A killer is hiding in plain sight…
The last thing Homicide Detective Josiah Troyer wants is to return to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and his Amish roots. But a madman is killing young girls and Josiah's expertise with the tight-knit community is very much needed by the FBI. Unfortunately, going home means dealing with his past and the woman he left behind.
Hannah is desperately trying to rebuild her life after the death of her Amish husband, and now, the murder of her sister. Protecting her young son from the violence is her only goal––and then she runs into the last man she expected to see, her ex Josiah. He left her eight years ago to work with the Englishers and forgiving him hasn't been easy.
But the killer has Hannah in his crosshairs, and she and Josiah will have to work together if she's going to survive.
|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Joe glanced up from his computer as two suits walked by then entered the captain's office. "Wonder what the feds are doing here."
"How do you know they're FBI?"
His gazed shifted from the door to his partner across the desk. "Are you kidding? Those two look like they just stepped off the movie set for Men in Black. They're feds. Trust me."
"That's it?" Grady laughed, eyeing him over his computer. "Well, that's some mighty fine police work, Detective." Exhaling an amused grunt, his partner shook his head and got back to work logging their witness list for a drive-by on West Seventh, down by the Dorothy Day Center.
"Fifty bucks says I'm right."
Grady grinned and reached across his desk. "You're on."
Joe took his partner's hand in a tight grip, giving it a firm shake. They broke free and bumped knuckles.
"If you're right, and they are feds, they're probably here to give Emerson an award for taking down the Craigslist killer. That case was fucked up, man."
Yes, it was. No one would argue that. Because of Emerson's efforts, a cold-blooded killer was off the streets. Unfortunately, the detective had been shot in the process. But hey, anyone who wasn't willing to die for this job didn't have their heart in it. "Or maybe they're here to crawl up the captain's ass for not calling them in on a serial case. They get territorial about that shit."
Grady quit typing and considered Joe's point. "Maybe ..."
Right on cue, the sound of raised voices echoed through the door. The captain had a temper and he wasn't afraid to use it, but all considered, he was a good guy. His bark was generally worse than his bite. A few minutes later, the door swung open and the captain's ugly mug filled the open space.
"Troyer, get in here!"
His canine partner's head shot up at the shouted command. Joe exchanged a surprised look with Grady and then Dexter. The German Shorthair's expression mirrored Grady's, both silently asking, Who did you piss off this time?
Hard to know ... More than one person came to mind, but he wasn't working any cases that would be of interest to the feds. Joe shrugged and rose from his desk. Dex took his cue and lumbered to his feet, looking no more thrilled to enter the captain's office than Joe. But he had to give his partner props for solidarity. As soon as he entered the room, the door slammed shut and Joe eyed the two suits flanking the captain's desk like sentries.
"Have a seat, Troyer." The captain dropped into his chair and exhaled a heavy sigh.
"If it's all the same to you, I'd prefer to stand." His gaze cut to the feds. "What's this about?"
Neither man spoke, ratcheting the tension in the room and exhausting Joe's generally short patience.
"Detective Josiah Troyer ...?" The taller of the two men finally broke the silence.
The use of his given name caught him off guard. He'd stopped using it eight years ago and wasn't fond of the reminder. That man didn't exist anymore. "Detective Joe Troyer ..." he clarified cautiously. "What can I do for you?"
"We need your help."
"Why would the FBI possibly need my help?"
The spokesman's brow ticked up, seeming surprised at being called out since neither of them had bothered to introduce or identify themselves as federal officers. Joe got the feeling his fifty-bucks was going to be a poor consolation prize.
The man came around the desk and offered his hand. "I'm Special Agent Ford, and this is Special Agent Riker with the BAU."
Joe shook Ford's hand then reached over the corner of the desk to take hold of Riker's. In way of greeting, he cut to the chase and answered Joe's question. "We've got three dead girls, Detective."
Joe appreciated Riker's frank, no bullshit approach. He was often accused of being the same way. Where some may think him crass, and even rude at times, Joe considered himself focused and direct. He wasn't in this business to hone his PR skills. He wanted to catch killers and make this sorry excuse of a world just a little bit safer. But aside from all that, it still didn't explain what two federal agents from the Behavioral Analysis Unit were doing in his captain's office, or what any of this had to do with him.
"Three dead girls ... sounds like you've got a serial on your hands, SA Riker. Not my specialty, gentlemen. We usually call you guys in for that."
"These young women were killed in Lancaster County."
Special Agent Ford tossed a file on the captain's desk and it landed in front of Joe.
He stared at the manila folder, the implications rocketing through him. Fuck ... "They're Amish ..." It was a statement more than a question.
Riker nodded — one slow bend of his head. Now this made sense. Why they were here, why he was here, why the captain was looking at him like that. Yet still, he wasn't ready to tip his hand.
"I don't see what this has to do with me. Why aren't you collaborating with the Sheriff's Department in Lancaster?"
"We are," SA Riker said. "They aren't the problem, it's everyone else — the families, friends, potential witnesses. They won't speak to me and we need someone with ... Let's be frank, Detective Troyer, more experience than the Sheriff's Department has in dealing with this sort of thing. You've got an impressive arrest record. You know what you're doing in the field and don't need anyone holding your hand when it comes to running a murder investigation."
"Special Agent Riker has tried to get these people to open up and cooperate, but —"
A humorless bark of laughter shot from Joe's throat. "And you think they're going to talk to me?" That these feds thought there was a snowball's chance in hell of that happening proved what little they knew about the Amish community.
"They aren't talking to us. The investigation has stalled."
"That's because they don't trust you, and I can guarantee they sure as hell don't trust me."
"But you're one of them, Detective Troyer."
"No, I'm not. I haven't been 'one of them' for eight years. I'm shunned. In their eyes, I'm worse than an outsider."
His Amish roots were the one thing — the one goddamn thing — he swore he'd take to his grave. "How did you find out about me?"
SA Riker grunted, as if insulted by the question. "Let's just say there aren't many police detectives with roots in Lancaster County."
"I'm a Homicide Detective in St. Paul, Minnesota. I don't even have jurisdiction in Pennsylvania."
"We'll take care of that," Ford offered. "Special Agent Riker has been heading up this case. He'll fill you in and continue to work with you behind the scenes."
"I'm sorry, fellas, but I can't help you."
"Look at the file before you tell us that," SA Riker interjected.
Joe didn't want to. He'd seen enough violence and death to last him a lifetime. He didn't need to add the ghosts in that file to the ones already haunting him. But the agents' mirroring scowls of determination indicated they weren't going anywhere — and neither was he — until he looked at that damn file.
With a snarled curse, he snatched it off the desk and flipped it open, his gaze falling to a picture of the first victim. Shit, she was only sixteen years old.
"Do you have any leads?"
"Nothing that's panned out. The Lancaster County Sheriff called us in three weeks ago, a few days after the third victim's body was discovered. We've been playing catch-up ever since. Like I said, no one's talking. Not family. Not friends ..."
SA Riker's pointed stare fixed on him as he flipped the page and studied the crime scene photos. Joe's ability to emotionally detach was one of the things that made him so good at what he did. Emotions didn't belong in this line of work — they misled investigations, skewed perceptions, and caused finite details to be overlooked.
On the flip side, his blessing was also a curse. More than once, he'd been accused of being distant with the people he cared about. "Emotionally unavailable ..." "Unable to connect ..." That's what Tracy said when she was packing her bags six months ago.
She was probably right. "You love that dog more than me." She was probably right about that, too. Dexter didn't bitch at him for the long hours he worked or the cases he obsessed over. He was right there beside him, every grueling step of the way. Without him, he may not have solved some of his cases. It was kind of hard to make a murder charge stick without a body — that's where Dex came in ...
His hand dropped to the dog's head, giving him a pet as he studied the photo. "The ligature mark on the girl's neck is thicker than I'd expect, and I don't see secondary bruising in the picture. Is strangulation the COD?" He flipped to the next page, skimming the autopsy report.
He turned the page to the second victim and studied a similar purple mark running across the girl's throat. "Do you know what he's strangling them with?"
"We believe it's the ties of their bonnets."
"Sonofabitch ... What about toxicology reports?" he asked, not spotting it at a quick glance.
"All negative." Riker answered.
"He's keeping it clean — doesn't want the mess," Joe commented, hedging a guess.
"That's what we're thinking."
"Sexual assault?" He flipped the page. The face of the third victim stared back at him and he cursed. His gut clenched, and he swallowed back the bile burning his throat.
Joe slammed the file closed and tossed it on the desk. Squeezing his eyes shut, he tried to banish the image burned into his retinas as he pinched the bridge of his nose. This isn't happening. Please, God, let this be a bad dream. Oh, it was a nightmare all right, one he couldn't wake up from.
"You all right, Troyer?" the captain asked. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
That's because he had. "I know her ..." he mumbled woodenly. "The third victim, I know her. She's from Churchtown." The last time he'd seen Cassandra Belier she'd been nine years old. But those bright blue eyes, that pixie nose, and her heart-shaped lips hadn't changed a bit. Little Cassie looked just like her sister, and with the passage of time, the young woman in that photograph was almost the exact image of the one he'd walked away from eight years ago.
Agent Riker cursed. "If he knows one of the victims, then he's too close to this case, Ford. Pulling him in will be a conflict of interest."
"Just wait a minute ... Not necessarily. How do you know her, Troyer? The third victim?"
"She's the younger sister of someone I once knew. Our families used to be close."
"Used to be? But not anymore?"
He shook his head. "No, not anymore." It was hard to speak past the lump of emotion lodged in his throat. Where was that famed detachment now? Both of Joe's worlds had just collided with the concussive blast of a nuclear bomb — and he'd bet his ass there was going to be fallout.
"There's no familial connection. I think we can still send him in," Riker commented to his partner. They talked like it was already a done deal, as if he had no say in the matter, and that was the rub — he probably didn't. Not if he wanted to keep his job. And was he really going to be that asshole who let the murder of three girls go unanswered for?
"We don't have a choice," Ford replied, not sounding very pleased with the new development. "It's not like there's a wealth of Amish detectives at our disposal."
"Dammit, I'm not Amish!" Joe snapped, slamming his fist on the captain's desk. "Don't you two get it? I'm shunned. Do you have any idea what that means?" Of course, they didn't. "The other girls ... where are they from?"
"The first victim, Caroline Yoder, was from Manheim. The second, Katherine Johnson, was from Ephrata," SA Riker supplied.
All in Lancaster County ... It didn't escape Joe's notice, the ease in which SA Riker rattled off the names and demographics of the victims. He was familiar with the case. This wasn't just some file that happened to land on the agent's desk.
"He's got a small hunting ground," Joe supplied. "The entire county is less than fifty square miles."
"And most serials have a specific geographic area of operation," Riker added. "They often conduct their killings within comfort zones that are defined by an anchor point — someplace that has meaning to them. I can't think of a better place to hide than in Lancaster County. He can blend in — disappear. This killer is smart. That's why I need you to help me vet him out. We'll be working this case together, but you'll be the face of this investigation. I need you to interview the families and friends of these young women — get them to trust you, to open up. Your cultural insight in this case will be invaluable, Detective Troyer."
Joe sighed and dragged his hand through his hair. "These kills aren't random. He's picking them for a reason. Maybe it's simply because they're Amish, or maybe it's more personal."
"That's what we're counting on you to help us figure out."
"You can't assume the killer is Amish. These girls were in their rumspringa and probably associating with the outside world."
"Their what?" SA Riker asked.
"Never mind." Joe wasn't about to stand there and give these guys an in-service on Amish culture. God help him, he didn't want to do this. Everything inside him rebelled at the thought of going back there. But what choice did he have? It was obvious the feds needed someone investigating the homicides who could bridge these two worlds. Lancaster County had a fucking serial killer in their midst, and no one had a clue if they were looking for an outsider or if the unsub was one of their own.
Poor Hannah ... Damn, he hadn't thought of her in years. Well, that wasn't entirely true. She haunted his dreams more than he cared to admit. How was she handling the loss of her sister? She would be devastated. At least she wasn't alone. She had her husband to comfort her. The facetious thought slithered through his mind as jealousy seeded his veins like bitter poison. And that right there was a perfect example of why he shouldn't be going back to Churchtown.
Joe quickly quelled the jealousy. He had no business getting caught up in petty emotions — especially now. This wasn't about him. Three young women were dead. If he did this, did the unthinkable and returned to Lancaster County, it would be to catch a killer — nothing more. And as soon as the job was done, he would walk away, just like he had eight years ago.
"All right. I'll do it," Joe committed before he gave himself the chance to change his mind. "Give me everything you've got on these cases."CHAPTER 2
"Ho-ly shit ... You're fucking with me, right?"
Joe ignored the laughter and unplugged his laptop, setting it inside the box on his desk, along with the stack of files SAs Riker and Ford left on their way out. His new partner had a meeting back at Quantico and was planning on connecting with him in Churchtown the day after tomorrow. Twenty-four hours — that was how long Joe had to get his ass to Lancaster. Twenty-four hours before he came face-to-face with the world he swore he'd never return to again.
He couldn't think about it — couldn't think about Hannah. It was bad enough he was going to have to sit down with her and her husband Jacob and talk to them about the details of Cassie's death. And Hannah's father ... He'd hoped to never see that sonofabitch again.
"Don't make me regret telling you," Joe growled, his mood darkening by the second. "You're my partner." He stabbed his finger at Grady. "And partners shouldn't lie to each other. That being said, you breathe a word of this to anyone else in the department, and I'll murder you in your sleep. You got it?" Grady's laughter kicked up another decibel, drawing more curious eyes their way. "That's not a very peace-loving thing to say."
Joe flipped him off as he continued packing up his desk, grabbing everything he could possibly need for the next few weeks. "You gonna be all right handling the West Seventh case on your own? Want me to talk to the captain about getting you a temporary partner?"
"Nah, I got it. It's a straight-up homicide. Wrong place at the right time ..."
Joe paused his packing to study Grady. "Is it? The coroner called, said that the bullet pierced the victim's left ventricle. Charles Hazzard was dead before he hit the ground. Either that was a hit, or he was the unluckiest bastard on the face of the earth. Care to make another wager? By the way, you owe me fifty-bucks."
"Shit ... When were you planning on telling me the coroner called?"
Joe shrugged and went back to packing the box. "I just did."
"You're such as asshole, Troyer." Grady shook his head. "But in all seriousness, are you going to be all right going out there by yourself?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Vow of Silence"
Copyright © 2019 Melynda Price.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.