J. D. Cooper had left no stone unturned when investigating a cold case that hit much too close to home. Or so he'd thought. Thanks to small-town deputy Natalie Becker, new evidence had surfaced that might lead J.D. closer to the truth. But Natalie had a stake in this situation, too, and claimed that joining forces was their best strategy--and their best hope. Problem was, after years of working alone to solve a seemingly unsolvable crime, J.D. found himself distracted by his beautiful partner and her passion for doing the right thing. He'd never met anyone like her and that scared him as much as this unidentifiable madman...until Natalie was made his next target.
Natalie Becker crouched beside the new headstone, her eyes dry but burning. Seeing the name etched into the marble marker—Carrie Becker Gray—only amplified the anger burning a hole in Natalie's chest.
You shouldn't bear his name for eternity, she thought.
She stood up, finally, glad for the shade of the ancient oak, with its outstretched limbs creating a Spanish-moss-draped-canopy for her sister's grave. July and August would be hotter, but June was nothing to laugh at here in Terrebonne, Alabama. Unless you were right on the river or the bay, there weren't enough cool breezes blowing up from the Gulf to temper the sweltering heat and humidity. Even the shade offered only moderate relief from the heat and no relief at all from the mosquitoes and flies.
She batted at a large green bottle fly buzzing around her, ducking her head to one side to avoid the insect's dive at her face. As she did, she caught movement in her peripheral vision.
She whipped her gaze in that direction, the fly forgotten. In the pit of her gut, she was certain she'd see Hamilton Gray standing there, watching her.
She was wrong. It wasn't Hamilton. Not even close.
The dark-haired stranger standing a few yards away was a giant of a man, six foot four or taller, towering over even the larger of the granite markers surrounding him. He had broad shoulders, a massive chest, narrow hips and muscular legs. And his short, military-style haircut only amplified the aura of strength and authority.
Soldier? Maybe a cop, although being a sheriff's deputy herself, she knew most of the lawmen in this area and he definitely wasn't one of them.
Out on the access road, a horn honked, making her jump. She turned her head toward the sound, laughing a little at herself for being so tightly strung.
When she looked back at the stranger, he was gone.
She scanned the graveyard until she spotted him walking briskly toward the other side of the cemetery. His long legs had covered a surprising amount of ground in the few seconds her attention had drifted toward the sound of the horn.
Who was he?
Stop it, she admonished herself silently. Stop seeing suspects everywhere you look. You know who killed your sister.
The stranger was probably just an out-of-towner, here to visit the grave of a friend or relative. Out of curiosity, she crossed to the spot where he'd stood just a few moments earlier, growing more sure with each step that she'd find the explanation for his presence etched into the nearest marker.
But when she reached the marker, it was an unlikely source of enlightenment. The gravestone marked the final resting place of Mary Beth Geddie, who'd died a week after birth nearly a hundred years earlier. Not exactly what she'd expected to find.
She gazed toward the edge of the cemetery, where she spotted the large man walking through the front gates and straight toward a large black truck parked at the curb.
Illegally parked, she thought. She could ticket him and see who he was and what he was up to.
Her feet were moving before she finished the thought, pounding over the sun-baked ground of the graveyard. But by the time she neared the gates, the black truck was out of sight.
She skidded to a stop and bent at the waist, breathing harder than she liked. She'd let her workouts go over the past two weeks while dealing with Carrie's death and the aftermath. Between the piles of food the good folks of Terrebonne had brought by before the funeral and the stress-eating opportunities that were part and parcel of dealing with her parents, Natalie had probably gained five pounds in the two weeks.
She had to get control of her life. Now.
She trudged back to her...