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Special Agent Jenna Taylor looked up the quiet residential street, then down the other way. Seeing nobody around, she carefully pulled aside the crime scene tape that was stretched across the front door of the small ranch house.
It was wrong, she knew what she was doing was wrong, but she didn't intend to touch anything, wouldn't do anything to compromise the crime scene.
She was surprised to find the door unlocked. She frowned, marveling at the sloppy work of whoever was in charge.
The faint smell of death lingered in the foyer even though she knew the body of the victim had been removed forty-eight hours earlier.
The first thing she saw as she stepped into the foyer was the horrendous painting of a rustic old red barn with a pond in front of it.
The sight of it threatened to unravel the tight control she'd kept on her emotions since she'd heard about the murder.
She'd painted the picture years ago in the very first art class she'd taken. It held all the flaws of an amateur; the water was too blue, the trees a single shade of green. Jenna had been going to trash it, but Miranda had insisted she loved it and wanted to keep it.
Over the years it had become a running joke between them. No matter where Miranda moved, no matter what her circumstances, the painting was always the one thing constant in her life.
Jenna steeled herself as she stepped into the living room. The essence of Miranda filled the room, from the colorful throw pillows on the red sofa to the plethora of flourishing plants in front of the windows.
Miranda had loved color and life. She made friends easily and trusted in the goodness of people. She and Jenna had been polar opposites, and yet they had been as close as blood sisters.
Jenna had been told very little about the crime, only that Miranda had been murdered and her body had been found in the bedroom. Jenna hadn't spoken to any of the local officials yet. She'd wanted to come here first, see the scene without anyone tainting her first impressions, without anyone giving her theories about the killer. It was how she worked best—completely alone.
She'd been surprised that there hadn't been a patrol car out front, a guard to keep looky-loos away. That, coupled with the unlocked front door made her slightly ill. The local law in this po-dunk Texas town probably didn't know the first thing about conducting a murder investigation.
It didn't matter. Jenna would see to it that the guilty party was brought to justice. That was her job and she was damn good at what she did.
As she moved down the hallway toward the master bedroom, she reached for the cool emotional detachment that had served her well all of her life. She didn't think about the murdered woman being Miranda.
It was a victim, nothing more. It was the only way she could do her job effectively.
Still her stomach clenched as she reached the door to the master bedroom. It was closed and for a moment she stood before it and drew a couple of deep, slow breaths.
The doorknob was cool beneath her fingers as she turned it and pushed open the door. Evening shadows were already filling the room and although she would have liked to turn on the light, she fought the impulse, not wanting to draw attention to her presence here.
The king-size bed stood before her. It had been stripped of sheets and blankets and only an ugly rust-colored stain remained in the center of the mattress.
This was where Miranda had died. She'd come to this town to begin to build a new life and instead had been killed in her bed.
As she stared at it, the unmistakable click of a gun sounded from somewhere behind her.
She whirled around and reached for her weapon, but stopped as she saw him. He stood in the shadows by the closet, a tall, dark-haired man with broad shoulders and a gun leveled at her chest.
It was a known fact that often a murderer will revisit the scene of his crime and this man with hair as dark as midnight and hard, cold eyes the color of the gun he held in his hand, looked like he could put a bullet through her heart, then go enjoy a nice cold beer with his buddies.
"Who the hell are you?" she demanded, as if she were in a position to demand anything.
"I think that's my line." His voice was sexy deep and although his tone was relatively light, the sharp gaze of his eyes belied the easy tone.
"Special Agent Taylor, FBI," she replied.
"Sheriff Matt Buchannan, and nobody called the FBI, so what in the hell are you doing here on my crime scene?"
"I'd feel a lot better about discussing all this if you didn't have that gun pointed at me." She didn't know if he was the sheriff or the killer, but she definitely wished he'd point his gun in another direction.
"And I'd feel a lot better if you'd show me some identification and answer my questions," he replied, not lowering the gun.
Carefully Jenna reached into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out her identification wallet with two fingers. She had no idea how trigger happy the man might be, but she didn't want to give him any reason to fire the weapon he had in his hand.
"I'll show you mine if you show me yours," she said. He didn't look like a sheriff. His hair was too long and there was no way the T-shirt that stretched across his broad shoulders and the worn jeans that hugged the length of his long legs could be construed as an official law enforcement uniform.
He pulled a badge holder from his pocket and tossed it to the floor at her feet. She reached down and picked it up and looked at it. It was official, the man in front of her was the sheriff of Bridgewater, Texas.
When he'd eyed her identification, he finally hol-stered the gun and tossed the thin wallet back to her. She caught it midair with one hand and tucked it back into her pocket.
"You want to tell me what you're doing here?" He walked over to the wall and flipped on the light switch.
In the stark overhead light he was even more intimidating than he'd been with a gun in his hand. Although his features were sharp and handsome, a scar raced down one side of his face. That, along with the hard gleam in his eyes, let her know he was a man who was intimately acquaintanted with violence.
"Miranda Harris was my best friend and I'm here to catch her killer," she said and handed him back his badge.
"Unofficially, of course, because the FBI has no jurisdiction in this case. And you've already gotten on my bad side by showing up here without contacting me. I could arrest you right now for trespassing on my crime scene."
"I'm good at what I do," Jenna said. "I can help you with this."
"And what exactly is it that you do?" he asked.
"I'm a profiler."
Those hard cold eyes of his lit with a hint of amusement. "Ah, so you're going to read some books and compare evidence and magically pull a killer out of your hat?"
She stared at him for a long moment. "Are you being an ass on purpose or does it just come naturally to you?" she asked, not trying to hide her irritation. How dare he question her process, her very competence? He was nothing but a small-time sheriff with a closed, small mind.
"Folks around here say it comes pretty natural to me," he replied easily. "Now, I don't know where you came from, but I suggest you go back there before I change my mind and throw some handcuffs on you." He gestured her toward the door.
It was impossible for Jenna to argue with him. She knew she had no business being in the house. She was, indeed, trespassing on a crime scene.
She was acutely conscious of him just behind her as she walked back down the hallway to the front door. She could smell him, the scent of clean male and a faint spicy cologne that was intensely appealing.
She knew the only way she was going to be able to gain access to the information she needed to find the person responsible for Miranda's murder was to play nice with the locals. This man was at the top of that list.
When she reached the door she turned to face him. "Look, we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot here." She forced a smile to her lips. "I apologize for not going the official route and introducing myself before coming here, but I'm sure I could be of some help to you."
"Where are you staying?"
"The Sleepy Owl Motel," she replied, hopeful that he was going to tell her that they could work together on this.
"I'm sure I'll have some questions for you. Miranda was relatively new in town. You might know something about her that nobody else here knows." He opened the front door. "Other than answering some questions, the best thing you can do is stay out of my investigation," he said. What little amusement that had lit his slate-gray eyes was gone.
"I'd like to say it was a pleasure, Sheriff Buchan-nan, but it wasn't." Jenna turned and walked down the sidewalk to where she'd parked her car.
The July sunshine was hot on her shoulders, but not as warm as the heat of Sheriff Matt Buchannan's gaze on her.
She'd screwed up. She should have gone to the sheriff's office and introduced herself one professional to another before coming here to the house.
She wanted access to the files, to the interviews, to everything pertaining to Miranda's murder. Somehow she was going to have to find a way to work around Buchannan because she wasn't going anywhere until she found the man who had taken the life of her best friend.
Matt watched the FBI agent as she walked down the sidewalk to her car. He had a feeling she was a tough little piece of work, but he couldn't help but notice the sway of her shapely hips beneath the tight jeans.
He watched until she got into the driver's seat and pulled away from the curb. There was no question that she was exceptionally pretty with her long wavy chestnut hair and blue eyes that had snapped with intelligence.
She had a mouth on her, too, lush and moist and fresh as a petulant teenager. Hell, he couldn't remember the last time he'd been accused of being an ass, at least not to his face.
He had a feeling he hadn't seen the last of her. He also had a feeling that this wouldn't be the last time she'd irritate him.
She had some nerve, waltzing in here without notice or permission. She probably figured since she was a big FBI profiler that all she had to do was take a peek at the crime scene and she'd be able to solve the case.
Matt knew the case was only going to be solved by good old-fashioned investigation. This was his town. He knew the players and he didn't need some hotshot FBI agent with a personal stake in the case to muck things up.
He left the house and headed back to his office. It was a four-block walk from the crime scene. Officially he was off-duty for the day, but until the murder of Miranda Harris was solved, there was no such thing as a day off.
Bridgewater, Texas, was a small town with the traditional Main Street holding two blocks of businesses. It was a place where everyone knew everyone else, where secrets were difficult to keep. The last murder had taken place ten years ago, long before Matt had become sheriff.
Matt had seen murder before. He'd worked as a homicide cop in Chicago for seven years before returning here to his roots and he'd seen the worst that people could do to each other.
But this one bothered him in a way none of the others ever had. Miranda Harris had been an attractive twenty-nine-year-old who had moved to Bridge-water three months earlier. She'd gotten a job working at the Bridgewater Café and had been well liked by all her coworkers.
Everyone had been shocked by the news of her murder and most people believed the killer was somebody from her past. It was much easier to believe that a killer had come to Bridgewater rather than to believe that a killer belonged to Bridgewater.
Matt was a familiar sight walking the streets of his town. His home was three blocks from his office and he'd always found he did his best thinking while walking.
A hundred thoughts whirled in his head now. He definitely had some questions for Ms. FBI Profiler about Miranda. They had yet to determine next of kin, had only managed to learn that she had come from Dallas following a divorce, and so far Matt and his deputies hadn't been able to locate her ex-husband.
Maybe Jenna Taylor could fill in some blanks, could give him an idea of who from Miranda's past might want her dead.
He'd stopped by the house to spend some time alone in the room where life had been stolen, hoping that something would jump out at him, that he might see something in a new light, but the only thing new had been the arrival of Jenna Taylor.
"Hey, Harley," Matt said as he greeted the old man clipping a row of scrubs in front of his house.
"Sheriff." Harley nodded and dropped his clippers to his side. "Hot enough for you?"