Many of you will remember Special Agent Rae Hatting from the short story, “Crushed Gardenias.” Response to this wee, stand-alone story was so great, I decided I couldn’t let her stay put! My latest work in progress brings Rae to the novel scene (yay!). The Fairest of Them will release later this year and I will keep you all posted about when that will be!
Special Agent Hatting finds her match in Detective Lucas Thompson, a transplanted Texan in California. The pair come together in a volatile match as Rae takes over an unsolved case involving strange circumstances. A serial killer is on the loose with a penchant for dressing up his victims as characters from fairy tales. Intrigued? Rae certainly is!
I thought I would offer a preview of the first chapter. This book will be comprised of three parts, the first being from Detective Thompson’s perspective (don’t worry, it will make sense when you read it!). I hope it will be the first of a series involving the pair, if I can keep thinking up creative crimes.
Excerpt from The Fairest of Them **unedited and subject to change**:
The trail led to a clearing surrounded by redwood trees. They provided shade from the harsh afternoon July sun, their shadows dancing on the ground. In the very center of the ring, a woman lay, her hands folded over her abdomen. Blonde ringlets framed her face and her vivid blue eyes were wide open, staring blankly into the abyss. The slender form was draped in a pink dress with lace accents at the sleeves. Over it, she wore a stark white pinafore. Hikers had stumbled on the eerily staged scene in MacKerricher State Park, and called in the authorities.
Yellow crime tape was wound around the statuesque trees. It was as if they were standing guard, tall and silent. Upon closer investigation, a slim book was discovered, poking out of the pocket of the starched pinafore. It was quickly bagged and tagged as evidence before the body, carefully sealed in a black bag, was transported to the coroner’s office. I remember turning my face upwards, gazing at the majestic trees and wishing they could talk. If they could, my job would have been infinitely easier.
I had come to the small town in Mendocino County, California, early in 2003 with no intentions of taking up another job on the force. My legacy was safely tucked away in Dallas, Texas, after I solved a series of prostitute rapes and mutilations. The newspapers lauded me as a hero. The whole situation made me feel completely sick, not good for a detective. We were meant to be impartial and I found myself blaming the working girls I had so often warned about the dangers of streetwalking.
The circumstances leading me to resuming a position as a detective with the sheriff’s department were not something I wished to discuss with anyone. I would simply change the topic when brought up in conversation. I supposed that it was some sort of calling, unable to let me rest until I helped as many people as possible.
I drove back to the station, radio off, the red-taped evidence bag taunting me on the passenger seat. I knew what it contained, but I was reluctant to confirm it. I turned the bag over to the technicians at the lab and returned to my office with an off-hand reminder to let me know what they found. The book would be swabbed, submitted to latent fingerprint testing, and returned to my desk with the same report as last time: no conclusive trace evidence found. As I predicted, it’s what happened. I retrieved the book, setting it down on my desk in the plastic covering.
Snapping on a pair of latex gloves, I ran my hand over the leather cover. It was a first edition, like the rest. I carefully cracked the cover and the black print stood out on the creamy ivory paper: Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Beneath it, penned in perfect cursive were the words: She should not have taken what did not belong to her. I slammed the book shut in frustration. The taunts were becoming more and more specific as time went on.
Throwing the gloves in my trashcan, I decided to take a walk and see if Dr. Sabine Lawson had found anything on the body. The glimmer of hope had long since faded that she actually would. The curvy, African-American coroner was meticulous in her reports, so I doubted she would be even down to the woman’s breasts at this point. I had to do something to settle my nerves, though, or I would snap.
The squeak of the metal swinging doors signaled my entry into the disinfectant-scented room. I grinned at the sight of Sabine in her element. She wore her hair in narrow braids, pulled back in a no-nonsense ponytail. Her skin was the color of coffee with cream. There were many days I lusted after Sabine, but she made it clear to me from day one she was committed to her job. There was no room for “torrid affairs with wild cowboys,” as she put it.
“Whatcha got for me, Doc?” I went through the motions of putting on another pair of gloves to avoid Sabine’s scowl.
“Nothing yet and you know it. You’re restless, cher.” The drawl of her New Orleans accent came out like liquid silk.
I leaned against the counter and watched her work. “Damn straight. I can’t wrap my head around this guy. He was sticking to the classics and now this jump. Why Goldilocks?”
Sabine was used to listening to my ramblings and offering her interpretations. “Perhaps, she merely fit the profile of that character.”
“He’s not like that though. He plans this all to the letter. Every detail. Stalks these women for weeks!” I jiggled my leg anxiously. The change in the killer’s modus operandi rattled me more than it should.
“Calm yourself.” She began to speak into a microphone positioned above her work station.
“Female victim appears roughly 20 to 25 years of age based on bone development and pelvic placement. She has never given birth. There are signs of sexual trauma, but no ligature marks on her wrists or ankles. A small needle mark indicates that the victim may have been drugged. Sending a sample of blood and urine to the lab for further analysis.”
I interrupted her. “No trace of semen, I take it?”
She frowned at me. “No, like the others.” Sabine carefully made her opening incision in the abdomen of the victim and drew back the flesh. She busied herself with the remainder of her work, and I knew I was dismissed without her saying so. Pinging the gloves into a bin by the door, I walked out.
In the meantime, if you can’t wait, check out “Crushed Gardenias” to get a taster of Rae!
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