In the twisted mind of a clever killer, her intelligence makes her a prize worth taking. By whatever means.
Matthew Smart has lost his Assistant, Cameron, in a brutal killing. Devastated, Matthew has to find out who murdered his employee while interviewing potential replacements. Strangely, the applicants all seem to be blowing off their interviews. So when a bold, softly curved beauty named Alexis McFadden shows up in his office looking to fill the position, he’s tempted to hire her just because she’s the only one who wants the job, although he doesn’t believe she’s a good fit. Lucky for Alex, a tricky new case convinces Matthew that he can really use her help. But what if Alex is smart enough to get herself hired against all odds, while in the eyes of a cold-blooded killer, she’s too smart by half?
It wasn’t the constant barking that ripped nails across his nerves when he opened the door. Or even the growl that followed on its tail. It was the deep, unnatural silence accompanied by a butcher store smell.
Matthew Smart grabbed his Glock nine millimeter from his waistband and shushed his dog. “Sit, Max.”
The tiny dachshund did as he was told, dropping to his quivering buttocks on the hard-wood floor. But the growl vibrating in his throat didn’t soften. If anything it grew.
Matthew gave the room a quick look, ducking into the small restroom his clients used, and returned to the office where his assistant, Cameron should have been typing up Matthew’s notes from the day before.
No Cameron. No typing. And then there was that smell…
Max was up again, his tail wagging high and fast, a key to his aggressive mood. In case Matthew missed the constant growling.
Matthew crept along the wall dividing the outer office from his inner sanctuary. His hands tightened around his Glock. His office door was open a few inches. It had been closed and locked the night before when he’d left.
The frosted glass in the door was splattered with something that had dried in trails down the glass. Matthew’s nose twitched as he pushed on the door with his fingertips, hanging back as it creaked slowly open. The elderly ceiling fan above his desk spun lazily overhead, giving off a soft click with each rotation.
On the rug in front of the door was a mug. The contents of the mug formed a black stain on Matthew’s inexpensive Oriental rug, painting jagged stripes over the interior of the door. A manila folder, its guts spread across the rug alongside the spilled coffee, explained why the door was unlocked.
Matthew’s office was empty. But his gaze slipped quickly over the chaos that had once been his refuge. The place had been tossed.
Max trotted through the door and Matthew started to call him back. But the little dog didn’t go far. He sniffed the spilled coffee, dancing sideways through the detritus of Matthew’s professional life lying broken and disheveled over the floor. Max’s short fringe of a tail whipped the air. His moist black nostrils flared over the scattered papers, scenting them. He whined plaintively.
Matthew’s boots crunched over broken glass as he made a quick circuit of the office, finding it just as empty as the outer office had been.
“Come on, Max.” There was one more room to search. Matthew’s palms were damp on the Glock as he moved back through the outer office, heading toward the closed door on the back wall of the main room. He turned the knob with his fingertips, taking care not to touch the back of the knob where, if he was really lucky, he’d be able to pull a fingerprint or two later.
The door stuck, swollen in its frame, and Matthew had to put his shoulder into it to wrench it open. The stench that had greeted him when he’d entered Smart Investigations, Inc. punched him hard once the supply room door was open. He staggered back a step, his stomach roiling.
Max gave a chirp of warning and Matthew lifted his Glock to chest height, allowing it to precede him into the long, narrow room.
A moment later he lowered it again, swearing.
The room was empty except for the man sitting in the desk chair that should have been behind Cameron’s desk. Purple faced with eyes bulging and several long bloody gashes decorating his arms and legs, the man was clearly dead. He wouldn’t be attacking anybody. And whoever had tied the long scarf around his throat and spun the desk chair until he choked to death was already gone.
Max gave a single bark and ran over to lick the tips of Cameron’s long fingers. The little dog’s tail wagged in greeting for a beat and then drooped. He dropped to his haunches and gave a plaintive whine, finally turning to look a question at Matthew.
Matthew scrubbed a hand over his jaw, his eyes filling with tears. “Aw, Cam. Who the hell did this to you?”
Alexis McFadden stared down the little man giving her snake eye across the room. “I can’t believe you’re firing me.”
The little twerp smiled meanly. “Your work was sub-par. I’m giving you a whole week’s pay as severance, McFadden. You have nothing to complain about.”
She snorted, taking a step closer. He cringed back, his hands coming up to fend her off. She almost smiled. Alex wasn’t afraid to use her size to intimidate when she thought it was justified. “Nothing, huh? You’re firing me because I thought receiving a text picture of your junk in stained underwear was outside my job description? Is that what you mean by sub-par?”
The little man shrugged. “You’re delusional. I can’t help it if you have a quirky admirer. The junk in that picture wasn’t mine and you can’t prove it was.”
Unfortunately the cagey little bastard wasn’t wrong. And that was what was making Alex crazy. He’d used a burner phone to send her the disgusting pictures. Just in case she didn’t take it well. She almost laughed at the thought.
Like anybody would take that well.
“You’re right, it could have just been somebody’s little pinkie finger stuffed into the front of his undies.”
The smug grin slid away. “Get the hell out of here, McFadden. You’re fired. And you can forget that week of severance.”
She shook her head, flinging the files she’d carried into his office onto his desk. “It’s a shame, I could have used that dollar fifty to buy a candy bar or something.”
She strode out of the office and headed for the door, determined not to look back. The job had been underwhelming anyway and the man who’d hired her was a perv of the highest order. She’d been shaking off his advances for weeks. If she hadn’t really needed the money…
And that reminder made her sigh. She really did need the job, not to mention the work. Sitting around her studio apartment thinking about everything that had recently gone wrong in her life wasn’t doing a thing for her already acerbic personality.
The sun climbed out of the clouds long enough to warm the top of her head as Alex stepped outside, descending the rust-stained concrete steps to the sidewalk. A moist breeze filtered past, ruffling her heavy, mahogany-brown hair. The air promised rain, reminding her that the weather dude had predicted storms. Even as she had the thought another draft, stronger and cooler, blew her dress around her thighs.
A sharp tone brought Alex’s head up. The man who’d whistled doffed a hard hat and wagged his tongue at her. She rolled her eyes, shaking her head, and pulled the thin sweater she’d donned that morning closer. Thunder rolled across the sky and, just before Alex ducked into the parking garage, the first fat drops of rain pinged against her face.
Just great. The wipers on her ancient beetle bug had stopped working days earlier and she didn’t have the money to get them fixed. She’d have to start looking for another job right away. Hopefully one that was better suited to her skill set. One with a female boss, she decided as she pulled the door of her little blue rust bucket open and ducked inside. She was really tired of dealing with men who thought the world revolved around them and their tiny little penises.
In fact, she was just plain tired of dealing with men. She’d be fine if she didn’t have to talk to one again for at least a month. Maybe a year.