Julia Vargas is a cop with a mission. When she’s not chasing down bad guys, Julia dedicates her time to investigating the Hangman serial killer…the same unsolved case that her father, Jim Vargas, was working on when he supposedly shot and killed himself three decades before. While rumors continue to swirl around her father’s death, Julia attempts to hunt down the truth.
The case once again hits dangerously close, however, when a woman’s bones are discovered in a historic downtown home, together with a photograph of Jim and Julia as a young girl. As horrifying as this discovery is, it may just be the break Julia has waited for. Working alongside Tobias Novak, a homicide detective with whom she shares a complicated—and steamy—history, she’s forced to confront her own past even as the Hangman looms in the shadows. But as the mysterious killer circles closer, Julia can feel her own noose begin to tighten…
“You’re off in a big rush.” The deep timbre of Novak’s voice stopped her midstep on her way to the SUV. She turned to find him leaning against a parked car.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Thought I’d stop by.” He looked toward the sky like he was taking in the morning sun. “Where are you headed?”
“Running an errand. And yeah, I’m kinda in a rush.”
He slowly glanced around, making sure they were alone. “Does your urgency have anything to do with the noose you found in the alley?”
“How do you know about that?”
“I arrived about two minutes before you came downstairs.”
“I didn’t see you.”
“I know.” He rose to his full six-foot-plus height. “Were you going to tell me about it?”
She was tall for a woman, but he was a good four inches taller than her and was pressing on the edge of her personal space. “Not sure there’s anything to tell.”
“Really? You don’t see the significance?”
Her fingers tightened around the shoulder strap of the backpack. “Look, I can take care of myself. And again, what are you doing here?”
“I came to see Cindy. She said she’d get those other pictures of you and your father.”
“She didn’t mention you were coming.”
“Seems communication is not a strong suit in your family.”
Cindy arrived with an old box. “Detective Novak, I found the pictures.”
“Where were they?” Julia was a little annoyed her aunt had not mentioned Novak’s visit while they’d been in the alley.
“Attic of my house. Back corner. Really tucked away.” She set the dusty box on the hood of the SUV. “These are all the pictures taken while your dad was still alive. When he passed, your mom didn’t want them around, so I boxed them up and put them away. I wasn’t a fan of Jimmy Vargas, but he was your father and I thought that one day you’d want these.”
Julia let her backpack slide to the pavement and opened the box. “I’ve never seen these.” She’d learned at an early age that mentioning her father to her mother or aunt triggered the same response. Time hadn’t changed much.
The first set of pictures was of her as an infant. She was about three months old, and her dad had long hair and a beard.
“He was working undercover then,” Cindy said. “He came home every few weeks to see you two. But he was also gone a lot.”
Feeling a rush of unwelcome emotion, she set the picture aside and dug for the stack that would have been taken at the park. Midway through the pile, she spotted the park location. She handed them off to Novak, not wanting to do the digging. “Here are your pictures.”
He took them. “I’ll get them back to you.”
“No. I’ll get them back to you.” Novak carefully stacked the photos and placed them back in the envelope. “We are working the same case, Julia.”
We. He spoke about them as if they were a team. The last time she’d been a part of a team, she’d nearly gotten killed.
“Thanks, but I have Shield helping me.”
“Computer work doesn’t take the place of legwork,” he said.
“What about your caseload?” she challenged.
“I’ve doubled up before.” A wry grin tugged at his lips. “We make a good team.”
“I’m not a team player, if you haven’t noticed.”
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