The Seventh Victimby Mary Burton
If At First You Don't Succeed
It's been seven years since the Seattle Strangler terrorized the city. His victims were all young, pretty, their lifeless bodies found wrapped in a home-sewn white dress. But there was one who miraculously escaped death, just before the Strangler disappeared. . .
Lara Church has only hazy memories of her/b>/b>
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If At First You Don't Succeed
It's been seven years since the Seattle Strangler terrorized the city. His victims were all young, pretty, their lifeless bodies found wrapped in a home-sewn white dress. But there was one who miraculously escaped death, just before the Strangler disappeared. . .
Lara Church has only hazy memories of her long-ago attack. What she does have is a home in Austin, a job, and a chance at a normal life at last. Then Texas Ranger James Beck arrives on her doorstep with shattering news: The Strangler is back. And this time, he's in Austin. . .
And Kill Again. . .
He's always craved her, even as he killed the others. For so long he's been waiting to unleash the beast within. And this time, he'll prove he holds her life in his handsright before he ends it forever. . .
Praise for the novels of Mary Burton
"Will have readers sleeping with the lights on." Publishers Weekly on Before She Dies (starred review)
"Terrifying. . .this chilling thriller is an engrossing story." Library Journal on Merciless
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The Seventh Victim
By Mary Burton
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2013 Mary Burton
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAustin, Texas Monday, May 20, 6:45 AM
Stop and smell the roses.
Texas Ranger James Beck's captain had spoken those last glib words seconds after he'd put Beck on paid administrative leave three weeks ago.
The words rattled in Beck's head as he parked his black Bronco at a murder scene located twenty miles south of Austin off Interstate 35's access road. The day's new sun glowed red over the haze of heat, rising over rolling, dusty Western lands blanketed with rocks, brush, and scrubby trees. On the road's shoulder sat a sidelined truck hauling lumber, a half dozen county sheriff 's cars, and a forensics van. Already early-morning commuter rubberneckers had snarled morning traffic.
Oddly, the controlled chaos eased the tightness bunching the muscles in Beck's lower back. He was officially back in the saddle and free of the oppressive slower pace of a forced "vacation."
The seeds of Beck's trouble began six months ago when Misty Gray, a ten-year-old girl, had vanished. The last person to see Misty had been her mother's live-in boyfriend, Matt Dial, who reported to police that the girl had left to play with friends and then vanished.
After three days and no sign of the child, local authorities had summoned the Texas Rangers and Beck had been assigned to the case. The Rangers, often relegated to tales of the old West, were in fact a modern, elite part of the Texas Department of Public Safety, known as DPS.
Twenty minutes into Beck's interview with Dial, he knew the construction worker was lying. But the more questions Beck fired, the faster Dial shot back denials.
Finding Misty became Beck's personal mission, and he stayed on Dial long after media stories shifted from rescue to recovery. When Dial, who turned out to be the black sheep of a well-connected family, complained about Beck's dogged trailing, Beck's boss ordered the Ranger to stand down until the political winds eased. Beck disobeyed, using personal time to trail Dial. Two weeks went by before the out-of-work construction worker made a midnight run to a deserted farm. Beck, trailing close, watched Dial unlock an old shed and drag out a large plastic bag that could easily hold a child's body. Weapon drawn, Beck called out to Dial, who raised a .45 and fired. Dial's shot trailed high, but Beck's shots struck Dial in the chest, dropping him instantly. Misty's decomposing body was in the bag.
Forensic investigators found childlike messages scratched on the shed walls, scattered food wrappers and empty water jugs. They theorized the girl had lasted three weeks in the shed before she'd died of dehydration.
When Dial family attorneys attacked the child's character during the ensuing investigation, Beck's temper had blown. He'd spoken words a politically aware man would have avoided and in the end, Beck's commander had saddled him with paid leave.
"Enjoy the next three weeks. Lay low. Stop and smell the roses."
Beck's downtime had been spent at his grandfather's garage getting his hands dirty under the hood of a '67 Mustang. Never once had Beck been plagued by his own actions or his razor-sharp candor to the attorneys. When asked during mandatory counseling sessions if he had any misgivings about the shooting, he'd honestly said he had none. His regrets were for the little girl who'd suffered alone for three weeks. The little girl he didn't save.
Beck rubbed a calloused hand over tense neck muscles as police lights bounced off the freshly waxed hood of his car and yellow crime scene tape brushed brittle, brown grass skirting the access road. He grabbed his white Stetson, standard gear for a Texas Ranger, and got out of the car.
His exile had officially ended.
Gravel crunched under his polished cowboy boots and bone-dry dirt dusted the hem of his khakis as he moved down the side of the access road past the truck and the line of cop cars.
At thirty-five he moved with the quick stride of a younger man. When teased about his fast pace he joked too many hits playing high school quarterback had left him edgy and ready to dodge.
Beck nodded to the local deputies, paused to talk to some, shook hands with others. All offered best wishes and hearty welcomes.
One hundred feet off the road he spotted fellow Texas Ranger Rick Santos. Tall, and lean as gristle, Santos pulled off his own Stetson and wiped a red bandanna over his damp brow. As the thirtysomething Santos glanced toward the morning sky, Beck could almost hear him curse the temperature, which was expected to kick up over one hundred degrees. Texans often said the state had two seasons: winter and summer.
The sun had etched lines around Santos's eyes, tanned his skin golden, and left blue-black highlights in already dark hair. Santos's uniform was similar to Beck's, though he favored string ties over Beck's traditional.
Beck glanced toward the forensics van, which blocked the view of the body. The 5 AM call from Beck's captain in Austin hadn't supplied Beck with many case details: female, young, and found midway between the seventy-mile stretch between Austin and San Antonio. This crime scene fell smack in the heart of the Texas Rangers' largest division, Company F, which spanned counties south of San Antonio to several north of Austin.
As Beck approached, the San Antonio-based Santos extended his hand. "Looks like we both were invited to the party."
Santos clasped his hand, squeezed hard. "I hear the captain's call pulled you out from under a car engine early this morning. Still working on the piece of crap you call a car?" Too restless to sleep, too early for the first-day-back arrival, he'd gone to his grandfather's garage at 3 AM and tinkered with the Mustang. "Keeps me out of trouble."
A muscle twitched once, twice in the side of Santos's jaw.
"No one liked seeing you off the streets."
Anger, he thought, conquered, clawed beneath the surface even as he reminded himself that dwelling wouldn't help him catch the next monster. "Penance is good for the soul."
Santos looked as if he wanted to say more, but he let it pass. "You know Deputy Eli Stiles, right?"
"Sure. We worked a couple of car theft cases."
"Good. I'll let him fill you in on the details."
They found Eli standing just outside the crime scene tape watching his technicians work. He was a tall man with a neatly shaved head and a wide salt-and-pepper mustache.
Though he'd been well muscled in his youth, thirty years in a patrol car had thickened his belly.
Deputy Stiles gripped Beck's hand in an iron hold. "Good to see you back in action, boy."
His intent was to avoid all inquiries, even the well-meaning ones, about the last three weeks. Time to move forward. "I know this isn't a social call."
Deputy Stiles tugged his hat forward a fraction. "No, sir, it is not. I have a Jane Doe I want you to see."
Beck nodded. "What's special about this one?"
"This whole setup is off, which is why I called in the Rangers."
Beck rested his hands on his hips. "Why off?"
The deputy shook his head. "You tell me."
"Have a look at her, Beck," Santos said. "You'll see."
The trio ducked under the yellow crime scene tape and came up behind the forensic technician, who for a moment blocked the view of the body. When the tech shifted her stance Beck got his first real look at the victim.
The woman lay on her back, her hands folded over her chest. Blond hair splayed out onto the ground mirroring a fully fanned skirt. She looked like some grim angel.
"Minute I saw her, I thought about the dead woman they found in San Antonio three weeks ago," Deputy Stiles said.
Benched at the time, Beck's information on the San Antonio murder had come from the newspaper. There'd been three articles about the San Antonio victim, and to his recollection, her picture had not been released. "Why do you say that?"
"Not a whole lot left of her after weeks, maybe months outside. What the sun and rain didn't get, the animals dragged off. No identification found on her, but local law determined that she'd been wearing a white dress."
"A white dress," Santos said. "Common enough, isn't it?"
Deep worry lines were etched into Stiles's forehead and at his temples. "On one victim it might be. On two, well, call me jaded, but I don't think so," he said.
Seeing this victim struck a chord deep in Beck's memory that went farther back than a month. But the harder he tried to wrangle the memory the faster it pranced out of reach.
The three men stared at the body, the air around them pulsing.
Finally, Santos broke the silence. "When Stiles mentioned the San Antonio murder, I pulled up my computer files on the case." He shifted his stance. "According to the report the local sheriff used approximate characteristics from the medical examiner and matched their victim to a missing persons report. Long story short, her name was Lou Ellen Fisk, age twenty-two. She lived just north of San Antonio."
Deputy Stiles hooked his thumbs in his belt. "Local boys figured the boyfriend killed her. Fisk and her man had had their share of fights."
Santos nodded. "He didn't much like the idea that she was graduating from college and moving to Chicago. They haven't pinned the murder on him, but the cops think it's a matter of time."
"He got an alibi?" Beck said.
"Pack of his buddies swore he was drinking with them most of the night."
"So what does Lou Ellen Fisk have to do with this victim?"
"White dress, young, blond," Stiles said. "Can't speak to the Fisk case, but whoever killed this little gal, planned it all out."
Beck pulled rubber gloves from his back pocket and moved toward the technician working the site. The cast of his shadow caught the technician's attention. She rose and turned, and he recognized her immediately. "Melinda Ashburn."
She'd worked the murder of Misty Gray. He'd watched her open the bag and tenderly examine and record what remained of the little girl's body. In her late twenties, Melinda wore dark sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat that protected a stock of red hair and pale, freckled skin. "Good to see you back, Sergeant Beck."
"Good to be back. What did you find, ma'am?"
"Still taking pictures and sketching. As you can see she's got a good bit of bruising around her neck. My guess is strangulation."
"Yes, ma'am, I do see that." The rising heat of the day beat down on Beck. The body had yet to take on the coiling smells of decay, but that would soon change. Nighttime temperatures had bumped close to eighty and faint dark patches, the first signs of decomposition, had started to appear on her cheeks. Soon the body would bloat and then split. By sunset she'd barely be recognizable. If left out here a couple of days, she'd quickly go the way of Lou Ellen Fisk.
He crouched and studied the details: neatly trimmed nails, delicate hands that didn't look like they'd seen hard labor and smooth skin unmarked by the hard Texas sun. "She can't be much more than twenty."
"That's my guess," Melinda said.
"None that I've found. But we'll roll her prints as soon as she gets to the medical examiner's office."
Prints were no guarantee of identification. If she wasn't in the Automated Fingerprints System known as AFIS, they'd start digging through missing persons reports. "Any signs of bruising or wounds on her face or arms?"
A warm wind skidded across the grass, teasing the hem of the victim's white skirt. Her almost peaceful features mocked what had to have been terrifying last minutes.
Beck flexed his gloved fingers as he stared at the woman.
"Is she clenching something in her right hand?"
"I think so," Melinda said. "I'll be getting to it soon enough."
"I don't want to rush your process, but when you open that hand let me know what you find." Again a vague memory pestered.
Beck rose, thanked Melinda, and turned to Santos. A muscle in the back of Beck's neck tensed as it did when he grabbed for a memory out of his reach. "Why does this case feel familiar?"
"Bugging the hell out of me, too," Santos said.
Beck rested hands on hips as he mentally shuffled through old case files. Strangulation. White dresses. Blond females. And then the memory hit. "Remember the Seattle murders six or seven years ago?"
Santos rubbed his chin. "I do. I was still with DPS then. The press called him the ... Seattle Strangler."
As mental gates opened, the memories flooded. "Six women were strangled and all were wearing white. Each had a penny in her hand." The penny detail had never been released to the public but Beck had heard about it through police channels.
Santos nodded. "Good memory."
"He caused a panic in Seattle. I read about it in some report, but when the case went cold, it was pushed to the back burner."
"The guy ever caught?"
"From what I remember, no. His last victim survived. The killer went dark, and I heard all kinds of theories. He was jailed. Died. Moved on. Lost his nerve."
"What happened to the last victim?" Santos said.
"A passing motorist interrupted the attack." Beck dug deeper. "The surviving victim claimed no memory of the assault."
Santos glanced toward the victim splayed in the dirt. "San Antonio victim's bones were bleached white and scattered by the animals. We don't know how she died. And a penny didn't turn up during the search."
"No one was looking for it."
"True. And if the killer left a penny, we had a hell of a storm last month that likely washed it away."
As Santos turned to respond to a question from a DPS officer, Beck shoved out a breath and turned back toward the body. "Melinda, would you do me a favor and have a look inside that gal's hand? Mighty important."
She nodded and squatted by the clenched hand. Carefully, she peeled back fingers stiffening with rigor mortis. As she raised her camera to photograph her discovery, she said,
"There's a penny."
Beck leaned closer. "You sure about that?"
"Very." She snapped dozens more pictures.
Beck called Santos over and pointed to the victim's hand.
Santos took one look at the penny and swore. "This nut might have resurfaced in Texas?"
"Or a copycat." Beck rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. He'd need all the information San Antonio had on the first victim and an identity on this victim quickly.
"These cases could stir up a hornet's nest," Santos said.
"I believe you are right."
Melinda bagged the penny in a small zip-top evidence bag. "Beck, I'll pass it on to the medical examiner in Austin."
"Thanks, Melinda. Appreciate that." Beck turned to Santos. "I've got to get situated in the office, and then I'll swing by the medical examiner's office. I want to be there for the autopsy." He'd not seen his desk in three weeks, but he welcomed the waiting chaos.
"Sounds good, Sergeant."
Beck turned back toward the road and caught sight of the big rig. The massive black cab hauled a trailer loaded with lumber. "You said a trucker called in this murder?"
"He still in his rig?"
"Yep, and getting more pissed by the minute. He's squawking about schedules."
"Let me talk to him." Beck moved toward the truck cab and knocked on the driver's-side door window. No one was in the cab, but these big rigs came with a rear sleep compartment. Beck's grandfather, Henry Beck, had been a long-haul trucker in his younger days before opening his garage and often said that during his trucking days, he'd have traded a year's worth of steak and sex for a solid twelve hours of sleep.
Beck pounded his fist on the side of the cab. Finally, a gruff, "Just a damn minute."
Beck stepped back, squinting north over the median into the oncoming interstate traffic, now moving slower and slower as motorists tried to glimpse the crime scene. Soon there'd be a hell of a backup on I-35.
After some shuffling, cussing, and more shuffling the cab door opened and a tall bear of a man appeared. He wore jeans, a Dallas Cowboys black T-shirt, and a belt buckle shaped like Texas. He grabbed his hat from the cab, smoothing back thick gray hair before settling the cap on his head. "You here to tell me I can go?"
"In just a minute or two. Right now I'd like a rundown."
The trucker pulled a can of dip from his back pocket and tucked a pinch of tobacco in his cheek. "I already told the other cops."
Beck shoved aside irritation. "And I do appreciate that. I do. But mind running it by me one more time, Mister ... ?"
"Raynor. Billie Raynor."
He pulled a small notebook and pen from his back pocket. "You're from?"
"So how'd you find the body? Can't be seen from the road."
Excerpted from The Seventh Victim by Mary Burton Copyright © 2013 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.
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MARY BURTON lives with her family in Central Virginia. She is an avid hiker and enjoys the occasional triathlon. She can be reached by e-mail at www.maryburton.com.
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The Seventh Victim by Mary Burton is Lara Church who is the only victim of the Seattle Strangler to survive and now, seven years later, he is back to try again. Lara runs for many years trying to escape the pain and the fear of what happened to her and to escape the police who constantly hound her because she can’t remember anything of the attack. But when her grandmother dies and leaves Lara her home in Austin, Texas, she decides to hide there and try to have a life. Until the day that Texas Ranger, James Beck, tracks her down to tell her the Strangler is still claiming victims and he wants her to keep trying to remember what happened. Little by little, the clues keep pointing in Lara’s direction and Beck believes he is back to settle the score. Can Lara remember anything to help find this serial killer? Mary Burton writes a very compelling and poignant story of how the mind can block out everything it wants to when we really don’t want to remember. The story moves quickly and we feel Lara’s pain and her desire to try and put her life back together. The suspense of trying to figure out who is after Lara keeps pulling us further and further into the story and just when we think we have it all figured out, a twist ends the story with a big, “Huh, what just happened here?” The story is engrossing and terrifying. Yet through it all, a love story starts to develop and the reader is happy to find that Lara can finally, hopefully, find happiness. Loved it and definitely a five star read. Reviewed by Joanne
I usually love her books. So when I got thiss boook i had high expectations.....i didnt it was legnthy didnt get to the point, i honestly was very dissapointed
Although I think the plot lacks originality, that's not the mjor problem with this novel. The writing isn't good. Sentences are redundant, diction desperately needs editing and the author doesn't seem to know how to use contractions. I've read a number of Kensington books, and they are usually higher quality than this.
Let me tell you a little story about this book. I thought that the author was a different author whom I have read and enjoyed before. After I realized that I was mistaken about who the author was, I ended up not caring too much because the story still sounded really fantastic. Oh, how I was wrong! ~ Predictable plot is predictable. By the second or third time we have the killer introduced into a scene, I knew who it was. It was so painfully obvious that it was…well painful. ~Stubborn heroine who insists on protecting herself but seems to be incapable of doing so. Every time we talked to Lara she was insisting that she could take care of herself, but them proceeds to do completely idiotic things that seem to suggest otherwise. For example, going to a recent crime scene when it is nearly dark outside…by yourself…with just a camera…and a shotgun (that she left in a locked car). I mean, what good is a shotgun going to do you if it’s locked in your car 20 yards away? And don’t get your hopes up that the other female characters are any smarter, they aren’t. ~Cops who are either oblivious or inept. Anyone who has watched Law & Order knows that when a person is attacked, most of the time the attacker is someone they know. Yet, these cops mostly seem to sit around wondering which unknown stranger it could be without even bothering to look at people close to Lara. Their justification is, well it’s a serial killer so he probably doesn’t know the victims. That doesn’t hold water either. Criminal Minds has taught me that serial killers have their distinct signatures because the actions satisfy some need or fantasy they have. If a serial killer does not rape his victims and then suddenly a similar crime appears with a rape, it’s not the same guy. If a serial killer is going after prostitutes and homeless woman, and suddenly it’s a young blonde college student who was a big risk then it’s not the same guy! But all of this is overlooked too, despite the claim that a FBI profiler was advising them. Really? ~Lame romance. It was very cliche for the head cop to fall for Lara. And I just didn’t feel it. I knew that they had feelings for each other because the author told me they did, but that’s the only reason. Their actual actions and words didn’t lead me to that conclusion at all. Then they decide to have sex after the most traumatic and violent scene in the whole book? What? Nearly getting killed is an aphrodisiac for Lara? Yeah that was weird and made me feel like I needed a shower with bleach. ~Name a cliche, any cliche! Any cliche you can think of for a murder mystery/suspense/thriller and this book probably had it. . ~Suspense? Where? This was supposedly a suspense novel, but I never once felt that rush in my veins that suspense novels usually give me. Mostly I just got bored. So, there we have it. If you want to read a serial killer novel that is exactly like thousands of other serial killer novels then this is a book for you. If you’ve never read a serial killer novel then this is perfect since you won’t have a clue about how cliche it is! But otherwise, give this one a pass unless you’re suffering from insomnia…because then it might help. I received an ARC copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Kensington books! This review is based on an uncorrected ARC of this book, certain things may differ from the final copy.
Serial killing....suspense ...romance. 301 pages. I liked the story and was surprised at the end. A good read if this is your type of book.
Too many twists near the end of book left this reader not pleased and a little confused about the characters portrayed in this novel. Why was Danny not strangled?
Mary Burton knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat. A great thriller with great characters in James Beck and Lara. The twist she puts in her story will keep you on the edge of your seat and I found it very hard to put the book down.
The book was well written but very predictable. It matched almost every serial killer book out there. The ending was a forced attempt at being unique. I had allot of issues with how the head ranger approached Laura. He was frankly calloused and in a real world more likely to send her running and hiding than willing to help. His blame towards a victim made me cringe, making me want to shout at her stay away fromhim. There was no redeeming qualities on how he treated her for the first 2/3 of the book. If your sensitive to people with PTSD,avoid this book please.
I enjoyed reading this book. Ignore the one and two star reviews which are way off base. I would recommend this book and author.
Had me on edge and couldn't stop reading.
I agree that the plot was unpredictable. As soon as the killer was introduced (sort of randomly), it was plain to see that he was indeed the killer. And the fact that the killer was revealed with still 30 pages to go told me that there was going to be yet another twist that I was confused about. By the time I got to the twist at the end, I was confused and just felt like the ending was forced. And yes, why was Danni not strangled? It seemed like her role sort of useless towards the end, as I anticipated that she would eventually be in the thick of things and part of the killer's plan.
A tad predictable, but still well written and, for me, was an enjoyable read.
The author catches your interest from the very beginning. The characters are believable and the plot is brutal. Lara is a survivor of an attempted murder, her dog Lincoln is a treasure, Gage, the Texas Ranger, is a dream. Every time I think I know who the serial killer is, something different happens to make me not sure. This is a very good book and well worth the read.
Reviewed by: April Book provided by: Negalley Review originally posted at Romancing the Book Pulse-pounding and intense, The Seventh Victim is an amazing ride from beginning to end! With an excellent blend of romantic suspense and a dash of psychological twists, Mary Burton does a wonderful job of bringing an intensity and depth to this amazing story. Imagine being the only victim targeted by a serial killer who survives. Imagine the terror of living with this knowledge day after day after day. Imagine having your memories of the attack so deeply hidden that you have no idea if the next person you meet on the street was your attacker and is coming back to finish what he started. This is what Lara Church has lived with for the past seven years. She has been constantly on the run, settling nowhere and committing her life to her art: taking photographs of murder scenes. All of that changes, however, with the death of her Grandmother and she finds herself in Austin, Texas living in her Grandmother’s house and working a job as a photography teacher. When young women begin turning up murdered Lara knows that her time is ticking away and she must unearth her memories before more innocent women are killed – and before the killer comes to complete what he started seven years ago. I really enjoyed Mary Burton’s writing style in The Seventh Victim. She does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life, allowing readers to connect to them and actually feel for and with them. Lara is a very stubborn and strong-minded person who insists that she can take care of herself. Texas Ranger, James Beck has other ideas, however, that do not fall into line with Lara’s ideas. When bodies begin turning up, Beck knows that Lara can help solve the case if she could only remember what happened that night long ago, and he will stop at nothing to get her to try everything possible to remember. With constant action and twists and turns, The Seventh Victim was a very quick read for me that kept my attention from beginning to end. The slight romance between Lara and James was a nice added shadow to the story, while the intensity of finding the killer before it was too late was enough to keep me glued to the pages. I also loved the secondary characters that really lent an extra dimension to the story. While I did have the killer figured out pretty early on in the story, there was an incredible twist that I completely did not see coming. I loved how the author did this, creating shock value as well as intrigue. I have read other books by Ms. Burton and truly enjoy her writing style, characterization and her ability to draw me into the story and the setting. She truly has a talent for romantic suspense and I highly recommend The Seventh Victim to anyone looking for a great read in that genre!
Keeps you guessing and and on your toes great book if you like thrillers
This is the first book I've read by this author. It was an easy read and I like that. Although I figured out early on who tried to strangle Lara, it had a surprise ending. One I sure didn't expect. Will read more by this author.
kept me wondering until the end
I didnt give this book 5 stars because I thought the ending was unrealistic. The story leading up to it was a very good read.