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Title: Sweet Like a Psycho
Author: Ivy Smoak
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Release Date: July 2, 2019



Blurb

To most people, suburbia is synonymous with good school districts, manicured lawns, and friendly neighbors. But you can never really tell what’s hiding behind those white picket fences and smiling faces.

I mean, we all have secrets. The kid down the street steals lawn gnomes. The woman on the corner is having an affair. And me? I’m a murderer. At least…that’s what everyone thinks.

Because that’s the other thing about the suburbs. Rumors spread like wildfire. Handsome detectives start poking around. Houses explode. You know…the usual. 

Yes, I have secrets. But so does everyone else. Welcome to suburbia. I’m one of the smiling faces waving from my front porch. Don’t you trust me?






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Excerpt

I locked the door and then just stared at it. God, I just lied to a detective. Why the hell did I just lie to a detective? It had felt right in the moment. But as soon as the words left my mouth I regretted them. I could have told him about the woman running through the woods. I could have pointed him in the direction that she had fled. I could have given him every detail he wanted and gotten him out of my hair.
But instead I lied. I shook my head. He hadn’t left me with much of a choice. I couldn’t have the cops poking around in the woods. I couldn’t have them running all around my property with police dogs and metal detectors and whatever else cops used in the search for a criminal. What if they found something? I couldn’t risk it.
I bit the inside of my cheek. Had the detective known I was lying? It looked like he did. Like he could easily see right through me. Shit shit shit.
“It wasn’t a big lie,” I said into the empty room. “It was a little white lie. A nothing lie. There are no consequences for a nothing lie.” Right?
I should have run back upstairs to finish what I had started just in case he came back, but instead I found myself pushing my ear against the door. There was no squeak of floorboards or crunch of leaves. I closed my eyes and tried to listen. The silence was incredibly loud as I pressed the side of my face harder against the wooden door.
Detective Reed’s gaze had been so intense. It felt like he had locked me in place when he was staring at me. Like I could barely even breathe. Does he feel as frozen as me right now?
I moved away from the door. Of course he didn’t. There was no way that he was as affected by our meeting as I was. It was his job to make me feel frozen. For his eyes to bore into my soul, see my darkest sins, and to travel down my body…I shook my head. No. That was most certainly not his job. But he had done that, right? I hadn’t imagined it?
I swallowed down the lump in my throat. All my nerves were on hyperdrive. The only man I had interacted with recently was mailman Joe. And he was like seventy. This was a normal response to a man my own age. Especially one who looked like Detective Reed. I glanced down at the business card in my hand. Detective Tucker Reed.
I tiptoed to the window in the living room and peered through a gap in the curtains. I expected to see him retreating through the woods, but he was just standing there. Staring at the door. Frozen. I could feel my pulse beating in my head. I hadn’t imagined it. He had been looking at me. Really looking. And it didn’t seem like it was purely for detective reasons.
I let myself stare unabashedly at him from behind the safety of the curtain. He didn’t look how I expected a detective to look. Beer bellies and mustaches were the dominant features of the detectives in my mind. But he was most certainly not like the detectives I pictured in my head. He was wearing a formfitting wool jacket that was undoubtedly not hiding a huge stomach. If anything it was probably covering perfect six pack abs. I glanced down at his left hand. There was no ring on his finger. Hot and single. I was good at smelling trouble a mile away. And Detective Reed was most certainly trouble. After all, he was clearly the reason I had lied. I couldn’t think straight when a man with a chiseled jaw, five-o’clock shadow, piercing brown eyes, and a deep sexy voice was staring right at me.
Yes, he was the reason I had lied. He had made me act poorly. It was all his fault. Jerk.
He turned his head and I threw myself down onto the floor. Ow. I cradled my elbow that had just whacked the hardwood floors.
When I peered back out the window, the detective was gone. And a part of me wondered if I had imagined him. 



Author Bio


Ivy Smoak is the Amazon bestselling author of The Hunted series.

When she's not writing, you can find her binge watching too many TV shows, taking long walks, playing outside, and generally refusing to act like an adult.

She lives with her husband in Delaware. 


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Sweet Like a Psycho - Ch. 6

Chapter 6

Tucker

I couldn’t get Violet out of my head. All day, my mind just kept going back to her. My current casework was piling up on my desk, but the only thing I could focus on was the case that got away. I needed to figure out if my hunch was right. Even if there was only a slim chance that I could solve this case, I needed to take it. I turned off my computer.

“Where are you heading?” Damien asked as I stood up from my desk.

It felt like he had been watching me all morning and afternoon, waiting for me to sneak off and work on the case we’d been dropped from. It had made the searches I needed to do on the database nearly impossible. The only information I was able to get was that the woman who had owned the house that exploded was a ghost. No pictures. No medical records. No previous addresses. No nothing. And I was only able to get that useless information because Damien had to go to the bathroom. The whole day was pointless. The only thing I wanted to do was continue to question my lead suspect. Which was what I was about to go do. “I’m going home,” I lied.

Damien leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on his desk. “Not heading out into the woods to harass a beautiful psychopath?”

“Violet is hardly a psychopath.”

“That wasn’t the answer I was looking for.”

“I promise I’m not harassing any psychopaths.” Damien didn’t know that I had already stopped by Violet’s place before my shift started. And he didn’t need to know that or the fact that I was planning on stopping by again. All I needed was an in with Violet. If I could get her to trust me, she’d tell me what she saw last night. Or she’ll tell me what she’s done. And she had responded well to the food I had brought. She had a dinner coming her way and hopefully a little more conversation.

“That’s still not the right answer. You’re going to her house again, aren’t you?”

“Of course not.” Out of habit, I reached for my coat on the back of my chair, but my fingers came up empty. Another reason why going back to Violet’s wasn’t a bad idea. She had stolen my jacket. I kind of wanted it back. That combined with the fact that she was a suspect were definitely the only reasons I was going back. It had nothing to do with her rosy cheeks or the adorable way she sneezed and looked angry at the same time.

“Then give me a lift home, will you?” Damien asked, pulling my thoughts away from Violet. “My car’s in the shop and Uber drivers always give me low ratings when I tell them I’m a detective. I think it freaks them out.”

“We both know you can fix anything wrong with your car by yourself. Besides, I saw you drive up today. I have better things to do than chauffeur your lying ass around town.”

“I’m only lying because you are. We’re off the case, man.”

“I know that.”

“Do you?” He dropped his feet from his desk and leaned forward in his chair. “You’re already on thin ice around here. If you keep pressing this, it’ll be the last straw they need to kick you to the curb.”

I knew that. But I also had a feeling in my gut that I was about to solve the damned thing, which would do the exact opposite for my career. “I know what I’m doing.”

“No one knows what they’re doing when beautiful women are involved.”

“Touché.”

“Just don’t believe anything Violet says. She’s cra…”

“Crazy. I know.” But she didn’t seem crazy to me. She seemed…lonely. Whenever I talked to her she threatened me to get off her property. But I was pretty sure her eyes had been begging me to stay. Tonight I was going to up my flirting game. Besides, Damien’s constant pestering reminded me that it had been quite a while since I had been on a date. This would be good practice. Not real flirting at all. Just practice for when I got back out there.

“Please just go home. And if you do decide to be an idiot and go to her house, call me so I can be your backup!” Damien called after me as I headed toward the door.

I didn’t respond. I just waved my hand in the air to say goodbye. Having him with me was not part of the plan. How was I supposed to worm my way into Violet’s good graces if Damien was scowling at me the whole night? Or worse…hitting on her. I wasn’t sure why the thought made me angry. It wasn’t like I was actually going to be hitting on her tonight. Just innocent, fake flirting.

 

***

 

I put the car in park, ignoring every part of my brain telling me to turn around. Fake flirting was going to be difficult when Violet was bent over her air-conditioning unit with her perfect ass jutting up into the air. I stared at the black leggings she was wearing. A very perfect ass. She might as well have had a neon sign on her saying, “Trouble.”

I ran my hand down my face and over the scruff on my chin. I was a detective. Not a horny teenager. I could keep it in my pants for one night. This was going to make or break my career.

She bent over even more as she examined the air-conditioning unit.

I groaned. She’s crazy, I tried to tell myself. But I didn’t believe the words. She blew up a house. I wasn’t sure I believed that either. So what the hell am I doing here? I grabbed the bags of take-out before I could change my mind.

My car door slammed and Violet jumped, hitting her head on the side of the unit.

“Ow,” she mumbled. But then it was like she slowly registered what had caused her to hit her head. She quickly spun around and stared at me. There was a spot of grease right beside her nose. She was holding a hammer in her hand. A hammer that had no business being anywhere near her air conditioner.

“You again,” she seethed and pointed the hammer at me. “How many times am I going to have to ask you to get off my property?” But before I could respond, she sneezed in the most adorable way, and then proceeded to wipe the grease spot across her cheek, smearing it everywhere.

I would have laughed, but for some reason it made her look even sexier. “You’ll probably have to ask me a few more times,” I said with a smile. “It just so happens that I like coming around to see you.” This flirting thing was easy. I wasn’t out of practice at all.

She squinted her eyes at me. “Okay. Then let me ask you a few more times. Get. Off. My. Property. Get off my property. Off. Now.” She pointed to my car. “Go.”

I ignored her and walked closer. “I noticed you weren’t feeling well earlier. I brought dinner for us to share.” I lifted up the take-out bags. “Together this time, though.” I gave her my most charming smile.

For one second, her gaze dipped to my smile. But then she immediately snapped her attention back to my eyes. “Go to hell.” She started to storm past me.

“Whoa.” I caught her arm. “I’m not here on business. I’m here to have dinner with you. You know…like a date.”

She looked down at her arm and then back up at me. Her left eyebrow rose. “Like a date?” She laughed. “Look, you’re clearly from out of town, so let me help you out. I’m insane.” She pulled out of my grip and then gestured her hands around her head in a comical way, although it was a little intimidating since she was still holding the hammer. “People stay away from me. Be one of those people, Detective Reed.”

“You can call me Tucker.” I smiled again, ignoring her lame attempt at scaring me away. And I couldn’t help wondering why she so desperately wanted to be all alone. I certainly didn’t like being single. Four months of moping around were enough for me.

She sighed and looked down at her hammer. “You’re not supposed to be here, Tucker.”

I wasn’t sure what she meant by that. Here in the woods? Here with her? Here in this stupid town? She was probably right about all three of those things, yet…here I was. I shrugged. “Where am I supposed to be then?”

“Anywhere but here.” She absently tapped the hammer against her thigh a few times as she glanced at the bags of food.

“It’s a little too late for that, I can’t eat all this alone.”

She scrunched her mouth to the side in thought.

“Plus, I can fix that for you.” I nodded to her air-conditioner.

She still didn’t respond.

This wasn’t a hard decision. She was sick. There was no way that she was in the mood to cook tonight. Plus I was offering her free repair services. I was going above and beyond. “You know what? You’re right. You are crazy…” I knew I had her where I wanted her because a line in her forehead I didn’t know existed suddenly appeared. “…because you care about fixing your air-conditioner even though it’s freezing out. No wonder you’re sick.”

She frowned. “I’m trying to fix the heater.”

This time I did laugh. “That’s not your furnace. That’s the air-conditioning unit.”

She sneezed. “Ugh. I’ve been out here for thirty minutes trying to figure out how to open up the wrong thing?” She sneezed again.

“Let’s get you inside.”

She didn’t move, she just looked back down at the bag. “There’s really too much for you to eat alone?”

“I probably have enough food here for four people honestly. I went a little overboard because I didn’t know what you like.” The smile on her lips was small, but it felt like a win for me. “What do you say?”

She sighed. “No.”

What? Seriously? “I didn’t want to hang this over your head, but technically you did steal from a detective earlier. You can get into all sorts of trouble for that.”

“You gave me your jacket. I didn’t rip it off your back.”

“True. Scratch the petty thievery. But dinner’s getting cold. And I’m good at distinguishing between an air-conditioning unit and a furnace. What does a guy have to do to win you over?”

“Okay. Fine.” She pinched her eyes closed like she immediately regretted her decision. “You can stay.” She opened up her eyes again and pierced me with an intense stare. “But you have to fix my heater because the repair guy can’t come for two days and…” her voice trailed off when she sneezed again. “And this isn’t a date. Just give me three minutes.” She put up three fingers like she was talking to a child and then ran up to her house, her hammer gripped tightly in her hand.

My eyes gravitated back to her ass. She was wrong. This was most definitely a date. A fake one. Absolutely, 100 perfect fake. So stop staring at her ass.

END OF CHAPTER 6

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Sweet Like a Psycho - Ch. 5

Chapter 5

Violet

I sneezed and pulled the comforter up to my chin. Everything hurt. My whole body was betraying me, begging to stay in bed. But I had promised Zeke a fun day off. He needed to get his mind off the snarky five-year-olds in his class, and I had the perfect day planned. A little cold wasn’t going to get in my way of putting a smile on Zeke’s face. Even thinking about him coming home in the afternoon with a frown on his face killed me.

I tickled his side, waking him up in a fit of giggles. “It’s a three day weekend.” I tried to yell it and sound excited, but it came out as more of a hoarse whisper.

He squirmed out of my tickle attack. As soon as he could breathe, he sat up in bed and looked down at my face. “You’re sick.”

“I’m not sick.” I was most certainly sick. I sneezed again, crushing any doubt in either of our minds. My plunge in the lake had done me in.

He put his tiny little hand on my forehead. “I must have given you what I had. I’m sorry, Mommy.”

“We both know you weren’t sick last night.”

“I was. I feel better today though.” He climbed off the bed. “I’ll make you pancakes.”

I tried to hide my smile. For a moment I thought he’d go to school after all and abandon me in my dire state. He had just admitted that he felt fine. But he was going to stay and take care of me. It wasn’t the fun day I had planned, but it sounded pretty perfect to me. Minus the pancakes. My little dude could not cook. Last time he made me buttermilk pancakes he didn’t dilute the powdered buttermilk. They tasted like chalk mixed with acid, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that. I had eaten three of them. Three. I could have died. That’s how much I loved him.

“How about cereal instead?” I asked.

“But you love pancakes and whenever I don’t feel good you make me my favorite foods.”

“I do love your pancakes, but…”

“I’ll be back.” His bare feet padded along his bedroom floor and into the hallway.

Crap. I could add a tummy ache to my ailments in a few minutes if I didn’t figure out a way to distract him. But my body wouldn’t move. If I could just get up, I’d at least be able to help him cook. I could sneak in the right ingredients when he wasn’t looking.

The slam of a cabinet door downstairs hinted that I was running out of time.

Ignoring my achy body, I pushed myself out of bed. It was freezing. I folded my arms across my pajama top and ran my hands up and down my arms to try to warm myself. I had turned the heat up last night. It shouldn’t have been this cold. Please don’t let there be something wrong with the heater.

A lot of the work around the house I could handle on my own. But I wasn’t great with anything electrical. I remembered when I was young, my mother could make a call and a repairman would come out right away. For me? I’m pretty sure they just pawned my job off to employees lower down the totem pole until some newbie who didn’t know the difference between copper and aluminum wiring finally got stuck with it. It was no wonder that my heater had crapped out. The last person to fix it was clearly only an apprentice. He shouldn’t have been out here alone. Plus he kept glancing over his shoulder the whole time like I was going to murder him when he wasn’t looking. The rumors about me were probably growing if he thought that.

I grabbed a pair of socks for Zeke before leaving his bedroom. There was no point in us both being sick. “Put these on before you catch a cold too, little dude,” I said and shoved them into his flour covered hands. “Want some help with the pancakes?”

“No, I got it.” He hopped from one foot to the next, pulling on his socks.

I scanned the counter while he jumped around the kitchen. What the hell was tomato paste doing out? He had to know that wasn’t the right ingredient. Maybe I shouldn’t have let him stay home from school. He still had a lot to learn. “You know…all the best chefs have sous chefs.”

“A lady named Sue helps all chefs? There must be a lot of Sues in the world.”

“No, sous as in s-o-u-s. They’re basically cooking assistants. I’ll be your sous this morning. So…what should I do with the tomato paste?” Besides throw it out.

“We’re out of eggs and I think it’s about the same consistency. We’re just going to mix it in.”

So he knew the word consistency yet didn’t have any taste buds? I needed to work on refining his pallet. But it was hard when he basically refused to eat anything that wasn’t dinosaur shaped. Or filled with sugar. I’m a terrible mother. But something with sugar was certainly better than tomato paste in pancakes. “You know, we might have some apple sauce or something a little sweeter that…”

“You’re the assistant.” He handed me the can opener and hopped back onto the chair by the island. It was adorable to watch him stand on the chair while he...bare-handed some flour. Without measuring. These pancakes were going to be worse than I thought, if that was even possible.

“Aye, aye, Captain,” I said. But instead of following his instructions, I picked up the can and can opener and looked for a good hiding spot. “Oh, no…the can opener isn’t working,” I said as I tossed it behind some pots and pans. “It must be broken, so anything canned is out. But if it’s okay with you, I can still find that applesauce,” I said as I closed the cabinet door.

He didn’t respond.

“Is that okay, Zeke?”

He was just staring out the window, his hand paused on the spoon he had been stirring with. His momentary distraction had been great timing because it had given me time to save our breakfast. But now he was alarming me.

“Zeke?” I abandoned my sous chef post and walked over to him.

He tilted his head to the side. “There’s a stranger out there.” He pointed out the window toward our driveway.

It felt like my heart was beating out of my chest. Sure enough, there was a man snooping around my truck. Strange, yes. A stranger? Not exactly. Detective Reed had made it pretty clear that he was going to be a pain in my ass last night. I had just foolishly thought that I had gotten rid of him.

“Mommy, who is that?” Zeke looked up at me.

“No one important. Stay here, okay?” I quickly walked out of the kitchen, grabbed a light jacket from the closet, wishing that I hadn’t left my winter one at the bottom of the lake, and shoved my feet into some boots.

“Mom?”

“Stay in here, Zeke.” I closed the front door behind me as I ran down the porch steps. “Hey!” My weak sick voice was gone. I was livid. He had no right to be here and I had made that perfectly clear last night.

Detective Reed looked up at me and had the audacity to smile. Smile! While he was trespassing!

“What are you doing on…” I sneezed. “On my property?”

His dark eyebrows pulled together in the most sympathetic way. And for some reason it made me even angrier. I didn’t need his sympathy. He shouldn’t be here judging me. He wasn’t allowed to be here at all.

I sneezed again.

“Are you feeling okay?”

“Do you have a search warrant?” I asked, ignoring him.

He shook his head. “No, but I brought coffee. And doughnuts.” He lifted up the Dunkin bag like a peace offering.

I stared at the bag of doughnuts. It was my only way out of the poison pancakes my son was about to make. Zeke loved doughnuts. He’d abandoned any thoughts of making me a home cooked meal if I could snag those. But I had a feeling the price was going to be pretty high. “Well, thank you for bringing breakfast.” I put my hands out, hoping that somehow there wouldn’t be a catch.

“If you agree to talk to me about what really happened last night.”

No such luck. I dropped my hands to my side. “I told you everything I knew.”

“Did you though?”

I sneezed again.

“You should be wearing a warmer jacket. It’s freezing out. Here…” He unzipped his own coat and started to shrug his shoulders out of it while balancing two coffee cups and the bag of doughnuts.

“I’m not taking your jacket. And I don’t have anything else to say to you. I made myself perfectly clear last night and…” I stopped talking when he draped his jacket over my shoulders. I immediately felt some of the achiness in my bones diminish. I couldn’t even remember the last time a man had offered me his coat. Joel. It was Joel. I glared at Detective Reed. “Get off my property before I call the cops.”

“I am law enforcement. And I came in peace.” He lifted up the to-go bag again, like he could dangle cheap food over my head.

Suddenly I had a craving for disgusting pancakes. At least those were made with love and didn’t come with any strings attached. “We both know that you’re not supposed to be sneaking around here without the right documentation. So…get.” I shooed him away.

He laughed.

I was pretty sure my knees felt weak because I was sick. Not because his laugh was disarmingly deep and sexy.

“Look, I think we got off on the wrong foot last night,” he said.

You think? “I disagree. I think we both are on the exact right foot.” I turned away from him and started walking back toward my front porch. The right foot? Who says things like that? The fever had reached my brain and was making my mind all mushy. I was in desperate need of a good WebMD search, but knew I wouldn’t risk going down that inescapable rabbit hole of brain tumors.

“I’m just trying to talk to you, Violet.”

I stopped. He knew my name? I waited for him to catch up to me and then looked up at him. Someone had either told him who I was or he had looked me up. Neither would have been great. And the way he was looking at me made sense now. He wasn’t staring at me with pity. He was staring at me like he was trying to figure out if the rumors were true. I wasn’t deaf. I heard the whispers. I was used to the stares. The crazy lady on the hill. That’s what my neighbors called me. My petty, stupid, horrid neighbors.

But I wasn’t a kid getting teased on the playground. And words didn’t hurt me anymore. I stood up a little straighter and swallowed down a sneeze. The act made my eyes water and I hoped he didn’t think I was about to burst into tears. “You have exactly one question. One. And then you have to leave.” Maybe I imagined it, but I swore his gaze drifted to my lips for just a second before snapping back up to my eyes.

“Why did you lie to me last night?”

He had found me out. But I had lied a bunch of times to him last night and I wasn’t sure which thing he was referring to. It was better if I kept with my story and kept him far away from me. “I didn’t lie about anything. Now get off my property.” I grabbed one of the cups of coffee and the bag of doughnuts and ran up the creaky steps.

As soon as I slammed my door with a kick of my boot, Zeke was upon me.

“Who was that?”

“A…friend. He brought us doughnuts!”

“Doughnuts!” He grabbed the bag from me and ran back into the kitchen, hopefully abandoning any more questions and any more ideas about cooking me breakfast.

I lifted off my coat and silently cursed. It wasn’t my coat. I was still wearing Detective Reed’s pity jacket. Now not only had I lied to a detective, but I had stolen his jacket too. God, I’m going to end up in prison. Especially if he finds out my secrets.

END OF CHAPTER 5

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Sweet Like a Psycho - Ch. 4

Chapter 4

Tucker

“Where the hell have you been?” Damien jogged over to me when I reached the bottom of the hill. “I’ve been running around the woods aimlessly for half an hour looking for you.”

“Sorry, I was…” I glanced back up the hill at the rundown house. I was what? Flirting with an innocent civilian? Not exactly. I hadn’t been flirting. I was simply questioning her. And she definitely wasn’t innocent. That woman was hiding something. I’d bet my badge on it. Not that such a bet would mean much...I was about to lose my badge anyway.

“You were what?” His breath was ragged from running.

I didn’t want to talk to him about the woman I had just met. He’d ask me too many prying questions and joke around about why it took me so long to question her. Besides, she was clearly married. And my number one suspect. I just wasn’t sure why neither fact made her less appealing to me. “Aw, Torres, were you worried about me?” I patted his shoulder and kept walking through the woods.

He caught back up to me. “No. These woods just give me the creeps. And it doesn’t help that there’s an escaped psychopath somewhere in the vicinity. Seriously, don’t take off like that.”

I could have kept teasing him about being worried. But I was glad someone had my back. Because no one else in this town did. “I’ll tell you next time I’m about to follow a lead.” I ducked under a branch.

“A lead? What lead? You weren’t even briefed yet.”

“A neighbor saw the woman who lived in the house run into the woods. I thought I might be able to catch her.”

He tugged the zipper on his coat higher. “No wonder I got the creeps walking out here by myself. One crazy woman on the loose is bad enough. But two? Let’s get the hell out of here.” He picked up his pace.

“What do you mean two? Are there two suspects?”

“Nah, I was just referring to Violet. I’d stay out of these woods due to her alone.”

“Who’s Violet?”

“Sometimes I forget you’re not a local. The crazy woman on the hill.” He gestured behind us.

The crazy woman on the hill? I glanced over my shoulder at the hill, but I could barely see it in the darkness. “You mean the one who lives in that dilapidated house?”

“Don’t tell me you met her?”

“I thought she might be the arsonist. There were footprints leading from the crime scene practically to her doorstep.”

Damien laughed. “She rarely leaves her house. Pretty sure she’s scared of germs or something. She’s a total nut-bag but not an arsonist.”

“Are you sure it’s not the same person? Her hair was wet. Maybe she had just dyed it. She fit Sally’s description otherwise and…”

“Who the hell is Sally?”

“That nosy neighbor at the crime scene.”

He shook his head. “And you believed the observations of a bored housewife?”

“Sally was a very credible source.” She wasn’t. She was exactly how Damien described her, only more of the gossipy variety. She had been fishing for information more than offering anything valuable. I was pretty sure she was already spreading rumors of Benjamin Harlow being a polygamist.

“Well I’m a more credible source than your new friend. And you’re barking up the wrong tree with Violet.”

“But she lied about seeing something. I think if we go back and question her again she’ll…”

“No need. We’re off the case.”

I stopped on the edge of the woods. “What do you mean we’re off the case? I already have a lead.”

Damien kept walking back toward my car. “There are no leads. Not for us anyway. I did what you wanted, we get to go have that drink now.”

“Well undo it. I really think we should go question…”

“Fine. I didn’t technically get us off the case. The captain said we no longer have proper clearance. It turned into some next level shit. The FBI will be here soon.”

Jesus. The FBI? Solving this case wouldn’t just save my career. It would set it on a much better trajectory. We passed the crime scene where the fire was finally being contained. I didn’t want to let this go. I had more questions to ask the cops and neighbors. I scanned the marred yellow caution tape that Sally had been fighting earlier, but she was nowhere in sight. The case had been so easily abandoned by everyone but me.

“Open the damn door, Tucker.” He knocked on the passengers’ side window of my car.

I pulled the keys out of my pocket and unlocked it. Damien had more information than he was letting on. He had been chatting with the captain for as long as I was running around in the woods. He had to have found out a lot about the case before we were called off it. I didn’t have much of a choice but to take him up on his offer of drinks now. I had already cracked this case wide open, I just needed a few more details. The more Damien drank, the more he’d talk.

 

***

 

“So you’re scared of Violet because she has obsessive-compulsive disorder?” I asked. Damien was three beers in while I was still nursing my first. It was the perfect time to pry more information out of him.

“I never said that I was scared of her. And I have no idea what her freaking diagnosis is. I said the woods give me the creeps because they're filled with crazy women.”

I should have been getting details about the case. But for some reason my mind had decided to focus on Violet. It had nothing to do with her beauty and everything to do with the fact that she was guilty. At least, that’s what I was telling myself. I needed to know more about her to figure out the perfect plan before showing up on her property again tomorrow morning. “OCD isn’t exactly creepy.”

“It’s not about the OCD. It’s everything else. It’s about the fact that she used to be so normal and then lost her mind and decided to isolate herself from the world.”

I took a sip of my beer and waited for him to continue. I knew that he would. Once he got going on a story it was hard to stop him, even if the story was terribly boring and I desperately wanted it to end. But I was dying to hear more of this one.

He leaned forward slightly and dropped his voice. “She was a few years younger than me in school. I saw her around and she wasn’t crazy then. She was normal. Popular even. I was away in college when it happened, but apparently her whole family abandoned her. Just went poof in the night. Her boyfriend too. They left her all alone, flew to the opposite ends of the country just to get away from her. And that’s when the crazy came out. At least when it started to show to everyone else apparently. Her family probably ditched her because they already knew she was a loon.”

“So you just heard about this? You weren’t there when any of it happened?” He was as bad as nosy Sally. Rumors weren’t facts. He knew that.

“Sure, rumors spread like hotcakes. But these ones are true, I’m telling you. I mean, if the woman is sane, why does she live out in the middle of the woods in that rundown shack?”

It wasn’t a shack. The house would have been beautiful in its prime. I couldn’t exactly argue with the rundown part though. It had been the first thing I’d noticed about the place. “Well if she was alone it would be crazy. But she’s not.” I remembered how defensive she got when I implied that she shouldn’t be out in the woods alone. “She’s married, right?”

He rose both eyebrows and laughed. “Married? Are you kidding? Who would marry that whack-job?”

I took another sip of my beer. So it had been another lie. She was alone in that house. Why had she been so quick to lie to me? The question had been turning around in my head for the past hour, always leading toward one conclusion. She was hiding something. “Maybe she’s out there because she’s trying to run from something she did.”

“Not this again. We’re off the case, man.”

“Just hear me out. What if we solved the case instead of the FBI? We could do no wrong after something like that.”

He just stared at me.

“All we have to do is go question Violet again and…”

“You have the hots for her.”

I laughed. “No, definitely not.”

He slowly shook his head. “You’re smitten.”

“Who uses the word smitten? I’m not smitten.”

A huge smile spread over his face. “She was hot. I haven’t seen her in years, but I remember her being at least an eight.”

She was a ten, hands down. If Damien didn’t see that, he was blind. But the captain and Violet certainly didn’t look anything alike. Damien tended to go after curvy, powerful women who he pretended he knew how to handle. Violet wasn’t like that. She seemed…delicate. Like a violet actually. A lying, timid yet audacious, sexy as sin violet. I shrugged away the thought. “I’m not attracted to her. But speaking of women…how did your chat with the captain go?”

“Great. Pretty sure she's going to say yes to a date any day now.”

Keep dreaming. “So what did she say about the case?”

“That two cops were killed in the explosion, which is why we had to rush over there. Everyone thought there was also a civilian in critical condition. He left in an ambulance before we arrived on the scene, but they IDed him at the hospital while I was on the phone. He’s actually some hotshot agent from out of town that’s part of an ongoing investigation.”

“Benjamin Harlow?”

“Yup, that’s the one.”

“Is he going to be okay?”

Damien shrugged. “It didn’t sound good. He’s in critical condition. I doubt he’ll make it through the night.”

Damn. I was really hoping to question him about everything. He’d even be able to ID Violet if she was the one that had been living in the house. But that theory was pretty much out the window. If everyone knew about the crazy lady on the hill, surely Sally would have known. She would have just said Violet had done it and then gone home. That wasn’t it. I was missing something.

What I needed was a good night’s sleep so I could sort through the details with a fresh perspective. All I could focus on right now was that there were two cops down. And that Benjamin guy would be a third soon enough. This case was big, just like I had suspected. Any more information Damien could give me would be helpful. “So…what’s the ongoing investigation?”

“That’s all I know. The case was ours for less than ten minutes.”

“Did you hear anything else about Benjamin? It was strange…Sally knew him. But she said his last name was Jones instead of Harlow.”

“Maybe I was wrong about you having the hots for Violet. Clearly you have a thing for Sally. What’s she look like?”

Frumpy and twice my age. “I’m not interested in Sally or Violet. I’m interested in solving the case.”

“How about the two dimes at 10 o’clock?”

I didn’t even turn to look. “Aren’t you trying to score with the captain?”

“Yeah but big fish take time. I’m just looking for tonight, not the long haul.”

“I’m going to pass.”

“Suit yourself. I’ll see you in the morning.” He grabbed his beer and headed over to the table behind me.

I sighed and pulled out my wallet. Damien had barely given me any information. I was going to have to solve this thing on my own. And on my own time because I was already on thin ice at work.

END OF CHAPTER 4

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Sweet Like a Psycho - Ch. 3

Chapter 3

Violet

I locked the door and then just stared at it. God, I just lied to a detective. Why the hell did I just lie to a detective? It had felt right in the moment. But as soon as the words left my mouth I regretted them. I could have told him about the woman running through the woods. I could have pointed him in the direction that she had fled. I could have given him every detail he wanted and gotten him out of my hair.

But instead I lied. I shook my head. He hadn’t left me with much of a choice. I couldn’t have the cops poking around in the woods. I couldn’t have them running all around my property with police dogs and metal detectors and whatever else cops used in the search for a criminal. What if they found something? I couldn’t risk it.

I bit the inside of my cheek. Had the detective known I was lying? It looked like he did. Like he could easily see right through me. Shit shit shit.

“It wasn’t a big lie,” I said into the empty room. “It was a little white lie. A nothing lie. There are no consequences for a nothing lie.” Right?

I should have run back upstairs to finish what I had started just in case he came back, but instead I found myself pushing my ear against the door. There was no squeak of floorboards or crunch of leaves. I closed my eyes and tried to listen. The silence was incredibly loud as I pressed the side of my face harder against the wooden door.

Detective Reed’s gaze had been so intense. It felt like he had locked me in place when he was staring at me. Like I could barely even breathe. Does he feel as frozen as me right now?

I moved away from the door. Of course he didn’t. There was no way that he was as affected by our meeting as I was. It was his job to make me feel frozen. For his eyes to bore into my soul, see my darkest sins, and to travel down my body…I shook my head. No. That was most certainly not his job. But he had done that, right? I hadn’t imagined it?

I swallowed down the lump in my throat. All my nerves were on hyperdrive. The only man I had interacted with recently was mailman Joe. And he was like seventy. This was a normal response to a man my own age. Especially one who looked like Detective Reed. I glanced down at the business card in my hand. Detective Tucker Reed.

I tiptoed to the window in the living room and peered through a gap in the curtains. I expected to see him retreating through the woods, but he was just standing there. Staring at the door. Frozen. I could feel my pulse beating in my head. I hadn’t imagined it. He had been looking at me. Really looking. And it didn’t seem like it was purely for detective reasons.

I let myself stare unabashedly at him from behind the safety of the curtain. He didn’t look how I expected a detective to look. Beer bellies and mustaches were the dominant features of the detectives in my mind. But he was most certainly not like the detectives I pictured in my head. He was wearing a formfitting wool jacket that was undoubtedly not hiding a huge stomach. If anything it was probably covering perfect six pack abs. I glanced down at his left hand. There was no ring on his finger. Hot and single. I was good at smelling trouble a mile away. And Detective Reed was most certainly trouble. After all, he was clearly the reason I had lied. I couldn’t think straight when a man with a chiseled jaw, five-o’clock shadow, piercing brown eyes, and a deep sexy voice was staring right at me.

Yes, he was the reason I had lied. He had made me act poorly. It was all his fault. Jerk.

He turned his head and I threw myself down onto the floor. Ow. I cradled my elbow that had just whacked the hardwood floors. Or what was left of them.

When I peered back out the window, the detective was gone. And a part of me wondered if I had imagined him.

 

***

 

I placed the handgun and old letters back in their box. There was no reason to move the gun. It’d been sitting there for six years without causing me any harm. No one would find it here. My original plan was to grab the gun and chuck it into the lake. But the red and blue lights hadn’t ceased lighting up the sky. The cops wouldn’t be going away anytime soon, despite me denying the fact that a very guilty looking woman had been running through the woods. The gun was safer with me than out there where they could find it. Like I had told the detective…he needed a warrant. And I couldn’t see why anyone would give him one to search my house. I was a law-abiding citizen. I paid my taxes. I was most definitely not going to be a suspect in their investigation of a house fire. I lived all the way out here for a reason. They’d leave me alone.

I put the floorboard back in place and stood up. Yup, it was most definitely safe there. Just like it always had been. But I still wondered if police dogs could sniff out guns. I wanted to Google it on my phone, but I knew searching that question would inevitably lead me down a terrible, inescapable rabbit hole of useless facts. It was the same reason I had to ban myself from looking up anything on WebMD. No matter my symptoms, it always made me think I had a brain tumor. Or maybe there was a reason for that. My fingers itched to look up whether I did or did not in fact have a brain tumor. I took a deep, calming breath. You are banned from that site. You are banned from searching police dogs.

And honestly, who cared if police dogs could smell guns? The gun wasn’t loaded, and it was mine. Well, technically it wasn’t mine. It had been my stepfather’s. But I didn’t steal it or anything. No, it wasn’t registered in my name, but I was pretty sure I had a right to it since he was dead.

Did that look bad? God, it probably did. I looked back down at the floorboard. Honestly, I was terrified of the thing. I didn’t know how to properly use it. And I didn’t know how to discard of it or I would have done it years ago. The gun had been lying in my floorboards untouched ever since I moved in. And now I had an unregistered gun in my house. With my fingerprints all over it. It did look bad.

I took another deep breath. No one was going to find it. Because no one was coming into my house without an invitation. I walked over to my nightstand and stared down at the detective’s business card. It was easy for me to suddenly focus on him instead. He had been in the back of my head all night. All I had wanted to do since he left my front porch was send him a text. Google and WebMD searches wouldn’t have appeased me long anyway when my true desire was to talk to him. I stared at the card. A little harmless flirting would either help get him off my back or make me seem suspicious. Probably the latter.

I lifted up the card. The temptation was too strong. I needed to get rid of it before I did something I regretted. I walked into the bathroom, opened one of the drawers in my vanity, and pulled out one of my three lighters. I lit the corner of the business card and watched his information slowly disappear forever. Not that it mattered. I had remembered his number. And once something was seared into my brain it was pretty hard for me to forget it. Regardless, I watched it burn closer to my fingers. At the last second I tossed it into the toilet. It sizzled and went out with the most satisfying sound. Huh. I watched the remainder of the card grow damp. Maybe they should have suspected me for setting a house on fire. I had always liked the sound of fire. But more so the sound of a fire being extinguished. I was a lot of things, but I was most definitely not a pyromaniac. I flushed the toilet and placed the lighter back where it belonged.

Tonight was always going to be hard. I was surprised at how little the memory of Joel stung me now, though. Maybe six years truly was the magical amount of time to heal. I doubted it had anything to do with Detective Reed. A handsome face didn’t just erase years of painful memories. One chance meeting wasn’t enough for me to forget the fact that the love of my life had abandoned me here.

Despite the fact that I wasn’t sad, I still walked out of my bedroom and down the hall, trying hard not to let the floorboards creak. If I was being honest, I found myself wandering into Zeke’s room most nights. Sad, happy, grateful…all of my emotions were always heightened by him. Seeing him sleeping peacefully reminded me how little all the Joels and Detective Reeds in the world really mattered. Zeke was the only man that I needed in my life. And since he was five, he didn’t seem to mind his mother snuggling with him when she needed a little comfort.

I climbed into his twin sized bed and wrapped my arm around him.

“I don’t feel good,” he said and nuzzled his face into his pillow.

I hadn’t expected him to still be awake. I kissed the top of his head. “I know, sweetie.” I had put him to bed right after dinner. He had been complaining about his throat hurting. Although...he didn’t have a temperature. And a liar was always good at spotting another liar. Maybe he had learned it from me. But I hadn’t pressed it tonight because I had a date with the lake and memories that I should have buried long ago. “So you’re not feeling any better?”

“No. I think I have to stay home from school tomorrow.”

“You do, huh?”

He turned to face me. “Probably. I wouldn’t want to get the other kids sick.”

“Zeke.” I placed my hand on the side of his face. “Are the other children still teasing you?”

“No.” He said it too defensively, and his tone broke my heart.

I had been called into the principal’s office a week after he first started kindergarten. A very uncaring principal who just wanted to inform me that my child was being teased. He didn’t offer any way to help the situation. Just thought it was important for me to know that my boy was being called Zeke the Freak.

I hoped the last few months had been getting better. But they hadn’t. Fake stomach bugs. Headaches. He even claimed he had AIDS. I doubt he really knew what that entailed. The honest truth was that my sweet boy had the dreaded faker’s disease. Zeke was spending more time on WebMD than me to look up fake illnesses.

“Little dude, you have to go to school. It’s important.”

“Why? You don’t leave. I don’t want to either.”

I pressed my lips together. I knew that part of his name calling was my fault. I was the crazy lady who lived at the top of the hill. I could handle housewives’ wrath. But my son? None of my idiosyncrasies were his fault. Why did bored suburban moms teach their kids to behave so poorly? Just because I liked to live out here alone didn’t mean my son was strange.

Sure, he didn’t exactly look like normal kids. I let him dress how he liked because I believed it was important for children to express themselves. His blonde hair was in short dreadlocks, he always wore bright yellow rain boots, and he preferred cargo shorts to any other kind of pants or shorts, even if it was frightfully cold. But that made logical sense. He held all sorts of things in his pockets. Whenever I needed a pen he could hand me one in under two seconds. It was impressive. The kind of thing that kids should have admired. But no. I looked down at my beautiful little son. Zeke the Freak. Children could be so idiotic. He was the light of my life. He was wonderful, and smart, and kind. He was perfect.

“Maybe you can have tomorrow off,” I said as I tucked a dreadlock behind his ear. “How does a three day weekend sound?”

“Yeah?” He looked up at me with his adorable little face.

“Yeah. You’ve earned a holiday.” He hadn’t. He was a few absences away from having to repeat kindergarten. But that was bullshit. He was smarter than all those little assholes making fun of him. And if his principal wanted to try to cross me, I’d pull the crazy card and scare him into agreeing with me.

“Thanks, Mom.” He snuggled back into my arms.

I wished that I could turn back time and name him something different. Something that didn’t rhyme with a hateful word. But children would find a way to be mean no matter what. That was what kids did. Hurt each other with words.

Zeke’s chest started to rise and fall slower. Knowing that he didn’t have to face his enemies tomorrow had put him fast asleep. I blinked away the tears in my eyes. All the thoughts of my ex, handsome detectives, and unregistered handguns disappeared. What was I going to do about Zeke? I needed to figure out something soon before he repeated my mistakes.

END OF CHAPTER 3

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