Book three of The Mindhunters
A dedicated profiler. Dr. Holt Patterson has thrown himself into his work since his wife's death, and his relationship with his young son, Theo, is suffering. He's caught in an impossible choicehow can he make the world a safer place for his son without sacrificing valuable family time?
An unrequited love. Sara Burns, the director at Theo's prestigious academy, once loved Holt Patterson, but he was her best friend's husband. Now a decade has passed, and Sara realizes that her feelings are just as strongbut how can she act on them without betraying her friend's memory?
A terrifying killer. A violent man develops an interest in Sara, and sends a body instead of flowers to get her attention. Holt is determined to keep her safe. But the killer is much closer than they expect .
For more of The Mindhunters, check out Only Fear and Avenging Angel, available now!
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About the Author
Anne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling. Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.
She writes to reclaim her sanity.
Find ways to connect with Anne Marie at www.AnneMarieBecker.com.
Read an Excerpt
Finally. Who would have thought an asshole with a broken moral compass would be working this late on a Friday? But then again, maybe the almighty Illinois State Senator Roy Beechum had unfinished business with his piece-on-the-side secretary before going home to his wife for the weekend.
From the floor of the backseat of the bastard's Mercedes, Toxin could seewith only a slight movement of his headboth the side-view and rearview mirrors. In the latter, Beechum's image finally appeared. He stepped off the elevator without so much as a glance at his surroundings. His attention was glued to the screen of his phone as he confidently made his way across the basement-level parking garage, his shiny shoes reflecting the dim yellow light. His steps echoed off the concrete walls.
The guy's suit was tailored to an average-sized body kept in above-average shape. Toxin's surveillance had revealed that Beechum worked out daily and was careful about what he put into his body. Hell, the senator took care of everything in his lifeincluding this Mercedes with the vanilla-scented air freshener and the untouched leather backseat. He took care of every fucking little thing except defending the helpless constituents who needed him. Yet the majority of Chicagoans thought Beechum was John F. Kennedy reincarnated. There were even rumors of a future presidency in a decade or two.
The guy could be Superman and none of that would matter. Once Toxin's little surprise hit Beechum's bloodstream, his heart would stop beating within, oh, two and a half minutes. Kryptonite in the form of a lethal venom. No amount of healthy living could counter that.
Justice: one. Two-faced politicians: zero.
Besides, Beechum wasn't the only one who'd been working out. In order to carry out his mission, Toxin had been strengthening his body and mind against weakness for months. A warrior had to prepare for anything.
Careful not to make any detectable movement, Toxin's glance slid toward the side-view mirror as Beechum got close. Still clueless, the guy simultaneously texted someone with his right hand and pulled his keys out of his pants pocket with his left. Toxin's quick glance to the rearview mirror showed the garage was still deserted, long ago emptied of cars that belonged to people eager to be home for the weekend.
A distracted target. A secluded, deserted location. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. This one's for you, Josh.
Adrenaline flooded Toxin's bunched muscles as he clutched the needle in his left hand. His black hooded windbreaker, carefully matched to the Mercedes' black leather interior and tinted windows, would hide him until Beechum was too close to evade the attack. He ignored the pain in his legs, which burned and cramped from crouching behind the driver's seat. Not much longer now. His breathing quickened and he reviewed the anger management tips he'd picked up in those mandated group therapy sessions, surrendering himself to a focused calm. Good to know those unbearable hours surrounded by miscreants had yielded something useful. Little did that chirpy do-gooder who taught the classes know the skills she'd bestowed upon him would be used to kill. The upshot was Toxin would find much relief for his anger in about twenty seconds.
Beechum stopped at the driver's side and tucked his phone into the pocket of his pants, then shifted his keys to his other hand to unlock the door. Definitely right-handed, as previous observations had indicated. It was a useful tidbit of information when it came to withstanding any attempts by Beechum to deflect the attack.
Toxin wasn't going to fail. He hadn't before. He wouldn't now. He was unstoppable because he was right and these other people were so, so wrong.
Beechum pulled open the door. The car's equilibrium shifted slightly to the left and the leather creaked softly as he sat in the driver seat. Keys jangled. Before making a move, Toxin waited for the gentle scrape of metal indicating Beechum had inserted his key in the ignition.
Leaping into action, Toxin wrapped his right arm across the guy's neck and shoulder from behind. He put his forearm against Beechum's chin, forcing his head up and back into the headrest and silencing any attempt to scream or shout. Not that there'd be anyone to hear.
Beechum grunted and tried to open his mouth to bite, but with Toxin forcing his chin up, it was useless and ended in more grunts and groans. As expected, Beechum's hands came up to Toxin's arm, trying to dislodge it.
With his free hand, Toxin jabbed the needle into the exposed left side of the man's neck. His thumb depressed the plunger. Beechum's hands clawed, his manicured fingertips ineffective against the polyester windbreaker and gloves sheathing Toxin. The senator bucked in his seat, but Toxin held firm. Right makes might.
He hummed a tune that would fill the final two and a half minutes of Beechum's pathetic life.
"He's supposed to be here by eight-thirty, after staying up late with friends?" Holt made his doubt and suspicion clear. He was having what his nine-year-old son, Theo, would have called an opposite dayif Theo had been where he was supposed to be this beautiful Saturday morning. Everything that was supposed to go smoothly was as lumpy as his mother's oatmeal, starting with Holt showing up to pick his son up from his parents' house, only to find they'd given Theo permission to sleep over at a friend's house the night before. "Didn't he know I'd be picking him up?"
His mother set down a bowl of steaming scrambled eggs next to a plate heaped with pancakes, freeing her hands to flutter about. "We asked him to be home by ten." Anxiety was evident in the edge in her voice and her jerky movements, but Betty Patterson never let anyone see her sweat. His mother had an agendaand it smelled suspiciously like an intervention. The expansive breakfast so artfully arranged on the table was the bait.
"Ten?" He could have gotten two more hours of case analysis done.
Betty's gaze went to her plate. "We were hoping to talk to you. We never get a chance to sit down together. You're always rushing this way or that."
Holt's father pushed his plate aside. "Oh, for God's sake, Betty," Ron muttered. "You'd think he was some stranger. Just tell him."
Betty glared at Ron before turning a miserable look on Holt. "We're worried. You're not okay, and it's time you admitted it and let us help you. It's been nearly a year."
Holt laid his fork down on his plate, leaving the rest of his pancake sitting there, soaking up a puddle of syrup. The sweet smell of maple was suddenly abhorrent, and his stomach clenched. His mother couldn't seem to sit still. She rose and retrieved the coffeepot from its perch on the counter, then returned to the table and refilled everyone's mugs. Just what Holt needed, more caffeine to amp up his racing pulse.
"And in the meantime, Theo is also suffering," Betty continued. "More so, since it seems he's lost his father too."
Theo had lost a mother and Holt had lost a wife and a good friend. Yeah, the world was sometimes a shitty place. But Theo hadn't lost his father. "I'm here for him." Holt was unable to keep the defensiveness from his voice.
"On the weekends, yes. And on nights that you're not working late, which isn't all that often."
"He knows I'm only a phone call away."
"He knows nothing of the sort. In fact, he's been acting out at school, trying to get your attention."
"He's nine. It's normal for kids his age to engage in pranks."
"And Theo is a bright boy who shouldn't have to go to summer school, and yet that's where he's spending his time."
Better there than with his father. Holt smashed the thought. At his elbow, his phone rang, jostling against the table where it sat. Relief flooded him until he realized the call must be from work. On a Saturday morning, that was never a good sign. It looked like today's metaphorical oatmeal had formed another lump. He picked up the phone.
The lines that bracketed his mother's mouth deepened. "Can't that wait? We're talking about your future, your son's future. Sara is very concerned."
Sara. The name set Holt's teeth on edge even as a memory of warm, soft lips slipped past his defenses. He stuffed it away. "It's work. I'll just be a moment."
He went out the sliding door onto the patio and took a deep breath of cool, summer-morning air. Freedom. He didn't want to discuss his future. He was just starting to get his bearings in an Elizabethless world. His wife had been a bright light, a firecracker that added spark to the monotony. For the past few months, he'd finally been able to climb out of bed each morning without an anchor weighing his chest down. But flashes of the past and his failure to save Elizabeth sometimes left him curled into the fetal position. Was that what his parents wanted to hear? It wasn't something he particularly wanted to share.
He answered the phone before it could go to voice mail. "Dr. Patterson."
"Good morning, Holt. Your assistance has been requested." Damian Manchester's voice was deep and sure and rarely fluctuated. The man was all business, but he was damn good at that business. As one of Da-mian's employees, Holt appreciated that.
"Where and when?"
"Here in Chicago. Now. The CPD found a body they believe is linked to two other murders over the past several months. They called us because the latest victim is high profile."
Us was the Society for the Study of the Aberrant Mind, otherwise known as SSAM, a private organization that assisted law enforcement agencies in hunting repeat violent offenders. Another function of SSAM was to teach the public to both recognize danger and avoid it. Holt's role as a profilera mindhunter who delved into the minds of the criminals they huntedwas more focused on detection than prevention.
"Illinois State Senator Roy Beechum."
"A politician?" Damn. It would be a particularly sticky case. Profiling potential suspects could be complicated by myriad interested parties with their own agendas.
"I'm sending you the details now. Head over to the scene ASAP. I want you to get the lay of the land while the coroner's still there."
Holt hung up and surveyed the backyard that was as familiar as his hand. Summer barbecues and winter snowmen. Growing up in the suburbs north of Chicago had given him a childhood blessed with all four seasons and oblivious to the dangers in the real world. His mother was a gardener and landscape designer, constantly surrounded by all things lovely. His father, who'd been a police officer with the Evanston Police Department for thirty-two years before retirement, had, one day when Holt was nine, sat him down and told him all about the dangers of the world. I should do the same thing with Theo. Holt's throat tightened. Of course, the kid already knew about loss and grief.
"Holt?" His mother stepped out onto the patio. Her eyes brimmed with concern. "Is everything okay?"
His heart softened. He shouldn't have been so hard on his parents. He'd probably given them good reason to worry that he was slipping into a depression. It had been a very real possibility for weeks after Elizabeth's death, especially as it had followed many months of chemo and radiation. But he was getting his feet under him.
"Yeah." He tucked his phone into his pocket. "Just got a new case."
"We don't mean to chase you away by talking about Theo's future."
"It's just hard to think about the future, period. But I'm starting to. I promise."
"We love having Theo here. You know that." They'd set up the arrangement when Elizabeth's health had taken a nosedive after the third round of chemo had failed. Theo stayed with Betty and Ron whenever Holt was working odd hours. Luckily, they didn't live more than fifteen minutes from his place, or from Theo's school.
"I know. And I miss seeing him more. I do," he said when his mother continued looking at him with concern. "But my job is no place for a kid." And what the hell did that say about his life choices? With Elizabeth around, it had been manageable. Sane. But the kind of hoursand casesHolt worked weren't optimal for raising his son alone.
His mother stepped forward and embraced him. Her lilac scent flooded him with memories of a secure, happy childhood. But the subtle jiggle in his pocket from his phone reminded him Damian's email, with the details of the horror he would be facing today, had arrived in his inbox.
He squeezed his mother and stepped away, bending to brush her creamy cheek with a kiss. "I have to go. Duty calls."
"We didn't get to discuss Theo. Sara says"
Holt stepped away and moved toward the house. "Sara doesn't know everything." When he'd first gotten to know Sara, she'd struck him as intelligent, thoughtful and funny. He'd sensed something special about her. He'd been wrong.
His mother inhaled sharply, then followed him inside as he retreated from the argument. "She's excellent as the Academy's director. And she really cares about Theo. Since you won't return her calls, I've had the pleasure of getting to know her while we talk about my grandson's issues."
"Theo doesn't have any issues. He's in transition, dealing with a major life change. It's normal."
"Whatever happened between you and Sara and Elizabeth is in the past. Having her in Theo's life was what Elizabeth wanted."
But his trusting mother didn't know the full score. Before she'd died, Elizabeth had finally forgiven her former best friend, but he didn't see why he had to.
"Theo needs you. Sara says he's had more issues at school. The fact that a bright kid like him even had to take summer school should have told you something was wrong."
Holt heaved a sigh. "He seems okay to you, though, right?"
His mother hesitated before nodding. "He's okay at home, but at school "
"Good. Look, I promise if Theo's issues worsen, I'll contact his teachers. Right now, I have to get to work." He gave his mother a sheepish look.
She sighed. "You want us to keep Theo for the day?"
"That would be great. If it weren't so important "
"But it is. One day, though, you're going to reassess your priorities and realize experiencing every aspect of Theo's childhood isor should have beenimportant too."