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It was nearly 9:00 a.m. on a muggy August morning and Detective Valerie Jonas of the County Sheriff's Department wasn't in a good mood. She'd just received a cell phone call from her watch commander.
Another body had turned up less than a half hour ago, yet here she was at the Albuquerque Sunport. The chartered flight from Shiprock delivering the special investigator from the Navajo Police had been delayed—naturally.
Right now she should have been at the crime scene, working, not cooling her heels. It was true that the first murder, and the second from what she'd been told, held the stamp of tribal magic. Yet she'd need to focus on forensic evidence, not superstition, to solve the crimes.
Valerie adjusted her badge, making sure it showed as clearly as the pancake holster at her belt. The procedures for an officer at this airport were clear. Although none of them could fly armed without filling out a boatload of paperwork, they were able to carry a weapon throughout the airport terminal and facilities.
On her way to the gate—a long walk to the small local carrier's location—Valerie answered two more calls from the Sheriff's Office. The days of handheld radios were gone, and most detectives now lived with cell phones attached to their ears.
At the far west end of the terminal, Valerie noticed a Pueblo Indian man, small of stature but with ample girth, looking around with apprehension as he accompanied another man into a hallway off the main corridor.
She slowed her step, her instinct for trouble working overtime. As she passed the small corridor lined with snack machines, she glanced down it. The big, no-neck blond in a knit shirt and dark blue blazerwas standing nose to nose with the Pueblo man, pushing him against the wall. The muscular Anglo also had something in his hand—a weapon maybe. Unfortunately, from her vantage point, she couldn't swear he wasn't holding a cell phone.
She moved to the side of the crowd hurrying past her, stopped and watched out of the corner of her eye. As she looked on, the Pueblo man reached into his pocket, brought out his wallet and handed it over to no-neck.
Her body tensed as she realized what was going down. The goon was probably armed with a pointed weapon of some sort, perhaps something made of hard plastic that could pass through the electronic screeners.
As the robber glanced around quickly, Valerie turned her body so that her service weapon wouldn't show and avoided eye contact. If the robber identified her as law enforcement, he might panic and turn his victim into a hostage.
Somehow, she had to get closer. Then she'd make her move. Reaching into her pants pocket, she brought out a handful of coins. Then, jiggling the loose change in her hand, she drifted toward the vending machines as if contemplating a snack.
She was easing down the corridor when a tall, good-looking Navajo man brushed past her.
"Excuse me, ma'am," he said, giving her a cocky half grin that was so intensely masculine, it practically took her breath away. His gaze still on her, he collided hard with no-neck, knocking him to one side.
Catching a glimpse of the semi-auto in no-neck's hand, Valerie instantly reached for her weapon but, in a heartbeat, the good-natured Navajo man underwent a transformation.
Positioned just right, and with no wasted motion, he moved in like a Special Forces pro. Brushing away no-neck's pistol with his left hand, he stepped up and decked the robber with a bone-jarring punch to the jaw. To Valerie's surprise, the pistol fell to the tile floor with a rattle instead of a thud.
"The gun's a toy, Officer. Check out the vic." The Navajo man flipped the groggy thief onto his belly, then produced a set of handcuffs from beneath his jacket and quickly secured his prisoner.
Valerie called for backup as she went to help the victim, who'd just taken a puff from his asthma inhaler. Verifying that he was all right, she went to join the Navajo man whom she now guessed was either undercover security or a police officer.
As she drew closer to him, she got her first clear look at the Navajo fighter. Her earlier impression had been incomplete. There was far more to him than just a charming smile. His eyes were a deep brown and burned with fire and determination. Broad shouldered and strong, but not muscle-bound like the blond hugging the ceramic tile, he had the kind of masculinity that reached out to a woman with a whisper, not a shout.
Glancing up at her, he met her gaze and there Valerie saw an inner stillness, a quiet confidence that added a whole new dimension to the strength and ability she'd already seen him display.
With effort, Valerie brought her thoughts back to the business at hand. Fantasies were for vacation and off-duty hours. "You knew the perp's gun wasn't real. That's why you weren't concerned about taking direct action. But how did you know that?"
"No oil or gunpowder scent," he answered.
She blinked. In a terminal filled with fast food, perfumes and aftershaves, it would have taken a bloodhound to pick out oil or gunpowder residue. He had to be kidding.
"Do you have an evidence bag?" he asked, going over to where the weapon lay.
"Yeah, I've got several—just not handy," she said, then, hoping she was right and this was her new partner, added, "I'm Valerie Jonas of the Sheriff's Department. By any chance are you Detective Luca Nakai of the Tribal Police?"
"That's me," he answered. Though the terminal was loud and people were starting to gather, his low, sexy voice carried clearly.
Pen in hand, he bent down and retrieved the realistic-looking toy by the trigger guard. "This guy might need an EMT to check him out. He went down pretty hard."
The robber moaned and, suddenly realizing he'd been cuffed, kicked out at Valerie.
She tried to dodge, but stumbled from the glancing blow to her calf and fell against Luca. He was built solid and the hard expanse of his chest was like iron and steel, but that warmth
Luca steadied her, then moving away, caught no-neck scrambling to his feet and swept his legs out from under him with a well-placed boot.
The handcuffed man fell to a sitting position, then realizing he was outmatched said, "No more, I'll stay still," and scooted to put his back to the wall.
Two armed airport security officers joined them seconds later. Valerie turned the prisoner over to them, gave a quick rundown of the events then pointed out the initial victim, who'd kept his distance.
"We're needed at a crime scene right now, guys, but here's where you can reach me," Valerie said, giving the closest man her card. Luca handed the toy gun to one of the officers.
A short time later, Luca walked downstairs with Valerie, heading to the terminal's east end where the luggage carousels were located. On the way, he watched her as she used her cell phone to report the incident to a Captain Harris.
After a few minutes, the attractive detective closed up the cell phone and glanced at him. "Sorry about that. Right after I arrived at the Sunport to pick you up we got a call. Another body has been found apparently with the same M.O. as the first one. Deputies are on the scene now."
He didn't comment, waiting for her to fill in the rest when she was ready. Detective Jonas—Valerie—was beautiful electric almost. Light auburn hair fell over her shoulders and her gray-green eyes sparkled with intelligence and purpose. He noted that there was no ring on her finger, nor was there the impression of one that had been recently removed.
As they walked down the terminal she answered two more calls. From the way she focused and shot questions at whoever was on the other end, he suspected he'd been paired with a woman on a mission, and maybe with something to prove. Not his type, despite her obvious intelligence and physical appeal.
Yet as he gazed at her, he was aware of an unexpected stirring in his blood, and recognized the familiar tug in his gut. He'd felt neither in a very long time, not since
Valerie answered one more call, speaking quickly to whoever was on the other end.
With the rush of people, conversations going on all around him and the thud of luggage as it slid off the conveyer belts on the carousels they passed, the quiet of the reservation seemed like a distant memory. His new partner's never-ending conversations grated on him as well. She was definitely not his type. Not that it mattered. He was here to do a job then return home—hopefully in one piece.
They stopped by the last luggage carousel, which had already stopped rotating. Only eight passengers had come in on the small craft so finding the right piece was easy.
Luca slid his hand around the handle of the canvas duffel bag he'd brought and, as he lifted it off the turntable, noticed the way she was looking at him. Awareness clawed at him. Cursing chemistry and hormones, a bad combination that could only lead to trouble, he clamped a lid on distractions.
"Did I forget to say thanks?" she asked, interrupting his thoughts. "You came up with some pretty good moves back there."
"Thanks," he answered simply, then followed her up the stairs and out of the terminal.
Soon they were on a wide sidewalk, a north-facing loading
and unloading zone. He turned to the west and followed, coming up beside her.
"Not exactly the talkative type, are ya?" she asked after a brief silence. "Well, that's okay. I'll do enough for both of us, Partner."
She laughed. "I wouldn't want you to get bored," Valerie said as she led the way past the shuttle vans. "Not that there's much of a chance of that, not on this case," she added, growing somber as she got back to the business at hand. "The body found this morning was in the city, not county, but since the M.O. matches, it's my case, too. The county crime scene unit is already there. City detectives will no doubt be there as well, standing by and looking over my shoulder every step of the way."
"Do you happen to have the full report detailing the first crime scene?"
She nodded. "It's on the seat of the car. You can study it on our way to the number two site."
He didn't respond.
"Did you hear me?" she added.
"Then grunt or something, will ya?"
He paused, then added by way of an explanation, "Conversation There's more of a demand for it out here in the city."
They soon reached a white unmarked sedan with local government license plates. While she unlocked the door, he noted the folder on the passenger's seat.
"How much do you know about the last killing?" she asked as they both got in.
"I was briefed by my captain. I know that the murder suggested a Native American connection—Navajo, to be specific."
"Yeah. The cause of death was the result of stab wounds from a large knife. What made it—shall we say unusual?—was that the victim was also stabbed with a blade shaped from a human thighbone. The M.E. was able to narrow that down via fragments recovered from the wounds. Pieces broke off when
the bone blade hit the victim's ribs. There was a lot of weird symbolism at the scene, too. You can see that in the photos."
He nodded, studying the folder's contents.
"My first thought was that it was some sort of Satanic or Goth ritual, but one of our officers insisted that it was connected to Navajo witchcraft. He said that the powder we found scattered on the body, what he called corpse poison, was a trademark of skinwalkers. The M.E. confirmed later that it contained human tissue. We also found coyote hairs on the victim's skin and clothing. Locks of her hair had been cut off, probably with the murder weapon. One last thing—interesting, not to mention weird—the tips of both index fingers, actually the entire joints, were cut from the body. They weren't at the scene, so the perp must have taken them with him."
He nodded, understanding more than he was willing to talk about yet. "Was vic number two mutilated in the same way?"
Valerie nodded. "That's what I was told, but we'll be able to see for ourselves soon enough."
As he studied the crime-scene photos, Luca recognized the symbol of the Brotherhood of Warriors that had been made from ashes and left next to the body.
"If the perp's intent had been to slow down identification of the victim, he would have taken all the fingertips," she said. "So the whole thing is just plain weird."
"Was either victim Navajo or part Navajo?"
"The first one's name is Ernestine Ramirez and she's Hispanic. The latest victim is a twenty-year-old woman named Lea Begay."
"The most recent victim has a Navajo name," he said. "But from now on, vic one and two will suffice."
Valerie winced. "Sorry. I was told not to use the names of the victims around you, but I forgot. It has something to do with the evil side of a person that sticks around 'cause they can't enter Heaven, right?"
"Not quite right, but you've got the idea," he answered.
"What else struck you about the first scene? Does anything in particular stay in your mind?"
"There was a small arrow with a bead at the end. It had been shot or jabbed into the victim. It was less than six inches long, doll-sized. I asked, but was told you'd explain that part."
"Arrows like those are shot from a small ceremonial bow made from a human shinbone," he answered.
"Here's something else I'd like to know," she said after a thoughtful pause. "Why were you, in particular, sent to help us with this case?"
"I'm a police detective, and more important, the son of a respected medicine man." Luca lowered his voice before uttering the next phrase. "Skinwalkers are my father's natural enemies—and mine."
"Are you a medicine man, too?" Valerie asked in a whisper, not really understanding his need for secrecy but mirroring his tone nevertheless.
He shook his head. "I trained for it but in the end I chose police work."
"The job gets in your blood, doesn't it?" Her voice was still soft. "It starts as something you do and ends up being part of everything you are."
Her observation said a great deal about her. Valerie was turning out to be an interestingly complex woman as well as beautiful.
"To catch a killer I need to put myself in his head—to see things as he does," she continued. "I hope you can help me do that. I need to start thinking like a skinwalker."
He touched the special medicine pouch he wore looped through his belt. "Don't use that word so freely," he said at last.
"Because I might call evil to us, like when I use the names of the victims?"
Posted February 22, 2013
Posted July 2, 2009
Albuquerque Police Detective Valerie Jonas knows she needs special help with her current serial killer investigation in which the culprit apparently uses Navajo magic though Valerie is a doubting Thomasina. Tribal Police detective Luca Nakai comes to the big city to assist Valerie with her inquiry as the son of a medicine man, he understands Navajo magic intimately.
Luca once he gets past his initial first sight attraction realizes they are dealing with a deadly skinwalker who has killed two and targeted his next victim. Valerie is even more stunned by her reaction to the tribal cop as she never mixes sex with her work, but considers making an exception as she wants him. They begin to fall in love though they disagree over magic, but each agrees that the culprit whether he is a mage or not needs to be stopped before they examine deeply their feelings.
This is a terrific Native American urban romantic police procedural fantasy. The opposites attract story line has been used a lot, but Aimee Thurlo refreshes the plot with a deep understanding of Navajo magic that fits so well in the Albuquerque setting. Fans of the author will not regret popular Ella Clah taking a much deserved breather as Luca and Valerie fill the void quite nicely.
Posted December 8, 2009
No text was provided for this review.