“She hasn’t been missing long.…” Monica’s voice seemed distracted. She ran a hand through her hair. “He dumped her so fast.”
The sheriff drove his shovel into the earth.
“He did it too fast,” Monica whispered, stepping forward, and Luke knew she wasn’t talking about the sheriff.
Luke grabbed her arm and tried hard not to notice the silky feel of her skin. “What are you thinking?”
But she still didn’t look at him. “He likes to play too much for this.” She shook her head. “Too fast,” she said again.
Deputy Lee reached for a shovel. “Damn shame,” he drawled, his voice carrying easily to them.
Monica wrenched her arm free and shoved past the deputy. “Sheriff! Sheriff, we need to talk.”
Davis looked up at Monica. His face flamed beet red. “What we need to do is dig. Right damn now.”
“But why dump her? And here? Why—”
The shovel drove deep again.
Lee hesitated behind her.
Her hands knotted into fists. “This isn’t the way he plays.”
He. Luke knew she was in the killer’s head. No surprise. Monica always seemed to be in his head. She knelt and her fingers hovered over the dirt.
“Monica?” Maybe they should back off a bit, and let the locals claim their dead. At least the parents weren’t here. They didn’t need to see their baby girl get hauled out of the ground.
“Sonofabitch.” This time, the snarl came from Monica. She jumped to her feet and grabbed the shovel from Lee’s hand. And started digging. Hard and fast.
“Dante, help me!”
In two seconds, he had a shovel in his hands. In three, the shovel dug into the dirt.
More deputies joined them. No one spoke, but they worked fast, seeming to catch the desperate energy vibrating through Monica. He glanced up once and caught Davis eyeing Monica with a hint of suspicion in his eyes.
No ice now for her. Her movements were fast, jerky, and—
“Stop!” Her voice broke on the word.
Every man—and the one female deputy there—froze.
Monica leaned in close. “Do you hear that?”
Oh, the hell no, she wasn’t saying—
She fell to her knees and began shoving dirt away with her hands. He saw the wood then. A faded brown.
And he heard…
No damn way.
Monica’s fingers pressed against the wood. Then she aimed her shovel, catching the tip under the wood and wrenching it back.
Boards snapped. More dirt flew.
Luke caught a glimpse of flesh. Looked like the back of an arm lying so still.
“Take it!” Monica tossed her shovel at a slack-jawed Deputy Vance. She caught the broken boards with her hands, began to pull and wrench—
Luke crawled down beside her. The wood bit into his palms and groaned like an old man when he pulled it back.
Blood dripped from Monica’s palm but she kept working and then he saw…
Long red hair.
Monica shoved her hands into the makeshift coffin and locked her grip around the body. She jerked the woman up, turning her so that Luke could see—
A young, pretty face. Smooth and unlined. Eyes closed. Lips pale. Skin chalky.
His jaw clenched. For a minute there, the way Monica had been acting, he’d sure thought—
The woman’s eyes flew open, and she sucked in a sharp gasp of air. Then she screamed. A loud, broken screech of pain and fear. Her hands came up, nails broken, fingers bloody, and she clawed at Monica’s hold.
Vance jumped back, swearing, and Davis rushed forward. “Get the EMTS—get ’em now, get ’em—”
Monica caught the woman’s wrists and held tight. “It’s okay. You’re safe. It’s—”
But the woman in the broken coffin kept screaming, and Luke knew she didn’t believe them.
Not that he blamed her. Not one bit.
“I want to see my daughter!” Monica looked up at the fierce demand, her eyes locking on the woman who was all but crawling over the nurses’ station.
“The mother’s here,” she told Dante and rose slowly to her feet. Her right hand had already been bandaged. No stitches, luckily. She hadn’t realized how deeply the wood had cut her.
Too busy trying to get to the vic.
Knew she was alive.
No way would the perp have let his prey go that easily.
Where would the fun have been in a quick kill? There was no fear in a fast death. No time for the victim to realize what was coming.
A man with stooped shoulders grabbed the woman’s arms and pulled her back.
“I want my daughter!” She fought his hold, not even seeming to realize she’d just elbowed the guy, probably her husband, in the eye.
Such was the way with fear.
Monica slanted a quick glance at Luke and found him watching her. Eyes steady. Seeing too much.
“How’d you know she was still alive?”
Monica swallowed. “I—I didn’t.” She hadn’t known, not at first.
The fear, the hope, had slowly built within her as she studied the scene. He’d attacked too fast. Dread had tightened her body and squeezed her heart until she’d had to dig.
Get. Her. Out. The mantra had screamed in her head.
He rose, his body brushing hers. His fingers feathered over her cheek, pushing back her hair. “Yeah, you did.” His gaze held hers. “I saw it in your eyes.”
She’d have to watch that. No, watch him.
“He enjoys his game,” she told him, and this was the truth. “The more I thought about him…” She forced a shrug and realized the heat from Luke’s body surrounded her, and she could smell him. All these years, and the guy still wore the same cologne. “He likes for his victims to suffer.”
His hand fell away from her. Stupid, but she missed the touch. “But why bury her? Why—”
She jerked her thumb toward the parents. The mother was crying now. No quiet tears there. Loud, shuddering sobs. “I’m betting they’ll be able to tell us why.”
Monica broke away from that green stare. She squared her shoulders and walked across the tiled floor. She felt Dante’s stare on her, then heard the tap of his shoes as he followed her.
The mother looked up at her approach. Mary Billings, retired third-grade teacher. The guy patting her shoulder—definitely the husband Alan—looked scared to death.
Monica cleared her throat and flashed her ID. “Ma’am, I’m Monica Davenport with the FBI, and I need to—”