. She had chosen brown for the eyes, a guess based on statistics. And it was not lost on her that the most telling part of who this woman had been was conjecture.

Zoe’s attention to detail was both her superpower and her Achilles’ heel. Many questioned her ceaseless fretting over the minutiae such as a chin’s dimple, the flare of nostrils, or the curve of lips into a grin. Some in the bureau still believed her work was purely art and not real science.

Her sculptures were not an exercise in art and creativity. The point of her work, like this bust, was to restore a murder victim’s identity and see that they received justice. But instead of arguing with the nonbelievers, she simply allowed her 61 percent closure rate do her talking.

Sculptor, artist, and FBI special agent were her current incarnations, but she had others. Dancer. Wife. Young widow. Survivor. Each had left indelible marks, some welcome and some not.

On a good day, Zoe would not change her history. Her past had led her to this place, and she was here for a reason. But on a bad day, well, she would have killed to get her old life back.

She had been with the FBI criminal profiler squad for two years and almost immediately had put her expertise to work. She caught the cases requiring forensic sketches or sculptures, not only because of her artistic abilities and expertise in fraud, but because of her keen interview skills. Armed only with questions, a sketch pad, and a pencil, she burrowed into the repressed memories of witnesses and victims, penciling and shadowing those recollections into useful images.

She certainly did not have a master artisan’s skill, but she was good enough. And from time to time, local law enforcement brought her a skull and requested a forensic reconstruction. Such was the case of her latest subject.

The lab door opened. “How’s it going?”

The question came from her boss, Special Agent Jerrod Ramsey, who oversaw a five-person profiling team based at the FBI’s Quantico office. Their team specialized in the more unusual and difficult cases.

In his late thirties, Ramsey was tall and lean with broad shoulders. He had thick brown hair cut short on the sides and longer on the top, a style reminiscent of the 1930s. His patrician looks betrayed his upper-class upbringing that had financed his Harvard University undergrad and Yale law degrees. Naturally skeptical, he was considered one of the best profilers, and though many wanted him in the FBI’s Washington, DC headquarters overseeing more agents, he had skillfully maneuvered away from the promotions.

Zoe raised the sculpting tool to the bust’s ear and shaved down the lobe a fraction. The artist always wanted more time to tinker. The agent understood when good had to be enough. “I’m ninety percent of the way there.”

Ramsey approached the bust and studied it closely. His expression was unreadable, stern even, but interest sparked in his eyes. He was impressed. “This is better than ninety percent.”

“Thank you.”

Ramsey leaned in, closely regarding Jane Doe’s glassy stare. “It’s really remarkable that you could create this likeness given the damage.”

Nikki McDonald had done Zoe no favors when she had handled and then dropped the scorched skull. “I’ve worked with worse.”

“I understand standard skin depths and predetermined measurements for determining facial structure, but how did you decide that she had brown eyes?”

Ah, always back to the eyes. “Over fifty percent of the world’s population has brown eyes.”

He grinned slightly. “So, a guess?”

“A calculated guess, Agent Ramsey.”

“I stand corrected. How long did this take?”

“On and off, about six weeks. I had to work it around other cases.”

“We all juggle. Nature of the beast.”

“Not complaining. I like the work.” Married to it was more like it.

“What else can you tell me about Jane Doe?” he asked.

Zoe shrugged off the smock she wore over her white tailored shirt and black slacks and exchanged it for her suit jacket hanging on a peg. “Bone structure tells me she was a Caucasian female in her late teens. The few teeth that remain indicate she enjoyed good nutrition and dental care, which suggests she had resources when she was alive.”

He walked around the bust, getting a 360-degree view. He pointed to the hair tucked behind the ear, as a girl in her teens might do. “Was the hair also a calculated guess?”

“In part. Given her bone structure, I assumed it was a lighter color.”

“Do you know how she died?”

“Knife marks on her ribs indicate she was stabbed at least once in or near the heart.”

“The bones were badly burned. Could a fire have killed her?”

“We’d need soft tissue to determine. There are marks along the sides of the skull suggesting someone took a blowtorch to it.”

“Why torch the skull?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps the killer wanted to minimize the smell of rotting flesh. Or he wanted to destroy DNA, which he did accomplish when he also pulled most of her teeth. Or he could have been exorcising extreme rage.”

“He wanted to obliterate the woman’s identity,” he said, more to himself.

“That’s what I think.”

“The killer or someone messaged the tip to Ms. McDonald’s website,” Ramsey said. “Why now?”

“Another guess? The killer is tired of hiding,” she theorized. “He wants recognition for a job he considers well done. Maybe he’s sending a message to someone else?”

“Who?”

“An accomplice.” She sighed. “Or a witness who now feels secure enough to act.”

“How long has Jane Doe been dead?” Ramsey eyed the bust, as if the face troubled him.

“No way of knowing. Though Jane’s dental work is modern.”

“Any personal items found with the skull?”

“No.” She was Jane’s last and best hope for identification.

Ramsey straightened. “Impressive work, Agent Spencer. The bust will be a significant help to Alexandria police. You’re working with Detective William Vaughan?”

“Correct.”

“He attended several of the profiling team’s workshops in the spring.”

The spring training sessions had been designed to help local cops solve crimes. Detective Vaughan had been one of her best students. She had discovered he had a master’s in theoretical math, a reputation for thinking outside the box, and, over his ten years on homicide, a closure rate edging toward 90 percent. Her respect for his work had grown into desire, and when he had asked her out for coffee, saying yes was easy. It was not long after that that they had started sleeping together.

“I’ll send Vaughan a picture of the bust so he can cross-check it against any pictures he has on file,” she said. “His department’s public information officer is arranging a news release. If we can publicize her face, we might get an identification.”

“Good.”

“Ms. McDonald has called my office several times,” she said. “I haven’t taken her call, but her voicemail messages make it very clear she wants access to the case. Kind of a finder’s fee.”

“She’ll get the news along with everyone else.” His mouth bunched in curiosity as he regarded the still face. “I understand the apartment building where the skull was found is a half mile from I-95.” The north-south interstate’s twelve hundred miles of roadway ran through a dozen states and was a main artery for running drugs, weapons, and human trafficking.

“Correct. Jane Doe could be from anywhere.”

Ramsey stood back from the bust, folding his arms over his chest. “Her face is familiar.”

Zoe looked again at the bust. “You’ve seen her before?”

He leaned forward, his eyes narrowing. “Ever had a name on the tip of your tongue, but you couldn’t quite grasp it?”

Instead of pressing him for the name, she took a different tactic. “You’ve worked hundreds of cases.”

His gaze cut back to Zoe. “Yes. And I’ve seen the faces of a thousand victims.”

“Given she was in the basement for up to twenty years, you could have been a new agent when you saw her.”

“Early 2000s.”

“Remember, she’d have been a girl of means and likely missed when she vanished.”

He flexed his fingers and then suddenly straightened, snapping his fingers. “I can’t believe I didn’t see it right away. This is Marsha Prince.”

“Prince?” Zoe said. “Why is that name familiar?”

“She was a rising sophomore at Georgetown University and was in Alexandria working in her father’s business. She was days away from returning to school in August 2001 when she vanished.”

Tumblers clicked into place, and the memory unlocked. The case had been profiled at the academy. “She was living at home with her parents, who lived in Alexandria. She literally vanished, and the cops never figured out what happened to her.”

“That’s the one,” Ramsey said.

There had been search crews scouring the region. Cadaver dogs had canvased the parks, fields, and riverbeds, dry from drought that summer. As Zoe studied the face, more fragments of the forgotten case slid together into a cohesive picture.

Young, blond, smart. With the world before her, Marsha Prince’s disappearance had set off a firestorm that had rippled through all levels of law enforcement, local politics, and television news shows. Her name had been kept alive for a few years until finally time had cast Marsha Prince into the sea of lost souls.

“Should we notify her family that we may have found her?” Zoe asked.

“Mom and Dad are both deceased,” he said. “She does have a sister, Hadley Prince, but last I heard, she’d moved away.”

“Without DNA, we’ll need a visual identification from family.”

“Turn it over to Detective Vaughan. The ball’s in his court now.”

©2019 Mary Burton

Cover and Buy Now bubble for Mary Burton's I SEE YOUn

I See You Reviews

“Get ready to experience some chills and thrills. Author Mary Burton treats her readers to a turn-the-page experience in her latest release.” Harlequin Junkie

“Burton is in top form in her latest thriller…” For the Love of Books

Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek

The Hangman

Special Agent Macy Crow is a survivor. After a vicious hit-and-run nearly kills her, she gets right back to work, and now she’s gunning for a spot on the FBI’s elite profiling team. As an audition, she offers to investigate the recently discovered bones of Tobi Turner, a high school girl who disappeared fifteen years ago.

 

While investigating with local sheriff Mike Nevada, a former colleague and onetime lover, Macy discovers a link between Tobi’s case and several others that occurred around the same time as her disappearance. As Macy interviews victims and examines old cases, she uncovers a sinister picture of a stalker who plays with his victims before they take their last breath.

 

Macy and Mike are on the hunt. Their prey is watching.

Hide and Seek Excerpt: Making the Cut

Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.

It was the sound of fingers clawing against the dirt, and it had echoed through Special Agent Macy Crow’s dreams last night. She was accustomed to nightmares, which had plagued her since she was a small child. But this one had been agonizingly real.

Still unsettled, Macy opened the driver’s side door of her four-door Toyota. She tossed a worn black backpack into the passenger seat, slid behind the wheel, and shifted the pressure off her right side and away from the annoying pain. The discomfort had been a daily part of her life since a hit-and-run five months ago in Texas.

The attack had broken her right leg, cracked her skull, and flatlined her heart for nearly a minute. By rights, she should be dead. She shouldn’t have walked again. She shouldn’t have returned to work.

But here she was, ignoring not only the lingering discomfort but also the crazy dreams that had followed her back from the other side of the rainbow.

Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.

She started her engine, slid on her sunglasses, and drove out of the apartment building lot onto Seminary Road. She followed side streets to the I-95 south entrance. The morning traffic was already heavy and, like always, pissed her off.

Following a familiar route to the FBI complex, she was more anxious than most days. She juggled jolts of worry and excitement as she visualized her upcoming interview with Special Agent Jerrod Ramsey.

Ramsey headed up a small team that tackled violent crimes. His group had cracked several high-profile cases in the last year. Details about their deeds were scant, but their results made them legendary.

After cutting through the traffic sludge, she took her exit and slowed as she approached the guard station at Quantico. She reached for her badge, flipped the leather case open, and handed it to the marine on duty. “Morning, Corporal.”

The marine looked at her picture and then at her, frowning as he’d done almost every day since her return three weeks ago. He handed back her identification and waved her through. She drove to the main FBI building, parked, and presented her badge to the familiar FBI security guard while her backpack was x-rayed.

“Crow, what you call a pen with no hair?” he asked with a straight face.

Every day it was a new joke about her short hair.

“Shoot me now, Ralph, and just get it over with.”

A neurosurgeon had shaved her head minutes before he had cracked open her skull and relieved pressure on her brain. Yes, she currently looked like a cross between Twiggy and a bristle brush. Desperate hunts for hair ties were gone for the near future, but she was aboveground.

“Come on, Special Agent, I bet you know,” he gently coaxed with a shit-eating grin.

“What?” She carefully tucked her badge in her jacket breast pocket.

“A bald point.”

Despite herself, she laughed. “Jesus, Ralph, you need help.”

“Who loves ya?”

Ignoring the Kojak reference, she took the elevator up to the third floor, where Special Agent Jerrod Ramsey worked. She made her way to his corner office and knocked.

“Enter.”

She pushed open the door as a leather chair swiveled toward her, offering her first up close look at Jerrod Ramsey.

Thick brown hair was cut short and swept off a striking face that conjured images of East Coast prep schools, old money, and the Hamptons. He wasn’t classically handsome, but the sharp green eyes and olive skin coupled with tailored suits had to be kryptonite to the ladies.

Ramsey rose and adjusted his blue tie before he crossed the room to her.

“Special Agent Macy Crow,” she said.

A faint smile hinted of a welcome. “Good to meet you, Agent Crow,” he said, extending his hand.

She accepted his strong grip, clasping his hand firmly. “And you as well, sir.”

When Macy had declared her intentions to return to the bureau, she had been temporarily assigned to the ViCAP computer section because her former position had been filled. If she wanted back in the field, she would have to apply for another position.

When she had heard Jerrod Ramsey’s profiling team had an opening, she had thrown her name into the hat. She had expected a quick no to her request but instead had received what amounted to a “Let’s talk.”

Either returning from the dead had earned her points, or someone with juice was pulling strings. Whatever the reason, she hadn’t looked a gift horse in the mouth and had agreed to the meeting. Last night a courier had delivered a file from Ramsey. He’d instructed her to review the case and be prepared to discuss.

Ramsey offered her one of the two seats in front of his desk. When she sat, he took the remaining one.

“How do you like being back at work? Working with tech in the ViCAP unit must be a change,” he said.

“It’s been great.” In truth, staring at the four walls of a cubicle and a computer screen sucked. But it was the price of readmission.

He allowed the pause to linger, expecting her to fill in the silence with nervous chatter. It was a good trick. And one she used when she interviewed suspects.

When she didn’t speak, he said, “I heard you’ve set a few recovery records.”

“Queen of rehab,” she said with a smile. No agent wanted a weak partner. “Ready to rumble.”

His eyes narrowed. Either he had decided she was too flippant, or he liked her moxie. Or maybe the pointed stare was supposed to make her second-guess and worry while he figured her out.

She again absorbed the silence. What the hell. She was her own person and wouldn’t tone herself down for him or anyone else. Near death had a way of cutting through petty worries cluttering everyday life.

He reached across his desk and retrieved a file. Her name was marked on the tab in precise block letters. She imagined he already knew her professional credentials and her Texas origin story. Reading the file now was for show.

“Ten years with the bureau,” Ramsey said. “You worked in Denver, Kansas City, Seattle, and Quantico. Human trafficking is your specialty. You led several successful undercover operations.”

“Blessed with a slight frame, and in the right light, I pass for a teenager.”

He closed the file. “Why not go back to that?”

“The miniskirts and halter tops don’t fit as well as they used to,” she quipped.

“They’d also showcase your scars.”

“Honestly, the scars would have added to my mystique on the streets. But with or without the red racing stripe running up my leg, my days of passing as a teenager are over.” Climbing back-alley fences was also no longer in the cards for her. “Time for a new challenge.”

“I’ve heard good things about you,” Ramsey said. “Texas Rangers said you cracked a big case for them. ViCAP also likes having you.”

“The Rangers solved the case in Texas. I just gave them the crowbar to pry open the cracks.”

“Tell me about Texas.” Ramsey wasn’t going to make her return easy. No slam dunks in this room.

Reciting the story wasn’t easy, despite lots of practice. “You have a reputation for being prepared. You must know as much as I do.”

“I’m not interested in the facts in a report. I want to hear your version.”

She shifted in her seat. “I returned to Texas when my father was murdered. Pop left a message for me. Basically, he said there was a grave in the desert. The grave belonged to my birth mother. Turns out there were three graves. All girls who’d been kidnapped, raped, and murdered after they gave birth.”

“Did you know you were adopted?”

“Hard to hide it. When both parents have black hair and brown skin, it’s difficult to pass a pale blond kid off as their own.” She shrugged. “They were always up front about the adoption. But they left out the part about my birth mother being murdered.”

“That must have been a gut punch.”

“Learning I’m a child of rape and that I’m half-monster wasn’t pleasant. Gut punch sums it up.”

Her adoptive mother had once whispered that Macy had bad blood. When a girl in her third-grade class had been kidnapped and murdered, the other children had been afraid. Macy hadn’t. She had been fascinated by the cops, the cadaver-sniffing dogs, and the blue wave of law enforcement sweeping over their community.

“No one but Macy dare goes near that alley,” her mother had whispered to her father. “It’s not normal.” Her mother hadn’t relaxed until the fourteen-year-old murderer had been arrested.

The Texas trip had driven home the true meaning of bad blood. Since then, its full weight had rested heavily on Macy’s shoulders.

“Violence is forged in my DNA,” Macy said. “Maybe it explains why I’m good at hunting monsters.” Modesty didn’t become her, so she didn’t bother with it. “I’m good at what I do, or I wouldn’t be here now.”

“Do you think you’d have been injured in Texas if you’d had backup?” Ramsey asked.

Macy refused to apologize or backpedal. “I take risks. It’s the secret sauce behind my high-profile arrests, and yes, it set me up for the HNR.”

“HNR?”

“Sorry, shorthand for hit-and-run. The incident has come up a few times, so I abbreviate it. Federal employees love acronyms.”

Ramsey wasn’t amused. “Did your injury teach you any lessons?”

“To be more careful. But I can’t promise. No agent really knows what they’ll encounter in the field or how they’ll react.”

A muscle pulsed in his jaw. “How are you physically?”

“Solid and better every day.” She could lie without blinking, thanks to the undercover work.

If he didn’t buy her assessment, he didn’t give any hint. “Technically, you’re to remain on desk duty for another month.”

She decoded the thoughts lurking behind his dark eyes. Instead of wondering, she asked, “Are you saying you want me on your team?”

A smile tugged at the edge of his lips. “Do you want to be on it?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Why?”

More silence settled between them as they played an invisible game of chicken. Would she stay silent? Or would she admit that catching monsters was how she justified her existence and eased her crushing sorrow for the brutalized girl who’d died giving birth to her in the desert?

“All I can say is that I love the work,” she said.

“Working on my team isn’t easy, Agent Crow.”

Membership on his team meant long hours and unearthing evidence in horrific cases. Ramsey’s agents had a front-row seat to a brand of darkness that most law enforcement officers never saw.

“No one outworks me,” she said. “I settled so many cases in Kansas City, Seattle, and Denver because I took risks and didn’t give up. I’m here now because I don’t give up. I’m the proverbial dog with a bone when I get my hooks into a case.”

He didn’t speak for a moment. “In the weeks you’ve been with ViCAP, you’ve picked up on several patterns in cases around the country.”

She wasn’t here for a pat on the back. “Are you going to ask me about the case file you sent me? The one I studied last night until one a.m.?”

Intrigued, he sat back in his chair. “Tell me about the case.”

She was relieved. They were sailing into the safe waters of murder. “Last week, the skeletal remains of Tobi Turner were discovered in a Shenandoah Valley barn. The teenage girl went missing fifteen years ago. Sheriff Mike Nevada, the new county sheriff and a former member of your team, requested the FBI’s assistance after DNA found on the girl’s backpack matched the DNA of an unknown serial rapist active in the summer of 2004, three months before Tobi vanished.”

Ramsey didn’t look impressed. “Continue.”

Macy carefully crossed and uncrossed her legs. “Unfortunately, this offender isn’t in the CODIS system.” CODIS, the Combined DNA Identification System, was a database of DNA collected from prisoners and arrestees. “Tobi Turner and the rape victims all had a similar look. Slender, dark hair, and petite.”

“Anything else?”

“I did a data search of the Deep Run area in 2004. There was another girl who also vanished two weeks after Tobi. Her name was Cindy Shaw. She was mentioned in a two-paragraph article. The headline read ‘Second Girl Missing?’ There were no follow-ups to that article.”

He frowned. “Cindy Shaw was not in the file I gave you.”

“I always dig deeper than the file.”

“Why is Cindy Shaw significant?”

“Ms. Shaw may not be, but she attended Valley High School with Tobi Turner, she had long dark hair, and she vanished. No missing person report was filed on her behalf. Her last known address was a low-income trailer park. I suspect she was an at-risk kid, and when she disappeared, no one cared.”

“Not all poor girls who go missing are kidnapped, raped, and murdered.”

The reference alluded to her birth mother. And if it was meant to sting, it did. But a little more pain in an overflowing bucket didn’t really matter. “Every case surrounding the time period of Tobi Turner’s disappearance has to be questioned and examined.”

Ramsey looked almost impressed. “What do you suggest I do?”

So there it was. Her shot.

Discipline kept her from scooting to the edge of her seat. “I’d like to go to Deep Run and look into all these cases. I’m a fresh set of eyes, and as you’ve already suggested, I have a knack for detail and pattern.”

Ramsey regarded her for several beats before he said, “I’ll send you to Deep Run for five days. I want to see what you come up with.”

The green light warranted a fist pump, but she resisted. This was a test. Ramsey didn’t care about a personnel manual’s BS question or boxes that needed checking. The field would tell him.

“Should I check in with my superior downstairs?” she asked.

“No. I’ll clear it with him,” Ramsey said.

“You won’t be disappointed,” she said.

He raised an index finger. “I’m not looking for a cowgirl who’s going to ride into town, shoot it up, or get herself killed. I want you to dig up solid intel, and then you’ll debrief the team at Quantico next Monday. I still don’t know if you’ll make the cut,” Ramsey warned.

She hadn’t scored, but she had the ball. Time to take her best shot. “Like I said, you won’t be disappointed.”

“I saw just the slightest limp as you crossed the parking lot. You do a hell of a job hiding it.”

She glanced out his window, which overlooked the lot. “I qualified for the mile run time and retained my expert status at the shooting range.”

“Both scores have dropped since the attack.”

“I can hold my own.” She would not apologize or make excuses. She was done talking.

He studied her. “Hell, I can’t think of many people who would come back after what happened to you.”

“That’s ancient history. All that matters now is this case and me proving I belong on your team.”

“Glad you feel that way, because I can’t cut you any slack. Five days, Special Agent Crow. We’ll both know if you make the grade.”

She resisted the urge to uncross her legs and relieve the pressure on her nerves. Instead, she grinned. “I’m up to the challenge.”

“You’ll be working with Sheriff Mike Nevada.”

“I assumed as much.”

“Didn’t you work with Nevada when he was with the bureau?”

“Our paths crossed in Kansas City. He was searching for a serial killer who preyed on prostitutes trafficked along I-35. I was trying to catch the man pimping the girls. Turned out we were hunting the same guy.”

Crossing paths with Nevada. It was a nice euphuism for sex between two commitment-phobic agents. They had ended whatever it was they’d had on good terms, but walking away from him had been the only time she’d resented the job. “Nevada was a first-rate FBI agent, and I imagine he’s just as good a sheriff.”

“I’ll let him know you’re on your way. Stay in contact,” Ramsey said.

She rubbed her hand over her right thigh. “When do I leave?”

“Today. Pack your bag and hit the road.”

She checked her watch. “Will do.”

Ramsey’s smile was polite, but he clearly had his doubts.

©2019 Mary Burton

 

 

Hide and Seek Reviews

Coming Soon

Cut and Run

Cut and Run

The Hangman

“Must-read romantic suspense. Burton is a bona fide suspense superstar…enough twists and turns to give you whiplash…simmering romance…a well-rounded story.”

                                                                 Happily Ever After, USA Today

Trauma victims are not new to medical examiner Faith McIntyre, but this one is different. The unconscious woman clinging to life after a hit and run is FBI agent Macy Crow. What the woman from Quantico was doing in a dark alley after midnight is just one mystery. The other is more unsettling: Macy is Faith’s mirror image—the twin sister she never knew she had.

Faith knew that she was adopted, but now she’s finding that her childhood concealed other secrets. Following the trail of clues Macy left behind, Faith and Texas Ranger Mitchell Hayden make a shocking discovery on an isolated country ranch—a burial ground for three women who disappeared thirty years before.

They weren’t the only victims in a killer’s twisted plot. And they won’t be the last.

As the missing pieces of Faith’s and Macy’s dark lives snap into place, Faith is becoming more terrified by what she sees—and by what she must do to save her sister and herself from the past.

Cut and Run Excerpt

Macy Follows the Bread Crumbs

One way or another, she’d meet Faith McIntyre. But for now, the Hill Country and East Austin addresses waited. She typed in the rural address, and when it loaded, she took a right onto the road and drove past a lone strip mall and scattered homes before the turnoff to Blanco, Texas, appeared.

The moonlight was bright enough to illuminate sparse brown land covered with scrub trees and bushes. But the land and her surroundings barely registered as her mind spiraled around the idea that she might have a sister. Did Faith McIntyre know about her? One way or another, they would have questions for each other.

Which led to renewed questions about her birth mother, who had always been shrouded in we-don’t-knows and mumbled comments about a closed adoption. If her mother or Jack really knew who she was, they’d never said, regardless of how often she’d pressed.

Her headlights cut into the deepening darkness. Hoping to settle her racing mind, she switched on the radio and found a country western station . . . she always felt at home when she heard country music. She cranked it, hoping the melody would drown out her thoughts.

The Maps app on Jack’s phone reminded her of an upcoming turn, snapping her back to the present. She slowed as she searched the road for a sign. There wasn’t one, and she was halfway past a small rusted mailbox when she realized she’d found her turn. She backed up and took the left, grimacing as the dry brown dust kicked up around her car.

Ahead, her headlights sliced over a brick house that faced east. The windows were boarded up, and the roof looked like it had taken a beating in a recent storm. It had a low porch that ran across the entire front and a single rocker that stood eerily still.

She stopped. As the engine idled, she studied the house bathed in moonlight. Out here unexpected guests could just as easily be met with the barrel of a shotgun as a welcome . . . a lesson she’d learned in the Colorado mountains her first year on the job. She’d been searching for several missing girls. The woman on the other end of the gun had demanded her name as her gnarled finger twitched above the trigger. Macy had grabbed the gun and twisted it out of her hands, but her supervisor had reamed her out for ending up in the tight spot.

After a few minutes and still no signs of life, she shut off her truck’s engine, checked the gun holstered on her hip, and got out of the car. The day’s blazing heat still hadn’t dissipated.

Sweat beaded on her back almost as soon as she started walking toward the house. A rusted wind vane squeaked softly as her gaze swept the entire area a second time.

Climbing the front steps, she noticed the shades were drawn. There were also footprints in the dust scattered on the porch. “Was that you, Jack?”

She stood to the right of the door. Hand tightening on the grip of her weapon, she knocked on the front door and waited. Being out here alone at night wasn’t the smartest maneuver and something she’d never dare if this wasn’t so damn personal. A round object caught her peripheral vision, and she looked up to find a small camera covering the front porch.

The house remained silent, with no response to a second knock. She descended the stairs and walked around the back. Moonlight glittered on an old set of patio furniture. Windows facing the back of the barren property were also covered in shades.

She then walked to the back of the property. Dust coated her ankle boots and the hems of her jeans.

Other than the footprints on the porch, it looked as if no one had been out here in years.

Her gaze was then drawn to a row of three large rocks, arranged in a perfectly straight line. That kind of symmetry didn’t happen in nature, and for some reason, the hair on the back of her neck rose. She realized what she was looking at. Grave markers.

As she unholstered her weapon, she moved slowly toward the stones and saw a set of large footprints that circled the first stone several times. The footprints trailed to the second stone and the third. She knelt by the first and placed her hand on the sunbaked rock. The stones had no markings, but they were spaced almost exactly five feet apart.

Jack had hidden this phone in a compartment beneath the carpet for a damn good reason. Using the Maps app was way out of his wheelhouse. “Pop, the phone tells me you were out here, but it doesn’t tell me why.”

She scrolled to the next address. East Austin. She was convinced her old man had left her a trail of bread crumbs, and in her entire career, she’d never been afraid to chase a lead. But this time, she truly feared what she’d find.

 Copyright © Mary Burton 2018

 

Cut and Run Reviews

Coming Soon

Her Last Word

Her Last Word

The Hangman

“Intriguing connections…a good deal to enjoy here, particularly
the richness of the two protagonists.” 

RT Book Reviews

Kaitlin Roe’s vow to uncover what happened to her missing cousin pits her against a relentless killer. 

Fourteen years ago, Kaitlin Roe was the lone witness to the abduction of her cousin Gina. She still remembers that lonely Virginia road. She can still see the masked stranger and hear Gina’s screams. And she still suffers from both the guilt of running away and her resentment at being interrogated as a suspect. Now, she’s determined to assuage the pain and stop the nightmares that haunt her. She begins interviewing everyone associated with the unsolved crime for a podcast designed to put Gina’s story back in the limelight in the hope of bringing closure to the long cold case.

When a woman Kaitlin interviewed is found stabbed to death, she fears that she’s drawn a killer out of hiding. For Detective John Adler the fear is even greater. He thinks the murders have only just begun and that Kaitlin is a target.

The past is closing in fast and it’s darker than Kaitlin remembers. Soon, her wish will come true. She’s going to find out exactly what happened to Gina. Someone has been dying to tell her.

Her Last Word Excerpt

Sunday, August 15, 2004; 11:42 p.m.

It was a hot, muggy night when I stumbled up to the front door of the Riverside Drive house. I was fairly new to the area and still easily turned around. It was nearly midnight, and the residents of this affluent neighborhood weren’t accustomed to drunken late-night visitors. I’d lost track of time and to this day don’t know how I made it up the hill from the river to the Hudson residence.

Dispatcher: “911. What’s your emergency?”

Caller: “My name is Jack Hudson. I live on Riverside Drive. There’s a young woman on my front porch. She’s banging on the door and begging for help.”

Dispatcher: “Have you spoken to her?”

Caller: “Just for a second. She appears drunk. She’s incoherent. Hysterical . . . Oh, shit! She just threw up in the flower bed.”

Dispatcher: “Do you know why she’s upset?”

Caller: “She claims she and her friend were attacked on Riverside Drive. Her friend was then kidnapped.”

Dispatcher: “Did you ask the woman her name?”

Caller: “Her name is Kaitlin. I didn’t catch her last name. She lives down the street with the Mason family. They have a daughter, Gina.”

Dispatcher: “I’ve dispatched officers. What is the woman doing?”

Caller: “She’s pacing in my driveway.”

Dispatcher: “Is she bleeding or hurt in any way?”

Caller: “I can’t tell. Let me flip on the porch lights.” Feet shuffle. A switch clicks. “She has blood on her arms. Jesus, she looks insane.”

 

Her Last Word Reviews

“Burton’s latest romantic thriller takes inspiration from the true crime podcast sensation…the narrative, which shifts from collected interviews regarding a fourteen-year-old murder and the current day murder spree it inspires, moves quickly and provides the reader with plenty of intriguing connections and building suspense…there is a good deal to enjoy here, particularly the richness of the two protagonists and their developing relationship.”
RT Book Reviews

“The writing is sharp and crisp. The characters are flawed, scarred and tenacious…Burton has written a highly entertaining, intricately woven mystery with a touch of romance that is satisfying, enthralling, and doesn’t disappoint.”
What’s Better Than Books?

“A gritty thriller that will stick with readers long after they close the book…readers will not want to put the book down.”
Book Him Danno

The Last Move

The Last Move

The Hangman
“Burton’s romantic crime fiction is gritty and well plotted. She leaves the reader breathless.”
Crime Warp

FBI agent Kate Hayden heads to San Antonio to hunt a serial killer. The tricky part? She already caught him.

Catching monsters helps FBI agent Kate Hayden keep her nightmares at bay. Now an urgent call brings her back to San Antonio, the scene of her violent past. A brutal new murder shows hallmarks of a serial killer nicknamed the Samaritan. Tricky part is, Kate already caught him.

Either Kate made a deadly error, or she’s got a copycat on her hands. Paired with homicide detective Theo Mazur, she quickly realizes this murder is more twisted than it first appeared. Then a second body is found, the mode of death identical to a different case that Kate thought she’d put behind her.

Now Kate and Detective Theo Mazur aren’t just working a homicide; the investigative pair is facing a formidable enemy who knows Kate intimately. While Mazur is personally trying to protect Kate, the closer they are drawn to the killer, the clearer it becomes that in this terrifying game, there is only one rule: don’t believe everything you see…

The Last Move Excerpt
The first of the deplaning Salt Lake passengers appeared, and Mazur shoved his phone in his pocket as he waited for her. A dozen or so people filed off the plane before the short brunette appeared rolling a single carry-on with a worn backpack slung over her shoulder. Her slim figure was partially masked by a baggy black jacket, slacks, and white collared shirt. Her light-brown hair hung loosely around her shoulders, accentuating high cheekbones and a slightly sunburned face.

Walking with Dr. Hayden was an elderly woman. Dr. Hayden smiled as she pointed down the terminal, leaning in to explain something until the woman nodded and walked off. The doctor quickly dropped her gaze to her phone and scrolled through what must have been emails that had accumulated during the flight.

When she looked up, her gaze searched and settled on him. She crossed to him as if they’d already met. “Detective Mazur.”

“I look that much like a cop?”

She barely blinked. “You do.”

If not for the suit, he’d never have nailed her as a Fed. She looked younger than her thirty-plus years, and picturing her small frame chasing a bad guy almost made him smile. “You need to make any stops before we hit the road?”

“No. Thank you. I assume the autopsy is still scheduled for this morning.”

“It is.” He checked his watch. “They’re waiting on us, so when we can get there, they’ll start. The victim was well known in the local business community. She had many friends on the city council and in state government.” He reached for the handle of the suitcase. “I can take that for you.”

“You don’t have to.”

Jesus, he hoped she was not one of those hard-assed feminists. “This is Texas.”

“You’re from Chicago.”

“Accent gave it away?”

“Yes.”

“When in Rome.” That seemed explanation enough for her, and she allowed him to take the suitcase. He guided her through the busy airport and toward ground transportation and the parking deck. The November sun was already high in the sky, and the weatherman was promising another warm day.

“Different than Virginia, I imagine.”

“I haven’t been home in six weeks. Utah was my last stop. But I understand the leaves are changing in Virginia.”

The hints of warmth he’d seen as she spoke to the old woman were gone. The pleasantry was spoken almost as an afterthought, as if she’d memorized the phrases from an FBI handbook on conversation. Her small stature belied her stiff tone. And if he wasn’t off the mark on his action heroes, she also wore a Wonder Woman bracelet.

But warm and fuzzy wasn’t what he was looking for just now. He needed this case solved.

©Mary Burton 2017

The Last Move Reviews
To Come