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At Close Range [Secure eReader]
eBook by Jessica Andersen

eBook Category: Suspense/Thriller/Mainstream
eBook Description: Unfinished Business! A killer was loose in Colorado, and evidence specialist Cassie Dumont was determined to prove her expertise to the skeptical local cops. So the arrival of FBI agent Seth Varitek, a man she'd clashed with before, didn't sit well with her competence, her ego--or her libido. The last time they'd crossed paths, Seth saw just how close Cassie got to a violent criminal. His refusal to confront that fear again convinced him to keep the feisty criminologist at arm's length. Before long, working together became an exercise in torture--especially once the murderer they were tracking made Cassie his next target.

eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Intrigue
Fictionwise Release Date: April 2006

15 Reader Ratings:
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Chapter One

When the phone rang, FBI evidence specialist Seth Varitek was sitting in his personal vehicle—a jade-green pickup truck with flare sides and a top-notch sports package—trying to figure out what the hell he was doing parked on the side of the highway.

This was his first weekend off in nearly a month. He should be at home, working on his long-delayed plans to turn the studio into a gym, or kicking back with a beer and a game or something. Instead, he'd found himself in the truck, headed south toward the ski areas with no intention of skiing.

He flipped open the ringing phone. "Varitek here."

"I've got a problem."

Seth instantly recognized the caller's gruff voice. Chief Parry ran the police department in Bear Claw Creek, a smallish city south of Denver, Colorado. The middle-aged man was as sturdy as a bulldog and twice as tenacious, and Seth had learned to respect him during the Canyon kidnapping case earlier in the year.

"What kind of a problem, Chief?" Even as he asked the question, Seth glanced overhead and appreciated the irony that he was parked beneath the "Welcome to Bear Claw" sign.

Damned if he knew what had drawn him back to the city two months after the kidnappings had been solved.

No, that wasn't true. He knew exactly what had drawn him, or more precisely who. A quick image of a long-legged blonde snapped into his head. She was all sharp angles and prickly attitude, which was just as well. He wasn't in the market for…well, for anything that was leggy, blond and irritating, that was for sure.

Which still didn't explain what he was doing in her hometown.

"I've got a murder," the chief answered. "I want your opinion on it before I reactivate the task force."

The words wiped all other thoughts out of Seth's brain and brought him upright in his seat.

When three teenage girls had been kidnapped earlier in the year, Chief Parry had set up a task force made up of his best officers, ranging from old-school homicide detectives to the three female techno-jockeys of the new Bear Claw Creek Forensics Department—BCCFD. Three weeks into the investigation, they'd asked the FBI for help and had gotten Seth's coworker out of the Denver office, Lionel Trouper.

When a series of attacks made it clear that the perp had targeted one of the forensic investigators—reconstruction and scene expert Alissa Wyatt—Trouper had called Seth to be a second set of eyes on the gathering forensic evidence.

The Bear Claw Crime Lab's in-house evidence specialist, Cassie Dumont, had taken it badly, but despite the friction—or maybe because of it—the task force had managed to find the girls, identify the kidnapper and close the case.

Or so they had thought.

Sharp interest quivered through Seth's body. "You think it's connected? How? Bradford Croft is dead."

"True," the chief answered, "but remember how he talked about 'the plan,' and how he didn't fit all of the evidence? We've kept an eye out, just in case there was a partner." Parry's voice dropped. "I'm afraid this might be proof positive. When can you get here? I've already cleared it with Trouper."

Seth glanced at the sign overhead. "As chance would have it, I'm about five minutes from the station house. I was…" He shook his head. "Never mind. I'll see you soon."

* * *

WHEN SHE REACHED her crime scene, Cassie Dumont paused on the sidewalk and scanned the area, trying to get a feel for the neighborhood and the people.

The actual scene was inside a dingy apartment building, one of many built in the late seventies to handle the influx when the skiers discovered Bear Claw. The rear parking lot was peppered with older trucks and SUV's, most boasting four-wheel drive, a requirement for spring in Colorado. Closer to the back entrance, a pair of BCCPD vehicles and a couple of uniformed officers blocked the growing crowd.

Knowing the crowd would only get worse, Cassie pushed her way through and nodded at the uniforms. "Dumont. Crime scene."

The grim-faced men let her through, but they didn't say anything, didn't give her an update on the situation or a "hey, how's it going?"

Their silence didn't bother her. She told herself she was used to it as she entered the dingy building.

The Bear Claw P.D. had mourned the abrupt retirement of their former evidence wizard, Fitzroy O'Malley, and they'd made life hell for the three women hired to replace him—scene specialist Alissa Wyatt, psych specialist Maya Cooper and Cassie, who worked the lab and the evidence.

Over the six months the women had been in Bear Claw, the other cops had softened toward Alissa, partly because she'd made nice, and partly because she'd hooked up with Tucker McDermott, a renegade homicide detective who seemed to have gotten partway domesticated in the past few months. But if the Bear Claw cops liked Alissa and tolerated quiet, reserved Maya because she did her work and didn't cause a stir, they had no such feelings of amnesty for Cassie.

They plain didn't like her. Maybe it was because she wasn't the sort to play nice, or because she'd shredded all of Fitz's evidence report forms—which had to be twenty years old if they were a day—and computerized the filing system. Maybe it was because she bawled out anyone who messed with her evidence, from senior detectives down to the greenest rookie. Maybe the other cops feared change. Maybe they just hated her guts. Hell, who knew?

"Who cares?" she said aloud, and the words echoed in the dreary hallway. The walls were faintly gray, as though the white paint had given up all hope of brightness, and the carpet smelled musty with years of melted snow, rock salt and other things she probably didn't want to think about. The elevator was posted with an "Out of Order" sign that was furred with dust.

"Nice place," she murmured. "Wonder if they've got vacancies."

Well, odds were they would have one soon. The chief's message had said it was a single corpse, male, presumed murdered.

Copyright © 2006 by Dr. Jessica S. Andersen

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