Ice Lake: Gone Cold\Cold Heat\Stone Cold, page 16
Alex wondered how many lifetimes it would take to get the images of Novak’s last murder attempt out of his head.
Apparently not too many, he decided when Leah appeared in the bathroom doorway wearing just a resort bathrobe that hit her about midthigh.
Her hair was damp and pushed away from her face, and she looked a lot more relaxed than when she’d stepped into the bathroom. Of course, the bruises were still there—both the old and the new. But Alex saw past the bruises and looked at her. She was and always would be a knockout, and tonight she was a knockout that he was thankful to have alive.
He was toast.
Even though his brain was telling him to keep some space between them, Alex went to her and drew her into his arms. He brushed a kiss on her cheek—just a quick peck. But the reaction he felt echoed through him.
Yeah, he was toast, all right.
“It’s okay,” she whispered. Her breath was warm against his neck. “I won’t fall apart.” But she didn’t move out of his arms. “Any luck getting through to anyone in the Bureau?”
“Some.” Alex forced his mind back to the case—after he kissed her cheek again. “Winston managed to contact the sheriff on his CB. The sheriff will get word to the office in Billings.”
No one could get to Ice Lake to retrieve the strangler’s body, so Winston had had it moved to the cold storage room, with that of the woman that the strangler had murdered.
In a day or two, as soon as the roads were cleared, other agents would arrive, and the investigation and paperwork would officially start. For now, Alex was thankful for the reprieve that the blizzard was giving Leah and him.
Soon, reality would set in, and they’d have to resume the search for the strangler’s partner. One thing was for certain—whoever he was, he wasn’t at the lodge. There was no hint of anyone else staying in Novak’s room, and if he’d been nearby, he would have almost certainly helped out Novak with his planned attack on them.
“Winston’s making arrangements for us to move to one of the cabins not too far from here,” Alex explained. “It has its own generator and is stocked with plenty of food. The roads aren’t passable, but the cabin isn’t far, and we can use a snowmobile to get there.”
Leah looked at him in surprise. “A cabin?”
“Any place away from here. I didn’t think you’d get much sleep here, what with everything that’s gone on in the lodge.”
She didn’t argue. Good thing, too. Because Alex wouldn’t have gotten much sleep here, either.
“Anyway, Winston will let us know when we can go,” he added.
She nodded. “How’s Patrick Harper?”
“Fine.” More or less. The man was certainly shaken up. “Harper said Novak lured him to the storage room with a note that he thought was from us. It said we had something important to show him.”
“Important,” Leah repeated, her voice weary. “Novak probably figured once he’d killed us, he’d kill Harper, too, and then set him up to take the blame.”
That was Alex’s guess, as well. There’s no way Novak would have let a witness live.
Leah made a shivery sound with her breath, and Alex feared this was it—the meltdown. Heaven knew, if anyone deserved a good meltdown, it was Leah.
“Guess you know this means you passed your psych eval,” Alex offered.
Yeah, it was a bad joke. But there was plenty of truth to it. Leah hadn’t frozen in the worst of circumstances. Her aim had been dead-on.
She pulled back just slightly, met his gaze. She smiled, but it didn’t last. Pursing her lips, she kissed his cheek.
Another punch of heat burned through him, followed by a lot of inappropriate thoughts. This wasn’t the time for kissing. Or sex. But that brainless part of him below the belt said otherwise.
“Does this mean I get back my badge and gun?” she asked.
Alex nodded, and wished he had them with him so he could do the deed now. It would give his hands something else to do rather than caress her back and inch her closer.
“When I do the paperwork for the case, I’ll recommend to Sanchez that he reinstate you immediately.” Alex looked down at the cast, after he’d glanced at her breasts. “Desk duty, though, until that’s off.”
“Believe it or not, I’m looking forward to desk duty. For a little while,” she added. She lifted her left arm and slipped it around his neck. “Since Sanchez will do the reinstating, does that mean he’s my boss now?”
Alex checked his watch. “Yeah. As of about two hours ago.”
The air instantly changed between them. Alex felt it. Leah, too. He could see it in the depths of her cool green eyes.
Being her supervisor was just one obstacle in the way of a possible relationship.
“You said it was just sex,” he reminded her.
She moved closer, her body brushing against his. “I lied.”
Alex smiled, and knew this should probably be the start of one of those conversations. A good air clearing. But he ditched that idea and kissed Leah instead. He didn’t bother to keep it sweet and gentle. Neither did she.
He was mindful of the cast. Of her bruises, including the new one on her chest from the Kevlar-protected shot. But he was just as mindful of the searing heat between them. It had always been there, just below the surface. But now it was a full blaze, and they’d simply kissed.
He did something about that “simply kissed” part next, running his hand between them and into her bathrobe, to find her breasts. No pink bra. Just a warm, naked woman who fired up every inch of him.
“If you’re going to say no…” he began.
Leah gave him a split-second glance. “Why the heck would I say no?”
“Just checking,” he mumbled, bending to press a kiss on her right breast.
Leah made a sound. That sound—part moan, part gasp, all pleasure. It hurried things along, and Alex backed her toward the bed. She helped, latching on to his shirt and starting to undress him. Together, they tumbled onto the mattress.
The kisses continued, fiery hot. Alex pulled open her robe so he could kiss her all over, and the taste of her slammed through him. So familiar. Yet tasting Leah always felt new, as if this was their first time.
He dropped some kisses on her stomach, then lower. To the juncture of her thighs. Her little yearning sounds got louder, and she fought with his clothes as if she’d declared war on them. He finally stopped the kissing session so he could help her. Alex peeled off his shirt. His boots. His pants. At which point Leah latched on to him and pulled him back to the bed.
On top of her.
All in all, not a bad place to be. It felt right. Like coming home for the holidays and his birthday, all rolled into one. And while he would have liked to take his time and go for another round of body kisses, Leah was ready.
Her green eyes weren’t so cool now; there was heat in them. Her face was flushed. And everything about her begged him to take what she was offering.
So Alex took.
He tried to enter her gently. Failed at that, too. Because she lifted her hips off the bed, wrapped her legs around him and dissolved any chance of gentleness. That was okay. The fire was already too hot to contain.
They moved into a rhythm that was as old as time. Faster, harder, deeper. Until the fire was unbearable. Until there was only one place that either of them could go. Alex thrust into her one last time, pushing her over the edge. In that moment, at the second of her fall, her eyes met his and she said just one word.
The only word necessary.
That was his trigger. Always had been. Alex kissed her and let her finish him off.
It took him a while to come back to earth. A while, too, to regain his breath. He lost it again when Leah laughed and maneuvered her body to give him a nice after jolt.
“You’ll be ready again in a half hour,” she teased.
“Less,” he joked back, but it was too close to the truth for him to laugh. He alway
He gently pushed her hair from her face and looked at her. It was time for that heart-to-heart talk. The one they’d been avoiding. Then he could coax her into getting ready so they could leave for the cabin.
Alex rolled off her and sat up so he could look at her.
“It wasn’t just sex this time, either,” she stated, before he could even start the conversation. She sat up and pulled the sheet over her. “It’s never been just sex with you.”
Alex opened his mouth, but realized that’s exactly what he’d planned to say to her.
“You’ve asked what I saw when my life flashed before my eyes,” she continued. “Well, I saw you. Us,” she corrected. “Our first kiss.”
And it had been a memorable one. They’d just collared a drug dealer, and Alex was dropping her off at her place. In the rain. Both of them soaked to the bone. Cold, too. Well, cold until they’d shared the hottest kiss on record.
Ten minutes later, after they’d nearly broken down her door, they’d landed on her sofa. With Leah and him, sex had always seemed a life-or-death matter.
Still felt that way.
“So here we are,” Leah whispered, a naughty little smile lifting the corners of her mouth. “Alone. Pretty soon we’ll be alone in a cabin with no phone. No work to do. No one to bother us.” She glanced out the window. “With this storm, we might be shut in for days. Just me, you…and a bed.”
He moved in closer until his mouth was right against hers. “What will we do to pass all that time?” he teased.
But he wasn’t looking for an answer. He knew how this would play out. Alex hauled Leah back to him and started a whole new set of memories with a sizzling kiss.
* * * * *
Thanks to B.J. Daniels and Delores Fossen.
I appreciate all the creative energy and support you shared as we put this anthology together.
Besides, you’re just fun to hang out with!
“I FOUND HER.”
Daniel Stone turned his face to the wind and braced against the crystals of snow biting into his skin.
This storm was going to be a bad one. The certainty came from the years he’d spent growing up on this mountain, as much as from the weather warnings that were shutting down this region of the northern Rockies in Montana. The blizzard was almost here. He could read it in the rising wind speed and in the moisture that turned the dry snow, so perfect for skiing, into icy shards that meant trouble for all but the most experienced of mountain survivalists like himself. He knew Mount Atlas the way mamas knew their babies, the way a shaman knew the earth itself. And he knew that in the next few days—in the next few hours, even—everything around him would change. The storm would bring whiteout conditions, windchills, closed roads and buried landmarks.
But nothing Mother Nature could throw at him would be as treacherous as what the dead woman in the snow at his feet had faced.
“Home base to Eagle One. Daniel? Report.” The voice of his boss and best friend, Kent Webber, cut through the static crackling over the walkie-talkie. The main lodge at Ice Lake, where Kent was located, sounded miles away. Must be the utter isolation Daniel was feeling up here near the top of the main ski run that quadrupled the distance between him and headquarters.
Only, he wasn’t alone.
“She fits the description of Stacy Beecham. Early twenties, blond hair.” Daniel looked down at the woman with the vacant, staring eyes, and swallowed the bile that crept into his throat. Despite the skintight suit and boots she wore, this was no skiing accident. And the damn storm hadn’t gotten her, either. His gaze settled on the angry marks around her neck. Judging by the gash in her scalp and the ripped, bloodied fingernails on the hand that was missing a glove, she’d put up one hell of a fight against whoever had hidden her here inside the edge of the tree line. “It’s not good. She’s been strangled.”
“How the hell…?” Kent cursed as Daniel breathed in a lungful of fragrant pines and frigid air to clear the tragic image from his head. “That’s impossible. We’re practically in lockdown here at the main lodge with these weather conditions.”
Yet the woman was dead. Once the Big Sky Strangler had been eliminated, all the guests had been allowed to leave the safety of their rooms in the early-morning hours to congregate in the lobby and dining area of the Ice Lake Lodge, to conserve the heat and electricity the generators had to make. Stacy’s roommate said they had been determined to get in one last ski run before their vacation was over, even though the conditions weren’t the best, to say the least. But when Stacy failed to show up at the bottom of the hill, her friend had reported her missing, and Daniel and the rest of Kent’s Ice Lake ski patrol team had been dispatched to search for her.
Someone had gotten Stacy away from the roundhouse at the top of Mount Atlas, or diverted her off the course on her way down, and murdered her. Daniel was no cop, but he’d seen more than enough death and violence in his time. He guessed the struggle had happened right here. The lower, dead branches on a pair of Douglas firs had been snapped off, the scrub at the base of the trees had been crushed, and there were enough ripples and dents in the area around the body to create a gross facsimile of a snow angel.
Daniel had followed a faint set of ski tracks into the trees, but found no sign of an exit. Either the killer had been skilled enough to retrace the victim’s path exactly, or he was lucky enough to have the wind and extra layers of snow mask whatever evidence he’d left behind.
“So why didn’t you come back to the lodge with your friends?” Daniel mused aloud as he looked at the lifeless body of the young woman. A romantic rendezvous? Some kind of emergency? Her skis had been ripped from her boots and only one pole was still looped to her wrist, making it impossible to tell whether or not she’d had some sort of equipment malfunction. Maybe she’d been a rookie on too challenging a slope, and she’d panicked and veered off the course into the shelter of the trees when the wind and snow conditions had proved too much for her. If that was the scenario, then she’d probably been eager to greet the false Good Samaritan who’d stopped to help.
Something or someone had to have lured her here after the warning had gone out to clear the mountain and return to the safety of the lodge. But whatever or whoever that had been was long gone or long buried by the snow.
A break in the static brought his attention back to the radio again. “Any idea how long she’s been there?” Kent asked.
“It’s hard to tell, as cold as it is.” Daniel forced himself to stoop down and pull off his own glove to touch the woman’s icy fingers. Stiff as a board. From rigor mortis? Or the dropping temps? He quickly snatched his fingers away, remembering another cold hand he’d once cradled in his. He pulled his glove back on as he straightened, and spoke into the radio clipped to his reflective orange coat. “It can’t have been too long,” he said, trusting his knowledge of the mountain more than his expertise with casualties. “She’s sheltered some by the trees, but with the way this wind is blowing, she’d have a lot more snow on top of her if she’d been here for more than a couple of hours.”
“Impossible.” Kent was swearing again. “We’ve got that murdering bastard on ice down here. How can the Big Sky Strangler kill another woman when he’s already dead?”
Daniel didn’t have an answer for that one. They were barely keeping a lid on the panic that the storm and missing skier were causing among the lodge’s guests. There had already been enough suspect interviews for them to know that two FBI agents had tracked a serial killer to Ice Lake. But they’d ID’d Burney Novak and shot him in a deadly confrontation during the blackout they’d suffered early that morn
“Everything I’ve seen on the news about the Big Sky Stranglers indicated authorities were looking for duo serial killers. You’ve got only one in the freezer, Kent.”
“Yeah, but the agents said the one they got was the actual killer—that it was a dominant-submissive thing, and that his partner who abducted his victims for him, his sidekick, was long gone.”
“Apparently, they were wrong.” A submissive who’d been trained to abduct victims for his master would have the skills to lure a woman off a ski trail. Hell, he could have been here days, if not weeks, ahead of Novak, setting up potential victims in the area. Maybe this woman had even met the guy, and hadn’t realized the danger she was in until it was too late. He must be a hell of a charmer to gain a woman’s trust like that.
Kent did his thinking out loud. “The FBI thought this guy had run out once their search zeroed in on Novak. But I can see how someone who’d been a part of that kind of sick symbiotic relationship might want to come back to save his partner. Or avenge him.”
Made sense to Daniel. This wasn’t Burney Novak’s work—he’d heard about the woman Novak had killed at the lodge hours before his own death. Her murder had been neat. Calculated. Precise. But there was nothing clean or controlled about the violence of this murder scene.
They had another killer on the mountain.
Daniel masked a curse of his own and turned his mouth to his radio again. “What are your orders, Kent? You want me to bring her in?”
“Negative. I wish we were still in contact with Special Agent McCade. We need to call the cops.”