The Hangman

The Hangman

The Hangman
“A gut-wrenching romantic thriller . . . nail-biting moments are even more tense because the reader knows the killer’s motives while the characters do not . . . slow-burning passion and dangerous action.”
Publishers Weekly

“Will have readers enthralled . . . strong, credible and vulnerable characters . . . Burton’s expertise at crafting suspense shines bright in this novel.”
RT Book Reviews

“Romantic suspense lovers are going to be thrilled with Mary Burton’s new series, The Forgotten Files.”
Suspense Magazine

Julia Vargas is a cop on a mission. She dedicates her spare time to hunting the Hangman, a twisted serial killer who created ghoulish exhibitions of his victims and who supposedly drove her father, Detective Jim Vargas, to suicide twenty-five years ago.

The unsolved case, always stalking her, hits dangerously close when a woman’s bones, hidden for decades, are found in a historic Richmond home along with a picture of Julia and her father. It’s the first new lead since Jim died, the sort of break Julia’s needed.

Suddenly, the long dormant Hangman is back and killing again. Now, working with homicide detective and sometimes lover Tobias Novak, Julia is forced to confront her past as they work feverishly to stop him. The clock is ticking as the Hangman fashions the noose for his next victim. And both Julia and Nick believe it’s meant for her.

 

The Hangman Excerpt
Novak watched as Natasha photographed and bagged the rope. “Dr. McGowan, be on the lookout for any marks on the bone that might suggest blunt force trauma or a knife wound.”

“Will do.”

He followed the pair to the stairs, and when Dr. McGowan moved to heft her end of the stretcher, he nudged her aside and took the weight. It was unwieldy more than heavy and slow going up the stairs. It took maneuvering to get the stretcher around the tight kitchen door corner. When they cleared it, he and the assistant carried the gurney out to the sidewalk.

“Thanks,” Dr. McGowan said. “I’ll never say no to a bit of brawn.”

“How well do you know Agent Vargas?”

Since Novak and Julia had started sleeping together, he had resisted the idea of learning more about Julia Vargas. He respected her privacy and halfheartedly believed she would eventually open up to him about herself. Now, asking about her didn’t feel as intrusive. She was part of his case, so it was business. And when it came to a case, all bets were off.

“She’s worked with my husband, Agent Sharp, on a couple of cases. She’s new to the criminal investigations unit. She’s dedicated. Did a couple of years’ worth of undercover work near Virginia Beach. We’ve been out for drinks once, so I can’t say I know her well.”

“Does she ever say much about herself?”

Dr. McGowan cocked her head. “If you want to ask her out, then do it.”

“It’s not like that. We found evidence connecting her to this body.”

“This body? She would have been a kid when the woman died.”

“I know.”

“What did you find?”
“A picture of her with her father in the victim’s wallet.”

Dr. McGowan brushed a strand of hair from her eyes. “Did you ask her?”

“I did. She didn’t recognize the woman’s name or face.” And if she had, he wasn’t sure she’d have told him. She guarded her thoughts closely. “I thought you might know about her family.”

“Like I said, we went out the one time, but she never mentioned her family.”

“What’s she like in general?”

“When it comes to a case, Julia’s a straight shooter. She’ll tell you what she thinks. If she says she didn’t know the victim’s name, she didn’t know.”

“I’m not questioning her integrity. Have you heard about her father?”

“She doesn’t talk about family, but I know he was a cop. I was at the awards dinner when she went to pick up his award.”

“I was there as well. She didn’t stay long.”

“Can’t be easy. Not everyone was happy that Jim Vargas received recognition.”

The Hangman Reviews
“A gut-wrenching romantic thriller . . . nail-biting moments are even more tense because the reader knows the killer’s motives while the characters do not. Newcomers and fans alike will enjoy the slow-burning passion and dangerous action in this gritty tale.”
Publishers Weekly

“Burton’s latest will have readers enthralled from the start . . . strong, credible and vulnerable characters . . . with a solid plot, heightened tension, steady pacing and a cleverly written villain, Burton’s expertise at crafting suspense shines bright in this novel.”
RT Book Reviews

The Dollmaker

The Dollmaker

The Dollmaker
“Perfect for fans of romantic suspense . . . well-developed characters . . .
a real treat . . . now I have to go read The Shark.”
Fresh Fiction

“One of her best . . . exciting and an excellent read.”
Long and Short Reviews

 

Dr. Tessa McGowan had never seen anything quite like it. But the mutilated bodies on her exam table tell a stunningly macabre tale: someone with a twisted mind is kidnapping women and altering their faces to resemble real, life-size dolls. As a forensic pathologist, it’s her job to aid the agent leading the case—even if that agent is her estranged husband.

Twelve years ago an unspeakable tragedy destroyed Dakota Sharp’s world. Haunted by the ghosts of his past, he’s devoted himself to capturing killers. His only regret is that it cost him Tessa. Now, as the Dollmaker case brings them together—and raises his suspicions that he’s crossed paths with this deranged psychopath before—they may just have their second chance. But it seems Dakota’s not the only one who wants to make Tessa his own…

She may be the Dollmaker’s next target, but Tessa has no intention of winding up as another toy on his shelf. Can she and Dakota stop this ghastly killer before his next deadly playdate?


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The Dollmaker Excerpt

 

The Medical Examiner Arrives at the Site of a Killing

Julia Vargas approached Dr. Kincaid and Tessa. They listened to the agent give her report on the body before moving toward the crime scene tape. When they ducked under it, he followed.

Dr. Kincaid extended her hand to Martin Thompson and smiled as she introduced Tessa. “Dr. McGowan is a forensic pathologist. You’ll be seeing more of her.”

Martin shook her hand and only tossed a quick questioning glance at Sharp. “Welcome.”

If Tessa read Martin’s questioning gaze, she gave no sign of it. “Thanks.”

The older man’s normally banal expression actually softened, and he held her hand an extra beat. “Glad to have you on the team.”

“Good to be on it,” Tessa said.

Sharp caught a couple of young officers looking at Tessa. Their gazes weren’t curious, but lewd. They didn’t realize Tessa was his wife. A primitive impulse demanded he punch each guy in the face.

“Who found the body, Agent Vargas?” Tessa asked.

“An early-morning jogger. He said he didn’t touch her. Thought she might have been a mannequin at first. He called the cops right away, and we had a first responder here within five minutes to secure the scene.”

“May I touch the body, Martin?” Dr. Kincaid asked.

“Yes. I’ve collected every bit of evidence I can find, so the body is ready to remove,” Martin said.

Dr. Kincaid knelt and with a gloved hand touched the victim’s face, circling her finger around the red circle, a cartoon version of a blushing cheek.

“It’s a tattoo,” she said, hints of surprise in her tone. “And judging by its color and skin texture, it’s recent. I’d say she only finished healing days ago.”

“Have either of you ever seen anyone with this kind of tattooing?” Julia asked.

“I’ve seen facial tattoos within the gangs,” Dr. Kincaid said.

“Some of the cultures in Asia tattoo the females’ faces, but that’s dying out,” Tessa said.

“I’ve seen women who’ve had permanent makeup applied to their faces. Eyeliner, blush, even lip color,” Dr. Kincaid said. “Even had a woman on my table who had her boyfriend’s name inked on her forehead. But a doll face is a new one.”

“It’s fine workmanship,” Tessa said. Her expression telegraphed a mixture of fascination and sadness.

Tessa pushed up the sleeve of the oversize doll dress. “The white stippling tattoo work that’s on her face also extends from her fingertips to her wrists. Her eyes are expertly lined in a dark ink, and very precise freckles dot her cheeks.” She touched the victim’s mouth. “The red heart-shape tattoo here redefines the shape of her lips.”

“She’d have to be out cold, otherwise the work couldn’t have been done to her face,” Vargas said.

“The injection site isn’t infected, and there’s no bruising, suggesting whoever inserted a needle in her arm knew what they were doing,” Tessa said.

Sharp folded his arms, trying to envision the woman before this work was done, but he couldn’t see past the ink.

Tessa pulled the sleeve back over the victim’s arm. “Look at the detail around her eyes,” she said. “It’s hard enough to do with pen and ink, let alone with a tattoo needle.”

“Only a monster would do this to an unwilling woman,” Vargas said.

“I didn’t say the person who did this was sane,” Tessa said. “I was simply commenting on the skill.”

He watched as Tessa absently rested her hand on the victim’s arm as if assuring her it would be okay, and she was now in good hands. He suspected if he weren’t standing there, Tessa would have spoken to the victim, issuing words of reassurance.

He cleared his throat. “Dr. Kincaid, do you have any idea how she died?”

Dr. Kincaid checked the victim’s neck for signs of strangulation and tipped her body forward to look at her back. “Dr. McGowan, what’s your opinion?”

Frowning, Tessa studied the body. “There are no signs of trauma on the body. We’ll have to check her blood levels for signs of asphyxiation and drug overdose.”

“Why the frown, Dr. McGowan?” Vargas asked.

“Her shoulder blades and the back of her hands are discolored.”

“What does that suggest, Dr. McGowan?” Dr. Kincaid asked.

“After her heart stopped pumping, the blood settled in the lowest part of her body, which was her back.” She rolled down the knee socks and inspected the back of the victim’s calves. They were also bruised. “If she’d died here, her shoulder blades would not be discolored.”

“Correct,” Dr. Kincaid said.

“On her back,” Vargas said, shifting as if uncomfortable with the idea. “I don’t want to think what that suggests.”

“We’ll determine if there was sexual activity,” Dr. Kincaid said. “Though I might not be able to determine if it were pre- or postmortem.”

“Jesus,” Vargas muttered.

Dr. Kincaid ran her hands over the dead woman’s arm. “The skin is smooth, and there are no signs of hair on her arms or legs. She’s been waxed recently.”

“Do you think it’s murder?” Tessa asked.

“She didn’t die here,” Dr. Kincaid said. “But that doesn’t mean she was murdered. She could have overdosed.”

“The second party panicked,” Vargas said. “She could have been into some kind of weird shit, and it went sideways. Whoever she was partying with dumped her here.”

“She wasn’t dumped,” Sharp said. “She was carefully posed.”

“A final sign of respect?” Vargas asked.

Sharp shook his head. “Or a final statement from the killer. Right now, I don’t know. We’ll let the evidence lead us.”

“How long would it take to tattoo her face and arms?” Vargas asked.

“I can’t speak to how long the tattoo work took,” Dr. Kincaid said. “There are no signs that infection ever set in. That means the wounds would have to be washed, there would have been extensive bandaging of her face and arms, and the dressings would have to have been changed daily to avoid infection.”

“We’re looking for someone who could have gone missing a month ago?” Sharp asked.

“I’d say so,” Dr. Kincaid said.

“Thanks.”

Tessa studied the back hem of the victim’s doll dress. “This appears to be a bloodstain,” she said.

Martin nodded. “I saw that. Don’t know if it’s her blood, but it’s marked for DNA testing.”

Needing a moment, Sharp turned from the scene and walked back to his car. He dug his cigarettes out of his pocket as reached for the door handle. But as he shook loose a cigarette from the pack, he felt Tessa’s gaze on him. He let the packet fall back in his pocket. “What is it, Tessa?”

For a moment she didn’t speak, and then in a voice that was both tender and harsh, “You’re thinking about Kara.”

He flinched at the sound of his sister’s name. Their last big fight was over Kara. He’d been so angry when she’d tried to talk to him about letting his sister go. He’d blown up at her, dumping all his anger for his lost sister on her. Tessa had absorbed his pain to a point, and then she’d gotten angry. Two days later she was on a plane to Southeast Asia.

“So you’re psychic now?” he asked.

“I don’t need to read your mind.” An edge honed the words, telling him she would not tolerate his temper. “I know you. She’s never far away when you’re investigating a case.”

 

Copyright ©Mary Burton 2016

The Dollmaker Reviews

“​Perfect for fans of romantic suspense . . . well- developed characters . . . a real treat . . . now I have to go read The Shark.”​
Fresh Fiction

“Ms. Burton writes suspenseful novels and this is one of her best so far. She makes you wonder how she can imagine a monster so well . . . once you start reading her novels, you don’t stop . . . her stories are smoothly done, the horror is real, and the danger gives you chills . . . exciting and an excellent read.”
Long and Short Reviews

“I love Mary Burton’s books . . . [they] keep you on the edge of your seat.”
As the Page Turns

A great suspense thriller . . . interconnecting stories that come out of nowhere and add to the tension and suspense . . . excellent . . . will keep you guessing . . . the murders are gruesome and may give you the chills.”
Babbling About Books

“Twisty, suspenseful, creepy, and intriguing . . . Burton spins out the story, slowly revealing facets of the characters and the mystery . . . the killer was devious and patient and frightening . . . the final reveal took me by surprise . . . will keep you awake at night.”
Bea’s Book Nook

“Well- developed characters. Tessa and Dakota’s struggle with their marriage and working relationship felt real . . . [I] recommend it.”
All About Romance

“Another great read from Mary Burton, lots of twists and turns and action all throughout as the characters chase down the killer. “
Carries Book Reviews

“I probably should have seen the killer’s identity coming but I did not . . .  can’t wait to read the third book.”
Cheryl’s Book Nook

I easily became invested in the story . . . I loved the inclusion of the autopsies and the work that is second nature to me . . . Good pacing and intriguing characters . . . Mary Burton kept me on toes as the plot thickened . . .perfect for readers of this genre and even fans of detective shows like Law & Order.”
A Belle’s Tales

“Gripping, riveting and captivating . . . a perfect balance of intriguing suspense . . .  enthralling romance between a husband and wife fighting for a new chance . . . the identity of the culprit stays well hidden, the motives even better . . . masterfully crafted  . . . a perfectly balanced romantic suspense story.”
Books & Spoons

“Creepy, menacing, and highly suspenseful! . . . The characters are multi-layered, convincing, and determined . . . fast-paced, engaging, mysterious . . . full of good twists, deviousness, and a little romance . . .  definitely worth a read.”
What’s Better Than Books

“I loved this book . . . Burton kept me guessing . . .  her twist and turns were exceptional in this book.”
Sarah’s Cozy Book Nook

“Eerily bone-chilling story!  With her latest book in The Forgotten Files series, Mary Burton takes us on a riveting delve into a psychopath’s mind as investigators try to put the puzzle pieces together in time to stop him from killing again!”
Thoughts of a Blonde

“Chilling . . . I highly recommend this book . . . a well written romantic suspense that will send shivers down your spine.”
Shaiha’s Ramblings


“Intriguing, captivating and suspenseful . . . I couldn’t put this book down and I can’t wait to read the next in the series . . .will keep reader reading and wanting more.”
Book Him Dano

“Eerily bone-chilling story!  With her latest book in The Forgotten Files series, Mary Burton takes us on a riveting delve into a psychopath’s mind as investigators try to put the puzzle pieces together in time to stop him from killing again!”
Thoughts from a Blonde

 

The Shark, The Forgotten Files

The Shark, The Forgotten Files

The Shark Cover
“Tense, sexy, and pleasingly complex.”
Publishers Weekly

“A ruthless villain who would put any reader on edge . . . thrilling.”
RT Book Reviews

 

At the grisly murder scene of a teen prostitute, Virginia statetrooper Riley Tatum’s past roars back to haunt her. When she was a teenage runaway, she was kidnapped, drugged, and left unconscious on the streets. She has no memories of what happened, only strange recurring dreams of two men playing cards.

Former FBI agent Clay Bowman, Riley’s old flame, is Shield Security’s newest member. He’s plagued by the unsolved case of a serial killer nicknamed the Shark who murdered girls as part of a sadistic poker game. Only one girl survived. With the Shark now bent on evening that score, Clay has a chilling suspicion: Riley is the girl who escaped the Shark’s deadly amusement—and she is his next prey.

As the Shark gets ready to play his hand, can Riley and Clay stop him—or will this killer finally claim the one who got away?

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The Shark Excerpt

“Shield is based near Quantico. We handle mostly high-end problems that our clients need dealt with quickly and quietly.”

“Such as?”

He traced a path through the condensation of his glass.

“Discretion is a big part of our appeal. But we generally find missing things or people.”

“Nothing illegal.”

“Nothing unethical.”

She didn’t press that point. “I’m guessing Shield Security is doing well judging by the suit.”

“It’s rewarding. By the way, you dress well.”

She arched a brow. “Stop, you’re going to make me blush.”

A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “We appreciate your discretion on the Carter arrest.”

“If you hadn’t asked for silence, I would’ve given you credit.You passed up a lot of publicity.”

“Which is exactly what we never want.”

Small gold earrings dangled from her ears. He remembered she’d been wearing them during their night together five years ago. “So, if you’re doing so well and making money hand over fist, what’re you doing on my case?”

He sipped his water, allowing the ice-cold liquid to cool his throat. “My boss, Joshua Shield, and I were both with the FBI twelve years ago and assigned to New Orleans. We investigated a series of murders. Four young women were strangled and their bodies left in plain sight in the space of weeks.”

Sitting back, she folded her arms. Her expression was blank, as if waiting for the punch line. “Not following.”

He realized she didn’t know about the four women. “At each murder scene the detectives found five playing cards. They all were hands from a five-card stud poker game. Three were definitely losing hands. One wasn’t terrible, but likely not good enough to win. And in handwritten black ink, Loser was scrawled on each.”

Carefully, she leaned forward and tapped a fingertip on the side of her glass. “Like my victim.”

“Exactly.”

“Was the handwriting the same on the cards?”

“Same word but each set appeared to be written by a different person.”

“You said this guy killed four girls. And let me guess, they all had a similar look. Like Vicky.”

“And like you, which you already know.”

The Shark Reviews
 

“ Romantic suspense lovers are going to be thrilled with Mary Burton’s new series, The Forgotten Files . . . will also appeal to thriller fans . . . some of the most depraved bad guys I’ve encountered . . . the plot twists shocked me.”
Suspense Magazine

“This romantic thriller is tense, sexy, and pleasingly complex.”
Publishers Weekly

“Precise storytelling complete with strong conflict and heightened tension are the highlights of Burton’s latest. With a tough, vulnerable heroine in Riley at the story’s center, Burton’s novel is a well-crafted, suspenseful mystery with a ruthless villain who would put any reader on edge. A thrilling read.”
RT Book Reviews

“A romantic suspense thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seat . . . full of twists and turns . . . especially strong as the action heats up in a race of life and death spiraling toward a powerful end. The author teases readers by using the serial killers point of view, allowing tidbits to keep readers interested – especially those who like to guess the ending.”
Edie Dykeman, Bella Online Mystery Book Reviews

“An intriguing chiller, Mary Burton’s Vulnerable is a must read for suspense book enthusiasts . . . This thriller has it all . . . intriguing . . . Ms. Burton creates an incredibly realistic set of events, in an well visualized location.”
Long and Short Reviews

“I loved this book. Mary Burton is a wonderful . . .  This is a new series she’s starting and it’s off to a great start . . .  strong female characters. They are beautiful, smart, and in Riley’s case, tough . . . a twist that you will not see coming.”
As the Page Turns

“I absolutely loved THE SHARK  . . . Ms. Burton does a great job. . . with her deft touch, she created strong, likeable characters . . . I found myself glued to the pages . . . a fast paced thrill ride from start to finish that will leave you guessing till the very end . . . top notch characters  . . . a serial killer that gave me chills  . . . a series that is surely going to be my favorite in the future.”
Love Romances & More

“Really enjoying her writing style and the cases involved . . .  a great read.”
Carries Book Review

“Mary Burton was definitely on her game with The Shark . . . if this book is any indication of what we as readers have to look forward to with the Forgotten Files I can’t wait for more. This book had it all: romance, suspense, murder and a few twists that most people will not see coming . . . intriguing.”
Sarah’s Cozy Book Nook

“An engaging page turner . . . I really enjoyed reading The Shark . . . will definitelycontinue on with the series.”
Wicked Reads

“Full of intrigue and suspense . . . the characters are complex . . . well written, interesting, and action packed with twists and turns, and of course a little romance . . . I really enjoyed it.”
What’s Better Than Books

“I think that I might have found my new favorite author for romantic suspense! . . . what really impressed me about THE SHARK was the characters . . .  as soon as I start to think that I had it all figured out and relax, Ms Burton throws in another twist that I didn’t see coming.  One of the best romantic suspenses that I have read this year.”
Shaiha’s  Ramblings

“I love a good suspense with a tiny bit of romance thrown in and that’s exactly what Burton gives you!”
Next Book Review

“Wow, I really enjoyed this book.  I loved the plot, characters and suspense . . . You will love every second of Riley and Bowman chasing . . .  [The Shark] down. The next book will have Riley’s boss as the main hero and I cannot wait!”
My Novelesque Life

“An engaging suspense where past and present collide.”
Cindys Reviews

 

Vulnerable

Vulnerable

Vulnerable

“Burton crafts a suspenseful plot . . . her characters are distinctive and her villain is off-kilter, psychotic and wholly believable.”
RT Book Reviews

 
“Extremely well-written and intriguing suspense . . . multi-layered characters and a villain twisted and sick enough to make you shiver . . . you’ll love Vulnerable.”
The Crime Warp

The Smallest Mistake

Three went in; one came out. For five years, no trace has been found of two high-school friends who went hiking in the woods near Nashville. The third teen, Amber Ryder, was discovered at the bottom of a ravine with a broken arm, head trauma–and zero memory of the horror that put her there.

Will Put You

What started as a cold case has become a fresh hell for forensic technician Georgia Morgan. Another woman’s body is found in the woods, and it leads to the missing teens’ remains. But while Georgia works with Amber to try and reawaken her memories, her gut tells her the worst is yet to come.

At A Killer’s Mercy

Homicide Detective Jake Bishop can’t be sure whether Amber is an expert manipulator or the killer’s next target. Either way, he’s determined to protect Georgia. Because the deeper she digs into the past, the deadlier the secrets that emerge, and a nightmare years in the making is about to come to a bloody, terrifying end…

Vulnerable Excerpt

Homicide Detective Jake Bishop smiled at the determined clip-clop of Georgia’s feet moving down the carpeted hallway of the homicide department. She always moved as if the demons of hell nipped at her feet. Never relaxed. Never smiling. Buttoned up tight. She was a live wire of determination, drive, and shouldering a need to prove herself.

Today they were scheduled to brief Deke on the Marlowe/Reed case; otherwise, Jake would have taken the day off. The last three days he and his partner, Rick Morgan, had been chasing down a killer who shot two men in east Nashville. It took days to interview witnesses and piece together the fragments of the men’s lives. Both, it turned out, were meth dealers unworried about cutting into the business of a rival group. They found the shooter last night shortly after midnight sleeping in the back room of a pool hall. The arrest was textbook and by four a.m. the man was processed and in jail awaiting arraignment. Rick, running on empty, went home for sleep and time alone with his new wife, Jenna, a former Baltimore police officer who was a trained forensic artist. She now freelanced her forensic drawing and sculpting skills to several jurisdictions in the region. Once a missing child herself, she specialized in missing children cases and often charged a very minimal fee to cover expenses. In her spare time, she painted portraits thanks to a growing reputation.

Jake should have packed it in for the day but didn’t want to miss the fireworks sure to follow Georgia, who now rushed past his open door toward Deke. Finding his office empty, she emerged frustrated and ducked into Rick’s office.

He always liked the way Georgia pinned her red hair up on her head and how the curls wriggled free to form a collection of ringlets at the base of her neck. On a humid day, her hair went into all-out rebellion, as much as the sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose did every time she tried to cover them with makeup. Her neatly tucked shirt tugged at her narrowing waistband as if it also hated being constrained. Every aspect of the woman was in full battle mode.

However, she was always cool, all business, and kept him at arm’s distance. That had once suited him fine. There were plenty of women to warm his bed other than her. But six months ago that all changed. He was in Rudy’s grabbing a beer when Georgia took center stage. The red curls tumbled around her shoulders and she traded the blue button-down shirt, khakis, and steel-toed boots for a sleek silk top with a V-neck that dipped between her breasts, designer jeans hugging her round hips, and rhinestone studded boots. He took special notice of her as would any man with a pulse in the bar.
KC had leaned forward. “You like? Wait until she sings.”

“She can’t be that good.” He sipped, cold beer sliding over a parched throat.

“She’s gonna rock your world.”

And she had. He was never so transfixed as he was as when Georgia cradled that microphone in her long fingers and sang Faith Hill’s “Breathe.” Shit. He still got hard when he thought about the moment.

“Deke went to get coffee,” Jake called out to Georgia.

Seconds passed and then she stood in his doorway careful not to cross the threshold. “We have a meeting at ten.”

He tapped his watch. “Can’t wait.”

She folded her arms. “You read any of the files?”

“Not many. But I’ll get up to speed quickly. Besides,” he said grinning and leaning back in his chair, “you’ll give me the Cliff Notes, right?”

She closed her eyes for a moment, shaking her head. Before she formed a response, Deke’s voice sounded in the hall. Without a word, she turned and vanished into Deke’s office.

Figuring this was the meeting on the Marlowe/Reed case, he rose from his desk, straightened his jacket, and ambled toward Deke’s office. As he grew closer, he heard Georgia’s clipped words sharpening each consonant. She sounded ready to boil over.

“She tracked me down at Rudy’s.” Georgia held a rolled-up stack of papers in her left hand. “Someone here told her I was at Rudy’s. Not cool to give out information like that. How do I know someone is not going to cap my ass while I’m onstage with a bright spotlight in my eyes.”

“Do you have a name?”

“I tried to ferret it out but no one is talking . . . yet.”
“Okay. I’ll see what I can find out. What did Amber say?”

Jake leaned on the door frame. “Amber Ryder?”

“She tracked me down at Rudy’s last night.”

“How did she know to look for you?” Jake asked.

“I called her a week ago.”

“And you didn’t think to tell me?” Slight annoyance flared. “We’re partners on the case, right?

She sat in one of the two seats angled in front of Deke’s desk. “There wasn’t much to tell until now, and now I’m telling you all I know.”

Instead of sitting, Jake remained standing, feet slightly braced. Her little end run clipped the edges of his good humor. He cut his teeth as a cop on the streets of South Boston before he picked up stakes and moved to Nashville seven years ago. He had learned a few things about Southern niceties and could even employ them when it suited, but when angered, the boy from Southie with the hot temper came out swinging. “Going forward, we work the case as a team. No exceptions.”

Blue eyes sharpened. “Sure.”

Deke leaned back in his chair. He was tall with broad shoulders that filled the white starched dress shirt with sleeves rolled up to his forearms. A carbon copy of his old man, Jake still found himself doing a double take when he saw Deke glower as well as the old man. Deke had headed homicide for two years and recently married local defense attorney Rachel Wainwright, who was as bullish on defense as he was prosecution. There’d been a few side bets on how long the two would last.

Unlike Georgia, Deke and his brothers, Rick and Alex, had jet black hair. Deke’s had turned more salt and pepper in the last year. He jokingly blamed the gray on his new wife whom he adored.

Deke studied Georgia as he always did—a bit perplexed and annoyed. “Georgia, tell us what she said.”

“Like I said, I called her a few weeks ago. I was halfway through the files and took a chance I could quickly catch up with her. She didn’t answer.”
Deke tapped an index finger on the arm of his chair as he leaned back. “Two missing kids, one found. As you both realize, Dalton Marlowe wants closure and no more delays. It’s going to take cooperation to make that happen.”
Neither answered, but neither argued with Deke.

“It was a hell of a case,” Jake said. “All hands on deck. I’ve never seen so many man hours dumped into one case.”

Georgia wasn’t exactly frowning but no smile was in sight either. “We all volunteered for search crews.”

“I wish I had a nickel for all the times I walked through Percy Warner Park,” he said. “It was fall and one of the warmest on record. We never found a trace of the two other kids.”

She folded her arms, openly regarding him. “Did you ever interview Amber during the case? You weren’t mentioned in the files.”

“I was present while she was interviewed once. She was adamant that she didn’t remember what happened in the woods. Her story never varied.”

“And you believe her?”

“It was all a little too convenient for me. However, she passed the polygraph test and the body language experts all cleared her. Even the docs said her concussion caused by the fall could have created the amnesia. But I never could swallow it.”

“Why?” Georgia challenged. “That’s a lot of science backing her up.”

That was a trait he liked. She never took anything at face value. She was always pushing, prodding, wanting more until she found the truth. “Never could give you a solid reason.”

“Gut instinct?” Her gaze danced just a little with humor.

“Yeah, Dr. Science. My gut. I couldn’t boil it down to anything that could be proven in a court of law but the twitch I get around liars was there.”

Many a cop relied on instinct and the intangibles when they interviewed suspects. Sensing what not to ask was just as important.

Eyes narrowing, a sign she was processing, she turned back to her brother. “As we all agreed, I also pulled the clothes Amber wore at the time of the fall. I reexamined the items a few days ago and collected more samples including hair fibers and a stain. I’ve sent it all off to the state lab for retesting. No answers yet, but could you lean on the lab?”

Deke shook his head. “You sound like Rachel. She’s always pushing for faster, more detailed DNA testing. The lab crews hate the sound of my voice.”

She unrolled the papers she was clutching and tried to flatten them out, but they rolled back up as if they too didn’t want to take orders. “But they do listen to you.”

Deke’s newly minted wedding band glinted in the light as he twirled it on his finger. “What do you think you’ll find this time?”

“I don’t know. But the testing is a little more fine-tuned than even five years ago.”

Jake ran his fingers down his Brooks Brother tie, absently making sure it was straight. “They find data now that’s so specific, the lab techs don’t even know what it means.”

Deke’s scowl deepened, accentuating the lines around his mouth and his eyes.
“You better than anyone, Detective Bishop, understand the value of fresh eyes,” he said. “This case is worth a second look. And with Amber now back in town, we might have a shot at solving it.”

“That case got thousands of looks five years ago. But Dalton Marlowe has political juice and it’s coming to a head.” Jake didn’t like being boxed into a corner but he understood better than anyone the power of a grieving overprotective parent with influence. “Five years. Tests change. People change their stories. It’s still worth a look.”

“How much time have you invested in the case files so far, Georgia?” Deke asked.

“Eighty hours,” she said. “All my spare time in the last few weeks. The sooner I get any test results back on DNA, the sooner I can develop new leads. I’m not on anyone’s priority list so it will take months.”

Deke’s chair squeaked as he leaned forward. “You’re preaching to the choir. I’ll rattle the cages.”

“Thanks.” Her grin was sweet and friendly and Jake guessed she used that same smile a thousand times since she was a tiny girl. She was expert at wrapping her big brothers around her little finger.

“That case was full of dead-ends.” Jake liked the smile, but refused to be manipulated by it.

“Don’t you want to know what happened to those kids?” Georgia’s voice rose an octave.
“Sure. And I’ll give the case one hundred percent. But the search and investigation back in the day was pretty damn extensive.” Truth was he liked the idea of giving this case a second look. Two kids remained missing. His argument now was based solely on pissing Georgia off. He could dish out as well as he took from her.

“It’s a start,” she said.

“Retesting forensic evidence is a small but integral piece of the puzzle. Most cases are solved by a detective’s legwork.” Jake shook his head. “If this case is cracked, it’ll be because someone is now willing to talk.”

She was too professional to roll her eyes, but for him, she did anyway with a shit-eating smirk.

Jake shook his head as he looked directly at her. “You, Georgia, aren’t always nice to people. You’re about as subtle as a crowbar.”

A nod of acknowledgment lobbed his way. “I’m nice to some people.”
Deke laughed, but quickly caught himself and sobered his expression. “Your heart is in the right place, but you can be so direct that you put people off.”
She glared as if daring his smile to reappear. “I can’t help it if they have thin skins.”

Jake shook his head. “I’ll do the talking.”

“Bishop’s right, Georgia,” Deke said before she could rebut. “You’ll have to do more than read case files and retest DNA. Bishop excels at the interviews. Did you make a witness list while you were reading the case files?”

As much as she wanted to work this case alone she was smart enough to realize it would take them both. “I did. I also have a ten-page synopsis.”

“Perfect.” Deke rose. “You two work out the details and make something happen. Now get out of my office.”

©Mary Burton 2016

Vulnerable Reviews

“Jake and Georgia’s subtle yet heated attraction provides a good layer of tension to an already tense situation involving a cold case. With precision and detail, Burton crafts a suspenseful plot. Her dialogue is crisp and sharp; her characters are distinctive and her villain is off-kilter, psychotic and wholly believable.”

RT Book Reviews

“The twists and turns just keep popping up . . . an explosive ending . . . Romantic Suspense with an intriguing blend of suspense and spicy romance.”
Book Lovers Book Reviews

“What a wild ride . . . I recommend all of her books wholeheartedly . . . This book plays with readers’ minds so perfectly that I felt every goose bump and shiver along with Georgia and Jake . . . The plot is so intricate, shocking, surprising and unexpected that the story . . . consumed me until the end . . . No other book has made me second-guess myself, theplot and all the characters involved as much . . . If I could read one book for the rest of my life, I dare say it might be this one.”
Swept Away by Romance

“A fast paced thriller . . . a real page turner. The suspense filled story had me reading the entire novel in one sitting . . . Georgia and Jake make good team . . . complex . . . [a] host of characters with secrets to hide.”
Just Book Talk

“From twists and turns with every page, Burton delivers top- notch police procedures and impressive forensics, with a riveting crime mystery whodunit, and twisted psychological suspense . . . Burton is quickly becoming one of my leading favorite female crime authors! Fans of Karin Slaughter will enjoy this well-written dynamic series–an explosive plot, and an ending you do not see coming. Her best yet!”
Judith D Collins Must Reads

“Vulnerable is a delight to read . . . Burton’s romantic crime fiction is gritty and well plotted. She leaves the reader breathless in anticipation of the next twist or turn.”

The Crime Warp

An extremely well-written and intriguing suspense thriller, with multi-layered characters and a villain twisted and sick enough to make you shiver . . . I loved . . . all the forensic detail . . . If you’re like me and you love a well-written romantic suspense thriller . . . .you’ll love Vulnerable.”

Okie Dreams Book Review

I’ll Never Let You Go

I’ll Never Let You Go

I'll Never Let You Go

I’ll Never Let You Go

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Blio | Books A Million | iBooks | Indiebound Kobo | Audible

“Burton’s latest is a chilling, suspenseful read with a calculating villain at the center of a well-crafted, intricate plot . . . sharp, crisp dialogue . . . will have readers guessing until the very end.”
RT Book Reviews

“[Mary Burton’s]  books are right up there with the likes of James Patterson . . . One page after another, I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough.”
Fresh Fiction

Love Hurts

He promised to kill her. One night four years ago, Leah Carson’s husband almost succeeded. Philip stabbed her twenty-three times before fleeing. The police are sure he’s dead. But fear won’t let Leah believe it.

And Sometimes

It starts with little things. Missing keys. A flat tire. Mysterious flowers. All easily explained away if the pattern wasn’t so terrifyingly familiar. Leah has a new veterinary practice and a new life with no ties to her nightmare. But Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent Alex Morgan suspects something. And when another woman’s body is found, stabbed twenty-three times, Leah knows her past has found her.

It Kills

As Leah and Alex untangle the horrifying truth, he watches her, ready for the perfect moment. Until death—that was the vow they made. And a killer always keeps his word…

I'll Never Let You Go Excerpt

“Rick says you’re a popular vet with dogs.”

“I love what I do, so it’s easy.” She took a sip of beer. “He says you’re a great agent.”

Alex traced the label on his bottle. “He didn’t say that.”

“Maybe not in so many words. But my receptionist got him talking the last time he was in, and she said he had nice things to say about you.”

He studied the menu. “So you and your receptionist were talking about me?”

Color rushed to her cheeks. “I suppose we were. We take care of several of the police canines, and we generally talk about them and their families.”

He closed the menu and looked up. “Good to know. So you must have a dog?”

“No. No dogs for me. I work long hours. Maybe one day.” Since Philip, she’d feared loving anything too much in case it would be taken away.

“I picture you with a houseful of cats and dogs. The homespun type.”

“You’re making fun of me.”

“Not at all. Making an observation.”

Homespun jabbed, conjuring rocking chairs, shawls, and, well, old. “You’re not the animal type.”

“I like Tracker. But I’m not a dog or a cat guy. I’m on the go too much.”

“Which begs the question, why did you ask me out?”

He sat back in the booth and tugged his coat jacket in pace. “You’re different. Interesting.”

“In a homespun sort of way?”

“In a multilayered sort of way.”

She sensed he had lots of questions, but there would be no peeking behind the curtain where she hid her secrets. “I vaccinate dogs and cats all day. Most interesting thing I’ve done lately is joining a running group.”

“With Deidre Jones? She told me a vet had joined the group.”

“I didn’t realize you knew Deidre.”

“She works with my brother at the Nashville Police Department. We cross paths occasionally. How’s the running going?”

“I’m the slowest in the group. And that’s not false modesty. It’s the truth.”

“Tortoise and the hare. Stick with it.”

“Maybe.” She sipped her beer. “You don’t seem to have a lot of friends at Rudy’s.”

“No.”

“Why?”

“I investigate cops. Doesn’t’ win me many points with the rank and file.

She traced the rim of her cup. Ah, that explained the man’s comment in the bar. “Does that bother you?”

“No.”

His attention shifted to her palm and the scar slashing across it. She closed her fingers, resisting the urge to explain. Whatever she told him would be a lie. She never told the truth about her past, which still shamed her. How could she explain that shew as a smart woman who had stayed with an abusive and, ultimately, murderous man? The less aid the better.

“Seems they’d want to weed out the bad apples.”

Alex’s expression didn’t change, but somewhere inside him she thought she saw a door close and lock.

“You would think.”

They both hid behind walls. Guarded secrets. Good. You leave mine alone, and I won’t dig into yours. “So, we’re two very simple people.”

The corner of his lip tipped into that grin. The ice melted for a moment, and that unfamiliar pull of desire flowered again. Some would have embraced it. Leah likened desire to a tiger’s dangerous beauty.

“I think we’re two people who’re fairly bad at dating and don’t like to talk about ourselves,” Alex said.

His directness charmed her. And that scared her. Being charmed led to liking which led to desire, which equaled vulnerability. Her nerves stretched tighter and tighter. “Then why’re we here?”

A shrug. “I was curious about you. And tracker likes you. He’s a good judge of character.”

Secrets, sadness, and shame banged on the wall so carefully built. She sipped her beer, which now tasted flat and lifeless. “Ah.”

“So what about you?”

“I’m fairly straightforward. Raised in Nashville. Both my parents have passed. Got my vet degree in Knoxville at the University of Tennessee. Enjoying the single life.”
He leaned forward, as if a bullshit meter had clanged in his head. “How did you get the scars on your hands?”

Cut to the chase. This guy didn’t waste time or mince words. No need to look down to see the deep slashes that crossed both palms. “Are you this nosy on most first dates?”

“No.” No apology. “They look like defensive wounds.”

“Nothing so dramatic,” she lied.

No adult had ever asked about the scars on her palms, or the ones on her arms. They might have stared, but they hadn’t asked. Once a little girl in a grocery store had asked her about them. She’d looked as if she’d believed in fairy tales, Santa Claus, and the tooth fairy. Monsters under her bed could be chased away with a mother’s kiss. Leah couldn’t bring herself to tell the girl real monsters walked among them. “It was an accident.”

“Okay.” Alex tapped a finger on the table, as if forcing back more questions that, eventually, he’d ask. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

She kept her hand on her beer glass refusing to tuck it in her lap. “I’m not upset.”

“You’re pale now.”

She moistened her lips. “Just been a long day.”

“It’s my job to be nosy.” That smile appeared again. “Sometimes it’s hard to shut off.”

“No worries.”

Alex Morgan was the kind of guy who’d unearth all her carefully buried secrets. And when he did, what would he think of her? What kind of woman, what kind of fool, willingly lay down with a monster? The idea that he’d see her as less or weak scraped the underside of her scars.

Her phone buzzed, startling her. With a grateful heart she dug her phone from her purse and read the message. “It’s from my clinic. I’ve got to go by the kennel to check on one of the dogs.”

Alex looked more curious and disappointed. If his job was to sniff out lies, then he surely knew this was not fib. Their clinic took emergency calls, and this was her night on call. “You can’t eat first?”

“No.” She gathered her coat, anxious to step into the cold and slide behind the wheel of her car.

He tossed a couple of twenties on the table and rose. “I’ll walk you to your car.”

She gathered her purse and coat. “You don’t have to. I’m right across the street.”

“I’ll walk you.” He helped her on with her coat, opened the front door and waited for her to pass through before allowing it to swing closed behind them. Across the street, the door to Rudy’s opened and closed. In a rush of music and flashing light, Deidre and her date sauntered out arm in arm.

Leah envied the couple’s easy manner. Her back stiff, she started toward her car, her pace brisk as she fished her keys from her pocket and pushed the unlock button on the key fob. She opened the door, and he lingered back an extra half step. For a tense moment she thought he might kiss her. Norman women on first dates kissed their dates right? A kiss, a touch, vulnerability, pain and death.

Alex held back a couple of steps. He watched her. Seemed to see fear and accept it as a fact to be filed away under Leah Carson. “Drive safe.”

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“I’ve been a real lousy date, Alex. I’m sorry. I’m way out of practice.”

A small shrug. “No worries, Leah. See you soon?”

“You don’t have to check up on Tracker every day.”

“But I will.” The patience humming under his tone coaxed her out of her shell a little further. “You want to go out with me again?”

Fear hovered around her like a ghost. Stay behind the walls. But something she could not put into words challenged her to reach for more. Elbowing aside gnawing butterflies, she nodded. “I’d like that.”

“Great. We’ll figure it out.”

“Perfect.” She drove off, wondering if she’d lost her mind, all the while daring herself not to look in the rearview mirror, knowing he was watching.
Copyright 2015 © by Mary Burton

Want More? Here's another excerpt...

He sat and watched as his wife stood by her car and spoke to her date. The guy had dark hair and a trim build. A gust of wind had caught, blown back his jacket and for a split second, the edge of a gun resting on his hip caught the moonlight before the guy tugged the coat’s edge back into place.

This man is not a beat cop like he’d been. He had the look of a detective. “Moving up in the world, babe. The uniform isn’t good enough for you anymore.”

Embers of rage, always warm and glowing, flared and flickered into a hot flame. His wife and the guy lingered, staring at each other. A smile flashed on her face, and he knew they’d be seeing each other again.

“She’s my wife, dick.”

This close he could see dick’s face. Keen interest sharpened the man’s gaze. No doubt he was thinking about getting into his wife’s pants.

Irritated, he tore his gaze away and focused on the mission. He studied the text he’d just sent Leah: Emergency at the clinic. Can you come to work?

I might be a regular cop, but I found her number and I’m going to win this chess game, dick.”

She slid into the front seat, started the engine and rolled down her window. She glanced up, smiling, nodding, and drove off. Dick got into his car and drove off.

He started his truck and shifted into first gear. Slowly, he turned onto Broadway and followed it until it branched right and turned into West End Avenue.

The drive back to his wife’s town house took ten minutes, but of course he knew the way. He’d been watching the house since he’d arrived in Nashville a week before. Many a night in the last couple of weeks, he’d sat in the parking lot across the street and watched her town house. He’d gotten to know all her new habits.
His wife arrived an hour later and parked in her reserved spot under the street lamp. She hurried from her car up the brick front steps of the town house, unlocked the door, and vanished inside. Lights clicked on, and though she’d already drawn the drapes, he could see her figure pass in front of the sliding glass door before the lights in her bedroom clicked on.
He imagined her in that bedroom, stripping off her shirt, her full breasts spilling over the top of her bra. It had been too long since he’d kissed those breasts, but he remembered how soft they felt. He remembered her lips tasted like her cherry lipstick. He remembered those lush lips kissing him along his belly, teasing him to the brink of insanity. He remembered every single detail of their life together.

But she wasn’t thinking about him as she stripped off her clothes. A different man lingered in her thoughts. How many men had she fucked since him?

It took all his willpower not to scream as he removed a switchblade from his pocket and flicked it open. Moonlight glinted off the sharp blade as he gouged it into the truck’s seat. He sliced through leather, imagining it was flesh.

He leaned back against the seat. Her shadow passed back into the living room, and the light of a television glowed as her silhouette lowered on the couch.

In the last few weeks, he’d learned all her new patterns and all her secrets, tracking her and listening via the bug he’d planted in her house. “No one knows you better than me, babe. No one.”

After an hour in the parking lot, he cold had numbed his toes and the tips of his fingers. He would have stayed all night, watching her sit on her couch in front of the television, but there were enough people coming and going at this time of night to get him noticed. He drove off, knowing she was alone in her town house, unable to sleep and thinking about him.

Until death do us part.
The words hummed in the back of his throat. So poignant, and yet their meaning appealed to him.

Until death do us part.

His little bird flew free right now, but soon he’d catch her and pluck off her wings. She belonged to him and no one else.

Until death do us part.

Copyright 2015 © by Mary Burton

I'll Never Let You Go Reviews

“Burton’s latest is a chilling, suspenseful read with a calculating villain at the center of a well-crafted, intricate plot. Alex and Leah’s intensity and pairing is a highlight. With sharp, crisp dialogue and heightened tension, this story will have readers guessing until the very end.”
RT Book Reviews

“Mary Burton has a lot of twist and turns in I’ll Never Let You Go . . . Her books are right up there with the likes of James Patterson . . . [She] keeps the mystery and romance going through the whole book. One page after another, I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough.”
Fresh Fiction

“An intense four novel series featuring the Morgan family of Nashville. . . readers will be turning pages to see what happens next . . . Attention to detail and vivid description of the various characters will pull readers into the true to life thriller. The author filled her pages with edgy dialogue and a strong plotline that continues to build tension until the climatic end.”
Edie Dykeman, Bella Online

“If you’re a lover of romantic suspense, then you’ll love curling up with this book in front of the fire . . . I love how the romance is slow to grow and you are concentrating on the person who Alex’s is trying to find to prevent Leah from getting killed. I highly recommend this book for fans of Kay Hooper, Linda Howard, and Allison Brennan.”
As the Page Turns

“A fantastic read . . . Dark and thrilling, I’ll Never Let You Go had me awake until late into the wee hours . . . a real sense of danger and terror . . . the romantic side of the plot, although evident, was placed firmly in the sidelines to allow suspense and drama to take center stage . . . twists and turns.”
Mysteries & Crime Thrillers

“Ms. Burton is very good at ratcheting up the readers’ anxiety level from page one.”
Fiction Vixen

“One of my favorite authors, talented storyteller, Mary Burton returns . . . with another multi-layered, twisted “must read” psycho-crime thriller! . . . I love Mary’s smooth sharp writing style – Riveting . . multi-layered and complex . . . This is not one to miss.”
JDC Must Read Books

“The story is gripping, and kept me guessing . . . intense but with sweet moments . . . suspenseful and engaging and worth staying up late for.”
Bea’s Book Nook

“Chilling . . . the plot is strong, flowing beautifully . . . might make you want to sleep with your lights on, and check your locks one more time.”
Books and Spoons

“Mary Burton can always be counted on for fast paced suspense, a gutsy heroine and a dauntless hero.”
For the Love of Books

“Interesting and suspenseful thriller . . . [I] look forward to more in the series.”
Books ‘n Kisses