Catching a serial killer wasn't often expected of vice cops. But when an unsub stirs up old memories in Spokane, Washington by murdering prostitutes, Detective Josie Smith is tapped for the job. It wasn't meant to be difficult. Go undercover and hope she can catch the bad guy before anyone else turns up dead. Instead, she's kidnapped by Dex and Max. Since first clapping eyes on Josie, Dex has been obsessed. He wants her, and nothing, not even the fact that cops and criminals shouldn't mix, is going to stop him. He's had a year to wait, and now Josie is ripe for the taking. She will be theirs. Forever.
“My ass is hanging out of this skirt,” Josie murmured against her wrist. In case anyone observed her out-of-character motion, she’d used a fake-out move, like scratching her nose. In the nest of gaudy plastic bangles banding her arm was a cleverly concealed microphone.
“It’s a fine ass from here, Smith,” replied Kent. He’d been her backup since she earned her badge. A ten-year veteran of the Spokane Vice Squad, he monitored her whereabouts. If she got into trouble, he came charging in with gun blazing. If the proverbial shit hit the fan, he called in the cavalry.
“Think it’s Playboy worthy?”
“Hustler, all the way. Playboy is for boys. What you got only a man can handle.”
She laughed. “It hasn’t brought me any company.”
“Give it a little shake. They’ll come running.”
“Right, because my ass is a dinner bell? Thanks, Kent.” He was such a perv. But in a good way, like a middle-aged accountant who knew he could look but not touch. And he looked a lot. Rolling her eyes and giving a subtle shake of her head, Josie went radio silent again. The brief interlude had eased the stress winding up her spine.
A week was a long time to pretend to be someone else.
When Josie looked into law enforcement as a career choice, it came with the understanding that she would go undercover at some point. Life as a police(wo)man revolved around three things: surveillance, which was monotonous as hell, riding a desk, or being the sweet in a honey trap.
Since she was young and fresh, she was the sugar. Mostly because she looked harmless. Who expected a five-foot-nothing girl to be capable of taking down a man twice her size? The hard truth was most men who worked and played on the wrong side of the law suffered from what she called “the asshole effect.” They believed they were pimps and gangsters, and that women were baubles.
When she settled on Vice Squad, the scale tipped and her odds of being at the heart of a sting fucktupled. Over a year on the job and she already lost count of how many times she’d played the junkie, the prostitute, or the escort.
This time was only marginally different.
For the past week, she had been “Candy,” her bleached-blonde alter ego, and prowled a seedy stretch of pavement in Spokane Valley, searching for a serial killer. In the meantime, she’d caught a few Johns, ten so far, shipping them to the DA for processing and plea deals. It was a two-pronged quest by Mayor Rondel to clean up Skid Row—a dilapidated five-mile stretch alongside E. Sprague—and to get a lead on a killer who had been hunting society’s detritus for the past three years.
Ever since the infamous Robert Lee Yates murder spree in the late 90s, Spokane was a little sensitive and a lot suspicious when prostitutes started turning up dead or missing. Josie wanted to get the killer off the streets, but logically knew he wouldn’t get caught. Not for a long time.
Fanning her fingers along her wig, she lifted her wrist again to triple-check the intel with Kent. She hated the notion of wasting time, and hoped this wasn’t a wild goose chase to make it look like the PD was doing something to appease the locals instead of handling the problem. “Are the profilers sure he’s hitting this week?”
Criminal profiling was a fringe science to her. Sure, they had the data to prop up their theory, but a few unsubs—the FBI shorthand used to describe the unknown subject they were searching for—defied labels.
“He hits every six months like clockwork,” said Kent. “If he doesn’t take a girl soon, he’ll be off his schedule. Either way, at the end of the week you can join me in the car again. I have doughnuts.”
“Tease.” She laughed and lowered her wrist.
The profile Quantico gave them made sense. The perp was most certainly male. Most serial killers were white men in their late twenties to thirties. Half the men who came down looking to score fit that demographic. Yates “worked” on the Row for thirteen years, and only got caught when his last victim escaped.
So, unless this new predator did something idiotic, he would continue hunting. Most on E. Sprague Avenue didn’t talk to police, and if they did, they made terrible witnesses. Drugs. Booze. Mental problems. Too many bore a rotted memory brought on by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and exacerbated by a steady diet of cheap liquor and drugs.
Josie sighed and leaned against the graffiti-scarred front of the building behind her and hitched her knee up. Her feet were killing her. In her real life, she wore flats, but she had to play her part. That meant a slinky dress which made it near impossible to carry a concealed gun, though she’d hidden a knife in a sheathe along her inner thigh, and strappy sky-high stiletto heels that had made her toes numb over the past couple days.
Gazing down the broken street, her attention skipped over the mounds of trash in the gutters, and locked on the gaggle of legit streetwalkers. She nodded, giving a subtle chin bob. They were standing directly across from Papadore’s Market, which would piss off the owner. Papa was a small Italian man who wielded a broom with aplomb. She gave it five more minutes of them “loitering” before he stormed outside and screamed at them. At least his tantrum would energize the evening. It was barely 8 PM. The Row didn’t start hopping until closer to midnight.
Glancing away, she knew the attention of the hookers was on her. Their glares were weighty, hard eyes narrowed against mascara-caked lashes and a haze of cigarette smoke. They smelled a rat in their chicken coop.
Dwayne, their pimp, was a bona fide informant. He made all the right moves to help her cover, told them he’d hired on a new girl. But they weren’t stupid. You couldn’t survive on the Row and be stupid. They knew something was up. Mostly because Josie went to her own home when dawn broke instead of squatting in Dwayne’s apartment like most new girls.
Part of her rankled that she had been forced into working with Dwayne. But on the scale of sex-crime masterminds, he was low on the totem pole. He wasn’t a trafficker and didn’t deal in drugs and guns on the side. He was quaintly old school, the modern version of a 70s pimp. She wouldn’t be surprised if he came strolling down the Row dressed head to toe in velvet. Unlike most pushers, he protected his girls, though he was an equal opportunist when it came to doling out punishment. Men. Women. Children. More than a few bore welts and bruises from his fists.
Him laying hands on his prostitutes, and supplying them whatever drugs they wanted, made him scum in Josie’s eyes. Sometimes, though, you had to blur the lines and muck around in shades of grey to get at the heart of evil. She didn’t like it, and she felt dirty every time Dwayne walked by to check on his stable. The fact that he slapped her ass made her want to shove her stiletto heel up his.
The growl of a muscle car caught her ear. The Jaws theme music flashed through her head as an apple red Mustang, shiny and sleek, cut a corner and rolled down the street. Dah dun. Dah dun. It matched the sudden leap of her pulse hammering in her ears. Her foot dropped with a click and she smoothed her dress down her thighs with a sinuous wriggle.
It was him. Oh, God. Would he stop this time?
Since Josie had claimed her square of weed-choked pavement in Dwayne’s territory, the man in the Mustang drove by daily. Josie wished she could say he stood out like a wolf among lambs, but he was surprisingly unflashy when compared to a few of the drug dealers working in the Valley. Though he drove an obvious car, it wasn’t like the pimped-out Lexuses or super-sized Cadillac SUVs that trolled the avenue.
This man was subtle. When he drove down the avenue, he slid the window down and browsed the girls. He wasn’t lewd about it. Just silently appreciative: a buyer checking out the wares. Josie was a prime cut of meat.
The first time she’d met his icy blue-grey eyes when he idled in front of her, she’d shivered. Not out of fear, but out of some primal reaction that made her skin tighten all over her body. His attention stole her breath and professionalism, leaving her burning with shocking, forbidden lust.
He was trouble with a capital fucking T. She’d been waiting for a week, wondering if he would ever pick a girl up. Just so she would know for sure he was a criminal and force him out of her mind. Only he hadn’t. It became impossible to ignore her body’s sensations. She was hot. Itchy. She wanted to hop into his car and see where the night took them.
Her reaction now, just seeing his car, was purely Pavlovian. Shamelessly, her nipples stiffened, thrusting against the hot pink and orange halter-top that molded over her breasts. Her thighs squeezed around the newly kindled warmth flaming between them. He was a man who bought hookers, for Christ’s sake. Yet, no amount of scolding could shut her body down. When it came to him, her cunt had a mind of its own. It wanted him to touch her. Fuck her. Own her.
The other part of herself, the officer who swore to protect-and-serve and uphold the law, knew that if he crooked his finger and began the party dance, she’d have to bust him. And that just made her sad. Why was a man as good-looking as him paying for pussy? It didn’t make sense. Then again, people huffing gasoline and snorting cocaine didn’t make sense to her either. She’d long ago given up trying to figure out the criminal mind.
The Mustang eventually made its way down the street, and then maneuvered to a stop against the curb directly in front of her.
Her heart hitched in her throat as she met his smoldering stare. Where was the shame? Where was the fight? God, she was practically drooling over him.
Biting her inner cheek, she looked away. Not that it helped. His appearance was scorched on her retinas.
He wasn’t model good-looking. If he were, she wouldn’t be this wound up over him. Josie didn’t like the pretty boys. He was rugged in a way that made her think of Jax from Sons of Anarchy, or Tom Hardy. She could easily see him in some motorcycle club. He stirred her sexual interest like he was a damn pussy whisperer.
He wore his dark brown hair a little long at the nape. His skin had a soft glow that spoke of genetics and working outdoors. Though she hadn’t seen him out of the car yet, he looked tall and solid. A big guy that would tower over her diminutive frame. He was just the type of guy that Josie had a weakness for, during those times when she stopped being a cop and embraced her feminine side.
As he gazed up at her from his car window, Josie’s breath caught. This John looked at her and saw all female. Not because her tits were on display, but because he looked into her eyes and saw her. All the darkness. All the desires. All the hidden parts that his mere presence called to the front. It took all of her focus not to lick her lips as he hooked his muscled forearm against the window and leaned out.
“It looks like you got a bite,” Kent murmured in her ear. All jovialness disappeared. He was in cop mode now. “Think this is the unsub?”
Josie ignored Kent. She didn’t want to consider that Hot-and-Sexy was a serial killer. Josie was snared. And a part of her didn’t want free.
She wanted him to tug on the hook and reel her in.
A slow, half-smile flickered to life over the stranger’s face. His light eyes glowed like a light had been clicked on.
“Get in,” he said.
Yessss. Desire burst like fireworks over her skin, hot shivers that raced up and down her arms, before dismay snuffed out the heat.
Goddammit. She glanced down the block at the gaggle of call girls. Beyond them, though she couldn’t see it, was the unmarked sedan where Kent sat cloistered. He was listening to every word the John said to her. Now that he said those two little words, Kent would be focused like a laser beam on the Mustang. He was probably scouting out the license plate with a pair of binoculars. There was no way she could warn Mustang Man off.
She knew the role she had to play. No matter how hot this guy was, he was breaking the law.
On my honor, I will never betray my badge.
Throwing an extra shimmy into her step, Josie walked around to the passenger seat and slid in. Charcoal-grey leather was silky soft against the back of her thighs, and molded to the contours of her body. She almost moaned as the nighttime chill clinging to her skin melted. A slight hiss of static crackled in her ear. Odd. She hoped the hardware wasn’t fritzing out now that she’d gotten a bite.
Luxury couldn’t distract her. She had a script to adhere to. “So, you want to party?” She used her best sex kitten voice, the one that made the guys back at the bullpen laugh.
The key to a sting operation like this was to not entrap them. Defense attorneys had a field day when they suspected a honey trap was in play. She let him do what he would have done, and probably had at some point, without any interference from her. It was just his bad luck, and those that came before him, that the hooker they picked up was an undercover cop.
“We’re just going for a drive.” His voice was rough, a deep tenor that buffed her skin until she squirmed. She shivered, and caught the way his eyes flicked from the road down to her nipples. “You looked cold.”
A sudden flush rolled over her. He had made her blush. Did hookers still blush? She didn’t know. It was an obvious one too. Her friends said she reflected the sun she was so white, and she knew that she was probably scarlet right now. “It’s a bit nippy out there.”
Angling her elbow onto the door apron, right below the tinted window, she propped two fingers against the side of her head. The position allowed her voice to carry into her wrist-mic, which also doubled as a tracker. She knew everything was being recorded back in the stakeout car. If they traveled too far, Kent would tail them and call in a drone.
She was safe, but with a serial killer on the loose, running amok amongst the homeless and whores, and this guy playing coy about wanting to pay for pussy, she was also tense.
His motions were graceful on the steering wheel as he maneuvered down a side street. She caught a road sign on the corner. They were on East Main, heading towards Pine and the Interstate. She frowned. She really didn’t want to have to deal with a chase on the highway.
The car pulled to a stop in the mouth of an alley, and Josie’s attention traced over the man’s profile. It was unfair to the female population that he was so good-looking. Ogling him stole her focus, which was why it surprised her when the back door popped open and another passenger slid in.
Josie tensed. “I don’t do doubles.” Swallowing thickly, she tried to remember her cover story. The addition of another man rattled her. Why hadn’t he been in the car when Sexy pulled up? “We can play one on one, though.”
Josie shifted slightly to get the new man in sight. For a moment, she thought her vision was blurring. The new guy could pass for the driver’s twin. But that was just the first impression. Her cop brain noted the difference between the two: this one had shorter hair, was clean-shaven, with brown eyes. Maybe a brother or a cousin.
Laugh lines crinkled at the corner of his eyes as he met her curious stare. “You keep saying things like that and I’m going to be upset. Do I look like I need to pay for sex?” The car leapt into gear as the stranger pulled away from the curb.
“No,” Josie said, and then bit her lip as her voice hitched, making that simple two-letter word sound breathy and sexual. Neither of them looked like they needed to pay for sex. So why were they prowling Skid Row and picking up hookers?
A knot wound in her stomach, but it did little to ease the anticipation that coursed through her.
“You’re younger than I thought you were,” the man behind her said.
She turned and startled. He had his chin braced on her seat. It was intimate and an invasion of her personal space. An inkling of warning coiled in her mind. What were they planning? She was confident in her hand-to-hand skills, but taking on two huge men without a gun made her nervous.
“Fucking beautiful too.” The new guy’s words gusted down her neck in a hot chill. Her attention fixed on the flecks of green in his eyes.
“You’ve been watching me?” Josie asked, suppressing the thrill that gave her.
The fact they had watched her should have escalated her concern, but it didn’t take root. One of them was wearing cologne, something earthy and clean, and the masculine scent stroked the need bubbling in her core. A quick glance down revealed that most of her body was on display. She’d been cursed with a natural and rather impressive rack, but the rest of her wasn’t anything to write home about
“We’ve driven by a few times,” that hungry voice purred behind her.
“Are you brothers?”
“Cousins. Our mothers are sisters.”
Josie relaxed a little. They weren’t her serial killer. The Spokane Strangler was a solo artist. Some of her confidence came back. She could handle the average John, even if there were two of them.
The driver was silent and focused on the road, so she favored the man in back her attention. “I’m Candy.”
She waited for Kent’s reaction. He always sniggered like a teenager at his first titty bar when she used her alter ego’s name.
His silence stirred her agitation.
“You do look good enough to eat.” The man in the backseat murmured right in her ear. His tongue punctuated his words as it flicked out and brushed the shell of her ear, licking all the way to the tip. She sucked in a breath as desire pooled in her core. Okay. Maybe Candy didn’t do doubles, but Josie sure as hell was interested. “I’m Maxwell, you can call me Max, or ‘Oh God’.”
“And I’m Dex,” said the driver.
Josie gauged the weight of their words. She didn’t detect any subterfuge. Surprisingly, she believed they’d given her their real names.
“You have a high opinion of yourself, Maxxie,” she said.
“That’s a cute nickname. Say it again and I’ll tan your ass.”
“Is that a promise?” Bantering with him was kind of fun, and she flashed him a charmed smile.
“You really don’t look like much of a blonde.” Dex navigated another turn and glanced at her from the corner of his eyes.
“I think you would make a dynamite brunette or redhead,” Max drawled against her nape.
Max saw far more than Josie wanted him to see, and she shifted again, crossing her legs and smoothing her hand along the hem of her skirt. An artful rearranging of her body so that the blade strapped to her inner thigh was in easy reach.
But she wasn’t getting any danger vibes from them. Not the run-for-your-life sort. Just overt flirtation that left her warm all over. It was powerful being beneath the attention of two good-looking men, and a heady sort of euphoria thrummed in her chest.
“Hair dye and wigs, gentlemen. I can be whatever you want.” She was back on script again, laying on the sugar thickly. Would it be too much if she batted her lashes at them? Probably, but she did it anyways.
“Is that so, Candy? What do you think we want?” Dex stressed her pseudonym. Had she given herself away somehow?
Focus, Josie. Fuck, she was so rattled. What did these men want? That was the crux of the problem. She had no idea what they wanted. Keep to the script.
She simpered. “You like pretty girls, and the part of town you were visiting is known to quench all appetites.”
“That’s true.” Stopping at a red light, Dex drummed his fingers against the steering wheel. “But you look like you belong there as much as we do.”
“You look fresh.” Max’s finger found the strap of her halter-top. Barely a brush at first, he played with the fabric, deliberately tracing the edge. Occasionally his forefinger smoothed over her skin as he followed the hot pink line to her nape.
God, such a simple touch, and her nipples hardened. No. They hardened more. The girls were already full mast. She shivered, and goose bumps fogged her skin as she swallowed a moan.
“I’m a new girl. In Dwayne’s stable,” she said with a slight quaver to her voice. Her professionalism was seriously lacking if such a harmless touch left her trembling.
Get it together, Josie!
“Is that so?”
Josie glanced sharply at Max. He sounded as if he was laughing at her. As if he knew she was a charlatan. No one outside of Vice, and a handler in the FBI, knew she was undercover. And these two were not in law enforcement.
For a moment, Josie considered calling in her backup. Just a quick word and the whole ride would be over in a blast of sirens. But as strange as it was, she was enjoying it. It took a lot to unsettle her.
She fiddled with her bangles. What was Kent thinking?
“Dex and I have a bet.” Max’s hand paused at the fabric knot at her nape and gave it a tug. One quick pull of his fingers and she’d be topless. The notion that she’d be half-naked in the car with them made her wet. Shamelessly wet.
“Yeah? What’s the bet?” Her heart was frantic in her chest. Could they hear it? It was like a tom-tom drum beating in panic and longing.
“I think you’re a brunette,” Max said.
“Maybe I’m biased, or hopeful, but I think you’re a redhead,” said Dex. “A nice, deep auburn.”
Excitement rushed around inside of her. “What does the winner get?”
Dex took his eyes off the road for a long moment, sucking her into the tundra of his gaze. Who knew ice could burn? “First shot at your pussy, of course.”