Finding Forever (Smoky Mountain Lawmen Book 1)

BOOK: Finding Forever (Smoky Mountain Lawmen Book 1)
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Finding
Forever

By

Ashley
Quinn

 

Finding Forever

Copyright © 2016 by Ashley Quinn

This book is a work of fiction.  The names,
characters, events, and places are either products of the writer’s imagination
or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real.  Any
resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or
organizations is entirely coincidental. 

 

No parts of this book may be copied, reproduced,
and/or distributed in any way without express written consent from the author.

Chapter 1

 

Gemma
Mabley sat back, trowel in hand, and surveyed her handiwork.  Pops of color shone
brightly in the unseasonably warm, late-May sunlight in the now filled flower
beds surrounding the house she shared with her brother, Tristan.  She swiped at
the beads of sweat trickling down the side of her face, leaving behind a trail
of dirt.  Her shoulders and arms ached from all the planting, but the
satisfaction from the result dulled the pain.  Hot out or not, Gemma was happy
to feel the warm sun on her skin and see the brilliant shades of red, yellow,
pink, and purple lining the front of her house.  The winter had been brutal and
she’d done a happy dance the first day the temperatures had risen above
freezing and stayed there.  She hadn’t waited any longer than necessary either
to usher away the last dregs of the cooler weather by planting a plethora of
flowers.

Although,
forcing all thoughts of the cold to the furthest recesses of her mind hadn’t
been her only reason for deciding today was the day to plant flowers.  Three
hours ago, in an attempt to use mindless action to calm herself, she’d returned
from the local garden center with a trunk load of flowers.  After donning her
gardening clothes she’d attacked the flowerbeds with a vengeance befitting Genghis
Khan, imagining her brother’s face with every stab to the dirt. 

Gemma
loved the man dearly, but he knew no boundaries, particularly when it came to
her love life.  In the past year, he’d sabotaged four different relationships
with his overprotectiveness.  Every time she got remotely close to a man,
Tristan stepped in and intimidated him to the point he’d rather cut and run
than be subjected to the “I’m the badass” stare, her brother had perfected over
the years in the military and as a cop.  If the stare wasn’t enough, the
questions certainly were.  She’d had one man compare his questioning tactics to
the German Gestapo. 

Tristan
claimed it wasn’t him that was the problem.  It was the men she dated.  He
insisted that when she found the man worthy of her he wouldn’t scare away no
matter what.  Gemma kept insisting that if he never gave anyone a chance to
even try to get to know her before he put the fear of God and the universe in
him none would ever bother to try because they’d have to win over the
overprotective brother first.  Every time a new relationship crashed and burned
before it ever left the ground she and Tristan had the same argument.  It had
grown beyond tiresome.

Gemma
sighed as she started on the final row of flowers.  Last night’s fiasco had
been the last straw and why Gemma was out here imagining her brother’s face in
the dirt.  She had managed to keep her relationship with Ted Masterson a secret
for two months before she’d finally let Ted pressure her into telling her
brother about them and meeting him. 

She’d
had such high hopes for Ted.  Gemma had gotten to know him better than any
other man since college and he’d been fully briefed on how difficult Tristan
was.  Ted had reassured her repeatedly that he could handle whatever Tristan
dished out and she had thought their relationship had a footing strong enough
to withstand Tristan’s probing. 

Gemma
scoffed as she scooped more dirt and plunked a small flower plant in the hole
she created.  One look at Tristan’s scowling face, his six-foot-two inch frame
packed with muscle, and the gun and badge attached to his belt and Ted had started
to quake in his fancy Armani loafers.  He had stood strong through most of
Tristan’s interrogation—he was an attorney, after all—but when it came to the
intimidation factor, Tristan could scare the paint off a barn.  And Tristan was
smart.  And ruthless when it came to his baby sister.  She’d seen the gleam
enter Tristan’s eyes when he’d noticed Ted shrink back from the sheer weight of
his presence and he’d pressed the advantage until Ted’s normally warm skin tone
had been pasty white.  He’d all but fled from the house once Gemma had
convinced Tristan that he should save some of the questions for another
time—she wouldn’t want him to come up short, should he get a second chance to
peel away the flesh from her date. 

Their
evening had been a slide downhill to disaster after that.  They’d eaten a very
stoic dinner that settled like lead in her stomach.  Ted’s normally engaging
and friendly demeanor had turned polite and reserved and she’d once again felt
like a piece of spun glass that was to be admired only from afar.  After they’d
left the restaurant, Gemma turned toward the park, which was their custom after
dinner, only to stop when Ted turned toward the car.  When he had noticed her
headed the other way, he had mumbled an apology and offered to walk with her. 
Gemma, having already endured his stilted, but polite, conversation all through
dinner and not wanting anymore of it, quickly shook it off and climbed into the
car.  Ted had driven her home and deposited her on her doorstep with a
handshake.

Dirt
flew as she dug the final hole, muttering to herself.  She still couldn’t
believe he’d offered her a handshake.  On their last date he’d had his hand up
her blouse, for crap’s sake!

Gemma
looked up as the door slammed and the object of her ire hurried outside, gun
and badge clipped to his belt, truck keys in his hand.  Alarmed, she stood up. 
Today was Saturday and Tristan’s day off.  If he had been called in something
really bad must have happened.

“Gotta
go, Sis.”  Tristan cleared all the porch steps in a single leap and flew past
her to the big, gray truck parked beside her SUV in the driveway.

“What’s
going on?” she called after him.

“Dead
body in Pisgah National Forest.  Up near Hot Springs,” he called back.  “I’ll
call you later.”

Gemma
felt her anger with him die away as he roared out of the drive.  She could
never stay angry at him when he was going off and putting himself in the line
of fire.  She’d learned that early on after he’d joined the Army and headed off
to Afghanistan.  He might drive her nuts, but she knew it was because he cared
and she would be lost without her big brother around.

She
sighed the tired sigh of long-suffering little sisters everywhere and bent down
to tuck the last bit of dirt around the final plant.  She gave the dirt one
last pat then gathered up her tools, praying all the while that Tristan would
be safe.

 

Tristan
Mabley pulled into the parking lot for the trails leading into the Pisgah National
Forest outside of Hot Springs, North Carolina.  A half a dozen other cars and
police cruisers already littered the lot and the coroner’s van was parked near
the trailhead, its back doors thrown open.  Inside, he could see the county
medical examiner, Dr. Kelan Tate, rummaging through the cupboards lining the
van walls.  Tristan’s boss, John Raymond, sheriff of Madison County, stood next
to the van deep in conversation with a tall, dark-haired man.  As Tristan came
abreast of the two, he stopped as he got a good look at the stranger.  It was
the face of a man he never thought he would see way out here.

“Major
Davidson?”

The
man turned his attention to Tristan, eyes widening as recognition dawned. 
“Captain Mabley?”

Tristan
took stock of his former commander.  Major Benjamin Davidson had led their
Ranger team through numerous missions in Afghanistan.  He’d heard through the
grapevine that the major had retired due to wounds received not long after
Tristan had left the service.  Some of Tristan’s old buddies had said that
Davidson had taken shrapnel to his leg, shattering the bones below the knee so
that it was now held together with plates and screws.  He hadn’t changed much
in six years, though.  His hair was a little grayer and there were a few more lines
bracketing his eyes, but he remained much the way Tristan remembered.

Tristan
extended a hand to the man who had saved his bacon more than once.  “Sir, it’s
good to see you.  What brings you out to my neck of the woods?”  Tristan gestured
around them.  “Literally.”

Davidson
shook Tristan’s hand and held up a badge.  “Seems my case may have landed on
your doorstep.”

“FBI,
huh?”  Tristan frowned.  “The DB in the woods is yours?”

Davidson
nodded.  “I’ve been tracking a serial killer in the region for nearly two years. 
We’ve got a flag in the system to alert us to bodies found in wooded areas.  As
soon as the location of this one hit the air waves I got a call.  I was on my
way back north to Richmond when it came in and detoured here.  From the cursory
description we’ve gotten from the people who found her it sounds like she may
be related to my other victims.”

Christ. 
A serial killer was just what they needed roaming the hills.  There were so
many places to hide in the Smokies.  Probably why the major had had so much
trouble tracking the guy to begin with, Tristan mused.  “How many victims have
you attributed to the guy?”

“This
one, if she is in fact connected, will make five that we know of.  This case
landed in my lap when he crossed state lines from Tennessee to Virginia.  He’s
left two in Virginia, two in Tennessee, and now this one.”

“Well,
let’s get on it then before we’re finding victim number two,” Sheriff Raymond
said just as Dr. Tate stepped down from the van, a large bag slung across his
chest.  The men filed silently into the woods behind the park ranger who had
answered the initial call from the hikers who had stumbled across the body. 

The
stench of death assaulted Ben Davidson’s nose about the same time the yellow
police tape came into view.  It didn’t matter where a murder occurred, Ben
could always count on the smell to point him to the body.  Even the recently
deceased had a smell.  It hung in the air like smog on a hot day and it was
unavoidable.

Ben
bent beneath the crime scene tape and got his first glimpse of the body as he
passed through the trees.  He took in the grim scene with a detached eye,
assessing it for similarities to his other victims.  The woman swayed in the
slight breeze where she hung by her neck beneath the branches of a large oak.  Completely
naked, evidence of torture was apparent on her bloodied body.  Deep gashes
marred the skin of her torso, her fingers looked like gnarled willow branches,
and where blood had once flowed freely, it was now dried on her fingertips.  She
was identical to the other four victims at just a quick glance.  Ben had a
sneaking suspicion that when the M.E. did the autopsy he would find both her
legs were broken in several places—crushed by a hammer or pipe—and that she had
died from a broken neck.


Jesus
.” 
Ben spared a glance at the sheriff who had pulled up beside him.  The man’s
face was devoid of all color and he could see him fight to keep the contents of
his stomach where they belonged.  Ben was far past being affected by grisly
sights.  He’d been cured of that after his first tour in Afghanistan.  Now,
nearly two decades later, he examined scenes like this one with a calculated
eye, looking for clues to help him bring down the monster responsible.  He sincerely
hoped this woman yielded more answers than the previous four victims.

The
M.E. stepped forward to look at the body as his assistant snapped pictures in
quick succession. 

“She
hasn’t been here long,” Tate remarked.  “There’s not much decomp yet and she’s
still in full rigor.”  He glanced back at Ben and the other investigators.  “Once
we get her down and I get a liver temp on her I can give you a more accurate
time of death, but just based off of looking at her I’d say she died sometime
late last night or very shortly after midnight.”

Ben
felt a surge of hope.  None of the other four victims had been found so soon
after death.  In every other case, nature had had a chance to wash away vital
evidence.  It hadn’t rained last night, so they might very well find clues on
or around her. 

Tristan
Mabley seemed to be on the same wavelength.  The doctor’s proclamation
galvanized the man into action and Ben watched as Mabley made a beeline for
where the rope was tied, eyes trained on the ground. 

“There’s
fresh prints here.  Definitely male, probably a size ten or eleven.”  One of
the crime scene techs that had followed them in came over and started snapping
pictures of the indentations.  “We might be able to get a weight on the depth
of the tracks,” Mabley remarked, reminding Ben how astute the younger man was. 
Mabley had always had a gift for quickly stringing out information and
channeling it down a path that would get results.  He wasn’t surprised that
Tristan had thought of the depth of the tread as a way to give them some
insight into their killer, and he was damn glad to have the man working this
case with him.    

They
worked diligently for several hours processing the scene.  Even with the
freshness of the scene there wasn’t much forensic evidence.  They’d found tire
tracks to an ATV in addition to the boot prints, but little else.  The rope was
a generic nylon sold in many sporting goods and hardware stores.  Unless the
killer had slipped up this time, there wouldn’t be any DNA evidence on the body
and with the lack of clothing and other belongings there likely wouldn’t be any
fingerprint or fiber evidence either.  Ben just wanted a break in this case. 
It haunted him on dark nights that he couldn’t figure it out.  He hated
unfinished business.

“So
what’s the plan?” Sheriff Raymond asked as they gathered in the parking lot as
Dr. Tate drove away with their victim. 

BOOK: Finding Forever (Smoky Mountain Lawmen Book 1)
9.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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