COMPULSION

Compulsion: a sexy romantic suspense by C.I. Black

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COMPULSION
A Gravenhill Romantic Suspense

 

If no one gets close, no one will know she’s broken…

Haunted by nightmares after a terrible attack, detective Iselin Marr takes a transfer to quiet Gravenhill where no one knows her history. If she can just keep her head down, handle the simple small-town cases, and not allow any romantic complications, her psyche can heal.

Except her first day on the job threatens everything. Gravenhill’s only—and never apprehended—serial killer is murdering again, mutilating women in ways that make Iselin’s nightmares worse, and her new partner, detective Tyler Kelly, is sexier than sin. Their instant sizzling attraction threatens her resolve, but with the killer’s accelerating murder rate, she can’t let Tyler in. He’ll see how psychologically damaged she is and pull her from the case before she can prove to herself she’s stronger than her nightmares… if the killer doesn’t find her first.

 

1

Iselin woke with a start, heart pounding. She’d had the nightmare again. He was in her bedroom, standing above her holding his knife, a hint of light glinting from the blade.

She scanned the dark room, searching for him in reality and not just a dream. Nothing and no one. But God, it always felt so real. Bands of streetlights, reflecting off the snow outside, shot around the edges of her blackout blinds. Even in the gloom, there weren’t any unexpected shadows.

Something creaked.

Her heart pounded faster. Was it real? She couldn’t tell if she’d heard or imagined it.

Imagined. Definitely imagined… probably imagined?

It was just the nightmare. It wasn’t real. She hadn’t heard anything. Just like she hadn’t heard anything last night, or the night before that, or any of the nights before that for the last five years.

And yet she couldn’t help herself. She had to look. She wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep if she didn’t look.

Her service issue and off-duty Glocks lay in the gun safe a few feet away, and her phone was on the nightstand. She grabbed the phone, waking it up, and eased her feet over the edge of her bed, straining to hear proof that she hadn’t imagined the creak.

But she had imagined it. She always imagined it.

Yet even knowing this did nothing to ease the compulsion to make sure no one was in her apartment. It was ridiculous to go for her sidearm, but her nerves would spin out of control if she left it behind ready for him to take and use on her—even if it was locked in her safe.

She had hoped time would ease the compulsion. But her mind held onto that horrible night, the event that fueled everything, and played it over and over again in her sleep. It always came as flashes, as if her mind was unable to fully comprehend what had happened. A hint of his face, mostly hidden by shadow. Dark eyes filled with malice. A hand reaching for her neck. A knife’s edge reflecting moonlight.

Her heart pounded harder. She shoved the memory back and dashed the remaining four steps to her wardrobe and the safe. She was not going to think about him.

But what she wanted didn’t matter. Sleep made certain of that. She’d been a sophomore studying psychology when he’d entered her bedroom through a window open to the summer breeze. If her roommate and her date hadn’t heard something, Iselin would have died—like the other three girls he’d attacked.

She unlocked the safe, yanked out her sidearm, and slid in the magazine. In truth, he’d left more than the thick scars sliced across her wrists. He’d left a churning need that had changed the entire direction of her life. She’d wanted justice, she’d wanted to stop feeling helpless, and she never wanted another girl to feel like she did.

She took a breath to steady her nerves. He—she wasn’t going to give him the respect of acknowledging his name—had been arrested after murdering one more girl and was in prison for the rest of his life.

So why did she still have the nightmares? She’d been a trained police officer for four years now. She’d taken control of her life and was helping to protect others.

She took another breath. The psych major dropout part of her knew it had something to do with posttraumatic stress, and she was going to have to admit soon that the nightmare wasn’t going away. She needed help.

No. The dreams would go away. She could conquer them, just like she had the police academy. This was her fresh start.

Another breath. Still not steady, still twitching with the need to check her apartment.

She’d applied for the job in small-town Gravenhill because she didn’t know anyone here, she’d never lived here, and she certainly hadn’t dated anyone from here. With no boyfriend—she couldn’t keep one since sleepovers usually ended in her waking in a panic and then searching her house for an intruder who wasn’t there—it had been easy to make the move. Here she could focus fully on the job, focus on learning to be a detective in the slower-paced town, and focus on getting rid of the nightmares.

She gave up fighting the compulsion and did another quick check of her room.

Still empty.

She opened the door and scanned the hall.

No one. No sound.

The rest of her one-bedroom apartment was the same—dark and empty—and now the compulsion to ensure she was safe had eased. Like it always did after the search.

With a sigh, she set her sidearm and phone on the island in the kitchen, flipped on the light, and went to start a pot of coffee, but the tin was empty. It was close to four in the morning. She had less than an hour before she had to get up for work. Wonderful. She’d feel worse if she tried to get more sleep. It looked like her day had started.

Maybe she could get some extra time in at the gym before heading to the station. She could make a really good first impression, show her new captain she deserved this promotion and prove to her new partner she wasn’t going to slow him down.

Yes, and annoy him with her perky overachieving. Roaming the cold January streets looking for a twenty-four hour coffee shop might be a better use of her time, particularly if the nightmares were going to keep making an appearance.

Her phone chirped.

“Hello?”

“Detective Marr?” a gruff baritone asked.

“This is Detective Marr.” Boy, it felt strange to say that.

“Captain Chan. Your first day is starting a little early. Do you know where the Heritage Museum and Gallery is?”

“It’s, ah…” Her computer was on her coffee table. Off.

“Don’t bother looking it up. Do you know where Washington Street is?”

“Yes, sir.” Washington was the main street running through the heart of town.

“Take Washington east until it ends. The museum is at Washington and Memorial. You’ll see the cruisers. Make it fast.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, and welcome to Gravenhill.”

She changed into a navy pantsuit crisp enough to look professional but loose enough for easy movement, pulled her long hair into a ponytail, and shrugged into her winter coat and boots. Sidearm in holster, credentials hooked on the waistband of her slacks, she threw open her front door and almost stepped on a small brown envelope. Hunh.

Her name and apartment number were written on the front, and nothing else. No postage and no return address. Her building’s superintendent must have dropped it off. The elderly woman in charge of the building had said there were extra mailbox and parking garage keys for Iselin. Just in case she wanted to give them to someone special. She didn’t have the heart to tell the woman there wasn’t someone special and probably wouldn’t be for a long while.

Iselin stuffed the envelope in her coat pocket and headed to her car. Ten minutes later, she parked at the end of a row of police cruisers and emergency vehicles on Memorial Street. Red and blue lights strobed over the front of the Heritage Museum and Gallery and the snow piled along the front walkway.

A man in a tan coat with a shock of black hair glanced up from a group of uniform officers as she approached.

“Detective Marr?” He held out his hand. “I’m Captain Chan.”

She shook his hand. Her new captain was a middle-aged Chinese American with a lined and weathered face, but only a hint of gray dusting his temples. His expression was hard, but not cold. In that one look she knew this was a man who expected her to do her best, close cases, and find justice. If she did that, he’d support her. If she didn’t, she had a feeling he’d make her life very difficult. He wanted a straight shooter, and that’s what she was—give or take a few nightmares.

“Your partner, Detective Kelly, is inside. He’s—”

One of the officers called to Chan.

“He’s what, sir?”

Something in Chan’s expression changed, but the moment was so fast Iselin couldn’t tell what it meant. “This is a big case for our town.” The officer called again. “Listen to Detective Kelly.” He rushed away, leaving Iselin to find her new partner herself.

Before her, the front of the museum was a towering glass and steel construction. Its modern architecture seemed out of place for a heritage museum, although maybe not for an art gallery, and who was she to argue with the town’s development plans? Beyond the enormous front windows, a dozen people moved around a large wooden structure. On the wall behind it hung a huge tapestry and a sign inviting her to explore the history of weaving. At the edge of the chaos, two men stood by a gurney—the coroner’s men—likely waiting for a body to be released.

Which meant this was a potential murder. Her first day on the job, and it could be a murder investigation. Gee, no pressure.

She opened the front door, nodded at the coroner’s men, and turned to the chaos. A crime scene technician bent and set a plastic numbered marker on the floor, revealing the structure everyone had gathered around. It was an enormous antique loom, the kind used to make massive tapestries—like the one hanging behind it.

Splayed out on it lay a woman, a slash of red against the brown wood and cream strings. She wore a red silky party dress, the kind that plunged at the front, tied at the nape of the neck, and probably had no back. The full, long skirt had been flared around her body, as if to match the shape and size of the blood pool on the floor below her. Displayed like that, it exposed half of the woman’s right leg and most of her left.

Lacerations scored along each leg, bright red marks against her pale skin. They drew Iselin’s gaze up the woman’s body. Her arms, one tied above her head, the other bent so her hand rested over her heart, were also scored. So, too, were her chest and neck. There was something sickeningly artful about the whole thing, how the woman was displayed and the cuts on her body.

Iselin shuddered. Whoever had killed this woman wanted to send a message. That was clear.

There was also something familiar about the scene, something that niggled at the back of her mind that she couldn’t quite remember.

“God damn it,” someone growled, and movement at the edge of the crowd drew her attention.

A tall, broad-shouldered man shoved past a crime scene technician and stormed toward her. He was heart-stoppingly hot. There was no other way to say it. His leather jacket strained around his arms and broad chest, and his jeans clung to well-muscled thighs. His dark hair was mussed as if he’d just woken—or had had spectacular sex—and he had at least two day’s worth of scruff on his jaw, completing the biker bad-boy look.

“Fucking God damn it.”

She’d always had a weakness for the bad-boy look—not the attitude that went with it—but attitude aside, which this man surely had, he was the complete, delicious package.

“Who the hell let the press in?” he asked, his voice rumbling through her.

She glanced behind her. No one was there.

Oh, shit. He’d meant her. And now his dark gaze had leveled on her, pinning her in place, making her feel like she was the only one in the room. It stole her breath and zinged through her like an electrical shock. This man was completely intense, his focus intoxicating. Holy Mother! He hadn’t said two words to her, and she was captivated. Who the hell was he?

Wait. He had said more than two words. He’d said—

He grabbed her arm and jerked her around to the door. “I don’t know how you got across the police line, but you need to go back to the curb.”

She wrenched from his grip. “I’m not a reporter.”

“Yeah, right.” He placed a hand on his hip, revealing the butt of his Glock and his detective’s shield.

Shit shit shit.

“Are you Detective Kelly?” Please don’t let him be Kelly. Please don’t let him be Kelly. An instant attraction to her new partner had disaster written all over it. No one would take her seriously if they suspected she was hot for him—no matter how gorgeous he was.

His eyes narrowed. “Who wants to know?”

She swallowed, her attraction so strong her mouth had gone dry. “I’m—” she croaked. Heat rushed over her cheeks, and she cleared her throat. “I’m Iselin Marr.”

His expression didn’t change. No, it did. It got harder, drawing her attention to the sharp lines of his face and a silvery scar cutting through his right eyebrow.

“Didn’t Captain Chan tell you?” she asked.

“Chan tells me lots of things.”

“I’m your new partner.” And nothing more. Absolutely nothing more.

His gaze slid down her body, slowly, tantalizingly. It drew a traitorous burn from within her. Boy. First she’d woken from the nightmare thinking someone was in her bedroom. Now she wanted her new partner there.

“You’re not supposed to start until the twenty-first.”

“It is the twenty-first.”

He checked his watch. “Great. Well, we’re done here. I’ll meet you back at the station.”

“But—” She’d just gotten there and hadn’t even had a chance to examine the crime scene.

“I don’t have time to hold your hand on this one.” He jerked his chin to the front door, indicating she should leave.

“I didn’t ask you to, but you’re supposed to show me the ropes. That’s why I’m here.”

“I don’t—” He ran his hands through his hair, mussing it even more, and blew out a harsh breath. “Fine.” He stormed away, but his intensity remained, tingling across her skin, as if it were a physical essence. And she wanted more.

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