Dead Ringer

Dead Ringer

by Mary Burton

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Beside each body, he leaves a simple charm bearing a woman’s name. Ruth. Judith. Rachel. The victims were strangers to each other, but they have been chosen with the utmost care. Each bears a striking resemblance to Kendall Shaw, a local anchorwoman…each brutally strangled by a madman whose obsession will never end...
DON’T FADE . . .
In front of the cameras, Kendall is the picture of stylish confidence. But at night she’s haunted by nightmares in which she is young, alone, and filled with fear. Are these memories—or omens? Despite warnings from Richmond Detective Jacob Warwick, Kendall can’t stop investigating the recent string of murders. She knows she holds the key to catching an obsessed psychopath—if he doesn’t get to her first . . .
The deeper Kendall and Jacob dig into the victims’ backgrounds, the more terrifying the discoveries. For from the shadows of the past, a legacy of evil has resurfaced. Every murder, every moment has been leading to Kendall. And this time, nothing will stop the killer making her his final victim . . .
“With a gift for artful obfuscation, Burton juggles a budding romance and two very plausible might-be perpetrators right up to the tense conclusion.”
Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786042777
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 08/28/2018
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 216,858
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

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

Read an Excerpt


Tuesday, January 8, 8:10 A.M.

Homicide detective Jacob Warwick flexed his right hand, working the stiffness from his joints as he strode over the frozen land toward the flashing police car lights. The five patrol cars were parked on the rural patch of land near the James River's banks. Friday's snowstorm had whitewashed the landscape, robbing it of color and life. A morning haze obscured the southern bank of the river and most of the river's smooth waters.

The temperature hovered around thirty degrees, but the breeze made it feel like twenty below zero and cut through his jacket as if it were thin cotton.

The cold irritated his bruised knuckles and he regretted leaving his gloves at his apartment. He turned up the collar of his worn leather jacket and shoved his fists into the pockets. A skullcap covered his military short hair and a black scarf warmed his neck.

An hour ago, Jacob had been at the gym, enjoying his day off by giving what he had to a punching bag. Breaking a sweat sent endorphins rushing through his brain and for a little while eased the tension that stalked him.

His cell had rung midswing. He'd steadied the swaying punching bag, muttered a foul oath before wiping the sweat from his eyes, and dug his cell out of his gym bag.

His partner, Detective Zack Kier, had recited the bare facts. Female murdered. Midthirties. Caucasian. The body had been dumped on the banks of the James River at the Alderson construction site, located in the east end of the county a dozen miles past the airport. Jacob had showered, burying his face under the hot spray and regretting that he couldn't linger.

Another gusty breeze off the river sent Jacob deeper into his coat. This parcel of land was all raw fields and spindly cedar trees, but if the sales sign he'd passed on the way in was correct, Alderson Development Company would transform all this into a lush golf course surrounded by brick houses with perfectly placed trees and flower beds. The proposed clubhouse would offer tennis courts and a heated swimming pool.

Starting in the $900, 000s. The slick marketing signs implied that the riverfront houses, with their top-of-the-line amenities, also supplied the right brand of status and a Father Knows Best kind of happiness. Life had taught him there were no guarantees. And thirteen years on the force had shown him misery could be found in high-dollar homes as well as low-income ones.

Jacob spotted a group of ragged-looking men standing by a muddy black Suburban. They wore jumpsuits and camouflage jackets. They were the Alderson Development's survey crew. This was their job site. They'd arrived just after sunrise to survey the north bank of the James River. They'd been the ones who'd found the body.

"Hey, when are you gonna let us get back to work or let us go home?" The shouted complaint came from one of the surveyors. Steam rose from the coffee cup in his hand.

"Can't say," Jacob said. "But stay put."

Jacob moved toward an older officer with a buzz cut and a perpetual frown. The other officer stamped his feet and rubbed his gloved hands together. "Cold enough for you? My bones can't take too much more of this frosty shit."

Jacob's body still ached from a boxing match last week. "I hear ya."

"What are you complaining about? I've been here for an hour already."

Jacob smiled. "You're tougher than I am."

"My ass." Watson's gaze narrowed as he glanced at Jacob's face. "That the remnants of a shiner?" "Yeah. The other guy had a mean right hook." But that hadn't stopped Jacob from winning the charity boxing match.

Watson's gaze narrowed. "How old are you now? Thirty-four, thirty-five?" "Give or take."

Watson shook his head. "You're getting too old for those kind of antics. You're not eighteen. You should stop now while you still have all your parts."

Thirty-six wasn't old in the big scheme but for a boxer it was ancient. In the army he'd been Golden Gloves. Since he'd left, he'd remained a strictly amateur boxer. Boxing gave him a thrill, reminded him he still had it. Whatever the hell it was.

But the sport was taking a toll. He didn't rebound like he used to. He'd taken on so many bouts these last few months there was rarely a day when his body didn't ache. Watson was right. He didn't recover as he had in his twenties. "I'll keep that in mind."

Watson eyed him. "Bullshit. You ain't gonna stop."

That coaxed a guilty grin.

Most outsiders — noncops — didn't understand how they could chat about everyday things or be so casual in the face of death. But this kind of banter, even humor, was a way of blowing off steam and cutting the tension so they didn't go insane.

Jacob pulled rubber gloves from his jacket pocket. "Forensics isn't here yet?"

"Tied up at another scene. Will be here any minute."

"Good." He ducked under the yellow tape and strode toward his partner, Detective Zack Kier.

Zack Kier faced the icy river. Tall, broad shouldered, he possessed a lean build suited so well for the triathlons he enjoyed. His unseasonably tanned skin was a souvenir from a Caribbean second honeymoon with his wife, Lindsay. A black overcoat brushed his knees and plastic gloves covered his dark winter gloves.

"So what do we have?" Jacob asked. He yanked on his gloves.

Zack turned at the sound of his voice and nodded toward the river's edge. "See for yourself."

Jacob followed Zack down the embankment toward the frozen riverbank. Where water met land, lay a woman on her stomach. She wore a camel overcoat, gloves, scarf, navy pants, and flat shoes, all soaked with water. Her gloved hands were outstretched in a T fashion. One hand lay in the water and the other on land. Her face was turned toward the river and her long dark brown hair streamed over her cheek in a gloomy curtain. Small waves lapped against her body.

Jacob moved toward the body but stopped ten feet short. He didn't want to contaminate the scene any more than he had to before forensics got there. His heavy sigh froze on contact with the air. "Do we know who she is?"

Zack shook his head. "Not yet. There was no ID in any of her pockets. And no purse to be found."

Jacob squatted. He stared at her face, mostly hidden by her thick brown hair. How did a neatly dressed middle-income woman end up here? "There are a few bridges downstream and dozens of docks. Suicide?"

Zack's expression was grim. "That's what the responding uniform thought at first."

Jacob frowned. "And?"

"He felt for a pulse on her neck when he arrived. He had to push back her hair to make contact with her skin." Zack tightened and released his jaw. "He found black-and-blue finger marks around her neck.


"He also spotted marks on her wrists. Looked like rope burns."

Jacob shifted his gaze to the edge of her coat sleeve. He wanted to push up the wet fabric and see the marks for himself but he would wait for forensics. "Did the responding officer touch the body anywhere else?"

"No. Only on the neck and wrist to check for a pulse."

Forensics needed a complete record of everyone who touched the body. "Good."

Jacob's gaze settled on the victim's wrist. "Whoever did this held her captive before he killed her."

"That's what I'm thinking."

The victim was fully dressed, down to scarf and gloves. But that didn't mean she hadn't been stripped and sexually assaulted. Some killers, especially novices, often suffered remorse for their victims. In the killer's mind, redressing her would have been a way of safeguarding her dignity. "We need to make sure the coroner checks for signs of rape."

"Already noted."

Jacob flexed his right hand, trying to work the stiffness from it. He studied the partially exposed side of the victim's face. Determining time of death would be tricky. The freezing temps would have slowed down the decomposition process. "Any missing persons reports?"

A cold gust of air made Zack drop his head. "I put a call in about fifteen minutes ago. No one fitting her description has been reported missing, but that could change."

There could be a hundred reasons no one had called in a report. The victim had been traveling. She'd had a fight with her spouse. She lived alone and had few friends. Sooner or later, though, most people were missed by someone.

A glance upriver revealed no signs of a dock, boat, or landing where she might have been dumped. "She's soaked but her skin isn't discolored like it would be if she'd been in the water. And there'd be weeds or grass over her if she'd been in the river."

"The freezing rain yesterday would have drenched anyone to the skin."

Jacob could think of a dozen reasons how a middle-income woman could end up like this. Secret life of drug addiction. Domestic abuse. At this point all would be guesses.

Jacob stared at her body. "Why leave her here?"

Zack scribbled in his notebook. "Whoever did this might have thought she wouldn't be found for a while."

"Or he figured she'd be found quickly. Construction crews have been all over this place for weeks."

"That brings up a whole new set of problems."

Most killers didn't want anyone to know they'd murdered. If this killer dumped the woman intentionally, Zack was right. It opened the door to a darker scenario.

The rumble of a vehicle engine had them both glancing back up the hill. The forensics van had arrived. White with blue lettering, the side read Henrico County Forensics.

A young dark-haired woman slid out from behind the driver's seat of the van. Tess Kier, Zack's sister. Tess had been with forensics three years. She was meticulous and one of the best in the country.

Tall for a woman, she had sharp features and a lean body. Jacob had thought more than once about hooking up with her, but he had never made a move. Not only was she his partner's baby sister, but they interfaced on crime scenes often. Keep your dick out of the company payroll. It had been a favorite phrase of his army sergeant's. Sage words he was careful to live by.

Zack's grim features softened a fraction and he headed up the hill toward Tess.

Jacob remained by the river's edge, close to the victim. He turned and stared out over the river, not sure what he was looking for. This was a sad, desolate place. "No one deserves this."

Tess came down the hill in her jumpsuit, booties, and gloves. A digital camera hung from a strap around her neck and she held a clipboard in her hand. A pencil stuck out from the ponytail holding up her ebony hair. As Tess approached she glanced down at Jacob's hands.

Jacob read her mind as if it were a book. He wiggled his fingers. "I've got my gloves on like a good boy."

"Good." Tess's pale, smooth skin accentuated sharp, blue eyes. "I don't need anyone contaminating my crime scene." She cast a pointed gaze at her brother. "I know I don't have to tell you about the right gear."

Zack looked bored, as if he'd heard this speech a thousand times. "Anybody ever tell you that you're mean in the morning?"

"My ex-boyfriend." Tess tucked the clipboard under her arm and started to snap pictures with the digital camera.

In the dim morning light the camera's flash illuminated the victim with a brutal clarity. All chatter ceased and a grave silence settled on the scene.

Tess documented the body from every conceivable angle. She stood on the bank and then moved into the shallow, frigid waters and snapped more pictures. She drew sketches and took notes.

Jacob studied the victim as the camera flash exploded. He tried to put himself in her head. To think as she had.

Her shoes and clothes were sensible. Almost prudish. Her hair was loose now, but he guessed that she normally wore it tied back in a tight ponytail. That practical style would have matched her short, neat, unpolished nails. The scarf around her neck was tied in a square knot.

She looked like a librarian. A churchgoer. Someone who walked on the correct side of the road. She was the type of person who would be noticed if she went missing.

The cold seeped into Jacob's bones and he grew restless. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, trying to get the circulation moving. Blazing heat and humidity didn't bother him, but the cold pissed him off.

Jacob swung his gaze to the huddle of surveyors. "I'm going to talk to the crew."

Zack nodded. "Right."

The frozen ground crunched under his feet as he made his way up the embankment. He stopped in front of the men who stood in front of the black Suburban.

A tall man standing in the center of the group nodded. He weighed at least two hundred pounds, sported a thick black beard, and had a tattoo of a fallen angel on his neck. The other crewmen looked younger, maybe midtwenties, and their bloodshot eyes suggested they'd done some heavy drinking last night.

"Which one of you found the body?" Jacob asked.

The tall one answered. "I did. I'm the party chief."

"Your name?"

"Frank Burrows." A deep southern drawl drew out the last name and suggested he was a transplant from the southwestern part of the state.

"Walk me through what you saw," Jacob said.

Tension deepened the furrows on the man's brow. His gaze darted toward the river before settling on Jacob. "I was setting up the survey equipment along the river. Rob here," he said, jabbing his thumb toward the man to his right, "was a few paces behind."

Rob shifted his stance. "I had to take a leak."

Burrows rolled his eyes. "I'd just placed the tripod when I spotted the woman's coat. I thought it was debris from the storm. We're always finding stuff in the water. Tires, shoes, clothes, furniture. I walked over to get a closer look. When I realized it was a woman, I called nine-one-one."

"Did you touch her?"

Burrows folded his arms over his large chest. "Hell no. She didn't look like she was breathing and I didn't want to get too close."

"You didn't check for a pulse?"

He sniffed, his air now defensive. "No."

"Any of your men touch her?


Jacob glanced at the crew. "See anyone around here who didn't belong?"

They all shook their heads no.

Burrows spoke up. "This isn't the kind of place people come to for fun in the winter. There's an old deer stand in one of the trees, so hunters have been through here at one point. But that was before Alderson bought the place. We've got a few illegal trash-dump sights but most of those are a few months old."

"No one lurking around?"

"The road you drove in on is the only way in by car. It ends about a hundred yards past the turnoff."

"How about tire tracks on the road? See anything different, suspicious?"

"Hard to tell what tracks are ours or someone else's. And the snow last night would have covered up anything new."

"What about river access to the site?"

"A flat-bottomed boat could navigate the area but we haven't seen one." Burrows nervously tugged at a string dangling from the edge of his coat.

"Something wrong?" Jacob asked.

A half laugh, half curse burst out of Burrows. "What do you think? I found a dead woman at my job site. All I want right now is to sit in a warm bar and drink a cold beer."

"Warwick," Zack called up from the river's edge. "Tess has found something."

Jacob turned from the surveyors. "Be right there."

Burrows shoved out a breath. "Can I let my men go now? They didn't see nothing and we have another survey job that we can jump on so this entire day isn't a waste."

Jacob shook his head. "Hang around just a little longer."

The party chief swore. "If I'd known this was going to tie us up so long I'd have called the cops after we'd finished our work. A few hours don't matter to her either way."

Jacob glared at him until the man had the sense to drop eye contact. Irritated, Jacob made his way back down to the riverbank and discovered Tess had turned the victim on her back.

The woman's cheek was turned to the side but he could see she had a wide face; high cheekbones; and pale, white skin. Her eyes were closed. The bruising on Jane Doe's neck was very visible now, as were the marks on her wrists. In the gray morning light, her frozen features made her look more like a mannequin than a human. Yet, there was something familiar about her.

Jacob swallowed. Personalizing the body could rob him of objectivity. He'd do a better job in the end if he thought of the body as just a piece of evidence and nothing more.

"Look at her necklace," Tess said.

Jacob leaned closer. A gold charm hung from a chain around her neck. The scripted engraving read Ruth. "Her name is Ruth?"

Zack jotted a note in his spiral notebook. "The necklace looks nice."

Tess nodded as she snapped pictures of the body and got close-ups of the neck and charm. "It's very nice. I'd say it cost good money."

"She doesn't look like one to wear expensive jewelry," Jacob noted. "She's all about practicality."


Excerpted from "Dead Ringer"
by .
Copyright © 2008 Mary Burton.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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