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Mountain Darkness (Wild Mountain Men 1) Vanessa Vale 2022/7/22 14:36:48

“No.” I shivered again.

“I see an alarm pad there by the door.” He pointed to the high-end system. “It wasn’t armed?”

“She never set it that I know of. I don’t know the code. Can I… can I go get a sweatshirt or something?” The blood on my hands had dried, making the skin feel tight.

“I’ll go with you, but the crime scene team needs to do their job.”

“Crime scene?” I repeated.

His dark brow went up. “She didn’t trip, Kit.” He looked to Erin’s body on the floor. “She was murdered.”

Jesus, Kit fucking Lancaster.

Here. In Cutthroat. I’d wondered where she’d gone. Not gone. Fled. She’d literally left in the middle of the night, and I had no fucking idea why. One day she was coming over for dinner, the next she’d moved to Billings. No call. No text. Not even a fucking sticky note.

We hadn’t dated, since meeting for coffee to talk about the Policemen’s Ball didn’t count. And kissing? A peck on her cheek definitely didn’t count. I’d wanted so much more. Fuck, I’d wanted everything with her. I’d hoped she’d return to town because she was the one who’d gotten away. The one I still wanted, even after a year. Hell, she was The One.

And now? The woman of my dreams, of every one of my erotic fantasies, was mixed up in murder.

This morning, seeing Erin Mills dead on her living room floor had been a stunner, but seeing Kit covered in blood… fuck, I’d aged ten years seeing her like that, thinking she’d been seriously hurt. It had covered her hands, her forearms, even her sleep clothes and down her legs. I’d wanted to grab her, hold her, take her away from the horror she’d woken up to. But that was the last thing I could have done. I was a detective, and she was… in a fuck ton of trouble.

She’d been covered in evidence. Without realizing, she’d tampered with a crime scene when she’d gone to help Erin. Her DNA was not only all over the house since she’d been staying there, but all over a dead woman who’d been brutally murdered. It was my job to find out what had happened, to bring a criminal to justice. There was protocol. Steps to follow. One of them wasn’t hugging a witness—a potential suspect—and messing with evidence.

Fuck. That had been twelve hours ago, and I was still thinking of her. My shift was over, and I was driving toward the Mills Moments’ office. I didn’t dare tell anyone my head hadn’t been focusing on the victim, but the roommate. The co-worker.

Kit had been beautiful standing just inside the great room, even with her haunted eyes, the adrenaline surge of panic making her shake. Perfect. Her dark hair had been tousled from sleep. No make-up graced her round face. She’d looked girl-next-door perfect in her little sleep outfit. It had been sexy as hell, except for the fucking blood. The dead body. That was what had kept my dick from getting hard in front of the first responders.

I pulled up to a red light, shifted in my seat.

I’d been protective of Kit before, but now? Had someone meant to actually kill Erin Mills or had the murderer been there for Kit? Had Erin gotten in the way? Why hadn’t Kit heard anything? So many questions unanswered.

“Think she’ll be there?” Donovan asked, breaking into my thoughts. I had him on speakerphone, updating my friend on the case. As prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office, it would be coming his way. Eventually. Once we had an arrest. But he wasn’t asking after Kit because of the case. It was because she was back in town. Back in the middle of a total cluster fuck. After I left the crime scene team to their job at the Mills’ house, I’d called Donovan, told him what happened. Told him that Kit was back, that she was in the middle of it. He hadn’t known she’d been back in Cutthroat because he would have told me. We’d been waiting to get in front of her again. Get a chance to tell her how we felt, to make her ours.

I flipped my blinker, turned down Main Street. For a Saturday night in Cutthroat, the street was busy, filled with tourists and townies enjoying the spectacular weather. There was nothing better than summer in Montana, except for winter when the black diamonds on Cutthroat Mountain had epic powder.

I thought of Donovan’s question. Would she be at the Mills Moments’ office? “No way she went to her mom’s. As far as I know, Mrs. Lancaster hasn’t left her house in years.” Kit’s home life had been a fucking disaster. Her dad left when she was six, and it had done a number on her mom. Depression and anxiety turned into extreme hoarding and agoraphobia. Kit had pretty much raised herself and taken care of her mom.

“From what Kit told me last year, grocery delivery and online shopping has helped with that. Obviously, Erin’s a dead end.” I sighed, rubbed a hand over my face. “Fuck, I didn’t mean it like that.”

Donovan chuckled. “She could be at a hotel.”

I shook my head even though he couldn’t see me. “I checked with the hotels. No room in her name.” That was the perk of being a detective. “The office is left.”

I flipped my visor down, the sun blinding me as it sank low in the sky.

With the town nestled between national parks and endl

ess backcountry people came to Montana to enjoy, Cutthroat was a popular town. Innocently named for the local trout in the river that flowed along the east side of town, it might have been small, but it had crime. What town didn’t? There was enough to keep me on the payroll. And busy. The last murder was back in 1984 when a woman killed her husband with a chainsaw after discovering he’d cheated on her with a nun from the convent on the way to Missoula. This case though, was different.

I’d put a request in for Erin’s financials, phone records, the usual data. I discovered the Mills Moments’ office was on the second floor of one of the historic buildings on the east end of town. Loaded with ritzy shops and outfitter stores aimed at the rich outdoorsmen, that address meant her event planning business was doing well. Well enough to need a partner in Kit.