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Merciless

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Overview

No Pity

Each skeleton is flawless--gleaming white and perfectly preserved, a testament to his skill. Every scrap of flesh has been removed to reveal the glistening bone beneath. And the collection is growing. . .

No Compassion

When bleached human bones are identified as belonging to a former patient of Dr. James Dixon, Detective Malcolm Kier suspects the worst. Dixon was recently acquitted of attempted murder,...

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Merciless

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Overview

No Pity

Each skeleton is flawless--gleaming white and perfectly preserved, a testament to his skill. Every scrap of flesh has been removed to reveal the glistening bone beneath. And the collection is growing. . .

No Compassion

When bleached human bones are identified as belonging to a former patient of Dr. James Dixon, Detective Malcolm Kier suspects the worst. Dixon was recently acquitted of attempted murder, thanks to defense attorney Angie Carlson. But as the body count rises, Kier is convinced that Angie is now the target of a brutal, brilliant psychopath.

No Escape

Angie is no stranger to the dark side of human nature. But nothing has prepared her for the decades-long legacy of madness and murder about to be revealed--or a killer ready to claim her as his ultimate trophy. . .

Praise for the novels of Mary Burton

"A twisted tale. . .I couldn't put it down!" --Lisa Jackson on Dying Scream

"Taut, compelling. . .delivers a page-turner." --Carla Neggers on I'm Watching You"A chilling thriller." --Beverly Barton on Dead Ringer

Prologue

The foul odor of decaying flesh roused the woman from her drugged haze, burning her nostrils and lungs like a freshly snapped ammonia capsule.

She blinked, clawed toward consciousness, searching the pitch-blackness for a landmark to anchor time or place. However, there was nothing except the stench that grew more potent with each hitching breath. She coughed and gagged. The contents of her stomach churned and rose up in her throat.

She lifted a trembling hand to her mouth but discovered the slight movement drove a cutting pain through her muscles and ribs. She froze, didn't want to move, fearing more agony, but nausea overruled everything and had her rolling to her side. Tears burned her eyes as she gripped the edge of the metal table and vomited until her throat burned.

When the worst of the vomiting had stopped, she collapsed on her back, allowing only small shallow breaths as she stared into the darkness. She closed watery eyes and gently swiped her fingertips across her lips. The odors still hovered, but the worst of the nausea had passed.

With the sickness satisfied, there was only the pain.

Only. Every square inch of her flesh pulsated. Throbbed. Burned.

Fear rose up, but she quickly wrestled it down. Now was not the time to crumble.

She blinked. Once. Twice. But the fetid darkness didn't diminish. It could have been the middle of the day or night, winter or summer. She couldn't tell.

She tried to rise again, but her insides screamed. Again, she collapsed.

Where was she? What had happened? She had to get free.

Think back.

In the last few weeks, she'd sensed that she was being watched. At first she'd chocked up the feelings to an overactive imagination. But as much as she denied the feelings, they grew stronger whenever she'd stepped out of her apartment, whenever she arrived at work, or whenever she took a Pilates class. Soon she'd thought twice before she went anywhere. She'd stopped going to the gym and her favorite nightclubs. Her world shrank to the small path between home and work.

And then the notes arrived. I love you. Together always. You are never out of my mind.

The notes had been a relief. In fact, she'd laughed when she'd received the first. Of course! Her ex had been her stalker. It had been three weeks since they'd shared a bed or seen each other, but she knew he was the one watching. He enjoyed dark, erotic games. He liked scaring her. Keeping her off balance.

Knowing he was watching, she'd worn tighter skirts and sweaters, proudly strutting and hoping she tortured him with jealousy. She met a younger man and took pleasure kissing him, knowing her ex was lurking in the shadows

. When she'd found the red velvet box with the ivory pendant nestled inside, she'd known she'd won. She'd been energized by her power over him, knowing soon he'd beg for forgiveness. Men were so easy. So weak.

"Oh, God," she whispered.

Someone had been stalking her. Watching. Planning. But it had not been her lover.

Pushing through pain and sickness, she sat up. "I'm alive. And that counts for something." She repeated the words like a mantra.

She blinked again and again, willing the blackness to fade and the stench and pain to vanish. But no lights magically flicked on. It hurt to breathe, and her thoughts moved like thick muddy waters.

Where had she been last? The theater? Her apartment? The club?

And then she remembered. She'd been at the Duke Street Café. There'd been an impromptu party. Someone had decided to celebrate another large donation to the theater. The donation ensured that the theater would be able to make its payroll and mount a grander, more expensive production in the spring.

The party had been a glittering, exciting affair, and she'd been happy. There'd been lots of champagne--so much so, that she'd lost count of how many times the waiter had refilled her glass. Of course her ex had not come. He never met up with her at public events. But another old boyfriend had hit on her, and because she'd felt so good she'd flirted back. It had been fun. Intoxicating. How had she gone from such magical moments to this cave of horrors?

She ticked through the evening's events. Wine. Music. Singing. A bite or two of food. Some guy, one of her ex-boyfriend's buddies, had offered her cocaine, but she'd turned him down, knowing the drug would keep her wired most of the night and make her look too puffy for tomorrow's photo call.

Had the actor and his friend slipped her something anyway?

Thoughts blurred in her mind. She couldn't cut through the misty mosaic to access the right memories. All she had was the party and then this dark, dank hole that smelled of death. The middle had vanished.

It didn't matter how she got here. What was important was escaping. And if she was good at anything, it was cutting her losses.

As much as she strained to see, she couldn't make out the room's details. The place was as still as a grave, and then suddenly she heard a tap turn on and water trickle. She cocked her head. "Is someone there?"

Water gurgled and bubbled, but no one answered. Struggling with a choking fear, she swung her legs over the side of the metal table. Her head spun, pain slammed her, and her stomach threatened another revolt. She hesitated and waited for her body to calm.

Gingerly, she set bare feet on a floor made of cold, wet stone. Her toes curled. She hated the slimy surface, so much like a lake bottom.

Wobbly limbs screamed under the protest of her weight as she stood. Every muscle ached. Her dress felt damp, but she had no idea of the cause.

The soothing drip, drip of water remained her only reference. It sounded as if it was off to her right. At least now she had a direction.

Get to the water, and she'd figure out her next move. She took a tentative step away from the table. Sweat dampened her body. Her dress clung to her breasts, hugging her nipples in an intimate way that left her feeling exposed. But as tempting as it was to cover up with her arms, her outstretched hands were all that kept her balanced.

With each step, the stench grew worse, and the urge to turn away increased. Still, she kept shuffling toward the water. Without warning, her knee bumped painfully into the side of what must have been a giant metal tub. Bolts of pain shot out and reverberated up and down her leg. She gasped, and the smells nearly overpowered her. Instinct had her turning from the tub. "Shit."

She didn't have the strength to retrace her steps to the table now swallowed up in shadowy obscurity. Tears filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. It would be so easy to surrender. But she'd never been a quitter. Ever.

Summoning her most imperious tone, she said, "I demand to know if anyone is there."

The shadows hovered around her, mutinously silent, still, and unmoved by her practiced sternness. Her only answer was the steady, quiet trickle of water dripping into the tub.

"I shouldn't be here," she said. "This is a terrible mistake. People are expecting me to show up at work.

They'll call the cops if I don't show."

She shoved a shaky hand through feathered curls and righted her hunched shoulders. Body and bones creaked as if she'd just passed her ninetieth birthday and not her twenty-sixth. What had happened to her? "I demand to know where I am."

This time a shadow in a corner shifted. "You demand? If I were you, I wouldn't demand. I'd beg."

The rough, clipped voice had her head jerking around. "Why should I beg?" Even as she asked the question, she saw the absurdity. She'd beg or do whatever was asked of her to get out of here. "What do I need to beg for?"

"Your life would be a good start." His voice was so silky and gentle. And for a moment, it sounded very familiar.

Had he been at the party? Where had she heard his voice before?

She leaned against the tub, fearing her legs would give way and she'd fall to her knees. "I am not afraid."

A soft chuckle snaked through the gloom, unsettling her more than if the shadow man had hurled threats.

"You should be afraid."

Tears streamed down her cheeks, but she raised her chin. "What is that smell?"

"Rotting flesh."

This time her knees did crumble. She dropped to the ground, digging long fingers into the stone. "Why?"

"Why? Why are you here? Why is there rotting flesh in the room? Why what?"

His voice sent fear knifing into her. "Why me?"

She heard the clip of his shoes on the stone floor as he moved away. For a panicked second she thought he'd leave her alone in this room of horrors. Instead, he flipped on a light.

In a blink, overhead fluorescents clicked on, flooding the room with light and forcing her to wince and shield her eyes from the burning glare. Carefully, she cracked her lids, letting the light leak into her pupils.

When her gaze finally focused on her jailer she saw he stood directly in front of her. He wore crisp jeans, a dark sweater, and rubber gloves. He looked so normal. Handsome even.

"Do I know you?"

"Doesn't matter." He clapped his hands. "Want to have a good look around before we get to work?"

The source of the smell had her turning back toward the tub. It was a vile, putrid concoction of greasy, black water. Loose fatty deposits floated on the surface. Oh shit! Was it flesh clinging to bone?

She screamed and lurched back. "What is that?"

"It's where the polishing process begins. Flesh must be stripped from the bones before I can polish them."

The lightness in his voice told her he was truly enjoying this moment. "Now, we better get moving. We've got work to do."

"Work? Where is this place?"

"Far enough from anyone that can help you."

Tremors started to move through her limbs. "Where am I?"

"It's where I do my work. My art."

"What kind of art?"

"Look behind you."

She turned and saw a workbench. Equipped with saws, carving knives, and buffing pads. It reminded her of a jeweler's workstation. Until she saw it--the polished white femur.

"That's not art!"

"You seemed to like the cameo I gave you."

Her hand rose to her throat where the brooch had rested just days ago. "That was bone?"

He winked. "I love the way the light glistens on the bones, don't you? Human bone carves like sandstone."

"You are demented."

Blue eyes sparked. "To each his own."

"Please, don't do this to me."

"No going back now."

"Of course there is. I won't tell."

And then as if she hadn't spoken, he said, "If we get started now, we'll be done by this time next week." He hooked a steady, gloved hand under her elbow and pulled her to a standing position. "Let's get you back on the table."

Her legs wobbled, and her insides ached with fire. When she glanced down, she saw that blood stained her skirt and legs. Crimson droplets covered the ground around her feet. "What have you done to me?"

He guided her toward the table. "I haven't done anything. Now up you go."

"My body hurts." She'd been invaded, assaulted.

Flickers of what had happened flashed: an attacker shoving into her with such force she'd screamed. He'd laughed, pushed harder, and then he'd leaned down and bitten her shoulder until her blood had spilled. He'd taken pictures. "You did this to me! You did this!"

"Not me. Him."

Her head spun, and her pain paralyzed her muscles.

"There are two of you?"

He ignored the question. "You know you have the most perfect bone structure. Your cheekbones are symmetrically perfect. It's as if an artist sculpted them."

"Please," she whispered.

"Mother Nature can be so haphazard and fickle, but with you she really outdid herself."

She lay back against the cold metal, her body collapsing with exhaustion. Whatever reserves she'd possessed had vanished. She was empty. "What are you going to do?"

Out from the shadows stepped another man. She knew this man. She'd run her fingers through his hair. She'd kissed his face. Gotten to know the feel of his broad shoulder blades under her hands. "You did this to me."

Smiling, he snapped another picture. "I'm finished with her. She's yours now."

"No, please," she said.

He didn't answer but simply turned. He left her alone with The Other, who grinned as he selected a knife from a table.

"Don't leave me here with him!" she screamed.

A door closed.

The Other picked up a knife. Light glinted from the steel. "I'm going to make the pain go away."

As much as the pain scorched through her body and stole her breath, it was proof of life. Without the pain, she feared, she'd be lost. "I want to leave."

Gently, he smoothed his fingertips over her forehead.

"Shh. We can't do that."

The gentle touch detonated shivers. And then he dragged the razor sharp blade over the tender flesh of her neck. The pain was sudden and searing. Warm blood drained so quickly from the wound.

She inhaled, but her lungs didn't respond. She tried to pull in a second breath. Nothing. Panic exploded as she directed her energy toward her lungs.

Breathe! Air!

A gurgling sound rose in her chest as the air already in her lungs seeped out through the wound. More blood pooled around her shoulders. She gripped the table, clinging to her final hold on life.

He kept smoothing gentle fingers over her head. "Don't fight it. Fighting only makes it worse. It will just be a few more seconds, it will all be over, and I can get you in that tub with the others."

Her vision blurred. Her lungs and flesh howled for air. Gentle fingers stroked her hair and cheeks.

"So pretty."

Delight danced in his eyes. The more she struggled to breathe the greater his enjoyment. In these last moments of her life she realized bliss for him was watching her die.

The blackness returned to the edges of her vision, and with each second her constricting pupils squeezed out more light.

She had no breath to scream.

And then, like the final curtain call in the theater, the blackness dropped.

He stared down at her. It was a miracle that she'd gotten up off the table. After what the First One had done, it was a wonder she was alive. But he'd have been furious if she'd died. The killing was his treat. His well deserved reward.

He'd not expected she'd be such a fighter. She was a beautiful woman accustomed to using her beauty to get what she wanted. She'd never tasted the harshness that life really could offer.

But she'd faced him with a haughty arrogance that he found a bit charming. It was always more fun to bring the bossy ones down a peg.

He clicked on an overhead light and studied her face. Her flesh had been torn and bruised. If anyone saw her now, they'd be appalled by the damage. He didn't like it when skin was mauled and ruined.

But thankfully, her injuries were only skin-deep. Flesh may have been torn, but her bones were sure and strong.

She would make a fine addition to his collection.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Burton's feverish sequel to Senseless sets up a series of homicides clustered around troubled attorney Angie "The Barracuda" Carlson, who is privately wracked by guilt for successfully defending sadistic Dr. James Dixon against Lulu Sweet, the prostitute he'd tortured. When heaps of polished bones begin appearing around the city, their grisly provenance relentlessly described in alternate chapters by two psychopathic killers, hunky yet domestic Det. Malcolm Kier investigates and predictably falls for Angie, gradually revealed as the killers' ultimate target. Burton's dialogue occasionally jars, and she injects rather too many red herrings; taken as a macabre unit, the two villains, one a rapist and the other a necrophile, smack of watered-down Hannibal Lecter. But convincing detective lingo and an appropriately shivery murder venue go a long way, and Malcolm is pleasingly revealed to be a toothsome contemporary romantic Galahad who can believably tame a Barracuda. (Feb.)
Library Journal
When a psychopathic killer with a penchant for freshly flayed human bones and a decade-long vendetta goes into action, he attracts the attention of Det. Malcolm Kier and, ultimately, attorney Angie Carlson—a woman who could easily end up being his final victim. VERDICT Gruesome, violent, and terrifying, this chilling thriller is an engrossing story that nicely links to Burton's Senseless and ties up a few loose ends. The heroines in these two books are sisters, and their romantic leads are partners; since the stories follow each other, readers will want to read them in order. Burton (Dying Scream) lives in Virginia.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781420110203
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 2/1/2011
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 193,606
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.70 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Read an Excerpt

MERCILESS


By Mary Burton

ZEBRA BOOKS

Copyright © 2011 Mary Burton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4201-1020-3


Chapter One

Tuesday, October 4, 9 P.M.

The flashing lights of the cop cars at the entrance to Angel Park grated Detective Malcolm Kier's nerves as he pulled his badge out from his glove box and strung it around his neck. He'd been in the mountains for the last three days, taking a much-needed vacation in the small cabin he owned. Nestled on a lake in the Shenandoah Valley, his cabin was set on thirty acres connected to the main highway by a dirt road that snaked up the mountain. The closest store was twenty miles away.

The log cabin that he'd built had small, shuttered windows that kept the bugs out in the summer and the cold at bay in the winter. There was a front porch that overlooked a lake, but it was only wide enough for two chairs. A generator fed electricity to a small refrigerator, and a propane tank supplied a crude kitchen stove with gas. Indoor plumbing was limited to cold water only in the kitchen, and until he paid down the loan on the land, a full-scale bathroom was the dream and an outhouse the reality.

Most would look at the cabin and wonder what kind of sane man would bother. But from the moment he'd laid eyes on the land, he'd felt at home. At peace.

No, the place wasn't comfortable or easy, but that's what he liked about it. He liked that not just anyone could saunter through the front door and call the place home. He liked that he didn't smell the grit of the streets; that he didn't hear the blare of sirens or the sobs of victims.

Most of the cops he worked with considered the utter silence a curse, but he loved it. No cell phone service meant that when he took a few days off from the demands of being an Alexandria homicide detective, he was truly off.

His girlfriend, Olivia, had been after him to take her to the cabin for weeks. He'd relented, hoping she'd see beyond the obstacles and grow to love the place. However, on her first and only visit, she'd been using the outhouse when a black snake had slithered past her feet. Her scream could have shattered glass. And when she burst out of the outhouse, tugging up her pants and trying not to trip, he'd had the good sense not to laugh. He'd found the snake and told her it wasn't poisonous. Olivia had recovered enough and announced in a calm voice that she didn't care. She wasn't returning. She still loved him, but this was a part of his life she'd not share.

A smile curved the edge of Malcolm's lips as he thought about her traipsing toward his car and mumbling.

Over the last few days, he'd missed his gal and had been half tempted to drive down the mountain and call from town. But the lure of calm and silence had been stronger than his need to talk, and in the end he'd never called her.

Kier had been twenty miles outside of Alexandria, Virginia when his cell had rung. The sound, which he'd not heard in seventy-two hours, had him straightening. A glance at the caller ID told him the call came from dispatch and that his vacation had officially ended.

He grabbed his holster and revolver from under the seat and got out of the car. He slipped the holster over his black flannel shirt and then shrugged on a jean jacket.

Angel Park was an eleven-acre recreation area sandwiched between Duke and King Streets. By the looks there were picnic areas, ball fields, and lots of places for kids to run and hide.

On a warm day, this place would have been swarming with kids and parents. There'd be the peal of laughter. The squeak of swing sets.

It pissed him off that a killer had breached a place reserved for kids. Places like this shouldn't allow death or evil. But he'd learned long ago that killers violated any rule that suited.

Malcolm glanced toward the yellow crime-scene tape and saw his partner, Detective Deacon Garrison. A tall man, Garrison stood a good head above most of the other officers. Malcolm's shoulders were as broad, perhaps more muscular, but at five-foot-ten, he had to tip his head back to make eye contact with his partner.

Garrison had a thousand-watt smile that he used with laser precision to disarm witnesses, cajole judges, and piss off defense attorneys. Kier had often quipped his partner could sell ice to an Eskimo with that smile.

Malcolm strode past the uniforms, nodded, and ducked under the tape. He moved beside his partner, who stared at an empty patch of dirt. "Not the kind of welcome back I'd hoped for."

A humorless smile tipped the edge of Garrison's lips. "You have a nice vacation?"

"Yeah. The woods always bring me back to life."

Garrison shook his head as he slid a hand into his pocket. "If your place is only half as bad as you've said, I don't know how it could. Seems to me the primitive setup would do the opposite."

Malcolm shrugged. "Hey, if you ever want me to suffer, lock me in that airplane hangar of yours and make me work on that pile of junk you call an airplane."

Garrison's smile warmed a fraction. "It is a classic '38 Beechcraft. Beyond the rust is great beauty."

"Whatever you say, boss." Malcolm and his partner were opposites in so many ways. When faced with a pile of shit, Garrison could smile and appear as if nothing bothered him at all. However, Malcolm, a self-described powder keg, blew up fast and wore his anger on his sleeve.

Malcolm nodded his head toward an area lit up with floodlights and roped off with yellow crime-scene tape. No doubt they'd be hearing from the park's residential neighbors complaining about the light. "Body's over there?"

"Wait until you see this." Displeasure deepened the lines on Garrison's face as they strode toward the shelter closest to the woods.

Malcolm braced, wondering what horror waited.

In the middle of a picnic table sat a pile of bones stacked neatly in a square. Resting in the center of the bone square was the skull, which stared sightlessly at him.

The bones weren't bleached white, as if they had been lying in the sun, nor were they dark and molded as if long buried under layers of dirt. Light beige, they were oddly clean, stripped completely of flesh.

"The killer took his time arranging the bones."

Garrison nodded his head. "Yes."

"Time that would have exposed him to potential witnesses." Malcolm rested his hands on his hips and leaned in for a closer view. "He's meticulous. Detail oriented. Likes order in his life. Takes pride in his work."

"Maybe. Whoever did this wanted to get someone's attention."

Malcolm tried to imagine the killer arranging the bones and then standing back for a moment to admire his handiwork. The homicide detective had a talent for slipping into the skins of the men he tracked. The trait made him a good cop and at times a bad boyfriend, son, or brother. "Arranging the bones generates fear and creates one hell of a puzzle for the cops."

"Plausible."

"The average killer does not do this."

"No, he does not." Garrison shoved out a sigh. They'd had a very extraordinary killer stalk Alexandria last year. Dubbed the Sorority House Killer by the press, the killer had not only displayed the victims, but had set a fire at the first murder scene to draw attention. However, the Sorority House Killer had been convicted of murder and now resided on death row.

"Where is forensics?" Malcolm searched the half dozen cop cars. Normally the forensics unit beat the detectives to the crime scene.

"They're on the way. They've been overwhelmed by the string of robberies. They're running in circles right now."

"Who found the bones?"

"Three boys were staring and pointing fingers when an off-duty cop spotted them. He'd just gotten off his shift and was walking his dog. When he called out to them, they bolted. However, the cop's dog is retired from our K-9 unit."

Malcolm grinned. "They didn't get far."

"No."

"Where are they?"

"Cooling their heels by the squad cars," Garrison said.

Malcolm saw three teen boys leaning against a marked car. Arms folded over their chests, they did their best to look tough despite downcast gazes messaging worry. Low-slung jeans, white T-shirts, and matching leather jackets with yellow bandanas tied to their right forearms suggested a gang.

"This could be gang related," Garrison said. "The placement of the bones could be some kind of initiation. Leaving bones would send a clear message."

Malcolm studied the boys. "They don't look like the types who have the know-how or patience to stack bones."

"People never stop surprising me."

Malcolm glanced toward the yellow crime-scene tape and spotted a slim man, slightly balding and wearing glasses that reflected the floodlight's glare. Paulie Sommers. Forensic technician. Efficient. Brusque to the point of rudeness.

"What do we have?" Paulie ducked under the tape and approached.

Malcolm eased out of Paulie's way. He liked razzing the guy. "Not as quick on the draw as you used to be."

"Tell the boys in robbery to catch the son of a bitch who's breaking into every jewelry store in town. Once they do that I can have time for better crimes like your murders." Sarcasm dripped from the words.

"I'll be sure to send a memo."

"Do that."

Most didn't understand that cops could be so casual in the face of death. But it was that very distance mingled with dark humor that kept the horrors they witnessed at bay. "We've got bones stacked. Neatly arranged. I need anything you can find around the area that might help."

Paulie squinted. "There should be footprints. The ground is soft from yesterday's rain." He glanced at the crowd around the scene's perimeter. "But God only knows how many of them traipsed around here and contaminated the area."

"That's why you were called, my friend," Garrison said. "You are the miracle worker."

"Don't blow smoke up my ass." Paulie raised his digital camera and snapped photos of the area. "Now get out of my crime scene."

"Charming as always," Malcolm said.

"Bite me."

Garrison laughed. "So what's got you more pissed off than usual, Paulie?"

"It's fucking freezing out here. And because of those damn robberies and because Lorraine Marcus is still on maternity leave, I had to leave a hot dinner, which is now likely cold."

Malcolm laid his palm over his heart. "Stop, you're going to make me cry."

Paulie muttered something under his breath as Malcolm stepped aside to let the man shoot pictures of the bone collection.

Rubbing the back of his neck, Malcolm wished now he'd grabbed an energy bar from the trunk of his car. It had been about three hours since he'd eaten, and it was going to be a long night.

As Paulie continued to snap pictures, Malcolm pulled his notebook from his back pocket and flipped it open. Paulie would document the scene in great detail, but Malcolm always kept his own maps of a crime scene. And he took notes constantly, knowing one day a detail could come back to bite him when some courtroom defense attorney was chewing on his ass. "I'm going to talk to the cop first so he can get out of here. The kids can wait."

"Take your time," Garrison said. "It'll be a while before Paulie is finished doing his thing."

Malcolm pushed through the uniforms and found the cop and his dog, a German shepherd, sitting on the tailgate of a red truck. The cop was dressed in jeans and a worn hunting jacket. He had short hair and a thick mustache. He smoked a cigarette. The dog lay in the bed of the truck on a blanket, sleeping, as if crime scenes held no interest.

When the off-duty cop saw Malcolm coming he took one last pull on the butt, and then ground it into the tailgate of his truck. "So you got questions?"

Malcolm extended his hand. "More than I can count. I'm Malcolm Kier."

He shook his hand. "From Richmond."

"Nice to see I'm noticed."

"It's a big small town in Alexandria. I'm Grant McCabe. I work narcotics."

"Hell of a way to end an evening."

"Tell me about it." The cop's shoulders slumped as if carrying the heavy weight of fatigue. "Shoot."

"Give me the basics."

"Arrived about seven p.m. I'd been on the job since seven a.m. but couldn't break away until after six. Had to babysit a teen drug addict at the emergency room. Picked her up near a crack house I had staked out. Anyway, got home, changed fast, and took Striker out for a run. He's a good guy, and I can take him off the lead most nights. Tonight, he paused just as we entered the park: then he bolted past the play equipment. Figured it was a squirrel. Since he's old and retired, there's something about October that makes Striker a little nuts. It was the kids hovering around the shelter."

"Were they looking at the table or arranging bones on the table?"

"Looking. Their arms were folded over their chests. They sounded excited. Agitated. Scared even."

That could or could not mean something. Killers often got scared when the reality of their act settled. "Keep going."

"So, I call out and ask what's what. They don't answer but take off. I go bolting after them, cussing like a sailor. Striker raced past me. He stopped them. When I catch up, the kids are about to piss in their pants. I tell Striker to heel. The old dog looked mighty proud of himself. Long story short I show them my badge and drag them back to the shelter. Striker starts barking like a crazy dog."

The shepherd glanced up at McCabe, his head cocked. McCabe scratched him between the ears. "So, I shine my flashlight on the table. That's when I saw your victim."

His victim. In less than a half hour he'd gone from vacation to taking charge of a dead body. "You called it in."

"Right away."

"See anything?"

"Your partner already ran through the checklist. No, I didn't see anything. No cars in the lot. No one hanging around the woods. No creepy sounds or smells. It was business as usual until Striker got a whiff of the bones."

"Thanks, McCabe." He wrote down the officer's contact information. "Why don't you take off? If I need you, I know where to find you."

McCabe rose gingerly to his feet as if his body ached. "Swear to God, my bones are telling me it's going to be an early winter."

"Man, you're too young to be creaking."

McCabe laughed. "Rugby in high school and in college. Beat the piss out of me."

Striker jumped down from the bed and trotted to the driver's side of the truck.

"See you around, Kier."

"Sure thing, McCabe."

While Malcolm waited for Sommers to finish up his work at the scene, he moved to the trunk of his car and got a few energy bars. They could hardly be considered cuisine, but they'd stave off the hunger until he could get a real meal.

It was past one in the morning when Sommers declared that the bones could be removed from the table and transferred to a bag. He'd photographed the entire area, noted the location of the bones, and taken impressions of shoe imprints in the dirt.

Paulie moved toward them, his thin shoulders stooped. "I called the medical examiner and ran this one past her. She should be here any minute."

Malcolm raised a brow. The medical examiner, Dr. Amanda Henson, rarely came to crime scenes. It didn't make sense for her to visit each and every murder scene when she had so much to tackle in the autopsy room.

But this case had to rank high on her odd-o-meter, and she would be curious. And frankly he didn't mind the arrival of the big guns because he never said no to help on a murder investigation.

Dr. Henson's black SUV pulled up behind the police cars. She slid out from behind the driver's seat. Her red hair was tucked up under a Nationals ball cap, and she wore a large peacoat over jeans. Worn sneakers covered her feet.

She moved quickly, efficiently with a burst of energy that didn't seem right at this time of night. She ducked under the yellow crime-scene tape and held out her hand to Garrison, Malcolm, and Paulie. Her handshake was firm and quick. Her hands were small, delicate even, and her nails neatly trimmed. Malcolm had seen those nimble fingers play guitar at the lab's Christmas party last year and grip bolt cutters as she snapped rib cages apart during autopsies.

"Gentlemen. Paulie tells me you have an unusual case here." She never raised her voice, but that didn't diminish the authority.

"All we got right now are bones," Malcolm said.

"Have a look at the pictures." Paulie pulled the camera strap from around his neck and switched his digital camera to VIEW.

She squinted, clicked through several images, and then handed the camera back to Paulie. "Bones in the body bag now?"

(Continues...)



Excerpted from MERCILESS by Mary Burton Copyright © 2011 by Mary Burton. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. 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.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 25, 2011

    A sure-fire hit!

    If it's not bad enough finding a dead body, imagine how awful it would be to find a pile of bones, completely stripped of all skin, flesh and muscle, then bleached and piled neatly on a picnic table? A pair of sick and twisted killers is making their presence known in Alexandria. One of them hunts down a victim, has his perverted way with them, then leaves them for the Other to perform the ultimate kill, finishing with a ritual so sick it will leave even the veteran thriller-reader sick to their stomach. This time the victim is an actress who had been missing for days, who just happens to have a six-degrees-of-separation connection to attorney Angie Carlson. Just back from a weekend away, Detective Malcolm Kier and his partner, Deacon Garrison are assigned to hunt down this deranged killer.


    Angie Carlson has made a name for herself as a no-nonsense, tough as nails defense attorney. Determined to do whatever it takes to get her client off, even if it means making enemies with the police. Angie got plastic surgeon, Dr. Dillon Dixon off on charges of raping a prostitute (see Senseless), having ripped the victim to shreds on the witness stand, after proving she lied about her drug use. As a favor to her sister Eva, the same prostitute now wants Angie to help her get her child back, swearing she is clean and no longer hooking. But when the client doesn't show up for her court appearance, something doesn't sit right with Angie. After more bones are found, and they are believed to be that of Angie's client, it doesn't take long for the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place. Adding in a slew of other prostitute murders and a 30-year-old murder, it becomes quite clear that there are three common denominators - Angie, Dr. Dillon Dixon, and once again, the Cross Family. Could Angie have helped get a madman back on the street to kill again? Or is Dr. Dixon just another pawn in this killer's sick game? Malcolm, fighting his attraction to Angie because of his involvement with another woman, knows he must do whatever it takes to protect Angie from this obviously incredibly bright killer before he takes her as his final prize. The question is, can he save her in time?

    Merciless is the intense, on-the-edge-of-your-seat follow-up to Senseless. It can be read as a stand-alone book, as there are references to the previous book, but I think you will get more out of the story and the characters by reading Senseless first. I enjoyed how Ms. Burton switched viewpoints between Angie, Malcolm, and the killers. We get to see the same scenes from the eyes of the cop looking to play protector, the possible victim trying to save herself, and the devious minds of two sick, demented killers. It's nice to see that Malcolm and Angie don't rush into their relationship. They are each given the time they need to deal with issues in their lives that, when resolved, will make their explosive union even stronger. Merciless is a taut, action-packed thriller that will hook you in from word one and won't let you go until the final, mind-numbing, truly unbelievable, out-of-left-field ending.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Mary Burton provides another taut police procedural with a romantic subplot enhancing the tension

    He diligently selects them; he cleverly kidnaps them; he hedonistically tortures and rapes them; but he leaves it to the Other to make the final kill. A group of boys in Angel Park find her bones nearly arranged on a table. Detectives Malcolm Kier and Deacon Garrison lead the official investigation. After scrutinizing missing person's reports, the cops identify the victim as actress Sierra Day, who was a client of defense attorney Angie Carlson and a patient of plastic surgeon Dr. Dillon Dixon who the lawyer recently got the doctor acquitted of a charge of assault and torture of a hooker.

    A second victim appears; she was the prostitute who testified against Dixon in court. The two deceased are connected by Angie, who Kier believes is the next target of the killer who seems to be cleansing those women who were in court. However, neither Kier nor his partner knows there are two predators involved; both want Angie dead.

    Known for her exciting suspense thrillers (see Senseless starring Garrison), Mary Burton provides another taut police procedural with a romantic subplot enhancing the tension. Perspective changes between Kier, Carlson, and the two culprits. The killers' viewpoints provide insight into deranged minds as this dark story focuses on people who know right from wrong intellectually but are so amoral they could not care less about others; reminiscent of Compulsion and Murder By Numbers.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2012

    ?

    Between harriet klausner and the other rude plot revealing posters here, this is another book i will not buy. Why buy the book when tgey have revealed every detail. Come on bn,you are lising sales to these ppl.

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  • Posted November 14, 2012

    Just started reading this author - love her books - Can't wait f

    Just started reading this author - love her books - Can't wait for the next one!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2012

    Merciless

    Very good reading

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  • Posted November 3, 2011

    Read them all

    Read all this authors books you mystery bufffs will love them

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  • Posted April 26, 2011

    good read

    enjoyed just as much as Senseless

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  • Posted February 1, 2011

    Fantastic Read

    The saying "Never make a deal with a scorpion, it will sting you every time" proves to be very true for Angie Carlson. "First One" and "Other" target Angie for their diabolical scheme. They are merciless--a terrifying pair.

    Angie, called the barracuda by some because of her tactics as a defense lawyer, pulls out all the stops to get her clients cleared of all charges. The idealism of her youth has faded but her dedication to her clients holds strong. However, she comes to question her wisdom in getting Dr. James Dixon set free as a new series of crimes start.

    After Detectives Malcolm Kier and Deacon Garrison rescue her half-sister Eva from a tortuous death, Angie is more inclined to help them when the bones of young women start showing up for all to see. When one of the victims turns out to be one of her clients, Angie becomes totally involved in the search for the criminals.

    Malcolm Kier is more cynical and brusque than his partner and makes no bones about hating Angie Carlson for getting Dr. Dixon set free. Some of the names he calls her are harsh but she 'gives as good as she gets'. In time, Kiser's hate morphs into an entirely different emotion that subtly weaves its way into their shaky-truce relationship. They like to spar, talk, and make love, but a permanent relationship seems impossible. Their strong attraction to each other has to duck, dodge, and sometimes hide as the bone-chilling crimes create a dangerous, terrifying environment with suspects galore.

    Many of the characters in Senseless along with additional characters from Angie and Eva's past ratchet up the terror, suspense, and horrifying happenings as every aspect of law enforcement in Alexandria, Virginia works around the clock to find who is killing young women and cleaning their bones to pristine condition then displaying them in a prominent place.

    Other characters like baby David and his grandmother Vivian Sweet add a new dimension to this complex story. They give Angie a different perspective on life.

    Mary Burton's writing style with its realism, strong sense of place, and diverse characters makes Merciless throb with life. The twists, turns, surprises, horrors, and vast range of emotions make this story breath-taking, heart-pounding, super reading.

    Originally posted at The Long and Short of It Romance Reviews

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted February 20, 2011

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