Prologue

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Caroline DeWitt would die tonight and she didn't even know it.

She was home after a hellish but thrilling day. Her shift had gone long, as she'd known it would, but the extra hours on the clock had been more than worth it. A detective of three years, her badge was no longer shiny and new, but well-worn and hard earned. Just as the glass of wine she poured was hard earned. She'd used her badge, her brains, and a partnership almost as old as the badge to close the biggest case of her career.

Smiling, Caroline raised her glass in a toast to not only herself, but her partner. She and Jo made one helluva team.

Sipping the dark red liquid, Caroline thought over her dinner options. WIth all the hours they'd been putting in on the case, there'd been little to no time to grocery shop, much less to cook real food. Which meant, unfortunately, the fridge was bare. Ditto on the cabinets. So she had two options: she could either head back out and pick something up or call for delivery.

The decision was all too easy and had her reaching for her phone.

Her order placed, she decided to make an event of the celebration. Since they were both currently single, she'd see if Jo wanted to come over, eat, hang out for a while as friends, without the cloud of a gruesome open case hanging over their heads. And after her partner went home, Caroline would indulge in a long hot bath before collapsing, most likely face first, onto her bed in hopes of getting a solid eight of rack time. Something that, like the food in her kitchen, had been in short supply as of late.

Happy with her plans, Caroline sank onto a cushion in the corner of her couch and propped her feet on the coffee table, texted her partner the invite before tossing her phone aside. Sighing in content, she sipped again and thought over the course of the day.

It had started out as most days did, with a routine of coffee, email checks, and a review of case files. The case they'd just closed had been in the headlines for months, leaving the women in and around the Macon, Georgia area living in fear. Caroline and Jo had spent those months chasing a man who stalked and tortured his victims before ending their traumatic experiences by ending their lives. They'd had precious little to go on, until a friend of the last victim gave them information that helped break the case.

The man was posing as - and this really chapped her ass - a cop.

The friend told Caroline and Jo she'd been on the phone with the victim, on the day and around the approximate time she'd been murdered. Hearing the doorbell, the friend said the victim answered, said there was a cop at the door, and she'd call her back later.

The victim's body had been found by her sister mere hours later.

Caroline and Jo had run down the lead and discovered the imposter. Questioning cooperative neighbors netted them security footage from a house across the street, complete with a clear shot of the wannabe cop as well as the make, model, and license plate of the vehicle he'd used to reach the victim's house.

The man they'd arrested had pleaded his innocence, of course, but he'd matched the description of the man in the security video, not to mention it was his name on the car's registration and he'd had no solid alibi. Evidence was mounting against him - even now the forensics team was hard at work - so Caroline and Jo were confident they had their man.

Smiling with satisfaction, Caroline picked up her phone again as the new text notification beeped, her smile growing wider at Jo's 'hell yes' answer to her invitation, along with the promise of an extra bottle of wine to celebrate.

Even better.

Fully relaxing for the first time in weeks, Caroline snuggled deeper into the couch cushions, letting her head loll as she scanned through her neglected social media, her dark chestnut hair spilling over the cushions. She flipped through the photos from the annual get-together she'd missed with old college friends, shook her head at how some of them hadn't changed.. Taking a sip from her near-empty glass, she switched back over to her texts, read the one from Jo letting Caroline know she was on her way. Clicking into the reply field, she had just begun to type when there was a knock on her door. A glance at her watch showed it was too early for the delivery guy and, since she'd just texted, too early for Jo, who had a key anyway. Since her neighbors knew she worked odd hours, the chances of a drop-by were slim to none.

"Weird," she muttered as she rose from the couch. Out of habit, she grabbed her sidearm from where she stored it in an end table drawer and went to the door. Peering through the peephole, she saw a uniformed deputy waiting on the other side. Taking no chances, she made sure the slide chain was in place before opening the door.

"Can I help you?" she asked, careful to keep herself and her gun out of reach.

"Detective DeWitt?"

"Who's asking?"

"Officer Conrad, Detective. I was sent here as your protective detail for the evening."

"Why would I need a protective detail?" A skittering of unease went ignored as it ran down her spine.

"Well, Detective, Captain Culdridge received word of a threat against you. Your murder suspect's brother has been making a bit of noise about his arrest."

"That generally doesn't warrant a protective detail, Conrad." Now Caroline's gut was telling her something was wrong, something was off about this whole thing. She stared through the peephole once again, straining to see the officer's badge and number. When she realized she couldn't, her grip on the handgun tightened. "Give me your full name, rank and badge number."

As he complied, she wrote the information down on a notepad, one of many she kept scattered about the apartment.

"You'll need to wait out there until I verify your creds." Without another word, she closed the door and went for her phone. Out of habit, she took a photo of the information, since tended to lose or misplace the many notes she scribbled for herself in the course of a day, before texting Jo again.

Something weird going on here. Deputy at my door for protective detail. Will explain when you get here.

She attached the photo of her note and hit send. But before she could switch her phone over to make the call, she heard the sound of the slide chain rattling against the wall as the door swung open.

"What the --" Lunging for the gun she'd set on the table when she'd picked up her phone, Caroline felt the sharp zing of the taser when it connected along her side. As she fell, she watched the man come to stand over her, his hands on his hips as his face twisted into a wicked smile.

"Well, now. Not so badass as we thought we were, hmm?" His eyes slid over to where her gun had landed when it had skittered across the floor during her fall. "And you lost your weapon." Clucking his tongue, he stood straight again. "Such a shame."

"You," Caroline rasped. "You're the one we've been looking for."

"My brother told you he was innocent, but did you listen?" Shaking his head, he started to look down at the floor before the notepad on the table caught his attention. Picking it up, he skimmed over the writing before pinning Caroline down with another sinister look. "Aren't you the good little detective, taking notes." Ripping the paper from the pad, he crumpled it before putting it in his pocket. "Not that it'll do you any good now."

"You don't have to do this. It's one thing to go after innocent civilians, but attacking a cop?" Letting the implication hang in the air between them, Caroline's mind raced through what needed to be done. Jo was on her way and would back her up. She just needed time to get there. "It's asking for a lot more trouble than you're already in for."

"It's not trouble if you enjoy it." His sick grin flashed again. "And since you locked up my brother and basically made sure I'm homeless, I'm really going to enjoy it."

Even as she gathered herself to fight, Caroline felt the prick of the needle sliding under her skin. She willed her brain to push against the drug's effects, but the gray swirling at the edge of her vision darkened as it took over, her last conscious thought a prayer for Jo to get there in time to save her.

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