THIS IS BOOK ELEVEN IN THE BO AUSTEN SERIES. If you have not read:
1. The Surgeon
2. The Dollhouse Murderer
3. The Hunter
4. The Puppet Master
5. The White Rose Butcher
6. The Acid Bath Killer
7. The Ghost
8. The Copycat
9. The Bonekeeper
10. The Executioner
it is highly suggested that you stop now and read the previous two books before continuing. The books do not make sense if you start here. The characters will not make sense if you start here. This is a series, and series do not make sense when read out of order.
Sunday: February 14, 2027
6:47 PM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, FAMILY ROOM
Jensen Austen-Taylor sat on the floor, his arms outstretched. “Look at you!” he exclaimed excitedly as his son crawled toward him. “Look at you,” he repeated, reaching out to pick up Pollux.
Bo smiled from where he sat beside his husband. He sat on the floor with his legs stretched out, Castor sat neatly on his lap. “Won’t be long before you’re up and running around,” Bo said, reaching out to comb his fingers through Pollux’s short, dark hair. The baby scrunched his nose, freckled cheeks dimpling ever so slightly.
“And then he’ll be making a mess of everything,” Jensen said.
Bo chuckled. “That’s obvious. He has your blood running through his veins.”
Castor grunted, tugging at Bo’s shirt.
“I know, buddy. I wasn’t paying attention,” Bo said, turning back toward the child. “I’m sorry.” Castor grabbed Bo’s hands, helping himself to his feet. “Good job, buddy,” Bo whispered. Although Castor couldn’t walk yet, standing was one of his favorite skills to show off to his parents.
Kayla Austen-Taylor leaned forward on the couch, wrapping her arms around Bo’s neck. “Daddy?”
“I need help on this math question,” Kayla said.
Bo held out a hand, grabbing to thin textbook from her. “Which one?”
“Twelve. We’re looking at… common denominators. Like, I have to make the bottom numbers the same,” Kayla explained.
Bo balanced the book on his thigh, keeping one hand held out for Castor to hold onto. “You still have a piece of paper back there?”
“All right. So, start by ignoring the top half of the fraction. Just look at the numbers three and four on the bottom there. Write down whatever you have to back there, but figure out what number those two have in common.”
“Like… a big number that they both fit into?”
“Mmhmm.” Kayla pressed the piece of paper to Bo’s back as she jotted down several numbers. Bo chuckled, lifting his eyes back to Castor’s face. The baby smiled at his father, baby blue eyes bright behind his glasses. Bo was thankful that, as far as the doctors could tell, a slight vision impairment was Castor’s only fault. He was growing correctly, and he was developing motor skills at a healthy rate. “So… twelve?” Kayla finally asked.
“Right. How do you make those bottom numbers equal twelve?”
“Three times four and four times three?”
“Correct,” Bo assured. “What else do you have to do?”
“Multiply the top numbers by that, too?” Kayla asked.
“Yep. And then subtract,” Bo said, passing the book back to Kayla.
“My turn?” Amber asked.
“Sure, baby. Hit me with your best shot.”
“What comes after fifty-nine?”
“How do you spell that?”
Bo snorted. “No problem, sweetheart.”
“I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t around for homework help,” Jensen said.
“Hey, you could’ve spelled sixty,” Bo said.
“Maybe. Depends on what kind of day I’m having,” Jensen. “Sometimes, I forget how to spell my own name.”
Bo chuckled, reaching out with one finger to push Castor’s glasses up on his nose. “Well, that’s what I’m here for. To help you remember how to spell your name,” he said. Castor sat down on the floor, reaching for his sippy cup. Bo handed it to him, smiling softly as the baby took a long drink from it.
“Two-twelfths?” Kayla asked.
“And reduce it so the top number’s a one,” Bo said.
Another pause. “One-sixth?”
“There you go.”
“You betcha.” Bo turned his head to the side as his phone dinged with a text message. He picked it up and unlocked the screen. “Dispatch,” he said.
“Homicide?” Jensen asked.
“Yep.” Bo brought up his text thread with Gwen Tanner. “But we are supposed to be celebrating our anniversary, and we are not on call.
Bo: Do you and Misty have this covered?
Gwen: Yep! OMW now. Misty too.
Gwen: I’ll make sure to take lots of pics for you Blondie
Bo smiled faintly.
Bo: Thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow, Gwen.
“That means I’ll meet my new partner tomorrow, doesn’t it?” Jensen asked as Bo set his phone back down.
“Sure does, Sergeant.”
“Ugh.” Jensen shook his head. “Is it wrong that I don’t want a partner?” he asked.
“No. I never wanted to work with anyone else, either,” Bo said. “I just knew teamwork was, you know, part of the job.”
“Solid point,” Jensen agreed. “Think Jake will assign the case to me tomorrow?”
“More than likely,” Bo said. “It depends on what kind of homicide it is.”
Jensen nodded. “Fair enough.”
“But, I’d like not to worry about that at the moment. Castor and I are going to go check on the brownies,” Bo said, pushing himself to his feet. He picked up Castor, allowing the child to rest on his hip as he walked out of the family room. Jensen smiled softly, shaking his head. He looked back at Pollux, who was busy trying to pull off one of his socks. Pollux’s eyes, which had been gray had birth, had gone through several color changes before settling on a beautiful cognac color. Jensen loved it, and because of that, one his favorite pastimes was sharing pictures of the baby on Instagram.
Of course, he’d do that no matter what color the child’s eyes were.
“Brownies are cooling off,” Bo said as he walked back into the family room. “You two finish your homework, and then we’ll pick out a movie, okay?”
6:59 PM; CLINSTONE, BLUE MOUND HIKING AND BIKING TRAIL
“So who found it?” Detective Ryan Jass asked, arms crossed over his chest.
“Well, she is a human person, not an it,” Gwen corrected. “Otherwise, a jogger. He and his dog were running, the dog started barking and sniffing like crazy, and ran off into the trees here.”
“Where’s the jogger now?” Ryan questioned.
Gwen gestured toward the small parking lot half a mile down the trail. “Police cruisers back there. He’s in the back, staying warm. They’ll take him back to the station to make an official statement,” she said.
Ryan nodded. “What do you know so far?”
“I really haven’t been here that long, Detective,” Gwen said, angling her camera for a better angle on the woman’s face. “I can tell you that somebody beat the living hell out of her. She’s bruised and cut all of her body. She’s been choked recently, and her hands were bound with something. The marks lead me to believe handcuffs, but I’ll know more in the morgue.”
Again, the detective nodded. “Sergeant Taylor coming?”
“Not tonight. He’s not on call,” Gwen explained. “He’ll be at the station tomorrow, though. Eight o’clock sharp.” She lifted her gaze to his face. “Are you his new partner?”
“Hmm. Well, welcome to CPD, Detective,” Gwen said, pushing herself to her feet. “And welcome to the scene of another one of our violent killers.”
10:47 PM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, MASTER BEDROOM
Bo set his watch on the nightstand, gently dragging his fingers over the scars that resided there. He had decided to take Taven, the woman who had pierced Kayla’s ears the year before, up on her offer and get a tattoo to cover the scars. He had been chatting with one of the tattoo artists at the shop for almost a month, playing with concepts and ideas for a cover-up. They were rather certain they had finally figured out the best choice, and he had an appointment on Friday to get the actual tattoo done.
He picked up his phone as it rang. Gwen’s name flashed across the screen. He slid his thumb across the bottom of the screen and pressed the phone to his ear. “How was the scene?”
“I met your hubby’s new partner,” Gwen said.
“How is he?”
“Eh. He could be less of a dick,” Gwen said. “I mean, he isn’t terrible, but the first thing out of his mouth referred to our victim as an ‘it’. Which reminds me, victim is a woman in her thirties. I ran her through facial recognition, but her driver’s license didn’t come up. I figured you could run her through one of your apps and find her on social media or something.
“Anyway, she’s covered in bruises and cuts. The lacerations are both offensive and defensive. She found back. She was handcuffed, choked, beaten… you name it. I didn’t do an autopsy, and I truly don’t think there’s need for one. I took her BAC, which was point-ten. I’d say she was killed a few hours before we found her body, but you know it’s hard to judge that this time of year.”
“Because of the snow.”
“Right. Oh! One last thing. She had sex before she died,” Gwen said. “I don’t think it was rape. The bruises would indicate assault, yes, but I think that was hours after the sex. Signs of spermicide and lubricant. The guy used a condom.”
“Bingo. I have everything I found in a file for you at the station. It’s sitting in the lab, photos and all.”
“Thank you, Gwen.”
“Mmhmm. Goodnight, Bo.”
“Night, Gwen.” Bo ended the call, setting his phone back on the nightstand. He sighed softly. Consensual sex with a victim before brutally killing her. The blonde couldn’t help but wonder why.
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