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RESCUE: COWBOY STYLE by REBECCA ZANETTI


Excerpt of In a Heartbeat by Rita Herron

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HQN
March 2006
Featuring: Lisa Langley; Brad Booker
384 pages
ISBN: 0373771053
Paperback
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Romance Suspense

Also by Rita Herron:

Suspicious Circumstances, October 2020
e-Book
Protective Order, September 2020
e-Book
Hostage at Hawk's Landing, March 2019
e-Book
Good Little Girls, August 2018
Paperback / e-Book
Pretty Little Killers, February 2018
Trade Size / e-Book
All The Dead Girls, December 2016
Paperback / e-Book
All the Pretty Faces, April 2016
Paperback / e-Book
All The Beautiful Brides, September 2015
Paperback / e-Book
My Evil Valentine, February 2014
e-Book
Cover Me, March 2013
Paperback / e-Book
Ultimate Cowboy, February 2013
Paperback / e-Book
Dying To Tell, January 2013
Paperback / e-Book
Native Cowboy, January 2013
Paperback / e-Book
Before She Dies, November 2012
e-Book
A Christmas Mission: Saving the Street Boys, November 2012
e-Book
Cowboy in the Extreme, February 2012
Paperback / e-Book
Brandishing a Crown, January 2011
Paperback
Unbreakable Bond, July 2010
Mass Market Paperback
Forbidden Passion, April 2010
Mass Market Paperback
Peek-A-Boo Protector (Harlequin Intrigue Series), September 2009
Mass Market Paperback
Dark Hunger, August 2009
Mass Market Paperback
Collecting Evidence, May 2009
Mass Market Paperback
Platinum Cowboy, February 2009
Mass Market Paperback
Silent Night Sanctuary, November 2008
Mass Market Paperback
Insatiable Desire, September 2008
Mass Market Paperback
Beneath The Badge, August 2008
Paperback
Memories Of Megan, June 2008
Paperback (reprint)
In The Flesh, May 2008
Paperback
Under His Skin, February 2008
Paperback
Up In Flames, December 2007
Paperback
Don't Say A Word, September 2007
Mass Market Paperback
Anything For His Son, August 2007
Mass Market Paperback
Say You Love Me, June 2007
Paperback
Justice for a Ranger, March 2007
Paperback
Force of the Falcon, December 2006
Paperback
Look-Alike, September 2006
Paperback
Last Kiss Goodbye, August 2006
Paperback
Return to Falcon Ridge, May 2006
Paperback
In a Heartbeat, March 2006
Paperback
Her Eyewitness, February 2006
Paperback
Vows of Vengeance, January 2006
Paperback

Excerpt of In a Heartbeat by Rita Herron

"THE GRAVE DIGGER IS BACK."

Special Agent Brad Booker stared at the crime scene in shock, the detective's voice mimicking his own thoughts. The Grave Digger case — this whole scenario reeked of it.

That first one had almost cost him his career, his entire life.

His mind ticked over the similarities. Four years ago, the final victim, Lisa Langley, had been found on another moonless night. It had been dark and so damn hot the heat had literally robbed his breath. As if the thought of her missing hadn't already done so.

Just like the other victims, he'd found her in a rural, deserted wooded area. Rotting vegetation and overgrown bushes marred the trail. Yet they had plowed through and found the grave tucked into the midst of Death Valley.

Except today, there was no white rose on the grave. This killer was making his own statement. Adding his personal signature with the gold cross dangling around the woman's neck. But what was the significance?

Hopefully, Joann Worthy's battered body would give them some answers. The stench of blood, decay and death permeated the air. Crime scene technicians combed the woods with flashlights, searching for evidence in the inky night. Insects buzzed noisily. Cameras flashed, capturing all angles of the woman's lifeless body and her burial spot. The medical examiner was busy logging details of injuries and determining the cause of death. A rookie Buford cop named Surges turned green as he spotted the already decaying body, and ran toward the bushes.

Brad stood rooted to the spot, sweat coating his neck and trickling down his back. An image of Lisa's grave four years ago flashed back. Digging furiously in the heat of the night. Praying she was alive. Knowing it was his fault if she didn't survive.

Barely resuscitating her.

And then the trial. Watching Lisa face her attacker. Listening to the gruesome details describing what the man had done to her. Then seeing the man finally locked away.

Another local, Gunther, sidled up to him. "You sure it's not the same man? Maybe that first Grave Digger got out of jail."

"Impossible." Brad swiped at the gnats swarming around his face. "William White died in jail nine months ago, of a massive head injury from a prison fight. I identified his body myself." In fact, he had flown directly to the facility the minute he'd heard of White's demise. Had wanted to make sure for himself the sadistic psycho was really gone. That he could never escape and hurt another woman again.

Especially Lisa.

Then Brad had driven to the mountain cabin she'd rented near Ellijay in North Georgia to deliver the news himself. To see the relief on her face.

To find out if the ghosts still haunted her.

He'd somehow known they would, that she'd never fully escape them. And when he'd realized that he reminded her of the worst time of her life, he'd forced himself to leave. But he'd never forgotten her. Never stopped blaming himself.

Never stopped admiring her courage or...imagining that things could have been different if she'd never been a victim.

But a personal relationship with Lisa Langley was a pipe dream, especially a short-term one, which was all a jaded man like him had to offer. He knew nothing about love. Commitment. Families.

Dealing with a traumatized victim. His own mother had thrown him out as a kid, discarded him like day-old meat. His bitter childhood had nearly turned him into the type of men he chased today. And there were times even now when he thought he might cross the line. Times when he'd come so close that he'd nearly tripped and fallen over to the dark side.

He had actually done so in the past.

The night he'd finally gotten his hands on William White, that killer instinct in him had emerged again.

Sweet, blissful relief to have caught the man had filled him, just as the rage and injustice of what White had done to his victims had made Brad nearly take the man's life. Because Brad Booker was a man without mercy.

And White had seen that wrath.

Brad had no regrets. He would have enjoyed watching the killer die.

Forcing himself back to the present, he glanced at the victim's body as the M.E. rolled her over. Bile rose in his throat. When they'd found her, Lisa's lower back had been covered in welts in much the same way. Thank God she was safe now.

And keeping her safe continued to be part of the job. No one knew where she was. The new name she'd assumed.

And he intended to keep it that way.

But this poor woman...it was too late. "Can you believe this?" His partner, Ethan Manning, strode up, notepad in hand, rubbing at the sweat on his neck. "We were in a drought back then, too, a real scorching heat wave."

Brad nodded. "And the killer always left the body in an isolated place." The proximity to his own cabin on the lake seemed eerie, too coincidental. He didn't like coincidences.

"Wooden box was nailed shut with the same kind of nails," Ethan said. "And he chops off the victim's hair. Brutalizes them. Even calls a reporter to gloat."

Brad grimaced. "But this time he left a cross instead of a rose."

"What's that all about?" Ethan asked.

"Maybe some indication that he's a religious freak." Brad scoffed at the idea. "Any sign of rape?"

The one thing Lisa had been spared. Thank God. Apparently White had been impotent.

"Can't tell yet, but I'll let you know," the M.E. said.

"He cuts the fingernails off to get rid of trace evidence."

If the woman had been raped, then the copycat was deviating slightly from the first killer's MO. Still, there were so many similarities. "How could this copycat know every last detail?"

"The papers carried the trial," Ethan suggested. "And he could have read the transcript of Lisa's testimony."

Brad's gut clenched. Every word of that agonizing testimony had been seared into his brain.

"Or hell, he probably bragged about it in prison," Ethan said. "You know how these sickos are. White was a sociopath."

Brad nodded. Right, the bastard had no conscience. Brad almost understood. He'd been forced to get into perps'heads too many times. Had seen their handiwork. Had witnessed their unspeakable acts.

Had begun to think he might be tainted himself from the violence. Not knowing his daddy or the genetic pool he'd come from triggered disturbing questions in the dark hours of the night.

The M.E. lifted a maggot from inside the box and bagged it. July 1, the dead of summer, and the Atlanta temperature soared near a hundred, making the heat in the box even more suffocating.

The poor woman. How long had she been kept down there before her killer had called? Brad turned toward Gunther, the local officer. "She the one you've been looking for?"

"Matches the sketch," he said, tight-mouthed. "I'll phone the family to meet us at the morgue and verify her identity."

Brad grimaced. One of the worst parts of the job. Telling the victim's family.

He still remembered Dr. Langley's reaction when he'd phoned to relay the news that they'd found Lisa. Alive. Only the man hadn't reacted as he'd expected.

"We'll question the other inmates where White was imprisoned," Ethan said.

Brad mumbled agreement. "And I want to talk to that reporter."

"I'll get someone on the lumber supply companies," Ethan said. "He may be building these boxes himself, like White did. Maybe we can get a jump on where he bought the wood."

Surges staggered up, wiping at his mouth. "Sorry."

"Don't sweat it, kid. You'll get used to it," Brad said. "Just start canvassing those cabins around the lake."

Surges nodded, and Brad contemplated different possibilities — such as what if White hadn't been operating alone years ago?

Sometimes serial killers worked in pairs....

The hairs on his neck tingled. They'd explored that angle during the original trial, but had never found any evidence to support it. But they could have been wrong.

Ethan moved up to his side. "Are you going to tell Lisa?"

Brad jerked his head toward his partner and swallowed hard. He'd never confided his feelings for White's final victim, but Ethan had sensed the attraction. That Brad had nearly lost perspective.

But Lisa hated him. Would barely even look him in the eye.

How could he blame her? He'd hounded her for information on her boyfriend for weeks, accused her of covering for the man, even suggested White had used her, that she was a fool if she didn't know the truth.

Then, when she'd finally phoned him to admit her suspicions, he'd promised to protect her. But White had gotten to Lisa first. The week that followed had been hell for Brad.

But nothing compared to the ordeal Lisa had endured. Seven days and nights of pure torture.

Ethan cleared his throat. "Booker?"

"No, not yet. I don't want to alarm her."

"You think that's wise? Maybe she remembered something during the last four years that might help us. Like the place where White kept her. Or a second man."

Brad nodded, feeling resigned, while they both tried to focus on the details regarding this other woman.

But as things wound down, and he strode back to his car, a sense of foreboding followed him. Could he ask Lisa to relive those nightmarish details again? To tap into her subconscious, where she'd repressed some of the horror?

Of course you can. You're the man without mercy. You can do whatever it takes to get the job done.

His stomach knotted as another thought struck him. If this psycho was copying White's crimes to a tee, would he go after Lisa just as the last madman had?

Excerpt from In a Heartbeat by Rita Herron
All rights reserved by publisher and author

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