A ruthless killer is targeting the families of soldiers in a U.S. Army colonel's brigade. Special agent Jamison Steele, of the Criminal Investigation Division, vows to stop himbecause this time, Jamison's heart is involved. The colonel's daughter, the woman who loved and left Jamison without a word, came face-to-face with the murderer. Protecting Michele Logan means constant surveillance. And solving the mystery of the serial killer's motive requires asking Michele the questions she least wants to answer. Questions that may lead them both into a deadly trap.
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Angry storm clouds turned the evening sky over Fort Rickman, Georgia, as dark as the mood within the car. Michele Logan pulled her eyes from the road and glanced at her mother, sitting next to her in the passenger seat.
Roberta Logan, usually the poised colonel's wife, toyed with the collar of her blouse and gave voice to a subject that had weighed on Michele's heart for the past two years. "Despite what you think, dear, you haven't gotten over your brother's death."
Ever since she and her mother had left her parents' quarters en route to the potluck dinner, Roberta had insisted on talking about the accident that had claimed Lance's life. The topic added to Michele's anxiety, especially with the inclement August weather and the darkening night.
"Aren't you the one who insists life goes on, Mother?"
"And it does, dear, but that doesn't mean you've worked through your grief." Roberta turned her gaze toward the encroaching storm. "As I've told you before, you weren't to blame."
True enough that Michele wasn't to blame for the crashed army helicopter, yet she still felt responsible for her brother's death. If she had visited that weekend, he never would have been on board the fateful flight.
"I don't like the looks of those clouds." Distracted by the storm, Roberta worried her fingers. "Maybe Yolanda should have canceled the potluck."
"And disappoint the wives in Dad's brigade? You said it's important for the women to come together socially when the men were deployed."
"But the weatherman mentioned another line of storms moving into Georgia." Her mother's voice grew increasingly concerned. "You should have stayed in Atlanta until the bad weather passed, dear."
"I told you I want to help with preparations for the brigade's return to Fort Rickman."
"Which won't be for another week. The real reason you came home early is to visit the cemetery tomorrow. It's been two years. You don't need to spend each anniversary crying at Lance's grave site."
"I'm not crying."
"But you will be tomorrow." Roberta shifted in the seat and sighed. "You never should have left post in the first place."
Although she wouldn't admit it, Michele sometimes wondered if moving to Atlanta ten months ago had been a mistake. She hadn't seen Jamison Steele in all that time, but she'd thought about him far too often. They had dated for almost a year, and she had believed he was everything she'd wanted in a guy. When an investigation turned deadly on post, she realized her mistake.
As if sensing her struggle, Roberta gazed knowingly at her daughter. "Your father and I would love to have you move back, dear. You could work from home."
"I I can't."
Roberta rubbed her hand over Michele's shoulder. "Just think about it."
Moving back wasn't an option. Michele had made a new life for herself. One that didn't involve the military. She was happy in Atlanta, or so she kept telling herself.
Droplets of rain spattered against the windshield as Michele turned into the Buckner Housing Area. She activated the wipers and flipped the lights to high beam, exposing broken twigs and leaves that had fallen in the last downpour.
The street was long and narrow and led to a two-story home at the dead end of a cul-de-sac surrounded by a thick forest of hardwoods and tall pines. Michele pulled to the curb in front of the dark quarters.
Mrs. Logan eyed the house completely devoid of light. "Yolanda must have lost power in the storm." Thunder rumbled overhead, and fat raindrops pummeled the car.
"I'll get the casserole, Mother. You make a run for the door." Michele grabbed the ceramic dish from the backseat and raced behind her mother to the covered porch.
Roberta tapped twice with the brass knocker. When no one answered, she glanced questioningly at Michele and then pushed the door open.
"Yolanda, it's Roberta and Michele. We're early, but we wanted to help before the others arrive." Roberta stepped inside and motioned Michele to follow. A bolt of lightning sizzled across the sky. A second later, thunder shook the house.
An earthy smell wafted past Michele. She closed the door and looked left into the dining area. Flames from two large candles flickered over the linen tablecloth, highlighting the plates and silverware stacked on the sideboard.
"Yolanda, where are you?" Roberta walked toward the kitchen, her heels clipping over the hardwood floor.
Michele placed the casserole on the dining table before she returned to the foyer. At the opposite end of the hallway, her mother stopped short, hands on her hips.
Roberta's raised voice and insistent call twisted more than a ripple of concern along Michele's spine. A sense of foreboding flooded over her as intense as any she had felt for her father in the twelve months of his deployment. With the silent quarters closing in around her, she was now equally worried about Yolanda.
A floorboard creaked in the living room. Michele turned toward the sound. The settling house, the wind howling down the chimney or was someone there?
She crossed the hallway, drawn by a need to discover not only the source of the noise but also the mineral smell that increased in intensity the closer she got to the living room. Her neck tingled, but she ignored the warning and stepped toward the oversized couch and love seat that filled the center of the living area.
A small table and chair sat nestled in an alcove behind the love seat. Michele tried to make out the dark outline on the pale carpet.
"Yolanda?" From the kitchen, Roberta called one more time. Her voice was filled with question and a tremble that signified she, too, sensed something was wrong.
Michele's pulse quickened as her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Newspapers lay scattered around an overturned lamp.
Her stomach tightened.
A roar filled her ears. She stepped around the couch and saw the woman lying in a pool of blood.
"No!" Michele's hand flew to her throat in the exact spot where Yolanda's neck had been cut.
A rustle sounded behind her. Before she could turn, a violent force lunged into her. She crashed against the back of the couch. Her ribs took the blow. Pain exploded along her side and mixed with air that whooshed from her lungs. She gasped, and for an instant saw only darkness.
Retreating footsteps sounded in the hallway.
Her mother screamed.
Michele fisted her hands and willed herself to remain conscious. A door slammed shut in the rear of the house.
Still gasping for air, she struggled to her feet and stumbled out of the living area, her only thought to find her mother and make sure she was alive.
Lightning turned the darkness bright for one terrifying second. Roberta lay slumped against the wall.
Dropping to her knees, Michele touched her mother's shoulder. "Mama?"
Roberta moaned. Her eyes blinked open.
Relief rushed over Michele along with a wave of nausea. She hung her head to stave off the passing sickness and dug in her pocket for her cell phone.
A face flashed through her mind. Without weighing the consequences, she punched Speed Dial for a number she should have deleted ten months ago.
He answered on the second ring.
"Criminal Investigation Division, Fort Rickman, Georgia. This is Special Agent Jamison Steele."
The memory of his warm embrace and tender kisses washed over her. For one sweet, illogical second, she felt safe.
"Hello?" He waited for a response. "Jamison"
A sharp intake of air. "Michele?"
"I need help." Rubbing her free hand over her forehead, she tried to focus. "I'm at Quarters 122. In the Buckner Housing Area. Contact the military police."
"One of the wives Her husband's in Afghanistan.
He's in my father's brigade. She was hosting a potluck for the brigade wives. Someone broke in"
Jamison issued a series of commands to a person in his office. "I'm on the way, Michele. The military police are being notified. I'll be there in three minutes. Are you hurt?"
"I.I'm okay. It's Yolanda Hughes."
Michele swallowed down the lump that filled her throat.