After a spycam is discovered in a secure community, the homeowners association hires HEARTS to track down the culprit. Investigator Eva Thompson fits the description of every victim so far and volunteers to move into a vacant condo to draw out the suspect from within. But until they know what’s behind the peeping, no one feels safe sending Eva as a decoy alone.
Joshua Simmons is Eva’s ex and the one man she can’t quite escape. As the county medical examiner, he frequently consults with HEARTS and cases—and uses that connection to keep close to the woman he’s still not over. When Eva needs a fake husband to work alongside her as a decoy, Josh agrees on one condition: that Eva won’t do anything to put herself in harm’s way.
Living together stirs up old feelings and old passions. And while Eva and Joshua try to sort out their demons, a voyeur is on the loose and getting braver by the day.
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About the Author
Marci lives in the Midwest with her husband, kiddos, and numerous rescue pets. If she had an ounce of willpower, Marci would embrace healthy living, but until cupcakes and wine are no longer available at the local market, she will appease her guilt by reading self-help books and promising to join a gym "soon."
Visit her here: http://www.marcibolden.com/
Read an Excerpt
Despite her morning ritual of practicing tai chi, Eva Thompson had little patience, especially for scumbags who put innocent people in unnecessary danger. The sweaty, borderline overweight man sitting across from her was doing just that. The president of the Jupiter Heights Condominium Association didn't seem to mind that the "events" he was describing were illegal activities that could lead to a serious incident. He was more concerned with making sure the reputation of the high-end residence remained unaffected.
A hidden camera? Inside someone's home? And this 1970s — era Ned Beatty — looking jackass had called HEARTS Investigative Services instead of the police why? Because he feared his fellow residents would panic. Of course they would panic. As well they should. A woman's privacy had been violated in her own home.
"The camera wasn't found in a common area, Mr. Price, and you said she hadn't had any visitors or scheduled maintenance. That means someone broke into her home. This is a matter for the police." Eva stared him down, silently daring him to challenge her assessment.
He wiped his glistening forehead with the handkerchief he'd been clutching since sitting down. Normally she'd offer to turn the temperature down for a client in obvious discomfort. However, Neal Price deserved to be uncomfortable.
"Ms. Thompson, I assure you, if I believed our residents were in danger, I'd contact the proper authorities."
"I assure you, every woman in your building is in more danger than you can imagine. You have no idea of the intent the perpetrator had or how many other condos have been broken into, but let's assume it's just a little voyeurism directed at Wendi Carter. Just a little peep show he's after. What would have happened if she had caught him hiding the camera? Do you think he would have just smiled and waved as he walked out? She could have been hurt. If he is doing this in other condos, someone could get hurt." He tightened his lips, and light reflected off the beads of sweat on his upper lip.
"What if his purpose was far more sinister?" she continued. "What if he was monitoring her, possibly still monitoring other residents, to determine the best time to rape and murder someone?"
Price huffed a breath out so hard his arched nostrils flared. "If you aren't interested in taking this case —"
"That's not what she's saying." Holly Austin, the lead agent at HEARTS, leaned forward. As little patience as Eva had, Holly had even less. Her hardened outlook on life had softened a bit after the last case she'd worked ended with her taking a bullet and landing a man in her bed, but she was still far from forgiving. Jack, her new boyfriend, hadn't exactly settled her, but having Holly get laid on a regular basis made everyone else's lives easier. She wasn't nearly as uptight today as she'd been even two months ago, but that didn't mean she'd tolerate this man's incompetence any more than Eva would. "She's simply pointing out that this situation may be more serious than you realize. Someone, potentially someone within your community, has broken several laws."
"Yes, Ms. Austin. I'm aware. That's why I'm here."
"Instead of making a police report," Eva pointed out.
Holly lifted her hand in the way that she did to shush someone. The movement, though simple, was imposing coming from Holly and usually had the intended effect. Eva stopped tossing accusations at the man, but she didn't stop glaring at him.
"Do you have the camera?" Holly asked. "The first images on the memory card should be the person who installed it."
He huffed as his shoulders sagged. "I can't find it. It was in my desk drawer, and when I went to get it before coming here, the camera was gone. I'll keep looking."
Eva ground her teeth so she didn't point out how utterly inept he had to be to lose vital evidence in a case.
Holly thought it, obviously, but she didn't say the words either. "Are there security cameras in other areas? Hallways, elevators, etcetera?"
Eva nodded. Okay. That was something. "Did you bring that footage?"
His cheeks darkened a few shades. "We contract our security out. The company provides minimal storage."
Holly creased her brow. She wasn't proficient in computer speak. Eva translated without pointing out what was probably Holly's only weakness.
"So," Eva said flatly, "they don't have enough storage to retain video?"
He nodded. "We only have about an hour or so before the old footage is lost."
"That must be a fairly basic package you're paying for," Eva said. "Have you considered upgrading?"
He stared her down. "I'm working on it."
Holly frowned. "Can you tell us more about the victim?"
He pushed a file across the table. Holly opened it, and Eva skimmed the first page. This association president suddenly seemed more like a prison warden. The page held the woman's photo, address, phone numbers, work information and, to top it all off, a record of every time she entered and left the secure parking lot using her key fob.
"This is everything a stalker could ever need. You know that, right?" Eva asked, not bothering to mask the allegation in her voice.
Price wiped his forehead again and then tugged at the collar of his white polo shirt. "There is extremely limited access to this information."
Eva cast Holly a glance, but Holly didn't turn her attention from the man. Holly was better at hiding her poker face than Eva. Joshua, the ex who Eva couldn't escape, used to tell her that she could at least try to hide her frustration. She couldn't then, and she couldn't now when he popped in and out of the HEARTS office as if he were one of the team members. Eva tolerated him because they did need him, even if she didn't like it. As the county coroner, he knew all kinds of nerdy science stuff that came in handy with the group of PIs.
She suspected by the apparent anxiety on Price's face when he glanced at her, licking the sweat off his flat upper lip, that he could see right through her, too.
"Only the association board and certain members of our property management team can access this." He flipped to another page in the folder. "Their names are here. I understand this is a serious situation, but if we call the police, we're going to scare whoever is doing this. Then we'll never find out who he is. There's a reason I reached out to you, Ms. Thompson. I want to catch him, but I don't want to scare everyone in the process. I suspect you can catch our perp discreetly."
She fought the urge to roll her eyes. His use of the term "our perp" made her want to snort.
"We are a close-knit community," he continued. "Everybody knows everybody in our building. The fact that we've been able to contain this as long as we have is a miracle. If this happens again, we will have to contact the police. As soon as they start snooping around, panic will spread. We want to keep this quiet, not just for the association but for our residents. We don't want people scared in their own homes. There is a vacant condo in the building. I'd like you to move in so you can integrate yourself into the community. Settle in and help us figure out who is doing this before it does get dangerous."
Eva sat back. "You can't afford that."
"I assure you, the association would rather pay you for this than pay for a marketing campaign to bounce back if this is exposed." Holly glanced at Eva before saying, "You're talking twenty-four-seven surveillance. That's going to get expensive quickly."
"Well, if your agency is as good as you claim it to be, I don't expect this will drag on. I have a list of people who have access to the condos." He gestured to the folder as if to remind them. "Shouldn't be too hard for someone of your expertise to narrow it down. I can take my business elsewhere."
Eva slammed her hand on the folder before he could pull it away. "You need to understand that once we find out who has been doing this, you will have to notify the police."
Neal Price frowned. "Of course. We just want this to stop before it happens to someone else."
* * *
Josh nearly dropped the pizza, breadsticks, two-liter of soda, and bagged salad he was balancing when the door of HEARTS swung open. The sweaty man barely glanced at him, as if Joshua were to blame for trying to enter as he was exiting. Despite the man's irritation, Josh was hoping he'd hold the door. "Could you just ... Maybe ..." His words faded as the man stormed off.
He watched, annoyed in his own right at the man's rudeness. But then the door opened again, and he was greeted by a warm smile from Sam, the receptionist-slash-assistant-slash-researcher-slash-gofer for HEARTS.
"Aw, Josh, are you bringing Eva lunch?"
He stuttered as he fought the overwhelming need to look away from her bright blue eyes. "Uh, no. No. Everybody. Me too. I was hungry." Heat started creeping up his neck as a surge of adrenaline caused his blood vessels to dilate. He'd integrated himself into HEARTS before he and Eva had started dating, and they'd agreed he'd remain a part of the team — even though she insisted he was an asset to the team, not a part of the team — after they amicably broke up. They hadn't even dated that long, just a few hot and steamy months before breaking up forty-three days ago. Not that he was counting ... exactly. He was just good at remembering dates.
He didn't know why Sam always had to tease him about the short-lived relationship.
As the county coroner, he had a lot to offer the girls — women. If he called them girls to their faces, he'd probably get his ass whipped. The women of HEARTS were strong and brave and intimidating as hell. But he admired each one of them.
Even Eva, despite her calling it quits for reasons he still didn't fully understand. He'd thought their relationship was going great. Though they often disagreed, they rarely fought. They had an amazing time together, always going on adventures and learning new things. And the sex? Josh didn't think he'd ever had sex as hot as he'd had with Eva, and she hadn't complained ... at least not to him. The excuse she'd given him when she sat him down to tell him they couldn't see each other anymore was that he didn't believe in her abilities as a PI, and she couldn't date someone who didn't believe in her. No matter how much he tried to reassure her, she said they could be friends but nothing more.
Nothing he had said convinced her otherwise, so he was simply doing the best he could to stay a part of — an asset to — the team. These women were his friends now, people he had come to care about, and he didn't want them to turn on him because he and Eva hadn't worked out. If that meant bringing lunch once in a while to remind them he was worth more than an occasional scientific fact or unusual bit of information stored in his mind, then that was what he would do and had been doing for the last few weeks.
He slowed his pace as he neared the conference room where he always deposited the food he was offering — his ticket to remaining part of their tight-knit group.
"I don't like it," Holly said. "You shouldn't move into that place alone."
"You heard him," Eva replied, her tone softer but not lacking its usual clip. "The condo is one bedroom."
"So?" Eva drawled.
"If one of us doesn't stay with you, you won't have any backup on site."
"He's not going to pay for two of us, Holly, and you can't expect someone to work for free."
"I don't mind," Holly said. "I'll stay with you."
"You're still recovering from a gunshot. How much backup do you think you'll be if something goes down?"
Josh stepped into the conference room, not speaking, not making his presence known, but he knew the moment Eva sensed his presence. Actually, she tilted her pert little nose up and inhaled before turning her face toward him ... the pizza ... and a brilliant smile broke the tension on her face.
"Lunch," she sang.
"What, uh, what's going on?" Josh asked Holly as Eva took the food from his hands. He knew better than to ask his ex. Since one of the things they'd fought about, the only thing they'd fought about, was the danger she put herself in working as private investigator, she'd stopped talking to him about work. Which had led to the immediate downhill slide of their relationship. He had seen enough bad things come through the morgue to know that Eva was in danger without choosing a high-risk profession. Murders were on the rise in the area, and women were far more likely to be the victims. Eva was already at risk. Dealing with criminals just heightened that.
"Stop," Eva ordered.
Josh blinked several times, jolted by her harsh tone. "What?"
"Obsessing about whatever morbid statistic your little brain is rolling around."
He opened his mouth to disagree, but he couldn't. Instead, he focused on Holly again.
She reached for a slice of pizza. "We have a new case."
"He doesn't need details," Eva muttered.
Thankfully, Holly wasn't as offended by his presence and continued. "Someone hid a spycam in a condo on the west side. The condo association president narrowed it down enough to think it was an inside job. He wants Eva to move in to integrate herself with the residents and find the sleazeball."
That familiar feeling washed over Josh. Another surge of adrenaline rushed through him, except this time his stomach spasmed. He wasn't embarrassed now. He was concerned. "You said you didn't want her to. You said it was dangerous."
"She didn't say that," Eva said.
Holly pushed the half-chewed food in her mouth to one side and said, "Not dangerous, per se, but it's a bit more risk than I'd like to take. She should have someone watching her back since she will be living this thing twenty-four-seven." She didn't have the best table manners. She didn't mind talking around whatever she was consuming any more than she minded licking away oozing condiments or grease from her fingers, which she did as soon as she was done speaking.
Eva, on the other hand, swallowed and wiped her mouth before speaking. Her manners were much better. "Don't encourage him. He already thinks I can't take care of myself."
Josh eyed Eva. Like he needed encouragement to consider her safety. If she'd considered her safety more often, maybe they wouldn't have had that fight that eventually led to them breaking up. She was so mad that he worried about her, but she never considered that he wouldn't have had to worry about her if she were more aware of the danger she put herself in sometimes. He'd spent the better part of their brief romance trying to convince her to let Holly or Rene take the more intense cases. They had military training. Sure, Eva had been a cop, but that was a long time ago. Besides that, it was natural for someone to become more relaxed as they became comfortable in their job. It was only a matter of time before Eva let her guard down and got hurt. Moving into a condo for any amount of time was just asking for her to get too comfortable.
If Holly was concerned, why the hell wasn't Eva? He understood her reasoning — it wasn't right for Holly to ask one of the other PIs to work overtime without compensation. And Eva was right. Holly was still recovering. She shouldn't overdo it or put herself at heightened risk.
"Me," he blurted without thinking. "I'll stay with her. I'll have her ... six. Right? You call it her six?"
"We call it cover," Eva stated. "And I don't need you providing me cover. You are the least qualified person in this building, and I'm including Sam in that."
"Bite me, Thompson," the receptionist called from the other room.
Eva ignored her as she wiped her hands on a napkin and crossed her arms over her chest, staring Josh down with that cool gaze of hers. It wouldn't be so intimidating if her eyes weren't the color of Arctic ice against her porcelain skin. "Exactly what do you think you'd do if I found myself in trouble? Embalm someone?"
"Undertakers embalm corpses," he stated. "I examine them to determine cause of death."
She lifted her brows and tilted her pointed little chin as if that emphasized her point. Maybe it did. "You going to examine the bad guy, Josh?"
"A male presence is a deterrent to trouble," Holly said.
Eva darted her gaze across the table.
"That's just human nature, Eva," Holly said. "Men are naturally more intimidated by other men. Women tend to be seen as helpless victims. You know this." She focused on Josh. "You'd go about your life as normal, but you'd be living with Eva for a week, maybe longer. Are you up for that?"
The tension radiating off Eva was palpable. Her condescending smirk disappeared as she tightened her jaw and stared — no, glared — across the table. "What part of one-bedroom condo are you not understanding, Holly? Where is he going to sleep?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Burning Hearts"
Copyright © 2019 Marci Bolden.
Excerpted by permission of Pink Sand Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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