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Available 4.15.24


The Red River Slayer

The Red River Slayer, April 2024
Secure One #3
by Katie Mettner

Harlequin Intrigue
ISBN: 1335591540
EAN: 9781335591548
Kindle: B0C7H8QMWJ
Paperback / e-Book
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"A Pulse-Pounding Search for a Serial Killer Leaving Bodies in the Rivers"

Fresh Fiction Review

The Red River Slayer
Katie Mettner

Reviewed by Sandra Martin
Posted March 24, 2024

Romance Suspense

THE RED RIVER SLAYER is the third book in Katie Mettner’s Secure One series for Harlequin Intrigue. Charlotte is a past victim of human trafficking, and Mack Holbock is a disabled vet working on security detail for Secure One. When an assignment protecting a senator’s daughter goes off the rails and a body is found floating down the river, Mack and Charlotte know a serial killer has struck again, but tracking this evil person will test their abilities and feelings for each other in THE RED RIVER SLAYER.

Charlotte has a past in the sex trade when she was under the control of The Madame, and Mack still faces demons from his time in the military. Now, they both work for Secure One, where Mack is a security expert and Charlotte is a cook for the team. The Secure One team goes on high alert when a body shows up in the river during a party at the senator’s house, and Charlotte is attacked while protecting the senator’s daughter. The body is suspected to be the Red River Slayer’s latest victim, and when a young woman shows up at Secure One’s location asking for help, Charlotte recognizes the woman and her connection to Charlotte’s past life. As Mack and Charlotte become immersed in their investigation, they will find themselves falling in love and facing a truly evil individual.

THE RED RIVER SLAYER is the third book in the series, but it can be read as a stand-alone story. It’s a pulse-pounding thrill ride with an evil adversary who has no regard for human life. What starts as a simple protection detail quickly turns into a search for a serial killer. Charlotte and Mack are both dealing with difficult pasts, and Mack is dealing with a disability and feelings of guilt over a mission gone bad. They are raw, healing individuals who find their power again in each other. Their romance develops amid their high-stakes situations, and the final chapters kick the action into high gear as Charlotte and Mack travel to an ominous location and face a harrowing showdown with a psychopath. Readers will enjoy this action-packed story with Charlotte, Mack, and the rest of the Secure One team.

Learn more about The Red River Slayer

SUMMARY

Confronting their pasts

…to stop an infamous killer

When a fourth woman is found dead in a river, security expert Mack Holbock takes on the search for a cunning serial killer. A disabled vet, Mack is consumed by guilt that’s left him with no room or desire for love. But while investigating and facing danger with Charlotte—a traumatized victim of sex trafficking—he must protect her and win her trust…without falling for her.

From Harlequin Intrigue: Seek thrills. Solve crimes. Justice served.

Excerpt

An Excerpt from THE RED RIVER SLAYER by KATIE METTNER

They shouldn’t be here. Mack Holbock had had that thought since they were first briefed on the mission. The hair on the back of his neck stood up, and he swiveled, his gun at his shoulder. The area around the small village was silent, but Mack could feel their presence. Despite what his commander said, the insurgents were there and ready to take out any American at any time. The commander should have given them more time for recon. Instead, he executed a mission on the word of someone too far away to know how the burned-out buildings hid those seeking to add to their body count. Mack knew the insurgents in this area better than anyone. He’d killed more than his fair share of them. They didn’t give up or give in. They’d put a bullet in their own head before letting you capture them. If you didn’t get them, they’d get you. Survival of the fittest, or in this case, survival of their leader maintaining his grip on terrorized villages.

That said, the first thing you learn in the army is never to question authority. You follow orders—end of story. No one wants your opinion, even if you have intel they don’t have. His team had no choice but to go in. Mack still didn’t like it. He didn’t join the army by choice. Well, unless you consider the choice was either the military or prison. He chose the army because if he had to go down, he would go down helping someone. In his opinion, that was better than being shivved in a prison shower.

The kid with a chip on his shoulder standing in the courtroom that day was long gone. The army had made him a man in body, mind and spirit. He’d learned to contain his temper and use his anger for good, like protecting innocent villagers being terrorized by men who wanted to control the country with violence. As long as Mack and his team sucked in this fetid air, they had another think coming.

“Secure one, Charlie,” a voice said over the walkie attached to his vest. His team leader, Cal, was inside with their linguist, Hannah. They needed information that only Hannah could get.

“Secure two, Mike,” he said after depressing the button.

“Secure three, Romeo,” came another voice.

Roman Jacobs, Cal’s foster brother, was standing guard on the opposite side of the building. So far, all was quiet, but Mack couldn’t help but feel it wouldn’t stay that way. They needed to get out before someone dropped something from the air they couldn’t dodge. He shrugged his shoulders to keep the back of his shirt from sticking to him as the sun beat down with unrelenting heat. The one hundred degrees temp felt like an inferno when weighed down with all the equipment and the flak jacket.

“Come on, come on,” he hummed, aiming high and swinging his rifle right, then left of the adjacent buildings. There were so many places for a sniper to hide. He checked his watch. It had been ten minutes since Cal checked in and thirty minutes since Hannah had gone into the complex. She would have to sweet talk some of the older and wiser women in the community to cough up the bad guys’ location. Sharing that information would be bad for their health, but so was not rooting the guys out and ending their reign of terror. If Hannah could ascertain a location, their team would ensure they never showed up around these parts again. There was far too much desert to search if they didn’t have a place to start.

“Charlie and Hotel on the move,” Roman said. “Entering the complex veranda, headed to Mike.”

“Ten-Four,” he answered before he backed up to the complex’s entrance. With his rifle still at his shoulder, he swept the empty buildings in front of him, looking for movement.

A skitter of rocks. Mack’s attention turned to a burned-out building on his right. A muzzle flashed, sending a bullet straight at the courtyard.

“Sniper! Get her down!” Mack yelled, bringing his rifle up just as another shot rang out. The “oof” from the complex hit him in the gut, but he aimed and fired, the macabre dance of the enemy as he collapsed in a heap of bones satisfying to see.

“Charlie! Hotel!”

*

“SECURE ONE, CHARLIE.”

“Secure two, Romeo.”

“Secure three, Echo.”

“Mack!” Cal hissed his name, and it snapped him back to the present.

“Secure four, Mike,” he said, using his call name for the team. His voice was shaky, and he hoped no one noticed. Not that they wouldn’t understand. They’d all served together and they all came back from the war with memories they didn’t want but couldn’t get rid of. Sometimes, when the conditions were right, he couldn’t stop them from intruding in the present.

At present, he was standing behind his boss, Cal Newfellow, dressed in fatigues and bulletproof vests. Was that overkill for security at a sweet sixteen birthday party? Not if the birthday girl’s father was a sitting senator.

“Ya good, man?” Cal asked without turning.

“Ten-four,” he said, even though his hands were still shaking. It was hard to fight back those memories when he had to stand behind Cal, the one who lost the most that day. “Something doesn’t feel right, boss.”

“What do you see?”

“I don’t see anything, but I can feel it. My hair is standing up on the back of my neck. My gut says run.”

“We’re the security force. We can’t run.” Cal’s voice was amused, but Mack noticed him bring his shoulders up to his ears for a moment. “Keep your eyes open and your head on a swivel. Treat it like any other job and stop thinking about the past.”

Mack wished it were that simple. Cal knew that not thinking about the past was tricky when you’d seen the things they had over there. War was ugly, whether foreign or domestic, and Mack was glad to be done with that business. He liked the comforts of home, not to mention not having to kill people daily.

He glanced at his boots, where the metal bars across the toes reminded him that his losses over in that sandbox were his fault.

At least the loss that ended their army careers for good was his fault. Mack had missed a car bomb tucked away in the vehicle he was tasked with driving. He was carrying foreign dignitaries to a safehouse that day, but nothing went as planned. In the end, Cal had lost most of his right hand, Eric had lost his hearing, and Mack had suffered extensive nerve damage in his legs when the car bomb shot shrapnel across the sand. Now, the metal braces he wore around his legs and across his toes were the only thing that allowed him to walk and do his job. Something told him that tonight, he’d better concentrate on his job instead of worrying about the past.

“What are the weak points of the property?” Mack asked, fixing his hat to protect his ears better. It was early May, but that didn’t mean it was warm in Minnesota. Especially at night in the rain. Sometimes working in damp clothes with temps hovering near forty-five was worse than working in ninety-degree heat.

Cal swept his arm out the length of the backyard. “The three hundred and fifty feet of shoreline. This cabin is remote, but anyone approaching from the road would be stopped by security. If someone wants to crash the party, it’ll be via the water. We need to keep a tight leash on the shore.”

A tight leash. That had been the story of Mack’s life since he’d been four. His mother was the first to make helicopter parenting an Olympic sport. When his dad died in a car accident, and Mack survived, she became obsessed with keeping him safe. His mother would have kept him in a bubble were it possible, but she couldn’t, so she kept the leash tight. Sports? Out of the question. He could get hurt, or worse, killed by a random baseball to the head! As much as Mack hated to say it, he was relieved when she’d passed of cancer when he was seventeen. She was more a keeper than a mother, and it had to be a terrible way to live. It wasn’t until she was diagnosed with blood cancer when he was fourteen that she started living again. The sad truth was that she had to be dying to live. When she passed away after three years of making memories together, he was relieved not for himself but her. She was with her soulmate again, and he knew that was what she’d wanted since the day he’d passed. Mack was simply collateral damage.

When he was seventeen, he’d stood before a judge after breaking a guy’s arm for talking trash about a female classmate. He was told there were better ways to defend people than with violence. If you asked him, the military personified using violence to defend people. He joined the army to find a brotherhood again. He’d found one in Cal, Roman, Eric, and his other army brothers. They were Special Forces and went into battle willing to die to have their brothers’ backs. Until the one time that he couldn’t. It had taken Mack a long time to understand he shouldn’t use the word didn’t when it came to what happened that day when Cal’s soulmate was taken before their eyes. It wasn’t that he didn’t. It was that he couldn’t. His mind immediately slid down the rabbit hole toward the car full of people he didn’t save. Mack shook his head to clear it. Going back there would result in losing sight of what they were doing here.

Mack eyed his friend of fifteen years and reminded himself that Hannah hadn’t been Cal’s soulmate. He used to think so, but then Cal met Marlise. Hannah had been a woman Cal loved in youth. Her death opened a path for Cal to start a successful security business and eventually find the woman who centered him. The moment Cal’s and Marlise’s eyes met while the bad guys bombarded them with bullets, time stood still. Cal used to think

he started Secure One Security because of Hannah, but not anymore. They all believed Marlise was the reason. The tragedy that started years before was the catalyst to put Cal on that plane when Marlise needed him.

It had been three years now since they met. They were engaged one month and married the next, which hadn’t surprised the team. Marlise had shown Cal that he could love again, but Mack never thought he’d see the day. Not after the scene that spread out before him in that courtyard. Then again, Cal never saw that scene. He never saw his girlfriend with a fatal shot to the head. He never had to drag his friend’s body out of the square, stemming the blood oozing from his chest to keep him alive until help got there. Cal hadn’t known any of that. It was Mack, Eric and Roman who lived that scene. They were left with the worst memories of a day when they could save one friend but not the other. Whether he liked it or not, Cal had been spared those images, and Mack was glad. There weren’t many times you were spared the gruesome truth of war.

Not all wars are fought on foreign soil. The new team members of Secure One had taught him that three times over. Roman’s wife and partner in the FBI had been undercover in a house filled with women who had been sex trafficked and forced to work as escorts and drug mules. Mina had been injured to the point that she lost her leg and had come to work at Secure One when she married Roman. Their boss at the FBI, David Moore, was responsible for her injuries by putting her undercover in a house run by his wife, The Madame. Because of the deception, Roman and Mina could retire from the FBI with full benefits.

Marlise was one of The Madame’s women in the house with Mina, and when she arrived at Secure One, she was broken and burned but determined. She wanted to help put The Madame behind bars. As she healed, Marlise worked her way up from kitchen manager to client coordinator, but not because she was Cal’s girl. She had earned her position by observing, learning and caring about the people they were protecting.

His thoughts drifted to the other woman at Secure One who sought shelter there not long ago. About six months ago, Charlotte surrendered to Secure One under unusual circumstances. She was working for The Miss, the right-hand woman of The Madame in the same house Marlise and Mina had lived. The Miss had left Kansas and moved to Arizona to start her escort business, funded by drug trafficking. Charlotte was one of the women she took from Red Rye to help her. The Miss had made a mistake thinking Charlotte was devoted to her. She wasn’t, and she wanted out. Last year, she’d helped them bring down The Miss by providing insider information they wouldn’t have had any other way.

Charlotte took over the kitchen manager position when Marlise moved up to client coordinator and fit in well with the Secure One team. She had healed physically from the illness and injuries she’d suffered while living with The Miss, but her emotional and psychological injuries would take longer to scab over. She’d been homeless for years and then went to work for people who used and abused her without caring if she lived or died. There was a special kind of hell for people like that. Mack hoped The Miss had found her way there when he put a bullet in her chest.

Had he needed to kill her that night in the desert? Yes. Her guards had had guns pointed at his team, and there was no way he would lose another friend to her evil. As it were, Marlise took a bullet trying to protect Cal. Thankfully, it had been a nonlethal shoulder wound.

On the other hand, the gaping chest wound he’d left The Miss was quite lethal and well-deserved. Mack had learned to channel his temper in the army, but he couldn’t pretend he wasn’t angry at the atrocities that occurred in a country that was the home of the free to some, but not all. He would defend women like Charlotte until his final breath so they would have a voice.

Mack rolled his shoulders at the thought of the woman who currently sat in their mobile command center on the other side of the property. The mobile command center offered bunks, food and a hot shower to keep the men warm and fed when they were on jobs away from their home base of Secure One. A hot shower and warm food were on Mack’s wish list at that moment.

The hot shower or seeing Charlotte again?

His groan echoed across the lake until it filtered back to his ears as a reminder that he didn’t need to concern himself with the woman in the command center. He could protect her without falling for her. He noticed how his team raised a brow whenever he helped Char in the kitchen or took a walk with her. He didn’t care what they thought. She needed practice in trusting someone again without worrying about being hurt. It was going to be a long hard road for her, so the way he saw it, he’d be the one to teach her that not all men were bad, evil or sick. Sure, he’d done some bad things, but it hadn’t been out of evilness or demented pleasure. He had done bad things for good people in the name of justice or retribution, making the world a better place to live. She didn’t need to know that, though.

His gaze traveled the lakeshore again, searching for oncoming lights and listening for outboard motors. It was silent other than the call of the loons. The hair on the back of his neck told him it wouldn’t stay that way for long.


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Comments

1 comment posted.

Re: A Pulse-Pounding Search for a Serial Killer Leaving Bodies in the Rivers

Thank you so much for the wonderful review!
(Katie Mettner 10:56pm March 24)

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