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Read an Excerpt from BLOOD LIKE MINE...

Chapter 1


    Rebecca Carter saw the first flakes of new snow fall from the night sky and settle on the windshield. The road ahead was dark, twisting down through the hills, the headlights catching scrub and rock peering through the drifts of white.

    Golden City lay below; she had caught occasional glimpses of its lights through the trees. She had planned this route several days in advance. Boulder lay to the north, and Superior south of that, then Golden at the edge of the Denver metro area. She would head south from there, skirting the mountains, then down to New Mexico, or maybe west toward Utah, driving until the fatigue got too much to carry. West or south, didn’t matter, but she needed to put some distance between here and there.

    “Try to get some sleep,” Rebecca said. “Go on, get in back.”

    “Not yet,” Moonflower said.

    She had been christened Monica, but not long after, Rebecca had taken to calling her Moonflower. For the blossoms her own mother grew in the greenhouse behind their home in Madison, Wisconsin. They bloomed at night, pale white faces in the darkness. A thread that still connected Moonflower to her grandmother, causing an ache in Rebecca every time the memory surfaced.

    “Come on,” Rebecca said. “You’re tired. I can tell. You’ve been doing that thing you do.”

    She rubbed her nose with the heel of her hand, mimicking the gesture Moonflower had made all her life when sleep wanted her.

    “Have not,” Moonflower said.

    “Have too. Now, come on. Listen to your mother.”

    “Don’t talk to me like I’m a baby.”

    Moonflower teased at her coal-black hair, twining it around her fingers, a crease in her brow.

    “No, we’re not doing this. It’s been too long a night and I don’t have the patience for your attitude. You hear—”


    The beast filled her vision, hulking across the road, snow dusting its back. The elk froze as Rebecca wrenched at the wheel, the van swerving left then right. The passenger side wheels mounted the verge, losing grip, throwing the van back across the asphalt. Moonflower cried out as her head bounced off the door. Rebecca felt the rear of the vehicle fishtail, and she eased off the gas, moved her foot to the brake pedal, resisting the urge to stamp down on it and risk losing all control. The van mounted the verge on the opposite side of the road and now all Rebecca could see was a white mound of snow, reflecting the glare of the headlights. A dull thump, and she was thrown forward as the van slowed with a lurch, the seatbelt grabbing her chest and waist. Now she depressed the brake, and the van finally halted, its nose buried in snow. The engine fought for a few seconds then stalled. All was still and quiet now, save for the wind and Moonflower’s jagged breathing. Rebecca reached for her daughter.

    “Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

    “Yeah, no,” Moonflower said. “I’m fine. I hit my head, but it’s all right.”

    “Let me see.”

    “It’s fine, Mom.”

    “Let me see.”

She turned her daughter’s head, examined the skin. A red mark at the corner of her eye, that was all.

    “Okay,” Rebecca said. And to herself, “Okay.”

    She pulled the handle and pushed the door open, fighting against the bank of snow outside. Enough of a gap to squeeze through, she told Moonflower to stay put, then climbed out, her feet sinking into the white. She struggled to the rear of the van and looked back along the road. Thirty yards away, the elk looked back at her. Still and impassive, its breath misting. Eventually, it huffed, lowered its antlered head to sniff at the road, then moved off toward the treeline.

    It didn’t care. It had almost caused a serious accident, and it didn’t give a damn. A creature whose only concern was its own survival. All else was background noise. Like most animals.

    Rebecca cursed then made her way along the passenger side of the van, the snow deepening as she went. When she reached the front, she shoveled snow away with her bare cupped hands, ignoring the stinging cold. No damage that she could see, thank God. Could’ve been far worse. Plenty of stretches of this road had sheer drops on one side or the other, thirty, forty feet down onto the rocks below.

    Rebecca thanked the universe for small blessings. Maybe she could just back out of the drift and move on. As she turned to head back around the van, a sound stopped her. A hard and artificial noise washing through the wind and the rustling pines. An engine. A vehicle approaching.

She slapped the passenger window with her palm. Moonflower looked back at her, shaking her head, mouthing, What?

    “Get in the back,” Rebecca shouted.

    Moonflower shook her head again, confused. “Why?”

    “Someone’s coming. Get in the back.”

    Moonflower peered through the windscreen, then in the side mirror, trying to see who approached. Rebecca slapped the window again.

    “Just go, now!”

    Moonflower made a show of sighing and rolling her eyes, but she did as she was told, climbing around the passenger seat and beneath the heavy blanket that separated the cabin and the load bay. Rebecca strained to hear which direction the swelling growl came from. Before she could figure it out, lights glared against the front of the van. There, coming up the incline, a pickup, glowing lamps fixed to its roof, headlights filling the world with violent white. She couldn’t help but raise her forearm to shield her eyes.

    The truck slowed as it neared, brakes whining, until it halted alongside the van. The passenger window rolled down, and a dog of medium size and indeterminate breed barked as it placed its paws on the edge. A man peered out at her from the driver’s seat. Middle-aged, bright and watchful eyes, lined and rugged country skin. He scratched the dog behind its ears, and it dropped back down onto the passenger seat.

    “You all right, ma’am?” the man called. “Need any help?”

    Rebecca swallowed before she answered, dragging the fear down into her stomach.

    “Yeah, I’m fine.” She pointed back up the slope. “There was an elk or a moose or something in the road. I had to swerve around it, and I wound up here. But it’s okay, there’s no damage.”

    He leaned towards the window, examining the van and the bank of snow it had lodged in.

    “I can tow you out of there.”

    “No need, thank you. It’s not that bad, honestly. I can just reverse out.”

    “I’ve got a chain in back,” he said. “Won’t take two minutes, no trouble at all.”

    “Really, there’s no need, thank you.”

    He considered for a moment, studying the van and the snow. Studying her.

    “Ma’am, I won’t sleep tonight if I don’t know you got out of there. Now, if you’re concerned for your safety, being out here on your own and all, I’ll move on up the way a little. I’ll just keep a watch for a minute, make sure you get yourself back on the road. How would that be for you?”

    Not good, Rebecca thought. She wanted him gone, but there was no sense in arguing. It was bad enough he’d seen her out here. Arguing with a decent man because he’d offered assistance to a stranded woman could only make things worse. For everyone.

    “Okay,” she said. “Thank you.”

    He dipped his head in agreement, put the truck in gear, and moved off, his wheels spinning before catching grip. Rebecca watched as he made his slow way up the slope. He stopped at the same spot where the elk had stood a few minutes before. Through the cabin’s rear window, she saw his silhouette as he turned to watch her.

    Better move, Rebecca told herself.

    She made her way around the van, high-stepping through the snow, leaning on the side for balance until she found the driver’s door. It remained open, snow spilling into the footwell and onto the driver’s seat. She swept it out with her hand and climbed in, pulling the door closed behind her, only to drag more snow inside.

    “Shit,” she said.

    Moonflower giggled somewhere behind her.

    “It’s not funny,” Rebecca said, her voice like flint.

    Moonflower whispered, Sorry.

    “Just stay quiet and keep out of sight.”

    Silence from the back, and Rebecca felt a sharp bite of regret. No need to vent her anger at the child. Didn’t matter. They had to get out of here. She turned the key in the ignition, and the engine coughed. For a moment she feared it might not catch, but it did, a pleasing rumble that thrummed and rattled through the cabin. She placed her hand on the dashboard.

    “Good girl,” she said.

    And it had been a good van. Best she’d had in years. Almost always started first time, rarely stalled, and the A/C still worked. Warm in the cold places, cool in the hot. What more could they want? But now it might have to go. She might have to get something else.

    “Goddammit,” she spat.

    “What’s wrong?” Moonflower asked, fear creeping into her voice.

    “Nothing, honey,” Rebecca said, smoothing her tone. “Just stay quiet back there, okay?”


    She put the van into reverse and dabbed at the gas pedal, felt the wheels spin beneath her, barely rocking the suspension. In the side mirror, she saw the truck idling, the man’s silhouette, watching.

    “Please,” she whispered.

    A touch of pressure from her right foot, barely enough for the tachometer’s needle to rise, then a little more. An inch of movement, then another.


    Then a lurch, the wheels spinning again.

    Rebecca eased off the gas, pressed down on the brake, grasped the wheel between her cold-bitten fingers. Closed her eyes and offered a prayer to the god who’d abandoned her decades ago. She toed the gas pedal once more, feeling as she pressed down, listening with her body to the engine, the wheels, the chassis, seeking the sweet spot. The van moved, crawled, slow as spit on glass.

    Hold it there, she thought. Hold it.

    Back and back and back, still going, thank God, still going until the rear wheels met the road, the front wheels following, and she could feel the asphalt beneath. She rested her head against the steering wheel.

    “God,” she said. “Thank you, God.”

    She looked up into the side mirror. The truck still idling, the driver watching. She lowered her window, waved back at him. His hand, a thin black silhouette, returned the gesture, then he turned away. His exhaust belched, and the truck climbed the slope and rounded the bend, out of her sight.

Rebecca began to tremble, pent up adrenalin charging through her, seeking escape.

    “Jesus,” she said. “Jesus, fuck. Fuck me.”

    She had long since stopped worrying about swearing in front of her daughter. What was the point?

    “You okay?” Moonflower asked.

    The blanket lifted, her pale face appearing from underneath, and again Rebecca remembered why she’d called her daughter that all those years ago. Like the flowers in the old greenhouse. The memory of her own mother tending them, and the ache that came with it.

    “Yeah,” Rebecca said. “You need to sleep. Get back there.”

She put the van into drive and moved off, slow, feeling the road through the steering wheel. Be careful. No more mistakes.

    That man would remember her. And the van. The make, the model, the color. Maybe the registration, not that it mattered. And he’d remember her, describe her if he was asked to. Rebecca cursed under her breath, made a fist, bit her knuckle to keep from shouting out her anger. Breathe. Deep in, from the belly, then out, long and slow. Calm.

    When she’d found her balance, she said, “Love you, Moonflower.”

    From the back, her daughter’s voice heavy and weary, “Love you, Mom.”

Chapter 2

    Special Agent Marc Donner was met by a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy at Denver International Airport. It occurred to Donner as he followed the deputy to the parking lot that he’d bounced through Denver countless times on his way to somewhere else but never actually left the airport. At least this was a first.

    Coulter was the deputy’s name, a brawny young man, buzz cut hair and thick forearms. Probably polished his service weapon more than he needed to. He steered the cruiser, a Ford Interceptor SUV, out through the crisscrossing lanes, away from the terminal, and onto a wide road with nothing but stretches of dry eternity at either side. Then, suddenly, a towering dark horse, rearing towards the sky, its eyes blazing red. Like the devil’s own steed bucking against its rider.

    “What the hell is that?” Donner asked, pointing at the sculpture as they passed.

    “Blucifer,” Coulter said. “Blue Mustang to give it its proper name. You remember that Osmonds song? Crazy Horses, waaah, waaah!” He splayed out his fingers as he wailed, wobbling his jaw, then gave a bellowing laugh. “You know, the guy who made that thing? It fucking killed him. I shit you not.”

    Donner looked back over his shoulder at the sculpture. “No kidding. How?”

    “Damn thing fell on him. Killed him dead.”

    “Jesus,” Donner said.

    The road straightened, more wilderness spreading out either side of the road. Flat as a plate and rough as sand. The suggestion of buildings on the horizon, settlements, industry, life in the far distance. So much space made Donner’s skin crawl. The isolation of it. He was used to walls, high and tall, all around. The sky a punctuation between buildings, not this great blue blanket that hung over all creation. Nature was for parks and playgrounds, not growing wild and free in places like this. He pulled his coat tight around him.

    The deputy cleared his throat.

    “You’re here to look at the body, right?”

    “Yeah,” Donner said.


    “Why what?”

    “Why’s a fed want to look at this particular corpse?”

    Donner fussed at his shirt collar. “I don’t know, maybe it’s relevant to my interests, something like that.”

    Coulter stared at him, hard, then looked back to the road. “It’s a serial, right?”

    Donner didn’t answer.


    Donner raised his hands in non-committal gesture. “I don’t know. Could be.”

    “Holy shit,” the deputy said, rubbing his fingers across his smiling mouth. “A fucking serial killer. Goddamn.”

    “Maybe,” Donner said. “Probably not. Probably just some random shit that went down, some poor bastard got his throat cut for no good reason, but I gotta look at it. I gotta see.”

    “Holy shit,” Coulter said again. “So, it’s just you? I thought maybe they’d send down a whole team for something like this. Like forensics and psychologists, all that. Like Jodie Foster in her brown suit and flat shoes and shit.”

    “No, just me,” Donner said. “I gotta look at it first, try to figure out what it is. Then, maybe after, we send for Jodie Foster. Her and Hannibal Lecter tied to a hand truck.”

    Coulter laughed.

    “Tell you what,” he said. “You need anything while you’re here? You need a ride someplace, or some local intelligence, whatever. Just call. Night or day. I’ll see you right.”

    Donner nudged his shoulder. “Thanks, man.”

    He was good at that. Making friends.


    Avista Adventist Hospital stood on the hinterland of housing developments and strip malls between the city of Boulder and the town of Superior, a squat complex of buildings covering acres of ground. Trees and shrubbery lining every path throughout, graying drifts of old snow piled at the edges.

So much space, Donner thought. Drive him crazy.

    The mortuary was a level down. Doctor Leitch from the county coroner’s office met him there, the body already laid out for inspection, covered by a plastic sheet. Donner was relieved when Leitch peeled it tastefully back rather than whipping it away with a flourish. It meant he’d dealt with murders before; they’d become mundane to him, not cause for fuss and drama.

    Frost dusted the eyelashes of the dead man, and the ends of his hair. A Y-shaped incision on his chest had been neatly stitched, as had the one that circled his scalp.

    “Pretty straightforward, at least on the face of it,” Leitch said, pointing to the obvious wound in the cadaver’s throat. “Large cut here, severing pretty much everything that matters, leading to massive blood loss. He died within seconds. But then you look closer.”

    The pathologist leaned down, staring into the open wound. He prodded two gloved fingers into the florid maw.

    “A blade inserted here, most likely a hunting knife, pushed right through, between the C3 and C4 cervical vertebrae, cutting the spinal cord. If he wasn’t dead from blood loss, he was dead from this. No blood at the scene, though.”

    “So, he was moved after the fact.”

    “Yup,” Leitch said. “Strikes me as unusually thorough. Somebody went to a lot of trouble to first make absolutely sure he was dead and then prevent his discovery. But I guess that’s why you’re here.”

    “Yeah,” Donner said. “Tell me about where he was found.”

    “Up in the foothills,” Leitch said. “In the trees, way out in the sticks. My guess is whoever dumped him there reckoned he wouldn’t be found till the thaw, maybe March or April. By that time, coyotes would’ve taken most of him. We’d have had a job identifying him, I can tell you that. But a man named Johnny Colfax found him first. His dog sniffed the body out, I believe.”

    “Have you spoken with Mr Colfax?”

    “Only briefly. The Jefferson Sherriff’s office and the Golden Police Department have both had their way with him, but neither made much of it. Between you and me, I think they’re out of their depth. They’re arguing about jurisdiction, both sides wanting it out of their hands. I believe you coming along is the answer to their prayers. Let the G-man take care of it. Especially when they found out he had a record.”

    Donner had received the email yesterday afternoon, pinged by the National Crime Information Center when Golden PD had uploaded the data. The body had been found almost a week ago, but it had taken a few days to ID him: Bryan Shields, aged thirty-seven, had bought himself a lifelong membership of the National Sex Offenders Register when his credit card details were found in the payment records of a child pornography website. Probably shunned by friends and family for what he’d done, so no one to miss him when he disappeared. The first box ticked on Donner’s checklist. That, the open throat, the body dumped in the asshole of nowhere. It all fit the pattern, and Donner’s supervisor had begrudgingly given him permission to check it out.

    And here he was, Bryan Shields, dead as dead can be, one more crumb on a trail that Donner had been following for nearly two years.

    “What now?” Leitch asked.

    “I gotta make a call,” Donner said. “Excuse me.”

    He exited the mortuary into a tiled corridor and took his cell phone from his pocket. McGrath answered on the second ring.

    “Well?” she asked.

    “It’s our guy,” Donner said, “no question. Everything fits.”

    “Shit,” McGrath said. “You want me to fly out?”

    “No, there’s nothing you can do here. Just try to keep Holstein off my back while I dig around a little. There’s a guy I need to speak with, the one who found the body.”

    He listened to McGrath breathe, his partner biting back a question, until he could stand it no more.

    “Say it.”

    “Shit,” she said again. “Are you sure you want to do this to yourself? I mean, who cares if some sick fuck gets killed and dumped in the woods? It’s one less creep for us to worry about.”

    “I care,” Donner said. “It’s my job to put these bastards away. Mine. Not some goddamn crazy with a hunting knife.”

    “All right,” McGrath said. “I’ll do what I can at this end. Call me if you need anything, day or night.”

    “Thanks,” Donner said, meaning it.


    McGrath hung up.

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