Experienced Homicide Detective Nicholas Woods goes undercover as the father of his much younger colleague to catch a serial killer who preys on young female tourists.
He has to act as the father of the cute junior detective who is barely cleared for active duty. He’d say she’s wrong for the job, but she looks exactly like the victims. And that makes her the perfect bait.
Woods never liked the fresh-faced girl next door type, but he never had to live with one before. Being professional was never as hard as when she calls him Daddy.
Tall, blonde and California tanned, Skye was a happy cop until she got shot. She got transferred across the country, and relegated to a desk job. The highlight of her days was devouring the archived cases of the legendary Nicholas Wood. When she gets partnered with him, hero worship turns into something unexpected.
Being around Woods, the bubbly vanilla girl discovers a new side of herself. Skye finds herself sliding into a darkness she had never acknowledged.
At the end of their assignment, they have to deal with their feelings in the real world. How will reality measure up to the fantasy?
Darkening Skye features a relationship between an older man and a younger woman. The characters are in dangerous situations outside their control, where they have to resort to measures that some people may find disturbing. The story is intended for mature audiences only due to the explicit language and violence.
This is a love story at heart, but it’s a dark and strange heart.
Darkening Skye is a full-length, standalone mystery and suspense romance with a HFN and a cliffhanger for the HEA in Haunting Woods.
If you want to read more, please fill in this google form.
Darkening Skye - the first 6 Chapters
Chapter 1. Woods – The Big Apple is not supposed to bite back
If there was one thing all of my colleagues agreed about me was that I got killers. Most of them would mean that I caught killers, and many. My partner would mean that I understood killers, and deeply.
My partner had been by my side for a decade and I trusted her to a degree I never imagined possible at the beginning of my career. Everyone I ever worked with before Katherine thought I was strange and dangerous. They resented my intuition and I couldn’t blame them. They didn’t know exactly what about me bothered them, but being cops, they could sense something was not quite right.
Katherine never asked about my parents, or my time in the Army, but in time, bit by bit, case by case, she found out about my unhappy childhood, and she figured out some of the things I’d seen and done in the Service.
Our latest case was over, and as we always did when we had time off, we went back to the Tourist Murders. In the past year, five young women had been found dead on the streets of New York.
The press didn’t catch on until the fourth murder, but when the fifth body was discovered, a wave of panic went through the papers and rose up all the way to the Mayor’s office. The Big Apple had its tourism industry to protect, and we were pressed to find a killer who hid in the 8 million people who lived in the five boroughs.
Thanks to media and political pressure, a city-wide task force was nominally in charge of the manhunt, but I was the lead detective in the case and most of the pressure came crashing on our Captain’s head
Katherine and I were alone in the case room, with maps of New York hanging on the walls and photos of the victims. Next to each dead body, we pinned a selfie from their phones. We had to ignore the clamor of journalists and politicians and focus on what mattered. We went over the evidence again, discussing the ligature marks, the bite marks, all the little details of the crime scenes. We always came back to one place.
“They look so much alike,” I said.
“And nothing else about them overlaps,” Katherine said.
I looked at the map again. Thanks to social media and GPS tracking, we were able to tell every place they had visited the days before they were abducted. Plenty of tourist spots, but not a single place all of the five girls had visited. Everything was marked with a different color, their hotel rooms where we found all their belongings, the places they visited and the spots where their bodies were found. Suddenly my perception changed and I saw the gap in the picture. It wasn’t what they had in common, as what they didn’t have in common. There was an area at the center of the network where nothing happened.
“Katherine, he’s avoiding this place.”
I drew a circle around a few blocks, and suddenly the whole picture made sense. It looked like a spiral centered on…
“Gracenote,” Katherine said, looking out from the computer. “It’s a gated community with luxury single-family houses.”
“Let’s get a list of the residents.”
There were no photos on the girls’ cameras, but all five of them talked about a charming rich man who made them feel special. He was older than them but he dressed well and didn’t give a creepy vibe. They had coffee or drinks and he hadn’t pushed for anything else. They all talked about meeting him in different places, and none of the witnesses we talked to was able to give us a good description.
Katherine went to the gym and instead of doing something similarly healthy, I stayed in the case room, looking over the girls’ diary entries about the mystery man. I was getting an image of him in my mind, but I left it as fluid as possible.
When she got back, we got started on the tedious task of looking through property records and lease contracts, and by the end of the day we had a complete list of the people who lived there. I liked figuring out patterns in chaos almost as much as I liked the chess game in the interrogation room when I made them reveal their deepest secrets. Empathy was a double edged blade.
At the end of the day, we were looking at the names in our top five candidates. One of them ticked all the boxes of the killer’s profile.
Before we got the chance to present our theory to the Captain, the sixth murder happened.
Chapter 2. Skye – Meeting Katherine
The long days in the Evidence dungeon of the New York Police Department started to fly by since I discovered the recorded interrogations conducted by detective Nicholas Woods.
As a teenager, I was used to enjoying obscure TV shows that none of my friends ever heard of, and now I had that feeling of excited discovery all over again. Woods and Robinson were legendary for their arrest record and the staggering amount of difficult cases they closed, so I decided to make lemonade with the sour lemons of being stuck behind a desk in Evidence and a lingering pain from my gunshot wound. I didn’t have to see archiving as a curse.
It was more like having at my disposal the NYPD equivalent of a library of rare books. So, I started reading. Well, watching.
I was a play by the rules kind of cop, trying to offset my hippy upbringing by following every rule and regulation I ever read. Five years after graduating from the Police Academy and two months after my first undercover mission, I was still the most tightly wound and rule following cop I knew.
Watching Woods’ interrogatories kept me in a constant state of shock. The man followed all the rules but he did it in such an outlandish manner he seemed insane. He switched between seeming intimidating, caring, threatening, vulgar, empathetic, weak, dominating, stupid, brilliant, careless, careful, unprofessional, rude, polite, single minded, open minded, forgetful, and insightful with such ease it left me gasping. I had never seen or heard of anyone who tailored their interrogation technique so profoundly to each subject.
The first interrogation I watched was one of their most high profile cases, a cop killer they arrested. I watched, mesmerized, how they got him to confess just by talking to him. On the screen there were four people sitting at a table in an empty room. Woods, Robinson, the killer and his lawyer. The recording was twenty-three minutes long and I kept staring at the screen once it faded to black. I decided to watch them chronologically so I started digging for the earliest cases I could find.
Woods and Robinson seemed to be a few years older than me in the oldest recording I found. They looked like early thirties, so considering the date of that case, they’d be in their mid-forties now. That meant I had over ten years worth of material to get me through my dreary days.
Sometimes I went back and reviewed earlier interrogations to compare the subtle changes in technique. The evolution was so gradual I could barely see the changes. Nicholas Woods was a superstar. If he was this crazy brilliant in his thirties, I eagerly anticipated to see how awesome he got to be in later years. There was no way I’d be disappointed because I already knew that the team’s reputation increased to mythical proportions in the present day.
I was still in their first three “seasons” when I met Katherine Robinson at the gym. I dropped the gym bag on my foot to see her there, dressed in training gear, like she was a regular person and not half of the most kick ass team of cops ever. She caught me staring at her.
“You’re Detective Robinson,” I said.
She raised an eyebrow as she measured me up and down. She was a good five inches shorter than me, but she carried herself with such poise I was left feeling like a child.
“I haven’t seen you before,” she said.
“I transferred from LAPD. Detective Walker.” I offered her my hand and she shook it briefly as if she expected me to fangirl some more.
“Do you have a sparring partner yet?”
My face fell a little. I didn’t even have a favorite coffee place let alone a sparring partner. I tried not to sound as pathetic as I felt.
“I mostly do cardio.”
Her eyebrow shot up again. She looked pointedly at my gym bag. When it fell on my foot it had overturned and my hand wraps were half unrolled on the floor.
“Oh,” I said and knelt to pick them up. “No, I don’t have a partner.”
“Come on, spar with me,” she started to wrap her hands.
For the first time in five months, I went through the ritual of wrapping my hands for a fight. I used the time to think of a game plan. I respected her and I wanted her to like me and to keep talking to me. That was hardly going to happen if I used my height and reach advantage to defeat her too fast.
“What do you practice?” I asked.
“Krav Maga. You?”
“Mixed. I started with Tai Chi, some basic wrestling, but I mostly train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai.”
“Sounds like fun,” she said.
An hour later I was limping back to the locker room. I hadn’t realized just how much the break in training and my injury limited my range of movements. I hadn’t been able to use my striking properly and all my takedown attempts failed, so I didn’t even get a chance to brush up my BJJ skills. She was nice enough not to try to break any of my limbs although I gave her plenty of chances.
“You were rusty, and it didn’t feel like it was just the lack of practicing.”
I shrugged, not volunteering any information if she didn’t ask a question. It turned out that Katherine Robinson liked clarity and didn’t like mind games.
“If you want us to do this again, tell me what’s wrong with you.”
I sighed. I did want to keep sparring with her. I’d want that even if I had anyone else to train with because she was freaking Katherine Robinson, but telling her the truth might mean she might take back her offer. There was no point in lying to her.
“I’m recovering from a wound. My doctor sort of threatened me that if I go back to my training regimen too soon he won’t clear me for active duty.”
“Then it was very stupid of you to spar today.”
Her tone was even and lacking condescension. She hadn’t meant it as an insult.
“Oh, come on,” I protested. “For one thing, he’s still in LA and the doctor here didn’t say anything about not sparring. For another, it was you offering to spar with me. I mean come on! You’re Robinson of Robinson and Woods.”
“Of Robinson and Woods?”
I couldn’t quite read her tone. Was she amused? Offended? Flattered? I looked around to make sure no one was listening and I leaned in to tell her about my new found secret hobby.
“I’ve been looking over your old cases. Don’t freak out, but I’m a huge fan of your work. You guys rock! I’d do anything to be around you.”
I heard how it sounded as soon as it came out and I blushed.
“I didn’t mean it to sound so creepy,” I said, flustered.
“And yet it did.” The smile that played on her lips put me at ease. Sort of. “Let’s get changed. I have to get back to work.”
That had been three weeks earlier. She probably didn’t find me all that creepy because our sparring sessions became a regular thing and our casual acquaintance turned into a tentative friendship. She asked about my career in LA and how I dealt with my current position. I asked her about old cases and what it was like to work with Nicholas Woods.
Chapter 3. Woods – Setting the trap
The Captain leaned back on his chair. At least he didn’t look at me like I was nuts this time. To give the man his due, it only took a couple of times to be right with my wild theories to gain his confidence. He’d been my Captain for almost three years and I still had to justify my intuition to him, but it wasn’t such an uphill battle any more. I went back to the map.
“The geographical profile puts him right in the middle of this area,” I said. “We looked at hundreds of people, Leonard Dvorak ticks all the boxes. He is Caucasian, middle class, in his forties, with a technical degree and a controlled gambling problem. He has an apparently normal family life after he suffered a personal tragedy. His wife died five years ago, her murder is still unsolved. The car that was seen at the scene of the second murder fits the one he drives. We have to keep our eyes on him and in that neighborhood any police surveillance would be noticed.”
He looked at my partner. “What do you think, Robinson?”
“He’s the guy, Captain,” Katherine said. “We have to be on him because he’s not going to stop.”
Actually, the killer was on a downward spiral. The time between the first two murders, the first two as far as we knew of anyway, was six months. Between the fifth and the sixth – less than a month. If we didn’t do something about it, he was going to go on a spree. I didn’t need to say that out loud. They both knew it and the only reason we weren’t in the District Attorney’s office was that we had no damn proof against Dvorak.
I had the urge to pace and fidget, but that would not help my case. Captain Jackson looked at the file again, and I knew that he was weighing options. He had to put aside the pressure from the media and the calls from the Mayor and the Governor to judge our proposal objectively.
I hated undercover work but every operation I ever touched finished with arrests and convictions so I must have done it right. Even with my pedigree in undercover work, pacing around the room wouldn’t fill the Captain with confidence that I could live across the street from a murderer and keep my cool.
I looked at Katherine to calm down. How she put up with my weirdness I would never know. In all the years we worked together, we got through a lot of bad situations. She was always the cool headed one, always the one to bail me out. Without me, her record would be a lot cleaner. With me, she might never make captain. I didn’t like to dwell on that, so I just allowed her presence to calm me down.
“Ok. I’ll call the DA’s office to get clearance.”
“Thank you, Captain. Robinson and I are good to go.”
“Woods,” he interrupted me. “You can’t take Robinson. You said it yourself, he won’t identify with a married couple. He’s a widower who lives with his grown-up daughter. Sorry, Katherine, but you can’t pass as his daughter.”
What was he talking about? Katherine didn’t look a day older than her Academy photo. I opened my mouth to argue, but Katherine was faster.
“Don’t worry, Captain,” she said. “I tried telling him, but sometimes he just doesn’t hear me.”
Had she tried to tell me? All I remembered was her agreeing with me that we needed to move into the neighborhood.
“I think I know someone who is a good fit,” Captain Jackson said.
He picked up the phone and dialed a number. “Dave, send Walker over here.”
Who the hell was Walker? Katherine must have sensed I was getting edgy because she stood up and came next to me.
“I’ll call you after I talk to her,” the Captain said as a dismissal.
We nodded and I followed Katherine back to our desks.
“Am I getting that old? ” I asked looking around the squad room at the familiar faces. I could name everyone there. “Who is Walker?”
“She transferred from LA about a month ago. She’s in Evidence.”
“Are you serious? Jackson wants me to go undercover with a desk jockey?”
She shook her head with an expression I used to think meant – how are you a detective? She could pass for my daughter, I told myself. She was petite and naturally beautiful. She never wore any makeup, and her caramel hair hadn’t changed color in the decade I knew her. The short haircut made her look very young. In the same ten years, I had put on some twenty-five pounds, my hair was grey around the temples and the circles under my eyes were probably beyond the help of any makeup artist. So maybe she didn’t look under thirty but when I looked in the mirror I saw a fifty-year old man looking back.
“She’s recovering from a gunshot, that’s why she’s not up here.”
“How do you know that?” I asked, too surprised to complain about the fact that my possible temporary undercover partner was not cleared for active duty.
“We go to the gym together. You’ll like her,” Katherine said. “She’s a fan of yours.”
Fan? Why would I like that in a person? The only people who liked me were those whose dark secrets and desires I understood. My “fans” were bigger weirdos than me, who were grateful that they found someone they could relate to, someone who didn’t judge them. Fans. I had gathered quite a few over the years, from deranged murders to disgraced cops.
Chapter 4. Skye – Walker and Woods
I liked New York. I really did. Probably no one could tell that I liked it by the way I was scowling at the grey sky through the tiny window in the Evidence office or the rather violent manner in which I pounded on the stapler. You do one awesome job and you have to schlep all the way to the other coast until the dust settles over Los Angeles.
After three months of deep cover and fourteen convictions, I got a medal, a raise and a transfer. All that and a gunshot wound landed me a desk job. I had been temporarily reassigned to New York the month before and once autumn hit the city, the atmosphere became so charged up that I felt like jumping out of my skin all the time. Which I promptly did when I heard my sergeant address me.
“Hey, Walker, the Captain wants you.”
The guy nodded and walked out. I finished stapling the report, and dropped it on Sgt. Long’s desk. I tightened my ponytail and ran my tongue over my teeth and around my lips. I’ve had a jam doughnut earlier while I watched my favorite show – a Woods and Robinson interrogation. I didn’t want to walk into the Captain’s office with a strawberry jam crust at the corners of my mouth. Mmm, strawberries.
That was one thing I liked about my new station almost as much as watching Woods’s interrogations. The amazing doughnuts more than made up for the foul coffee.
I knocked on the Captain’s half open door.
“Come in, Walker,” the Captain said. “Close the door.”
He looked tired, but that could be just because of his pale skin. So many New Yorkers looked like ghosts to my Californian eyes. He had wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and some puffiness under them. I remembered reading his name in the paper that morning, in the article about the tourist murders. People were getting restless at the risk of tourists staying away from the Big Apple if they felt unsafe, and the pressure must have piled up on his head. That made Captain Sheridan Jackson an unhappy overworked and frustrated cop.
“How are you getting on in our fair city?”
“Fine, sir. Cops are cops even when they’re buried in the archives.”
He let out a short laugh that sounded like the bark of a big dog. I wondered what dogs had grey hair and red eyes. Rabid dogs probably. Or werewolves. I reigned in my less than cop-like theories. He looked terrible. Poor guy.
“Your sergeant says you’re doing well, but you’re itching to get back in the field. “
“Yes, sir,” I admitted. “I am well aware of the importance of evidence and archiving in police work, but I do want to get back out there.”
“Your physical results don’t clear you for patrols yet. However, I have something that would get you out of the office.”
I tried not to get my hopes up, but judging by Captain Jackson’s amused look, my ears might as well be wiggling with excitement. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth and a spark in his eyes shaved some years off the man. That perked me up. I was a people pleaser and nothing made me happier than making someone’s day a little bit brighter.
“It’s a surveillance operation. We have a lead about the Tourist Murders but we can’t get close to our suspect. Here’s his file. Look over it and let me know if you’d be interested in working the case.”
I took the file from him, and at the same time I opened my mouth to say I wanted the job, but he preempted me from consenting blindly.
“Don’t. Read the file first. It’s relatively low risk, but nothing is ever without any risks. If we’re right, the guy is a vicious killer.”
First thing that popped up was the detectives’ names – Woods and Robinson. It was a dream come true. I enjoyed sparring with Robinson every week, but the chance to actually work with her and her partner was beyond my wildest hopes. I was wiggling my toes while reading the file. My enthusiasm tempered a little when I got to the photos. My experience with dead bodies was just theoretical, from the Academy. All my actual experience was working in Vice.
The victims’ photos bothered me. Not just the fact that they were dead bodies, but all the women looked a lot like me. I swallowed hard when I read through the autopsy descriptions. Young, fit, blonde, tanned. Five New York tourists who could be everyone’s image of a California girl, even if none of them was actually from the Golden State.
When I looked up, I saw that Captain Jackson was studying me. I smiled brightly at him and I saw he was taken aback. He didn’t expect the smile, but I couldn’t help it. Smiling had been my go-to response for as long as I could remember. I had been a happy child, a well-adjusted teenager and up until the moment I got shot, a lucky cop. This case was a huge opportunity for my career, why wouldn’t I grab it with a smile?
“Dvorak looks good for it. I’m in,” I said.
“It’s just surveillance. At most you will strike a conversation with his daughter. I know you’ve been undercover before and you can play by the rules. Don’t make me regret giving you this chance.”
“No problem, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“You will work with the lead detective on this case,” he said, and picked up the phone. “Come here. Both of you.”
Nicholas Woods. I was going to work with Nicholas freaking Woods? I’d been nervous as hell around Katherine, but detective Nicholas Woods was a legend. I started watching his interrogations to while away the long boring hours and I ended up in awe of the guy. Maybe the jam doughnuts were not the only good thing about being stuck in Evidence. I kept going back and forth between the top two things I loved about New York. I tried to compose myself and not gush too much around my future partner. It turned out that it was easier said than done.
Katherine Robinson came in first. She nodded at me with the same distant-friendly demeanor from the gym and I smiled back at her. My smile froze when HE walked in a few moments later. I literally felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I’d only felt that kind of dark energy before a really ugly storm hit Los Angeles.
His flesh and blood appearance made me realize just how old those recorded interrogations were. After meeting Katherine, I thought that her partner looked tall just because she was petite, and since she looked pretty much the same as in those recordings, I expected Nicholas Woods to be just as unchanged. The man I watched every day on the computer screen was six feet tall, athletic, slender, with broad shoulders and sharp features. He moved into the interrogation room with the grace of a tango dancer. He exuded masculinity and poise. The man in front of me was a turbocharged version. He had an aura of power that made me shiver. His tall frame no longer seemed boyish. I tried to censor myself but one adjective came into my mind unbidden and unwelcome.
Worst word ever!
Chapter 5. Woods – Names and identities
I didn’t know what I expected, but definitely not a living version of the victims. I had seen six bodies just like hers lie down on the cold slab in the Medical Examiner’s office. I had seen doctor Bachman cut open six bodies like the one in front of me. I had looked through the personal belongings of six girls and imagined their lives before they had been cut short by a sick and twisted man.
Jackson had made the right call. A girl like her would push all the right buttons with Dvorak. She was the right person to incite him, and I was the right person to understand him. This case had landed on my desk almost a year earlier, and while I had cleared other cases, this one kept piling up corpses and I kept diving deeper into the killer’s mind.
I shook her hand, pretending that everything was fine while saying it was nice to meet her, and I silently began to worry that I might not function well without Katherine by my side.
I had to find something that would separate her from the victims. The long blond hair tied up in a ponytail, the tanned skin, the toned body, the bright smile – everything I had seen in the selfies on the victims’ cell phones.
My eyes caught on her mouth. I ignored the pouty, sensual, kissable lips, focusing instead on the fine trace of white powder on her upper lip. I had noticed that sometimes about Katherine after we raided our favorite doughnut place but I had never felt the urge to wipe the sugar with my thumb. I was getting into a fatherly character far too early with this girl.
“You both worked undercover before, so I trust you to create a compelling cover story. It’s a high profile case so it will take at most a couple of days to go through the red tape. Use this time to work on the story.”
And just like that, we were dismissed. Katherine led the girl to our desks.
“Do you want a coffee, Skye?” she asked.
The girl shook her head and her smile brought my gaze back to the sugar on her lip. Before we got called back to Jackson’s office I had looked her up. What kind of a name was Skye anyway? And what kind of parents with the surname Walker would name their child Skye?
As if she heard my thoughts, Katherine asked her about her name. Katherine is great at putting people at ease when she wanted to. She was even better at rattling suspects and being the most terrifying five feet two badass.
“So… Skye Walker. I’ve always meant to ask about your name.”
She sighed. She probably got that a lot.
“Yes, I know. My parents asked my brother’s input. They were aware of the Star Wars thing but they didn’t care that it might sound weird. They’re kind of hippies,” she said as a tentative explanation. “They gave up their corporate jobs when my brother was born and they moved into a commune. “
“What’s his name?” I asked.
She looked at me with a twinkle in her warm brown eyes the color of old, good whiskey.
“Jack,” she said. “Jack Inigo Walker,” she added and I could hear the suppressed laughter in her voice.
Katherine snorted and I couldn’t help but smile.
“Inigo? Like in Princess Bride?” I asked.
The girl nodded.
“What’s your full name then?”
“Joan Skye,” she said with a shrug. “I was Joan through high school and college but when I joined the Academy, I decided to embrace Skye to reassure my parents that I’m not becoming a crypto fascist.”
I made a note that she had chosen to go by her weird name. Under all that model police officer façade, she was not a conformist. The Walkers themselves sounded like an interesting but tight knit family. Was she going to have trouble acting like my estranged daughter?
“You should let them know you will be out of reach for a few days,” I said. “And anyone else who might worry if you disappear.”
A shadow passed across her features so fast I wondered if I had really seen it.
“I will, right before we go dark,” she said.
Go dark. That was an unusual phrase. It didn’t sound like the sort of terms used in the Vice squad. It was probably from the movies. She was so young.
“Let’s go talk details,” Katherine said. “Interrogation two is free.”
Skye bounced out of her chair. By the time I gathered my notes and packed the file she was already halfway across the squad room. Where did this girl get the energy? Her ponytail swung left and right like a metronome, and I began to hum a tune to that rhythm. I got it under control by the time the door closed behind us.
“We thought that a good cover story would be that you moved back in with your dad after you graduated from Berkeley.”
“I graduated like five years ago. No one will believe I’m 19,” she said.
Katherine and I shared one of our looks that saved us from talking in front of suspects. Skye picked up on it.
“What?” she asked, looking from Katherine to me.
“You can pass for 19, but it’s not that important. Let’s say you worked back east but you quit your job after your mother died to be with your father,” Katherine said and I was grateful. I felt silly enough to realize that I can’t judge my partner’s age very well, although I actually knew the real number.
“Oh,” she said and sadness fell on her beautiful features.
My heart shrunk and instinctively I wanted to put an arm around her shoulders.
“Did it look right? Or I should act all brave to be more helpful with daddy’s grief?”
I reeled at the change. She was good! I’m trained to read people and I bought her sadness. If that was the only revelation, I’d feel a lot better about the mission. Unfortunately, something I didn’t want to acknowledge jolted inside me when she said daddy.
It was too late to turn back now. I was stuck with the mission I wanted, with the perfect partner as bait for one of the most sadistic murderers I had seen in my twenty-year career.
“You did great,” Katherine said. “It will work on Dvorak and his daughter, but make sure you don’t do it too often.”
Skye reached across the table and ran her fingers through the documents in my folder. I pushed it toward her but she ignored me. She fished out a photo of Anna Dvorak, and twirled it in her long elegant fingers, looking at it, then turning it toward me, looking at it, showing it to me. I put my hand over hers to stop the motion. She dropped the photo but she didn’t pull her hand away. The girl’s photo was on the table between us. She looked like the five dead girls and like the ball of energy whose hand I was still holding. I let it go and expected her to pretend that nothing happened.
“They all look like her. And she looks like me.”
“Yes,” Katherine said in the tense silence. “We’ll be there. We’ll keep you safe.”
“If you want out,” I said but she interrupted me.
“No. It’s ok. We have to get this guy.”
She was right, but that didn’t make it any easier. In my mind, I was already too close to the killer. On top of that I wasn’t going to have Katherine close enough to keep me grounded and I had to take care of a rookie. So what if her file said she had undercover experience? From where I stood, she seemed too young for comfort. Her next words and her whiskey colored eyes brought the pressure on even harder.
“I trust you.”
Chapter 6 – Skye – Becoming Sophia
Why did I say that aloud? Maybe it was just for show. I was a little scared but there was no way they would drop the ball with me. Deep cover meant that we were going to spend all the time in character and we’d live next to a killer’s house, but we’d still be in contact with the others.
I had just lied to Nicholas Woods. I didn’t trust him with my life. I respected the guy as a detective but I knew nothing about him as a person. Having a partner while undercover was a burden. I learned that lesson the hard way. I did fine for the first two and a half months of my mission and as soon as they sent me someone else, the whole operation blew up. Undercover work and team work didn’t go hand in hand in my book. Then again, my book was still short and yet it still had many pages to be written.
I wondered what they thought about my involvement. Woods and Robinson kicked ass since before I even thought about a career in law enforcement. Having me around might feel like babysitting for them. Well, tough cookies! I was the new generation of kick-ass-ers.
Whatever doubts each of us had, we tried to make it work. The clock was ticking and we didn’t want to give this monster the chance to make another victim. Maybe sweet innocent Anna Dvorak herself was in danger.
Four hours and more boxes of doughnuts than I cared to count later, we had worked out the saline details of our cover. Woods summarized it aloud, his voice low and rough.
“The baseline is that you’re my daughter. You went to college in California and stayed there but when your mother died I didn’t take it well and you came back to look after me.”
He sounded exhausted. Broken. I wanted to help him win against this monster. My heart reached out to him. I didn’t want to embarrass myself by giving him a hug. Even in LA, it took them a while to get used to my hugging ways. When he went on, I congratulated myself for that because he had clearly gone into character. I had studied his interrogations and I guessed that he was using one of his techniques.
“We sold our flat downtown and got a condo in Gracenote because it’s a gated community and I’m obsessed with safety. I manipulated you into giving up your life in California to have you here where I can keep you safe. I’m overly controlling and I constantly check on you. This is how we’ll make sure he knows that he can’t make a move on you, in case he’s tempted.”
I swallowed dryly at the sound of that. At least they were treating me with enough respect to talk openly about the risks. I was everything that monster was hunting for. Of course he’d be tempted to do to me what he did to the others.
Woods didn’t lie to me, but I was lying to them. The shiver that went through me was only partially caused by fear. The other reason was to hear Nicholas Woods say that he was overly controlling in my regards. All my life I wanted nothing more than light vanilla sex and within a few hours of meeting my idol, I was reacting to words like control and obsession. My skin still tingled where he had touched me. I looked down at my hand and I saw that was tracing with my fingers the shape of his hand on my skin.
Captain Jackson walked in.
“We got the green light from the DA’s office. Give your requirements to officer Mayers and get your stuff in order. You’ll have everything you need to move in.”
Twenty-four hours after accepting the mission, I was in a car with Nicholas Woods, heading into the killer’s lair. We were Mark and Sophia Doyle.
“You sure you don’t want to drive?” he asked again.
“Nah,” I said. I was in character already and Woods trying to treat me as his equal was taking me out of the zone.
They had talked me into pretending I was nineteen-year-old Sophia Doyle, and she would not want to drive the car if she had her Dad to chauffeur her around. Sophia was a spoiled daddy’s princess and the only redeeming feature about her was that she cared enough about her father to give up her volunteer work in LA to be with him. Sophia may have been a pampered Berkeley student, but she was also helping in an animal shelter and living on what her parents sent her every month.
Mark Doyle was an architect and he was taking advantage of the many wonders of the technological era to work from home. So essentially, we would have nothing better to do than spend the whole day inside the complex.
“We’ll settle in tonight, and tomorrow we go by their gym to sign up. They have an Olympic size swimming pool,” he said.
“I go jogging every morning. Not sure if going to the pool is a good idea,” I said hoping he wasn’t going to ask why.
I had done my best not to get to this point.
“Because my scar might be visible.”
He almost asked where it was, but didn’t. Either because he had read the report or he sensed my discomfort, he didn’t press.
“It’s on my butt,” I said abruptly.
He just looked at me inquiringly. I sighed. I had to tell the story.
“A small-time drug dealer got too nosy about my involvement. He was sampling his own product and he got paranoid. I hadn’t done anything to make him suspicious but he started accusing me of working for the government and that I wanted to implant him with a chip to track his movements. It didn’t help that for the first time in our dealings, I brought a new guy. My initial investigation was Vice related, but when I got involved with a drug Cartel, they sent me someone from Narcotics. The idea was that I’d stick with the human trafficking ring and he’d move into the Cartel. Anyway, the paranoid bastard came at me with a gun and instead of disarming him efficiently… I fought him off like a girl. We got into a tussle and the gun went off. Long story short, now I have the scar from a gunshot on my left cheek.”
“Why didn’t you disarm him?”
The same question my handler had asked, when I was still in hospital on my stomach in the hospital bed. That was one of the basic moves we were taught at the Academy. Not to mention that I had a martial arts background that came in handy in every combat situation I’ve ever been.
“Mecause I didm’t wamt to break covr,” I mumbled the words.
This didn’t work with my parents when I was a kid and it didn’t work for Sophia either.
“You got shot because you didn’t want to blow your cover?” he asked incredulously.
“To be fair, he probably would have shot me anyway.”
“Not if you had disarmed him previously.”
“I guess. Can we not talk about it? At least until we’re out of here. Sophia is a nice girl who hasn’t even seen a gun in her life, let alone got shot.”
“If Sophia ever got shot, Mark would probably tie her down and never let her leave the house,” he said.
He had meant it as a joke, but I got another frisson when his words conjured up the image of him tying me down. Maybe there was something in the water or in the East Coast air to make me react like that. I’m a vanilla girl who is perfectly content to have robust vanilla sex. I knew myself not to have daddy issues or any inhibitions that I needed to act out. One of the perks of undercover jobs was the amount of therapy and deprogramming you get once you’re out and you have to go back into a police environment.
At least, I thought I knew myself.
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