First came the floods. Then came the bodies. The victims—strangled, then buried along the shores of the Mississippi—have finally been unearthed, years after they disappeared. He remembers every satisfying kill . . . each woman’s terror and agony. But there’s only one he truly wanted. And fate has brought her within reach again . . .
HE KNOWS YOU
Jaci Patterson was sixteen when she found the first golden locket on her porch. Inside were a few strands of hair wrapped around a scrap of bloodstained ribbon. Though the “gifts” kept arriving, no one believed her hunch that a serial killer was at work. Now Jaci has returned home . . . and the nightmare is starting once more.
AND HE’LL NEVER LET YOU GO
Back then, Rylan Cooper was an arrogant deputy sheriff convinced that Jaci was just an attention—seeking teen. It was a fatal mistake. There’s a murderer in their midst, someone determined to settle old scores and keep playing a twisted game. And it won’t end until Jaci is his forever . . .
“Alexandra Ivy gives readers a nice balance of romance and suspense in her fast-paced, well-plotted novel.” —Kat Martin, New York Times bestselling author
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
First came the floods. And then the bodies ...
Jaci Patterson was running late.
It all started when she woke at her usual time of four a.m. Yes, she really and truly woke at that indecent hour, five days a week. On the weekends, she allowed herself to sleep in until six. But this morning, when she crawled out of bed, she discovered the electricity was out.
The lack of power had nothing to do with the sketchy electrical lines that ran to her remote farmhouse in the northeast corner of Missouri. At least not this time. Instead, it could be blamed on the rains that continued to hammer the entire Midwest day after day.
When the lights grudgingly flickered on an hour later, she had to rush through her routine, grateful that she'd baked two dozen peach tarts and several loaves of bread the night before.
As it was, she'd barely managed to finish her blueberry muffins and scones before she had to load them into the back of her Jeep. Then, locking her two black Labs, Riff and Raff, in the barn so they didn't destroy her house while she was gone, she headed toward Heron, the small town just ten miles away.
Predictably, she was barreling down the muddy lane that led to the small farm that'd once belonged to her grandparents, when she discovered the road was blocked before she could reach the intersection. Crap. Obviously the levee had broken during the night, releasing the swollen fury of the Mississippi River.
It was no wonder her electricity had gone out.
Grimacing at the knowledge that her bottom fields, along with most of her neighbors', were probably flooded, she put the Jeep in reverse. Then, careful to stay in the center of the muddy road, she reversed her way back to the lane. Once she managed to get turned around, she headed in the opposite direction.
The detour took an extra fifteen minutes, but at least she didn't have to worry about traffic. With fewer than three hundred people, Heron wasn't exactly a hub of activity. In fact, she ran into exactly zero cars as she swung along Main Street.
She splashed through the center of town, which was lined with a small post office, the county courthouse that was built in the eighteen hundreds, with a newer jail that had been added onto the back, a bank, and a beauty parlor. On the opposite side was the Baptist church and next to it a two-story brick building that the local celebrity, Nelson Bradley, had converted into a gallery for his photographs. Farther down the block was a newly constructed tin shed that housed the fire truck and the water department. On the corner was a small diner that had originally been christened the Cozy Kitchen, but had slowly become known as the Bird's Nest by the locals after it'd been taken over by Nancy Bird, or Birdie, as she was affectionately nicknamed.
Pulling into the narrow alley behind the diner, Jaci hopped out of her vehicle to grab the top container of muffins, which were still warm from the oven. Instantly, she regretted not pulling on her jacket as the drizzling rain molded her short, honey-brown hair to her scalp and dampened her Mizzou sweatshirt and faded jeans to her generously curved body.
With a shiver she hurried through the back door, careful to wipe the mud from her rubber boots before entering the kitchen.
Heat smacked her in the face, the contrast from the chilled wind outside making the cramped space feel smothering.
Grimacing, she walked to set the muffins on a narrow, stainless-steel table that was next to the griddle filled with scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage, and sizzling bacon.
The large woman with graying hair and a plump face efficiently flipped a row of pancakes before gesturing toward the woman who was standing at the sink washing dishes. Once the helper had hurried to her side, she handed off her spatula and made her way toward Jaci.
Nancy Bird, better known as Birdie, was fifteen years older than Jaci. When the woman was just seventeen she'd married her high school sweetheart and dropped out of school. The sweetheart turned out to be a horse patootie who'd fled town, leaving Birdie with four young girls to raise on her own.
With a determination that Jaci deeply admired, Birdie had bought the old diner and over the past ten years turned it into the best place to eat in the entire county.
At this early hour her clients usually consisted of farmers, hunters, and school bus drivers who were up before dawn.
"Morning, Birdie." Jaci stepped aside as the older woman efficiently began to place the muffins on a large glass tray that would be set on the counter next to the cash register. Many of the diners liked to have a cup of coffee and muffin once they were done with breakfast.
"Thank God you're here."
"I'm sorry I'm late. The electricity didn't come on until almost five."
Finishing, Birdie grabbed the tray and bustled across the kitchen to hand it to her assistant.
"Take this to the counter," Birdie commanded before turning back to Jaci with a roll of her eyes. "The natives have been threatening to revolt without their favorite muffins."
Jaci smiled, pleased by Birdie's words. She'd learned to bake at her grandmother's side, but it wasn't until she'd inherited her grandparents' farm that she'd considered using her skills to help her make ends meet.
Leaning to the side, she glanced through the large, open space where the food was passed through to the waitresses.
The place hadn't changed in the past ten years. The walls were covered with faded paneling that was decorated with old license plates and a mounted fish caught from the nearby river. The floor was linoleum and the drop ceiling was lit with fluorescent lights.
There were a half dozen tables arranged around the square room with one long table at the back where a group of farmers showed up daily to drink coffee and share the local gossip.
At the moment, every seat was filled with patrons wearing buff coveralls, camo jackets, and Cardinal baseball hats.
Jaci released a slow whistle. "Damn, woman. That's quite a crowd," she said, a rueful smile touching her lips. The rains meant that no one was able to get into the fields. "At least someone can benefit from this latest downpour."
"Benefit?" Birdie sucked in a sharp breath, her hands landing on her generous hips. "I hope you're not suggesting that I'm the sort of person who enjoys benefiting from a tragedy, Jaci Patterson," she chastised. "People want to get together to discuss what's happened and I have the local spot for them to gather."
Jaci blinked, caught off guard by her friend's sharp reprimand. Then, absorbing the older woman's words, she stiffened in concern.
"Tragedy?" she breathed.
Birdie's features softened. "You haven't heard?"
Jaci felt a tremor of unease. She'd already lost her father to a drunk driver before she was even born, and then her grandmother when she was seventeen. Her grandfather had passed just two years ago. She was still raw from their deaths.
"No, I haven't heard anything. Like I said, the electricity went out last night and as soon as it came back on I started baking. Has someone died?"
"I'm afraid so."
"No one knows for sure yet," Birdie told her.
Jaci blinked in confusion. "How could they not know?"
"The levee broke in the middle of the night."
"Yeah, I figured that out when I discovered that the road was closed. ... Oh hell." She tensed as her unease became sharp-edged fear. The levee had broken before and flooded fields, but the neighbor to her south had recently built a new house much closer to the river. "It didn't reach Frank's home, did it?"
Birdie shook her head. "Just the back pasture."
"Then what are you talking about?"
"When Frank went to check on the breach, he saw something floating in the middle of his field."
Jaci cringed. Poor Frank. He must have been shocked out of his mind.
"Oh my God. It was a dead person?"
"Yep. A woman."
"He didn't recognize her?"
Birdie leaned forward and lowered her voice, as if anyone could hear over the noise from the customers, not to mention the usual kitchen clatter.
"He said it was impossible to know if she was familiar or not."
"I don't suppose he wanted to look too close," Jaci said. If she'd spotted a body in her flooded field she would have jumped into her Jeep and driven away like a maniac.
"It wasn't that. He claimed the woman was too ..." Birdie hesitated, as if she was searching for a more delicate way to express what Frank had said. "Decomposed to make out her features."
"Decomposed?" A strange chill inched down Jaci's spine.
"That's what he's saying."
Jaci absently glanced through the opening into the outer room where she could see Frank surrounded by a group of avid listeners.
When Birdie had said a body, she'd assumed it had been someone who'd been caught in the flood. Maybe she'd fallen in when she was walking along the bank. Or her car might have been swept away when she tried to cross a road with high water.
But she wouldn't be decomposed, would she?
"I've heard that water does strange things to a body," Jaci at last said.
Birdie tugged Jaci toward the back door as her assistant moved to open the fridge. Clearly there was more to the story.
"The body wasn't all that Frank discovered."
Jaci stilled. "There was more?"
"Yep." Birdie whispered, as if it was a big secret. Which was ridiculous. There were no such things as secrets in a town the size of Heron. "Frank called the sheriff, and while he was waiting for Mike to arrive he swears he caught sight of a human skull stuck in the mud at the edge of the road." Birdie gave a horrified shudder. "Can you imagine? Two dead people virtually in his backyard? Gives me the creeps just thinking about it."
Jaci's mouth went dry. "Did Frank say anything else?"
Birdie shrugged. "Just that the sheriff told him to leave and not to talk about what he found." Birdie snorted. "Like anyone wouldn't feel the need to share the fact they found a dead body and a skull in their field."
A familiar dread curdled in the pit of Jaci's stomach.
She was being an idiot. Of course she was. This had nothing to do with her past. Or the mysterious stalker who had made her life hell.
She couldn't shake the sudden premonition that slithered down her spine.
"Is Mike still out at Frank's?" she abruptly demanded, referring to the sheriff, Mike O'Brien.
"Yeah." Birdie sent her a curious glance. "I think he was waiting for the Corps of Engineers to get out there so they could discuss how long it would take for the field to drain." She wrinkled her nose. "I suppose they need to make sure there aren't any other bodies."
A fierce urgency pounded through her. She might be overreacting, but she wasn't going to be satisfied until she spoke to Mike.
"I need to go."
"You haven't had your coffee," Birdie protested.
"Not this morning, thanks, Birdie."
"Okay." The older woman stepped back. "I'll get your money and —"
"I'll stop by later to get it." Jaci turned to pull open the back door.
Instantly a chilled blast of air swept around them.
"What's your rush?" Birdie demanded.
"I have some questions that need answers," she said.
"With who?" Birdie demanded, making a sound of impatience as Jaci darted into the alley and jogged toward her waiting Jeep. "Jaci?"
Not bothering to answer, Jaci jumped into the vehicle and put it in gear. Water trickled down her neck from her wet hair, but when she'd gone into the diner she'd left the engine running with the heater blasting at full steam.
Which meant she was a damp mess, but she wasn't completely miserable.
Angling the vent in a futile effort to dry her soggy sweatshirt, Jaci stomped on the accelerator and headed back toward her house. This time, however, she swerved around the barrier that blocked the road, squishing her way through the muddy path that led along the edge of Frank's property.
It was less than ten miles, but by the time she was pulling her vehicle to a halt, her stomach had managed to clench into a tight ball of nerves.
It didn't matter how many times she told herself that this had nothing to do with the past, she couldn't dismiss her rising tide of fear.
Ignoring the avid crowd of onlookers who were gathered at the edge of the field, Jaci skirted around the wooden barrier, her gaze taking in the sluggish brown water that had surged through the broken levee. Branches and debris swirled through the field. But no body.
"Jaci." A male voice intruded into her distracted thoughts as a skinny man dressed in a dark uniform stepped in front of her.
She forced a smile to her lips. "Morning, Sid."
The young deputy nodded his head toward the flooded field, trying to look suitably somber.
"I guess you heard the news?"
"Yep." Jaci's gaze moved over the deputy's shoulder, landing on the man who was pacing along the edge of the road with a cell phone pressed to his ear.
Sheriff Mike O'Brien.
Only a year older than Jaci's twenty-seven, he was wearing a crisp black uniform with a star on his sleeve that indicated his elected status. Beneath his shirt he was wearing body armor that emphasized his broad, muscular frame. He had light brown hair that he kept cut military-short beneath his black ball cap, and a square face with blunt features and eyes that were an astonishing shade of green. As bright as fresh mint.
He was the sort of solid, dependable man that Jaci had always told herself she should want. Which explained why she'd dated him for several months after returning to Heron.
Unfortunately, they just hadn't clicked. At least not for her. Mike continued to ask her out. She didn't know if he was truly smitten with her, or if she was a convenient date.
After all, Heron wasn't overrun with eligible women.
"I think half the town is here to gawk." Sid once again interrupted her thoughts, his chest puffed out. It was a rare treat to have so much excitement. Jaci, however, was intent on reaching Mike. She stepped around the barrier, neatly avoiding Sid's attempt to grab her arm. "Wait," he commanded.
She marched forward, the mud threatening to suck off her rubber boots.
"I need to speak with Mike," she said, battling her way toward her friend.
Sid made an effort to block her path. "The sheriff closed off this area. He said he didn't want no one here disturbing things until he finished up."
She darted around him. She was nothing if not determined. "I'll just be a minute."
"Don't worry, Sid," she called over her shoulder. "I won't disturb anything."
Realizing he was going to have to physically wrestle her to the ground if he hoped to stop her, Sid returned to his post beside the barrier.
"He's going to put my balls in a vise," he groused.
Jaci concentrated on the increasingly marshy ground in front of her. Even before the breach in the levee the soil had been eroded by the pounding rains. One misstep and she could find her foot being caught in a hidden cavity. The last thing she wanted was to fall on her face.
Or worse, twist an ankle.
Thankfully Mike was distracted by his phone call. Which meant that he didn't have a chance to flee before she was standing directly beside him.
Belatedly realizing he was no longer alone, Mike abruptly turned to scowl at her with blatant annoyance.
"Shit." Shoving his phone into his pocket, he planted his hands on his hips. "I told Sid not to let anyone through," he growled. "I already ran off Nelson when I caught him creeping around, snapping pictures like this was a tourist sight, and Andrew drove his tractor down here to have a look before I could have the field blocked off."
Jaci pressed her lips together. Mike was referring to Nelson Bradley, the photographer who'd recently returned to Heron to open his own gallery. And Andrew Porter, a local farmer who cash-cropped Jaci's land.
"I'm not just anyone," she argued.
"No? And why is that?" he demanded. "Just because we dated doesn't give you special privileges."
She jerked at the unexpected attack. Was he being serious?
"I'm not here because we dated."
He paused, sucking in a deep breath. Clearly he'd had a stressful morning with a day stretching ahead that probably wasn't going to be any better.
And to top it off, the chilled drizzle was threatening to become yet another downpour.
"I'm sorry, Jaci. If you're worried about your land, I'll have Sid drive by and check it out," he at last managed, his temper still evident as he glanced toward the breach in the levee. "At least I will once the damned Corps of Engineers gets here."
Jaci gave an impatient wave of her hand. Did he really think she was interrupting him just to get someone to check a few muddy fields?
"I'm not worried about the land. I'm worried about the dead woman."
"Oh." His expression softened. "It's okay, Jaci. She was no one local."
Excerpted from "Pretend You're Safe"
Copyright © 2017 Debbie Raleigh.
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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