Chapter Three

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Nika shoved the snap gun into the keyhole and pulled the trigger. The resulting blowback jerked her arm back, but with a single twist, she shoved open the flimsy door. The building had seen some upgrades over the last year since she'd last visited; new carpet in the hallway, updated light fixtures, refreshed paint, but the apartment itself hadn't changed. Her heart seized for a moment. When was the last time she'd been here? A year? More?

"I take it you and your sister weren't close." Grayson's body heat surged up her back the closer he pressed. Almost right against her. For the first time, she noticed his woody, earthy scent as it washed over her. Cleansing, real. Memories of summer camping trips and getting lost in Upstate New York forests with Rachel triggered a smile across her lips. Those had been some of the best times they'd had together. Before her sister's electric shock therapy and anti-hallucinate drugs started.

"What makes you say that?" She breathed his natural scent in deep, but exhaled it hard to clear her head. Focus. Her instincts prickled as she stepped inside her sister's apartment then damn near hit her over the head. Her ribs struggled to expand. The living room had been turned into a disaster zone, clothes, shoes, and makeup everywhere. An everyday occurrence in Rachel's life. The blinds had been drawn shut and cast eerie shadows across the ratty furniture and holey carpeting. Not an everyday occurrence.

"Well, for one, you don't have a key," he said.

"Why have a key made when I have this?" She wiggled the snap gun over her shoulder then hung it off her back jean pocket.

"Good point." Grayson moved behind her, quiet, careful, but didn't touch anything. Almost as though he'd broken into an apartment before and didn't want to disturb the neighbors.

She focused on the closed blinds. Her sister liked her light. Liked to open the windows too, but they'd been closed tight. Had Rachel closed them before she'd left for work? Despite the grunge condition surrounding her, the kitchen was immaculate. Not a single dish broken or drawer opened.

"No immediate signs of a struggle." But something was off. Like an itch in the center of her back she couldn't reach. Someone else had been inside the apartment, but her instincts said she and Grayson had the apartment to themselves now. "Don't touch anything."

"I've been doing this a while," he said. "I know the protocol, but are you sure about there not being a struggle? This place is a mess."

Right. He didn't know her sister.

"Rachel refuses—" She took a deep breath. "Refused to fold her clothes after they came out of the dryer. She'd set them in piles to dig through throughout the week instead of putting them away. Drove my parents crazy. So, yes, I'm sure. This disaster zone is just normal for her." Nika pulled a new pair of ugly off white latex gloves from her jacket pocket and drew the smooth plastic over her hands.

Shutting the door behind them, Grayson locked it to ensure the nosey neighbors kept out of their way. Good call.

The part of her she'd relied on as a detective to find every piece of evidence, every suspect, and solve every case cut off the warmth spreading up her back and neck from his attention. He stood behind her, so close, yet kept his distance as she worked. One step into the living room. Two. The world disappeared into nothing. Only the scene remained.

The pullout bed she'd slept on for over a year had been stuffed away, blankets and pillows stashed someplace out of sight. She took in the placement of the furniture, the amount of dust on the blinds, and the unopened mail piled up on the coffee table. Sifting through the letters, she studied what looked like a check from the bank.

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