HIS STAR WITNESS RECEIVES THREATS INSTEAD OF CHRISTMAS CARDS IN USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR JULIE MILLER'S MINISERIES THE PRECINCT: TASK FORCE
As the lone surviving victim who can put her attacker away in prison, heiress Bailey Austin becomes the key to the D.A.'s case against a notorious criminal. As lead detective, Spencer Montgomery must prep her for trial. But he becomes her personal protector when she starts receiving terrifying "gifts" meant to scare her away from testifying.
Spencer is a cop on the fast track to making captain one day, if he can keep his emotions in check. But as the stalker's threats escalate, he can't deny that Bailey has thawed his icy heart. Her courage touches him in ways no other woman has, and reminds him that she's more important to him than any investigation.
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"That's him. I recognize his voice. The build's right and the eyes are the same. He's the man who raped me."
Bailey Austin braced her hand against the chilly window that separated her from the suspect and decoys lined up in the adjoining room at KCPD's Fourth Precinct headquarters and closed her eyes. They all wore black clothes and surgical masks over the lower half of their faces. But she didn't need a visual to relive the sounds and smells and every violent, humiliating touch that had changed her life more than a year ago.
"Shut up!" A fist smashed across her cheekbone when she'd dared to beg him to stop. Pain pulsed through her fractured skull, swirling her plastic-covered surroundings into a dizzying vertigo that made her nauseous. Her stomach was already churning from the stingingly bitter smell of vinegar and soap on the washcloth he was bathing her with. As if he could simply wash away the pain and shock and violation of what he had done to her. Bound and battered, helpless to struggle against him, she tried to blank her mind against the unspeakable things he was doing to her. "I'm the one in charge here, you filthy thing," he needlessly reminded her.
Dark eyes swam in and out of focus from the grotesque black-and-white mask he wore. "Please "
"Close your eyes and that mouth, or I'll put the hood on you again." She squeezed her eyes shut, dutifully doing what she could to save herself more punishment. "Do exactly what I tell you," he warned her, scrubbing away any evidentiary trace of himself or the crime scene from her body, "and maybe I'll let you live."
Bailey had been one of the lucky ones. She'd survived.
But she hadn't been able to erase the memory that night, and she couldn't now. Even with a simple recitation from a Kansas City travel brochure, she recognized his voiceso bitter and devoid of caring. "That's him," she repeated, opening her eyes to see a uniformed officer stop and cuff the black-haired man she'd identified. When he peeled off his mask, she recognized his face from the business and society pages of the Kansas City papers. "Brian Elliott is the man who He's the Rose Red Rapist."
District Attorney Dwight Powers stood beside her at the one-way window. "You'll testify to that in court? You'll point him out to the jury?"
She swallowed the emotions that rose in her throat. Despite all logic that told her she was invisible to him here in the look-at room, Bailey hugged her orange wool coat tighter in her arms and backed away from the glass when her attacker turned and looked in her direction. She nodded, transfixed by the cruel eyes, warm with color and yet so cold. There was something wrong with that man, something sick or disconnected inside his head. A brilliantly successful businessman, charming on the surface, yet twisted, damaged, inside. And he'd taken all that rage, all that self-loathing out on her. As if she'd been the cause of his pain. Even through the glass she felt his hatred aimed squarely at her.
She could feel his hands on her all over again, her arms pinned above her head, his body on top of hers, and she shuddered.
"This is a dubious identification at best, Powers, and you know it." Shaking off the nightmare crawling over her skin, Bailey turned away from the glass as Kenna Parker, Brian Elliott's articulate defense attorney, started earning her expensive fee. The taller woman clutched her leather attache in her fist and looked down with sympathy. "I'm sorry for what you've gone through, Miss Austin. But if the district attorney here puts you on the stand, I can promise you that my cross-examination won't be pleasant. If you're certain my client is your attacker, then why didn't you identify him sooner? He's a known figure in Kansas City society."
"I didn't know him. Not personally." Bailey's gaze darted up to meet the blond woman's faintly accusatory question. "I identified him by voice. And I did recognize his eyes as soon as I saw them again. Once he was arrested, I picked out his mug shot from a group of several suspects."
"You had a head injury, didn't you? Perhaps your memory isn't as clear as you'd like it to be."
Before Bailey could form the appropriate words to defend her competence as the prosecution's star witness, Harper Pierce, the family attorney her parents had insisted accompany them down to Precinct headquarters this morning, interrupted.
"Is that a threat, Kenna?" he challenged.
The woman smiled up at the attorney in the three-piece suit. "Of course not. I'm good enough I don't need to make threats." With a polite nod to everyone in the room, she turned on her Italian leather pumps and headed out the door. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go talk to my client. Chief Taylor?"
Mitch Taylor, the Precinct commander who blocked the door, folded his arms across his barrel-chest. "My people made a good arrest, Ms. Parker. They pulled a dangerous man off the streets."
"Did they?" She waited until he stepped aside to let her pass. "Or did they just find a convenient scapegoat so you could close your investigation and get the press off your back?"
Everyone in the tiny room turned their heads at the onslaught of voices and bright lights that greeted the lady attorney as soon as she stepped into the hallway. Reporters.
"Ms. Parker. Is your client a free man?"
"Will he still be out on bail?"
"Did the witness identify him as the Rose Red Rapist?"
"Who is the witness?"
Bailey clutched her stomach as a wave of nausea churned inside her. They were closing in like vultures.
Dwight Powers braced his hand beneath her elbow. "Mitch," he warned.
"I'm on it." With a curt nod, Mitch stepped into the hallway. With a booming voice that made Bailey tremble, he took charge of the surging crowd. "This is a police station, not gossip central. Kate Kilpatrick, our task force liaison to the press, will answer your questions downstairs."
"Is that Brian Elliot?" a woman asked. "Could we talk to him?"
"My client is being released on bail, and we'll be making a formal statement later," Kenna promised.
"Joe! Sarge!" Bailey ducked behind the D.A.'s broad back as Chief Taylor called for backup. "Get them out of here. I'm not putting on a press conference for that scum. The reporters can talk to Elliott outside, once we get his ankle bracelet back on him."
"Yes, sir." A dutiful voice from the hallway hastened to do his chief's bidding. "Ms. Owen. Mr. Knight. This way, people. I'll escort you down to the front door."
As soon as Chief Taylor closed the door behind him, Bailey's mother, Loretta Austin-Mayweather, spoke from the back of the room. "I don't like that woman. Do you think Kenna Parker staged that harangue of reporters to frighten Bailey?"
With the reporters' protesting voices reduced to a murmur, the D.A. released his grip on Bailey. "It's a possibility. She'll use every weapon in her arsenal to prove reasonable doubt to the jury. And since a lot of our case rests on your daughter "
Bailey's chin popped up when he turned his eyes on her. Forcing herself to take easy, calming breaths, Bailey nodded. She had to do this. "Don't worry, Mr. Powers. You can count on me."
Loretta glanced up at the distinguished gentleman standing beside her. Her beautiful features were drawn with worry and fatigue. "Jackson, isn't there something you can do about Ms. Parker to protect Bailey? I've already lost Kyle. I don't think I could stand to see another child get hurt."
Too late for that, Bailey thought as a less-than-kind impulse bubbled up. But her sarcasm quickly turned to sympathy. They'd all been devastated by Kyle's death, her mother to the point that when Bailey had needed her most, Loretta had been incapable of empathizing with her daughter's pain. Her mother had lost weight from the stress and turned to a nightly glass or two of wine in order to sleep. For months now, Loretta had deflected any conversation more serious than the weather or the family's social calendar.
They all had their ways of coping. Bailey just hoped her efforts to take charge of her own life and to confront her attacker would lead to her own healing.
"We won't let that happen," Harper Pierce assured Loretta. "Will we." Bailey had to look away from the solicitous expression on the attorney's handsome face.
He used to look at her that waybefore the assault, when they'd been engaged to be marriedwhen she'd been able to tolerate a flirtatious wink or intimate touch, when she would have been satisfied to become his trophy wife and take her place at his side in Kansas City society. Once, that look would have bolstered her courage. Now, that sly wink was just something else she had to deal with.
"You can't talk me out of this, Harper," Bailey stated firmly. She was no longer the wide-eyed Pollyanna who'd doted on his needs and shared so many interests with him. Understandably, she had to put herselfand now her motherfirst. She crossed the room to give her mother a gentle hug, then pulled away, smiling into the blue eyes that matched her own. "But I promise I'll be as careful as I can, Mother. Mr. Powers has assured my anonymity for as long as possible. And you know my counseling sessions with Dr. Kilpatrick have included lots of advice on ways a woman can keep herself safe. I've been listening. I won't take any unnecessary chances."
"I wish you hadn't cut your hair, dear." Without even acknowledging her daughter's attempt to reassure her, Loretta reached up to smooth Bailey's bangs back into the short wisps at her temple. "Those long, blonde waves were so beautiful."
Yes, but the short haircut was all about being safe, not making the pages of a fashion magazine. Having a man grab her by the hair and sling her to the floor or into the back of a van had a tendency to make a woman want to remove any "handles" that made it easy for an attacker to latch on. "Mother"
"Jackson?" Loretta clung to her husband's arm, turning to Bailey's stepfather for the answers she wanted. "Can't you make this whole mess go away?"
Bailey's stepfather wasn't oblivious to the emotional undercurrents in the room. But his typical response was to try to fix whatever the problem might be. He slid a supportive arm around his wife's waist. "I'll do what-ever's necessary to protect this family, dear." He turned to the D.A. "Do you think Ms. Parker will bring that ugly business with my stepson into the trial?"
"I had nothing to do with that," Bailey protested. She wasn't sure when or where her brother had gotten so caught up with greed that his reckless business dealings had made him desperate enough to kidnap and attempt to murder their half sister, Charlotte. But she knew the devious, violent man who'd been arrested, and subsequently murdered in prison, had no resemblance to the brother she'd once loved and admired. A different sort of character ran through her veins. Something smarter. Stronger. She hoped. "What Kyle did has nothing to do with what happened to me."
But Jackson was looking to the men in the room for a solution, not her. The D.A. understood his concern. "It's possible she could bring your family history into the courtroom, use it to taint the veracity of Bailey's testimony. If there's one liar in the family, why not two? I'd argue irrelevancy, of course."
"I'm not lying," Bailey insisted. "And my head wasn't so scrambled that I've forgotten what I heard and saw and went through that night."
The burly D.A. nodded. "I'm counting on it. The KCPD task force has given me plenty of forensic and circumstantial evidence to make a case. But science and legal jargon can overwhelm a jury. I need you to be the face of all his victims. The jury will sympathize with you and with your eyewitness testimony. They'll convict him, and the judge will put Elliott away for the rest of his life. Kenna Parker, however, is going to do everything she can to discredit you on the witness stand."
Chief Taylor, who put together the task force that had finally brought in the Rose Red Rapist, muttered a choice word beneath his breath. "Leave it to Elliott to buy the best. Parker's already got him out on bail. From what I hear, he got his ex-wife, Mara Boyd-Elliott who runs the Journal, to post it."
"Sounds like Elliott's got all kinds of friends we'll be up against."
Chief Taylor agreed. "I have somebody watching him around the clock, but he's running his business and buying Christmas presents, acting like he's facing traffic court instead of twenty or more years in prison. Kenna's only been in Kansas City for a year, and she's already earned a cutthroat reputation by winning cases." The senior cop pointed a warning finger at the D.A. "My task force worked for more than a year putting this case together and finally bringing him in. It'll demoralize my team, if not this entire city, if Elliott wins in court. Can you beat her, Dwight?"
"I win cases, too. Against tougher odds than this." To his credit, Dwight Powers didn't seem the least bit intimidated by either the reputation of his opposing counsel, pressure from the police department, or the wealth and influence Jackson Mayweather commanded.
Top attorneys. Top cop. Top society movers and shakers. Ex-fiance. A nervous city. Her own fragile sense of confidence. They were all formidable opponents to stand up against in order to make herself heard. But Bailey finally shut down the memories and fear, and hastened to reassure Dwight Powers that he could rely on her to help send Brian Elliott to prison. "I can talk about the rose he left with me, the van he transported me in, how he dumped me in that alley, and what happened during the assault. Once I came to in that horrible room, I remember everything. He bathed me afterward and disinfected me with vinegar." She ignored her mother's pained gasp. "I'm not confused about any of it."
The burly D.A. pulled a pen from his suit jacket and jotted a note onto the yellow legal pad he held. "You'll confirm the surgical mask and stocking cap he wore, as well as a description of the construction site where he took you?"
Bailey nodded. She could do this. She had to stand up and face her attacker in the courtroom or she'd never be able to stand up for herself and feel any sense of strength or self-worth again. "I'll tell everything."
"Oh, sweetie. Surely not everything." Loretta crossed the room to squeeze her daughter's hand. "You were always such a sensitive child. And after this nightmare"
"Mother." Just because she'd never been called on to deal with something like this before didn't mean she couldn't. Bailey pulled her hand away. "I'm twenty-six years old, not a child. I can do this. I need your support, not a lecture to talk me out of doing it." She thumbed over her shoulder toward the empty lineup room. "If I don't stand up against that man now, then I'll be his victim all over againand for the rest of my life." Her hand turned into a fist as angry tears stung her eyes. "And he doesn't get to win."
Jackson came up beside Loretta, draping an arm around her as he squeezed Bailey's shoulder. "We understand that this is part of your recovery, dear. But one of the hardest things in the world is for a parent to see her child suffer. Be patient with us. We'll support whatever you decide. Just know we love you and that we'll be here for you."
As the tears welled up in her mother's eyes, Bailey sniffed back her own. She nodded her thanks and turned to Dwight. "Anything you ask," she vowed. "Anything Ms. Parker asks, I'll answer it. It can't be any harder than knowing he could go free to do the same thing to another woman. I want to feel safe again. I want him rotting in prison."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved this book. It is part of a long series by Julie Miller and I love series books. I love reconnecting with known characters. While this is part of a series it can easily be read as a stand a lone book. The characters are complicated and both have issues that they need to work through. Their issues are best overcome with each other. Julie Miller doesn't disappoint this was an engaging and quick read because you don't want to put it down. I can't wait for the next installment.
Strong characters and non-stop action keep you turning the pages on Julie Miller's newest Intrigue. Our heroine has more than one reason to be looking over her shoulder and thinking about her protector makes her feel much more than safe. To seek his protection is she willing to risk her heart? Loved reading this story and watching a woman finding her strength and her hope for a "happy ever after".