When things can’t get any worse, they always do…
Alex Mercer and his fiancée Zoey have weathered many storms, but this latest one might be too much for even them. She’s hiding a secret she fears will send him running for the hills, and she has to tell him before he finds out on his own. Time is definitely not on her side. But with his busy hours at the police academy, there hardly seems a moment to open up to him.
Alex knows something is wrong with Zoey, but he’s too preoccupied to dig into it. Not only is the academy leaving him physically and mentally drained, he’s convinced he’s seeing Flynn Myer, the man who is supposedly in jail for abducting his daughter. No one believes him, but then he starts getting texts trying to arrange a meeting between him Myer.
Meanwhile, Alex’s boss and mentor, Captain Nick Fleshman, is on the case of a serial killer whose burial ground has been unearthed at the home of one of his deputies—one he has a secret relationship with. While he considers the implications of recusing himself, her father becomes the prime suspect.
Alex wants to help Nick and needs to help Zoey, all while trying to put the Myer case to bed for good. But everyone’s secrets are slowing him down, and the killer is on the prowl again. Alex needs more time, but that’s the one thing no one has left.
The man pressed close against a row of prickly bushes as a pickup truck drove by and then out of sight.
He released a breath. Nobody had seen him. Once he was certain the road was clear, he rose just high enough to see over the plants.
Lights still shone from inside the House.
The man checked the time. Again. He swore.
Something was wrong. The couple was off their schedule. They should’ve left by now.
But they hadn’t.
His heart raced, both with worry and irritation—which would soon turn to anger.
He Needed them to leave. Now.
What was he supposed to do? Just keep waiting? Get them out of the house? Find a new location? No! This was the only place that would do. He would have to remain patient.
The problem was that the couple was already late. That meant he had no way of knowing when they would be back, if they did finally leave.
He couldn’t do what he needed without the assurance they’d be gone long enough.
The man drew in a deep breath and held it.
One way or another, something had to be done. He couldn’t hold onto his Treasure for much longer.
It needed to be disposed of.
This waiting wasn’t helping anyone. Least of all him.
He would have to do something.
Wouldn’t be the first time he’d had to take matters into his own hands. But it would be trickier. Riskier.
He’d done it before, so he could do it again.
The man pulled out a phone and double-checked it was the burner. Then he triple-checked.
There was no room for errors.
He pulled up the contact list. The few numbers on this phone all showed on the tiny screen. His thumb hovered over the one he needed, ready to tap it.
The man jumped, then turned back toward the house.
Two people stood on the front porch. The husband locked the door and turned to his wife. They spoke of a phone call that had made them late.
They hurried to their little sedan and drove off faster than usual.
It was time.
The man breathed another sigh of relief and waited a minute to make sure the couple didn’t return.
Frogs bellowed in the distance. Otherwise, everything was silent on the sleepy road.
The other neighbors were either out or settled in for the night. Only the couple who just left were off their schedule.
The man scanned the area, and once he was certain nobody watched, he jumped to his feet and sprinted one block to his car.
He could smell it before he reached it.
He’d waited too long. After this, he’d need to dump the car and get a new one. The smell was too much. There was no way to mask it.
That would have to wait. First, he must bid farewell to his treasure.
How he hated letting go of his sweet prizes. As much as he needed to, it was easier said than done. Each time got harder rather than easier.
Maybe he was getting too old for this.
No! He wasn’t.
His treasures were why he got up in the morning. What kept him going each day, whether he had a new one or not.
Tomorrow was a new day. He could focus on a new one then.
For now, he needed to bury his latest treasure.
He held his breath as he climbed into the clunker he’d stolen years ago, and started it. Then he pulled onto the road and drove around the block, parking just out of sight of the back of the now-empty house.
His pulse drummed with excitement. Burying the treasures was always just as thrilling as the rest of the process. A different but equal thrill—part fear of getting caught, part saying goodbye, and part anticipation of the next treasure.
The man looked around the quiet street before climbing out of his car and hefting the oversized suitcase from the trunk. The stench made his eyes water. He gagged and blinked away the tears, then lugged the treasure down the unlit backstreet until he reached the fence.
He easily found the latch on the other side and flipped it over, unlocking the gate. It creaked as it opened—just like it had for years. It was almost as though he were the only one to use it.
Once inside, he quickly closed the gate and looked around the large yard that he had long ago memorized. Everything was the same, except now the garden was expanding. Taking up more of the yard.
Ever since the couple’s granddaughter started visiting them, the garden had been getting bigger and bigger.
What he wouldn’t do to get that little girl and add her to his treasure trove.
He shook his head to clear it, then stared down at the spot he’d picked out just for this special prize.
It was now or never.
The man set down the suitcase and checked his thick gloves. Once he was ready, he found the shovel where it always rested against the house.
He tightened the gloves and got to work digging close to the house, just off to the side of a small garden shed.
The suitcase—his treasure trunk—wasn’t very big this time, but he would still need to go deep. The last thing he needed was for the wife or grandchild to decide they wanted to start a new garden here, then find his latest prize.
It was always a risk, given how many of his precious treasures had been buried on the grounds. This newest one was already close to the first one. Maybe they could keep each other company.
That thought offered him solace until he could get his next one.
After a while, sweat broke out on his hairline. He paused and wiped it while catching his breath.
The sound of a car engine made him freeze in place. He listened, waiting for it to drive away.
Instead, it slowed, followed by the squeal of a vehicle’s brakes.
It sounded like it was in the front of the house.
They couldn’t be home already! This was the night they always left for a solid three hours. Sometimes almost four.
The man leaned the shovel against the shed, crept over to the fence, and peeked over.
He swore under his breath.
They were home early. He knew performing the ritual was a bad idea when the schedule was off.
His skin felt on fire. He ran back over to the suitcase and shoved it into the hole. Only about three inches remained between the top of it and the ground.
There was no time to dig the hole deeper.
A car door slammed, then another.
The man released a barely-audible string of profanities as he filled the hole. He cursed the couple for not giving him enough time to properly say goodbye to his treasure.
Once the hole was filled and the sizable chunk of grass placed back on top, he stared at the leftover dirt. Usually, he took his time carrying it over to the garden.
A light shone from inside. It lit up a good portion of the backyard.
Then it dimmed systematically. Someone was closing the blinds on the sliding door on the back porch.
He glanced back at the pile of dirt. If he took it over to the garden, he would risk being seen. The only thing he could do was to spread it near the shed and hope nobody noticed.
So that was what he did. By the time he had finished, he managed to convince himself it looked just like it had before.
Except that he’d covered grass with the dirt.
It would have to do.
He replaced the shovel as it had been, crept to the corner of the house, and checked the windows. Light shone from half a dozen of them, but they all had the blinds drawn.
With any luck, he could make his escape unnoticed.
But luck was already showing it was not on his side tonight.
He pressed himself against the fence and crept along it toward the gate, managing to stay in the shadows. Then he unlatched the lock and pulled the door.
He froze for just a moment before bolting out and closing the gate behind him, not taking the time to check the latch.
Then he ran.