A Trace of Muder (A Keri Locke Mystery—Book 2)
Blake Pierce is author of the bestselling RILEY PAGE mystery series, which includes seven books (and counting). Blake Pierce is also the author of the MACKENZIE WHITE mystery series, comprising five books (and counting); of the AVERY BLACK mystery series, comprising four books (and counting); and of the new KERI LOCKE mystery series.
An avid reader and lifelong fan of the mystery and thriller genres, Blake loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit www.blakepierceauthor.com to learn more and stay in touch.
Copyright © 2017 by Blake Pierce. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Jacket image Copyright Anna Vaczi, used under license from Shutterstock.com.
RILEY PAIGE MYSTERY SERIES
ONCE GONE (Book #1)
ONCE TAKEN (Book #2)
ONCE CRAVED (Book #3)
ONCE LURED (Book #4)
ONCE HUNTED (Book #5)
ONCE PINED (Book #6)
ONCE FORSAKEN (Book #7)
ONCE COLD (Book #8)
MACKENZIE WHITE MYSTERY SERIES
BEFORE HE KILLS (Book #1)
BEFORE HE SEES (Book #2)
BEFORE HE COVETS (Book #3)
BEFORE HE TAKES (Book #4)
BEFORE HE NEEDS (Book #5)
AVERY BLACK MYSTERY SERIES
CAUSE TO KILL (Book #1)
CAUSE TO RUN (Book #2)
CAUSE TO HIDE (Book #3)
CAUSE TO FEAR (Book #4)
KERI LOCKE MYSTERY SERIES
A TRACE OF DEATH (Book #1)
A TRACE OF MURDER (Book #2)
A TRACE OF VICE (Book #3)
The long hallway was dark. Even with her flashlight on, Keri had trouble seeing more than about ten feet in front of her. She ignored the pit of fear in her stomach and pressed on. With one hand holding the light and the other grasping her gun, she inched forward. Finally she made it to the basement door. Every part of her told her she’d finally found the place. This was where her little Evie was being held.
Keri pushed open the door and stepped onto the first creaky wooden step. The darkness here was even more overwhelming than in the hall. As she slowly made her way down the stairs, it occurred to her how odd it was to find a home with a basement in Southern California. This was the first one she’d ever encountered. Then she heard something.
It sounded like a child crying—a little girl, maybe eight. Keri called out to her and a voice called back.
“Don’t worry, Evie, Mommy’s here!” Keri shouted back as she hurried down the stairs. Even as she did, something was eating at her, telling her this wasn’t quite right.
It wasn’t until her toe snagged on a step and she lost her balance, falling forward into nothingness, that she realized what had been bothering her. Evie had been missing for five years. How could she still sound the same?
But it was too late to do anything about that now as she hurtled through the air toward the floor. She girded herself for the impact. But it didn’t come. To her horror, she realized she was falling down a seemingly endless pit, the air getting colder, nonstop wailing all around her. She had failed her daughter once again.
Keri woke with a start, sitting bolt upright in her car. It took a moment for her to realize what was happening. She wasn’t in an endless pit. She wasn’t in a creepy basement. She was in her battered Toyota Prius in the police station parking lot, where she had fallen asleep while eating her lunch.
The cold she’d felt was from the open window. The wailing was actually the siren of a police car leaving the lot on a call. She was drenched in sweat and her heart was beating fast. But none of it was real. It was just another horrible, hope-crushing nightmare. Her daughter, Evelyn, was still missing.
Keri shook the cobwebs from her head, took a swig from her water bottle, got out, and headed back inside the station, reminding herself she was no longer just a mom: she was also a Missing Persons detective for the LAPD.
Her multiple injuries forced her to move gingerly. She was still only two weeks removed from her brutal encounter with a violent child abductor. Pachanga, at least, had gotten what he’d deserved after Keri rescued the senator’s daughter. Thinking of it made the sharp pains she still felt all over her body more tolerable.
The doctors had only let her take off the soft-sided face protector a few days ago, after determining her fractured eye socket was healing well enough. Her arm was still in a sling from Pachanga breaking her collarbone. She’d been told she could remove it in another week but was considering dumping it early because it was so annoying. There was nothing to be done about her cracked ribs other than wear protective padding. That bothered her, too, as it made her look about ten pounds heavier than her usual 130 fighting weight. Keri wasn’t a vain woman. But at thirty-five, she liked that she could still turn heads. With the pads bulging against her blouse at the waist and riding above her work slacks, she doubted she was doing much of that.
Because of the time off she’d been given to recover, her brown eyes weren’t as bloodshot with exhaustion as usual and her dirty blonde hair, tied back in a simple ponytail, had actually been shampooed. But the fractured orbital bone had left the side of her face with a big yellow bruise which was only now starting to fade, and the sling didn’t add to her appeal. This probably wasn’t the ideal time to go on any first dates.
The thought of dating reminded her of Ray. Her partner for the last year and friend for six before that was still recovering in the hospital from having been shot in the stomach by Pachanga. Luckily, he was doing well enough that he’d recently been moved from the local hospital near the shooting to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills. That was only a twenty-minute drive from the station, so Keri could visit him often.
Yet at no point during those visits had either of them addressed the growing romantic tension she knew they were both feeling.
Keri took a deep breath before making the familiar but nerve-wracking walk through the station bullpen. It felt like her first day back. She could still feel eyes on her. Every time she walked past her co-workers, she sensed their furtive, darting looks and wondered what they were thinking.
Did they all still just consider her a rule-breaking loose cannon? Had she gotten any grudging respect for taking down a child-abducting killer? How long would being the only female detective in the squad make her feel like a permanent outsider?
As she walked past them all in the hustle and bustle of the station and eased herself into her desk chair, Keri tried to control the pit of resentment rising in her chest and just focus on the work. At least the place was packed and as chaotic as ever, and in that reassuring way, nothing had changed. The