The critically acclaimed Seasons Mystery Series that started with Open Season, continues with the second book, which was released November 14, 2012 in hardback. In February 28, 2014 it was released as an ebook for Kindle and Kindle apps. Also available at Scribd * Kobo * Apple * Inktera * Nook
The hardback is available at the Texas Association of Authors website.
Just for fun, the prologue was adapted as a short story and is FREE on YouTube at the Thrills & Mystery Podcast.
Stalking Season is a police procedural in the vein of the acclaimed 87th Precinct Series by Ed McBain, (Evan Hunter) and has been called “Lethal Weapon” with female leads set in Dallas.
In this second book of The Seasons Series, Homicide Detective Sarah Kingsley and her partner, Angel Johnson are pitted against another uncanny killer while still struggling to feel like real partners. Neither wanted the pairing in the first place, and it isn’t getting any better.
A young girl is killed in a cheap motel, and when her identity is discovered, an influential Dallas businessman brings the heat down on the department. It isn’t easy to work under the thumb of the mayor and the police commissioner, and it doesn’t help that Lieutenant McGregor has his own issues with the brass.
The investigation takes the detectives inside an exclusive gentleman’s club, a prestigious private school, and leads to a killer that surprises them all.
“. . . gripping second mystery featuring Dallas, Tex., police detectives Sarah Kingsly and Angel Johnson. . . . The relationship between the women is just as absorbing as the search for the killer. Few readers will anticipate the closing twist.” Publishers Weekly Starred Review
“So deftly plotted and paced that, although it’s certainly possible to grow impatient with the protagonists’ unwarranted impatience toward each other, they’re appealing enough to keep the pages turning.” Kirkus
– Ask for it at your local library, or order from retailers.
You can listen to a Podcast of “Escaping Raul” a short story that was adapted from the prologue of Stalking Season. The podcast is on the Thrills & Mystery website run by the talented JD Core, who also does the dramatic reading.
The minute she stepped into the brisk, January wind, Tracy regretted wearing the skimpy black dress she’d danced in. The beaded shawl offered little protection against the waves of chilled air, and the cold skittered up her bare legs like drunken spiders.
Pale halos of light illuminated the border of hedges flanking the cement steps at the entrance to The Club. Beyond the artificial light an impenetrable darkness shrouded the area, and Tracy felt her resolve slip. She must be nuts going out to meet some man in the dead of night. Amber had reasoned her past the initial fears, building on the sense of adventure that had led them here initially, but now she wasn’t so sure.
Tracy angled to the right, away from the front portico where valets hustled to relieve guests of their cars. Once clear and facing a sea of parked cars, she wondered how on earth she’d find the man who had requested her company. Or was he going to find her?
She turned to see a big dark luxury car pull through the sweeping driveway and crawl to a stop beside her. The tinted window inched down, sliding with a soft whir into the well of the passenger door. Tracy leaned into the opening and a rich, pungent odor of leather ticked her nose. It reminded her of the smell inside her father’s Jaguar, and the familiarity eased her remaining fears.
Tracy tried her best smile. “You want me to get in?”
The click disengaging the automatic lock answered her.
As her hand touched the cold metal of the door handle, caution made her hesitate. Once she got in, there would be no turning back. Did she really want to do this?
“I’m not waiting forever.” The voice registered barely above a whisper, but it nudged Tracy to open the door. If she didn’t, Amber would rag on her forever.
Settling into the soft embrace of the leather seat, Tracy welcomed the reprieve from the cold night air and gave the man a furtive glance. A gray Fedora shadowed part of his face, and long, thin fingers gripped the wheel as he maneuvered the car out of the parking lot.
“Where are we going?” Tracy asked.
He didn’t answer, and panic fluttered in her stomach. What if she was supposed to have a place? Amber hadn’t told her how that part of it worked.
Tracy fidgeted with the clasp of her purse, pushing it open, then closing it with a series of soft clicks. She waited for the question she wouldn’t be able to answer, but the man remained silent. He held the car in the flow of traffic on Loop Twelve, then took a right on Harry Hines. Passing flashes of neon advertising GIRLS and GOOD TIMES, Tracy realized they were not in an area where they would find a Raddison on the next corner. She swallowed a protest when he pulled into the parking lot of what Amber must have been referring to as a “no-tell motel.” It wasn’t the worst place Tracy had ever seen, but it was close, not a hint of an amenity in the pale, stucco buildings that formed an L on the debris-strewn asphalt.
Wondering if she could suggest an alternative, she turned to the man. Her inclination was cut short by his curt command. “Sign us in. Make up a plate number and don’t use your real name.”
He reached into the breast pocket of his dark suit and pulled out a slim wallet. Separating one crisp bill from others, he handed it to her. “This will cover it.”
The thin, pale man at the desk in the tiny office kept most of his attention on a Mavericks’ basketball game blaring from the TV. Tracy was glad he didn’t notice her shaking fingers as she signed the card he slid across the counter. He took the fifty she held out and handed back ten in change along with the key.
“Number fifty-two in the back,” Tracy said, sliding into the passenger seat.
Tires making only a whisper of sound on the asphalt, the car rolled into the shadows surrounding the back rectangle of units. The man stilled the engine, then motioned for her to get out. She offered the key to him, but he waved her toward the entrance.
Tracy fumbled the key in the lock, then finally got the door open and stepped inside. A stuffy aroma of long-neglected dirt assailed her as she looked around. The room was a study in beige with a cheap copy of a landscape on the wall making a feeble attempt to break the monotony. She glanced at the bed, taking note of the obscure loops and swirls of a faded floral design on the spread. Trying to mask her dismay, she looked back at the man.
He closed the door, engaging the lock with a loud click, and Tracy wondered if she had made a huge mistake. Don’t be silly. She stilled the yammering of her panic. People do this all the time. He’s probably waiting for you to make the first move.
The man sat down on a chair by the long, dark drape covering the sliding glass door. It wasn’t what Tracy expected, and she wondered what to do next. Disconcerted, she moved closer to the standard-issue low dresser. It hosted a television, a cheap plastic bucket wrapped in cellophane, and a dog-eared directory of local amusements. A chill tickled the back of her neck, and she pulled her shawl over her bare shoulders.
“Don’t do that.”
The command froze her in place. She was going to blow this whole thing. Think. What had Amber said? Right. Take care of the money part first. “Uh.” Tracy cleared her throat. “The pay?”
He raised a questioning eyebrow.
“My . . . the usual’s two hundred.”
He pulled the leather wallet out again, removed two hundred-dollar bills and held them aloft.
Tracy quickly crossed the room and snatched them. “You don’t talk much, do you?” she asked.
He gazed at her with bottomless brown eyes and shook his head. The intense scrutiny sent her back to the middle of the room.
“Would you like me to dance?”
A quick nod answered the question.
Okay. Play it like a game. One move will lead to another.
After putting the money in her purse, Tracy stood in the middle of the room wondering how to get past the awkwardness, finally closing her eyes against her inhibitions. There, that’s better. She let her body sway to a melody playing in her mind. The moves felt stilted at first, like the music was out of sync and she couldn’t find the rhythm, but she forced herself to keep moving.
Slowly, a memory of having done this before surfaced. Remembering brought back the delicious feeling of sensuality that had so excited her last year when she’d danced for Brad. She’d felt an incredible sense of power at that moment and now she drew on that power.
Confidence synchronized her movements and she let the inner heat build. In a crackling slither of beads she drew the shawl across her shoulder, then down over her breasts, feeling a surge of warm excitement as her nipples peaked. A quick tug on the back zipper released the fabric of her black crepe dress.
Drawing the moment out, she slipped one cap sleeve down her arm then the other. Free from restraint, the dress slid like a caress across her body, releasing a subtle scent of sweet perfume before settling in a soft puddle at her feet.
More daring now, Tracy opened her eyes and watched the man watching her. He lit a cigarette, the blue haze of smoke rising slowly to the ceiling. She waited a moment for some word of direction, but he just smoked quietly. Did he just want her to keep on dancing?
Sliding her fingers across the tops of her breasts, she touched her nipples lightly then smoothed her palms across her stomach, rolling her hips in slow, flowing circles. She let the moves carry her closer to the man, searching those fathomless eyes for response.
“You should at least loosen your tie.” Tracy tugged playfully at the knot, but the man pushed her hand away.
Uncertainty caused her to falter. Amber had said the only difference between sex with the frat boys at SMU and this was that they’d get paid for it. But the college guys had been direct in letting her know what they wanted. What was the deal with this guy? If he didn’t like her, he certainly wouldn’t have shelled out all that money.
Uncomfortable with her questions and his proximity, Tracy spun back toward the center of the room. Okay. She’d give him five more minutes. Then if he didn’t do anything, she’d tell him to forget it. Give him his money back . . . God, she hated to think of having to do that.
She closed her eyes again, retreating into the insulation of darkness. Then she heard snatches of music from outside her mental soundtrack. It was him. He was singing. A familiar song. What was it? A hymn?
Tracy stopped and stared at the man.
She willed her body to move, to ignore the breath of unease that blew over her, and for a few moments it worked. Ignorance came easy in self-imposed darkness. Then his music again intruded on hers and she realized she’d changed her rhythm to match his song. What was he singing . . .? “Amazing Grace” . . .? What a ridiculous—
A rustle of movement startled her and she opened her eyes. He was standing now. Jacket off. Getting ready? It was about time.
Her soft sigh of relief constricted in her throat when she saw the glint of metal in his right hand. What the . . .? There was no way her frantic mind could convince her it was something harmless.
“. . . was lost and now am found . . .”
The voice was still a harsh whisper, but it hurled the words against Tracy like waves pounding a shore. A cold shudder of fear buckled her knees and she fell against the bed for support. She tried to voice the scream that built inside, but no sound squeezed past the tightness in her throat. Terror clamped an iron hand on her body. Her mind screamed, “Run!” But her muscles froze.
“Not a breath of noise and you won’t get hurt.” The man moved toward her. “Understand?”
Tracy nodded, even though the deep ache in her gut told her he was lying.
“Please don’t kill me.” The plea finally squeaked its way out.
“Quiet.” The calculated menace in his voice invaded her body and rendered her helpless.
Helpless as he shoved her back on the bed, pinning her with his length.
Helpless as he murmured words next to her ear.
Helpless as he laid the cold edge of steel against her neck.
He was right.
It didn’t hurt.
Rolling away from the spurt of blood, the killer ran smooth hands over the contours of Tracy’s body, still warm and inviting. But it wouldn’t be desecrated any more. She was redeemed now. She had paid for her sins and no one would touch her body again.
A thumb, dipped in the river of blood, traced a crude cross on the dead girl’s forehead. There my sweet. Sleep now. And do not think too badly of what I had to do. You left me no alternative. You were the only one who had a choice. The Father wanted only goodness for you. Instead you took the path of evil, offering your body on the sacrificial altar of man’s depravity. But it is over now. Your own blood has joined the Blood of the Lamb. You have been saved and are now His.
“. . . was blind, but now I see . . .”
Loving hands arranged the body in an acceptable pose for the Lord. Covered modestly.
“There now. Isn’t that better?”
Angling to the far-left lane of the 75 overpass, Detective Angel Johnson admired the dramatic skyline of Dallas. Sleek lines of brick and glass cut deeply into the brilliant azure sky, slicing the lavender clouds in half. She loved this spot. Up here, away from the endless parade of dead bodies and remorseless killers, it was possible to believe that the city lived up to the perfection presented in a view that could be a postcard.
She took a deep breath to stifle the morning’s frustration. She had gone with her partner to interview a woman who had witnessed a drive-by shooting, but the woman had nothing helpful to tell them. No description. No nothing. Angel wasn’t sure if it was because the woman didn’t want to help or if she honestly had not seen enough to help. It was always hard to tell in those neighborhoods terrorized by gangs.
The sharp command jerked Angel’s attention to Sarah Kingsly who was looking out the passenger window.
“Now? Right in the middle of the freeway?” Angel asked.
“We’ve got a jumper!”
Glancing to her right, Angel saw a young man with one foot over the railing. It didn’t look like he was there to share her delight in the view. She edged the car off the lane until the faint scrape of metal on concrete told her she had gone as far as she could. Before the car came to a complete halt, Sarah pushed the door open and stepped out.
Screaming tires marked her passage across four lanes of traffic. Thankful that it wasn’t rush hour, Angel hastily punched numbers on her cell phone. With any amount of luck, her partner might actually be able to dodge the cars and arrive at the other side intact.
Physically, that is.
Mentally, Angel wasn’t sure how intact the other woman was. Six months of partnership-on-paper hadn’t moved them more than an inch toward partnership-in-reality. And these stunts. Shit! She’s going to get us both killed.
Angel quickly briefed the dispatcher, slammed the phone closed, then scrabbled across the seat to exit through the passenger side. When she stepped out, the stench of exhaust gagged her, but at least she didn’t have to worry about being hit. The traffic crawled across the overpass as gawkers leaned out of car windows to catch a glimpse of the drama unfolding at the side of the road.
Cautious, so she wouldn’t alarm the young man perched precariously on the guard rail, Angel sidled up to her partner. Sarah seemed oblivious to everything but the pathetic guy who didn’t seem to have anything to live for, if appearances were any indication. A tattered sweatshirt offered his only protection against a cutting January wind, and jeans that weren’t distressed for style encased legs no thicker than the rail they straddled. Wild, frantic eyes were buried in a mane of hair that flowed into a scraggly beard.
The eyes could see, but they didn’t communicate.
Angel was mesmerized by the soft, soothing voice of her partner gentling the man the way she’d once heard her brother do a horse. “It’s okay . . . I’m not going to hurt you . . .” As Sarah spoke, she moved slowly toward the man, gliding as if the concrete had turned to ice. Angel held her breath while the moment stretched to eternity.
“Stay away!” The man’s harsh shout jangled the airwaves like a stone disturbs a still pond.
Angel watched Sarah freeze for one moment, then move forward again, letting her voice ease the coming. “Shhh . . . Take it easy . . . We can just talk a . . .”
As Sarah moved closer to the man, Angel could no longer distinguish words in the soothing wash of sound. Could she rush him while Sarah had him distracted?
No. She was still too far away.
Turning her head slightly, Angel caught the faint wail of a siren growing stronger. The man gave no sign of hearing it, but he would soon. Would it provide the impetus to push him into the flow of traffic on the concrete river a hundred feet below?
A sudden rush of adrenaline sent her heart on an erratic trip through her chest as Angel watched the next few seconds play out in excruciating slow motion . . .
The man turned his head toward the scream of the sirens.
Sarah lunged forward.
The two of them tangled in a macabre embrace, teetering on the edge.
The man fought to pull away.
Sarah clung to his ragged shirt.
“If you go, I go, too.” Sarah’s words were oddly calm in the frenzy of emotion. “And killing a cop is a death-penalty offense.”
Angel found the pronouncement absurd. What was that Honky bitch thinking? If this guy even cared about the future they wouldn’t all be here.
Willing her feet to cross the distance in time, Angel broke the slow motion lock.
She grabbed Sarah’s bright, red jacket, and a sudden weight threatened to pull her arms out of their sockets as first the man, then Sarah, went over the side. Angel could feel the momentum pulling her toward the edge. Her Reeboks slid across the loose dirt and gravel like skis, slamming Angel against the rail with a bone-crushing thud. “Sarah! Let him go. I can’t hold you both.”
“He doesn’t really want to do this.”
Angel risked a glance over the edge. Her partner was stretched between a grasp on a steel support beam and a fistful of fabric. It was the only thing holding the man from certain death.
“Could have fooled me.” Angel flexed her knees to lower her center of gravity and tried to ignore the sear of pain in her arms. She couldn’t hear the sirens any more. Did that mean some Uniforms would rescue her at any moment? She fervently hoped so. She didn’t know how much longer she could hang on. And she didn’t know if she was willing to go over the edge with her partner.
The alternative wasn’t even worth consideration.
A momentary flare of anger distracted her. Why didn’t one of the bloody gawkers stop and help? This wasn’t some reality TV show.
The burning pain in her muscles gave way to numbness, and Angel felt the fabric of Sarah’s jacket start to slip through her fingers. She willed her grip to hold. “I’m losing you!”
“You’re not dying today. You got that!” As Sarah’s words drifted up to Angel, it took a moment to realize they were directed at the man.
“Let him go, Sarah! You’re not going to talk him out of this.”
“The hell I’m not! The deal hasn’t changed. You go, we all go.”
Sarah’s comments didn’t make sense, even when Angel realized the last two were spoken to the man again. She fought an urge to let go, to punish Sarah for being so obtuse as to think some sappy appeal might work.
Suddenly, the balance of weight shifted, easing the burden on Angel’s trembling muscles. Had her partner lost her grip on the man? Angel took another look over the railing. Sarah’s face bore a triumphant grin. Then Angel saw the man clinging to the support beam next to her partner.
A car braked to a sharp stop behind her, and Angel turned to see two patrol officers throw the doors open and run toward her. They reached over and helped haul Sarah and the man back to the roadway. Her partner didn’t let go of the guy until he was handcuffed and in the grasp of the officers who walked him in an ungainly puppet-dance to the car.
Now that the man was safe in the back seat of the cruiser, the sharp edge of tension eased, but anger smothered Angel’s relief. Sarah’s face still wore that goofy grin, and she shrugged before starting across the street. Angel reached out and pulled the other woman around.
“Don’t you ever do anything like that again.”
“Hey. We saved a life. You should feel good.”
“Pardon me if I don’t cheer. I came too close to dying to be happy.”
“You need to lighten up, girl.” Sarah pushed at straggles of blond hair the wind kept tossing in her face. “It’s all part of the job.”
“No.” Angel poked a finger at the other woman’s chest. “What you do can no way be considered normal.”
“If we were normal, we wouldn’t be cops.”
“Forget it.” Angel threw up her hands, checked for a break in traffic and stomped back to the car.
“You want me to drive?” Sarah called, her footsteps padding softly behind Angel.
“I don’t think I trust you right now.”