Savannah Grant climbed out of the truck and breathed
deeply of the crisp air. Though it had snowed last night,
the sky this morning was rich and blue, and the sun
contained a surprising amount of heat.
The aspen trees surrounding the small clearing glowed a
rich, vibrant gold that contrasted sharply against the
blue of the sky and the white of the snow-covered peaks
looming high above. Leaves littered the ground beneath her
feet, but the snow that had covered them earlier was now
little more than droplets of water through which the
sunlight gleamed, making them glow like mini rainbows.
It was a tranquil setting that hid a darker heart.
She slammed the door shut and turned around as a second
truck came to a halt in the clearing. Three men climbed
outâ€”two deputy rangers, and a brown-haired teenager who
looked positively green around the gills.
His gaze skirted the clearing, resting momentarily on the
barely visible trail that disappeared through the aspens.
Then he gulped and looked at Savannah. His blue eyes were
wide and frightenedâ€”a sure sign that for once in his short
life, Matt wasnâ€™t crying wolf. "I donâ€™t have to go back up
there, do I?"
"No." She tried to give the kid a reassuring smile, but it
probably looked as fake as it felt. But then, it wasnâ€™t
every day two human tourists were murdered within a week
of each other within the confines of the Ripple Creek
And it certainly wasnâ€™t every day those murders were an
exact replica of a past eventâ€”an event that still haunted
the worst of her nights.
A shiver ran down her spine. Not from the cold, though
here in the mountains it was certainly that, despite the
sunâ€™s heat. Clairvoyance wasnâ€™t something sheâ€™d ever laid
claim to, but sheâ€™d had premonitions in the past that had
certainly come true, and that was what she was feeling
now. The murders would not stop with the current twoâ€”and
the past sheâ€™d tried so hard to forget was about to slap
her across the face.
She rubbed her arms and stepped away from the truck. "Ike,
you want to stay here with Matt?"
"Ike," she warned, in no mood to take any of the young
deputyâ€™s crap today. "You do as I say, or you head back
down the mountain."
"How the hell am I going to learn anythingâ€”"
"You could always sit at a desk and do paperwork," she cut
in. "Your choice."
Sullen didnâ€™t even begin to describe his expression as he
nodded. Guilt slithered through her, but she shoved it
away and glanced across at Ronan. "Ready?"
The russet-haired deputy nodded and hitched the small
backpack onto his shoulder. She spun, and walked across
the clearing. Sunlight and golden glowing leaves dappled
the slight path, but it quickly gave way to deeper shadows
as they moved into the pines.
"You were a bit hard on the kid, werenâ€™t you?" Ronan said,
his deep voice seeming to resonate through the silence. "I
know he can be annoying, but he is truly eager to learn."
She blew out a breath. "I know. Itâ€™s justâ€”"
"Youâ€™re dreaming again, arenâ€™t you?"
She looked over her shoulder. Ronanâ€™s gray eyes gleamed
almost silver in the shadows, and they were full of
concern. But then, theyâ€™d known each other a very long
time. Ronan was not only one of her few close friends, but
heâ€™d been her very first lover. Even though it went
against her policy of not mixing business and pleasure,
they still shared a moon dance when one or the other was
feeling the bite of loneliness.
"What makes you think that?"
His smile echoed through his eyes. "The only time youâ€™re
so short-tempered is when youâ€™re feeling the heat of the
moon or have been dreaming. Considering we shared a few
rather energetic nights last weekend, I figured it was the
She grinned. "Have you made the bed yet?"
"Yeah. Otherwise Conor would be asking who I was with."
She nodded. The cabin they used for their retreats had
been in Ronanâ€™s family for years, but these days it was
only occupied in spring, when the fishing was good. It was
the perfect sanctuary the rest of the year, except that
Conor, Ronanâ€™s younger brother, was one of those wolves
who had a nose for intrigue and always seemed to be three
steps behind them. While he didnâ€™t appear to know about
their some-time affair, neither of them wanted him to find
out, if only because the kid was a blabber-mouth. Besides,
their illicit meetings not only went against her own
rules, but the council rules, as well.
Though the council, she thought grimly, definitely needed
to pull their heads out of their asses and look around.
Not so much because of the no fraternizing with co-workers
rule, but for all the other rules they were trying to
institute. Like a ten oâ€™clock curfew on anyone under
eighteen. This was the twenty-first century, for Godâ€™s
sake, not the Middle Ages. It was dumb-ass rules like that
that had driven her out of both home and Ripple Creek when
she was barely seventeen.
Of course, her views on the matter, though often aired,
werenâ€™t taken into consideration, despite the fact her dad
was the head of the council. He also happened to be the
main man behind all the saving-yourself-for-marriage flag
waving currently going on, despite the hassle and
heartache such beliefs had caused Neva, Savannahâ€™s twin,
just over a year ago.
"What are the dreams about this time?" Ronan asked.
She brushed aside a tree branch, waiting until heâ€™d safely
passed before letting it go. "Same old, same old. Death,
destruction and mayhem."
Only this time, it wasnâ€™t in the past, but the present.
And that scared her, because the man behind those murders
so long ago was supposedly dead.
So how could they be happening again, here in Ripple
Creek, the exact same way? The press had never released
all the details, so it couldnâ€™t be a copycat. Yet the
murderâ€”or at least, the first murderâ€”was exactly the same.
Right down to the mutilation of the genitals.
A shiver ran down her spine. Fear, she acknowledged. Fear
of what was coming. Who was coming.
She frowned at the thought, but at that moment, death
touched the air. She stopped, sniffing the faint breeze
and tasting the scents entwined within it.
"A new death," Ronan said, stopping close enough that she
could feel his body heat. "The blood is still fresh."
She nodded. "The hint of sage and musk suggests the victim
"Same as the first one."
She glanced over her shoulder and met his gaze. The grim
certainty reflected in his eyes echoed through her. They
had themselves a serial killer, and with autumn giving way
to winter and drawing in the cross-country skiing crowd,
soon there would be far too many potential victims in
"Letâ€™s get up there before the scavengers do."
She followed the ever-thickening scent of death through
the trees. The path became steeper, rockier, as the tree
line began to recede. The clumps of snow become drifts
that ran on and on, and the chill in the air was more
noticeable. Yet, despite that, sweat trickled down her
spine. But not from exertion. The past sheâ€™d run from was
merging with the present, and all she could see in the
near future was disaster.
She swiped at the moisture dribbling down her forehead and
tried to get a grip on her overactive imagination. It was
just a murdererâ€”just a crazy person. The past wasnâ€™t
coming back to haunt her. It was a weird coincidence,
Maybe, that deep-down voice said. And maybe not.
"Thereâ€™s the egg-shaped boulders Matt mentioned." Ronan
pointed to the rocks off on the left hand side of the
She nodded and made her way toward them. Beyond the
stones, death waited.
Like the first victim, this man had his arms and legs
stretched wide, his penis and scrotum sliced away, and his
heart removed. For a moment, she closed her eyes, fighting
not only the sickness that churned in the pit of her
stomach, but the memories that came crowding back.
Even without those memories, it was doubtful that scenes
like this would ever become easy, she thought, as her gaze
swept around the stone circle that surrounded the
mutilated body. She might have spent the last nine years
as a ranger, but death was not something sheâ€™d visited
often. Which was why finding someone so brutally and
methodically killed still had the power to shock her.
"We have ourselves a nutter," Ronan said, as he came to a
halt beside her.
"That we have." The question was, did this nutter echo
past events by chance or by design? "You want to secure
the area and take some prelim photos? Iâ€™ll call
headquarters, and get them to call in the coroner."
"The docâ€™s not going to be happy," Ronan commented, as he
swung the pack off his shoulder and took out the crime
scene tape. "Itâ€™s barely eight, and Wednesday is his day
"Obviously, no one told our murderer," she snapped, then
met his sharp glance with a wave of her hand. "I know, I
know. Iâ€™m going to have to stop being so bitchy."
"Or go see someone about those damn dreams."
She nodded and got her cell phone from her pocket. Then
she stepped out of his way and made her call. Kelly, who
was both their administrative assistant and communications
officer, answered on the second ring.
"Ripple Creek Rangerâ€™s office."
"Kel, can you ask Doc Carson to head on over to Pikeâ€™s
clearing at the top of Red Mountain Road? Ike will be
waiting for him."
"Will do. Youâ€™ve a visitor, by the way."
"A Mr. Jones from the Interspecies Investigation Squad."
Savannah swore under her breath. The IIS were an offshoot
of the FBI, and by law they had to be notified whenever a
human was killed on werewolf land. But she hadnâ€™t expected
them to come running so quickly, nor did she really want
them here. The men and women of the IIS had the reputation
of riding roughshod over local law enforcement and had, in
the past, caused a lot of bad feelings between the
community and its police officers. She certainly didnâ€™t
want that happening here in Ripple Creek.
"Tell him Iâ€™m coming in." At least that would give Ronan,
Ike and the Doc time to do a prelim examination of the
scene and the body before the IIS charged in and took
over. She glanced at her watch. "Iâ€™ll be there in twenty."
"Iâ€™ll tell him. Iâ€™ll even offer him decent coffee."
Which, in Kel speak, meant the man in question was not
only single, but gorgeous. She smiled slightly, half
wondering if, just this once, they should use Kel as a
distraction. Hell, there were few men of any species that
didnâ€™t take a second, third and fourth look when Kel
walked by, so it might just give them a chance to do their
job without IIS inference. But the way their luck had been
running of late, Mr. Jones would probably end up
preferring dark haired men rather than voluptuous blondesâ€”
and none of her deputies were inclined that way.
She hung up and met Ronanâ€™s expectant gaze. "The IIS are
He swore, long and loud.
"Yeah," she said. "Exactly. Iâ€™m heading down there. Iâ€™ll
get Ike to meet Carson, and heâ€™ll have to assist you here."
Ronan nodded. "Heâ€™s damn good with the cameras, so he can
take over that job."
"Just keep an eye on himâ€”with the IIS here, we canâ€™t
afford any of his exuberant mistakes."
Ronan nodded and began taking photos of the body and the
ceremonial ring of small stones surrounding it. She cast
one more look at the victim, her gaze resting momentarily
on the severed genital area, noting once again the lack of
blood in the dirt beneath the body. She shivered and
turned around, making her way back down the hill.
If history was repeating itself, she just had to hope that
everything about that time of her life wasnâ€™t about to
make an appearance. Because there were some sections she
had no desire to revisit in any way, shape, or form.
"Ike," she called, once sheâ€™d reached the clearing. "I
want you to go down to the main road and wait for Doc
Carson. Bring him up here and take him to Ronan. Youâ€™re to
help Ronan after that."
The young deputyâ€™s eyes lit up. "Really?"
"Really." God, was she ever that enthusiastic? Probably
not. By the time sheâ€™d applied for the deputy position,
sheâ€™d truly seen the darker side of human and wolf nature.
Sheâ€™d known all too well the full extent of damage some
people could do to othersâ€”be it physical or emotional.
"Matt, you want to ride back to town with me?"
The teenager nodded and climbed into her truck. She
glanced back to Ike. "Do what Ronan tells you toâ€”nothing
more, nothing less."
Ike grinned and gave her a thumbs up, his carrot-bright
hair glowing like a beacon in the morning sun. Savannah
shook her head, climbed into her truck and headed back to
town. By the time sheâ€™d dropped Matt off and talked
briefly to his parents, thirty-five minutes had come and
Kel looked up as Savannah opened the front door of their
little section of city hall, her expression a mix of
amusement and annoyance. "Our dear IIS officer is not
impressed with tardiness. Or so heâ€™s said, every five
minutes for the last fifteen minutes."
"One of those, huh?"
"Yeah. All looks and no charm." Kel placed a mug on the
counter, and the rich aroma of cinnamon coffee teased
Savannahâ€™s nostrils. "Here, take this. Youâ€™re going to
Savannah grimaced and picked up the steaming mug. "What
excuse did you give him?"
"I didnâ€™t. Heâ€™s not my boss, and he certainly wasnâ€™t
polite, so he didnâ€™t deserve an update."
She couldnâ€™t help a grin. "So did he get that coffee?"
"Machine blend, not the good stuff."
Meaning heâ€™d really pissed her off. "Could you take all my
calls while I deal with this fellow?"
Savannah sipped the sweet, aromatic liquid, fortifying
herself as she walked around the counter and trundled down
the long hall to her office. The door was shut, and the
blinds shuttered, affording her no glimpse of the grump
whoâ€™d manage to annoy their usually jovial administration
She grasped the handle with her free hand, and pushed the
door open. "Sorry to keep you waitâ€”"
The rest of her words died as the man inside turned around.
Shock and something else, something she couldnâ€™t quite
define, rippled through her. The man standing so calmly in
the middle of her office was the one man sheâ€™d hoped never
to see again.
For too many minutes, all she could do was stare. This man
had haunted her dreams for nigh on ten years, yet except
for the crowâ€™s-feet near his eyes, his too-handsome
features showed no real sign of aging. He was a big man,
just over six feet tall, his build lean but powerful, like
that of a sprinter. His hair was dark brown, but the
mahogany highlights sheâ€™d so adored now contrasted against
flecks of silver that gleamed in the sunlight streaming in
through the window behind him. Once upon a time his hair
had been long, and tied back carelessly in a ponytailâ€”a
ponytail she always used to undo, just so she could run
her fingers through those gloriously silky lengths. Now,
though, it was short, barely even brushing the shoulders
of his starched blue shirt.
Her gaze finally, inevitably, locked with his. For several
heartbeats, she couldnâ€™t think, was barely able to
breathe, as the navy blue of his eyes all but consumed her.
Heat prickled across her skin and ignited a familiar ache
deep inside. She knew she had to move, had to do something
other than simply stand here and let him consume her like
this. Yet, she couldnâ€™t tear herself away from the power
of that gaze. From the memories she saw deep within it.
A slight smile touched the lips that were still as sensual
as she remembered. Then his gaze rolled languidly down her
body, a touch that wasnâ€™t a touch, and yet one that sent
energy singing across every fiber of her being. Her
nipples hardened, pressing almost painfully against the
restrictions of her shirt, and the deep down ache got
His navy gaze completed its erotic journey and rose to
meet hers again, lingering a little on the scar that
marred the left side of her face. But it wasnâ€™t the heat
in his look that made her tremble, it was the sudden flash
As if he had anything to be angry about.
"Well, well," he said. "Fancy finding you here, of all
His voice was husky, deep, and conjured memories of
whispered endearmentâ€™s and long, sweaty nights of
lovemaking. And even after all the time that had separated
them, his voice still had the power to rock her. Maybe
because she still heard it in the worst of her dreamsâ€”
dreams in which heâ€™d spun his web of desire and deceit
around her as easily as he had in real life.
And it was those memories, as well as the anger that was
now so visible in the depths of his eyes, that got her
"What are you doing here, Cade?"
The smile that touched his lips never reached his eyes.
Never warmed those icy, dark-blue depths. "You reported a
murder. Iâ€™m here to investigate it."
She sat down at her desk and waved him to one of the
visitorâ€™s chairs. He sat down, his movements an echo of
power and grace.
"I mean, why are you really here?" She drank more coffee,
grateful for the flush of warmth it spread through her
otherwise chilled system.
He raised a dark eyebrow. "As I said, Iâ€™m here to
investigate the murder of a human on this reservation."
"And did you happen to tell your superiors that you were
once involved with the chief ranger of said reservation?"
"Why should I?" His gaze met hers, and all she could see,
all she could feel, was his cold, cold anger. The warm
caring that had once attracted her to this man had long
goneâ€”if, indeed, it had ever actually existed. "You were
nothing more than a means to an end, Vannah. A pleasant
way to pass the time as I tried to catch a killer."
Though sheâ€™d long known the truth, his words still hurt.
After all, sheâ€™d once cared for this man. Cared for him
deeply. To discover it was all nothing more than lies had
cut to the quick. Yet his lies were not the worst of his
actions. Far from it.
She leaned back in her chair, and feigned a calm she
didnâ€™t feel. "My name is Savannah. Kindly use it."
"Savannah," he mocked. "Such a sweet name."
"So was the girl you knew as Vannah. You sure as hell
cured her of that."
Something flashed in his eyes. Not anger, because that was
there already, but something deeper, darker. "The girl I
knew as Vannah put on a damn good show of being sweet, but
time sure proved otherwise."
"Time?" She gave an unladylike snort. "We knew each other
less than a month."
Which was time enough to think she was in love. Time
enough to prove how bad a judge her heart could be.
"Sometimes," he said, "a month is all it takes to prove
how very wrong first impressions can be."
"How very true," she said dryly. "So why donâ€™t we just
drop the Happy Trails memory time, and get down to
He crossed his legs, drawing her eye down the powerful
line of his thigh and shin to the garish blue and red of
his boots. A smile touched her lips. It seemed even the
starched blue correctness of the IIS couldnâ€™t break his
love of cowboy boots.
"Tell me about the murder."
Her gaze came back to his. "Everything is in the report,
which Iâ€™ve no doubt youâ€™ve read."
"I want your impressions."
"Really?" Bitterness crept into her voice. "And why would
you want the opinion of a no goodâ€”what was the term you
used that night? Whore? Strumpet?"
His face closed over. "I thought we were keeping this
So they were. But it was harder than sheâ€™d thought it
would be, especially when the warm mix of sage and
tangerine touched the air, stirring her hormones as much
as it did memories of the nights sheâ€™d spent in his arms,
drinking in that same scent.
"Thereâ€™s been a second murder," she said, the annoyance in
her voice aimed more at herself than him. God, anyone
would think she was still that dizzy teenager, not the
much wiser woman sheâ€™d become. "Same MO."
He sat up a little straighter. "Why didnâ€™t you mention
this straight away?"
"Could have something to do with seeing the one face I
never wanted to see again."
Again that darkness flared in his eyes. "Tell me about the
"As far as we can tell, itâ€™s exactly the same as the first
one. My people are up there now, locking down the scene
and taking prelim photos."
"Who discovered the body?"
"Local teenager out for an early morning run."
"Youâ€™ve taken his statement?"
Anger flickered through her. What in moons did he think
she was, an amateur? "Hell no," she bit back. "Was I
"Sarcasm is not what either of us need right now." His
gaze bored into hers. "If you canâ€™t handle me being here,
on this case, step aside and let someone else take care of
She didnâ€™t bother answering. As the IIS officer for this
region, he had no choice in being here, and as head
ranger, neither did she. But he was right about one thingâ€”
she had to get a grip on herself. "The coroner should be
up there by now. You got a team following?"
He nodded. "Two people. They should be here this
afternoon. We will, of course, take over investigations,
though weâ€™ll appreciate your departmentâ€™s help in dealing
with the townsfolk."
And he was going to need it, because the citizens of
Ripple Creek didnâ€™t appreciate the sort of superior
attitude he was currently offering. She took a drink of
coffee and asked, "How far behind are they?"
"Theyâ€™ll be here tomorrow."
"Are you intending to wait for them, or do you want to
head up there now?"
"Iâ€™d like to get up there before the scene gets too
That flicker of anger became a roar. "My people are well
trained and damn good at their jobs."
"But they arenâ€™t trained for this sort of investigation,
which is why the IIS are always called."
The IIS being called had nothing to do with skillsâ€”or the
lack thereofâ€”but was a means of pacifying the humans who
always seemed to think that the murder of a human on a
werewolf reservation was the first sign of a planned
uprising. Humansâ€”or at least some of themâ€”seemed to live
in permanent fear of wolves. Why, she had no idea,
especially when humans had all but wiped out the werewolf
population in America. Hell, of the twenty reservations
that had been granted originally, only eleven now existed.
And two of those were in jeopardy from the encroaching
human population. Resettlement was currently being
discussed, but she knew from her old man that this time,
the wolves in those two reservations were going to give
the government the legal fight of its life.
But she didnâ€™t bother saying anything, because voicing her
opinion wouldnâ€™t matter a damn. Cade was here, and their
part in this play was now officially minor.
She gulped down the rest of her coffee and rose. "Iâ€™ll
take you out there now."
"Good. And on the way there, you can give me your opinion
about these killings."
She bit back the instinctive urge to throw another bitchy
comment his way. As she walked passed him, she tried to
ignore the warm tease of tangerine in her nostrils. But it
wasnâ€™t so easy to ignore his familiar presence at her
back, or the way his body heat seemed to caress her skin,
burning her the way the sun might burn during summer.
It had been like that the first time sheâ€™d met himâ€”a rush
of heat, a fever that had become more fierce the longer
sheâ€™d stayed in his presence. No wolf since had ever given
her that sort of reaction, and she was damn glad of that
fact. These days, she was quite content to spend her time
in Ronanâ€™s arms, secure in the knowledge that the sex was
good, that she was safe, and that he would never do
anything to hurt her.
Kel turned around at the sound of their footsteps, and her
gaze went from Savannah to Cade and back again. Though her
expression was perfectly pleasant, Savannah was hard
pressed not to smile. Cade had a lot of ground to make up
if he expected anything more than very basic assistance
from Kel. And considering that the smooth operation of
this ranger station depended greatly on the efficiency of
its admin assistant, Cade was in deep trouble.
Unless, of course, he brought his own admin assistant,
which, considering the sort of money being thrown at the
IIS these days, was highly likely.
"Kel, Iâ€™m taking Mr. Jones up to Pikeâ€™s clearing. If
anything urgent comes in, call Steve to handle it." She
glanced over her shoulder. "Have you booked rooms for
yourself and your people?"
The deep blue of his eyes seemed to bore right through
her. "Not yet."
She repressed a shiver and glanced back to Kel. "And
arrange two rooms at one of the lodges."
A smile touched Kelâ€™s lips. "Right away."
Savannah knew that look, and she suspected luxury
accommodationsâ€”or at least, as close as they got to it
here in Ripple Creekâ€”was not what Cade and his people were
going to end up in. "In town," she added, just to ensure
they didnâ€™t end up in some Godforsaken corner right on the
A pout touched Kelâ€™s lips. Savannah smiled and led the way
out the door. At least Cade couldnâ€™t have a go at her
about the accommodationâ€”but she very much suspected that
heâ€™d have a go at her about lots of other things. Most of
them in the past, and most of them things sheâ€™d much
But if he thought she was still that meek and mild
teenager, he was about to learn how very wrong he was. If
he wanted a damn fight, heâ€™d get one.
Because after years of dreaming about the events of ten
years ago, she was more than ready for it.
Cade shifted slightly in the truckâ€™s seat so he could
study Vannahâ€™s profile without being obvious about it.
Sheâ€™d changed since heâ€™d last seen her, and the most
apparent of those changes was the pale scar over her left
eye. But while it constantly caught his gaze, it didnâ€™t
really detract from her unconventional beauty. Nothing
couldâ€”not the scar, the shorter cut of her once gloriously
long hair, nor the cold wariness in her green eyes.
Heâ€™d always expected that sometime they would meet again,
simply because his work as an IIS officer took him to many
different reservations. And though heâ€™d never really
thought about how he would react, heâ€™d expected that anger
would be first and foremost on the list of emotions. It
had certainly been thereâ€”hard, deep, and furious. But what
he hadnâ€™t expected was the rush of desire, nor such fierce
relief over the fact that she was safe, well, and whole.
And if anything, the flood of those last two only served
to make him angrier. At her, and at himself. Heâ€™d followed
the path of desire once before with her, and it had almost
resulted in his death. He would not go down it again, not
even for the woman who still haunted his nights.
"Tell me your first impressions of the murders," he asked
again, his voice a touch harsher than necessary.
She slanted him a super-cooled look. "Itâ€™s in the report."
"I want your thoughts, not the sanitized summary you wrote
for the IIS."
A smile flirted with her lipsâ€”lips whose sensual touch he
could still remember. "Do you really want to know my
"Do I have to put you on warning?" Maybe that would be a
good idea. Two warnings and she was off the case, and he
would be free to deal with the murders without
interference from her or the past.
"The killer uses a ritual to murder his victims," she
said, voice ultra professional yet managing to sound
tart. "Blood results state the first victim was drugged,
and given thereâ€™s no evidence of resistance, Iâ€™d say the
second victim was, too.
"The stone circle was present in the second murder as
She nodded. "As are the mutilations."
"And what do you think of them?"
Her gaze met his briefly, the green depths giving little
away. This reserve was new. Once upon a time, he could
have read a world of emotions in her eyes.
Though heâ€™d learned the hard way that some of those so
visible emotions were nothing more than lies.
"I think we have a nut on our hands."
He raised an eyebrow. Was she deliberately avoiding any
reference to the murders of their past? Or was she simply
intent on giving him the usual "this is my town and donâ€™t
you forget it" crap that he generally received from
rangers of small reservations like Ripple Creek? He
suspected it was the latter, and that disappointed him.
Heâ€™d expected more from her.
Though why, he had no idea. After all, sheâ€™d given him
very little in the way of help the first time theyâ€™d met.
"And you donâ€™t see any similarities to past murders?"
She met his gaze again. "Thatâ€™s not for me to judge, is
it? Not with the IIS here."
In other words, she wasnâ€™t admitting anything. Not to him,
anyway. Which was no surprise, really. Theyâ€™d done it the
hard way the first time, and probably would again.
She stopped the truck beside another, in a clearing that
could have come straight off a postcard, and climbed out.
He quickly followed suit and breathed deeply of the crisp
air. If there was anything he missed about reservation
life, it was the purity of the air, and the sheer and
utter quiet of clearings like this.
But then, it was hardly practical for an IIS officer to
live in one of the reservations he might have to
investigate, although many did. Heâ€™d grown used to city
life, though, and as places to live went, Denver wasnâ€™t
all that bad. At least there were glorious mountains
within easy driving distance.
"This way," she said, and disappeared down a small path,
until all he could see was the occasional flash of
sunlight gleaming off her golden hair.
Not that he needed to see her to follow her. Her scent was
as unusual as she wasâ€”a tantalizing mix of a warm summer
breeze combined with the rich headiness of exotic flowers
and fruits. Even here in the mountains, with the crispness
of the air and the scent of pine and snow heavy in his
nostrils, her aroma was a teasing, sensual seduction of
his senses and memories.
And he had better get control of those sensesâ€”and
memories. He was here to catch a killer. Nothing more,
nothing less. Whether or not he and the chief ranger had a
past was irrelevant, even if he still bore a scar across
his shoulder blade that was the direct result of said
They came out of the tree line, and the hint of blood
touched the cold air. The rich, metallic smell made his
pulse quicken in anticipationâ€”something that always
happened at the beginning of a hunt, even after all his
years as an IIS agent. He ignored the sensation and swept
his gaze across the barren, snow-speckled landscape. Ten
years ago, the killer had carefully avoided obvious paths,
concentrating his movements across barren stone or through
water. Given this killer seemed to be imitating those past
events, he very much suspected the situation would be
similar here. Only here, the ground wasnâ€™t as rocky, so
there was a good chance that they might find a print.
If the rangers hadnâ€™t walked all over the area, that was.
Which wasnâ€™t being entirely fair, he acknowledged. He
glanced at Vannahâ€™s stiff back, his gaze drawn to the
gentle bob of her golden ponytail, and then drifting down
the curves of her back and rump, so lovingly displayed by
the close fitting, pale green rangerâ€™s uniform.
Heâ€™d seen some sloppy work done on many of the
reservations, but Ripple Creek didnâ€™t appear to be one of
them. Her initial report to the IIS had been one the best
heâ€™d seen, though that didnâ€™t mean she and her team had
the skills to deal with something like this.
She led him through the rocks and stopped when she reached
a large, egg-shaped stone. He stopped beside her, his
nostrils filling with her rich scent as his gaze swept the
scene before them. It was exactly the same as the seven
heâ€™d seen long ago, right down to the mutilated genitals
and the victimâ€™s left handed, one finger salute. It had
always looked like the dead were offering one final
opinion on life itself.
Two men worked near the feet of the victim, the older of
the twoâ€”and the man he presumed was the reservationâ€™s
acting coronerâ€”on hands and knees between the victimâ€™s
legs, intimately scrutinizing the gaping hole that had
once contained penis and scrotum. A much younger man stood
ready with a camera and an eager expression.
A third ranger squatted at the top of the stone circle,
but he looked up as Cade came to a halt. The flicker of
animosity in his gray eyes was brief, but nevertheless
there. He placed a flag in the soil, rose and carefully
made his way toward them.
"Weâ€™ve found several foot prints, both human and wolf.
Iâ€™ve flagged them all." He came to a halt beside Vannah
and crossed his arms.
Presenting a united front against the invader, Cade
thought, and barely restrained a bitter smile. How many
times did he have to face such shows of unity before
people began to realize he was actually working for them,
not against them?
"Ronan, this is Senior Agent Cade Jones, from the IIS."
The russet haired ranger held out his hand. His grip was
neither aggressive nor passive, just the grip of a man
very comfortable in what he was and what he was doing.
"Pleasure to meet you, sir," the ranger said.
Like hell it was. "Please, call me Cade. I donâ€™t believe
there should be formalities between law enforcement
officers." Not as long as they understood he was in
charge. He waved a hand toward the victim. "How far have
"Weâ€™ve taken photos of the victim and surrounds. Done an
initial check for marks, but havenâ€™t moved the victim as
yet. Iâ€™ve ordered an ambulance to take the body to the
state medical examiner."
Cade nodded. "Iâ€™ll have someone waiting there. Did you
find anything different from the first murder?"
"Not so far."
"What is the coroner looking at?"
"Odd marks in the soil," the coroner said, without looking
up. "If I didnâ€™t know better, Iâ€™d say someone was lapping
up the blood as this fellow bled to death."
If true, this was a departure from the previous murders,
and it would help cement his theory that this was a
copycat. He walked over. Vannah and the other ranger
followed, a fact he knew only because her scent remained
as strong as it had been when heâ€™d stood beside her.
He squatted on the outside of the stone circle. This close
to the body, the aroma of blood and death was all
"Where?" he said.
The coroner quickly pointed out several marks in the soil.
He was rightâ€”it did look like lap marks. He glanced up at
the kid with the camera. "Have you taken photos?"
The carrot-haired ranger nodded, his very demeanor one of
fierce anticipation. First murder, Cade thought wryly, and
wondered if the kidâ€™s exuberance would last any longer
than the end of this case. It certainly hadnâ€™t with his
first murder case.
But then, heâ€™d been a still-wet-behind-the ears recruit
into the IIS, not a mere ranger, and those murders were
still the worst heâ€™d ever seen. Until now.
"Are you ready to move the body yet?"
"Yes, sir. Just thought youâ€™d prefer to be here when we
At least the officials in this town seemed to be up with
recommended procedures. He couldnâ€™t remember the amount of
times heâ€™d arrived at a crime scene only to find the body
already bagged and hauled away. And while it was true that
he usually couldnâ€™t spot anything more than the coroner
would, he liked to be present when the body was first
movedâ€”just for that one time when he did spot
something. "Thank you."
The old man nodded and carefully moved to one side of the
victim. The kid raised the camera and took a shot. Heaven
only knows why, but Cade could hardly berate him when he
was trying to do the right thing.
The coroner shifted the victimâ€™s arm, then rolled the body
over, carefully avoiding the flag that had been placed in
the soil not too far away from the corpseâ€™s thigh. And
there, on the victimâ€™s back, was another major difference
to the original murders.
Because carved into the dead manâ€™s flesh were two words.
He remembered, all right. How could he not, when his very
first case had been his very worst? Thing was, the damn
man behind those original murders was dead. Heâ€™d seen the
body himself. Had been there at the burial, to watch the
casket being covered with dirt and to spit on the grave.
As far as he knew, as far as anyone whoâ€™d been on the team
at that time knew, their felon had worked solo. And no
one, outside those in the IIS, knew the smaller details,
such as the fingers. So how could a man whoâ€™d been dead
for over eight years be here in Ripple Creek, taunting
them with new victims?
Cade sat back on his heels and glanced up at Vannah. "Was
there anything carved into the flesh of the first victim?"
She crossed her arms. He couldnâ€™t honestly say whether or
not she recognized the importance of the message, because
there was nothing to be read in her expression or her
eyes. But she had to understand it. Sheâ€™d been at
Rosehall, for Godâ€™s sake.
"No. It would have been in the report, otherwise."
He nodded and glanced back at the coroner. "Roll him over."
No other messages. No other marks. He rose and stepped
back so the kid could get clearer shots of both the
victimâ€™s back, and the blood that had seeped from the cuts
and stained the soil.
From the clearing below them came the roar of an engine.
"Thatâ€™ll be the ambulance," Ronan said. "You want me to
bring them up?"
Ronanâ€™s gaze flicked to Vannah, whose nod was almost
imperceptible. No guessing were his allegiance lie, or who
heâ€™d be taking orders from, Cade thought. But again, heâ€™d
faced that sort of response many times in many
reservations. At least the rangers here were more
circumspect about it.
He turned, his gaze searching the surrounds. Half a dozen
small flags dotted the ground, indicators of possible
evidence Ronan had found. He began a search of his own,
but after an hour or so, he had discovered nothing more
than what had already been marked. Despite his earlier
aspersions of Vannahâ€™s people, they obviously knew their
He rose and stretched the kinks out of his back. There
wasnâ€™t much more he could do here until Trista and Anton
showed up with their equipment. The site just needed to be
guarded, and any of the rangers were more than capable of
that. What he needed was decent coffeeâ€”which seemed to be
seriously lacking at the ranger stationâ€”and a burger or
Though an icy beer wouldnâ€™t go astray, either. The sun had
risen towards noon, and the heat and light reflecting off
the nearby snow was extensive. He wiped the sweat from his
forehead and glanced down to the tree line where Vannah
stood talking to Ronan.
And saw Ronan briefly touch her face in an intimate,
Anger crashed though himâ€”anger that was territorial and
instinctive. A growl rumbled up his throat, and before he
even realized what he was doing, heâ€™d taken several steps
toward them. He forced himself to stop and took a deep
breath. Then he released it slowly, as he flexed his
fingers and tried to retain some control.
But he knew, as he stared down at the two of them, that he
was in deep, deep trouble.
Because the promise he and Vannah had made to the moon so
long ago was obviously still in force.
And the sheer ferocity of his response suggested that the
moon was not going to let them escape their promises so
easily a second time.