Ex-Navy SEAL Travis Ration is an expert hunter. Whether his prey is criminal or victim, he always gets his mark. He's no hero, just a man doing his job. It’s all he has after a felony conviction after a bad judgement call. When the FBI call in a favor and ask him to look into a serial killer over the holiday break, he jumps at the opportunity to fill the long, cold days with something besides regret and bad movies. In Las Vegas, he's on the hunt for a prolific serial killer no one wants to admit exists. The leads are dry and the evidence gone, until she walks into his life. Bliss Giles—curvy, sassy and everything he can't have.
What’s worse, Travis knows Bliss’ sister is the killer's latest victim. She fits the profile. Time is running out and the fastest way to retrace the killer's path is with Bliss at Travis' side. In the seat of danger. He vows to keep Bliss safe and his hands to himself, after all, a nice girl like her doesn't need a guy like him in her life. Too bad no one told Bliss Travis was off-limits. She tests his boundaries and pushes his control every minute they're together until he can't remember why wanting her is a bad idea.
The hunters become the hunted in this tale of serial killers and SEALs for hire. One broken man must unpack his baggage, a woman has make a leap of faith and a sister chooses to live in this new, romantic suspense serial by NYT & USA Today bestselling author, Sidney Bristol.
Warning: Hold onto your panties, because nothing is safe.
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An Excerpt From: DANGEROUS ATTRACTION
Copyright © SIDNEY BRISTOL, 2016
All Rights Reserved, Inked Press.
Travis Ration hunched over the hotel desk and flipped to the first page of the autopsy report. The lights from the Vegas strip cast globes of colored light onto the paper, but the glitz and glamour held no sway for him. Only the poor woman in the photo.
She was blonde. Like the rest. Pretty. A Vegas native named Linda. She’d been social, so her disappearance had been noted within hours by friends and family, but by then it was too late. Whoever was abducting blonde, attractive young women was good. And if the list of missing blonde women was a hint, the perpetrator had operated in the Las Vegas area for years—without anyone connecting the dots. Or maybe LVPD had and didn’t want to face it. They wouldn’t be the first to ignore a killer to preserve tourism. A killer who only took one victim a year was easy to hide.
There was a serial killer in Las Vegas, and no one wanted to admit it.
“Hey man, ready to go?” Mason Clark, a new hire to the Aegis Group security firm, stepped into Travis’ room, one hand braced on the door.
“No, man. Hit the strip without me.” Travis didn’t glance away from the report.
The autopsy read almost exactly like the last one. The cause of death, to a one, was blood loss, coupled with trauma to the head and abdomen.
It was the differences that mattered.
Judging by the time of death, the women lasted for anywhere from seven to twelve months before being murdered and dumped. Except Linda. She was an exception. She’d only been missing for two months. Why keep her so short a time? Had something gone wrong? The dead woman’s corpse might tell him more.
What was really telling, though, was that from the time of death to the next abduction was somewhere in the twenty-four hour mark, which meant these crimes were well thought out. The perpetrator organized and focused on the details.
“No? What are…No, you are not on that again.” Ethan Turner, Travis’ best friend, groaned and shouldered past Mason. “I thought you were going to take a break from this.”
“I said I was taking a break from work.” Travis picked up the hotel pen and jotted down the injuries and observations that were different from the previous victims. That was where he’d find the clues. The guy doing this was too methodical to deviate from his plan, so when and where he did things was important.
This was a different kind of skill set than his typical jobs with Aegis. If things were different, Travis might have retired from the SEALs and become a private investigator, if it hadn’t been for the felony conviction and dishonorable discharge. No one trusted a felon. He was just lucky the management at Aegis knew him. A couple of the guys he’d served with had vouched for him, gotten him a spot on the elite team the company threw at the worst of problems. It wasn’t a bad gig, all things considered.
“What are you doing?” Mason crossed the room and peered over Travis’ shoulder.
“He’s playing hound dog for the FBI.” Ethan popped the top on a longneck from their freshly stocked mini fridge.
“What is this?” Mason snagged the first page of the report with the autopsy pictures clipped to it and dropped it almost immediately onto the ground. “What the hell?”
Travis punched Mason in the thigh, not hard, but enough that the other man bent over and rubbed the spot.
“Don’t fuck with my stuff.” Travis grabbed the piece of paper and the photographs. He straightened the documents out, ensuring all of the pieces were securely in place before putting it back in the folder.
“What the hell is that? Why do you have pictures of a dead woman?” Mason’s eyes were wide, his lip curled. They’d all seen death. Everyone who worked for the Aegis Group had served overseas. They’d all killed. But they weren’t all good at it. Travis had reservations about Mason’s hire, but he wasn’t the boss.
“None of your damn business,” Travis replied.
“Is this a job or something?” Mason glanced between Travis and Ethan, who shook his head and took another swig of his beer. The Aegis Group was a private security company—on paper. In reality, they performed a wide range of services that often skirted the law from abduction retrieval to protection details, extraction services to product procurement.
“Don’t worry about it,” Travis said.
“The fuck we won’t.” Ethan gave Travis the thousand yard stare. Travis was pretty sure Ethan was about to try to deck him for the hell of it.
“I thought we were here for a protective detail,” Mason said.
“You are. I’m not.” Travis flipped the folder closed. FBI and CONFIDENTIAL were stamped across the front of the brown surface.
“What did you get us into this time?” Ethan took two steps toward Travis, and stopped, the beer clenched in his right hand.
“You aren’t involved,” Travis replied.
“The hell I’m not. What is this?” Ethan pointed at the folder.
“Just something I’m looking into.”
“Is this why you wouldn’t go home for Christmas?” Ethan’s gaze narrowed.
Travis studied Ethan—the bloodshot eyes, the clenched hand.
This wasn’t about Travis, or his side gig researching potential cases for the Behavioral Analysis Unit, a specialized FBI team that tracked down the worst kinds of killers, something he’d gotten involved with after a copycat murderer recreated the horrors from his family’s past.
“Molly refused to split Christmas with you, didn’t she?” Travis shifted his weight onto the balls of his feet, ready to move if Ethan rushed him. The worst fight they’d had happened the day Molly told Ethan she wanted a divorce. Some emotions could only be worked out with fists.
For a second, no one moved or spoke. Travis was not looking forward to the hotel bill for trashing the place.
Ethan blew out a breath and sat down on Travis’ bed as if a one-ton weight were on his back. The spring squeaked, and the pillows bounced under the man’s bulk.
“Yeah, she did,” Ethan mumbled.
Mason’s brows rose, but he didn’t comment. The kid had some brains.
Travis stood and stretched. No fight then, which was a good thing. He’d hate to have to break Ethan’s nose, and then take his place on the protective detail because Ethan was too scary looking as a result.
“When will you get to see Nate?” Travis crossed to the mini fridge and grabbed his own beer. The case weighed heavily on him, but he’d gone through SEAL training with Ethan. Travis had been the best man at Ethan and Molly’s wedding and the first one there to load out boxes of Ethan’s things when he moved out. They were brothers in every sense of the word save blood.
“Before he goes back to school. The second through the fourth. Three days. Three fucking days.” Ethan took another long pull on his bottle.
“Make the most of those days. Don’t dwell on what you don’t get.” Travis clinked his bottle to Ethan’s.
Travis knew what it was like to have an absent father. At least Ethan wanted to be in his son’s life. Travis was pretty certain his father hadn’t wanted to live, but he hadn’t wanted to die bad enough to do something about it. That was the kind of mark a serial killer left on a person, and it was the same darkness that passed down to Travis.
“What’s the deal with the FBI?” Mason picked up the folder from the desk and looked at the cover. “This is the real deal, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Leave it alone.” Travis watched Mason, though not because he didn’t trust the kid. Anyone who worked at Aegis underwent a thorough background check and multiple people had to vouch for a new hire. In the field, Travis would trust Mason with his life, but he didn’t know the guy.
The younger man seemed to consider his options for a moment, and then he did the smart thing and laid the folder on the desk.
“What’s the case this time?” Ethan asked.
“Some sick fuck is kidnapping young blonde women. He keeps them for months, maybe a year, then kills them.” He left out the horrific parts about the abuse and the pregnancies. Some things the others didn’t need to know.
What did he do with the babies?
“Why is this your problem?” Mason asked.
“Ever heard of TBK?” Ethan glanced at Travis.
If Mason hadn’t already known, he would find out. It was only a matter of time until someone told him.
“Wasn’t that on the news a while back? Last year?” Mason screwed up one eye and pressed his lips together. “I was getting out of the SEALs about that time. It’s all kind of a blur.”
“Nah, man, TBKiller and that dude are two different people. TBKiller was a copycat,” Ethan said.
“My old man’s family was murdered by a serial killer. Called himself TBK. Torture. Blind. Kill.” Travis peeled part of the label off his beer. Murdered was putting it lightly. They’d been tortured in the most sadistic fashion, then before their deaths, their eyes were removed.
TBK had terrorized Oklahoma City before Travis had been born, but he had shaped Travis’ life. TBK’s last victims were Travis’ grandparents, and his father had been forced to watch it all. His old man had never fully recovered. Travis and his half-sister Emma often bore the brunt of the dysfunction.
“Fuck. I didn’t know,” Mason said.
“It happened before you or I were born.” Travis shrugged. “Last year this guy goes apeshit. Starts copying the TBK murders and leaving these sick notes for my half-sister, Emma. They killed him trying to finish Emma off. Turns out this guy, who’d worked at the corner gas station she went to all the time, is part of this…serial killer club. The BAU is—”
“BAU? What?” Mason blinked.
“Behavioral Analysis Unit. They’re the FBI unit that specializes in serial killers. They’re trying to track down the club members, but no one wants to have a serial murderer on their hands.”
“And that’s where Travis likes to help out.” Ethan thumbed at Travis.
“How?” Mason asked.
Travis could see the skepticism in Mason’s eyes. The kid had been around Aegis long enough to hear rumors, stories about the Zed Team. He was probably wondering what a felon like Travis could do that the FBI couldn’t.
Well fuck him.
“I let their team know where I’m working. If they have any leads, I’ll look into it.” Travis sipped his beer and stared at the mirror.
“Why the fuck do you want to know?” He scowled at Mason, but couldn’t blame him. The whole gig was strange. “The FBI has to be invited into an investigation, unless it crosses state lines. Like I said, no one wants to have a serial killer on their hands.”
“So you, what? Find a reason for them to come here?” Mason asked. “Why you? You’re just a bodyguard.”
Travis gripped the edge of the dresser.
Just a bodyguard.
“What the fuck do you know?” Ethan flipped Mason off.
He was right. All Travis was good for these days was an under-the-table gig and to catch the bullets meant for someone else. But that was his own fault. Reputable people didn’t hire a felon, even an ex-Navy SEAL felon, no matter what his credentials were. How he wound up in prison didn’t matter, only that he’d done time. But some jobs were made for him. He’d tracked some of the worst kinds of people across deserts, oceans, and mountains. This serial killer wouldn’t know what hit him.
She was perfect. Better than the others. She would make him a good wife and give him the child he desired. Maybe this time it would live.
Daniel checked his rearview mirror, but the street was empty and dark this late at night. The quaint old shops lined what had once been a major retail area for Las Vegas, before the casinos and the strip lured business away.
He parked the Buick Electra along a curb and killed the engine.
Wendy sat perfectly still and serene in the passenger seat.
This girl was different. He almost clapped his hands in giddy excitement. She was older, had already borne one son, but that meant she was capable of giving him what he needed. Her energy was better, too. At this point he was normally still dealing with the sobbing and the fighting back.
Wendy would make the perfect bride. She wouldn’t betray him, she wouldn’t fight him. They would remake history together.
Linda hadn’t been good enough. She’d been selfish and unworthy, right to the end. His shoulder ached from where she’d stabbed him, so it was only fair she’d died by the same blade.
Wendy, on the other hand? He was looking forward to spending a year with this bride.
One year. One pregnancy. That was the rule. That was how he kept them from betraying him. He’d studied the greats, how they did it, what their methods were. Nothing good came from keeping her more than a year.
“What do you want?” Wendy’s voice was quiet, soothing. She would be a gentle creature, which meant he needed to be mindful about how he handled her.
“I want you to marry me. Give me a son.”
“I’m already married.” She turned her head, and he stared into her dark brown eyes.
He punched the dashboard. The old car was sturdy and took the abuse.
How dare she speak of the other man in her life! That one was gone. She was his, now.
“I’m sorry.” She recoiled, pressing her back against the car door.
“You marry me, or I kill your family. I think I’ll start with your sister.” He pulled a photograph of Wendy and a dark-haired woman out of his jacket pocket and laid it on the seat between them. His hidden cameras had snapped the candid shot of the two at the sister’s apartment just last week.
Wendy gasped and covered her mouth.
“Or maybe I kill little Paul first?” He tossed another picture down. This time it was of a rosy-cheeked baby grinning up at the camera in his crib.
“Oh my God. How did you get that?”
“I took it. There is nowhere your loved ones will be safe from me. I’m in their lives.” He laid down three more pictures. Her husband at work. Her parents in their kitchen. And lastly, a photograph of Wendy asleep in her own bed. “What’ll it be, Wendy? Do you want to marry me?”
Her tears glistened in the moonlight, so precious. Each wife had to be broken so that they could be molded to his will, becoming the woman they were destined to be. The radio began playing the holiday classic White Christmas. He hummed a few bars as he took in his bride. She’d make the right choice. They always did.
Wendy nodded and swiped at her cheeks.
“If I marry you, do you promise not to hurt them?”
He leaned across the car and bumped Wendy’s chin with his knuckle.
“I don’t care about them, Wendy. I care about you. What do you say? Want to be Mrs. White? I like that last name. I think it’ll remind us of this season.”
She nodded and squeezed her eyes shut.
“Just don’t hurt them,” she whispered.
“I’ve always wanted a Christmas wedding.” He shifted into drive, steering them back toward the strip and the drive-through wedding chapels, humming along to the radio.