My guest today is a very dear and very talented friend. Since bursting on to the Romantic Suspense scene four years ago. Laura has wracked up a number of awards for her dark and intriguing novels, including a nomination for a Rita this year. She'll be giving away a copy of Unspeakable, which hits stores today, so leave a comment for a chance to win. Happy Release Day, Laura!
Blurb:ELAINA MCCORD WANTS TO FIND A KILLER.
BUT HE’S ALREADY FOUND HER.
Elaina McCord’s dream of being an FBI profiler is in danger with her first case—investigating a string of murders near a Texas beach resort. The victims, all young women, were drugged and brutally murdered, their bodies abandoned in desolate marshland. Elaina’s hunch—met with disbelief by local police—is that these are only the latest offerings from a serial killer who has been perfecting his art for years, growing bolder and more cunning with each strike.
True-crime writer Troy Stockton has a reputation as an irresistible playboy who gets his story at any cost. He’s the last person Elaina should trust, let alone be attracted to. But right now Troy, along with the elite team of forensics experts known as the Tracers, are her only allies in a case that’s turning dangerously personal. A killer is reaching out to Elaina, taunting her, letting her know how ruthless he is and how close he’s getting. Now it’s not just her career that’s in danger—it’s her life. . . .
Troy Stockton’s boat was flat and narrow, and looked nothing like the other flat, narrow fishing boats living at the Lito Island Marina.
“It’s black,” Elaina said, gazing down at it from the dock.
“So?” He undid the bow line and whipped it into a neat coil, which he tossed on the boat’s floor.
“So, all the other boats are white.” She stepped aboard. Everything shifted, and he caught her arm to steady her.
“No law against black.” His hand dropped away, and he turned to flip some switches at the helm. Soon the engine grunted.
“Looks like it can go in pretty shallow water.”
“Eight inches,” he said with a touch of pride.
She looked around for a good place to stand. There weren’t many choices, so she rested a hand on the captain’s chair as they eased back out of the slip.
“Hold on.” He shifted gears, and then they were gliding in the other direction, moving out of the sheltering cove the marina shared with the police dock. Elaina glanced over her shoulder and watched the pier recede. She was going out on a boat with a man she barely knew, without letting her boss or anyone else know what she was doing. Not terribly smart.
She patted her back pocket, where she’d tucked her cell phone. While Troy had waited out on the patio at her hotel, she’d showered and changed into the jeans and T-shirt she kept stashed in her gym bag. Her Glock was strapped to her ankle, just above her Nike. She had her phone. And if Troy tried anything funny, he was going in the bay.
Elaina shifted, putting some distance between them. She couldn’t explain why he made her uneasy, but he did. It made no sense, because she spent every day surrounded by macho types—guys trained in firearms, and hand-to-hand combat, and mind games. As a border town, Brownsville attracted more than its fair share of gun-loving lawmen. Since day one, many of the Bureau, DEA, and Homeland Security guys had attempted to intimidate her either physically or by getting in her head, and she’d learned to blow them off.
But Troy was harder to ignore.
He stood between the helm and the captain’s chair, and she stood beside him, trying not to cling too tightly and reveal her fear of toppling out of the boat. She glanced over and noticed his ropey forearms and powerful-looking calves. He was some sort of athlete, obviously, and she tried to guess the sport.
“You get seasick?” Troy asked.
“You look uncomfortable.” But he wasn’t even looking at her. Those eyes—which were the exact green color of the bay—were trained on the southern horizon. He wore cargo shorts today and Teva sandals. His white T-shirt contrasted with his sun-browned skin, and she envisioned him on a surfboard.
Why was she even thinking about this? She needed to focus on the case, not Troy Stockton. The man had a reputation. It was coming back to her in bits and pieces. She didn’t usually read celebrity mags, but she had a vague recollection of the People she’d flipped through at her dentist’s office. Troy had been photographed with some gorgeous starlet. That girl from Corpus Christi. What the hell was her name?
“That was some profile you came up with.”
She cut a glance at Troy and saw the smile playing at the corner of his mouth. She bristled.
“What do you mean?”
“White male. Likes hunting and fishing. Owns a boat. Sounds like half the men on this island, including me.” He stared down at her, serious now. “Except for the getting-it-up part.”
Elaina felt a blush creep up her neck. “Look, Troy—”
“Here we are.” The boat slowed abruptly as he pulled the throttle up, and she stumbled into him. “She was found just over there,” he said.
Elaina looked in the direction he was pointing, but saw nothing unusual. Just more grass and water.
“How do you know?”
He tapped his control panel, and she noticed the GPS. “I got the coordinates.”
He got the coordinates. From the police, no doubt, who clearly were sharing information with members of the public, but leaving her completely in the dark.
“They got a good set of prints from the victim yesterday night.” Troy veered close to the shoreline, and the water was so shallow, Elaina could see grass on the bottom. “They’ll run the thumbs through DMV, hopefully get a positive ID soon.”
Elaina thought of Valerie Monroe, who’d graduated third in her class at Baylor med school and recently had been accepted as an intern at Texas Children’s Hospital. She wondered what Valerie’s parents were doing at this moment, although she figured she knew. Most likely they were either en route to Lito Island or camped out at the police station, waiting for news.
Troy veered left into a narrow inlet.
“We’re going in?”
“You want to see it, don’t you?”
“Yes, but…” she watched him deftly steer the boat through the tight opening. The water wasn’t even a foot deep, and she saw ripples in the sand as they skimmed along the surface. “What if we run aground?”
He smiled. “You get out and push.”
But they didn’t run aground. He tipped up the engine and slowed down, using just enough speed to maintain control over the steering as they maneuvered this way and that through all the channels. She began to doubt that he really knew where he was going. Maybe he was leading her to some generic patch of marsh.
She spotted something yellow tangled in the reeds. “Look there.” She pointed at it.
“Well, shit.” He let the motor stall and then jumped out of the boat and waded over to take a look. “I’ll be damned.”
The boat drifted into the grass, and bumped against the bottom.
Troy gazed down at the thin yellow twine, but didn’t touch it. “They must not have seen this,” he muttered. “Or maybe they came in from the south.”
“Who came in?”
He looked up. “The crime seen guys. Breck, Maynard, Chavez. They should have collected all this. It’s evidence.”
“Evidence of what?”
He trudged back to the boat and shoved it into the center of the narrow channel.
“Of your unsub.” He climbed aboard and got them moving again. “This marsh, it’s like a maze. I grew up all over this bay, and I get lost half the time. Looks like the killer used twine to mark the route so he could find his way out after dumping the body.”
Elaina stared at the twine, struck by the idea.
“And how do we know it came from him?” she asked. “Maybe Breck left it.”
“How do you know?”
“Because.” Troy gave her a hard look. “They found it in Gina’s case too. He leaves it every time.”
# # #
Elaina continued to look queasy, so Troy hugged the coast as he headed back in. He felt her behind him as she gripped the chair and stared silently off into the distance.
She hadn’t liked him poking holes in her profile, but that was too damn bad. Sure, the profile sounded good in theory, but given the demographics around here, it didn’t narrow things down a whole lot. Troy had never cared much for mind hunters. Most of them stayed holed up in their basement at headquarters and rattled off psychobabble while the real cops rolled up their sleeves and worked the cases. If criminal profiling was Elaina’s thing, she was going to have an uphill battle getting anyone around here to buy into it. Profiling and fortune-telling were first cousins, as far as Chief Breck was concerned.
But she’d figure that out soon enough.
Troy glanced back at Elaina and saw that she still had that uneasy look. Her nose was pink, too, and she’d forgotten sunscreen. She wasn’t from around here, evidently, but he didn’t know her background. He needed to do some digging and find out just how green a green-horn she really was.
She squinted at something up ahead, and he followed her gaze.
“What’s going on?”
“Dunno,” he said. But as they neared the marina, it became clear something had gone down during their little sight-seeing cruise. Cars and news vans filled the LIPD parking lot.
“Breck’s holding a press conference,” Troy guessed, turning into the cove. They glided past the police station, and Elaina turned to gape at the crowd.
Troy pulled into his slip without touching the dock. He hopped out and tied the bow line to a cleat, then held out a hand for Elaina.
She barely glanced at it as she stepped onto the pier without help.
“I hope your police chief knows what he’s doing,” she said. “If he releases too much detail, he’ll compromise the investigation.”
“That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about. The man hates reporters.”
“But he talks to you?”
Troy walked across the pier and surveyed the situation. Breck was talking to the media—or more likely, dodging their questions—from the station house steps. Cinco stood on the sidelines. Troy caught his eye, and the deputy joined them on the lawn beside the marina.
“What’s up, Cinc?”
He glanced at Elaina. Then he eyed Troy’s muddy sandals and seemed to put it together where they’d been “Good news and bad news,” Cinco said. “We got an ID. Girl’s name is Whitney Bensen.”
Troy felt Elaina go rigid beside him.
“What about Valerie?” she asked.
“That’s the bad news,” Cinco told her. “Valerie Monroe is still missing.”
Question of the Day: Since Laura's excerpt takes place on a boat, I thought I'd ask-- what's your favorite method of transporation for long distances? Boat, car, train, plane? I'm partial to long meandering car rides, myself. In college, my friends and I would take off for road trips with a moment's notice and sometimes my husband, kids and I still do. Don't forget to coment for a chance to win Unspeakable.