As if being framed isn't bad enough, her sudden attraction to the deputy working the "hooker murders" has her head spinning with confusion. Conditioned to be suspicious of the law, Cyndi finds herself torn between heart and mind when the sexy deputy is interested in her as more than just a suspect. If she has any hope of clearing her name, Cyndi knows she must overcome her fear and trust the only person willing to believe in her innocence.
Deputy Braden Andrews never expected to be dealt the task of catching a serial killer when he accepted the deputy sheriff's position in his small Nevada town. Nor did he expect his prime suspect to be a beautiful, alluring woman with a checkered past and secrets to hide. Braden works to gain Cyndi's trust in an attempt to pump her for information, knowing that she holds something important about the case. Instead, he falls hard for the auburn beauty. Despite his growing love for her, he quickly realizes there's a better than average chance she's being framed. But can he prove Cyndi's innocence before the killer strikes again?
In related news, the body of a young woman was discovered by passing motorists along Highway 160 last night, outside of Pahrump near the Nye-Clark County border.
The news anchor's announcement caught Cyndi's attention. She looked up at the TV screen. A picture of the highway where the body had been found—a slash of blacktop and speeding vehicles, surrounded by barren desert—was quickly replaced by a close-up of the newscaster's leathery face. The brothel where Cyndi had spent a chunk of her life was nestled along a side road not far from where Highway 160 met the county border. That spot was twenty miles from where she now resided.
The roaring rush of her pulse swirled and drowned out the room around her, until all she could see or hear was the broadcast.
The victim was identified this morning as twenty-nine-year-old Tracy Jones, reported missing earlier in the month. Although police have reported the cause of death as manual strangulation, they will not yet comment on whether there are any suspects at this time. Stay tuned to WBNC for breaking news.
Cyndi didn't know how to feel or what to think. Jesus. She hadn't seen Tracy—or any of her old friends from before—in almost two years. Not since she'd fled her shady past. That, however, didn't prevent sadness from welling up inside her now. Time and distance dropped away and returned her to the good times, few and far between though they were, and reminded her of the woman she'd once been close to.
Now her friend was gone, dead. Reduced to a crime statistic by a TV personality. Almost worse was the fact that she couldn't share her grief with her friends or her fiancé. Talking about it, associating herself with anyone from her past, would be too risky. She'd worked too hard, for too long, making a new life for herself to risk having it blow up in her face now.
Suddenly, Cyndi needed to get out of the tavern, to get some fresh air and time alone with her thoughts. She scooted to the end of the booth, snatched her purse, and stood. "I have to go."
Heather grabbed her hand, forestalling her departure. "I'm sorry, Cyndi. If it's something I said…"
"No, don't be silly. I, um…" Crap, she couldn't think of a good excuse. She'd never been good at lying. Cyndi avoided Heather's eyes. "I just remembered something I forgot to do earlier, is all." She reached into her purse, snagged her key ring, and grabbed her wallet. She quickly plucked out a few twenties and threw them on the table. "Here, have lunch on me and enjoy yourself. I'll call you later. Okay?"
Cyndi didn't wait for a reply. She couldn't. A building sense of dread boiled in the pit of her stomach. Later, she'd apologize to her friend for running out on her, but for now, Cyndi just needed to go.
She hustled out of the tavern and into the hot midday sun. Standing on the sidewalk in front of the building, she welcomed the heat beating down on her head and shoulders, warming her on the outside, but unable to touch the thick layer of ice over her heart.
What was happening? Tracy was the second of Cyndi's old friends to be murdered in the last few months. Kathryn's body had been dumped along Highway 160, also…ten miles west of Pahrump. Was it a warped coincidence that the bodies of both friends had been found along the same stretch of road? She couldn't bring herself to believe that notion. Yet, something sinister was going on. Something related to…
No, she couldn't think about that night. Nothing had happened.
A black SUV zoomed past her, kicking up dirt in its wake. A hot ball of dusty air and exhaust punched her in the face. The noxious fumes choked her, yanking her out of the doldrums. She wondered how much time had passed while she'd been lost in thought, staring into outer space.
Keys in hand, she jogged down the narrow alley between two brick buildings. Unable to find a parking spot on Main Street upon arriving at the tavern, she'd chosen to park in the rear. Now, she was anxious to be inside her car and on her way. A long drive, the music blaring through the speakers loud enough to drown out her thoughts, sounded like the best idea she'd had in a long time.
She reached the side of the building, expecting to see her blue Camry parked next to the dirty green dumpster, and found a large silver truck obstructing her view of the car. She walked around the long truck bed. Sure enough, squished between the truck and dumpster, was her car. She glared at the truck, which was positioned so close to her Camry she estimated there to be about six inches between the two.
Cyndi groaned. It was going to be fun squeezing her big butt through such a small space. A glance at the passenger side revealed a little more room, possibly a foot or so, between the dumpster and the door. Maybe she would have better luck entering her car on that side. She could always crawl over the console and break her neck in the process. That would be the perfect ending for her day.
With a huff, she tromped around her car and sidled to the door. She unlocked it and gently pulled it open, careful of the paint. It was already faded in spots from the sun. Putting a long scratch down the side wouldn't help its appearance.
A shadow fell over the area in which she stood. She looked up, wondering if it was going to shower, and saw only clear blue sky.
Rough hands grabbed her shoulders from behind. A shock ran down her spine.
She tried to turn and see who was behind her, to pull away, but it was no use. A calloused palm, ripe with the putrid smell of old cigarettes and gasoline, covered her mouth. At the same time, a bare arm, thickly corded with muscle, wrapped around her chest beneath her breasts, pinned one of her arms to her side, and held onto the wrist of her other arm.
Cyndi struggled against the man only to feel his grip tighten, like a band of iron, constricting her every move.
Random snatches from various martial arts classes she'd taken flitted through her mind. The scant images were useless. She panicked and began to hyperventilate, jerking wildly against her captor.
The hand spanning the lower half of her face clenched, the individual fingers biting into her skin. Cyndi winced and froze, her eyes filling with tears.
"Don't do this," she tried to say, only to have the words come out as little more than incomprehensible garble. She wanted to ask why. Why her and why now, just when she'd gotten her act together and was straightening out her life?
Rank air fanned the side of her face and neck. Slimy, wet heat licked a path up her cheek. "Give in, and I'll go easy on you. Put you down quick like those bitches you were friends with. Fight me, and I'll make your end slow and painful, until you'll wish you were dead."