The Third to Die by Allison Brennan: Exclusive Excerpt
An edgy female police detective… An ambitious FBI special agent. Together they are at the heart of the ticking-clock investigation for a psychopathic serial killer.
Detective Kara Quinn, on leave from the LAPD, is on an early morning jog in her hometown of Liberty Lake when she comes upon the body of a young nurse. The manner of death shows a pattern of highly controlled rage. Meanwhile in DC, FBI special agent Mathias Costa is staffing his newly minted Mobile Response Team. Word reaches Matt that the Liberty Lake murder fits the profile of the compulsive Triple Killer. It will be the first case for the MRT. This time they have a chance to stop this zealous if elusive killer before he strikes again. But only if they can figure out who he is and where he is hiding before he disappears for another three years. The stakes are higher than ever before, because if they fail, one of their own will be next…
Los Angeles Police Detective Kara Quinn was technically on vacation. Technically, because she was being paid. She hadn’t come up here to Liberty Lake willingly. But the only reason she hadn’t thrown a complete fit with her boss was because she had been wanting to check in on her grandmother anyway. Emily Dorsey had been sick over Christmas and unable to visit Kara in Santa Monica as she’d done every year since Kara moved from Liberty Lake to California. So the mandatory vacation—otherwise known as paid administrative leave—was a good excuse to come up to Washington and visit.
But that didn’t mean Kara was going to sleep in or watch television half the day.
She didn’t relax well; she needed something to do. Anything.
The cold morning air burned in her lungs as she ran along the familiar eight-mile Liberty Lake Trail. She’d already run the loop her second day here, worked out at a gym in nearby Spokane the next day, and was taking the trail again this morning. She much preferred to exercise outdoors than in a gym, no matter how cold it was.
A February storm a few weeks earlier had left behind two feet of snow that was now a slushy mess. While there would likely be at least one more good snowfall before spring officially arrived, right now Kara took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather—if anyone could call the expected fifty-eight degree high warm. She was surprised that she didn’t hate the cold as much as she thought she would after living in LA for the last twelve years. In fact, she found it refreshing. Of course, anything was better than ten degrees in the middle of January, as it had been when she left this place for good at the age of eighteen with a GED in her pocket and the hope of being a cop in her heart.
Eight miles was a good run for Kara. Longer than the five miles she regularly trekked. She liked to push herself. If she didn’t challenge herself, who would?
She stopped at the four-mile marker, drank half her water bottle, and stretched. The morning sun glistened off the water, refreshing and calming. When she first arrived on the trail, a low layer of thin fog had covered the ground, but as the sun rose, the fog evaporated. She almost wished it hadn’t—she loved running in the mist, where she couldn’t see the rest of the world around her, where she felt like she was wrapped in a damp blanket, the only person on the planet. She’d commented about that feeling once to a long-ago boyfriend, and he said he thought it would get lonely. She just smiled and let him think he was right, but truth be told, she liked solitude.
People, mostly, sucked.
The fog would return. March in the Pacific Northwest? Oh yeah. She’d see rain and fog and more snow before she left—if her boss held her to the two weeks he’d ordered her to take. She’d already been laying the groundwork for an early return, but she couldn’t ask her sergeant for at least a week. That gave her three more days here to suck up her punishment before plotting her return. Maybe she could sneak back early to LA and grab a case before Lex even knew she was in town. He probably expected as much, so what would be the harm?
It’s administrative leave, Kara, not a vacation. You lost it with a suspect.
Lex’s voice bounced in her head. She wished she could make it shut up.
The snow that had built up along the banks was nearly melted, except in the shadows the sun couldn’t touch. No one else was running this early. Liberty Lake was a tourist town during the summer when the population more than doubled, but in March? Only the local yokels. One of the benefits of living in the middle of effing nowhere was that she didn’t have to see anyone if she didn’t want to. She loved Los Angeles, but she didn’t like all the hordes of people. Fortunately everyone in LA tended to ignore everyone else. She took comfort in that—unlike going to high school in Liberty Lake where everyone knew everyone else’s business.
She wasn’t naturally a people person, though she could be if she had to. She could be anyone she needed to be. That was her job.
Her grandma wanted her to move back to Liberty Lake permanently. If Kara was going to do anything for anyone, it would be for Em.
“Spokane isn’t far. They need detectives in Spokane. The nice policeman who didn’t arrest you when you vandalized that car in high school? Remember him? His mom—Bridget, I think. Yes, Bridget Maddox. She’s always asking about you, says her son talks about you from time to time.”
Such was the life here—where no one forgot anything. She’d slashed the tires and dented up the car of a bastard who’d drugged and raped Kara’s one real friend. People forgot about that, because, you know, no fucking proof of rape. But no one forgot what she did to the rapist’s damn car.
Of course Kara remembered Brian Maddox. He’d been a cop in Liberty Lake at the time. He’d stopped her from doing something more stupid than vandalism, taught her more about right and wrong, crime and punishment, than her parents ever had. He hadn’t wanted her to drop out of high school, but when she was eighteen, she had had enough. She got her GED, and he then suggested she test for the police academy.
“I’m transferring to Spokane. More opportunities. They could use a cop like you. You have great instincts, Kara, especially for a kid. The sky’s the limit with a little training and experience.”
It was because of Maddox that she became a cop, that she hadn’t followed in her parents’ criminal footsteps. She’d been so angry as a teenager—angry at everyone, including herself. Mostly, she recognized now, her anger stemmed from feeling she had no control over her life. That the luck of the draw or a cosmic joke had given her two of the craziest, stupidest parents who had ever procreated.
No way she’d move back now to this seven-thousand-person town after living more than a decade in a city of millions where she cherished her anonymity. It wasn’t like Liberty Lake—or even the larger neighboring Spokane—was really home to her; she hadn’t had a real home growing up, not until her mother dumped her at her grandmother’s house when Kara was fifteen.
“Just for a few months, baby, until we get back on our feet.”
Right. Kara knew it was a lie the minute her mother opened her mouth. As if her mother—or any of her asshole boyfriends she ran with when she wasn’t with Kara’s father—could actually do anything productive with their lives. Now the only time Kara heard from either of her parents was when one of them needed something—money, a place to crash, bail. Losers. Both of them. Every time one of them walked into her life, shit happened. She had enough shit in her job, which she actually liked, that she had no desire to deal with anyone else’s shit.
But for all intents and purposes, Washington’s Liberty Lake was Kara’s hometown. She loved her grandma Em in all her weirdness. At least Em had given her a home base. Still, as soon as her boss cleared her, Kara was going back to LA. The longer she was away from her job, the more nervous and jittery she got.
What did that say about her? She was an undercover cop—all she did was play the part of anyone except herself. She preferred it. Who was she anyway? She’d much rather be another person and forget the two who’d spawned her.
Kara started to run again, but the break had tired her out more than rejuvenated her. All those damn memories that coming home had stirred up. She should go back to the gym and beat on one of the dummies. That always brightened her mood.
She was only a few minutes past the marker when she saw deep tire impressions in the mud off the path heading toward the lake. Riding ATVs was a blast—she’d loved it as a teenager. But why go toward the lake? It was usually too rocky and thick with vegetation to maneuver effectively.
Something bright in the direction of the tire treads caught her eye. Neon? Maybe the ATV driver lost control and crashed.
Her cop instincts took over before she consciously thought about it. She stopped, assessed her surroundings. No one was around. The ATV tracks had come from the left of the trail, over the path, and then down toward the lake.
“Hey! Is anyone down there? Anyone hurt?”
Her voice echoed, but there was no answer.
She walked parallel to the tracks, hands free where she could grab her gun if needed.
Yeah, she was weird—she ran with a gun in a fanny pack. Better safe than dead was her motto. It was probably nothing, but something was down by the lake, and neon was a favorite color of bikers and hikers, especially in rural areas where you didn’t want to get mistaken for a deer during hunting season.
She hadn’t heard anything but nature’s sounds since she arrived at the lake for her run—no trucks or ATVs or snowmobiles, so these tracks were likely more than an hour old. But they were relatively fresh, the peaks of the melting snow still sharp. That told her the sun hadn’t hit the tracks, so they were made after sunset last night.
The tracks led almost directly to what Kara had thought was a neon vest. But as she got closer she realized it was much smaller—a bright pink stethoscope. A stethoscope that was wrapped around the neck of a dead woman dressed in green scrubs.
The woman lay faceup, eyes open and glassy, on the rocky ground near the water’s edge. Her stomach had been flayed, and blood soaked into the damp earth beneath her. Her face was so pale, so young, so lifeless, that Kara hesitated. A shiver ran through her body before she locked down her emotions and focused on the crime scene. She realized she’d drawn her gun. She hadn’t consciously remembered, but seeing a dead body did that to a cop—muscle memory took over. Murder victim equals murderer; he might still be around.
She stood silently and assessed the surroundings. Making sure the killer wasn’t somewhere, watching her. She heard nothing except birds happily chirping even as this woman lay dead. Everything else was still. Not even a breeze to rustle the leaves or stir the water. More blood was on the ground to her right, opposite the ATV tracks. How did she come to notice it? How had she picked up on its subtlety?
It’s your instinct. You’re a cop.
But she was more than a cop. She was also a con artist. And being a con artist meant you had to read every person, every situation, every landscape perfectly.
She looked back at the dead woman. From the visible injuries, blood, and lack of bruising around the neck, she was likely exsanguinated. A nurse, by the look of her clothing, as if the stethoscope wasn’t the giveaway. Probably too young to be a doctor.
Too young to be dead.
Kara walked back the way she’d come, retracing her footprints to avoid further contamination of the crime scene, until she reached a spot on the trail where she had a cell signal. She called 911.
“This is LAPD Detective Kara Quinn. I’m about a quarter mile past the four-mile marker on Liberty Lake Trail. I have a DB, adult white female. You’ll want to call in Spokane’s crime scene unit. She’s been murdered, and it ain’t pretty.”
Excerpted from The Third to Die by Allison Brennan, Copyright © 2020 by Allison Brennan. Published by MIRA Books.