Ice Lake: Gone Cold\Cold Heat\Stone Cold, page 8
“Only if the man you’re supposed to be is a manipulative, self-serving, egomaniacal murderer,” she said.
Tom swore and fired a shot into the ceiling above their heads making her jump. His grip tightened on her arm.
“I knew you would be incapable of understanding. I was always supposed to be more than a salesman in a hardware store. With your inheritance, I can live the life I should have had.”
She spat on him.
He snarled at her as he wiped his cheek. “Let’s get this over with,” he said as he dragged her over to where Allison lay on the floor. Her eyes were open, but Morgan saw no sign that the woman was still breathing.
“Is she…dead?” she asked, forced to look away.
“Fortunately,” he said.
Morgan choked back a sob. “Why?”
He finished loading the gun, then looked up at her and frowned. “Why what, Morgan?”
“Why me? My inheritance won’t last you that long.”
He almost appeared sad. “I know. I’ll have to find a woman with money to marry. She won’t be as beautiful as you.”
Morgan tried not to flinch as he reached out and ran the barrel of the gun along her cheekbone.
“It was love at first sight, you know. I really never dreamed I could be married to such a drop-dead-gorgeous woman. It made it all that more enjoyable when I saw how much your friend Luke wanted you.” His smile had a cold edge to it.
“Don’t do this,” she said, knowing she was wasting her breath. But suddenly she couldn’t bear the thought that she would never see Luke again. He’d tried to warn her about Tom even before she’d married him. “You need help—”
“I might have tried to make this work, Morgan,” he said, as if he hadn’t heard her. “But I knew how you would react when I told you about my past. You see me as Eric Wagner now, damaged and flawed. I’m not good enough for you anymore. See why I didn’t want you to know? I was certain it would ruin everything.”
“You’re wrong,” she said, realizing he would have to bend down to pick up Allison’s hand, then her gun. If Morgan timed it right, maybe she could grab the gun before he did.
His laugh startled her. “Do you think I’m stupid? I look into your eyes and I see that your love has gone cold. Just like my parents’ love for me long before that night. Why do you think they had two more children, both much younger than me?”
“You said you loved Allison, were planning to marry her,” Morgan said.
“I did love her. I loved my family, too. I didn’t want to hurt them, any more than I want to hurt you. I’m not a monster, Morgan.”
“You killed them.”
“I had no choice. You think I have a choice now?” He shook his head. “You are so naive. You think I’m the only killer on this mountain? The sheriff will have his hands full with those serial killers over at the lodge. Don’t look so surprised. I saw that one watching you. The other one is around somewhere, you can bet. Yes, Morgan, I know killers when I see them.”
“Evil recognizes evil,” she said under her breath.
Tom’s expression changed, and with a start, she realized he was already practicing what he would tell the sheriff.
“I tried to stop Allison from killing her,” he said with what sounded like true sorrow. “I would have given my life to save Morgan, and thought I had at one point.” His voice broke. Tears welled from his eyes. “I’m not sure how I will go on. I will never get over losing my beautiful, talented wife. Never.”
AS LUKE APPROACHED the cabin, he knew the sound of the snowmobile would be heard, so he didn’t dare drive it all the way up there. He had no choice but to cut the engine and go on foot the rest of the way.
He’d just stepped from the vehicle into the deep snow when he heard the gunshot. With his heart in his throat, he took off running up the mountainside.
As he plowed through the deep drifts, breathing raggedly, he caught glimpses of the cabin up on the slope. His terror for Morgan increased with each step.
Luke prayed as he never had before. Reaching the cabin, he circled around to the rear. He knew that bursting in the front door would be nothing short of suicide. At the back, he moved along the wall to peer into a window. He saw a bed. Past it, through an open door, he saw a body lying on the floor. His pulse pounded as Tom stepped into view, then Morgan.
He had a handful of her hair. He dragged her over to the body and started to pull her down as he reached for something on the floor.
Luke moved quickly, easing open the back door, gun in hand, a silent prayer on his lips.
TOM DIDN’T DO WHAT MORGAN had anticipated, hoped for. When he leaned down, it wasn’t for Allison’s hand—but her gun. He picked it up in his own gloved fist and pressed it into Allison’s dead fingers.
“You might want to close your eyes,” he said, still holding a handful of Morgan’s long hair.
She met his gaze, refusing to look away. “Is that what you told your family before you killed them?”
He shook his head, a soft chuckle emitting from his lips. “When I met you, I thought you were a weak, helpless woman. You’ve proved me wrong. I like that.”
Did he? Out of the corner of her eye, Morgan caught movement. She fought to keep her expression neutral as she saw Luke slip in the back door of the cabin.
Luke. Her heart swelled, bringing tears to her eyes. Why hadn’t she realized before how much she loved him? He was her best friend, the reason she couldn’t wait to get to work each day, and why she hated Fridays and long weekends. It wasn’t just her love for photography. She loved Luke.
She realized what a fool she’d been not to tell him how she felt, that day in the darkroom when he’d kissed her. But she’d been mere days away from marrying Tom. If only she had followed her heart.
Morgan quickly wiped at her tears as she noticed the satisfaction they gave Tom. He thought they were inspired by fear. He wanted her to beg for her life, to grovel.
Maybe she could make it work for her. Pretending to be weak with terror and having trouble standing, she slumped, even though it hurt because of his grip on her hair.
The move drew Tom to one side, putting his back to Luke.
“They won’t believe she shot me,” Morgan said, hoping to cover any sound Luke might make as he inched closer. She caught the glint of the gun in his hand, but he couldn’t fire as long as Tom was standing so close to her. “Forensics,” she added, trying to put some distance between them.
Tom frowned. “I beg your pardon?” He wasn’t in a hurry to kill her. He was waiting for her to fall apart. Needing it. She thought of his family. Had they begged for their lives? She shuddered at the thought.
“If you shoot me with us standing this close, they will know Allison didn’t kill me,” she said. “She couldn’t have held on to me and shot me. I saw a case just like this on one of those police procedural shows on television.”
“Aren’t you the smart one.”
“If Allison had pulled a gun on me, I would have run for the door.”
“And she would have shot you in the back,” Tom said in agreement. “So you want me to let you make a run for it.” He chuckled. “You just don’t give up. Didn’t you learn anything before, when you tried to get away and I caught you? Do you really think you can outrun a bullet?”
“I won’t know until I try,” she said, lifting her chin in defiance.
He laughed. “Maybe I was wrong about you. Maybe you and I could have been good together.” He seemed to be considering it, but then shook his head almost sadly. “I made that mistake with Allison, and look how that turned out. No, you would end up telling that friend of yours, Luke, the one you’re half in love with.”
“I’m more than half in love with him,” Morgan said. “I just wish I’d told him. I wouldn’t be standing here now if I had.”
Tom swore and shoved her away. “Run, bitch.”
Morgan turned and launched herself instead for the fireplace, giving Luke a clean shot at Tom.
Something heavy slammed into the floor behind her and she turned to see Tom there. Luke rushed to him, kicking his gun away, then checking for a pulse.
She held her breath. After a moment, Luke shook his head. Tom was dead. No, Eric Wagner was dead. She waited, expecting to feel something for the man. She felt hollow until Luke rushed to her and took her in his arms. He cradled her to him and she finally felt as if she could breathe.
When she stopped trembling, he pulled back to look into her eyes. “I love you, Morgan. I should have told you a long time ago. I’m a damned fool.”
She shook her head as tears streamed down her face. “No, Luke.” Her voice broke. “You’re no fool. You’re my hero. You just saved my life.”
He drew her to him, holding her for a long moment, as if he never wanted to let her go, then he led her out of the cabin, away from the smell of spilled blood and death, and through the falling snow to the snowmobile he’d left down the road.
When he’d climbed on, she settled behind him and wrapped her arms around him.
“Everything is going to be all right now,” Luke said.
Snow fell around them as she hugged him tighter and remembered what Tom had said about there being more killers on the mountain. Serial killers over at the lodge.
Then again, Tom had lied about everything, hadn’t he?
* * * * *
SPECIAL AGENT LEAH GRAY stared out at the ice-scabbed landscape and thought about the woman she’d gotten killed. She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, hoping to block out the images.
But she failed.
Six days wasn’t nearly enough time for memories like that to soften even a little. Leah relived every moment, every last detail, every mistake she’d made that had led to the woman’s crumpled, lifeless body on the floor.
“Look, Mommy,” she heard someone say. Leah’s attention zoomed across the lodge’s sprawling lobby to where a freckled-faced kid was pointing at her. “That lady’s got bad boo-boos.”
The child’s mom went a little pale when she saw Leah, and she whisked away her wide-eyed daughter in the direction of the resort restaurant.
Great. Now, she was scaring small children.
Leah had pretty much avoided mirrors, and people, since her attack, but last she’d checked, there was a purplish-greenish bruise crawling from the center of her forehead all the way to her left cheekbone. It color coordinated with the ones on her neck.
Those bruises weren’t just scary. They had nearly left her dead.
And then there was the cast on her fractured right wrist. Her shooting hand, no less. The break had put her on paid convalescence leave. That, and the fact she’d failed her psych exam.
Yeah. She scared little children, all right. Heck, she scared herself, and that was the reason she was hiding out at Ice Lake Lodge in Nowhere, Montana.
Leah had spent most of the first three days of her wound-licking recovery in her room, but just a half hour earlier she’d decided to test the waters and venture to the lobby, to see if a change of scenery would lift her dark mood.
Despite the scared child, it was working.
Everything on the other side of the wall of windows was frozen. Quiet. No dead bodies. Just a steady blanketing snowfall and happy childhood memories of when she’d come here skiing with her family. Good memories beat those of dead bodies on floors any old day. With her mind and other parts of her bruised and broken, it was exactly what she needed to get her head on straight again.
She settled back in the comfy chair, the fragrant fire in the stone hearth warming her, and she tried reading the first page of the paperback novel. However, a car caught her attention. A black, four-door sedan came to a stop in the parking lot. It had heavily tinted windows, no shiny frills. Not a vehicle that most people would even notice. But Leah did.
She mumbled some profanity, jacking it up a notch when she saw a man step from the car. What the devil was he doing here?
Leah got to her feet, and in the same motion tossed the paperback onto the chair and made a beeline for the front door. Thanks to that wall of windows along the way, she could see him doing the same darn thing.
Special Agent Alex McCade.
The last person on earth she wanted to see.
Yet here he was. All six feet two inches of him. Every strand of his storm-black hair. And yes, he’d brought that perennial scowl with him. He was good at it, too. The eyes helped, since they were the same chilly color as the frozen blue-gray lake that gave the resort its wintry name.
Alex opened the door and stepped into the lobby, his scalpel-sharp gaze slicing over the half dozen or so other guests who were milling around, before it finally darted to her.
“Leah,” he said in greeting.
His breath mixed with the frosty air and created a split-second filmy cloud around his face. It made him look a little otherworldly, like a vampire who’d just stepped in for a bite. Judging from his especially deep scowl, he intended to take a bite out of something. Her, probably. And it made her wonder what else she’d screwed up.
He shut the door, stepped closer, and she caught his scent. The snow. The pines.
It cut through the cold and warmed her in places that it shouldn’t. Always did. She figured one day she would find a cure for him, but she hadn’t yet.
Leah braced herself for the worst and refused to give him a friendly greeting. “Checking up on me? Because I doubt you drove all the way from Billings for lunch.”
The little voice inside her, belonging to the part of her that wanted her badge and gun back, reminded her that these days Alex was her supervisor and she should put her serpent’s tongue in check and beg him for another crack at that psych eval.
Another part of her glared at him because Alex had cut her to the core by taking her badge. He hadn’t trusted her. He had put department rules ahead of their four-year past, and that hurt more than the bruises around her neck.
As if he knew exactly what she was thinking, Alex’s mouth tightened, and she felt a jolt from a memory of a different sort.
Sheez. Not this, not now. Talk about needing another cure.
That mouth had kissed her, and kissed her well, on many occasions. That mouth, and its owner, also had her hormonal number, and even now with her mentally cursing him, Leah still felt the warmth rev up to the heat stage.
With Alex, there was always heat.
He gave her a once-over, starting at the bruise on her face, lingering a few moments on the ones on her neck and finishing with her cast. His scowl faded, but his forehead bunched up with worry. Or something.
“Yes, I know,” she mumbled. Best to take the first strike here, since Leah darn sure didn’t want him saying how sorry he was about all this. She couldn’t take that from him right now. “I look like death warmed over.”
Those icy eyes narrowed, and he snagged her uninjured arm. “We have to talk,” he said, his voice husky and low. “Let’s go to your room.”
Alex always sounded as if he had a cold coming on, but it somehow managed to come off as sexy. That and his easy Montana drawl.
“You picked a bad time to travel up here,” she commented. “A storm’s moving in. Supposed to be a rough one, too. A lot of the guests left right after breakfast.” And that had been the main selling point in her dec
Alex mumbled something she didn’t quite catch, but it sounded like— “I didn’t have a choice.”
She hoped she’d misheard him, and waited for him to clarify. He didn’t. He just kept trying to get her to move by tugging on her arm.
Leah held her ground. For a lot of reasons, including that hot persuasive mouth of his, she didn’t want Alex in her room.
“Did you bring my badge and gun with you?” she asked, knowing he hadn’t. She also figured that the question alone would bring back the scowl. He’d made it crystal clear she was suspended for thirty days minimum.
Twenty-five more to go.
Alex quit tugging at her, and looked around the lobby again, his attention lingering a moment on the acne-scarred clerk behind the rustic log counter, and then on the massive oil painting on the wall behind him. A painting of the lodge’s logo: snow-capped mountains and the frozen lake.
That got his forehead bunching up again, and she wondered what he had against that particular piece of artwork.
“My badge and gun?” she reminded him.
But he ignored her. “Let’s go to your room,” he repeated. He gave her arm another tug.
Everything inside her went still, because that badge and gun question should have earned her another scowl or at least a cocky comeback. Alex was good at those, too.
Something was wrong.
Leah had to gather her suddenly thin breath to ask him the question she feared most. “Has there been another murder?”
But she wasn’t sure she could deal with the answer if it was yes. It was her fault that the duo serial killers known as the Big Sky Stranglers were still at large. Her fault that the investigation had been botched.
Her fault that the woman’s body had been on the floor.
“No other murder,” Alex said under his breath. “Where’s your room?”
His one-track mind wasn’t doing much to steady her raw nerves, so Leah didn’t put up a fuss or even wiggle out of the hold that he had on her arm. She fished her key card from her sweater pocket and headed up the wide stairs toward the second floor, to room 222. The last one off the long corridor.