Inca pulled her coat around her tighter as she ran from the truck to the inviting warmth of the coffee shop. The squall, which had blown in from the Sound overnight, brought with it searing cold winds and fine rain which invaded clothing relentlessly. The door blew open just as Inca reached it and she dived in, grateful that it pulsed with heat—someone had turned up the heating way too high—thank God, she thought—and smiled at Nancy behind the counter.
“Hey kiddo.” Her adoptive mother offered her a towel to dry her hair. “How goes things?”
It had been two days since the attack in the city parking lot, and although Inca had been thoroughly interrogated by Scarlett, she’d also sworn her to secrecy.
“I just want to forget it. And the fewer people who know, the better. I don’t want Tyler and Nancy to worry.”
Scarlett hadn’t been happy, but something in Inca’s face had made her agree.
Now Inca smiled at her mom. “Good, thanks.”
Nancy watched her hang her coat up. “Really?”
Inca didn’t answer her for a moment and, when she turned back to Nancy, her voice was strained. “I’m fine, Nancy.”
But she knew she couldn’t keep the truth from Nancy for long—especially after last night, when, tormented by nightmares, Inca had suffered a full-blown panic attack and called her adoptive mother at three a.m., sobbing and incoherent.
Inca waited until the teahouse was empty, then asked Nancy to sit down with her. In a halting voice, she told her what had happened.
Inca had spent her day off in Seattle, happily avoiding the rain by ducking in and out of bookshops and coffee shops. Busman’s holiday, she grinned to herself, trying not to compare this coffee house with her own small teahouse in the small town just outside Seattle. Overlooking the Bay, the little Japanese-influenced gathering place had been Inca’s dream when she was studying business at college. With the help of Nancy and Tyler, she’d opened it five years previously, not knowing what the people of small-town America would think; the Sakura teahouse was about as far from Starbucks as they could imagine but they loved it.
Even the grizzled old mountain men came to drink her specialist brews and chat with their friends. Inca lived in the small apartment above the teahouse but whenever she had a day off, she would escape, either to hike along mountain trails or into the city to find new reading material.
Two days ago had been the latter. She’d finished the pile of books on her nightstand and, although there was still a couple of other piles of unread books in her living room, she told herself there was always a good reason to buy more. Books were her drug of choice. Hours of browsing and reading relaxed her into an almost soporific state and she simply did not consider the fact that, by the time she left the bookstore and headed back to the parking garage, it was already dark outside.
She didn’t hear him behind her until the last second and then, as her assailant grabbed her, she went into survival mode. Adrenaline flooded her system and she fought back as he attempted to wrestle her to the ground. Inca Sardee was no pushover, despite her diminutive height of five foot two inches. She’d studied self-defense martial arts and she used her body to unbalance her attacker, elbowing him rapidly and firmly in the solar plexus, then turning and ramming her thumbs into his eyes. The attacker, a young guy with dirty blond hair and a pock-marked face, yelped and staggered away, cussing her out. Inca quickly got into her car and banged down the locks.
She drove out of the parking garage and it wasn’t until much later, at home, that she began to feel the post-traumatic effects. She practiced deep breathing to calm down. She tried to stop her body trembling. She thought it had worked until the moment, almost an entire day later, she awoke screaming at 3 a.m. and crawled downstairs to call Nancy.
Nancy had her hand on her chest, her face pale. “Oh, good grief, Inca … why didn’t you tell me?”
Inca looked guilty. “I didn’t want you to worry. I’m fine. Not even a scratch.”
Nancy looked disapproving. “Have you told Olly?”
Olly Rosenbaum was the town’s police chief and Inca’s (very amicable) ex-boyfriend. Inca shrugged. Although she and Olly were still close friends, she still felt the pain of the break-up initiated by Olly a few months ago.
“It’s not that I don’t love you,” he’d said gently, “it’s just … I think we both need more than just being good friends. But you are my best friend, Inca; you always will be.”
And he’d kept true to his word; he still came by the teahouse every day and they hung out all the time. Inca hated to admit it, but, in fact, once the constraint of a “relationship’ had been removed from them, they seemed closer than ever.
She shook her head now. “Olly has enough to do, and it was no big deal. I told Knox yesterday, and he agreed with me.”
Knox Westerwick was the town’s deputy chief of police and local lothario. Inca thought he was funny, but she also knew to keep well away from his type. Knox never gave up though, and Inca had warmed to him lately. Underneath all the bullshit, he was a decent guy—not that she’d ever let him near her heart—or her bed.
“You told Knox that?” Nancy’s voice was hard, and Inca looked at her curiously.
“What’s up, Nance? You and Knox have a fight?”
“Not exactly. I just gave him the Mom Speech.”
Inca giggled, feeling her mood lift. “The ‘Mom’ Speech?”
Nancy swatted her with a towel. “Less of your sass, Inca. Seriously though, kiddo, I got your back. It’s what happens when your kid calls you at three in the morning in tears.”
Inca’s smile faded. “Sorry about that. I guess I just panicked.”
Nancy frowned and opened her mouth to speak but just then the door opened and a wave of customers came in. For the next couple of hours, they barely had a chance to exchange words and it was only when Scarlett greeted them noisily that Inca looked up from her work.
“Yo, yo, yo, you old crumblies. Still alive? Good.”
Nancy rolled her eyes and Inca laughed. Scarlett Moyer might be nineteen years old and a
brutally confident young woman, but they still loved her. She was bright, funny, and didn’t stand for any nonsense, but she had a big heart. Dressed, as always, in her short skirt with Doc Martins and a T-shirt that read Smile Muthaf*cka, she snapped her gum and gave them both a cheesy grin. Inca studied her apparel.
“That T-shirt needs a comma,” she said thoughtfully and Scarlett laughed.
“Only you, Inkyminx, would be more offended by a grammatical error than by foul language.” She grabbed a Sharpie from the counter and added the missing comma after Smile. “Happy?’
“Definitely. Now, get to work, slave.” Inca grinned at her young friend. There might have been nine years between them, but they’d clicked the minute Scarlett had walked into the teahouse two years ago. Scarlett, an undergraduate at the University of Washington, was wise beyond her years, and Inca trusted her implicitly.
Now Scarlett slipped her apron around her tiny waist. “I have gossip,” she said, as she began to stack cups in the sink. “Someone, or rather, someones, have bought the old Fletcher mansion.”
Inca’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? After all this time?”
“Yup. And you’re never going to believe who.”
Nancy rolled her eyes impatiently. “Just spill it, Scarlett.”
Scarlett grinned. “If I said the name Winter to you, who would you think?”
Both Inca and Nancy looked blank and Scarlett gave a hiss of frustration. “God, Grandmas …”
She grabbed Inca’s iPad from the counter and quickly pulled up a photograph and newspaper article. “Tommaso and Raffaelo Winter. Look at them.”
Inca glanced quickly at the photograph. She saw two young men with identical, dark curly hair and intense green eyes. “I have no idea who they are,” she said, turning back to her work. Nancy took the iPad from Scarlett and read the article aloud.
“The Winter Twins, heirs to the Winter Property fortune, are billionaires in their own right. The brothers, thirty-five, decided to relocate from their native Italy to Washington State to pursue their respective careers. Tommaso Winter is working with the US government to promote clean energy in the Pacific Northwest, whereas Raffaelo Winter is the owner of the international club franchise, Zensual, that will be opening a new club in Seattle at the end of the month. Widely considered the two most eligible men on the planet, the Winters will have the pick of the Seattle social elite to choose from when they arrive in the State. The twins are still reeling from the death of their Italian mother, Silvana, who lost her battle with cancer earlier this month. Silvana Winter was divorced from the boy’s father, Edgar Winter.”
Inca had stopped listening, but she caught Nancy’s tone and grinned at her. “You hate them already.”
Nancy shrugged. “Poor little rich boys. Strange that two thirty-five-year-olds still live together.”
“Twins,” Scarlett shrugged, by way of explanation. “They are gorgeous though. Look, Inca, look at those eyes, those bodies … God.”
Inca grinned. “Drooling at work is most unseemly, Scarlett.”
“But look …” She shoved the iPad back at Inca who, sighing, took it. Scarlett wasn’t wrong. Tommaso and Raffaelo Winter were heartbreakingly handsome; they had that brooding, sexy thing going on. Inca studied them, trying to pick out the differences. Raffaelo’s eyes were wary, his curls slightly longer and wilder, but that was it. They looked like movie stars. Inca handed the iPad back.
“You know what they look like? Trouble.”
Scarlett grinned. “Yeah … fantastic.”
Inca opened her apartment door, rolling her eyes and giving him a disapproving look. “It’s eleven p.m.”
“Come on in.” Inca stood back to let him pass and squinted at him. “Nancy told you, right?”
“Question is,” Olly said, “why didn’t you?”
She fixed him some tea, and Olly thanked her as she passed him the cup. Inca sank into the sofa, pulling her legs up under herm and studied her friend with a critical eye. Olly, at thirty-three, was five years her senior. His light brown hair was cut short, his hazel eyes crinkled at the edges. Clean-cut, all-American, Olly Rosenbaum was the epitome of trustworthy and noble.
“You’re not my bodyguard, Olly.” She softened her words with a smile. “It was really nothing. I handled it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Olly raised his eyebrows at her. Inca rolled her eyes.
“Because you have enough to do, and what could you have done anyway? Nothing. It was over in less than two minutes and I’m fine. Like I said, you’re not my bodyguard.”
Olly sipped his tea. “Are you pissed with me or something?”
“No, sweetie, just tired. How’re things with you?”
Olly nodded. “Good. Good. Listen, Inks, um …”
Inca suppressed a smile. “What’s her name?”
Olly laughed, his expression sheepish. “Molly. She’s a criminologist, working out of the city.”
Inca felt a pang in her chest but smiled at him. “Nice. How long have you been seeing her?”
“A week or two. Look, I wanted to tell you because I’m thinking of taking her to Levi and Jim’s and I didn’t want to just tip up there and—”
“I get it,” Inca interrupted. “Look, Olly, we’re adults and friends. It’s okay, really. I look forward to meeting her. We both need to move on.”
Later, after Olly left, Inca went into the bathroom to shower and get ready for bed. She stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around her long dark hair and grabbed her moisturizer. Gazing in the mirror, she looked at herself critically. She had café-au-lait skin courtesy of her Indian birth mother and almond-shaped green eyes from her Japanese-American father. She knew people considered her beautiful, but Inca could never see what the fuss was about. She had to be honest; the attention she got wasn’t always welcome. Catcalls, lascivious and repellent remarks, even grabbing hands, had all been part of her life since she was a teenager. Her curvy body drew men to her constantly. It was the reason why she had taken self-defense classes.
Inca couldn’t remember when her dislike of the attention had started. Nancy and Tyler had adopted her from a very young age and she couldn’t remember her life before that. She’d asked Nancy once, and Nancy, her face pale, had merely told her. “Be thankful you can’t remember.”
Inca had been satisfied with that for a while. But lately, she had been having vicious nightmares about violence and a woman screaming. She had woken up shivering and gasping for air.
Even with Olly, it had taken her a few weeks of dating before she trusted him enough to sleep with him. Inca laughed softly to herself now, wondering how many other twenty-eight year olds could boast of only ever having one lover. She clicked off the bathroom light and got into bed, thinking about what Olly had told her. Inca wondered if she herself would ever find anyone else and realized that if she didn’t, it wouldn’t bother her. She was happy enough alone.
Olly Rosenbaum made his way to the small town’s police department. His nightshift was just starting and he flicked through a couple of messages, before settling down to some paperwork. It was a half-hour before one of his deputies, Fred, stuck his head in the door.
“Boss? We just got a call. A body’s been found, down near the reservoir. Looks like a homicide.”
Everyone was talking in hushed tones as Inca arrived at work the next morning, clumping down the stairs, still half-asleep. She definitely wasn’t a morning person.
“Hey y’all,” she said sleepily to Scarlett and Tish, the other teenager she employed. Tish had bright red hair and wore full make-up even at this time of morning. They grunted in greeting, then went back to their conversation. Inca switched the coffee machine on and went to open the front door. “You two thinking of doing any work today?” she said pointedly.
Scarlett, her usual grin missing, turned to her. “Have you heard?”
“There was a body found up near the reservoir last night. A young woman. She was stabbed to death.”
Inca felt sick. “God, that’s horrific. How did you hear?”
“On the news; national as well as local. Really brutal, too.”
As if on cue, Olly pushed into the teahouse, followed by a small, dark woman. He greeted them and introduced her. “This is Molly Welsh; she’s been collecting evidence at the scene.” He gave Inca a meaningful look and she realized this was his new girlfriend, Molly.
She smiled at the newcomer, noticing how different she and Molly were. Molly was even tinier than Inca, and effortlessly chic, almost French in her way of dress. She had short cropped dark hair, huge brown eyes, and a cute face. She smiled back at Inca with genuine friendliness.
Inca got them both coffee and sat down with them. Olly shook his head. “It’s bad, Inks. Poor kid was only young, late teens, early twenties. Stabbed repeatedly in the stomach, almost gutted.”
Inca grimaced. “Who would do that? I can’t remember the last time we had a murder around here.”
“1976,” Olly said. “Before either of us was born. That’s how rare it is.”
Inca smiled at Molly and changed the subject. “So, I hear you’re going to be wined and dined at Levi and Jim’s?”
Molly nodded. “I’ve heard great things.”
“You heard right. Levi is a genius chef and what Jim doesn’t know about wine isn’t worth knowing.”
“They’re a couple, right?”
“Right. Although don’t be surprised when you see them; you would never know they were a couple unless you knew them. Always busting each other’s balls like they’re brothers rather than lovers.”
“That’s what best friends are for,” Olly said, winking at Inca. Inca rolled her eyes and got up.
“I’ll leave you two alone. Gotta get back to it. It was really good to meet you, Molly.”
It was only later, when Inca skipped out to go to the Farmer’s Market, that a sense of loneliness crept over her. She might be having trouble getting over the breakup of the relationship, but she knew Olly had been right to end it. Still, she wondered if her heart would ever ‘unfreeze’; the idea of that shocked her. Had she even given her all to Olly? Was that the reason why he had ended it? She couldn’t tell.
Loading her groceries into her car, she was startled by the squeal of tires as a Porsche screeched into the parking spot beside her. The driver got out; he was tall, with wild dark curls, and when he turned towards her, she could see his intense green eyes. He stopped when he saw her and Inca flushed at his scrutiny. His eyes seemed to bore right into hers, searching, questioning.
Inca got flustered and one of her bags slipped out of her hands, spilling fruit across the parking lot. She scrambled to retrieve it and she sensed him walking towards her. He crouched down and helped her, without saying a word. As he handed her an orange, his fingers brushed hers and she felt a jolt of electricity. She looked up to see him staring at her. A furious pulse began to beat between her legs and she couldn’t look away. He was unsmiling, but his face wasn’t unfriendly, just entirely focused on her.
Inca managed to find her voice. “Thank you.”
They both stood at the same time. He dwarfed her petite frame and Inca suddenly felt both utterly vulnerable and supremely turned on. He gave a curt nod then, in a motion so quick she hardly registered it, brushed the back of his finger down her cheek. It left her skin burning, but he turned away and stalked off, leaving Inca open-mouthed behind him.
She got into the car and sat, blinking. “What the hell was that?” She glanced at her burning face in the mirror, half expecting there to be a scorch mark where he had touched her. There wasn’t, of course, but her entire face was bright red. She sucked in a deep breath. Jesus.
On her drive back to the teahouse, she suddenly remembered where she had seen him. He was one of the Winter twins. She suddenly wished she’d paid more attention to the article Scarlett had pointed out. So, they must have completed on the Fletcher mansion and moved in … there hadn’t been as much fanfare as she would have expected, given Scarlett’s excitement. But maybe they were just a private family.
She got her answer when she returned to the Sakura. Gasping from the cold air that whipped around her, she stumbled into the backroom of the teahouse and dumped the bags of groceries on the floor. Tugging her coat off, she could hear Scarlett’s infectious laugh, Nancy’s soft chuckle, and another voice, masculine, deeper, accented. Inca felt a thrill go through her as she walked into the teahouse’s main room and saw him there. Dark curls, now brushed into a neat style, intense green eyes but now he wore a friendly smile. He looked up as Inca came into the room and his smile widened. She felt her face burn.
“Hello again,” she said, but his eyebrows shot up.
God, that voice. Deep, mellifluous, sexy as all hell. Inca blinked. “We just met? At the Farmer’s Market?”
He smiled. “I very much wish we had, but I think that may have been my brother.”
Now that she saw him, yeah, he was wearing entirely different clothes and, instead of being combed neatly, she realized this man’s hair was shorter. Apart from that, there was absolutely no telling them apart. She smiled.
“I’m sorry, my mistake.”
He stuck his hand out. “Tommaso Winter.”
His green eyes sparkled. “Unusual name.”
She grinned. “Indian. My birth mother was Indian.” She had no idea why she was telling him that and gave an embarrassed cough. Scarlett and Nancy were watching the interaction, Scarlett grinning openly. Inca surreptitiously kicked her friend. “Well, I hope my mom and this reprobate were making you feel at home. I understand you’ve bought the Fletcher mansion?”
Now she sounded like she was interviewing him.
God, woman, are you really going to fall apart at the sight of a handsome face?
But ‘handsome’ didn’t really cover it with the Winter twins, she decided. They were glorious. Tommaso Winter smiled at her, and she noticed how his eyes crinkled at the corners, his cheeks lifted, his beautifully-shaped mouth curved.
God, what is wrong with you?
First his brother and now him. Inca was sure her face was burning.
“We have. My brother and I decided we needed to be in the States for the time being.”
“I would have thought high flyers like the Winters would be more New York-based.” This was Nancy, who was peering over her glasses at Tommaso. Inca groaned internally. Was Nancy about to go into one of her rants about the uber-rich?
Tommaso grinned at her. “Neither Raff nor myself are New York people. And besides, Seattle is at the forefront of business— Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Boing? It made sense.”
Nancy seemed satisfied with this. She gave Inca a slight nod—this one’s okay. Inca suppressed a smile. “Mr. Winter—”
“Tommaso.” The name felt like a caress in her mouth. “Have you had time to get to know the town?”
He shook his head. “I was hoping to find a guide.” His eyes twinkled at her and Inca felt her stomach flutter.
Scarlett nudged her.
“Inca’s an excellent tour guide,” she said brightly. “And she’s a total geek. She’ll tell you all about the lovely-but-dull-as-fuck little town we call Willowbrook.”
Tommaso snorted with laughter. “Well, in that case, if you’re offering, I’d like that.” His eyes settled on Inca’s in a way which made her feel like the only woman in the world.
“Of course,” she said, swallowing her shyness. “Just let me know when you have some free time.”
Tommaso considered. “Is tomorrow too soon?”
Inca didn’t look at Nancy or Scarlett. “Not at all; it’s my day off. Say ten a.m.?”
He smiled and took her hand, kissing the back of it. “Perfect. I’ll see you then. Thank you, ladies, for your warm welcome. I have a feeling this place will be something of a haunt for me.”
When he’d gone, Inca looked almost open-mouthed at her friends. “What the hell just happened?”
Scarlett and Nancy were both giggling like schoolgirls. “I think you have yourself a date.” Nancy looked beside herself with glee.
“With a billionaire …” Scarlett goggled at her and Inca rolled her eyes.
“It’s not a date; I’m being a good neighbor.”
“Good naked neighbor.”
“Get back to work before I fire your sorry ass.”
Knox Westerwick walked the half mile or so from the harbor to the police department. The station was as quiet as he’d found it yesterday. A couple of faxes sat on the machine and he glanced at them. Warnings about Lyme Disease and a flyer for a town committee meeting. He checked the answering machine. No blinking red light. Knox wandered around the building. The police department took up no more than four rooms in the big stone-built structure—a glance at the bell pad indicated the other offices were let to a surveyor and an insurance company. He wandered to the big window overlooking the back of the office to see the back of a firehouse to one side, and apartments to the other. He could see down to the water in the distance, glittering green against an azure sky.
Knox had to be honest with himself. He was bored. Bone-crushingly bored. Even scraping around, offering to speak to school kids about road safety or whatever small town cops talked to kids about these days, was a no-go. Olly had done all that recently, so Knox had accepted the grateful apologies of the principal and given up.
Knox glanced at the clock and wondered when Olly would make an appearance. He went over to the filing cabinet, searching for any old case he could follow up on. Nothing. He slipped the files back into the cabinet and sat back in his chair, toying with the idea of sneaking over to the teahouse to flirt with Inca and Scarlett. Instead, he picked up the phone to check in with Olly.
“Hey, boss. Missing me already?”
“Hey, Knox. Man … can you get whoever you can together and come out to the reservoir?”
There was the briefest pause and in that moment, Knox knew something was terribly wrong. “What is it?”
Olly’s voice was defeated and tired. “We found another one.”
Inca glanced over to the man in the passenger seat. As they had driven from Main Street, Inca had kept up a commentary, a practiced overview of the town’s ‘McNuggets’—the twin harbor lighthouses; Geyer Lake and its adjoining golf resort; the west coast road with its views of the Cascades. Tommaso Winter was good company. He was funny and erudite. But he made her nervous. He would listen to her talk intently, his gaze occasionally dropping to her mouth, which made her feel both sexy and vulnerable. Every inch of her skin was tingling from his presence.
He looked out of the window, seeing now the dense greenery, Douglas Firs, and trails leading off into the forest. “Where are we now?”
Inca grinned. “The cunningly titled Forest Road. Top of the town. Around this bend …” He swung the car around a sharp bend, the right side of the road dropping down a steep cliff to the sea. A huge, stately building came into view. “Is the main source of income for our little place. Hunter’s Ridge Private School. Massive fees, bored rich kids.”
“Hey, that’s beautiful.” He pointed out of the window. They were travelling back down the town now, along the coast road. Tommaso was looking at an outcrop of rocks just off the coast, rising out of the dark water.
“Desolation Rocks. Just off Desolation Point, close to the Desolation Point Lighthouse, just in case you didn’t get the name the first time.”
“So … Desolation, was it?” And they both laughed.
“You got it. Look, I’m going to find somewhere to park and we can hike into the forest if you’re interested?”
Tommaso smiled that devastating smile at her. “Love to.”
Inca and Tommaso trekked the trail that lead through the center of the town. She took him to the town’s unusual Stave church. He seemed interested when she told him about the church’s history—how a Scandinavian immigrant had built it because he missed his homeland so badly he wanted something uniquely Norwegian in this little piece of America. Inca pointed out how the structure’s strange, quirky architecture was locked together by careful dovetailing wedges and post and lintel construction.
“When we were kids,” Inca told him, “we were convinced that the lack of glue or nails meant it would come alive at night and turn into a Transformer.” She grinned at Tommaso’s raised eyebrows. “Hey, we were kids. We were pretty stupid.”
“Me, my ex Olly, and his sister, Luna.”
“You grew up together?”
“They moved to the town when I was twelve. Before that, I was pretty much alone.” She regretted her last words. She felt his questioning gaze, but to her relief he didn’t ask anything further. They walked on for a few minutes in silence along Cemetery Trail, through the old-growth forest, the nursery trees springing from the decay of the fallen. At the gates of the cemetery, which stood in the center of the town, Tommaso stopped.
“You know what I’m wondering?”
“We’ve been walking a while now and I have yet to see any willow trees. For a town named Willowbrook, I would have expected there to be more. So far, I’ve seen one, the one in the middle of Main Street.”
Inca grinned. “And you know what? That’s it. That’s your one. The founder of the town didn’t get far into the town before naming it.”
Tommaso considered this. “Well, I guess this town has another unique beauty then.” His eyes met hers and she felt her face burn.
Tommaso smiled, moving closer, and when he leaned him, the feel of his lips on hers sent her heart pounding. His mouth sought hers and she leaned into the kiss, feeling his arms snake around her. They were breathless when they finally broke apart.
“I’m sorry,” he said in a low voice, leaning his forehead against hers. “I just could not wait any longer.”
Inca, dazed, shook her head. “It’s okay … but we barely know each other.”
“I wanted you as soon as I saw you yesterday.” God, the thrill his words sent through her. “Inca, why don’t we do this the wrong way around? Just go with it …”
She was trembling so much that she could barely answer him. Tommaso lifted her into his arms. “Bella, tell me stop, at any time, and I will stop.”
But she didn’t tell him to stop. Feeling as if she were in a dream, she let him lead her back to the car, him sliding into the driving seat this time, and then he drove them to his home.
The Fletcher Mansion had been empty for many years and Inca had always wondered about what it was like inside, but at this moment, she couldn’t focus on anything but Tommaso Winter.
Her sense had fled—who was this man? And why was she going along with it? All she knew right then was that if he wasn’t inside her soon, she might die of longing.
Tommaso held her hand as they walked to his bedroom, and as he closed the door behind them, Inca realize what a risk she was taking. No-one knew she was here …
All worries fled when Tommaso kissed her again, pushing her overcoat from her shoulders and running his large hands down her curves. “Bellissima …”
His low, deep voice, with that Italian accent, sent vibrations of pure pleasure through her. His tongue gently massaged hers; he tasted wonderful, of fresh air and toothpaste.
With a growl, he tumbled her onto the bed and then his hands were pushing up her skirt, pulling her panties down, and his mouth was on her then. Inca gasped at the feel of his tongue lashing around her clit.
What am I doing? What the hell am I doing?
But she didn’t stop him. He stripped her, kissing every exposed part of her skin until she was a quivering mass of desire.
He grinned, standing to quickly strip his clothes off. He had a firm body, elegantly shaped, masculine, a small smattering of hair on his chest. His cock stood proud and huge against his belly as he covered her body with his. The feel of his skin next to hers was intoxicating, and Inca couldn’t tear her eyes from his clear green gaze.
Tommaso entered her slowly, teasing her, making her moan with anticipation before slamming his hips hard against hers, his cock thrusting deep into her ready cunt. Inca had never experienced this intensity before; it was all consuming. Tommaso fucked her hard, his prowess obvious, his focus on her absolute.
Inca came, almost crying with pleasure, and as she shivered and moaned, Tommaso buried his face in her neck as he too reached climax, pumping thick, hot semen deep inside her. He collapsed on top of her, his mouth seeking hers, whispering her name over and over.
Inca closed her eyes, reveling in the feeling of him holding her. Was this what she had been missing all these years? Sensuality, desire … with the thrill of the danger. Who was this man?
When she opened her eyes, he was watching her. His mouth hitched up in a smile. “You are beautiful, Inca. So beautiful.” His fingertips traced a line down her body, over her nipple, to her belly.
She gave him a shy grin. “I have never done something like this before.”
“Just go with it.” He was so confident, and his hand, tracing a pattern on her belly, was making her crazy.
Inca touched his face. “I know you said we should do this the wrong way around. I think we achieved that.”
He kissed her. “Inca, the moment you walked into that teahouse yesterday, I wanted to fuck you. But I suppose you have the same effect on most men.”
Inca felt uncomfortable then. “Honestly, Tommaso, I hadn’t thought about it. As I said, this isn’t what I would normally do. But you, sir, are something else. And I thought, what the hell?”
Tommaso grinned and moved on top of her. “You’re the perfect tour guide,” he murmured, “and, I hope, much more than that.”
Inca smiled as he gently wound her legs around his waist. She could feel his cock thicken and lengthen against her thigh. As he teased her with the tip, she sighed happily. “I don’t expect anything from you, Tommaso, but … oh!”
Tommaso grinned wickedly as he plunged his enormous, rock-hard cock back into her. “I’m going to fuck you all night long, Principessa, in every way you’ll allow … say my name, Inca …”
“Tommaso! God! Yes, yes …”
Inca woke cold and shivering. The light in the room was blue, and she could tell it was very early morning. The bed beside her was empty and the sheet that had been wrapped around her was now down at her hips. She sat up, blinked, and shook her head. What the hell had she been thinking? Last night had been the most erotic, sensual time of her life, but in the cold light of day …
She got up and went into the bathroom. There was a toothbrush and a basket of toiletries left out on the side for her and she smiled. She showered quickly and got dressed, shoving yesterday’s underwear into her pocket. Feeling incongruous and shy, she padded through the large mansion, only now just noticing how beautifully it was decorated. The Winters’ aesthetic was obviously minimalism and clean lines. Navy, gray, and a monochromatic color scheme, made her shiver a little. It was the opposite of her messy, cozy, colorful apartment.
She found the kitchen and saw him at the stove, flipping pancakes. Grinning, she walked up to him and slid her arms around his waist.
“Good morning, Mr. Winter.”
She jumped back as he dropped the pan and spun around.
Inca stepped back, horrified. Raffaelo Winter glowered at her.
“God, I’m so sorry … I thought you were Tommaso …” She felt the heat rush up her body and suddenly she felt like a whore. The man in front of her was as physically divine as his twin but somehow, danger radiated from every pore. His eyes were hooded, dark with menace and anger. Inca felt a frisson of fear.
Both of them turned to see Tommaso watching them, a strange smile on his face. Inca felt a wave of humiliation.
“I’m sorry. I mistook your brother for you.”
Tommaso grinned. “Again.”
Inca flushed, but Tommaso wrapped his arms around her. “Don’t worry, Inca; it’s no big thing. Is it, Raff?”
Raffaelo said nothing, just stared at his brother, an unreadable expression on his handsome face. Tommaso smirked. “I should officially introduce you. Inca Sardee, my brother Raffaelo. Inca owns the Sakura teahouse in town.”
Inca held a trembling hand out to Raffaelo; for a horrible moment, she thought he was going to ignore it, but then he took it and nodded.
“Good to meet you.” His accent was a lot thicker than his brother’s, his voice deeper and softer. Inca was surprised. Was his glowering demeanor actually shyness? She dismissed the idea the next moment when Raffaelo stalked out of the room. Tommaso laughed softly.
“My brother isn’t the most social of people.” He kissed Inca’s forehead.
“You are very different,” Inca said, and Tommaso nodded.
“People are always surprised at that, but yes, we are. Now, can I make you some breakfast?”
After breakfast, Inca told him she had to go home. Tommaso walked her to her car. “Can I see you again?”
Inca hesitated. He was undoubtedly gorgeous and an incredible lover, but the scene this morning with Raffaelo had given her pause. She smiled at him. “Tommaso … I like you, and last night was mind-blowing. But I don’t know if I’m really suited to the whole ‘wrong way around’ thing. Maybe we should just get to know each other as friends and then see where it goes?”
Tommaso looked vaguely disappointed but took the rejection in good heart. “Whatever you think is best … but don’t expect me to stop trying.” He gave her a wicked grin which made her burst out laughing.
“Mr. Winter, I knew you were trouble.” Tommaso kissed her before she got into her car, and when she drove away, she saw him watching her.
Inca tried to park the car out of the way and sneak up to her apartment, but she failed miserably. Scarlett was waiting for her in the back hallway between the stairs and the tearoom. “Where the hell have you been?”
Inca gave a shocked laugh. “Okay, Mom, calm down.” She dumped her bag on a chair and took off her coat. Scarlett narrowed her eyes at her.
“You were wearing those clothes yesterday … oh my God. You slept with Tommaso Winter.”
“Ssh,”Inca frowned at her friend. The door to the teahouse’s main room was open and Inca glanced nervously around it to see if anyone had heard. Scarlett scowled at her.
“Do you know how worried we were?”
Inca rolled her eyes. “Dude, I’m twenty-eight years old. I don’t need your permission to stay over at a billionaire’s place.” She grinned at Scarlett, but her friend shook her head.
“No, I know. It’s not that. Inks, didn’t you hear about the new murder?”
Inca stopped. “What?”
Scarlett nodded. “Two women now. Olly was called to the first up at the reservoir. Then, while they were there, they found the other one.”
“God, that’s horrible.” Realization dawned. “Oh, God. I am sorry, Scarlett. I honestly didn’t know or I would have called.”
Scarlett sighed. “As long as you’re okay.”
“I am, truly.”
Scarlett grinned. “So? Details, please.”
“Yeah,” Inca said dryly. “Because that’s what’s going to happen now.”
Nancy stuck her head around the door. “Ah, daughter mine. Glad to see you’re not dead. Any chance you two can do some work today?”
Tommaso had been waiting for Raffaelo to say something all day. After meeting Inca, his brother had disappeared into the depths of the mansion to work and Tommaso hadn’t seen him. Now, though, as Tommaso sat chatting with Debbie, their new chef, Raffaelo made an appearance in the large kitchen.
Tommaso smiled at his brother and Debbie nodded to him. She was a middle-aged woman, no nonsense and very discreet. Her food, the twins had discovered in a very short time, was out of this world.
“I was just trying to persuade Debbie to let me open a restaurant for her. It’s a crime her food is hidden away from the world.”
Debbie laughed. “Your brother is very generous, but he exaggerates.”
Raffaelo half-smiled at her. “About some things, but not this. Tommaso, may I speak with you outside for a moment? We shan’t be long, Debbie; I promise.”
Tommaso followed his brother outside. The night was cold and cloudy, threatening snow. Raffaelo lit a cigarette and studied his brother. “What the hell were you doing with that girl?”
Tommaso hid a grin. “Debbie?”
“You know damn well who I mean.”
“Oh, Inca. I would have thought it was obvious …”
Raffaelo shook his head in disgust. “That’s not why we came here, Tommaso. We said no complications. No situations that could compromise …”
“What?” Tommaso was irritated now. “I met a beautiful woman; I was attracted to her; I fucked her. I hope to fuck her again. Many, many times. What’s wrong with that?”
Raffaelo sighed. “Just don’t … get too involved. You know we can’t.”
Tommaso was silent. Finally, he shook his head. “I can’t promise anything. Inca’s a very sweet woman … and beautiful. I know you noticed that.”
Raffaelo hesitated, then nodded. “Heartbreakingly beautiful. Which concerns me, Tommaso. Women like that …”
“What? What, brother? Women like that are what?”
But Raffaelo didn’t answer him.
Olly Rosenbaum dumped his paperwork on the desk and clicked off the light. He’d been working for forty-eight hours straight with the homicide team from the city and he was drained. The horror of finding the two murdered women had finally hit him, and he wanted to go home and forget their faces.
At home, he threw back a scotch and poured another, knowing it probably wasn’t the best idea but to hell with it. Molly was in the city, working on the same case, and Olly toyed with the idea of calling Inca and talking to her, but he talked himself out of it. He couldn’t keep dumping on her; after all, he’d been the one to finish it.
Something else stopped him. Both the women who had been killed were of Asian descent and he kept seeing Inca’s face when he thought about them. Willowbrook had only ever had one murder before—long before his time—but this was a whole new level of terrifying. He hadn’t recognized either of the women, which meant their killer had brought them here to kill and dump them. That was way too close for Olly’s liking.
Don’t be ridiculous, he thought, you don’t even know if their ancestry had anything to do with it.
But he couldn’t stop imagining the killer seeing Inca and deciding she would be next on his list. No, stop it. It wasn’t as if he had any right to be her protector …
You’re the police chief; you have every right.
Dammit. He picked up the phone and called her. She answered after the second ring.
“Hey, Inks, you busy?”
There was a hesitation. “I was going to have an early night. Can it wait?”
Olly couldn’t help but feel stung. “Yeah, sure. You okay?”
“I’m fine, why?”
“Doesn’t matter. Look, I’ll see you soon.”
He ended the call and hissed out his frustration. Shit. He really had to get used to this idea of not being with Inca anymore. You don’t have the same rights now, buddy.
“I know, I know,” he said to himself and decided to go to bed. He fell asleep quickly, but was haunted by visions of Inca lying dead on the banks of the reservoir.
A week passed before Inca saw Tommaso again, although he called her every day and they talked for hours. The tearoom had been busy—Christmas season was coming up and the weather outside had turned to snow. Thick snowdrifts piled up at the sides of the roads. Inca was shoveling the sidewalk clear and sprinkling kitty litter down as she heard a car horn. She looked up to see Tommaso in his Mercedes pulling up to the curb. She grinned and shook her head.
“Mr. Winter … roof down? In this weather?”
Tommaso leaped out of the car, not giving a hoot about the slippery ice underfoot. “I like to live dangerously. Hello again.”
She liked that he kissed her cheek and not her mouth. There was something respectful about the embrace. She nodded towards the tearoom. “Come in. I’ll make you something hot.”
Tommaso grinned and Inca blushed, swatting him. “You know what I mean.”
They were still laughing when they walked into the teahouse and they chatted easily. Tommaso looked around. “Busy today.”
“Has been for a week or two.” She lowered her voice. “We’re getting a lot of homicide cops and journalists because of the murders.”
Tommaso nodded. “Did you know the victims?”
Inca shook her head. “No. They weren’t from around here.”
The door opened with a swirl of cold air and a young woman with black hair staggered in. Inca smiled at her. “Hey, Lunatic, long time no see.”
Luna Rosenbaum shook the excess snow of her coat, then looked down at the mess she had made. “Sorry, Inks.”
Inca laughed. “Don’t worry about it.” She went to hug her friend. “Come and meet Tommaso.”
Inca introduced Luna and she studied the Italian carefully. “So, you’re the new billionaire in town?”
Tommaso choked on his coffee. ’You could say that. One of them, anyway.”
“Oh, that’s right.” She took the coffee Inca offered her. “Thanks, Inks. Have you met the brother?”
Inca colored and Tommaso grinned. “I’ll say she has.” Luna looked between them both, seemingly to make up her mind about something. She gave Inca a strange look that Inca couldn’t decipher.
“Well, anyway, I just came to say hi before I went to Olly’s. I assume he’s snowed under—ha, ha—with this murder case. I’ll catch up with you later, Inca.”
Inca watched her go, a frown on her face. “That was weird.”
Tommaso sipped his tea. “Are you okay?”
Inca shook herself. “Yes, sure. Sorry, it’s just, well, I used to be with Olly, as it were. Maybe Luna’s not dealing …” She stopped and shrugged. “Sorry, it’s nothing.”
Tommaso reached out and took her hand. “So, I was wondering if I could take you to dinner one night this week?”
Inca smiled. “I would like that … but can I just say? I have a rule—Dutch, all the way. So, if you were planning on something … billionaire style,” she grinned at him, “think again. Plus, I would have nothing to wear at one of those places.”
Tommaso rolled his eyes. “Fine. How about your friend’s place?”
Inca clinked her coffee mug against his. “Deal.”
When he’d gone, she marveled at how quickly they had become friends. Even if they hadn’t had that wonderful night together, she felt like she had known Tommaso Winter her whole life. Was it her imagination? Did that instant connection come from her need for love? God, she hoped not. She hated to think of herself as a needy woman; hell, she wasn’t a needy woman. But Olly had, however gently, shifted her expectations of what men wanted.
She was still deep in thought when Nancy came in, and she asked her adoptive mother if she thought she was just looking for an Olly replacement. Nancy thought about it.
“I don’t think so, Inca. You’ve never been someone who needs a man at all times. Maybe it’s just that you and this Winter boy clicked in a way that you haven’t experienced.”
Inca reddened slightly, and Nancy laughed. “Inca, I’m not talking about sex, and it’s okay. You know, I’m not dead below the waist just because I’m over fifty. He’s a very handsome young man. Just remember, you might want him, but you don’t need him. You are your own person.”
Inca smiled at her gratefully.
“Hey, anyone serving?”
Olly grinned at her as she went to greet him, and as she poured some hot tea for him, she studied him. “You look tired.”
He gave a small laugh. “Got time to talk now?” But his words were without rancor and she sighed.
“Olly, for you, of course. Just … I can’t be the person you call last thing at night anymore, you know? For both of us, we need to take a step back.”
“Yeah, I know. Listen, Luna says you have a new friend, one of the Winters?”
Inca looked surprised. “Haven’t you met them yet?”
Olly shook his head. “I don’t know whether this sounds bad, but for once, the department has been busy. I wish it wasn’t for the reason it was.”
“Me neither. Any progress?” Inca saw Nancy join them, listening to what Olly was saying.
“We’ve identified one of the women. Kristin Chu, a lawyer from Seattle. Her family is pretty broken up.”
“I would think. How did she die?”
Olly hesitated. “Stabbed. Multiple times. Poor kid was almost gutted.”
Inca looked sick. “God.”
Nancy shook her head and Olly looked at her. “The other woman was Asian too.”
Nancy and Olly shared a look and Inca sighed. “Just say it.”
“Wouldn’t hurt to be extra-vigilant.”
“I thought serial killers were only called that after at least five victims?”
“Don’t be a wise-ass.” Nancy gave her daughter’s butt a swat. “Just be careful.”
Inca rolled her eyes. “Okay, okay.”
Olly smiled at her. “So, when are you going to introduce me to your new boyfriend?”
“Not boyfriend. Friend.” But Inca felt relief that Olly seemed to be okay with it. “And anyway, I wanted to talk to you about Luna. Is she okay? She was a bit off earlier.”
Olly looked uncomfortable. “She’s having trouble with us splitting. You know how unstable she feels all the time.”
“Gotcha. Tell her I miss her, will you? We need to have some girly nights in.”
Olly nodded. “I will. Thanks, Inks. Look, all joking aside, you’ll make this old man happy if you make sure your deadbolt is on at night, okay?”
Inca remembered his words that night and, when she went up to her apartment that night, she shot the deadbolt across and double locked it. Weary, she took a long bath, then heated up some leftovers in the microwave and sat in front of the television. Outside, the snow was piling up again and she gave an involuntary shiver as she watched the snow fall silently over her little home town.
Willowbrook was the only town stuck out on a tiny peninsula on the Washington coastline. The one road out of town would sometimes get blocked with snow during winter and then the town became like an island. Inca had always loved the place since Nancy and Tyler had adopted her and brought her home from the children’s home in Seattle. She had never questioned their love for her was as strong as hers for them, and she had never shown any interest in finding out her family history. Lately, though, feeling lonely was becoming a habit, and she’d wondered if she should push Nancy harder for information.
Maybe I’ll ask Tyler, she thought, grinning to herself. Tyler was softer than Nancy. Younger by ten years than his seventy-year-old wife, Tyler, a tall African American with a slender figure and a kind face doted on ‘his girls’. As far as Inca was concerned, he was her father, and nothing would change that.
Her cell phone buzzed and she picked it up without looking at the caller ID.
Nothing. Inca frowned. “Whoever this is, this is a bad line; I can’t hear you. Hello?”
Nothing. She shut off her phone and forgot about it. She switched the TV off and the small lamp and sat in the darkness watching the snow fall. Her attention was caught by a movement down on the street. A figure stood under the streetlamp. He looked up, as if sensing her scrutiny, and their eyes met. Inca felt a thrill go through her: fear or desire, she couldn’t tell.
Raffaelo Winter stared up at her, his expression unreadable.
The next day, she was still thinking about him. It was her day off and, as she did her chores, she wondered what he had been thinking of, standing outside her apartment like that. Weird. Her phone rang again and this time it was her realtor, Mindy. The apartment Inca lived in was leased from the owner of the building but had offered Inca first refusal on it when he decided to sell. She’d scraped together the deposit and had put her offer in, and now she knew Mindy was calling her to finalize the details.
“Hey, Mindy. What’s going on?” Inca sat on a kitchen chair, pulling her knees up to her chest. She heard Mindy draw in a deep breath.
“Inca, honey, I’ve got bad news. The thing is,” Inca heard her sigh, “the apartment’s gone. It’s been sold.”
For a moment, Inca didn’t process what the realtor had said. Then her heart thudded, heavy with dismay. “It can’t have. I mean, I thought the offer I made was a lock …”
“It was. It was, sweetheart. I’m sorry, but the owner just called me. They were called late last night by a private buyer who gave them a crazy offer.”
Inca sat upright in the chair. “I’ll match it. Call them. Tell them I’ll match it. I want this apartment.”
There was a silence. “Honey …” Mindy hesitated. “You can’t. You can’t match it. The buyer’s offered three times the market price.”
Inca was speechless. Her shoulders slumped and in that moment she realized how much she had been relying on getting the apartment to kick-start everything and move forward. She felt suddenly tearful.
“Hon? You okay?” Mindy sounded concerned.
“How did they know who to call?”
She heard Mindy give an annoyed hiss. “Jeb. Don’t worry. I’ve nailed his ass to the wall. He knows better than to give out that information. Look, I’m going to email you over some other prospects; we’ll find you something.”
Inca drew in a deep breath. “Yes. Yes, of course. I’m sorry. I’m just disappointed, is all.”
She jumped slightly as the doorbell rang. “Look, Mindy, thanks, I’ve got to go.”
She looked around the apartment—her home—and felt tears threatening. This was her home, her space. She couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. She grabbed her jacket and headed out of the door.
Inca knocked once on the back door of her parents’, home then let herself in. Tyler, standing in his apron flipping pancakes and frying eggs, smiled at her and bent to kiss her cheek in greeting.
“Hey, Popsicle.” She heaved herself onto one of the stools. “How’re things?”
“Good. Nancy’s gone to the city, so I thought we’d have a little father-daughter chat.” He handed her a plate of food. She grinned her thanks.
“That always sounds ominous when you say that. Honestly, I didn’t break my curfew, Pa.” She grinned, her mouth full of food, and he laughed, tapping her on the head with a spoon.
“Your mother tells me there’s a new man in your life.”
Inca rolled her eyes. “Not really. Just a new friend. I swear to God, you and Nancy are the biggest gossips. Every adjective you can think of. This is yummy, by the way.”
Tyler sat down with a plate of his own and studied her face. “Thank you. Is it a good thing?”
Inca grinned. “Yes. You’ve always been a great cook.” Tyler didn’t smile.
“I’m serious. I worry, Bubba, especially after all that business with Oliver.” Inca smiled. Tyler had never called Olly ‘Olly’, not once.
Inca thought about it for a long moment. “I think so … I mean, I’m just getting to know Tommaso. He’s not my boyfriend or anything; we’re just friends.”
Tyler put his head on one side, his expression kind. “So, no romance, then?”
Inca acquiesced with a small laugh. “Possibly. I really don’t know. But, Pops, that’s not something I want to discuss with you; no offense.”
They ate in silence for a few minutes then Inca remembered. “I got some bad news before, I didn’t tell you—the apartment was sold out from under me. So, now I have to start looking all over again.”
Tyler was taken aback. “What?”
“Yep. Apparently, someone offered three times the asking price late last night. Can you believe it?” She sighed and shook her head. “I didn’t actually realize how much it bothers me. I’d had it all planned, how I’d redecorate and fit all my stuff in. It’s like I had it all planned in my head and now—damn. It’s frustrating, is all.”
Olly had tried not to think about the murders, but couldn’t let it go. When he’d returned to the station, he flicked on the TV and watched the news on KOMO.
King County Police have now confirmed that the second body found in Willowbrook early Monday morning was that of twenty-five-year-old Kumiko Yue. Miss Yue left her job at a convenience store just after eleven p.m. last night but failed to return home. Police found her body at Willowbrook reservoir when they were called to the discovery of the body of Kristin Chu around six a.m. that morning. Early reports indicate that both victims had been stabbed repeatedly. Seattle Homicide Police will not confirm at this point whether the murders are related to the spate of other murders of Asian-American women over the last year across the country …
Olly sat up and switched his computer on. Other Asian-American victims? He started a nationwide search. Victim description: Female, brown hair, Asian. Was that too broad? Olly wondered. He looked over to the Sakura and decided it wasn’t. He set the search going and got up to grab some coffee from the pot.
He looked out of the window and saw Luna talking to Inca in the teahouse. Olly gazed at Inca, her dark hair, almond-shaped eyes, gorgeous honeyed skin, and he couldn’t help imagining the body at the reservoir being hers, cut up, brutalized. He’d ask her not to go out alone.
Eviscerated, bled out, slaughtered.
Bile rose in the back of his throat and he looked away quickly, pushing the image out of his mind. He rubbed his eyes as if scrubbing the image from his mind, sat back in his chair, and looked for something to distract him. He’d already dealt with the report from a robbery at the golf course. He picked a drawer at random and pulled a handful of files from the cabinet. Fixing himself some instant coffee, with a wistful look across to the teahouse, he sat down to read.
Hunter Leeds, the town’s mechanic, limped into the teahouse just after lunch, carrying a large expensive box. Inca greeted him, turning to pour his usual brew. Hunter, an old school friend of Olly’s, didn’t look happy. “Got a delivery for you, Inca.”
He put the box on the counter. Inca gaped at him. “What is it?”
Hunter shrugged, obviously put out. Scarlett ran her fingers over the name on the box.
“Expensive.” She sounded impressed.
“Winter asked me to bring it to you.” Hunter’s voice cracked with tension.
Inca was astonished. “Why didn’t he bring it himself?”
Hunter shrugged. Beside Inca, Scarlett shifted, impatient. “Open it; open it.”
Inca lifted the top of the box. Tissue paper. She pulled it apart and pulled the dress out. It was gorgeous, pale pink, decorated with tiny beads.
“Wow.” Scarlett was impressed. “Well, he’s just gone up in my estimation.” She peeked inside. “Even got your size right. That is going to look amazing next your skin.”
Inca was frowning. “Okay, this is weird. Why on earth would he buy me a dress? Kind of personal, don’t you think? And why the hell wouldn’t he bring it to me himself instead of getting Hunter to do it?”
Scarlett shrugged. “Perhaps he’s just marking his territory.” She stuck her tongue out at her boss, but Inca was frowning.
“Flowers would have been enough. If anything.”
Scarlett could see she was disconcerted. “Hey, look. The guy’s a billionaire. Could you imagine the type of women he’s used to? He’s probably just doing what he thinks you’d expect. You have to admit that.”
Inca nodded. “Okay, yes, but I thought … I thought he knew me well enough to know I’m not like them.”
Scarlett shook her head. “Give him a break.”
Inca ran her hand over the dress. “I don’t know what to do about this. It’s too much. But I don’t want to offend him.”
“Wear it.” Scarlett shrugged. “What harm can it do?”
Hunter stood silent, watching the two women. The phone rang and Scarlett stepped away to answer it. Inca smiled at him.
“Hunter, you look worried. It’s okay, it’s just a dress.”
Hunter shook his head. “You just be careful around him. I don’t want you getting hurt or nothing.”
She leaned over and grabbed his hand, squeezing it.
“Hunter, why would Tommaso Winter want to hurt me?”
“I don’t trust him.”
Inca gave a frustrated laugh. “You don’t even know him.”
“I seen him watching you.”
“You’ve seen Tommaso watching me?” A little thrill of pleasure ran through her and she tried not to smile.
“He watches you. He said things.”
“What things, Hunter?”
Hunter flushed, shifted in his chair. He didn’t look her in the eye. “I told him to leave you alone. He says he could have you if he wanted you.”
Inca didn’t know what to say. “I’m sure you’re wrong, Hunter. He doesn’t mean any harm. He’s just new in town, getting to know everyone. You are very sweet to worry about me, but it’s okay.”
Later, she asked Scarlett if she minded covering for her. Inca picked up the box. Scarlett looked disappointed. “You’re taking it back to him, aren’t you?”
Inca nodded. “It’s too much, too soon.”
“Be careful on that road. More snow is on its way in.”
Inca steered her car carefully along the steep hill leading to the Fletcher—no, the Winter mansion now, she grinned to herself. How very apt. She cursed as her car’s back wheels slid out from beneath her and she wrestled the wheel until she straightened up, heart thumping.
She pulled up in front of the big house and, box in hand, carefully climbed the icy stairs. She rang the doorbell and waited, shivering.
The door was yanked open and the familiar man stepped out, staring at her. For a moment, she thought it might be Raffaelo, but then his smile stretched across his face and she relaxed.
“Inca! God, come in. I’m sorry; you just took me by surprise.” He guided her inside and took her coat.
“As you surprised me,” Inca said gently, trying not to be distracted by the way his green eyes locked onto hers, or the soft way his fingers brushed the inside of her arm as he took her coat.
Tommaso smiled at her, leaning in to brush his lips against hers. “Didn’t it fit? I had to guess your size.”
“It’s not that,” she said, and couldn’t help the moan that escaped as his lips found her throat. “It’s just too much.”
Tommaso stepped back to look at her. “It wasn’t a thank you for sleeping with me gift, if that’s what you think.”
Inca laughed. “I know that. You are very generous, but I can’t accept it.”
Tommaso considered for a moment. “Fair enough. Look, now that you’re here, you must stay for dinner. The weather’s getting bad. Raff and I were in the kitchen; come meet him properly.”
Inca felt her stomach churn with nerves as they walked hand-in-hand to the kitchen. Tommaso introduced her to Debbie. They already knew each other vaguely and so the conversation was easy. Then Raffaelo made an appearance.
Inca’s chest tightened when she saw him and all she could think of was seeing him on her street, gazing up at her apartment. He seemed to notice her reticence when she greeted him.
“You are well?”
She nodded, and wondered why his accent was so much thicker than Tommaso’s. During dinner—which was a mouthwatering lobster bisque followed by lamb so tender it fell off the bone—Tommaso led the conversation, but Inca found that Raffaelo had thawed a little. Ironic, she thought, glancing out of the window. Outside, the weather had worsened, and now all she could see was a whiteout.
Raffaelo noticed her glance. “Did you drive here, tonight, Ms. Sardee?”
Inca suppressed a smile. So formal. “Inca, please, and yes, I’m afraid I did.”
He nodded and looked at Tommaso. “Our guest must stay the night, I think.”
“I was hoping she would,” Tommaso said with a grin, but Inca felt awkward then. Tommaso noticed. “Because of the weather, of course.”
After dinner, they moved to the living room, where Raffaelo poured them all large drinks. Inca took the glass of scotch, not wanting to spoil the atmosphere by telling them she didn’t drink much.
She felt the effects an hour later and, for the first time, she saw Raffaelo smile. “I think the scotch has taken effect.”
She half-smiled. “I think it has.”
Raffaelo drained his glass. “I’ll give you two some privacy. Goodnight, Inca, Tommaso.”
“Goodnight, Raffaelo.” His name felt foreign and exotic in her mouth.
Tommaso gave a soft laugh when his brother had gone. “You realize you called him Rassaelo?”
Inca clapped her hands over her mouth. “I’m sorry. I don’t drink alcohol, and it was a big glass. Big.”
Tommaso chuckled. “You are adorable.” He kissed her, taking her by surprise. When she didn’t resist, he kissed her again, pulling her to him. Inca didn’t know how to react, but she felt herself respond, kissing him back. His large hands cradled her face as he kissed her. Finally, they broke apart.
Tommaso closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against hers.
“Be mine, Inca. Be mine.”
He half walked, half carried her up the stairs and sat her on the bed. He sat down next to her.
“You’re a good friend, Tommaso.” The words slurred together. She sighed.
He said nothing, just smiled. He took her face between his hands and kissed her on the mouth.
“I’d like to be more than that, if you’ll let me.”
He could see she wasn’t really taking in what was happening. He kissed her again.
“I adore you, Inca. I’ve wanted you from the moment I saw you. I had to have you; do you understand? You had to be mine.”
She frowned, swaying, blinking slowly. He pushed her back onto the bed.
“Just let me take care of you. Just relax now.”
He undid her jeans and pulled them off. She was really fading now, completely malleable. He pulled her T-shirt off. He smiled down at her.
“You’re beautiful, Inca.”
His lips were against her belly and Inca let herself sink into the sensations of his tongue circling, then dipping into her navel. Tommaso pushed her legs up, hooking them over his shoulders as he tugged her panties down and buried his face in her sex, sucking, nipping her clit with his teeth, his tongue plunging deep inside her.
Inca gasped and shuddered as he pleasured her, obviously enjoying his total control over her body. His hands roamed over her breasts her belly, his thumb pressing deep into her navel as if he were fucking that too. By the time Inca had come three times, he didn’t give her time to recover before his cock, huge and diamond hard, was drilling deep inside her, his thrusts rough, his dominance over her complete.
His hands pinned her above her head, his eyes riveted on hers, dark and intense. Inca sought his mouth hungrily, wanting to be possessed completely.
He was rougher this time, and when he flipped her onto her stomach and eased into her ass, she cried out. “You want me,” he murmured in her ear and she nodded, gasping at the feel of him inside her and the sharp but intense, pleasurable pain. He fucked her into such a state of desire that she was almost sobbing. Still he would not let her rest, pressing her against the wall of the shower they shared and screwing her so hard they toppled out of the cubicle onto the hard floor.
Afterward they lay talking, Inca exhausted but still enjoying the feel of his big hand stroking her skin as they talked. She fell asleep wrapped in his arms, feeling safe, and above all else, loved.
The girl was trying desperately to clear the snow away from the windscreen of her car. The snowstorm was unrelenting and she was almost sobbing, knowing that if she couldn’t get her car started, she would die out here. When she saw the other car, she almost screamed with relief. She waved him down and, as the driver got out, she beamed at him.
“Thank God you’re here.”
“It’s okay … get in the car and I’ll see if I can start it.”
She climbed into her car and in moments heard him shout. “Try it now!”
She did – and it started. “Oh, thank God, thank you, thank you.”
Her savior got into her passenger seat. “Will you be okay now?”
“I think so, thank you.”
The car’s heater was kicking in now and she unzipped her jacket. “I can’t thank you enough.”
“How about a kiss?”
She looked startled. “Excuse me?”
“A kiss to say thanks.”
Oh God, a weirdo. She decided to keep him happy and pecked his cheek.
Relief. He was getting out. “Take care.”
She nodded and smiled as he got out. She switched her windscreen wipers on— just as her door opened and he dragged her out into the snow. She screamed, but her scream was lost in the storm. Watching in horror, she saw the knife.
“Oh God! Please, no, no …”
Her killer drove the knife into her stomach and she knew it was over. As he stabbed her again and again, the pain was unimaginable and as she felt her life slipping away, she wondered how someone so beautiful could be such a monster …
The girl died quickly. He could tell he had severed her abdominal artery when the hot gush of arterial spray hit him. God, he lived for those moments. Her blood on the snow. So lucky to have found her. Her black hair, her olive skin—she looked even more like his girl that the first two. The first two here in Washington. The first since he had found her.
Inca. All the girls wore her face now. Maybe it was time she knew he was coming from her. He wanted her to feel that fear and know that she was going to die very, very soon. He pushed the dead girl’s shirt up and, taking his knife, began to carve …
Tommaso was still asleep when Inca woke the next morning. He looked so peaceful and boyish, she smiled down at him and silently slipped from the bed. Her legs wobbled; she grinned to herself as she remembered the night’s fun. Her thighs ached, and her vagina felt sore from the pounding of Tommaso’s huge cock. God, she had never realized sex could be so all-consuming.
She showered quietly and dressed. This time, she knew the way to the kitchen and walked down there. Raffaelo was already there as was Debbie. Raffaelo smiled at her.
“Good morning, Inca. I trust you slept well?”
Ignoring the heat in her face, she nodded. “Thank you, yes.”
“Have some breakfast,” Debbie said, setting down a plate of freshly baked croissants. “I’ll be making some eggs in a second. Would you like some?”
“Yes,” Inca smiled at her. “Thank you.”
She sat down opposite Raffaelo, who poured her some juice. She thanked him, watching as he also took the coffee pot and filled another mug for her. “I feel spoiled.”
Raffaelo laughed. “It’s just breakfast.”
“How are you enjoying living here, Raffaelo?”
She watched as he considered. “I’m not as gregarious as Tommaso, so I find it difficult to meet new people. Also, my English is not as good.”
She smiled at him. “I was wondering about that.”
He nodded. “Tommaso attended Harvard; I did not. In fact, this is my first time in America.”
Inca was surprised. “Really?”
Raffaelo smiled. “I know it is surprising, but my heart lies in Italy. Tommaso persuaded me to come with him, to open some American clubs as a way to expand the business. Not that it needed expanding.”
“I have to be honest,” Inca said, sipping her coffee. “I’m not someone who goes to clubs.”
Raffaelo’s smile widened. “I don’t blame you. Terrible places.”
Inca laughed at his mischievous smile and the tension in her chest eased a little.
“Hello.” They both turned to see Tommaso watching them from the doorway. Something in his demeanor made Inca’s smile falter, but he came to kiss her temple and sit down with them.
Inca swallowed her sudden nervousness. “Raffaelo was telling me it’s his first time in the States.”
Tommaso smiled. “I think maybe he needs a guided tour from the best guide in Willowbrook.”
Inca smiled at Raffaelo. “I’d be happy to when the weather improves.”
Raffaelo nodded, glancing quickly at his brother. “If you don’t mind, I’d like that.”
“Good,” Tommaso said, seemingly approving, then he leaned in and whispered in her ear, “Well, not exactly like the tour you gave me.”
The meaning in his words was clear, and Inca’s whole body flushed with embarrassed heat. Was this the way it was going to be? Tommaso marking his territory?
I don’t think so, Mister.
Inca gritted her teeth, and smiled at Raffaelo, who, she noticed, was studiously ignoring his brother.
“It’s really no problem. Come by the Sakura soon and we’ll go from there.”
“Thank you, Inca.”
After breakfast, Raffaelo disappeared into the big house and Tommaso and Inca sat in the living room, watching the weather close in. Inca bit her lip, frustrated. “I’ll have to try and get back into town today.”
Tommaso shook his head. “It’s too dangerous, Bella. Stay here for as long as you like.”
Inca sighed. “You are very kind, Tommaso, but I have a life to get back to. I have the business, and I have to start looking for somewhere to live.”
She told him about the apartment. “It was such a shock, you know? For weeks, I was the only bidder on the place and then boom. Another buyer slamming in a ridiculous offer at the last minute. It kind of broke my heart. I know that’s ridiculous, but it’s my home, you know?”
Tommaso stroked the back of her neck. “Bella, say the word and I will buy it for you. Just say the word.”
Inca was horrified. “No! No way! My God, did you think that’s why I told you? Believe me, Tommaso …”
“Inca, calm down. I know that wasn’t your reason for telling me. I’m making the offer anyway. Say the word.”
Inca was gaping at him. “Tommaso, we barely know each other. We’re not even in a relationship.”
“We’re not?” His green eyes were soft; they dropped to her mouth in a way that made her belly flutter with desire. Inca relaxed.
“Tommaso, even if we’re at the tentative stages of … something, I’m still not ready for that kind of offer from you, however kind. And it’s unbelievably kind, but no, thank you. I can find somewhere on my own.”
He stroked her hair. “You could always move in here. We have plenty of room.”
Inca smiled at him and kissed him gently. “Again … way too soon, but you are a sweet man, Tommaso.”
He grinned wickedly, his eyes crinkling, and he moved quickly, pulling her onto his lap and tickling her. Inca screeched with laughter. “Oh, you lunatic …”
Tommaso suddenly stopped tickling her and pressed his lips to hers. “You intoxicate me, Inca Sardee … I’m completely under your control.”
She tangled her fingers in his hair. God, he was gorgeous …”Take me back to bed,” she whispered, nuzzling her nose to his. “Take me to bed and fuck me into next Tuesday …”
Olly fought his way over to the Sakura, not expecting it to be open, but inside he found Scarlett, alone. “Why are you open?”
She grinned at him. “If you expected me to be closed, why did you come?”
Olly shrugged. “You got me.”
“Well,” Scarlett turned to get him his usual Americano, “you’re officially my only customer.”
Olly looked around. “No Inca?”
Scarlett grinned. “Nope. She drove up to the Winter place to return something to Tommaso Winter. She called me a little while ago. She got snowed in up there and is staying until it’s safe to drive back.”
Olly nodded. “Okay, then.”
Goddammit, Scarlett never let up. Olly tried not to grimace.
“Not at all. If you hadn’t noticed, I too have moved on.”
Olly gave up and grinned. ’You are a pain in the ass.”
“That’s me.” Scarlett studied him. “Seriously, though. She’s fine; so what’s your thing with the Winters?”
“Who says I got a thing?”
“I know you,” Scarlett said. “You’re not sure about them.”
Olly sighed. “It’s not really the Winters bothering me. It’s the murders. Scarlett, in my ten years of being a cop, I’ve never seen anything so depraved, so brutal. I can’t shake the image of those girls … and the fact that they’re Asian-American. You can see why I’m a little antsy about Inca’s safety.”
“She’s a big girl,” Scarlett said gently. “And she can look after herself.”
“It’s my job to make sure you’re all safe.”
Scarlett shrugged. “Fair enough. Just don’t get too controlling. You—”
“Don’t have that right anymore. Gotcha. Look, Scarlett, why don’t I walk you home. No-one’s going to come in today.”
Scarlett shook her head. “I’m good. I have stuff to catch up on, stock-checking, stuff like that. Thanks, though.”
Later that night, Olly shouldered his way into his apartment and flicked on the lights. He snagged a bottle of water from his refrigerator and opened the door onto the small balcony. The snow had finally stopped and now the night was calm, but still bitterly cold. The apartment overlooked the harbor and the ferry landing and he saw now that the last ferry of the day was waiting. He had thought the weather would stop the ferry service to the city, but no, he saw the lights of the ferry bobbing in the water.
He was surprised to see a familiar figure striding along the jetty. One of the Winter twins— he couldn’t tell which one—jogged up the gangway and disappeared into the ferry.
Where the hell are you going at this time of night?
Olly frowned and glanced at his watch. A quarter of twelve. Olly pondered for a moment and shrugged. No business of his what they got up to after hours. He drained the water bottle and headed inside. He showered and brushed his teeth and collapsed gratefully onto the bed.
In the morning, he woke to the news that another woman had been murdered in the city. As he watched the news briefing, a shock drilled through him as they showed a photograph of the dead woman. She looked so much like Inca that it took his breath away. The victim was older than the others, an Indian-American woman in her early fifties who had been released from a mental health facility earlier that day. She had been stabbed to death like the others, but this time, a message was carved into her skin.
Police are not releasing the details of the message but say it could help them in the search for this vicious and merciless killer.
Olly felt sick, but not as sick as an hour later when Knox called him and in a flat voice told him that another girl had been found dead. He drove out to the site and saw the horrific scene. The body was frozen; the girl’s terror forever etched on her face; her clothes pulled up to reveal just what her killer had done to her as well as the carved message on her skin.
Olly looked at Knox and saw he was as shocked and horrified as he was. It was what Olly feared the most. The carved letters in pale skin.
Inca drove home alone, despite Tommaso’s insistence that he should come with her. She had gently declined. “I have so much to do, Tommaso, to get back to work and find a new place. Thank you for everything.”
She’d been at the Winter home for two days before the weather had settled enough to return home, but she had to promise Tommaso she would keep the dress he had bought her and wear it to dinner that night. Smiling, she kissed him goodbye. “I’ll see you tonight.”
He slid his hands around her face. “I’ll miss you.”
She opened the door to the Sakura to find it busy and Nancy and Scarlett run off their feet. “I’ll be down in one minute,” she promised them before running upstairs to change.
“More like ten minutes,” Nancy grumbled when she returned, but she kissed Inca’s cheek. “How was your sojourn at the billionaire’s mansion?”
Inca rolled her eyes. “Very pleasant, thank you. We burned one hundred dollar notes for warmth and made the servants race naked in the snow so we could bet actual gold bullion on them.”
“Sarcastic minx.” Nancy tried not to grin. “Get to work.”
Apparently, the entire town of Willowbrook had been going stir crazy at home during the storm and they had all descended on the teahouse that day. Inca, Scarlett, and Nancy didn’t get a break all day, and when evening rolled around, they were all exhausted. As they were closing, Olly and Knox came in. Inca locked the door behind them. Both men looked shattered.
“What’s going on?”
Inca went to make them some hot sandwiches as they told the women about the new murder victim. Nancy watched them carefully. “There’s something else you’re not telling us.”
Olly sighed and Knox looked uncomfortable. “You all better sit down.”
The woman exchanged glances but sat down as requested. Olly took a deep breath in. “The body we found, and the one found in Seattle … both had been stabbed to death and then mutilated. A name had been carved into the dead women’s stomachs. A warning. A threat.”
Inca already felt a heavy dread settle over her as both Olly and Knox turned to her. “Just say it,” she said in a low voice and Olly nodded.
“I’m so sorry, Inca. Yes. It was your name.”
Inca put her head in her hands. Nancy looked shocked and sick. “Are you sure whoever it was, meant …?” She nodded towards her daughter. Olly patted her hand.
“No, we can’t be sure, of course. It’s just, with the ethnicity of the victims, and the location of the deaths, and the relative uniqueness of your name, Inks, especially in the county, we have to assume that it could be a death threat.”
Inca threw up her hands. “But, why? I don’t think I have any enemies.”
“Could be someone who’s fixated on you. Anyone could have come in here and seen you. Or maybe there’s someone from your past?”
Inca shook her head, silent, shocked. “I don’t think so.” But in the back of her mind, there was something, something she had never told anyone, not even Nancy. Something she had forced herself to forget.
Olly was studying her face. “Inks, you okay? Look, we’re going to be on this twenty-four seven until this guy is caught.”
“Who says it’s a guy?” Scarlett wondered. “What if it’s a girl?”
“Unlikely,” Knox said, and Scarlett scowled at him.
“A woman is just as able to …”
“Scarlett. We know it’s a man, okay? Just leave it at that.” For once, Knox was without his usual swagger; he just looked shell-shocked. Scarlett opened her mouth to argue, but then took pity on him, squeezing his hand.
“There’s something else.” Olly looked at Nancy and Inca. “The woman who was killed in Seattle … this one was different. She was older, a former mental health patient. Inca, her resemblance to you is undeniable. We would like to take a DNA sample from you to test against the dead woman.”
Nancy gave a distressed cry and Inca stared at Olly in horror. “What?”
He nodded. “I’m so sorry, Inca, but we have to investigate the possibility that the woman murdered in Seattle was your birth mother.”
Olly looked up as his sister Luna came into the police station balancing two cups of coffee. “Hey, haven’t seen you around for a while.”
Luna gave him one of the cups and sat down opposite him. “I’ve been staying in the city.”
Luna was never very forthcoming about her movements and Olly couldn’t help feel concerned about his younger sister. She was the same age as Inca—twenty-eight—but somehow seemed so much younger. Her dark blue eyes and black hair made her stand out in a crowd, but Luna always seemed to be trying to avoid any interaction with her peer group. Only Inca had ever broken through Luna’s high walls, and now that she and Olly were no longer a couple, Luna seemed to be backsliding. It bugged Olly.
“Thanks for the coffee. You go see Inca?”
Luna shrugged. “She’s out to dinner with the billionaire, apparently.”
Olly grinned at his sister. “Don’t be judgy. You know Inca’s not a gold-digger. Why are you taking our split out on her? I’m the one who instigated it.”
Luna sighed. “Then you’re the idiot.”
“Sweets, we couldn’t have stayed together just for you, you know.”
“Don’t be patronizing; that’s not why I’m pissed.”
“Because she’s the best thing that ever happened to this family and you blew it.”
Olly blinked, surprised at the venom in Luna’s voice. “Wow.”
She relented. “Sorry, just keeping it real.”
“Luna … God. What the hell? Luna, I think you need to get used to the fact that Inca and I are not together. I have Molly; she has Tommaso Winter; but we both still love you.”
Luna rolled her eyes. “Whatever. You met the billionaire?”
Luna gave him a sly grin. “Scarlett told me Inca’s bringing him back to the Sakura later. Wanna go check the rich guy out?”
Olly glanced around the empty office. “Knox?”
His deputy poked his head out of another door. “Yep?”
“You good here? Okay if I step out for a time?”
“Go for it, boss.”
Olly stood and hitched his pants up. “Right. Time for a little stakeout.” He winked at Luna and together they crossed the street to the Varsity.
Inca and Tommaso were just leaving Levi’s restaurant. Tommaso had his hand on her back. Olly stopped. He couldn’t breathe for a moment.
Luna pulled him into the coffee shop. Olly, walking backwards, collided with a table just as Inca came in. She grinned at him. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. The pale pink against her golden skin was luminous; the lights of the teahouse glinting off the beads threw tiny strands of light onto her face, into her eyes. Tommaso walked in behind her, a proud look on his face.
“Hey dude.” Inca touched Olly’s arm, breaking the spell. She walked behind the counter and grabbed the coffee pot. She filled three mugs and passed one to each of them. She grabbed a soda from the cooler for herself.
“Wow.” Olly repeated and she flushed. Tommaso sat down at the counter. Olly eyed him and nodded at Inca.
“That’s a nice dress.”
Tommaso bowed his head. “Just a little token of my esteem.”
“Uh-huh.” Olly suddenly didn’t like this guy; he was way too confident.
Tommaso smiled. “Chief Rosenbaum, I feel I haven’t had the chance to get to know you properly.”
He offered his hand and, after a hesitation, Olly shook it. Inca beamed.
“I don’t want to offend you, Tommaso, but I’m just going to go out back and change. I’m terrified of spilling coffee on this dress.”
She gave them both a smile and disappeared. Scarlett went to clear the tables and close the door. Luna sat in silence. Olly couldn’t resist.
“Personal. A dress.”
Tommaso nodded. “That’s what Inca said. Perhaps it was inappropriate.”
Olly was taken aback by the other man’s admission. He thawed a little.
“How long do you think you’ll be staying?”
Tommaso smiled. “At the moment, we have no plans to leave. Plenty of time to get to know everyone.”
Olly nodded. “Sure.”
Tommaso leaned over and refilled his coffee. He offered the pot to Olly, who shook his head. Tommaso looked at the other man.
“Perhaps you and … Molly, is it, would like to join us for dinner one night?”
Olly felt his conciliatory mood disappear at Tommaso’s proprietary tone. He stood up. “Uh-huh.” He knocked on the backroom door. “Inks, I’m going now.”
Tommaso smirked into his mug and Olly gave him a withering look. Inca poked her head out of the door.
“Okay, night, then.”
Olly touched her face and smiled. “Night, darlin’.”
He walked towards the door.
Olly nodded at Tommaso, curt and annoyed. He waved to his sister and went out into the night.
Outside he crossed the street, looking back over at the teahouse. He watched Tommaso talking to Inca, touching her face, kissing her tenderly. Arrogant prick.
“Us’ he thought. Fucker knew exactly what he was doing.
Olly sighed, reminded himself that he had no right to be annoyed or to be jealous, but a knot of tension had lodged itself in his chest. He lit a cigarette, feeling like an intruder as he watched the two of them. His friend. His Inca. He knew he was being petulant.
He coughed and pulling himself together.
She’s not your Inca anymore, buddy.
He winced at the pain the thought caused him. He crushed the remainder of his smoke under his heel and went to work.
Tommaso stayed over at Inca’s apartment and she saw him taking it all in. “I like it,” he said. “It’s very you.”
She smiled and he took her in his arms. “Inca, I need to tell you something. I’ve never been this happy.”
She smiled at him, both touched and nervous. “Tommaso … I love spending time with you. I do, but I don’t know if I’m ready for a serious relationship.”
Tommaso shrugged. “It’s okay. You will be.”
She laughed at his certainty and he grinned and swept her into the bedroom. As he started to strip her, she kissed his neck. “I really do love that dress, Tommaso.”
“I’m glad you decided to keep it,” he said, brushing his lips along her collarbone. “But I prefer what’s underneath it.” He took her nipple into his mouth, sucking on it gently, looking up at her as his tongue teased her. Inca shivered with pleasure as he removed her panties and pressed her against the wall of her bedroom. “I’m going to fuck you all night long, Principessa …”
The fact that he was still dressed in his impeccable Armani suit while she was naked was a complete turn-on for Inca. He lifted her easily, then his cock was plunging into her, nailing her to the wall, his hands harsh on her body, his lips rough on hers. He kissed her brutally, so that she tasted blood, and as he fucked her, Inca let herself go, feeling every sensation he was sending through her body. Afterward they moved to the bed and she went on top, thrusting her hips hard onto him, wanting to take him deeper and deeper. He smiled up at her as she rode him, his hands on her breasts, her belly, fingers biting into the soft flesh of her hips.
Inca loved the way Tommaso looked at her. With this man, she felt more sensual, more feminine than she ever had with anyone else.
Afterward, they soaked in her little bathtub together, Inca leaning back on Tommaso’s hard chest. His fingers traced a pattern in soap bubbles on her belly. “Bella, I like this place. It is a shame you have to move.”
“I know,” she sighed, distracted by the feel of his fingers on her skin. “I guess I’ll really have to step up the search for a new place.”
“You know my thoughts.” His lips nuzzled her ear, then moved to her shoulder. Inca smiled, closing her eyes.
They lay in silence for a time. “I don’t think your police chief likes me.”
Inca opened her eyes. “Olly’s harmless. He’s probably doing that man thing you all do.”
Tommaso laughed. “I have no idea what you mean.”
“The ‘marking your territory’ thing. Not that I’m either of your territories, just to remind you.” She felt his laugh rumble through his chest.
“I hear you. Tell him, though.”
“Oh, I will.” She was quiet for a long moment. “Tommaso … there’s something I have to tell you, something that’s going on. It kind of explains why Olly is a little overprotective.”
She told him about the murders and Tommaso listened in shocked silence. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”
She sat up and turned to face him. His eyes were troubled. “Because we don’t know if it actually has anything to do with me or it’s just a coincidence. They took some DNA to run against the older women they found in Seattle.” Her breath hitched in her throat at that and he cradled her cheek in his palm.
“Are you okay?”
“I just never considered my birth parents—as far as I’m concerned, Nancy and Tyler are my parents.”
Tommaso nodded, his face serious. “I hope it is not your birthmother, but I do know something about family disharmony. My parents were very unhappy before they divorced. My father is a … difficult man. My mother was an angel.”
Inca smiled. “You’ve never talked about your family before.”
Tommaso laughed softly. “Neither have you.”
Inca realized he was right. “I guess we really don’t know each other that well.”
“I guess not.”
They gazed at each other for a long moment. “I would like to get to know you,” he said softly and leaned in to kiss her.
Wrapping her arms around his neck, Inca suddenly felt optimistic. The man in her arms was gorgeous, funny, and smart. Maybe it was time she told herself it was okay to fall for him.
Tommaso surprised her the following morning as she was opening up the Sakura. The day was surprisingly warm; the snow from the storm was almost gone. Inca had arranged to show Raffaelo around the area today, so she was surprised when Tommaso showed up. Inca grinned when, with him, she saw a huge Labrador Retriever bound out of his car.
The dog immediately went to her, wagging its plummy tail, and Inca hugged it delightedly.
“You got a dog?”
Tommaso grinned. “Technically, you got a dog. Since you won’t let me pay for a security detail, I thought this was the next best thing.”
Inca was touched. “That’s really sweet … God, he’s so beautiful. What’s his name?”
“Boomer. Hey, look, I didn’t choose it. I got him at the pound.”
Inca almost felt like crying. “Tommaso, I don’t know what to say … thank you.”
“I hope it wasn’t presuming too much.”
It was … but Inca didn’t care. She fussed around the dog, making him excited and crazy. She grabbed a bowl of water for him. “Tommaso, he’s lovely; thank you.”
She kissed him as they heard a horn toot outside. “I think my brother is here,” Tommaso said, then looked at Boomer. “Shall I take him for today? Raff isn’t keen on dogs.”
Inca was still smiling as she slid into the passenger seat of Raffaelo’s car. When Raffaelo didn’t start the car, she turned to look at him. He was watching her, his green eyes intense.
“Is there something I should know?”
Inca felt her face burn and looked away. “Not at all. So, where shall we start?”
“I saw another road along here. I’m assuming it leads around the town?”
Inca sighed, relieved. “Yes. It’s the only other—I was going to say highway, but that would be overstating its size.” She laughed and Raffaelo smiled.
“For a small town, it seems bigger than it looks.”
Inca nodded. “It’s because there aren’t many buildings. The population is less than two hundred and fifty people, not counting the pupils at the school. During the semester, the population triples. Good for business.”
They drove in silence for a little while. Inca gazed out of the window at the coast road, its fir-lined cliffs, the steps down to the beach carved into the stone.
“Where does this road go?”
Raffaelo’s question brought her out of her reverie.
“Around to the school. We’ll pass the golf course soon.”
“So, you have a large school and a golf course for a population of two hundred and fifty.”
She laughed. “And you don’t want to know how few of us play golf. Do you?”
“Play golf? No.”
Do you even know how to have fun? Inca thought to herself. She thought back to the nights when she and Olly, Knox, and Scarlett had played board games and gotten drunk together, falling asleep on the couches and chairs in their living rooms, waking in the early hours to cover her friends with blankets. She couldn’t picture Raffaelo sprawled out in an easy chair, a half-empty beer bottle at his feet as he tried to name all fifty states. She remembered Olly squinting at the ceiling trying desperately to recall Arkansas while she, Knox, and Scarlett heckled him. Inca grinned again and looked at Raffaelo, ramrod straight in his seat, dressed impeccably as always. Inca narrowed her eyes at him, a mischievous grin on her face.
“Raffaelo … what do you do for fun?”
The question seemed to surprise him. “What do you mean?”
“Just that. We’re supposed to be getting to know each other, and I still know nothing about you.”
“And your first question is how do I have fun?”
The tension was back. With a simple question, he’d made her feel frivolous and shallow. Stung, Inca turned away and stared out of the window. After a while, Raffaelo gave a little cough.
“Inca, I feel as if I have … I didn’t mean to offend you. Sometimes I don’t express myself as I would wish. Your question was completely legitimate and I apologize if …” He cleared his throat again. “I read. I watch television; I go to the cinema, the theatre. I don’t play golf but I like to run and sometimes play tennis.” He smiled at her and Inca saw genuine regret in his expression.
She nodded out of the window. “Pull over up here. I want to show you something.”
Raffaelo pulled the car to the side of the road and they got out. Inca led the way down one of the stairways carved into the cliff. Halfway down, she turned into a small opening in the rock. Raffaelo had to bend to walk into the cave. Inca sat down on a rock and he joined her.
“The first time I showed Tommaso around, I showed him this place.”
Raffaelo squinted into the blackness of the cave. “How far does it go back?”
She laughed. “No idea. We did think about investigating, but we were too chicken. Anyway, I wanted to show you this because he wanted to know where I had grown up.”
Raffaelo nodded. He went to stand at the edge of the cave, looking out over the ocean. Inca studied him, still trying to find some familiarity in his personality—he seemed too different from Tommaso.
Raffaelo turned, saw her smiling and took a seat beside her.
“Inca, I …” He stopped, and she noticed with surprise that he seemed nervous. He took a deep breath in. “Inca, I know I can seem … different. I don’t make friends easily. I have always preferred my own company. But I hope that is about to change.”
She returned his smile. “I hope so too. Come on, let’s go down to the beach.”
He followed her down to the beach, watching the way her hips swayed gently and the almost childlike exuberance of her gait when they reached the sand. Inside him, he felt a rare emotion: admiration. He liked this woman, he realized, and that disconcerted him. For once in his life, Raffaelo Winter considered that his relationship with this particular woman could be different. She could be to him what no other woman had ever been.
Olly came to see her later. “Still no news on the DNA, I’m afraid.”
He made a fuss of Boomer. “That’s a nice gift, a great idea. Of course, I’d feel better if you got your firearms’ license and bought a gun.”
Inca shook her head. “No way. Not going to happen.”
Olly studied her. “Inca … this is real. Women are dying; young women are being butchered. God help me, I won’t let that happen to you or anyone else I know. But you have to help me out here. Don’t do anything reckless; don’t go out on your own at night.”
Inca gave a hiss of frustration. “Olly, have you any idea what women have to go through every day because a man might kill us? I’m not curtailing my life.”
“Then let’s just hope he doesn’t curtail your life.”
He'd seen her out with her friends, drinking, laughing. Her engagement party. He'd come upon her in her bedroom, trying on her wedding dress. She'd been drinking cheap white wine and twirling in front of the mirror. Princess for the day. Then, as he stepped into her eye-line, the fear.
She hadn't screamed, just a widening of the eyes. He'd picked up her glass, put the tablet in, the cheap Rohypnol from the scrawny dead-eyed dealer in Belltown, made her drink it. The liquid spilling over her lips, she had obeyed, shaking, tears pouring down her face. The horror of it all worked quicker than the drug. She'd passed out. He had lain her gently on the bed waiting. As she stirred, he had gripped the knife firmly and plunged it into her abdomen, his hand clamped across her mouth as she screamed at last. Blood had spattered across the intricate lace.
Inca was falling asleep in the armchair. She had tried to keep awake for the movie but kept missing huge chunks of it. She hadn’t slept well since Olly’s warning and now she was exhausted. She had settled Boomer into her life and now she sat with the dog on her couch, wondering if she should just close her eyes and sleep.
The credits were rolling when Boomer started barking. He skittered to the front door and scratched at it. Inca, dopey from sleep, didn’t think. She pulled it open and Boomer ran out.
“What the hell are you doing?” Hunter yelled at her.
She was awake then. Hunter strode up to her, his face contorted with anger. Boomer had disappeared. She shook herself.
“I could have been anybody. You just open the door?”
She was shocked. Hunter had never even raised his voice to anyone as far she knew, and for certain not to her, but he was red with anger now. He came up to her and grabbed her shoulders.
“Inca, I could have been anybody. Someone who’d want to hurt you. You don’t just open the door like that. Not on your own.”
“Hunter, calm down. I’m sorry; I didn’t think. “
He drew in a deep breath and she was shaken to see tears in his eyes.
“Hunter, I’m sorry. Come in for a minute.”
He looked behind him, scanning the street. He whistled, and Boomer came bounding out of the darkness, his tail wagging. He waited until the dog was in the house before nodding at Inca and stepping through the door. Inca shut the door and locked it to keep Hunter happy. She followed him back to the kitchen.
“Hunter, are you okay?” She opened the refrigerator and pulled out a beer for him. He took it.
“I’m sorry, Inca; I didn’t mean to scare you like that. Thank you for the beer.” He took a long drink. Inca sat down opposite him and waited. He drained the beer and sighed.
“You need to be more careful, is all. There’s bad people around. Pretty girl like you on her own.” He shook his head.
Inca tried not to smile. “You are very sweet, Hunter. But I have Boomer.”
He looked at her in the eye. “Dog ain’t no protection against a knife or a bullet.”
Inca swallowed. He had a point. “Hunter, I know everyone on the peninsula. Who’d come over from the mainland just to … there’s a lot of other people between me and … after all.” She smiled and pointed out the window. “The next land that way is Japan. I’m okay. I promise.”
“Olly would want me to look out for you.”
“I know, and don’t think I don’t appreciate you. I do. You’re my family, Hunter; don’t ever forget that. I’m sorry about earlier. I promise I will be more careful. I’ll keep Boomer in the house and keep the door locked. I won’t answer the door after dark unless I know the person. Is that okay?” Inca got up to get him another beer and to pour herself a glass of milk.
“Not all bad people are strangers.” Hunter muttered and she turned, frowning. Hunter looked away from her, down into his drink. She sat down again.
“Hunter, who are you talking about?”
He didn’t answer, but Inca had already guessed.
“Hunter, are you talking about Tommaso?”
He nodded. She leaned over and grabbed his hand, squeezing it.
“Hunter, why would Tommaso want to hurt me?”
“I don’t trust him.”
Inca gave a frustrated laugh. “Have you been talking to Olly?”
“Olly’s a good man. Smart guy. I’ve seen him watching you.”
“You’ve seen Olly watching me?”
“No. Him. Tommaso. He watches you. He’s said things.”
“What things, Hunter?”
Hunter flushed, shifted in his chair. He didn’t look her in the eye. “Says he could have you if he wanted you.”
Inca laughed. “Hunter … he and I are seeing each other. He knows it’s not serious.”
Hunter’s voice was small. “I don’t think so.”
Inca didn’t know what to say. “I’m sure you’re wrong, Hunter. He doesn’t mean any harm. He’s a nice guy.”
Boomer started barking again and Hunter was up. He yanked the door open, keeping Boomer from running out. He passed the dog to Inca and ran out.
“Keep him in; lock the door. Don’t open it again, even for me.”
Inca did as she was told and went to the window. Hunter’s torch bobbed into the darkness and disappeared. She sat at the kitchen table, waiting for some news or for Hunter to call through the door. Just before midnight, she couldn’t keep her eyes open and crawled into bed. She glanced at her phone just as she saw Hunter text her to say all was well. Inca smiled, hugged Boomer to her, and fell asleep.
At home, Olly showered quickly and dressed. He’d enjoyed his run that morning with the fresh cold Washington air in his lungs. His smile soon faded when the familiar scene of police tape and CSI officers filled the screen. Another murder. This time in her home.
“Jesus Christ.” He tried to think back over the serial killings in the US over the last few years - The Milwaukee North Side Stranglings between ’86 and’04; Anthony Kirkland’s campaign in Cincinnati in the late 00’s; the California Bride Murders in 2014. Something about that last one snagged at something in his memory. He flicked on his laptop and waited for the browser to load. He turned the television up as he waited.
“Victim was stabbed repeatedly in the abdomen and, reports say, disemboweled.”
Olly felt the usual nausea rise in his throat. He tapped Bride Murders in California into the search engine and hit return. A sense of familiarity made the hairs on his neck stand up.
How the hell had he not seen this before?
The victims, all stabbed to death, almost eviscerated. Over three days in San Francisco, Bakersfield, and Fresno, the killings had been famous not only for their savagery but for the killer’s audaciousness. All three women were killed whilst trying on wedding dresses—in the dressing rooms of the boutiques. No-one saw anything. Olly gave a choked laugh.
How is that even possible?
But it wasn’t even that which made him shake his head and wonder just what the hell kind of monster they were looking for. The women. The dead women. Their pictures would haunt him. The beautiful faces of Kelly Cho, Zyang Mha, and Melissa Tang stared out at him from the screen, every one of them reminding him of his tiny brunette ex-girlfriend.
“How’s things going, missy?” Tyler smiled down at her. And how is the boyfriend?”
Inca saw Tommaso look up, his interest piqued. They were all gathered in Levi’s restaurant for his partner’s birthday and Inca had invited Tommaso as her plus one. So far, she’d introduced him to her father, Tyler, her friends, and now he was chatting with Scarlett. Olly joined Tyler and Inca, casting suspicious glances at Tommaso. Inca ignored him and turned to Tyler.
“It’s good. I mean, we’re all just getting to know each other. It takes time. Sometimes it can be rocky but … we’re getting there.”
There was a long silence. Inca sighed.
“Just say what you want to, guys,” she said, shooting a glance over to Tommaso at the bar. “But keep your voices down.”
Tyler grimaced slightly. “I don’t know about that one,” he said, his deep, soulful voice low. “Seems to me, you need to watch him. There’s something … off.”
Olly raised his glass slightly. “Exactly what I think.” Inca looked back and forth between them. Both were people she would trust with her life.
“Listen,” she said softly, “I agree he’s not like us—how could he be? But I get the feeling … oh, I don’t know, that there’s more to his story than he’s told me. I don’t think he had an easy time of it.” Inca rolled her shoulders, suddenly tense.
“People deserve second chances,” she said quietly. Her eyes glistened and she felt suddenly very weary. Tyler put his arm around her shoulders.
“You always try and see the best in people, Inca, honey, and I love that about you. I just hope, in the end, your faith is served. I would hate to see you disappointed … or hurt.”
She leaned into him gratefully, wishing for the millionth time that Tyler was her real father. He was the nearest thing she’d ever had. Olly’s face was set and thoughtful. He leaned over to her.
“Inca, not now, but we need to have a talk. Please. For my peace of mind.”
“It’s not your job to protect me,” she whispered back. “As much as I’m grateful for you trying.”
He grinned. “Actually, it is my job. Just a chat. Nothing heavy, I promise’
“Come by the Sakura next week.”
“Just let me know when.” She nodded and he gave her a reassuring smile. She picked up her glass and looked over at Tommaso. He caught her eye and she smiled back, trying to see in his expression any spite, any malice.
There was none. Instead his eyes were full of concern, of truth. She rubbed her hand over eyes.
“Olly, Tommaso is not dangerous. You have nothing to be worried about, although I thank you for your concern. I’m a grown woman. I decide what’s good for me.” She felt bad for her snippiness then. “Truly. You cannot imagine how happy I am that you are in my life. So thankful. But Tommaso and I are having fun getting to know each other. Please, find it in your heart to be happy for me.”
Olly kissed her cheek. “I would never try to stop any happiness of yours, Ink. I meant it when I said you’ll always be my best friend.”
“You too, buddy.”
Raffaelo had fallen into a routine. He would rise at five a.m., take a run along the town’s roads and beaches, shower, shave, and dress. At a quarter of noon, he would drive down to Main Street, sliding his rental car into one of the few spots outside the Sakura. Then he would take up his spot at the counter of the teahouse and talk with his brother’s girl. He liked the routine; it was clean, reassuring, controlled. Inca didn’t seem to mind his regular appearance and even, it seemed to him, made an effort to make him feel … welcome. There was that word again, so very alien to him. Welcome. No-one screaming at him, no-one banishing him.
And, to his utter astonishment, he liked Inca too. For a woman, she was bright, funny, and a good conversationalist without being … chatty, gossipy. When the conversation fell silent, she didn’t rush to fill it, at least, not anymore, now that she’d become more comfortable in his presence. And he took pleasure in watching her, her slim yet softly rounded body, that glorious honeyed skin. On her sweet face, even now at twenty-eight, vestiges of puppy fat remained, making her look at least five years younger.
He kept most of his visits from Tommaso. He didn’t want his brother to think he was making a move on his girl. They’d had that particular problem before, back in Italy, with Perdita. Raffaelo felt the familiar pain flash through him. Perdita had been his girlfriend, his one true love before she’d cheated on him with Tommaso. Tommaso had been guilt-ridden, begging Raff for forgiveness which he had given to him—finally. But Perdita was lost to him; he never saw her again.
So now he trod carefully. He never wanted Tommaso to feel that pain, not from him. And Inca was special; Raffaelo could tell. She was different. Tommaso had always been the playboy, the man-whore—despite what their respective reputations said—but now Raff saw a real change in his brother. He was falling in love with Inca.
Raffaelo would do anything to protect that. Anything.
“Well, why not?”
Tommaso’s question, abrupt, irritated, took her aback. The expression on his face was something else. Anger.
Inca swallowed, remembering Hunter’s warning. “I’m sorry, Tommaso. I need to do some paperwork and I need some time alone. I did tell you I was busy until tomorrow.”
She turned away from him, reaching for the coffee pot. When she turned, he was standing right beside her. She started, and the pot smashed to the floor.
He held his hands up. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you, I was just coming to help.”
“Lift a coffee pot?” She was aware her tone was snippy. She crouched down and started to pick the pieces of glass up. He didn’t bend to help, nor did he move. As she stood to put the glass into the trash, she was aware of the closeness of his body, and that he was watching her. Her skin prickled, and she didn’t bother to hide her discomfort. Even in the soft warmth of the teahouse, she shivered.
“Are you okay?”
She didn’t answer him.
“I’ve offended you.” His tone was amused.
Inca wasn’t impressed.
“No, Tommaso, you just startled me. It’s fine.”
“Well, clearly not. I’ll leave you alone.”
He stalked out, leaving Inca to gape after him. Had that actually just happened? Where was the fun-loving, good-time man she had spent last night with? It was like he’d been body-swapped with someone else.
She was still upset later when Olly came to see her and asked her to sit down with him. She closed the teahouse for a while and braced herself.
“We have the DNA results, sweetheart. I’m afraid my hunch was correct. The murder victim was your biological mother.”
Emotions she didn’t understand rushed through her and she gave a little moan of distress. Tears came then, and Olly held her while she cried. “I’m so sorry, Inca.”
“I don’t know why I’m crying,” she said eventually, wiping her eyes, “I never knew her. But even so, I hate to think this happened to her. God.”
Olly nodded, his eyes serious. “And, sweetheart, it makes it more likely that the murders are tied to you in some way. Inca, listen, whatever you tell me now is strictly, and I mean, completely, between you and me. I won’t tell a soul, but I get the feeling you’re hiding something.”
Inca stared at him for a long moment, then closed her eyes. Olly took her hand.
“Inca … is there anyone who might want to cause you harm? Anyone?”
Slowly, Inca nodded. God, she really didn’t want to have this conversation.
Please, God, don’t let it be him …
“Yes. There is, Olly. There’s someone who would want to kill me … but I don’t know how the hell he found me. I don’t know how …”
Olly leaned forward, his face almost contorted with fear. “God, Inca, who? Who is it?”
Tears began to pour down her face again. “Olly, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry …”
“Who? Who is it?”
Inca took a deep breath in and looked at him, her dark eyes full of misery. “My husband. It’s my husband who wants to kill me …”