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Mountain Darkness (Wild Mountain Men 1) Vanessa Vale 2022/7/22 14:36:49

After the paramedics took Kit to the hospital—to ensure she wasn’t hurt and to catalog her clothes and collect DNA samples—I’d waited for the crime scene investigators and coroner. It had taken hours to photograph the body, process everything, type up the reports, deal with my boss, the newspaper. News of a murder spread quickly, especially when it was Erin Mills.

The autopsy would take place tomorrow, and the evidence was being processed. There was nothing else to do tonight. Except find Kit.

“All I know is that they cut her loose from the hospital after a few hours,” I added.

“An officer took her to her car.”

“She was living with Erin, and she can’t stay there since it’s a crime scene. And with a murderer on the loose, it could be dangerous.”

“I have a deputy at Erin’s house keeping an eye on things.”

“You mean keeping an eye out for the Mills family going in and tossing Kit’s stuff to the curb for the trash pick-up.”

I gripped the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white. “That, too,” I practically growled.

The Mills family was one of the richest in town with a house that looked like a Swiss ski lodge that could house thirty. It was nestled on a bluff with only the best view their money could buy. The Mills were founding members of the town back in the silver rush. Besides the McMansion, they owned a huge ranch outside of town, plus a few buildings on Main Street… including the one where Erin’s office was located. A Mills had been mayor back in the eighties. Hell, the family had even donated money for the cancer wing at the hospital.

I went to school with Erin’s older brother, Lucas, so I knew both of them had trust funds from their grandparents. Knowing Lucas, no one would think he had money, but Erin? Her fancy house was something I’d never be able to afford on a detective’s salary, even if I won the lottery. Not that I aspired to something so… big or blatant.

Giving Mr. and Mrs. Mills the news their daughter had been murdered—her skull bashed in by a glass Volunteer of the Year award… fuck, it had been bad. Not only were they distraught, but they were pissed. Out for blood. I had no doubt they’d rounded up their lawyers and began an investigation of their own because they doubted my abilities. I was born on the same side of the tracks as Kit. It didn’t matter I had a degree in criminology or years of experience.

I also had no doubt if they found the killer before the police did, they wouldn’t let the courts decide the case. They’d dish up some vigilante justice. This was Montana, after all.

Keith and Ellen Mills’ comments today when I’d told them the news only confirmed what I’d already known. They didn’t like Kit Lancaster. Never had. They believed she wasn’t good enough for their daughter, a “bad influence” because of her crazy mother. I didn’t doubt they’d railroad her for the crime.

Donovan had known Kit as long as I had. Middle school. Had wanted her just as long, too. Yeah, two twelve-year-olds eyeing the cute girl in braces. Total puppy love. We hadn’t done anything with her in high school though, not when our hormones were running wild and we got hard-ons just seeing her smile. She hadn’t given us the time of day. Not that she’d had any time. She’d gone to class and worked as a waitress at the local diner to make ends meet while dealing with her mom’s mental illness. After, she’d gone to the local community college, but both Donovan and I had left Cutthroat for the state school in Missoula. I’d heard she’d been dating Erin’s brother, Lucas.

Unlike his parents, he was a decent guy. Didn’t give a shit about being born with a silver spoon in his mouth. I hadn’t worried about him not being good to Kit, but I’d wished it had been me instead. I’d been away at college and couldn’t blame either one of them.

But they’d broken up when he’d gone into the National Guard. Been deployed. When he finally returned, he hadn’t joined the family’s real estate empire like his father wanted. He’d done his own thing and returned to Cutthroat to run a non-profit, using his money to help others, but he and Kit hadn’t gotten back together.

I’d returned after graduation, got a job as a cop, but Donovan had stayed for law school. Only after he passed the bar did he return. Then, we started stopping into the diner to see her. We’d go together and on our own, sit in her section, talk her up.

We’d finally connected working together on the planning committee for the Policemen’s Ball. I hadn’t been thrilled with the task since a dance of any kind wasn’t my thing, but it had been a fundraiser, the event supporting families of officers who had died or been injured in the line of duty. We’d gotten to know Kit, hoping she’d warm up to the idea of two men wanting her. Until she’d fled town without any notice.

Maybe we shouldn’t have been so subtle. Or so slow.

Now she was back, and I wasn’t losing the opportunity again, even with a fucking murder investigation in the middle of it all. Her mother was no support at all. The one friend we knew she had in town was dead. For someone so fucking sweet, she had enemies in the Mills, and that meant people all over town would hate her. Kit needed both of us now. And we weren’t taking it slow any longer. We were letting her know how we felt. Tonight. Right fucking now.

I pulled into a parking spot, cut the engine of my police SUV, rubbed my eyes. “So far, she’s the prime suspect.”

“If it’s not a crime of passion, next up on the list of usual suspects is family.”

“I’m not telling Keith or Ellen Mills they’re prime suspects,” I told him, practically shuddering at the thought. “I’d be fired by morning. We’ll investigate them, but I’ll let Miranski deal with them as much as possible.” The other detective on the force hadn’t grown up in Cutthroat and didn’t know the players like I did. She could deal.

“Smart. You don’t fucking think Kit did it, do you?”

I was insulted he even asked.

“Fuck, no. I doubt she had the strength to dent a skull like that.”

The memory of Erin’s skull bashed in would stick with me forever.

“Erin was almost a foot taller than Kit. Unless Erin was sitting on the floor or Kit stood on the coffee table to hit her, the angle is all wrong.”

I’d been on murder scenes before, but it was hard to handle it objectively when it was someone I’d known most of my life. I hadn’t been friends with her, but being Lucas’s sister, we’d all pretty much grown up together. Cutthroat was small enough.

“It’s your job to find someone else.”