KHLOE - Read the First Five Chapters!
CHAPTER ONE - WILL
Will’s eyes dropped to the pool of blood inches from his feet.
“Thoughts?” Nicole asked from beside him. Nicole was the acting lead on this case while their superior, Amelia Walker, was on vacation in Mexico—a vacation likely to be cut short.
Will looked to the body, assessing the injuries. “She didn’t talk.”
Nicole’s eyes narrowed on him and he turned to look at her.
“Why do you say that?” she asked.
“Her injuries,” Will said, knowing he had to be careful what he said now. It was his first day on the job, in a new city, with a new identity and new colleagues—but then, he’d spent almost his entire career undercover. He’d witnessed more interrogations than he’d ever wanted to see and he knew the techniques they used. Broken fingers, severed fingertips, knife wounds, burns.
Based on the severity of her wounds, this was a gang-related torture and she didn’t talk.
“She’s a nun,” Nicole said matter-of-factly, her eyebrows narrowing.
Will’s eyes returned to the nun, laid upon a stone table, pools of blood on the floor below her. The drip had stopped though. The nun had been dead for hours, and either the killer had fled the cathedral or was still inside. Will looked to the end of the catacombs, as far as he could see. The officers had locked down the cathedral and were speaking to anyone who had still been inside when they’d arrived.
“Being a nun means nothing,” Will said. “She knew something, or at least someone thought she did. Do we know her name?”
“Sister Louisa Green,” Nicole said.
Will’s attention returned to Louisa.
Who did this to you?
What did they want from you?
“There’s a second set of footprints,” Benji, a member of the forensics team said, looking at Will and Nicole.
Will frowned, looking at the dust print.
“This print shouldn’t be here. There are footprints all over these stone bricks,” Benji said, his eyes dropping to the stone flooring of the catacombs. “But this print is fresh and complete. Sister Bernadette found her, but she said she didn’t touch the body—she saw her and ran to phone for help. The footprint would be about her size, though.”
“How do you know it’s not the killer’s footprint?” Will asked.
Benji shrugged. “I don’t, not for sure, but the other set of prints shows the person was moving around the body. That’s likely the killer. These prints indicate the person approached the body then exited that way,” he said, pointing to the end of the catacombs.
“How far can you trace the prints?” Will asked.
“To the staircase then they fade away. The staircase and hallway receive a lot more foot traffic than this . . . tunnel . . .” he said, seeming to search for the right word.
Will nodded, lost in thought as he tried to piece together what had happened here a few hours earlier. Nicole said his name twice before he registered it and turned toward her.
“Will?” Nicole repeated.
“Sorry, deep in thought,” Will responded.
“Let’s re-interview Sister Bernadette. She was very upset when we first spoke to her . . . maybe she did come closer to make sure Sister Louisa was actually dead and couldn’t be revived,” she said.
Will knew it was possible and often during a traumatic event people forgot things. They acted without thinking and then blocked the events from their mind.
But from across the room, it would’ve been evident to anyone that Sister Louisa was dead.
“We should,” Will agreed. “Sister Bernadette was in shock when she first spoke to the officers. Let her rest tonight and I’ll speak to her in the morning.”
His eyes dropped to the pooled blood at his feet again.
Something about this case didn’t feel right. It screamed gang torture and looked all too familiar to Will, but why would Diaz Smith’s men be torturing nuns here in Texas? He shook his head, as if shaking the thoughts away. This was nothing to do with his past, it was just his mind playing tricks on him.
Will looked around the tunnel. “What do they use this space for?”
Six bookshelves lined the walls on either side, and two stone slab bench tables were positioned in the middle of the room. One now supported a dead nun.
His eyes roamed over the spines of the old books and judging by the dust coating them, he didn’t think anyone came down here to read or study the texts.
Will turned back to the crime scene, watching forensics work while he turned over the case in his mind. He wasn’t a homicide detective; he was an undercover agent. He specialized in infiltrating organized crime groups then playing a double-agent role. That job had consequences and after his pivotal role in taking down the Smith brothers, a contract had been placed on his life and he was told to disappear.
With the help of the FBI, he’d arrived in Texas as Will Cohen.
Will had been looking over his shoulder every minute of every day since the Smith brothers had been incarcerated. Although they were behind bars, not everyone connected to them was and Will didn’t think he was safe anywhere. He’d known the consequences of his part in taking down the brothers and understood perfectly that retaliation would follow. However, he’d make the same decision again. It was still unsettling, especially when he saw the V carved into the wrist of the nun–the brothers’ signature. They’d done that for as long as Will had been undercover, and he couldn’t help but wonder if it was a message for him. But if they knew where he was, why not just kill him? Why torture the nun?
Will exhaled a long breath, trying to make sense of the bloody mess in front of him.
He looked over his shoulder again, half expecting Diaz Smith to be standing there, beaming his cunning grin at Will. But Diaz wasn’t there.
“Let’s go back to the station, I think we’ve done all we can here,” Nicole said.
Will nodded. The forensics team would finish their work then prepare their report. Until then, hovering around the crime scene was more of a hindrance to them than anything else.
“Amelia will be back on site tomorrow,” Nicole continued as they exited through the tunnel to the staircase and back through the nave of the cathedral.
“I hope she had a nice break,” Will said with a slight grimace—Amelia’s first day back from holidays was going to be busy.
Nicole grinned. “She can handle it. She’s the best detective I’ve ever worked with. Smart, calm, empathetic, and not afraid to make quick decisions. She’s a good boss—a good leader.”
Will studied her a moment. He was eager to meet Amelia—after all, she was the entire reason he was here. She was his mission; he wasn’t here to work homicide.
But this was an assignment he must conduct discreetly. He’d been placed in this Texas unit to quietly investigate detective Amelia Walker, who was suspected of corruption and taking bribes to allow an illegal drug ring to monopolize the West End of Dallas.
Nicole, though, had given her a glowing recommendation, in complete contrast to the profile that had been part of his briefing.
All he knew about Amelia Walker at present were the details in her file. She’d transferred from Narcotics two years ago, but there was some suspicion that she’d never fully left it behind and the transfer had been a cover of sorts. Two agents had previously been assigned to investigate her, but one was killed and the other subsequently pulled from the assignment due to fears their cover had been blown. The murdered agent’s case was unsolved, but the main suspect was Amelia Walker. The FBI thought the agent had gotten too close and Amelia had eliminated the threat. The photographs of her talking to two dirty politicians and meeting with a gang member who controlled the entire west side of Dallas didn’t look good, but Will didn’t have enough evidence to conclude she’d shot the agent point-blank or that she was corrupt. It didn’t look good at this stage, but he needed more than that. He needed to prove it.
Whatever Amelia’s story was, Will was going to uncover it.
He was still thinking about the case—the real reason he was in Texas—and how he was going to play his cards all the way back to the station. He’d been strategizing and planning since he’d accepted the case, which he knew was futile, but he did it anyway. It was impossible to plan his moves when he had no idea what was going to happen next. Like this murdered nun, for example. As tragic as it was, Will knew he could use it to his advantage because a fresh murder would occupy Amelia’s attention, and she’d be less suspicious of the new person on her team.
Will chewed on his cheek, turning the nun’s death over in his mind. It was odd—no one heard anything, no one saw anything. A scream in those tunnels would’ve echoed and, given her injuries, Will was surprised no one had heard her agonized cries. Admittedly, the others in the cathedral had been upstairs in the adjoining living quarters—a fair distance away.
Will shook his head as his mind ran in circles.
At the station, Will made a hot cup of coffee then logged into his computer. No reports were yet available, but some photos had been uploaded onto the system. He pulled them up, flicking through them one by one.
He grabbed a pen and scribbled his thoughts on paper, formulating a list of items to look at but he had to be discreet. Will would voice his concern that this looked like a gang torture, but he would not give Diaz’s name because, according to his cover story, he should’ve had no real knowledge of Diaz or Dominic Smith’s signatures.
At the top of Will’s list was to look at known organization members who attend the church—particularly any that had spent time with Sister Louisa. They could’ve told her something and later regretted it, or she could’ve simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time and overheard something she shouldn’t have.
Nicole’s phone rang at the desk opposite him and he lifted his eyes at the sound.
“Nicole speaking,” she answered.
Her eyes narrowed, then she said, “And you found the note where, exactly?”
His interested piqued, Will concentrated his attention on the phone call.
“That’s all it said? Will Taylor . . . got it,” she said, frowning as she wrote the name.
Will’s blood froze. His heart stopped beating.
He blinked, sure he must’ve heard incorrectly.
He forced himself to take a breath and wipe any recognition from his face.
Nicole looked to him. “Well, now this is getting interesting. Forensics just called. A note was found in the lining of Sister Bernadette’s robe. It said:
Don’t go to the police. Find Will Taylor.
Will widened his eyes, playing the part—a role he’d perfected after so many years undercover. His expression showed nothing of his racing heart and the churning in the pit of his stomach.
“The question is: who is Will Taylor?” Nicole asked, seemingly more to herself than him.
Little did she know, she was looking straight at Will Taylor.
CHAPTER TWO - WILL
“I’m listening,” John said.
Will had worked with John for over ten years and there was no one he trusted more.
“We were called to a homicide today—a murdered nun. A note hidden in the lining of the robe said Do not go to the police, find Will Taylor,” he said, looking over his shoulder, watching his back. “There’s a V on her wrist, John.”
A long silence followed. “And you’ve had nothing to do with this nun?”
“No, of course not,” Will said, aghast.
“I didn’t mean her murder; I meant your interactions. You attend church regularly, but you’ve never been to this one?” he asked.
“No, I’d never stepped foot inside that cathedral until today. And I don’t know her, I’m sure of it,” he said under his breath. “I can’t work this case.”
“This isn’t a good start,” John said. “But it took us months to set up your identity and get you back into the system. Greg isn’t going to want to pull you out now and bring someone else in. Keep working the case and give me time to see what I can find out. I’ll speak to Greg and see if I can convince him, but . . .” John’s voice trailed off but Will knew the words he hadn’t spoken. It was Greg’s idea to send him there and John had pushed back hard in Will’s defense, arguing he needed to go underground for a while and let things settle. He’d argued this assignment was too dangerous. He’d been right. But the FBI had a job to do and they wanted it done. Greg was at the top, he made the final decisions, and he'd sent Will to Dallas. Will knew John wasn’t going to change Greg’s mind.
John continued. “Be careful, Will. You need to leave Will Taylor completely behind. I know you’ve spent years undercover, but this is different. Will Cohen is not an undercover name, it’s your new identity. You are Will Cohen, not Will Taylor—he no longer exists. He is dead, and you can’t forget that while you’re working this case. Even if they somehow connect this to the agent you once were, when they search the system, all they’ll find is your death certificate. Keep me in the loop and we’ll figure it out. I’ll organize a team to survey your home to make sure no one is scoping it. I have your back; you have my word. Just be careful.”
He nodded, exhaling a shaky breath.
John was right.
Will Taylor was dead.
Will Cohen was alive.
And Will Cohen had nothing to do with this murder. But someone else did, and he was going to find out who.
Determination pulsed through his veins, invigorating his body. Will turned on his heel and headed back to the station, his eyes sweeping the streets as they always did. He could not afford to make a mistake; his true identity could not be exposed—not only would it raise questions he couldn’t answer without exposing the real reason he was here, but it would put his life in danger. He knew that signature, the V on the nun’s wrist belonged to Diaz Smith’s gang. They killed her, and they wanted him to know. Why?
His stomach churned and he squashed the rising nausea. He’d been in Dallas for less than a week—that was an incredibly short period of time for Diaz’s men to find him.
Will inhaled deeply. He needed to make another phone call—it was one he didn’t want to make, but he didn’t think he had a choice.
He saw the station ahead but turned down the lane, buying himself some more time as he dialed Greg’s number.
“Hello,” Greg answered quickly.
“I have a problem,” he said, knowing Greg knew exactly who was calling him. Only three people in the FBI had Will’s number, and Greg was one of them.
Will waited for Greg’s permission before he divulged any information.
“Go ahead,” Greg said.
Will exhaled. “Either my cover is already blown or something very strange is going on. A nun died last night and a V was carved into her wrist—the Smith brothers’ signature. On top of that, a note was tucked into a pocket in the lining of the nun’s robe that said not to go to the police, but to find Will Taylor.”
Silence filled the moments that passed until Greg eventually said, “Give me twenty-four hours to get back to you before we make any decisions. I don’t know what this means, but I need you there, Will. You’re my best undercover agent. I need to know exactly what’s going on there and who killed our agent. I need to know how dangerous Amelia Walker is.”
“If Diaz Smith’s men know where I am, I may not have twenty-four hours,” Will said under his breath, looking over his shoulder. He was exposed and needed to get back into the station, but these weren’t conversations he could risk being overheard.
“Have you called John?” Greg asked quickly.
“Yes, he’s going to put surveillance on my home,” Will answered, studying the faces of the couple that walked past him. He was suspicious of every single person who looked his way. It was an exhausting way to live.
“You’re protected in the station. Stay there as long as you can, call John when you’re leaving. We’ve got your back,” Greg said. Will believed him, he just didn’t know if that would be enough.
“Thank you,” he answered as he began walking back to the station.
The desks were empty when he arrived and his pulse raced when he saw everyone was gathered in a meeting room, with a blonde woman standing at a whiteboard.
She looked his way and gestured him in, her face unreadable.
“Apologies, I didn’t realize we had a meeting scheduled,” Will said, doing his best to read the room, but most importantly, read Amelia Walker. He’d have recognized her face anywhere, after looking at hundreds of photos of her.
“It wasn’t scheduled,” she said, matter-of-factly, but her tone was even. If she was displeased with him, it wasn’t evidently clear. “I did look for you, but we couldn’t find you,” she said, raising an eyebrow.
He nodded slowly, his expression not changing despite his racing pulse. “I had to take a personal call about my sister.”
Amelia eyed him, then nodded. “You can take personal calls in the office next door,” she said, tilting her head toward the neighboring room.
Will knew that, but it wasn’t suitable for the type of calls he needed to make; regardless, he nodded like this was news to him. However, he wasn’t sure Amelia bought his excuse. She didn’t call him out on it, but his gut instinct was that she was suspicious of where he’d been. Did she know about the other agents? Had she, in fact, killed one of them?
He might be safe from Diaz’s men in the station, but was he safe from Amelia?
“Let’s continue,” she said, turning back to the whiteboard. He used the opportunity to watch her discreetly from the back of the room, his eyes tracing her sharp jawline and high cheekbones, and he noted her eyes were hazel but with more green than brown. Her surveillance photos didn’t come close to doing her justice.
“Will, Nicole said you thought this was a gang torture,” Amelia said, turning her attention back to him. “Unusual, given her occupation, but I agree the wounds are severe and possibly reflect it. I know from your profile you worked a lot of gang-related cases in New York City. I want you to take the lead on this angle and look for any connections. Just because she’s a nun doesn’t mean it’s an impossible theory—however unlikely.”
“I’ll look into it,” he said with a nod. He would make every effort to solve this case as fast as possible—he was more motivated than she would ever know.
Amelia opened the floor for the team to speak and contribute their notes and ideas for leads to look into. She was a good leader, Will noted. Every suggestion was considered, and even if she didn’t like them, she never showed it and she never shut down the suggestion. She was open-minded and charismatic as they tossed ideas around and came up with a plan.
Watching her, he realized this was going to be harder than he’d imagined. It wasn’t just that she was beautiful, she was also charismatic, likable, and very well-respected by her peers.
But maybe that was the key to her success: she fooled everyone with her charm. She blinded them, essentially, which allowed her dealings to go unnoticed.
At least unnoticed by her peers. The FBI had noticed them, and they’d been building a case for the past twelve months, but they needed more evidence.
It was his job to find it.
CHAPTER THREE - AMELIA
Sunning herself on the shores of Mexico had quickly come to an end.
“Let’s bring everyone in for the afternoon briefing,” she said to Nicole as she walked toward her desk, grabbing her notebook and her coffee.
Nicole nodded and ushered everyone into the meeting room.
Will walked past Amelia and her eyes followed him. His transfer to her Texas unit had been rather sudden but his file had explained it—he’d moved to be closer to his dying sister. She made it a point to get to know everyone on her team. She ran her unit like a family—it was the way her father, who had also been a detective, had taught her to do business and life in general. Treat people like family and they will always have your back, he’d said.
So that’s how she ran her unit. So far, it was working out well. The statistics for the team were good—they were solving cases faster since she’d led the team, and they had fewer unsolved cases—but more than that the people on her team seemed to be thriving and that was all part of the plan.
A plan she had every intention of keeping.
Her vacation had been cut short, but she hadn’t really been on a vacation. While most Americans go to Mexico to sun themselves on pool lounges, Amelia had gone hunting for a man who had the information she needed—connections she needed—and she’d found him two days ago. It had almost seemed too good to be true. But that’s the thing about secrets—they’re a heavy burden to carry and sometimes people want to get rid of them—at any cost.
Perhaps it was that, or perhaps it was a divine miracle—but either way, Amelia had someone she could leverage to get what she needed. For now, though, she would hold that card close to her chest and reveal it to no one.
After she’d gotten what she needed, she’d booked a flight home. When she turned on her phone after disembarking the aircraft, she received Nicole’s voicemail and her interest was piqued.
Even if she hadn’t already been on her way home, she would’ve boarded the first flight after seeing those images. At first glance, nothing about this case made sense. But killers always leave behind a clue and it was her job to find it. She’d thought, as soon as she’d looked at the images, that it had been an interrogation of sorts. Perhaps the killer hadn’t even intended to kill the nun. But her wounds were in line with an interrogation, just as Will had suggested.
She looked to him now, his face turned away from her, his eyes on his computer. She’d read his file a thousand times since she’d been informed he was transferring to her unit. Everything looked in order, every detail seemed to match . . . but something was different about him and Amelia couldn’t put her finger on it. She’d even called the hospice where his sister was being treated, and he did indeed have a sister staying there.
Will came from a large family, much like herself. She wondered if his father had been like hers—always encouraging his children to step outside the mold expected of them. When Amelia had been fifteen or so, her father had given her a biography of a homicide detective. She had devoured it and that career had become her dream, her obsession.
Liana, another detective, walked past her office and Amelia called out to her. She stopped and stepped inside. “Hey,” she said casually, but Amelia knew her well enough to know that her casual tone was always a front.
“How are you doing? Did he sign the documents?” Amelia asked.
Liana sighed heavily, rolling her eyes. “No, of course he didn’t; even now, after everything he’s put me through, he’s trying to make my life hell. Throw in two children and it’s a mess . . .” She turned over her empty palms. “But what can I do? I have to keep going, for their sake. I have to ignore the fact that he throws the affair in my face, that he brings the woman to my house to pick up my children . . .” Her voice broke before she inhaled sharply, biting her lip. “I can’t control what he does, and the best thing I can do is not react. So, I smile, say hello, and resist every urge to scream at him and badmouth him to our children. But I won’t do that, no matter how bad it gets.” She gave a strained laugh. “But how much worse can it get?”
Amelia smiled sadly. Unfortunately, she understood the affair part of Liana’s pain. Amelia’s ex-husband had also had an affair and hadn’t had an issue flaunting the other woman in front of her. Amelia had changed her schedule, her favorite restaurants— everything but her career—just to avoid him, but that’s hard to do when you have kids together.
“Anytime you need to talk, you call me,” Amelia said, meaning every word. “Anytime you want to drop off the kids for a few hours so you can sit on the floor and cry without them seeing you,” she said knowingly, “you call me. Got it?”
Liana’s eyes welled. “Got it. Thank you,” she said with a small smile.
“Now get back to work,” Amelia joked, but her mind was distracted long after Liana left her office.
She wanted to be there for Liana, but she had to admit it was hard because it brought back all the memories of her own failed marriage. Memories she tried desperately hard to suppress. It was bad enough when she was around her siblings, all of which were married and seemed to be living the happily-ever-after fairy tale.
But even worse than that were the nights alone, when she tossed and turned, torturing herself about the seemingly wonderful life her husband was now living with his new wife—the other woman—while Amelia remained unmarried and unhappy. It was in those moments she prayed the hardest, leaning into her faith and entrusting her life to God. She didn’t understand why things had worked out the way they had, but she had to trust God had a reason for it. The deepening of her faith was the one silver lining she could thank her ex-husband for—she struggled to find any others.
She shook her head, refocusing on the reports uploading into the database. She began clicking through them again, spending more time on the photographs, on the V carved into the nun’s wrist. What did it mean? Who did the signature belong to? Or perhaps it was not a signature . . . perhaps the killer was playing games.
She was mulling this over in her mind when a knock on the glass wall of her office caught her attention. She looked up to see the new detective leaning on her doorframe.
“Do you have a minute?” he asked.
She looked past him to the team beginning to assemble in the meeting room.
“I have one, then we need to be in there,” she said, nodding to the room behind him.
He nodded, not looking over his shoulder. “What is the process from here? To investigate the murder, I mean.”
“Well, we’ll meet now and I’ll go through the forensics reports and possible leads. From there I’ll assign tasks to the team and we’ll get to work,” she said with a smile.
He seemed to search her eyes for a moment, then his lips curved into a small smile. “Let me shadow you on this case. I haven’t been assigned a partner on this team yet, so let me help you in whatever way I can,” he said.
Amelia silently weighed this idea in her mind. It would allow her to watch him closely and get to know him better. But, it also gave him the same opportunity and that could be very dangerous for her.
When she didn’t immediately respond, he continued, “I’ll be useful, I promise. Doing well here is important to me. I want to learn from the best.”
She looked at him a long moment. He laid on the charm, and he seemed sincere, but she wasn’t entirely convinced. “Let me think about it. We need to get in there,” she said, nodding toward the meeting room.
“Sure,” he said before he turned and headed that way.
Her eyes followed him for a moment, unable to ignore the lingering suspicion in the pit of her stomach. But, she didn’t have time to dwell on it now so she gathered her things and walked into the meeting.
“Okay, let’s get started,” she said as Nicole nodded at her, indicating they were ready to begin.
Her team took their chairs as she ran through the forensics report, what they knew about Sister Louisa, and the note found in her lining. “We can’t conclude at this stage that Will Taylor is a suspect. It might be a lead to someone who has information . . . so we’ll look at this note from all angles until we learn more. Unfortunately, Will Taylor is quite a common name, so we’ll need to look at Sister Louisa more closely to establish possible links and people of interest,” she said, then looked to her team members as she assigned roles. With few leads to go on, they would need intel to solve this case. In order to gain that intel, they would need multiple teams on data entry. They used a system called EagleView, which collated all their notes, reports, and data in a centralized database. All of the statements and forensics from last night needed to be entered and, given the number of interviews Amelia knew they would need to do, this was going to be a big job for the next few days. “Linda and Thomas, Grant and Liana, Blake and Simon, you’re all on EagleView,” she said and they nodded. “Nicole and Ed, I want you to look at Sister Louisa and find out every detail about her life for the past twelve months. I want to know where she went, who she spoke to, and what she ate,” Amelia said with a small smile, trying to lighten the mood. Homicide work was taxing, but having a good team to support you made it all possible. It was important to bring in moments of brief levity whenever possible.
She surprised herself, by her next words. “Will, you’re with me. We’ll interview everyone we can find with a connection to Sister Louisa.”
His lips turned up and his eyes shone as they locked on hers. He nodded and she felt off-balance for a moment. She looked away, refocusing on her team. Focus was imperative because one small detail could make or break a case, and being a homicide detective—especially the lead detective—made her responsible to the families of the victims. Her role meant she promised them she’d do everything she could to find the person who killed their loved one.
“Let’s get to work,” she said with a nod. Her team was watching her, all eyes focused on her, but it was Will’s she looked into and she hoped she hadn’t just made a huge mistake. If he had been sent here with ulterior motives, she would have to outplay him, and the only way she could do that was to get close enough to him to know his weaknesses and use them to get him to reveal what he didn’t want her to see.
She walked toward the door, leading her team out as they began what would be long days and nights until they had the information they needed to find Sister Louisa’s killer.
God help us, Amelia silently prayed as she walked to her desk, Will beside her.
CHAPTER FOUR - WILL
“How many people have access to the tunnel during the day?” Amelia asked, leaning forward, taking hold of Sister Bernadette’s hand.
Will had to give it to her, she was compassionate yet she pushed the people she was interviewing to get the information she needed. Amelia was smart, and he knew that would make his job harder, but he liked it nonetheless. Amelia Walker was going to be a challenge, and so far he was enjoying every second of it. Given that she’d allowed him to partner with her meant he could play two roles at the same time—but he needed that to work in his favor, not hers, because he wasn’t entirely sure she thought having him on her team was a good idea. Greg had returned his call, advising he would not be pulled from this assignment–so he needed to do the best he could and watch his back at all times. He’d seen nothing unusual today, but that wasn’t surprising. It would take time, and he wasn’t sure how much time he had.
Who knew he was here?
Why was the note left?
He felt unsettled and was watching over his shoulder with every move. What didn’t make sense was the connection to the nun. He’d never attended the church—he’d never met Sister Louisa in his life. So why leave his name on a note on the murdered nun?
The biggest problem with the note was that it wasn’t Diaz’s usual play. He was more direct, and less DaVinci code. His men weren’t smart and cunning, they went straight for the jugular. If Diaz’s men knew where he was, he’d be dead by now—or at least a hit would’ve been attempted and he’d know they were on to him. Something about this case wasn’t right, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. He looked to Amelia, once again wondering what she was thinking but not saying. How dangerous are you?
Sister Bernadette shrugged. “The tunnels are accessible all day. It’s rare to see anyone other than staff down there, but they’re not blocked off or locked. Anyone could access the tunnels if they knew how.”
Will thought on that. Access to the tunnels was somewhat hidden, but not impossible to find. “Does the church do tours of the tunnels?” he asked.
Sister Bernadette looked at him. “Yes, they’re scheduled every week. Sometimes only a few people come, sometimes hundreds. It depends on the season . . . more in summer during the tourist season.”
“Do you keep a record of who books the tours?” he asked.
Her lips pressed together. “They can be booked online, but sometimes people just show up at the scheduled time. They are all required to sign in, though.”
“May we have a copy of the logs?” Amelia asked, though Will knew it was not a request. They would be leaving with a copy of the logs.
“Sister Diane coordinates the tours. We’ll ask her for them,” Sister Bernadette said.
“I want to focus on the note for a moment,” Amelia said, causing his pulse to race. “Does the name Will Taylor mean anything to you? Have you heard the name before?”
Sister Bernadette shook her head, resolute. “No, never. Louisa and I . . . we were close”—she swallowed hard—“and I never heard her mention the name before.” Her voice was thick and Will knew she was fighting back the tears as she thought of her friend. Unfortunately, she’d not only lost a sister but carried the trauma of finding her bloody body. Will knew that would take a toll, but he was also sure she would lean into her faith and God would walk beside her through her grief and trauma.
“Thank you for talking to us, Sister Bernadette,” Amelia said. “If you think of anything else, please call me.” Amelia passed her card then squeezed the nun’s shoulder.
A tear ran down Sister Bernadette’s cheek.
“We’re going to do everything we can to find who did this,” Amelia said. “That’s a promise I can keep.”
“I will pray for you,” she said then looked to Will. “And for you, sir.”
“Thank you,” he said, genuinely. He didn’t know if there were enough prayers to save him, given his past, but he lived every day trusting in God. It was the only way he’d survived these past years.
Being undercover, playing different people every day, took a toll. Most undercover agents only did it for a case or two. But he’d spent the past ten years undercover and he hadn’t yet lost his way. He credited his faith for that.
Amelia turned to leave and he followed her.
“Searching the logs is going to be like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” she said under her breath as they walked.
“It depends on what information is in them, right?” Will asked, curious as to why she’d jumped to that conclusion so easily.
“There’s only a name, phone number or email, and a check-in and check-out time,” she said. “I’ve done the tour . . . I used to attend this church.”
Will’s eyebrows lifted high. “Did you know Sister Louisa?” he asked quickly, suddenly concerned about a conflict of interest.
“No, she wasn’t here when I attended. I stopped coming about two years ago,” she said, and Will recalled the notes. Sister Louisa had come to the church about two years ago, which meant they could’ve just missed each other, fitting with the timeline.
“Why did you stop coming?” Will asked, knowing he was potentially pushing the professional boundary, but she’d opened the door to the conversation and he was never one to let an opportunity pass.
She didn’t answer him for a moment. As they approached the stone staircase she looked to him. “I attended this church with my ex-husband. When I found out he was having an affair with another woman of the congregation, I decided this wasn’t the place for me,” she said, ascending the stairs, not missing a step.
Will knew she’d been married and was divorced, but all that had been filed in the divorce papers was Irreconcilable Differences.
“I’m sorry,” he said, following after her.
She looked over her shoulder and shook her head. “Don’t be. People say God uses our pain and suffering to draw us nearer to him, and they’re not wrong. I am who I am today, and my relationship with God has strengthened, because of that affair.”
“Where do you go to church now?” Will asked, steering the conversation to more neutral ground.
“Life Church . . . the modern building on the corner of Shakespeare and Richardson Avenues.”
“I know the one,” he said. He knew the one because he’d looked into it while studying her profile. He already knew where she went to church but it was important to build a relationship with her. Asking questions he already knew the answers to helped him gauge if she was being honest with him or not.
“How are you liking Texas?” she asked. “It’s quite the change from New York.”
He shrugged. “I’ve lived all over America,” he said, sticking to his cover story. “Every city feels like a fresh start.”
Will motioned for her to go ahead as they walked through the thin door, into the light-filled nave. The door felt like a portal, transporting them to a different universe. The light in the nave was almost blinding compared to the darkness of the tunnels.
“I ordered a handwriting sample for the note,” Amelia said, catching him off-guard.
His pulse raced a little faster—the note had that effect on him. “Who are you matching it against?”
“Sister Louisa,” Amelia said. “Everyone is assuming the killer left the note, but the handwriting is somewhat shaky, perhaps indicating it was written by a more elderly person—someone more of the sister’s age. It could also have been written by someone in a rush or high on adrenaline. Either way, I don’t like to make assumptions. I like to make decisions based on facts.”
His stomach churned. He seriously doubted Sister Louisa wrote that note—unless told to at gunpoint—considering he’d never met her before, but he didn’t share those thoughts with Amelia.
“Good idea,” he said.
They walked to the information desk near the entrance to the cathedral, finding Sister Diane at the desk. Within minutes, Amelia had secured the logs for the past six months. It hadn’t been hard to do, they were paper sheets on clipboards—one for each month. It was a simple system.
Amelia looked to him. “Needle in a haystack,” she said, raising an eyebrow.
The light filtered across her face, her eyes greener than they usually appeared.
He found himself unable to look away for a moment.
“Then we’d better get to work,” he said, looking toward the doors, not allowing his gaze to linger on her eyes, searching her soul for the secrets he wanted to uncover.
If Amelia Walker was capable and had done everything the FBI suspected her of, she was more dangerous than he’d first thought because he hadn’t seen her slip up once yet.
CHAPTER FIVE - AMELIA
Amelia leaned against the bench as she made a coffee. Her gaze swept over the office, but her eyes kept returning to her newest recruit: Will. He wasn’t technically her recruit—she hadn’t asked for him—but he’d been transferred nonetheless and despite her initial reservations, he seemed smart and hardworking. He was different from other agents, though . . . there was something about him she couldn’t quite put her finger on but if she had to make a guess, she felt like he was holding something back. And she needed to find out what that was as soon as possible. He’d done nothing to indicate he was here for reasons other than those stated in his file, but her gut instinct had always been strong and she’d learned to trust it over the years. Or rather, she’d learned to trust God. Her instinct, she’d realized many years ago, was God’s way of speaking to her—a sensing of things, a guidance that was sometimes quiet and at other times screamed at her. One thing she knew for sure was that every time she’d listened and acted on her instinct, it had been a good move. When she’d ignored it, it had been disastrous.
Will looked up from the papers on his desk—the visitor logs—his eyes meeting hers. She kept her face impassive, giving him a small smile, acting like she’d been looking over the entire office, not focused singly on him.
Nicole said something that turned his attention to her, and he gave Nicole a lazy smile. The corner of his lips turned up ever so slightly, revealing a small dimple on his chiseled jaw. Amelia turned away, finished her coffee, found her yogurt in the fridge, then went back to her desk. She knew the next few weeks were going to have long days and short nights, but that was life working in homicide. You began work when the phone rang because a body had been found. The first hours after discovery were important and the crime scene had to be established immediately. It wasn’t the type of job where you could say, our office opens at eight, please call back then.
This was her life, and she’d made many sacrifices to get where she was now. Some people concluded she was all about the accolades and the recognition. Her ex-husband had certainly thought that. But they were wrong: it was about justice. It was about fighting for the dead. More than that, it was about giving closure to the families of the murdered so they had a chance to heal their lives. That was often impossible to do if the killer was never found.
It was Amelia’s job to find the killer.
It was her job to give closure to the families.
It was more than her family had ever gotten when her father had been murdered. His cold case file still sat in her drawer. She worked on it when she was off duty, but according to the system it was a cold case and no resources would be allocated to it. But if Amelia could find some new evidence, she could get it opened again and potentially have a team work on it.
She looked over the evidence for Sister Louisa’s murder and, although it was early in the investigation, they had few leads to go on. Her eyes darted to Nicole’s desk and she picked up her phone, dialing her extension.
“Hey,” Nicole answered.
“Will you come to my office for a few minutes, please?” Amelia asked.
Nicole looked to her, nodded, then hung up the phone.
Amelia massaged the back of her neck while she waited for Nicole. Nicole was her second in charge, but more than that, they’d become best friends. They’d connected immediately when Nicole had been transferred to her unit, and they worked well together. More than that, Amelia trusted her—with anything.
“What’s up?” Nicole asked as she took a seat opposite Amelia.
“I don’t like this case . . . or rather, the lack of leads . . . it feels like . . .” Her words trailed off. “I don’t know what it feels like but something doesn’t feel right. I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Well, a nun being interrogated and killed isn’t exactly a run-of-the-mill homicide,” Nicole said, her eyes watchful. “Are you sleeping?”
Amelia knew what Nicole was referring to. It was that time of the year . . . in a few months, it would be three years since her father’s death.
“No,” Amelia admitted, almost stubbornly. “How can I sleep when his murderer continues to walk free and I’ve failed for yet another year? And with every year that passes, statistically, it’s more unlikely new evidence will ever be found. Any DNA evidence is long gone, and it hadn’t been preserved the way it should’ve been anyway,” she said, sounding tired to her own ears.
It was one of the reasons Amelia was so zealous about crime scenes, because she knew the price of a contaminated crime scene—any leads from someone who might’ve witnessed something were long gone. But she persisted with the case whenever she could, and she would until the day she died.
“You haven’t failed. We both agree someone worked very hard to make sure his murder remained unsolved. You’re trying to find a needle in a haystack, Amelia,” Nicole said gently, her eyes soft. “It hurts to even say it, but it’s true. It’s not your failure, though. You have not let your father down, you have not failed him.”
Amelia nodded. She appreciated Nicole’s words, but they didn’t make her feel any better about herself. She did have a chance now to find some new evidence, but she didn’t tell Nicole that. She would protect Nicole, even if that meant she had to do this alone.
“You need to sleep and take care of yourself,” Nicole said sternly. “This is a tough job, and we need to be tougher.”
On that they agreed. “What do you think of him?” Amelia asked, nodding toward Will who was talking to Liana at his desk, his back turned away from them.
Nicole gave an odd smile. “I think he’s smart, he seems to work hard, and he has the cutest smile—but don’t you dare tell anyone I said that!” she said in a hushed voice.
Amelia grinned, shaking her head. “We’re going to need all the help we can get with this case. Let’s hope he is smart,” Amelia said, silently hoping he wasn’t too smart for her own good.
When Nicole left, Amelia opened her emails, scanning for the expedited handwriting report. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw an email that had been sent minutes ago. She held her breath as she clicked on it.
Amelia opened the attachment in their confidential portal. She scanned over it, a flicker of disappointment in her chest. A conclusive result wouldn’t have necessarily told them anything new either, but this felt like a dead end.
The handwriting analysis is inconclusive. The expert testifies the note was not written by the victim, Sister Louisa.
Amelia drew a deep breath. Who wrote the note?
And who is Will Taylor?
Her eyes landed on Will and she paused before picking up the phone. “Jess, can you run a report for me? Discreetly?” Amelia asked.
“How discreetly?” Jess responded.
“Very. FBI database. I want you to look for an agent named Will Taylor—if one exists.”
“Dang,” she said under her breath. “When do you need it?”
“Yesterday. Send it to me the minute you have it. And if an agent named Will Taylor does exist, I need photographs.”
“I’ll do my best. It might take some time, if I can find it at all,” she said. “What do you need this for?”
“Please don’t ask me that. Just let me know either way,” she said, hanging up the phone, her eyes on Will. He was quick to come to the conclusion it was an interrogation death, but admittedly she’d too immediately thought the same thing.
She needed to wait for Jess’s report, and until then she focused on what she could do herself. Starting with cursive, messy handwriting, she began a list of everything she needed to find out about Sister Louisa. She was deep in the list when her phone chimed, notifying her of a new message—one she’d been waiting for.
Her gaze swept over her team at work at their desks, checking to see if anyone was watching her.
When she was confident everyone was distracted, she opened the message.
Meet me tonight. Corpus Christi Bridge. 10 pm.
Her pulse raced a little faster.
“I won’t be a minute late,” she said under her breath, noting the slight shake in her voice.
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