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Detective Julianne White Bear didn't want to be here. And she was sure the four detectives looking her way in the homicide squad room didn't want her here. They weren't openly hostile, but she knew resistance when she saw it.
She couldn't blame them. She knew all about being territorial and, if the tables were turned, she would have felt exactly the same way.
But Captain Randolph had sent her here and she wasn't about to argue with the man. Years before she joined the force, she had learned to pick her battles judiciously. When she did decide to dig in and fight, the very act carried an impact.
Besides, who knew? Maybe it was fate that brought her here. Maybe this was the place where she would finally find Mary. This was where her leads had brought her.
For a moment, Julianne silently scanned the small, crammed room, assessing its inhabitants. The lone woman looked to be about her age, maybe a couple of years older. She'd been talking to two men, both of whom had a number of years on her. The man off to the other side was younger.
He was also studying her.
She wondered which one of the detectives was in charge of the newly assembled task force and how long it would be before she butted heads with himor her.
"Can I help you?" Detective Francis McIntyre, Frank to anyone who wanted to live to see another sunrise, asked the slender, dark-haired woman standing just inside the doorway.
His first thought was that a relative of one of the dead girls had finally shown up, but something about her had him dismissing the thought in the next moment. He couldn't deny that he'd be relieved if she wasn't. Though he'd been working homicide for a while now, breaking the dreaded news to people that their child, spouse, loved one was forever lost was something Frank knew he would never get used to.
Mentally taking a breath, Julianne crossed to the good-looking detective. A pretty boy, she thought. Probably used to making women weak in the knees. She didn't get weak in the knees. Ever. She knew better.
"Actually, I'm here to help you." Saying that, Julianne held out the folder she'd brought with her from Mission Ridge's small, single-story precinct. She was acutely aware she was being weighed and measured by the tall, muscular dark-haired man with the intensely blue eyes. A glance toward the bulletin board indicated the others were following suit.
"You have some information about the killer?" Frank asked, looking at her curiously as he took the folder from her.
Was the woman a witness who'd finally decided to come forward? God knew they needed a break. Something didn't quite gel for him. Most people who came forward, whether over the phone or in person, usually sounded a little uncomfortable and always agitated. This witnessif she was a witnessseemed very cool, very calm. And she'd obviously organized her thoughts enough to place them into a folder.
"No, those are my temporary transfer papersplus all the information we have about our homicide."
"'Our'?" Frank repeated, flipping open the manila folder. He merely skimmed the pages without really reading anything. Three were official-looking papers from the human resources department from Mission Ridge, the rest had to do with a dead woman, complete with photographs. As if they didn't have enough of their own.
"I'm from Mission Ridge," she told him, pointing to the heading on the page he'd opened to. "Detective White Bear, Julianne."
"I don't know if we have any openings in the department," he began. "And besides, I'm not the person to see about that"
Julianne's belief in the economy of words extended to the people who took up her time, talking. She cut him off. "It's already been arranged. My captain talked to your chief of detectives," she told him. "A Brian"
"Cavanaugh, yes, I'm familiar with the name."
Frank was more than familiar with the name and the man, seeing as how Brian Cavanaugh had been part of his life for a very long time, starting out as his mother's squad car partner. Just recently the man had married Frank's mother and made no secret of the fact that he was absorbing Frank, his brother, Zack, and two sisters, Taylor and Riley, detectives all, into what was by now the legendary Cavanaugh clan.
He would have expected a heads-up from Brian about this turn of events, not because he was his stepfather, but because Brian was his boss.
"And just why are you being transferred here?" he asked.
"Temporarily transferred." Julianne emphasized the keyword, then pointed to the folder. "It's all in there."
Frank deliberately closed the folder and fixed this unusually reticent woman with a thoughtful look. "Give me the audio version."
She smiled ever so slightly. "Don't like to read?" she guessed.
"Don't like curves being thrown at me." And this one, he couldn't help notice despite the fact that she was wearing a pantsuit, had some wicked curves as well as the straightest, blackest hair he'd ever seen and probably the most exotic face he'd come across in a long time. "Why don't you tell me why you're here?" he suggested.
"I'm here because my captain and your chief of detectives seem to think that the body we found in Mission Ridge the other night is the work of your serial killer."
Frank didn't particularly like the woman's inference that the killer was Aurora's exclusive property. That placed the responsibility for the killing spree squarely on their shouldersthe squad's and his.
Damn it, they should have been able to find the sick S.O.B. by now.
He was just being edgy, Frank upbraided himself. Edgy and overly tired. Ever since he had put two and two together and realized they had a full-fledged serial killer and had gotten his new stepfather to give him the go-ahead to put a task force together, he'd been working almost around the clock. As far as he was concerned, this was his task force and his killer to bring to justice. The fact that they were getting nowhere fast tended to rob him of his customary good humor.
"And why would they think that, White Bear, Julianne?" Frank asked, echoing the introduction she'd given.
Julianne didn't even blink as she recited, "Because the woman was found strangled and left in a Dumpster. There was no evidence of any sexual activity." To underscore what she was saying, she opened the folder he still held and turned toward the crime-scene photos. "That's where your killer puts them, isn't it? In a Dumpster?"
Both questions were rhetorical. Ever since Randolph had told her he was loaning her out to Aurora, she'd read everything she could get her hands on about the serial killer's M.O. Lamentably, there hadn't been much.
"He's not my killer," Frank corrected tersely.
"Sorry," she apologized quietly. There was no emotion in her voice. "No disrespect intended."
The blonde she'd first noticed standing by the bulletin board came forward, an easy smile on her lips. The first she'd seen since entering the room, Julianne noted.
"Don't mind Frank. He gets a little testy if he can't solve a crime in under forty-eight hours. To him life is one great big Rubik's Cube, meant to be aligned in record time. I'm Riley McIntyre," the woman told her, extending her hand. "This is my brother, Frank." Riley nodded toward the two men she'd been talking with. They were still standing by the large bulletin board. Across the top of the bulletin board were photographs. Each one belonged to a different woman who had fallen victim to the Dumpster killer. There were five photographs, each heading its own column. "That's Detective John Sanchez and Detective Lou Hill." Each nodded in turn as Riley introduced them.
Julianne saw the flicker of interest in their eyes. Assessing the new kid.
How many times had that happened in her lifetime? she thought. Enough to make her immune to the process, or so she wanted to believe.
Julianne nodded politely toward the two detectives, then looked back at the smiling, petite blonde. Despite her manner, Julianne had a feeling the woman could handle herself quite well if it came down to that. "And which of you is in charge?" she wanted to know.
"That would be me," Frank told her.
Of course it would, Julianne thought. She glanced at the folder he held. "Then maybe you'd like me to read that file to you?" she offered.
This one was going to be a handful, Frank thought. Just what he didn't need right now. "Riley, get your new little playmate up to speed," he instructed, heading for the door.
"Where are you going?" Riley asked, raising her voice.
Frank paused only to glance at her over his shoulder, giving his sister a look that said she should be bright enough to figure that out.
It was Julianne who was first to pick up on the meaning behind the expression. He was going to the chief of detectives, she would have bet a year's pay on itand she wasn't one who gambled lightly.
"Before you go," she called out to him, "you should know that I don't want to be here as much as you don't want me here."
"Not possible," was all he said as he exited the squad room.
"Don't mind Frank," Riley told her again. "He hasn't learned how not to take each case he handles personally." She led Julianne over to the bulletin board to bring her up to speed. "Don't tell him I said so, but he's really not a bad guy once you get to know him. Authority has made him a lot more serious than he usually is," she explained. "He's still working things out."
Julianne had always believed that, up to a point, everyone was responsible for his or her life and the way things turned out. "If he's not comfortable with it, why did he agree to be in charge?"
"Because Frank was the first one who made the connection between the latest victim and the other bodies." She gestured toward the bulletin board. "Until then, they were on their way to becoming cold cases," Riley told her. "C'mon, I'll get you settled in first. This is a pretty nice place to work," Riley assured her with feeling, a smile backing up her words.
Julianne glanced over her shoulder toward the doorway where Frank had disappeared. She supposed she couldn't blame the man for being abrupt. She wasn't exactly thrilled about all this, either. "I'm willing to be convinced."
"An open mind," Riley commented with a wide grin. "Can't ask for more than that."
Julianne thought of Mary and all the months she'd spent trying to find her seventeen-year-old cousin afraid that when she did find her, it might be too late if it wasn't already.
"Yeah," Julianne answered quietly, "actually, you can."
The blonde spared her a curious look, but made no comment.
Frank knocked on Brian Cavanaugh's door. "Got a minute?"
He'd waited outside the glass office, curbing his impatience, while his new stepfather had been on the phone. But the moment the chief of detectives had hung up, Frank popped his head in, attempted to snare an island of the man's time before the phone rang again or someone walked in to interrupt them.
Brian smiled. This was an interruption he welcomed, even though he had a feeling he knew what it was about. He'd known Frank, boy and man, for almost as long as he'd known Lila and was proud of the way Frank and his siblings had turned out. They were all a credit to the departmentas well as to their mother.
"For you? Always." Brian beckoned his stepson in and gestured toward one of the two chairs in front of his desk. "Take a seat."
About to demure, Frank changed his mind and sat down. He looked less confrontational sitting then standing, even if he preferred the latter.
"What's up?" Brian asked.
Frank didn't beat around the bush. "Did you assign a detective from Mission Ridge to my task force?"
Brian nodded. He'd guessed right, but he hadn't expected to see Frank in his office for at least a day or so. Had he and White Bear locked horns already? Had to be some kind of a record.
"I meant to tell you, but then the mayor called with another one of his mini-emergencies. With the police chief out on medical leave, I get to wear more than one hat." With the current mayor, however, it was more a case of constant placating and hand-holding. The mayor was highly agitated about the serial killer, afraid that if the man wasn't captured soon, it would bring down his administration when elections came around in the fall. "Don't know how Andrew took it for all those years," he added, referring to his older brother, who before taking early retirement to raise his five children had been Aurora's chief of police.
And then Brian took a closer look at Frank. If the young detective clenched his jaw any harder, his teeth would pop out.
"Why? Is something wrong? You did say you could use more of a staff."
"Yes, but I meant someone from our homicide division." He'd never thought someone from the outside would be brought in. He didn't have time to integrate this woman. "Maybe Taylor, or"
"Granted, we have the superior police department," Brian agreed, tongue in cheek. Mission Ridge's police department numbered twelve in all, but he'd been given White Bear's record and found it exemplary. "But I thought, since the captain called from Mission Ridge and the killer's M.O. was exactly the same as the serial killer we're dealing with, that it wouldn't hurt to bring in a fresh set of eyes." That said, Brian leaned back in his chair to study his stepson. "Is there a problem?"
Other than feeling as if he was being invaded, no, Frank thought, there wasn't a problem. At least, not yet. And then he replayed his own words in his head before speaking. He was coming across like some kind of grumpy malcontent.
Leaning back, Frank blew out a breath and then shook his head. "No, I guess I just would have liked a heads-up."
"Sorry I couldn't give you one," Brian apologized, then added, "I'm sure that the dead women would have liked to have been given a heads-up that they were about to become the serial killer's next victims."
"Point taken," Frank murmured. Brian was right. Nothing really mattered except clearing this case and getting that damn serial killer off the streets before he killed again. If bringing in some detective from a nearby town accomplished that, so be it.