Portrait of Vengeance (Gwen Marcey Series #4)

Portrait of Vengeance (Gwen Marcey Series #4)

by Carrie Stuart Parks

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Overview

“Rich characters, a forensic artist’s eye for detail, and plot twists—Carrie Stuart Parks hits all the right notes!” —Mary Burton, New York Times bestselling author

An unsolved case. A tempest of memories. The future’s at stake—and time is running out . . .

Gwen Marcey has done a good job keeping the pain of her past boxed up. But as she investigates the case of a missing child in Lapwai, Idaho, details keep surfacing that are eerily similar to her childhood traumas. She doesn’t believe in coincidences. So what’s going on here?

No one knows more about the impact of the past than the Nez Perce people of Lapwai. Gwen finds herself an unwelcome visitor to some, making her investigation even more difficult. The questions keep piling up, but answers are slow in coming—and the clock is ticking for a missing little girl. Meanwhile, Gwen’s ex-husband is threatening to take sole custody of their daughter.

As Gwen’s past and present collide, she’s in a desperate race for the truth. Because only truth will ensure she still has a future.



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718083786
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 08/08/2017
Series: Gwen Marcey Series , #4
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 553,424
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Carrie Stuart Parks is a Christy, multiple Carol, and Inspy Award–winning author. She was a 2019 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in mainstream mystery/suspense and has won numerous awards for her fine art as well. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband, Rick, across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law-enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

PRESENT DAY

COMMANDER GARY JAMES, MY BOSS, LOOKED AROUND the room. Five of us had gathered around the "conference table," which was more accurately the dining room table of an old house outside of downtown Missoula, Montana. The government grant that funded us didn't stretch as far as a chrome-and-glass office overlooking the mountains.

I was just happy to be on a regular forensic art job. I had a new identity card with my name printed on it — Gwen Marcey, Forensic Artist — and the unit's seal. A new gun, a set of flex-cuffs, and the use of a car rounded out my perks. I straightened the shiny gold badge mounted on a leather holder and hanging by a chain around my neck. Even though I was still on probation, I was ridiculously proud to wear it.

The Interagency Major Crimes Unit had been in the works for years, the brainchild of two police chiefs who'd been on the painful end of major crime waves. They'd been overwhelmed, understaffed, and underfunded. They pitched the idea of a group of individuals with various specialty backgrounds who could be available on an as-needed basis should a smaller agency get hit with a major crime. In addition to a government grant, the IMCU received an annual fee from the agencies that used it. This concept kept the local agencies in charge of their cases, an idea they relished.

Commander James pointed to the projected image on the screen behind him. "Turning to the last box on the W307 form, this space is for the narrative ..."

I stifled my yawn and peeked again at my watch. This mind-numbing lecture on filling out paperwork had to have gone on for hours. Blake Adkin's plane should have landed by now. He'd be on his way to pick me up. I hadn't seen him since I returned from the case in Kentucky six months ago. I smiled.

"Do you think it's funny when you misspell words on an official form, Gwen?" Commander James asked.

"Oh no, sir. Misspelled words are a serious crime —" Someone kicked me under the table.

"Ump!" I looked around the table but no one would meet my gaze. "I'm just excited about the new cases that came in." I waved at the perfectly aligned stack of files resting in front of him.

He glanced down and I again checked my watch.

"All right." He turned off the projector and picked up the files.

I let out a sigh.

"Four agencies have contacted us in the past day requesting our services." Commander James made sure we were all paying attention. "I've already assigned staff to each of them."

Picking up my mug of stone-cold coffee, I nodded and gave him a slight smile.

He gave me a frosty stare and opened the first file.

I wanted to throw a pencil at his head for being such a boring grumpbox, but if I missed, it would shatter the graphite of a perfectly good pencil.

"Anaconda has a convenience-store robbery with a homicide." Commander James closed the file. "It's the second in three weeks. Jennifer, I'm sending you." He handed the file over to our crime-scene specialist, Jennifer Bailey.

"You men" — James nodded at the two officers on his right — "will be working an accident reconstruction outside Mills, Wyoming. The highway patrol is involved and wants outside assistance."

"Gwen." He turned to me. "Kodiak, Alaska, needs forensic art help on a cold case."

"Pun intended?" I grinned at being sent somewhere besides Mills or Anaconda.

"I don't understand." He frowned.

"You know ... cold? Alaska? Um ..." I gripped my coffee to keep from throwing a pencil anyway. "What's the last case?"

"From the Nez Perce Tribal Police, in Lapwai, Idaho. Double homicide, missing four-year-old child. Killer used a hatchet."

I sloshed the coffee over my hand and onto the table. Jennifer helped me mop up. When I knew my voice would be somewhat steady, I asked, "Where exactly is Lapwai located?"

"North Central Idaho, near Lewiston."

Lewiston? Where my parents had been murdered.

"Are you okay, Gwen?" Jennifer asked. "You're as white as a sheet."

I gave her a trembling smile. "The case just reminds me of an old ... case I was once involved with. What kind of specialist did they ask for?"

"General help in interviewing." Commander James glared at the mess I'd made. "Maybe some crime-scene help. I've assigned it to Kirt."

"No." I took the file before Kirt had a chance to grab it. "They need a forensic artist."

"They didn't ask for one." Kirt reached for the materials I held.

"They've probably never even heard of forensic art." I moved the folder out of range. "Listen, with a missing child, time is critical. By the time someone figures out they saw something, it could be too late. And I ... kinda know the area."

"It's my case." Kirt's voice went up a notch.

Commander James tapped his lower lip. "I don't know —"

"Please." I leaned forward. "You said Kodiak was a cold case. There's no rush. And you know I'm a trained interviewer. And I've worked crime scenes. I'm already packed." To go on a trip to Glacier Park with Blake. I held my breath.

"Okay. I'll call them and say you're coming —"

"Today. I'll be there as fast as I can drive over."

Everyone at the table was staring at me. I didn't care. I ran away from a scene like that once. I wouldn't run again.

CHAPTER 2

I DIDN'T WAIT FOR COMMANDER JAMES TO CHANGE HIS mind. Grabbing the case files, I dodged into the restroom and looked at my watch.

Blake is probably waiting outside. What are you going to say to him?

"He'll understand," I whispered. "I hope." A swift phone call to my best friend, Beth, alerted her to my immediate departure. She agreed to take care of my Great Pyrenees, Winston.

Blake was leaning against his rental car holding a bouquet of coral-colored roses. He wore a low-brimmed, black Stetson over sun-bleached hair, a Pendleton jacket, jeans, and alligator boots. He grinned at my appearance, his manganese-blue eyes crinkling.

Throwing all dignity aside, I flew down the steps and into his arms. He engulfed me in a bear hug, making breathing difficult on several levels. After a few moments I extracted myself and stepped away. "Blake! I'm so happy you're here."

"Ready to go? I've booked two rooms —"

"Wait. There's been a slight change of plans."

The boyish grin on his face turned to a frown. "Your daughter's birthday? Did you decide to be with her today after all? I understand —"

"Not quite. Aynslee's staying with her dad." Neither my daughter nor my ex-husband had bothered to tell me when, or if, they were having a birthday celebration.

"What, then?"

"There's been a homicide, actually, two homicides, and a little girl is missing."

Blake straightened. "That's terrible, but what does it have to do with you? With us?"

"I need to go. It's only for a few days."

His gaze sharpened. "Why you? Aren't there other members of your team who could take care of it?"

I placed my hand on his arm. "No one has my particular skills. Listen, you could come with me. I'd be gone during the day, but we could spend the evenings —"

"I didn't fly all the way here from Kentucky to have a few evenings with you."

"If you can wait, I'll be back in a couple of days —"

"I won't be here in a couple of days." He stepped away.

"I'm sorry, Blake, it's just bad timing. I wanted to see you, I want to see you —"

"Obviously not enough to change your plans." Blake shook his head. He was even more handsome than I remembered.

"Blake, this is important —"

"Important enough that I may not be waiting for you when you're done?"

I searched his face. "If there's anything between us, it can't be this fragile. You'll have to trust me."

He took another step back and stared at me a moment. "Let me think about it." He turned and got into his car.

I should stop him. Someone else could work on the homicide. Commander James wasn't even going to give me the case.

Don't bother. The voice of my ex-husband, Robert, echoed in my brain. You might as well break up with him now, before he has a chance to find out you're damaged goods.

"Shut up, Robert."

You're toxic to men.

"Get out of my head!"

"Are you feeling okay?" Commander James stood behind me as I watched Blake drive off.

"I ... um ... a gnat flew in my ear and ... um, I'm leaving." A gnat? I sounded like a raging idiot.

It was a four-hour drive from Missoula to Lapwai, Idaho. I spent the time trying not to think about the upcoming case. I didn't want to form an opinion without the facts. I wondered instead if Robert was right. Maybe I was toxic to men.

The route took me past the small town of Kamiah. I hadn't been back to this area in more than twenty years.

My sweaty hands slipped on the steering wheel and I grew light-headed. I'd never wanted to return.

How strange that there would be two different ax murders involving four-year-old children. Especially just over sixty miles apart. And within a few miles of where my own biological parents had been slaughtered before I went to live with Holly.

It's just a strange coincidence.

But I didn't believe in coincidences.

The house where the most recent double murder had occurred was easy enough to find. Lapwai's population was just a bit over eleven hundred souls in the rolling hills of the Palouse farming region. Police and emergency vehicles clogged the streets nearby, and I had to park several blocks away.

An attractive female deputy with the name badge of "K. LoneBear" stopped me as I passed under the yellow crime-scene tape. "You can't go in there. It's a crime scene. The chief will give a statement to the press later this afternoon."

"I'm not the press. I'm with the Interagency Major Crimes Unit." I held up my badge. "Your chief requested me."

"Credentials." She held out her hand and tapped her foot while I rummaged in my purse for the identification card and handed it over. She took her time reading it and comparing my face to the photo. "I don't know why we need an outsider like you."

I smiled without showing my teeth.

She pointed outside the crime-scene tape. "Wait there." Not waiting for me to agree, she spun around and headed to the house.

I stayed where I was.

LoneBear returned shortly and signaled for me to enter the house.

The house reeked with the stench of death. I'd never seen so much blood, not even when Holly and Jacob died.

The room reminded me of a painting by Jackson Pollock, monochromatically spattered with perylene maroon. Matching smears of blood tinted the oyster-colored carpet. I gripped the purse strap slung over my shoulder and carefully picked my way through the crimson splashes. Black fingerprint powder created abstract smudges on the different surfaces.

Overturned and broken furniture looked like a herd of buffalo had stampeded through the living room of the single-story ranch.

Several police officers conferred in the dining room straight ahead. The medical examiner must have already removed the bodies, but it was easy to see where one victim had died. The coppery smell permeating the air made me queasy.

LoneBear watched my face intently for a reaction. She looked disappointed when I gave her a slight, dismissive smile. When she turned her head, I swallowed hard and bit my lip.

"The lady from Montana is here," she announced to the room.

My body chose that moment for a massive hot flash, a reminder of the lasting effects of my battle with breast cancer and anti-hormonal therapy. Lava-hot burning started in my chest, raced up my neck, and slammed into my cheeks. Sweat dampened the back of my cerulean-blue uniform blouse, and air seemed to be at a premium. I knew my face would be flushed red with beads of moisture on my upper lip, hardly a professional presentation to a room full of police officers.

I pivoted and studied the blood spatter to my left as if I were at an exhibit at a modern art museum. I hoped by the time anyone came over to greet me my face wouldn't be flushed and sweaty.

Someone on my right cleared his throat, then coughed gently.

I'm just going to have to meet him looking like this. I turned and held out my hand. "Hi. I'm Gwen Marcey, the forensic artist from the Interagency Major Crimes Unit."

The man took my hand as if uncertain whether my hot flash was contagious. "Are you okay?"

"Mmmm."

"Ah, welcome, then, to Lapwai. I'm Seth Kus, chief of the Nez Perce Tribal Police."

I blinked several times. Chief Seth Kus of the Nez Perce Tribal Police was bodice-ripping-cover-of-a-romance-novel handsome. His caramel-colored skin didn't seem to sport pores. Blue-black hair, combed back off a high forehead, gleamed in the overhead light. His black eyes, under level eyebrows, had a slight tilt to the outside corners. A few radiating wrinkles around his eyes spoke of spending time outdoors and squinting at the sun. Midthirties, I'd say. His lips were full, cheeks prominent, and jaw chiseled. I mentally pulled out a stick of charcoal and started drawing him.

"Are you sure you're okay?" he asked again, his right eye narrowing.

I reluctantly dropped my imaginary sketchpad. "Yes. I'm sorry. I came as fast as I could, but it was a long, winding drive from Missoula."

"Well, Mrs. Marcey —"

"Call me Gwen."

"Okay, Gwen, Commander James called and told us you were on your way. He said you were a forensic artist. I'm not sure exactly what it is you do."

"I can do your interviews, of course, and watch subjects for signs of deception. If you have a description from a witness, I can sketch it. I can photograph your scene, scale out and draw it, work on surveillance photos, image modification —"

"Whoa, I'm sold. Everyone in this department is artistically challenged." He started to turn toward the dining room when his attention shifted to my right. "Officer LoneBear, shouldn't you be on patrol now?"

"Of course, Chief. Her gaze held his for a long moment before sliding down his body. "Will you be coming to the casino tonight?"

Chief Kus clenched his jaw. "I might. I'm sure Gwen here" — his gaze slid to my ring finger —"wouldn't mind joining me for a good dinner."

LoneBear looked like she was ready to claw out my eyes.

Chief Kus took my elbow and moved me toward the area of drying blood near the dining room table. "I'm sorry about that. LoneBear ... well, I'm sorry if I put you on the spot."

I waved away his apology.

He nodded his relief. "I've formed a task force. I'm heading up the investigation. You'll be reporting directly to me." He looked around, then pulled me slightly aside and said in a soft voice, "Feelings are running high about these murders. They're our own people, brutally murdered, with a missing child. You may get some pushback for being an outsider."

"Thank you for sharing that. I can handle it. I'll try to ruffle as few feathers as possible."

The chief nodded, then indicated a pool of blood. "The victims' names are Adam Sinopa and his wife, Alice. Adam was found here."

I looked from the floor to the walls in the living room. "The weapon was an ax?"

"Possibly some kind of a small ax or hatchet. We think Adam was struck on the head first with something else."

I knew by now my face wouldn't be flushed. I just hoped it wouldn't go pale. "Okay. So he fled from his attackers but didn't make it. I'm not a blood spatter —"

"The IMCU is sending someone. I just want you to have the background before you meet with the possible witnesses. Alice was in here." He again took my elbow.

Although his fingers only lightly touched my arm, it felt like an electric current.

This is ridiculous. I just blew my relationship with Blake. I didn't need to start another that I could wreck as well. Without appearing to do so, I extracted my arm from his grasp. We arrived at the bedroom and the second crime scene was abundantly apparent.

"We think the murders occurred after midnight but before 0800 this morning." He didn't seem to notice my actions. "Alice was still in bed."

The bed in question had been stripped of bedding, but the mattress and walls told the story. Some blood showed on the right side of the mattress, but the left side was drenched. "She was found on the far left side." He moved in that direction. "On the floor between the bed and wall."

"So she rolled away from her killer."

Chief Kus's eyebrows rose. "I thought you weren't a blood spatter expert."

"I'm not."

The man stared at me a moment. "Must be that artistic eye."

"Something like that."

He moved away from the bed and waved me toward the door. This time he didn't take my arm. "The phone lines were cut. The daughter's room is over here."

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Portrait of Vengeance"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Carrie Stuart Parks.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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