Read an Excerpt
By Carla Cassidy
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHe didn't want to be here, but his choices had been limited. Take a desk job, get out of town and into the field or look for a new job. The first and third options were unthinkable so Nick Mead had taken the second option.
He now slowed his speed and turned down the radio playing oldies as he realized he had to be approaching the small Podunk town where he would head up a task force looking for a killer.
Tightening his hands on the steering wheel, he thought of another killer, a madman who had destroyed his life and tormented him for the past three years.
He called himself Murphy, but most of the men in the bureau called him NOP ... an acronym that stood for Nick's Own Psycho.
After three years of hunting, hating and hungering for revenge, Nick, at times, felt as psycho as the man he sought.
He knew that was one of the reasons his supervisor had sent him out into the middle of nowhere. The big guys in the bureau thought Nick was on the edge, obsessed with a single case and of course, they were right on both counts.
He slowed down even more as he approached a sign that welcomed him to Cherokee Corners, Oklahoma. Officially he and his two-man team weren't expected until the next day, but Nick had decided to arrive early and get a feel for the town and its people.
The main area of town was built on a charming center square. The mayor's office and the post office were in the center, surrounded by a lush parklike setting. It took him only moments to recognize the town as a diverse mix of Native Americans and Caucasians.
Although Nick had spent the last three and a half years working out of the Tulsa office, he knew very little about Native Americans and their culture. Before Tulsa he'd worked for seven years in Chicago.
He was well versed in Latino tradition, Italian culture and Irish pride, but he knew next to nothing about Indian life.
Too big to be a town, too small to be called a city, Cherokee Corners seemed to exist somewhere in between. The previous chief of police, Thomas James, had been a man of vision. Nick knew he'd implemented a small crime lab and had several crime scene investigators working for the department.
Nick also knew there were three places in a town to learn the pulse of the people who lived there - the local watering hole, the barbershop and the café or diner.
He didn't want a drink, didn't need a haircut, but his stomach had been growling enough to let him know it was lunchtime.
There were three cafés at various places around the center square. He chose the one that looked the busiest.
A cacophony of sounds and scents greeted him as he walked through the door. The overriding odor was one of frying hamburgers and onions, but beneath that pungent scent was the faint fragrance of cooked apples and baking bread.
The place was packed. Clinking silverware, chatter and laughter and a cook calling "order up" all created the chorus that sang of a successful establishment.
A big older woman with blond hair in a sort of beehive concoction greeted him from behind the cash register. "Tables and booths are all full, handsome, but if you don't mind being a counter fly there's a stool open at the end."
He'd noticed that the name of the place was Ruby's Café 'and had a feeling the woman was none other than Ruby herself. "Thanks," he said and smiled. "I guess being a counter fly is better than being a barfly."
She grinned, her blue-shadowed eyes sparkling in amusement. "Ah, not only are you handsome as sin, but you have a sense of humor, too. If I were two decades younger I'd have you for lunch."
He winked at her. "If I were two decades older ... I'd let you."
She was still laughing as he slid onto the empty stool at the end of the counter. He opened his menu, quickly made his selection, then leaned back in the stool and tuned into the bits and pieces of conversations that floated in the air around him.
A table of farmer types were complaining about the weather and predicting a long rough winter. Two women at another nearby table were discussing the trauma of potty training, and the two men closest to him at the counter were discussing the latest nosedive on Wall Street.
The atmosphere in Ruby's was one of peaceful coexistence, a comfortableness among the patrons and a sense of community as people departed and arrived and waves and smiles were exchanged.
"Sorry you had to wait," a young waitress said as she stopped before him, order pad at the ready.
"No problem. Just a burger and fries," Nick said.
"And a glass of milk."
By the time his order had arrived, some of the lunch crowd had dispersed and only Nick and two other men remained at the counter.
Nick ate quickly then lingered over a cup of coffee and a piece of apple pie.
"How's that pie?" The big-haired blonde moved from behind the cash register to stand on the opposite side of the counter in front of Nick.
"Best I've ever had," he replied truthfully.
"Just passing through or sticking around?" she asked with open curiosity. "By the way, I'm Ruby, owner of this fine establishment." She stuck out a meaty hand with long, scarlet fingernails.
"Nick Mead. Nice to meet you and I think I'm sticking around for a while."
"Good. This town could use a little more eye candy when it comes to the male population."
"Why, I do believe you're flirting with me, Ms. Ruby."
Excerpted from Manhunt by Carla Cassidy Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.