Cold Case Warm Heart
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If Calamity Dresden had any premonition how that December Tuesday would end, she would’ve made her morning espresso a double. Would have savoured every bitter-sweet drop as it slid down her throat and thawed the chill settling inside her gut.
Instead she knocked the lukewarm liquid back without a moment’s consideration and dumped the dregs and cardboard cup in the trash before ducking beneath the blue and white cordon of crime scene tape.
The rumblings of a city tram followed her between the two hulking buildings. An hour past midnight and the wind bit angrily at her skin through her leather jacket.
She tugged the ends tighter across her chest.
With a clay-laden heart, she tried to look as if she belonged. As if she had every right to stalk towards a scene she’d spent the past twenty-four hours trying to prevent.
Her nose twitched. Urine laced with the underlying tang of wet metal. Death and degradation with the triple stab of a knife.
‘Is it him, Teddy?’
Medical examiner Rod Bearinger peered at her over his half-moon specs. ‘Without a doubt.’
Her heart skidded.
Number two of three murders. Three in three days.
The Trifecta Terror was back.
She glanced at her watch. The second hand lurched its death march about the taunting white face. Twenty-two hours and nineteen minutes in which to catch a murderer before he killed again and then vanished underground for another year.
As he’d done every year for the past four years.
Then the case would slowly turn cold until the twelfth of December rolled round once more. And so would begin another trilogy of murders. Three in three days. Again.
Ice-tipped fingers clenched at her side. Not gonna happen. Not this year, not on her watch. She’d catch the bastard and stop his grisly cycle of killing. Even if in all his wisdom, Detective Inspector Hackett had excluded her from the Stingray taskforce.
Her jaw clamped.
With a shuddering breath, she returned her gaze to the body.
‘What’s the go, Teddy?’
Leaning heavily against his cane’s brass T-handle, the medical examiner stood, pushing wisps of silver from his brow with the back of his gloved hand. ‘Victim–Elizabeth Reid, aged forty-two. Time of death, somewhere between twenty-three hundred and zero one hundred hours.’
He handed her a clear evidence bag. Gleaming blue eyes and round, rosy-cheeks stared out from the Victorian driver’s licence; barely resembling that of the woman crouched before them. Prostrate. Blue and bloody. Pleading for her life.
No one had answered her prayers.
Calamity looked up. ‘Cause of death?’
‘Three stabs to the heart.’
‘Eight-inch boning knife?’
With a knuckle Teddy nudged his specs back up the bridge of his nose, meeting her gaze across the body. ‘Difficult to tell externally, but the size and shape of the puncture wounds is consistent with that type of blade.’
‘I’ll check for DNA, but I imagine he wore gloves. No signs of a struggle, no bruising. It’s as if our victim knelt and waited for the killer to strike. The only inconsistency with that theory is what appears to be tear stains over her cheeks.’
‘Something scared her enough to make her complicit in her own death.’
‘Looks that way. I’ll let you know if anything shows up once I get her onto my table. And I’ll perform the tox screen myself, considering time’s so short.’
Short didn’t even cover it. Already ten precious minutes had passed. ‘Thanks, Teddy.’
Three deaths. A woman, a man and a teenage boy.
Representing what? A family unit?
She could look into Elizabeth Reid’s life. As she’d looked into Patrick Hale’s life yesterday. As she’d looked into each of the three victims last year, until… She held her breath, let the air escape slow, calm.
Don’t lose your focus over old wounds. What’s done is done, Cal.
And sure as hell, she wouldn’t make those mistakes again.
Twelve deaths spanning the past four years and no pattern past the family unit theory. Nothing to tie the victims. Nothing to indicate why some sicko decided they had to die.
She had to be missing something. Something that made a murderer’s madness make a twisted kind of sense.
Maybe a fresh perspective would fix that. Another look at the old cases from a different angle. A glance at her wrist said she now had less than twenty-two and a quarter hours to do it.
‘What are you doing here?’
Her heart sank. Hackett. And from the sound, her boss was in a foul mood. Although, when was he not lately? Two months without a cigarette and he was madder than an ant-infested rhino.
She braced her shoulders and faced him. Even managed a determined tilt of her chin. ‘I’m working.’
‘You shouldn’t be within a flea’s butt of this case.’
His tone carved at her confidence, her chin dropping ever so slightly. ‘I was passing and thought I’d see if there were any new leads.’
‘Think again, Detective Dresden.’ With a wave of his hand he herded her away from the body. ‘This case is off limits. I won’t have rogue detectives running rampant and impeding the taskforce investigation. You’re liaising with the DPP on the Hendrickson’s case? I suggest you focus on that.’
So, he didn’t know she’d postponed all interviews until tomorrow.
She nodded. Tried to look contrite.
In typical Hackett fashion he frowned, growled, then stormed off, barking instructions in every which direction, leaving a maelstrom of agitated uniformed officers in his wake.
Damn! She’d hoped to slip in, gather the information she needed and slip out before anyone noticed.
Luck seemed impossibly thin of late. And in a job where she always seemed to come up short, proving her worth was like scrabbling over a pile of loose rocks. Vexing when this was the case she’d wanted to lay her hat on.
It didn’t hurt that the case was personal as all hell.
The air behind shifted. Warmed. Informed her that luck was the last thing the universe intended for her today.
Rampant heat skittered up her spine, followed by a domino locking of muscle, toe to head. Voices caught the breeze from beyond the crime scene tape. One voice.
She didn’t have to turn to know.
She forced her breathing to calm.
A royal pain in her ass and to her libido. The last person she needed at a time when every thread of her concentration was required for the case.
He wouldn’t wreak havoc on her again.
Locking steel into her shoulders, she glanced out at the open end of the alley and the panther prowling the perimeter of tape, waiting. For her. She dragged air into her lungs, frost and the acrid odours of death coating her throat. Then, heart drumming, she made her way toward him.
No sense delaying the inevitable. That second hand still ticked and time waited for no one. Least of all the living waiting to die.
She stopped short, a waft of furniture polish and spice ramming the pleasure centres of her brain. Memories. Tainted. He was still in the furniture making business, then. Yeah, all of those clichés about being good with his hands, they were an understatement.
The tender attention he’d bestowed on his precious wood. And over every quivering inch of her body. Shame it hadn’t extended to her heart.
She puffed out a frosty breath, the white mist eddying and joining with his.
Her teeth clenched. ‘What do you want?’
‘Nice to see you too, Detective.’ The sinuous curve of those lips could melt ice-caps north and south of the equator. The fact they’d melted her knee ligaments in the process was incidental, inconvenient and totally unwelcome.
She braced her leg muscles against crumpling and didn’t bother with an answer. Hoped her glare was enough to let him know she didn’t appreciate his entrance back into her life.
His grin tightened. ‘You know what I want.’ Fathomless sea-green almost swallowed her whole.
Her heart flip-flopped. Not that she mistook his meaning. Wishes would never make it so.
Much as his presence galled, the tips of her fingers itched to experience the warmth of jet-black hair still too long to be considered fashionable. Not that he cared. Fashion was for fools. His words, and one of the many things about Sebastian Rourke that had won her love.
A tiny piece of her heart shattered.
Damn him for making her weak and needy when what he’d stirred in her wasn’t what he’d come for. It wasn’t Calamity Dresden that brought him to this little corner of Melbourne.
Lips fuller than should be legal on a man dipped downward with grim determination. ‘With or without you this time, I intend to catch my father’s killer.’