Geographic profiler Regan Ross may be a rising star in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, but her personal life is a different story. A dark anniversary looms and old traumas surface in troubling new ways. She won’t be able to hide the sleepwalking and weight loss from her sister, the heart surgeon who knows best, forever. Her personal problems take a back seat when a mutilated body is discovered in rural Maryland. Ritualistic signatures and a geocache of taunting clues thrust Regan into a harrowing search for a killer.
Further complicating matters, when a visiting forensic psychologist presents a lecture featuring closed cases form Northern Ireland, Regan makes a chilling connection between an older series of murders and the Maryland case. Convinced the “Belfast Strangler” is hunting women on the Chesapeake Bay, the two become unlikely partners and Regan discovers the psychologist’s past may be as haunted as her own.
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READ THE FIRST CHAPTER OF JEOPARDY SURFACE
FOG ROLLED AND shifted like a living thing, prolonging
my confusion. Cold. Wet. Dark. A streetlight’s feeble yellow
glow illuminated the Tahoe and Jeep parked in the driveway.
My driveway. Great, that explained where, but certainly not how
or why. I’d been in bed, mentally clicking through a macabre slide
show, my version of counting sheep. I must’ve fallen asleep, but
my body felt too heavy to be dreaming. How had I gotten from
my bed to the front yard? My sleep patterns hadn’t exactly been
normal lately, but somnambulism was a new one.
Think. Start with a couple of facts. Okay. Fact: Bare feet. Fact:
Damp grass. Fact: Mid-November.
It was November when I’d gotten in bed, but I couldn’t rule
out the involvement of a space-time continuum. It was apparently
that kind of night. Chilly temp, damp grass. Hence, cold wet feet.
Cold wet everything. My hair was undoubtedly a Medusa-like
mass of dark, wet tendrils. Time? My gut said it was the witching
hour, sometime between midnight and zero-three-hundred when
most law-abiding citizens were asleep and the insomniacs and serious
miscreants were not.
Sounds. Chattering teeth. Crickets. Yipping—incessant, at that
grating octave unique to the diva breeds. This little shit, a tiny
mop with legs, belonged to Mrs. Schroeder and barked at anything
that moved. Skipper? Skippy? Really? You gonna stand here shivering
all night in thin pajama pants and a tank top? A porch light came
on. Skittles must’ve woken a neighbor.
When I raised my wrist to check my watch, intense white
light bathed my lawn. The weight in my left hand registered a
moment before I realized what I was holding. Sonofabitch. Cool
to the touch. No odor of burnt gunpowder, which would’ve lingered
in the fog. A slide check revealed a round in the chamber. I’d
obviously meant business. The motion-sensing security lights were
timed to shut off after ten minutes without motion. They’d been
off. Well, this is fucking great. You’ve been standing here for at least
ten minutes, oblivious, holding a firearm.
No neighbors had come out to investigate the sound of a gunshot,
a good sign. On the other hand, sounds of violence often
went unheard in the middle of the night, especially in neighborhoods
like mine where half of the potential witnesses removed
their hearing aids before bed. For the first time, I considered what
I might find inside my house. The front door was wide open, and
the fact my alarm wasn’t going off didn’t exactly put me at ease. I’d
managed to enter the six-digit code, apparently while sleepwalking.
A methodical check of each room revealed nothing out of
place, with the exception of my bedroom. Assuming I hadn’t traveled
through a wormhole, I’d fallen asleep a little after midnight,
which would’ve been about three hours earlier according to the
alarm clock on the nightstand. The nightstand drawer where I
kept the Glock was open, and the bed looked like the aftermath
of a WWE match. After smoothing the fitted sheet, I released
the magazine and counted each round as I ejected them onto the
bed. Thirteen, plus one in the chamber. Well, that’s one thing to be
thankful for. I’d have to do something about this, but I was too
tired to figure it out.
After reloading the pistol and returning it to the drawer, I
stumbled to the bathroom through an obstacle course of strewn
bedding, ungracefully shedding my wet pants in the process. My
hand blindly explored cold tile, found the switch. Fifteen pounds
of perturbed feline glared at me from the vanity.
Ignoring me, she yawned, arched her back, and smoothly transitioned
to the cat version of downward dog.
Random thoughts flitted like gnats. What day is it? Saturday.
God, my legs feel like someone beat me with a stick. What else had I
done in my sleep? Was this the first time, or just the first time I hadn’t
woken up in my bed? Jesus, what if I’d fired my weapon! What in the
hell is wrong with me? And what am I going to do about it? It’s not
like I can call a damned hotline. Why now? Things had been better
until… until what? Until your partner went on leave and your
workload doubled? Until Erin started reminding you that December
21st is right around the corner? No. Yes, but there was something
else, something that might explain the nightmares and, apparently,
some kind of fucked up sleep disorder.
Dame Stella resettled and began half-heartedly grooming herself.
Stella’s a survivor. It takes one to know one, I suppose. One
night seven years ago I was dumpster diving behind a Greyhound
station. Ridiculous, I know. In a blind rage, I’d tossed out a couple
of things, and after calming down I was ass-deep on a mission.
The object of my frantic rooting was forgotten when I discovered
a skinny gray kitten curled up inside a Stella Artois beer box. I’d
abandoned a cat before, in Scotland, when I was a kid and didn’t
have any say in the matter. Oh, quit being so dramatic, Regan. It’s
not abandonment. Mrs. Naughton will give Galileo a perfectly lovely
home. In retrospect, my aunt had been a tad busy burying my
parents and relocating Erin and me to the States. My tabby was
understandably low on her priority list, but try explaining that to a
“We’re a sad pair, Stell.” Two quick tail swishes. Translation:
Speak for yourself, woman. She resumed lick-swipe-licking.
I avoided the mirror like I’d managed to avoid my sister since
we moved my niece into her dorm weeks, shit, months, ago. Erin,
my ever meddling sister, would take one look at me and offer her
diagnosis, undoubtedly something involving rapid weight loss and
sleep deprivation with some complicated clinical terms thrown in.
A check-in with my supervisor loomed, but at least he wouldn’t
be so goddamned clinical about it. Jesus Christ, Ross. You been on a
SHERI LEIGH HORN, a native of Mt. Pleasant, Texas, spent two decades in the military, instructional design, and private investigation fields before pursuing her true passion: cultivating stories. She lives in Northern Virginia with her sons, Australian Cattle Dogs, and Truman Capote the cat, dreaming of a quiet lakeside writing life.