Nothing left to hide. . .
A forensic photographer with the NYPD, Jessica is devastated to receive word of her sister's death in a robbery gone awry. But when she arrives home in Portland and the local PD asks her to take pictures, she finds more than she bargained for. With each new photo she exposes more of her sister's secret erotic life. And when she shares her discoveries with Sam, the super sexy local detective, she experiences passion she never knew possible. But Jessica soon learns she's merely a pawn in a deadly game of betrayal and revenge and begins to wonder if her next picture could be her last. . .
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By KATANA COLLINS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Katana Collins
All rights reserved.
Leaves crunched as Jess Walters dropped her bags to the ground before the bright pink door. Pink. Her least favorite color ever. She groaned, looking up at the three-story home. What had Cass been thinking, buying this atrocity of a house? Sure, it reminded Jess of the house they had grown up in together—in a cracked-out Barbie-meets-suburbia sort of way.
Jess rooted around inside her bottomless purse until she felt the familiar chilled metal of jagged keys. Placing a hand to her camera bag, she inhaled deeply. The feel of the soft leather beneath her palm was calming. The camera was as much a part of her as her own hand. The key slid into the lock easily and with a click the deadbolt turned. After a steely breath, she gave the door a gentle push and, gathering her bags, walked across the threshold. Light flooded the entryway and spilled into the living room. Tears choked the back of her throat, but Jess quickly swallowed them down.
Nothing was out of place—typical of Cass. There were no books strewn about like in Jess's own home in Brooklyn. No piles of dirty laundry and bras flung over the couch. Jess dropped her bags by the stairs, closing the door behind her. The foyer had a vase filled with pinecones and some sort of branchlike plant sprouting out the top.
The dining room opened into a quaint kitchen and Jess dragged her hand across the polished dining room table as she wandered through the first floor. Again—spotless. Except for one almost empty coffee cup which sat uncleaned in the sink. Red lipstick rimmed the edge.
Red? Jess thought as a jagged breath expelled through trembling lips. The lip color was so unlike Cass. Jess lifted the glass, grasping it in two hands. God, she would have hated that this dirty cup was left here for a couple of weeks, Jess thought as the tiniest smile tugged on her lips.
Leaning against the counter, Jess fumbled for her cell, dialing her Kings County precinct. It rang twice before a nasally accented voice answered. "NYPD, Seventy-sixth precinct, how may I help you?"
Jess recognized Deb's voice almost immediately. "Deb, hey, it's Jess. I just wanted to make sure you had my temporary address to mail my most recent paychecks."
There was a pause on the other end of the phone. "Jess ...?"
A heavy sigh stifled in Jess's chest and she caught it before she let it escape into the phone. "Yes. Jessica Walters ... Seventy-sixth precinct's forensic photographer?"
Silence hummed on the other end but then Jess heard the click of computer keys.
"Jesus Christ, Deb, we've worked together for four years. I talked to you last week—remember? I'm in Portland for a few weeks to get my sister's—"
"Oh, right, right, Jessica!" And yet, despite the exclamation, there was still a vacancy in Deb's voice. That lack of warmth, of connection. Yeah, sure, NYPD was a huge department, but come on. "Where should I send your check to?"
Jess gave Deb her sister's address and hung up quickly; the familiar hollow feeling carved out into her chest as she looked around the three-story home. Lifting the coffee cup in her hands once more, she turned it over, examining it. The porcelain was smooth and the edging was gilded with a pewter design.
Never in her life had she felt so alone. Their parents died when Jess was a freshman in high school—a car crash. A fucking hit and run, to be exact. One that left her parents caged under their crumpled car. A shiver tumbled down her spine. She was alone now. Totally and completely alone. She had no grandparents, no cousins, no aunts, no uncles. Her sister was the only family she'd had left. It was depressing how quickly Jess had been able to pack up her belongings and come to Maine. There was no one she needed to call; no one she needed to check in with.
For a while, that had seemed freeing, having zero ties to any place. Being able to pick up and travel whenever she wanted. But now? Now it just felt damn lonely.
Jess sighed and turned the water on, soaping up a sponge. "When I get home, I need to get a dog or something," she muttered to herself. "Something that will miss me when I'm gone."
"Dogs are a lot of work, you know," a voice behind her said.
Jess screamed, spinning to find a man standing there. The soapy mug slipped through her wet fingers, shattering across the linoleum floor with a deafening crash.
The man eyed the broken cup for all of a moment before bending to clean up the pieces of shattered ceramic.
"Wh-who are you? Why are you in Cass's house?" Jess trembled, pressing herself against the counter and feeling behind her for a weapon. Her fingers grazed a knife's handle and she wrapped her palm around it, sliding it behind her.
The man looked up at her from his crouched position. He had light brown hair and striking blue eyes. The smallest hint of an amused grin flashed across his face as he stretched to a standing position, dropping the broken glass into the trash can. "I'm sorry." He brushed his palms on his jeans and extended a hand. "I'm Dane."
Jess eyed his outstretched hand, still clutching the knife behind her. "Hello, Dane" she said, and paused. "You didn't answer my question."
He gave a light chuckle and dropped his hand back to his sides. "Well, since your first question was 'who are you?' I actually did answer you. And you—wait a minute." His eyes narrowed and scanned her face before the smirk spread to a full-on grin. "You're Jess, right? Cass's sister?"
Jess relaxed her shoulders, giving a little nod, but didn't let go of the knife yet.
"I've heard a lot about you. It's nice to finally meet you."
"And yet, I still know nothing about you and why you're here." Fear trembled at the base of her belly. The guy seemed okay; nice, even. But that didn't change the fact that he was a stranger lurking in her sister's home.
"Cass set up an appointment for me to have a look at some leaky pipes upstairs."
"She must've done it weeks ago." Jess narrowed her eyes, studying the man up and down.
"Yeah, it was a couple weeks ago. I was called out of town for a job in Boston and Cass didn't seem to mind the extra wait."
He walked over to the far right cabinet, grabbed a pint glass from the top shelf, and filled it with water. Her eyes wandered over his shoulder to the thin bookshelf on the other side of the room. A framed photograph of her sister and this man—Dane—rested on the top shelf. The two of them in front of Cass's bright pink house, each holding a hammer and grinning from ear to ear.
"You seem awfully comfortable in her home." It was an observation as well as a question. Jess loosened her grip on the knife and slid her hand away from it. She took a few kickboxing classes at her gym. In a worst-case scenario, she could deposit a quick kick to the groin and run like hell.
"Ayuh," he said, his Maine accent becoming more and more prominent as Jess spoke to him. "Cass and I have been friends since she bought this place. Needed quite a bit of work at first." He looked around as though remembering an old friend. "Wouldn't be able to tell it now, huh?"
"Yeah. Except for that awful color outside."
Dane laughed. "Now, that's true. Cass was never about to change that, though. It was one of the reasons she bought the damn place to begin with."
"So, you and Cass were ... friends?"
Dane nodded. "Absolutely. I taught her how to boil a lobstah."
Jess snorted. Her sister damn well knew how to boil lobster. They were raised here in Portland. Which meant Cass used the excuse as a way of getting closer to this guy. The thought brought a warmth in Jess's chest. "Well, how hard can it be to throw a lobster in a pot?"
"You'd be surprised. It's more humane to kill them first, anyway." From his pocket, he pulled a little orange bottle and tossed a pill into his mouth, swallowing. He drank the rest of the water with a glug and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
Jess wasn't sure exactly why she was warming up to the guy, especially considering the hellish week she'd had—but she was nonetheless. And her instincts were usually spot-on.
"So, where's Cass, anyway?" he asked, glancing at his watch. "Still at work probably, huh?"
Sorrow frosted over in her gut. "Oh God," Jess whispered, covering her mouth. "You don't know."
Dane tilted his head. "Know what?" His chest hitched. "Is Cass okay?"
Jess inhaled slowly through her nose. She'd had to make a few of these calls already and they ripped her heart out every time.
"Dane, I'm so sorry ... Cass died."CHAPTER 2
Dane's face drained of all color and he set the empty water glass onto the counter with a thunk. "What?" The words were barely a whisper. "She's ... she's dead?" His grip on the counter was so strong that the tips of his fingers were white. He pushed off, shaking his head and clamping those hands onto his hips instead. "No. No, she can't be. I was gone for only a little over a week! How ...?" The question choked on his tongue and he dropped his head, his mouth pressing into a firm line as though a thought flashed into his mind.
Jess swallowed the lump that had taken up residency at the base of her throat. "I'm sorry. I didn't know many of her friends to call ... I-I sort of relied on her local friends and colleagues to spread the word."
He nodded, bringing his gaze back up and swiping a hand across one escaped tear. "How? When?" he whispered again.
"The police said they suspect it was a robbery gone bad. She was down by the water, on Wright's Wharf. Shot and thrown in. We were lucky that there was a fisherman checking his lobster traps; he saw the whole thing. Otherwise, she may have disappeared and we never would have known ... Jess faded off, letting the silence settle in between them. Lucky. Right. It was laughable to use that word to describe this situation. Even as she recounted the story, it sounded off in her head. For starters, what the hell was her sister doing down by the wharf at one in the morning? "Were you two ... well, were you more than just friends?" she asked after a few seconds.
"Yeah ... no ... I-I ..." Dane shook his head as though trying to clear out the fog. "No," he answered sharply. "We were just friends." His gaze seared Jess and she shivered as he stared at her. "But good friends," he emphasized, the muscles around his throat tightening.
Jess nodded. "Why didn't any of her other friends call you? Or tell me to call you?"
Dane's jaw jumped at the question. "That's a damn good question."
He pushed off the counter, hands balled into fists, and paced the kitchen, growing angrier with each step. "Your sister's a private person. I've never seen a person compartmentalize so many facets of their life before. She had work friends, college friends, family friends ... and she was careful that the different paths never crossed." He met Jess's eyes with a sad smile. "It's why I'm not surprised that she never mentioned me to you. But still—there was one or two people that could have called me—" His voice broke. "I'm surprised they didn't."
Jess also knew that Cass didn't have many friends in the first place. A couple from college who had moved on and now lived in other parts of the country. A few colleagues Jess had heard about here and there from happy hour outings after a long day. But that was pretty much it. But for a girl who never talked about having friends or boyfriends, there were a ton of people Jess had never seen before at Cass's funeral.
Why Cass hadn't actually been dating Dane was a mystery ... he was clearly crazy about her. And Jess could totally see why Cass would be into him, too. He was a large man with bulging muscles and a kind smile. The kind of man who could cook you a soufflé with one hand and bench-press you with the other.
"So, did I miss ... did I miss the funeral?" His eyes pinched at the corners and his mouth tightened into a firm line.
All Jess could do was nod. After a moment, she cleared her throat and choked out, "It was two days ago. I can take you to her grave if you want."
Dane muttered a curse and dropped his head, shaking it back and forth. "I just arrived back into town yesterday. Maybe, if I had gotten here sooner—" He tilted his head, meeting Jess's eyes. "Sorry. I'd appreciate that. Knowing where her grave is, I mean. Some other time, though?"
He carried the pint glass to the sink, turning the water on and starting to clean it. "I can do that," Jess said, gently reaching for the glass.
"I've got it," Dane responded gruffly. Then he added with a small smile, "Can't have you breaking any more dishes." After another moment of painful silence, he dried his hands on the dish towel. "If the funeral was a couple days ago, why weren't you staying here before?"
Good question, Jess thought. It seemed too pathetic to say she couldn't bear the thought of staying here while her sister sat on ice at the morgue. Between the investigation and the autopsy, it took longer than usual to arrange the funeral. Even though she had only been in the water for a few hours, her body was bloated and beyond recognition. Jess couldn't even recognize her face. She had to be confirmed using dental records. "Legalities," she finally managed. "The will just came through this morning and this is now all mine." She glanced around with a heavy sigh.
Dane nodded, his eyes drooping in a way that suggested he knew what she was going through. "If you need anything, call me anytime." He handed her a card, picked up his toolbox, and headed for the door. "Hey, Jess," he said over his shoulder.
She looked up in time to catch the glint of moisture in the corner of his eyes. "I'm so sorry for your loss," he finished.
"You too, Dane," she answered. And with that, he slipped out the door. "You too." She sighed once more.
Unzipping her camera bag, Jess pulled out her Canon and wide-angle lens. She had no idea what to do with this house. On one hand, it was one of the few connections to her sister she had left. On the other, her life, her home was back in Brooklyn. It had been years since Jess had called Portland home ... and she wasn't about to start now.
Lifting the camera, she wrapped the strap several times around her wrist and climbed the stairs. No matter what she did with this home, she'd need photographs of it; whether selling, renting, or using it as a summer place, documentation of the space was a must. Besides, life seemed clearer to Jess when she was looking at it through the lens.
As with any real estate property, Jess began at the top floor, climbing the stairs into what was likely once an attic, but had been renovated into an office and an extra bedroom. Wood paneling adorned the room in a throwback to the seventies, but not nearly as cheap looking as some places Jess had seen. It had a rustic log cabin charm to it in that way New England was well-known for.
There wasn't much to the top room—a beautiful skylight, a twin bed, a desk and chair. That was about it. Down on the second floor was another guest room, a bathroom, and the master bedroom. A tightness caught in Jess's throat as she peeked into Cass's bedroom. It held a cottage-style charm to it and Jess inhaled deeply; it even smelled like Cass in there. Her throat closed and there was a burning at the back of her eyes. One single tear escaped, gliding a salty path down the side of her nose and over her lips. She couldn't go in there. Not yet. Not without a little alcohol and a lot more preparation.
Creeping back, she bumped into a table resting next to the entrance to the guest bedroom and gasped as the corner slammed into the small of her back.
The pain, though sharp, was exactly the distraction she needed. There was always time to photograph her sister's bedroom later. So instead she ducked into the guest room, finishing quickly and moving down to the living room.
The design of the home was exquisite. Though she and Cass had completely different styles, her sister's decor was simple and classic. The L-shaped leather sectional added sleekness to the otherwise historical home. Jess stepped back, pressing herself against the staircase in order to get the entire room into the frame.
She refocused onto the fireplace and snapped another shot. A glistening light caught her attention from under the couch and Jess paused, narrowing her gaze.
Excerpted from Wicked Exposure by KATANA COLLINS. Copyright © 2015 Katana Collins. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A suspenseful murder mystery with plenty of intrigue. Jessica is a forensic photographer and rushes back home when she learns her sister has been murdered. She is even more shocked to learn of her sister’s secret life when she takes a job with the local police department to help investigate. Sam is a detective on the case and the attraction between them is intense. As she gets closer and closer to the truth her life is more in danger. A sexy suspenseful roller coaster ride, I couldn’t put down and am looking forward to more!
Nothing left to hide. . . A forensic photographer with the NYPD, Jessica is devastated to receive word of her sister's death in a robbery gone awry. But when she arrives home in Portland and the local PD asks her to take pictures, she finds more than she bargained for. With each new photo she exposes more of her sister's secret erotic life. And when she shares her discoveries with Sam, the super sexy local detective, she experiences passion she never knew possible. But Jessica soon learns she's merely a pawn in a deadly game of betrayal and revenge and begins to wonder if her next picture could be her last. . . Review: aaaaaaahhhhhhhhh! Well, crap! I guess I should have read the description a little better, but I didn't. So I am reading and reading, and thinking "boy I am at 92% and the story better be wrapping up soon", well nope. This is has a cliff-hanger ending and then I look up the date for the next book and it is not until October, double crap! I want to know what happens. Other than the cliff-hanger, I really got into the story. They mystery and suspense is great and I am still trying to guess who is really behind Cass's death. I have not read this Author before and definitely plan to go read more by her, especially the next book in this series, but not until October . This is not just a mystery, we also get some super sexiness. Because of Jessica's submissive nature and her first love Sam is a Dom and their rekindling of their love for each other. And as Jessica tries to find the cause of her sister's death it leads her to find out that her sister was hosting BDSM parties in her house and was herself a submissive. I have read some of the other reviews and I can see where the blurb of this story is a little misleading, but for me I actually like the story more than the impression of what the story was going to be from the blurb. I loved this blend of romance and mystery and will be sitting waiting patiently for the next book. 4.5Stars
Wicked Exposure, Katana Collins Genre: Romance, Erotica Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews I knew already from Katana’s Soul series that I enjoy her writing style but this one isn’t paranormal, so wondered if I’d like it as much as I do her fantasy books. I did, that's the short answer, its got everything I like in it. A good story, great characters, suspense that's not too overcomplicated but still makes me struggle to work out who could be behind things, and of course some very sensual and spicy scenes. I got sucked into this read very quickly. Yes there were some things I had issues with, such as how Jessica lets so much go without questioning, and esp the party stuff....but for me the best way was to shut down that line of critical thinking and just enjoy the story. I may not have liked Jessica being so accepting but it let the novel progress into areas it needed to go. I like the way bits unfold carefully, the way there are parts and people that seem to fit the growing mystery, and then something comes up to make me doubt them. The steam between Sam and Jessica – and the scenes – are scorching and very sensual and worked perfectly given their background. I enjoyed too that its a rocky road for them and not just pick up where they left off all those years before. Dane – he’s a mysterious character and I want to know more about him, he’s very enigmatic and I’m sure he knows much more than he’s saying but whether he’s actually behind things who knows...I can’t quiet see it but then? The dangers start stacking up quickly and the body count grows. Just when I think I’ve worked out one possible angle it all changes. Add in the romance that’s on, off and then on again and its for me the perfect mix of sensual romance and addictive mystery. The only downside is my pet hate, cliff-hanger ending Stars: five, a great read and I so wish the next part was ready now – I hate waiting, especially when it ends like this. ARC provided by Netgalley and publishers. Edit: I emailed Katana about the follow up. The final part is out Oct 27th 2015.