Happy Friday and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Promised Lies by Marguerite Ashton! Today, I have an extract for you from this first instalment in the new Detective Blanchett series. But first, as always, here’s a little something about the book.
Author : Marguerite Ashton
Pages : 404
Publisher : Endeavour Press
Publication date : March 16, 2017
Her sister Celine has recently been murdered, her parents are on the brink of divorce, and Lily has married a man she barely knows while on the rebound.
Now she’s lead on a multiple murder investigation and determined to catch her man.
Her father, Detective Collin Blanchette, is very proud of his daughter and plans to help her anyway he can.
Six months after Lily’s sister’s death, the bodies of two young women are discovered. One look at the way the bodies have been posed, and Lily knows her sister’s killer is back.
And she’s determined to get him.
October 22, 7: 53 a.m.
Damn rain. Detective Lily Blanchette stepped out of the Charger, slamming the door behind her. Normally, she loved a rainy morning, but not when her first crime scene as lead investigator was in danger of flooding.
Lily ducked under the yellow marker tape and spotted her first responder, six foot one, conspicuously handsome Nick Levins. “Halloween’s not for another week,” she said. “What do we have here?”
“Two teenagers who walk this stretch of road to and from school found the bodies of two Caucasian females. I arrived first on the scene and Officer Martinez joined me soon after and helped secure the scene. I called the medical examiner and emergency personnel. They’re here and waiting for you.”
“Has anyone talked to the kids?”
“They’re being interviewed now.” Nick handed her a pair of disposable booties. “I think there’s something you should know.”
Lily waited, listening.
“There’s a similarity to the case from six months ago.”
Lily concentrated on placing the booties over her penny loafers. “Who has the logbook?”
“Let’s get this over with.”
Lily’s guts clenched as she approached the red 10 x10 tent encapsulated by trees in the abandoned field. It had been a quiet night until now. And if what Nick said was true, then everything about her family’s past would be stirred up again and back in the papers.
She took a deep breath and went inside, stepping carefully, avoiding the markers.
Technicians snapped pictures while others placed stepping plates around the scene.
Lily continued examining the grassy section near the bodies. As she moved in for a closer look, a tech pulled back the tarp, revealing two tortured and lifeless bodies posed in a grotesque fashion with their hands positioned above their heads, pressed together as if in prayer. She paused. It was like looking at a similar image of her dead sister, Celine.
The victims’ hair was matted with mud and rain, while loose strands rested at the corners of their mouths. Small rivulets of blood had wept from underneath, staining the pink and white cloths that barely covered their breasts and genitals.
She viewed the womens’ well-manicured hands encased in paper bags, taped at the wrists. A worn down gold wedding band had been placed on their left ring fingers, just like Celine.
“Oh, my God. He’s back,” Lily whispered. “Who’s the M.E. on site?”
“Hauser,” Nick replied.
“Of all the cases in Fort Atkinson, they give you this one,” Frank Hauser said walking up to her. Tiny drops of water dripped from the tips of his reddish-brown hair.
“Well with Dad’s heavy case load and his partner on leave, Owen didn’t have a choice. I can handle it.”
“Are you sure?”
“What do you think the killer was going for, posing them in this manner?”
“Shock value maybe.”
“It’s bizarre. Do you have a time of death?”
“I’m going to say TOD was, approximately, eight hours ago. The chilling effects of the rain may have contributed to their condition. The bodies are cool to the touch. Rigor and lividity have set in also. I won’t know exactly until I get them back to the morgue.” Hauser kneeled down next to the victims.
“Cause of death?”
“Both victims have contusions on their necks. There are stab wounds above, on, and underneath the breasts.” He turned over their hands. “They also have cuts on their hands and arms.”
“They look like defensive wounds and there’s not much blood. I’m betting that they were moved.”
“I’m wondering if the perp wiped down the bodies.”
“Or the rain rinsed them clean.”
“Either way, something was left behind. A bloody print was found on the face of a watch that one of the girls was wearing. As for the exact cause of death, I don’t want to guess at this point.
“We also found boot prints located above their heads. We’ve made casts of them.”
Lily noticed an evidence marker between their legs. “Were the victims raped?”
Hauser nodded. “I’m thinking it was done postmortem. My guess is that he stabbed them at the scene of the crime, brought them here, and raped them.”
“Where are their clothes?” Lily took notes.
“They didn’t have any. Only the cloths.”
“Which means no identification.”
The medical examiner reached for the arm of one of the victims. “This is the watch that has the fingerprint on it. No clothes, no personal effects of any kind. Only the watch and the cloths were left behind.”
“I want to know why after killing his victims, he felt the need to do what he did. I want to know the reason for him covering up his victims with dainty cloths. What is he feeling? Is he developing a conscience after the fact?”
“Most likely.” Hauser covered the bodies with the tarp again. “Hopefully, I’ll have all of your questions answered after my autopsy.”
“Is it safe to assume that this case is similar to the one from before?” Lily pressed.
He shook his head.
“Come on, Hauser. Don’t clam up on me now. I need an answer.”
“Between you and me, yes. But don’t quote me. With the election coming up, I don’t want to be caught in the middle.”
“Thanks.” Lily removed a flashlight from her breast pocket, motioned for the crime scene tech, and began a grid search of the area.
These murders had to be calculated. But what was the killer’s purpose? What set him off to resume killing?
“Welcome back, partner,” Morgan said. “Have you heard the latest rumor going on back at the station?”
“The one about my mother?”
“No. The one about you being the first chick of color leading an investigation team here in this stale city.”
“So Mom’s black. That’s a color. Dad’s white. Also a color. How’s that relevant to me solving the case?”
“It’s not. You’ve got this. So, did you enjoy your honeymoon?”
“Let’s just say, I wished I’d stay home.” Lily glanced up at her best friend, Morgan Danvers, and shook her head. Morgan did it again. It was the third time in two weeks her partner had slid her tall frame into a pair of loud colored dress pants and matching boots with a thick heel. “When are you going to learn to dress down for this job?”
“Never. So no more lectures about my wardrobe.” Even with the booties on, Morgan’s heels sank in the wet earth.
“Is Evan here?” Lily asked.
“He’s over talking to Sarge. Evan got here before I did.”
“Good. I could use the help.”
Hauser signaled his crew to prepare for departure. Team members gathered their equipment and loaded it into the vehicles. As Lily and the others completed their search, the bodies of the two women were placed in separate plastic-coated body bags and sealed with a tamperproof seal.
“Can I ask a favor,” Lily asked, catching up to Hauser.
“Is there any way this can get your immediate attention?”
“That’s an extra four to six hours that I don’t have the staff for. Besides, I’m two behind.”
“That’s why it’s called a favor.”
“One a year, Lily. You’ve used up your favor for the year,” he said, walking away.
“You’re the best,” she called after him.
Nick walked up to Lily and handed her a clipboard sealed in plastic. “Here you go.”
“Is this my entry log?”
Nick tipped his hat and retreated.
At that moment, Lily wanted to do the same thing. Run away. Run to the darkest corner of her two-story home and scream until the laws of nature doubled back six months and returned her sister to her.
Lily had hoped her dad would be the one to mentor her on her first lead case. Where was he? She’d called twice on her way to the scene, but didn’t get an answer. Now she’d have to plunge into this and solve it alone.
Twenty minutes later, a small cluster of reporters had formed a line behind the perimeter located off County Road K while a row of squad cars blocked traffic going in both directions and officers worked to reroute motorists.
If Lily made one mistake involving this investigation, the press would be sure to make it one of their headlines.
She scanned the crowd, hoping he hadn’t shown up. No luck. There, off to the left, was her husband, Julius Willer. He stood six foot four, dwarfing his female colleague, a dark haired reporter in a pinstriped shirt and skirt.
Lily watched for a few seconds as the two stood close underneath an umbrella. At one point the female reporter squeezed the bottom of her husband’s bearded chin and threw her head back in laughter.
A chill bolted through Lily’s body. How could he? This wasn’t the first time that tart had openly flirted with him. Nor was it the first time he’d let her do it. She considered the fact that her husband had always been known as a flirt, but the question she didn’t ask before she eloped with him was “did she trust him?”
Even as her thoughts surfaced about the honeymoon, the answer to that question was uncertain.
“I still say that getting married to that guy was a mistake,” Morgan said, walking toward Lily.
Sergeant Kevin Owen adjusted his cap and marched in their direction. “No one talks to the press,” he ordered, looking at Lily. “I mean, no one.”
“Yes, Sir,” Lily replied.
“The last thing we need is for this to be twisted so they can have a juicy story. Detective, I have complete faith in your ability to lead this case.”
Lily’s hands tingled. Although she believed that she could do it, tiny pieces of uncertainty filled the pit of her stomach. “Thank you, Sir.”
Owen pivoted on his heel and walked away.
“Great. He’s going to be cranky during the entire investigation,” Morgan mumbled.
“What makes you say that?”
“Anytime there’s a case of this magnitude, he goes into ‘Marine mode.’ It’s like he’s having a flash from the war or something.”
“As usual, you’re exaggerating.”
The uncomfortable feeling in Lily’s stomach slowly dissipated, though the reality of this case lingered. This is chaos. She closed her brown eyes and adjusted the black butterfly clip – her favorite – on her head, making sure her bun was still intact. She opened her eyes and sighed.
“Are you all right?” a deep voice asked, strolling into her view.
Lowering her head, she tried not to fall under the magnetic blue-eyed spell of her ex-boyfriend and colleague, Evan York. While they were together she had found it hard to resist his hypnotic voice and brawny physique. With an effort, she ignored him and directed her attention back on her crime scene. “I’ll be fine.”
“Your new husband, is he going to get all his facts straight now that he’s married to a cop?” Evan asked, staring in Julius’s direction.
Lily’s mouth opened and then closed. Three years they’d been together before it all fell apart and she knew Evan well enough to know that discussing anything relating to each other’s personal business was better left unsaid. “See you back at the station.”
When Lily walked into the station with a green file folder in one arm and a two-way radio in hand, a small wave of silence swept the office.
Lily felt like she had walked in on a secret discussion. If she hedged a bet, she was sure that her name had dribbled from the lips of her fellow officers.
Ignoring them, she continued toward the cubicle she shared with Morgan and tossed the green file folder on her desk. A deep seated compulsion to confront them boiled inside her. As much as she wanted to believe the conversation was about the latest case to hit Fort, her heart feared otherwise.
Had they heard about the latest rumor regarding her mother’s accidental photo bomb on social media? Of course they had. The marital woes of her parents had become a hot topic amongst other officers since the death of her sister. Did they think her raw emotions would jeopardize her first chance as lead on a case that was sure to make headlines on just about every paper outside of Jefferson County? Maybe they expected her to handle it in the same manner her father did, by ignoring the gossip. Well, she planned on it. Because that was what Collin had instilled in her. Hold your head high and focus on the job you came to do.
Directly behind her, she heard Evan finishing up a call. She went to his cubicle, entering as he hung up the phone.
He smiled coyly, holding out a sheet of paper. “We’ve got a match on that bloody print.”
“That was quick.”
“It belongs to thirty-year-old Xavier Martinez. He’s one of ours.”
“Martinez? Wait a minute.” Lily ran and grabbed the green file folder from her desk. She opened it, flipping to the entry log. “I thought so. Martinez was one of the responding officers.”
“How long was he there?”
“Thirty minutes.” Lily closed the file. “I want him brought in. Can you find Martinez while I head over to the M.E.’s office?”
“You got it.”
When she returned to her desk, Sarge was waiting for her.
Sarge poked his hands into his pockets. “I meant what I said about having faith in you to head this damn case, but we both know it’s a bad idea. Working a case that might be linked to Celine’s death, coupled with rumors regarding your family, will take a toll on you.”
There it was, straight from Sarge’s mouth. The rumors. The one thing that bounced around a police station like dead ball serves were rumors. “Does this mean every decision I make will be questioned?”
“It means you’ll be closely monitored.”
“I don’t want to be labeled as fragile, nor do I want someone watching over my shoulder.”
“Doesn’t matter what you want. Your first case as lead investigator will come under scrutiny. Don’t think of it as watching over your shoulder. Consider it ‘observing.’” Owen backed out of the cubicle and walked down the hall.
Collin’s key clicked in the deadbolt; he pushed open the door and stepped inside his home. But it didn’t feel like his home anymore. It was the third time this year he’d gotten information from Kevin about his wife’s “meetings” with the departmental shrink, former high school sweetheart—followed up by the latest surprise a few days ago.
Unfortunately, Collin’s fears had been stirred up longer than he cared to admit. So much information had been confirmed that he’s was no longer going to coddle his wife. He’d remained quiet in order to protect what was left of his family: Lily.
Deena had embarrassed him enough that it was starting to carry over onto his daughter. And this last bit of news was the final straw.
His wife walked out of the kitchen and into the living room holding a coffee cup that he was sure contained a beverage with one of those fancy names that was hard to spell. He was so angry that he could no longer see her as the beautiful woman who got up at the crack of dawn to put on her face, do her hair, and make sure she was ready to sit with the family for breakfast promptly at seven. No; he only saw a selfish woman who, even with her matching clothes and shoes, couldn’t cover the weighted guilt that was starting to show on her face. “You didn’t come home last night. Is everything okay?”
“You know it’s not. This time we’re going to have it out.”
“I think we can have a civil discussion and not let things get out of control.” Her face broke into one of her polite smiles.
“You had to go with him to McGinley’s, the place where you knew you’d likely be seen by one or many of the people I work with. You begged me to stay the last time I was going to leave, but what good has that done? You’re still seeing your ex behind my back.”
Deena set her cup down on the table and walked toward him.
He took a step back. “Stay away from me.”
“You know everything there is to know. Why would I go to the place where you and the others hang out if I was hiding something? That’s not being secretive, Dear. That’s being honest.”
“I think I’ve had enough of your honesty to last me until I die. I can’t be the only one willing to make this work. Thirty-four years is all I can take. I’m going to handle some things I should’ve taken care of a long time ago and consider retirement. I’ll stay elsewhere and give you your space.
“While I’m doing that, I’m going to make sure I can be there for our daughter while she leads a new case.
“In the meantime, I want you to start looking for a new place to stay.”
“That’s insane. I’ve spent my time and money decorating this house to make it comfortable for us to live in. I’m not leaving my home.”
“Don’t you remember? The house is in a family trust created by my father. So it will remain in the family and it goes to Lily.”
“But Lily’s not your child.”
“She’s mine. I raised her,” Collin shouted. “You did one thing right when you put me down as the father on her birth certificate, and you’d be stupid to challenge that. If you do, I’ll show everything my private investigator has learned about your affair to my lawyer and I’ll take you to court.” That was a promise he planned to keep. He spun on his heels and stalked off toward his study.
For the first time in years, his shoulders felt lighter. No more secrets. No more snickering behind his back. No more Deena.
Promised Lies is available to buy now!
Marguerite Ashton is the founder of the blog Criminal Lines and Co-founder of the Crime Writers’ Panel. There, she works alongside Joe Giacalone with other panel members to educate writers on the importance of showing accurate portrayals of criminal investigations and law enforcement procedures in their novels.
Her radio show, Criminal Lines Radio airs bi-monthly, bringing together law enforcement and authors in an open forum.
A member of Sisters in Crime, Marguerite grew up in Colorado, but now resides in Wisconsin, where she is currently working on her next book.