(A Berry Springs Novel)
By Amanda McKinney
Publication date: December 4th 2018
Genres: Adult, Mystery, Romance
Former Marine turned ballistics expert, Wesley Cross is known around town for two things, his rugged good-looks and cocky attitude—until he finds his ex-girlfriend lying in a puddle of blood in his basement. The scene screams setup, but the discovery of a rare gem and a puzzling autopsy suggests the murder goes much deeper than that. Wesley will do whatever it takes to clear his name, including calling in a notoriously headstrong—and sexy—scientist.
While most little girls were playing dress up, Gwyneth Reece was digging in the dirt collecting bugs. Now one of the top forensic entomologists in the country, Gwen reluctantly accepts a job from a pushy cowboy and travels to the small, Southern town of Berry Springs. Heavy storms are brewing, and when she’s forced to check into the creepiest hotel she’s ever seen, she instantly regrets her decision to help out the former Marine.
Following up on a tip, Wesley heads to the Half Moon Hotel but quickly realizes his visit was not by chance. The killer lured him there, and suddenly everyone from the uptight bellman to the wealthy couple just passing through town become suspect. Bodies begin to disappear, and Wesley knows the killer will do anything to get to him…. including hurting the woman who’s kept his head spinning since he first laid eyes on her.
Gwen’s stomach rolled as she looked down at the open wound gaping from the young woman’s throat. She could see all the way to the bone. The blood had been drained from her body, leaving bluish-gray skin. She looked like a wax figure in a horror flick.
“Who is she?”
“Leena Ross, age thirty-three. Kidnapped, although that’s assumed, throat slashed, left to bleed to death.”
“Time of death?”
“About midnight Thursday night, technically Friday morning. Close to. She’s been dead around thirty hours, estimated.”
“Where was she found? Inside or outside?”
Jessica paused, and Gwen noticed. “Inside. A basement.”
“Kind of.” She peeled back the sheet and pointed to the knife mark on Leena’s side, that indicated she’d been forced into a car at knifepoint. She then showed her the bruising on Leena’s arms indicating the killer pinned her down from behind to slice her throat.
Gwen shook her head. Young, blonde, beautiful. Wasted life.
“What about her folks? Did they have anything useful?”
“No… no one seems to have any idea who would do this to her.”
“Okay. How can I help?”
“I found insect eggs in her wound.”
Gwen blinked. No way in hell was that why she was flown across the country. She cleared her throat. “Uh, that’s not uncommon.”
“It is for only being dead a few minutes, at the most, before she was found. And for being killed inside a building.”
Her eyebrows tipped up. “Only a few minutes before someone found her?”
“Yep. And she wasn’t left alone after that. Authorities were on the scene almost immediately. They wouldn’t let bugs trample over her.”
“Okay, I see. Yes, this would be uncommon, then.”
Jessica yanked a pair of latex gloves from a box on the silver rolling table and handed them to her. “I was surprised, to say the least. Didn’t add up.”
“You’re sure she was murdered inside? A home, or what?”
Jessica glanced away for a quick second. “Yes. I’m sure, and yes, a home.”
Gwen watched her for a moment. Jessica wasn’t telling her something.
“You’re sure they’re insect eggs? Eggs at all, even?” She slid on the gloves.
“One-hundred percent. I’d say at least half of my bodies come in with maggots. I’m very familiar.”
“And they were in the wound?”
“Almost two inches in.”
Humph. Yes, this was interesting. Something wasn’t adding up.
Jessica continued, “I took samples of the eggs, storing some in alcohol and some in vials over there. They’ve just hatched.”
Gwen frowned in deep thought. “If they’ve just hatched, the eggs were fresh.”
Jessica shrugged. “Not sure; that’s your area. I checked again just a few hours ago, and some are still unhatched.”
Good. That was good.
“We’re obviously hoping you can uncover something to help lead us to whoever did this. My only disturbance to the laceration was removing the eggs to confirm they were indeed eggs. Samples are on the counter, over there.” She motioned toward the far side of the room. “Probably not the most high-tech equipment you’re used to, but not bad for little ol’ Berry Springs.”
“It will work just fine, thanks. Do you have the case file?”
“Oh. Yes, thanks, almost forgot.” She yanked a folder from the counter. “Here you go. Not much there, I’m ’fraid, considering it’s a fresh case. Probably not as thorough as you’d like but it has all the necessary details and initial analysis.” A phone rang from the office up front. “Gotta get that. I’ll leave you alone. Oh, here’s a lab coat and glasses.”
“You need a coffee, water…?”
“Okay, mi casa, su casa. Use whatever you need. Holler if you need anything.”
“Thanks.” She smiled and slipped the lab coat over her clothes as Jessica’s footsteps faded. The white coat was about four sizes too big and the glasses—more like goggles—were, too.
She turned back to the body. Now she knew why she was there, but the only thing she didn’t understand is what Wesley Cross had to do with it. He said he wanted to hire her to get him out of a jam. He had to be involved somehow. Related to the victim, maybe?
She opened up her briefcase and got to work.
Minutes ticked into hours as she worked tunnel-visioned in the silence until a boom of thunder pulled her from her focus. She straightened and glanced at the clock—1:33 p.m. She’d been working for over three hours already. As if on cue, her stomach growled. She took a deep breath, stretched her neck from side-to-side and yanked off her gloves. Maybe a quick break to check email and snack on the protein bar she’d tossed in her purse. And a coffee… a coffee sounded great.
She turned and startled at the dark silhouette of a man standing in the doorway across the room, staring at her.
“Jesus, you scared me.”
The first thing she noticed was the sheer mass of the silhouette. Tall and thick as a bull. He stood motionless, in a way that made her want to check over her shoulder to make sure one of the bodies hadn’t jumped out of the freezer.
She swallowed the knot in her throat, squinted and cocked her head.
“Sorry,” the man said.
She instantly recognized the voice. Wesley Cross.
He stepped into the dark lab and as he walked across the room, the fluorescent light above her slowly illuminated his face.
And butterflies tickled her stomach.
Award-winning author of sexy murder mysteries, Amanda McKinney wrote her debut novel, LETHAL LEGACY, after walking away from her career to become a writer and stay-at-home mom. Her books include the BERRY SPRINGS SERIES and the BLACK ROSE MYSTERY SERIES, with many more to come. Set in small, Southern towns, Amanda’s books are page-turning whodunits peppered with steamy romance. Amanda is a member of Romance Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime, and lives in Arkansas with her handsome husband, two beautiful boys, and three obnoxious dogs. Visit her website at: www.amandamckinneyauthor.com
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