Read an Excerpt
Evelyn Baine knew how to think like a killer.
In fact, she was damn good at it. Serial killers, arsonists, bomb-makers, child abductors, terroristsshe'd crawled around in all of their twisted minds. She'd learned their fantasies, figured out their next moves and chased them down.
But no matter how many she found, there were always more.
Even before she stepped inside the unmarked building in Aquia, Virginia, where the FBI hid its Behavioral Analysis Unit, Evelyn knew the requests for profiles on her desk had grown overnight. It was inevitable.
She strode through the entrance and a blast of air-conditioning chased away the mid-June heat, raising goose bumps on her arms. As she headed toward the drab gray bull pen packed with cubicles, the scent of old coffee filled her nostrils. The whiteboard near the front of the bull pen was covered in her boss's distinctive scrawlnotes on a case. They hadn't been there when she'd left last night.
The handful of criminal investigative analysts who'd arrived before heror hadn't gone homegazed at her with bloodshot eyes and quizzical expressions. But it had been a full two weeks since she'd been cleared to come back to work. A full two weeks for them to get used to her not being the first agent through the door in the morning and the last to leave at night.
A full two weeks for her to get used to it, too. But it still felt unnatural.
Slipping into the comfort of her cubicle, she set her briefcase on the floor, hung her suit jacket over the back of her chair and slid her SIG Sauer P228 off her hip and into a drawer. Then she looked at the case files stacked on her desk. Yep, the pile had definitely grown. And the message light on her phone blinked frantically.
Guilt swirled through her, rising up like a sandstorm. If she'd stayed an extra few hours yesterday evening, an extra few hours the evening before, she might've gotten through another couple of files. But she knew from a year of ten-hour days, seven days a week, that cloistering herself in her cubicle wouldn't stop the cases from coming.
It would only stop her from having a life outside the office. And after she'd almost been killed by the serial killer she'd been profiling a month ago, that had become important.
So, she shoved the guilt back, dropped into her chair and dialed her voice mail. There were three requests for follow-up on cases she'd profiled, a pretty typical way to start her morning. She jotted them down and kept going.
The next call was from the FBI's Employee Assistance Program, reminding her that the Bureau had psychologists she could talk to about the case that had nearly killed her, and had claimed another agent's life. Evelyn ground her teeth and deleted it. She had her own psychology degree, and her professional opinion was that she was doing just fine. She was about to hang up when she realized there was one more message.
"I'm looking for Evelyn Baine." The voice was vaguely familiar and every word vibrated with tension. "The Evelyn Baine from Rose Bay. This is Julie Byers. Cassie's mom."
Whatever she said next was drowned out under a sudden ringing in Evelyn's ears, under a bittersweet flood of memories. Cassie, the little girl next door who'd come over the day Evelyn had moved in with her grandparents and announced they were going to be best friends. The girl who hadn't given a damn that Evelyn was the only person in townincluding Evelyn's grandparentswho wasn't white, at least not entirely white. And eighteen years ago, in Rose Bay, that had mattered.
Cassie had been Evelyn's first real friend, a symbol of everything that was supposed to change in her life when she came to stay with her grandparents.
For two years, she and Cassie had been inseparable. And then one night, Cassie had disappeared from her bed. In her place, her abductor had left his calling card, a macabre nursery rhyme.
Cassie had never come home. Julie Byers calling now, eighteen years later, could only mean one thing. They'd found her.
Pressure tightened around her heart. Evelyn had worked enough child abduction cases in her year at BAU to know the statistics. After eighteen years, Cassie wasn't going to be found alive. But she didn't want to snuff out the flicker of hope that just wouldn't die.
With unsteady hands, Evelyn called her voice mail again and skipped through to the last message, to hear what she knew Julie Byers was going to say. Cassie was dead.
She clutched her hands tightly together as the message replayed. "I'm looking for Evelyn Baine. The Evelyn Baine from Rose Bay. This is Julie Byers. Cassie's mom."
In the pause that followed, tears clouded her vision. Her whole body tensed as she waited for Julie Byers to destroy the dream she'd had for eighteen years. The dream of one day seeing Cassie again.
"Please call me, Evelyn."
Her body deflated and she dropped her head to the desk.
Willing her pain not to show on her face, she turned around. "Greg," she croaked.
Greg Ibsen was the closest thing she had to a partner at BAU. Even if she'd sounded normal, he was the only one in the office who might have seen through it. As he stepped into her cubicle, worry brimmed in his soft brown eyes.
"What happened? Are you okay?"
She stared up at him, trying to get control of herself. But her eyes kept losing focus, and her heart still tripped erratically.
"Come on." Greg set his briefcase next to hers and took her arm, pulling her out of her seat.
"Hang on," she croaked, jotting down the number from her voice mail.
She spun back, her eyes on the loud plaid tie someoneprobably his daughter, Lucyhad paired with his somber blue suit. Then Greg was propelling her into an empty interagency coordination room.
He guided her into a chair, then shut the door and leaned against it. "What's wrong?"
Everything was wrong. She'd joined the FBI, joined BAU, to find Cassie, but she'd never told anyone at the Bureau about her past. Except Kyle McKenzie.
Kyle was an operator with the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team. Since HRT and BAU worked closely together, she'd met him the day she joined BAU. And for a whole year, she'd managed to resist his incessant flirting, assuming it was all a joke. Until last month.
Last month, she'd acted on the attraction. And everything between them had changed. Despite the fact that he'd been called away on a case too soon for them to figure out where their relationship was going, she wished he was here. Wished she could lean into his strong arms while she called Cassie's mom.
But Kyle wasn't here. He was somewhere not far from where she'd grown up, on a mission she didn't "need to know" anything about. And the nature of his job meant she had no idea when he'd be back.
Greg had trained her and he'd become a good friend. Hell, he was her emergency contact, because she didn't have any real family left except her grandma, and these days, Evelyn took care of her.
A month ago, Evelyn would have pretended to be fine. She would have brushed off Greg's concern and gone back to work. But she was trying to make a change in her life. So, she told him, "When I was twelve, my best friend, Cassie, disappeared. She was never found." It had been the driving force in her life for eighteen years, the one thing she'd been willing to sacrifice everything else for. "And now
She squeezed her eyes shut. She'd always wanted closure, always needed to know what had happened. But if Cassie was dead, she suddenly, desperately, wanted to stay ignorant.
Greg's hand rested on her arm, and when she opened her eyes he was kneeling next to her, his gaze steady and compassionate. The gaze of someone who'd sat beside too many victims and always known the right thing to say.
And maybe, more than anyone, he'd know what she should do now. He was practiced at comforting survivorshis son, Josh, had watched his birth father kill his mother before Josh had been adopted by Greg and his wife.
"Cassie's mom wants me to call her." The next words didn't want to come, but she forced them out. "It must be because they finally found her body." Saying it out loud felt like ripping a bandage from a wound it had covered so long it had grown into the skin.
Sorrow folded into the creases beside Greg's fawn-colored eyes. "I'm so sorry, Evelyn." He squeezed her hand, those gentle eyes searching hers. "Eighteen years is a long time. Too long for there to be any good outcome."
He was right, of course. If Cassie had still been alive, what hell might she have endured for the past eighteen years?
A rush of images stampeded through her head from a child abduction case she'd profiled in her first month at BAU. She'd gone to the scene to advise HRT when they went into the suspect's house. She'd watched Kyle kick the door in. She could still smell the cordite from the flash-bang, still feel the tension, the restrained hope that maybe, just maybe, they'd find the boy alive.
She'd waited and waited until finally they'd come out. First, two HRT agents leading the suspect, naked, handcuffed and swearing. Then Kyle carrying the boy, miraculously still breathing. Someone had wrapped an FBI jacket around his violated body, but the anguish in his eyesseven hundred days past terrorhad burrowed deep into her soul and she'd known. He hadn't really come out alive.
Greg's voice brought her back to the present. "You were too young to have saved Cassie, Evelyn. But she brought you to us. And to all the victims you did bring home."
"I don't want to hear there's no more hope," she admitted.
Greg didn't let go of her hand as she pulled out her phone and stared at it, not wanting to dial.
"You need to get it over with. It's not going to get any easier, and waiting won't change anything. You can do this."
Evelyn nodded, tried to prepare herself. She dialed the number fast, before she could change her mind. Some cowardly part of her hoped Julie wouldn't pick up, but before the first ring ended, she did.
"Mrs. Byers? It's Evelyn Baine." Her voice sounded strange, too high-pitched and winded, as if she'd just run the Marine training course over at Quantico.
"Evelyn." Julie's voice betrayed that she'd been crying.
Dread intensified, and slivers of ice raced along Evelyn's spine.
"I'm so glad I found you." Julie's voice evened out. "I heard you joined the FBI."
She had? Evelyn had left Rose Bay at seventeen, after her grandma had gotten sick and her mom had suddenly shown up again. She'd never gone back and she hadn't talked to anyone from Rose Bay in more than a decade.
"Yes," Evelyn managed. Get on with it, she wanted to say. Just tell me Cassie's dead.
A sob welled up in her throat and Evelyn clamped her jaw tight, holding it back.
"You probably figured after all this time I'd only be calling. Well, it's about Cassie."
Evelyn's fingers started to tingle and she realized she'd squeezed Greg's hand so tight both of their knuckles had gone bloodless. But she couldn't seem to loosen her grip.
"You found her?"
"No. But the person who took Cassie is back."
The Nursery Rhyme Killer was back.
The words repeated themselves in her head the way gunfire echoed after the shooting stopped, but she couldn't make sense of them. Eighteen years of silence and then another abduction? It wasn't completely unprecedented, but it was really rare.
Eighteen years ago, before kidnapping Cassie, her abductor had taken two other girls, from two other communities in South Carolina. No bodies had ever been found, but the press had called their abductor the Nursery Rhyme Killer.
After Cassie went missing, all of Rose Bay had been terrified, expecting him to strike again. But he never did. The trail had been cold ever since.
And Evelyn had waited eighteen years for the chance to investigate. Determination put speed in her steps as she strode through the bull pen toward her boss's office.
"Attitude incoming," Kendall White singsonged as she marched past his cubicle. "I knew that laid-back thing you had going for the past two weeks was just a ruse," he called after her.
She ignored him, but something uncomfortable wormed around in her gut. In her year at BAU, her work ethic had been intense and nonstop. The past two weeks had probably seemed like an anomaly to her colleagues, but she'd intended to make a real change.
It wasn't going to happen now. Not with the Nursery Rhyme Killer grabbing new victims. She pushed open her boss's door without knocking. "Dan, I need to go to Rose Bay, South Carolina."
Dan Moore, the assistant special agent in charge who ran BAU, lifted his frustrated gaze to hers and sighed. "Damn it." Then he said into the phone at his ear, "I think I know who has it. I'm going to have to call you back."
He hung up the phone and then barked, "Shut the door."
Shit. She should have knocked. But Dan wasn't exactly her biggest fan on the best day, so she tried not to let his reaction worry her.
When she'd closed the door and turned back to him, Dan said, "That was Chief Lamar from Rose Bay."
Relief swept through her. If Rose Bay was formally requesting a profiler, it would be a lot easier to get herself assigned. "I already know the case. I"
"Because you requested the case file under false pretenses?" Dan interrupted, his cheeks darkening to an angry, mottled red. "Chief Lamar was calling to find out if the FBI had come up with anything on the abductor since we'd asked for a copy of the file a month ago. I was in the process of telling him we'd never requested that file when you barged in."
He slapped the desk hard, making her jerk backward. "What the hell are you doing, Evelyn? Assigning yourself cases without the Bureau's knowledge or approval? Are you trying to get yourself investigated by OPR again?"
Evelyn stood a little straighter and prepared for a fight. The Office of Professional Responsibility hadn't really investigated her, but they had reviewed the case she'd profiled last month that had cost another agent his life and almost took hers, too. She'd never been in trouble before that case. It hadn't occurred to her that requesting Cassie's case file could put a stain on her FBI personnel file.
When her grandma had let slip after seventeen years of silence that the note left by Cassie's abductor had said he'd taken her, too, she'd needed to know. And the case file had told her it hadn't been her grandma's dementia talking.
Eighteen years ago, she'd somehow escaped dying alongside Cassie.
Evelyn reached a hand up to smooth hair she knew was tucked neatly into its usual bun. "I had to find out what really happened. This is why I joined the Bureau in the first place."
Dan rubbed his hands over his temples, sending the hair on the sides of his headthe only place it grewshooting outward. "This is that case?"
He hadn't realized? She knew he was aware of her past. Having been best friends with a kidnap victim and being so intensely invested in the case had almost prevented her from being accepted into BAU. But apparently Dan either hadn't looked into the case too closely or had forgotten the details. He'd been a lawyer before joining the Bureau, and since he could easily spout court case details from thirty years ago, she suspected it was the former.