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Mary Stone - Journey's Prey (Journey Russo FBI Mystery Series Book 4)

A Taste of… Journey’s Prey

Chapter One

Rachel McNeil’s big night out was a bust. The fake IDs her best friend, Kate, had scored were supposed to be their ticket to a fabulous adventure—two hot girls hitting Euphoria, the hottest nightclub in Pittsburgh.

But euphoric it had not been. Not even close.

Sure, the IDs fooled the bouncer. The bartender, however, took one look at the fresh stamps on their wrists and rolled his eyes. He then proceeded to charge them twelve dollars for Rachel’s bottle of beer and fifteen for Kate’s vodka cranberry. And that was on top of the twenty-dollar cover charge they’d already paid at the door.

The whole place was a scam. Rachel handed Kate her drink, then reached into her bra and felt for her last twenty dollars. “We’d better meet some cute guys with plenty of cash in their pockets, fast.”

Kate scrunched her face and shrugged. The speakers were blaring. Conversation was impossible. She leaned into Rachel’s ear and hollered, “The bass is making my whole body vibrate.”

Rachel was buzzing too. The beat thumped from her chest to her toes. Exciting, sort of. Less exciting was squeezing through the sweaty crowd toward the dance floor, holding her bottle high so that no extended elbow or jiggled shoulder would knock the twelve-dollar American brew out of her hand.

Her mom often complained about the grocery store being wall-to-wall people, but that place had nothing on the crowds here. Rachel could hardly move without brushing up against a stranger’s body.

Kate grabbed her waist from behind and, together, they crept, inch by inch, away from the bar. By the time they cleared the mayhem, half of Kate’s cocktail had run down Rachel’s back.

Rachel reached over her shoulder and fluffed her dress, attempting to air-dry the mess. They’d made it to the edge of the dance floor. She stood for a second, watching the show.

The clubbers looked like characters on reality TV. For the women, the skirts were mini, the heels high, and the hair flowing. For men, it was all butts, biceps, and crotch bulges on display.

Rachel cupped her hand to Kate’s ear. “What now?”

“Dive in, I guess.” Kate threw herself into the chaotic, gyrating mass of humanity they’d just escaped.

You wanted a wild night out, right?

Rachel breathed deep and told herself to follow.

One guy on the dance floor was cute. Tall and square-chinned, with a thin layer of carefully trimmed stubble decorating his cheeks. She smiled at him. He smiled back, licking his lips and flashing a set of perfect white teeth that looked almost blue in the club’s black lights.

He sashayed up, elbows out, hips rolling like a drunk fishing-boat captain struggling to stay upright on a stormy sea. He said something. Or maybe he didn’t. His lips moved, but Rachel didn’t catch a word.

“What was that?” she shouted. “I’m sorry, it’s so loud in here.”

He must’ve decided actions spoke louder than words, because he lifted his arms above his head and strutted closer, until the mess of black chest hair poking out of the top of his half-open button-down tickled the tip of Rachel’s nose.

She turned to go. Or tried to. Hands landed on her hips. Her ass met a crotch, and Chest Hair ground his hard dick up against her butt as if trying to screw her through her clothes.

Totally repulsed, she jerked away, but he only gripped tighter and growled in her ear. “Don’t tell me you don’t love to grind, little girl.”

“Knock it off!” Pushing away from Chest Hair with her forearm, she drove the tip of her high heel into his shoe.

He let go of her hips and leaped back, hopping on one foot. “Ow. Bitch! You’re asking for it in that dress.”

Rachel bolted away from him and into the crowd. She found a small gap and paused to catch her breath, but then rough fingers grabbed at the tender skin inside her thigh. She screamed and moved away, slamming full force into the woman next to her and sending her overpriced beer crashing to the floor.

“Hey, watch what you’re doing!” The woman came at her, chest raised, ten artificial nails filed into points ready to tear into her skin.

Rachel ducked but lost her balance, landing hard on all fours. She scrambled, trying to crawl, dancing feet stomping on her hands, her dress, her legs.

“Help!” The noise drowned out her pleas, leaving Rachel no choice but to keep pushing, looking for a way to escape the throng. Euphoria was more like a monster slide to hell than the advertised rocket trip to Heaven.

Miraculously, a man reached down and grabbed her by the shoulder, pulling her up. “Hey, you okay?”

Rachel burst into tears and plowed past him, throwing elbows and open palms to shove people out of her path.

A hand grabbed Rachel’s arm. “Rachel.” It was Kate, thank heaven. “What’s wrong?”

Tears blurred Rachel’s vision. “Some guy tried to go up my dress!”

“What?” Kate hadn’t heard. It was too damn loud in this place.

“Some guy…” Rachel leaned toward her friend’s ear. “Let’s go home!”

This, Kate understood. “Right behind you, girlfriend.”

When they got out to her vehicle, Rachel couldn’t get into the driver’s seat quick enough. As soon as she and Kate buckled up, she peeled out of the parking lot. With the club in her rearview mirror, Rachel hit the highway and headed toward home as fast as the speed limit allowed.

Ten minutes into their two-hour drive, Kate reached out and gave her hand a squeeze. “Seriously, what happened?”

Vinyl crackled as Rachel gripped the steering wheel. “A guy put his hand up my dress.”

Another squeeze. “I’m so sorry, Rach. I think everyone in there was either high or drunk.”

“Men! What happened to ‘no means no?’ All I did was smile at one guy, and he licked his lips like he wanted to eat me. It was disgusting.”

Kate nodded. “Another guy gave me a sweaty bear hug. Or bear grope.”

Even though it made her sick to admit, the truth was she’d gone to Euphoria aiming to grab the attention of some guys. She’d worn her shortest, tightest dress, tied her dirty-blond curls into a topknot, and drawn her eye makeup smoky as coal soot.

She turned to Kate, whose head rested against the passenger-side window. “Maybe we got what we deserved. I feel kinda slutty.”

“Don’t you even.” Kate always sounded like she was speaking through a bullhorn. “Just because you’re wearing a miniskirt doesn’t give a guy the right to grab your cooch.”

“Maybe.” Rachel decided not to press the point. Too exhausted to make sense of everything that’d happened back at the club, she wanted to go home and stand in the shower until every last sensation from their night washed down the drain.

“Rain check on the sleepover?” Kate must’ve read her mind. “I just want to take off all this makeup and crash in my own bed.”

“Yeah. Same.” Rachel turned on the cruise control. They’d each told their parents they’d be at the other’s house tonight—a mutual lie meant to cover their nightclubbing tracks. The party at Euphoria was supposed to hit its stride around midnight. They’d left before ten.

Her parents would ask why she’d decided to come home so early. She and Kate were tight and almost never fought. But she could concoct an excuse tomorrow. For now, all she wanted was the night to end.

Maybe she’d even throw away her outfit. After a night like this, it was clear the hot-pink dress was bad luck. Which only pissed her off. She’d saved a whole month just to buy the thing.

She took a deep breath and focused on the highway in front of her. There was always something soothing about driving at night. Hardly any other cars on the road, her headlights eating up the pavement in front of them, the choppy white lines sailing past. Bliss.

A guttural snore from beside her gave Rachel a jolt. Kate was fast asleep, her head leaning against the windowpane.

There was still well over an hour to go before they’d be home. With one eye on the road, Rachel plugged in her phone and scrolled her music app. Phoebe Bridgers would get them there safely. She pressed play and kept the volume low.

The rest of the ride back to Woodgrove was uneventful.

As she pulled up and parked in front of Kate’s door, Rachel gave her a little nudge. “We’re here.”

Kate jerked upright. “Oh, crap. Did I sleep the whole way? Sorry.”

“It’s all good. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Kate slid out of the passenger seat and leaned in before closing the door. “You sure you’re okay to get home?”

Rachel laughed for the first time all night. “It’s only five minutes away. I think I’ll make it.”

Kate blew her a kiss and shuffled barefoot to her house, heels dangling from her fingers.

It was eleven thirty.

The moon hung like a sliver in the sky. The forest, going by in a blur through Rachel’s windows, was blacker than black.

When she pulled up to her own driveway a few minutes later, the front-porch light was on, but the house was dark. Her parents had gone to bed already. If she was quiet, she ought to be able to tiptoe to her bedroom without an inquisition. The houses on their block sat too far apart for prying eyes, so she didn’t have to worry about one of the neighbors spotting her.

She stepped out of the car and nudged the door with her hip. It clicked shut quietly.

Kate had the right idea when she took her shoes off.

Rachel crouched and undid the tiny buckles of her strappy, high-heeled sandals. As she stepped out of them, her tired feet nearly sighed in instant relief.

Instead of walking on the stone path up to the front door—the one her father had installed with much effort a few years ago—Rachel preferred to feel the grass under her feet. And suddenly, with the cool, soft blades tickling her toes, it seemed ridiculous that everyone was forced to wear shoes all the time.

She looked up at the stars. Despite everything that had happened, it really was a glorious night.

Rachel dragged her feet against the ground, slowly making her way to the front door.

She was about to step up onto the well-lit porch when a figure slipped out of the blackness behind the bushes surrounding the house. Before she could open her mouth to scream, a gloved hand clamped over her face just as an arm wrapped around her waist.

The figure hissed into her ear as he muscled her away from home, from safety. “Don’t scream.”

She roared anyway, though her shouts were muffled against his glove.

Her body jolted with adrenaline, seemingly all the way up from her toes. Every instinct told her to kick, fight, scratch, and run. She swiped at him with her strappy sandals, but the much-stronger attacker simply brushed them away. They fell silently on the grass along with her set of keys.

Rachel screamed again, louder, a force emanating from her deepest depths, trying desperately to catapult her voice over and around the vise at her mouth.

“Dammit! I said don’t scream.” Her attacker yanked her face violently, and her head smacked against the side of her car. She heard him grunt as white sparks overtook the black night. Her stomach flipped with the need to vomit.

The monster behind her readjusted and tightened the grip on her mouth, forcing an elbow up into her armpit. A forearm cranked around the base of her skull. She was being dragged toward the woods.

Rachel tried to dig her feet into the ground, drive her heel into the attacker’s toe as she’d done at the club, but her bare feet were useless. Still, she had to fight. Her house bordered national forestland, miles from any campground, hiking path, or access road.

Nothing waiting for her out there would end well.

She kicked and stomped, aiming for knees, toes, shins. Anything. Just one good shot. That was all she needed.

Instead, a blow on the back of her head brought an inferno of hot pain.

Followed by nothing but darkness and silence.

***

The taste of evergreen and dirt filled Rachel’s mouth. She forced her eyes open, finding herself face down on the forest floor. Pine cones and needles dug painfully into her skin. A hand no longer covered her lips, but something soft and moist that tasted like day-old laundry had been shoved so hard into her mouth, she could barely breathe. The tightness in her cheeks told her that her mouth had been taped shut.

Her heart raced as she tried to move her chest, but a heavy weight across her back kept her firmly in place. She couldn’t tell if it was a knee or maybe an elbow, but it was doing its job.

The monster was mumbling. He sounded pissed.

She hadn’t gotten a look at the person who’d attacked her, but it was clear he wasn’t finished. Freeing herself was the only thing that mattered.

Her arms were tightly pinned against the ground, but her hips and legs were still free. If she managed to build up enough strength in her core, she could thrust her thighs upward and throw her attacker off-balance.

“Stop…struggling!” The voice turned angry as she wriggled. Terrified of enraging him further, she stilled, and the pressure at her back eased slightly.

This was it. If she didn’t run now, she might never get another chance.

Three. Two. One.

“Argh!” Through the gag in her mouth, she roared, throwing all her strength into her hips, raising them just enough to slide her knees into position beneath her.

“Fuck, no!” Her attacker bellowed so loudly it made her ears ring.

But she’d shifted him off-balance as hoped. If she could just try one more time…

She was digging her toes into the earth to brace for an explosion when a blade pierced her neck like a savage animal attack.

This wasn’t the cool, clean slice of a kitchen knife across a fingertip. This was the puncture of a single, steel tooth, lodged between her ear and shoulder blade. Fiery pain flamed through her body.

She coughed. Once. A burble of liquid filled her throat.

The weight on her back drifted up and away from her body.

I’m dying.

But in that moment, even that didn’t seem so bad.

Though the forest floor was no longer needling her skin, the fresh scent of pine grew oddly more intense. Trying to take one last breath, she inhaled deeply, desperate to hold on to this one small piece of the world.

Her mind slowed to a stop like a car running out of gas, and all her thoughts floated away. As the air left her lungs, she surrendered to the darkness waiting for her.

Chapter Two

Special Agent Journey Russo stared at the little black cat sleeping soundly on her couch. Dracula, the stray she’d rescued shortly after returning to Pittsburgh, didn’t mind doing nothing all day.

She, on the other hand, was almost tearing her hair out she was so bored.

For the past two weeks, Journey had been placed on administrative leave while the Bureau investigated her role in the shootout that culminated her last case. She’d spent a day back at the office, fielding question after question about what occurred in the fight.

They had other questions for her, as well, regarding her mental health and wellness. She’d answered as honestly as she could. When it was over, her reviewer had told her she’d be hearing from them and to go home.

Where all that awaited her was a dozy cat.

In the meantime, her partner, Special Agent Lucas Sullivan, had suggested she take the opportunity to seek help. Apparently, sleeping poorly, craving a mind-numbing workload, and being unable to let go of the past weren’t elements that coalesced to build a happy, productive life. She’d asked him about therapy exactly once during their previous case, and since then, he’d clamped down on the idea like a bull dog on a chew toy.

There was a time, not long ago, when Journey would’ve interpreted his urging as an insult or at least a slight. But, if she were being honest, in the past few weeks, she’d been thinking the same thing. Her caseload had been crushing, and she felt herself growing increasingly impatient, even angry.

Maybe it was time to try something new.

She didn’t want to speak with one of the mental health professionals employed by the FBI. Not that she didn’t trust that they’d maintain doctor-patient confidentiality. Rather, she felt like she needed her therapist to have some distance from what she did so they could focus on what was happening inside of her.

However, she did ask one for a recommendation. Dr. Tracey Heatherington was the name he’d sent over. When Journey read that last name for the first time, she was tempted to call the whole thing off. So pompous. But she reminded herself she would try not to fly off the handle without a reason.

She and Dr. Heatherington hadn’t spoken much during their first meeting last Thursday. Journey didn’t know what to say, and the therapist hadn’t pressed her.

When time was up, Dr. Heatherington handed her a blank notebook and told Journey to start tracking her emotions. The goal was to understand what was occurring within herself and in her surroundings that caused her to feel a certain way. In the journal, she was required to answer the questions “when,” “where,” and “how.”

But not “why.” They would unpack that in their next sessions. Journey had scheduled one for a week later.

Now, she glowered at her docile feline for another minute, arms crossed like a child. Since she’d already finished deep cleaning her apartment—a feat that would make clean-freak Lucas proud if he ever found out—she’d run out of anything else to do.

She thought for a second of making a note in the journal in which Dr. Heatherington suggested she track her emotions…Saturday morning, nine thirty, feeling smug…but decided not to bother.

Her phone rang, breaking the one-sided staring contest.

Journey grinned as she read the Caller ID. “Ha!”

It was her boss, SSA Victoria Keller.

“You don’t know how good your timing is.” As soon as she said it, tension coursed through her veins. Nine thirty on a Saturday morning was no time for her boss to be calling. “Am I back?”

Keller cleared her throat. “You are. But you may not think that when you hear what I have to say. I need you and Agent Sullivan to come in. We’ve got a new potential serial-killer case. Young girl found mutilated on the boundaries of the Allegheny National Forest. Joint task force with Clearfield County and the National Park Service.”

Journey’s heart fluttered. Keller had just given her the greatest excuse to avoid dithering about with her cat, even if it was under the worst possible circumstances. “Count me in. I’m on my way.”

She was out the door within minutes.

The body had been found in Woodgrove, Pennsylvania, a small town in rural Clearfield County that bordered the national forest. Crimes on federal parkland—a category under which national forests fell—were the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, and as Keller described the case on the phone during the drive, Journey couldn’t blame the service for reaching out to the Bureau. Especially as, at the moment, the NPS couldn’t spare an agent from their specialized unit that investigated crimes on federal parkland, the Investigative Services Branch.

The murder sounded horrific. A teenage girl was not only dead but also disfigured.

About an hour outside Pittsburgh, the GPS sent Journey onto I-80 East. One sign after another reminded her she was drawing close to the Allegheny National Forest, the most beautiful part of Pennsylvania, with rivers and campgrounds and outdoor adventure galore.

To a hiker looking for a place to spend a few days in nature, the place couldn’t have been more inviting.

But this particular national forest had taken on an entirely new meaning for Journey, ever since their last case. She and Lucas had spent days searching for a group of assailants who broke into Pittsburgh-area homes and killed residents at close range with hunting bows. Three boys were in custody while one had died during a climactic showdown.

In post-arrest interviews with their families, one boy’s parents revealed they had information that could help an ongoing FBI investigation. They said Aaron Harris—a core member of The Chosen, a cult known for murdering its members for financial gain—was a distant cousin and had a relationship with their son.

At the mention of The Chosen, Journey’s spine tingled. She’d worked undercover in the cult as part of an FBI sting operation and had almost become another of its victims. She’d only survived thanks to the hand-to-hand combat training she’d received at Quantico.

The boy’s parents said that “Uncle Aaron” owned a cabin deep in the Allegheny National Forest. They were willing to give the FBI its location, if the information gave him a better deal.

That agreement wasn’t Journey’s to make. Prosecutors would have the final say on whether the brokered info was worthy of the exchange. And Aaron Harris might not even be at the address they gave. If he’d gone to squat off-grid in a national forest with eight hundred square miles of thick, untraveled woods, the FBI would still need a search team or a helicopter with thermal cameras to track him down.

Both of those options demanded a huge amount of resources, an investment that could only be made if the return were both valuable and certain. And while a thermal camera mounted on a drone was the most efficient way to locate signs of life, even the best FBI technology could be beaten, especially by a survivalist with the skill and determination to avoid detection.

Harris could hide himself behind glass or lie under a Mylar blanket. At least, for a while. If he heard them coming, he could make sure he wasn’t spotted.

Journey tried to picture a group of tiny drones attempting to scan such an immense area as the Allegheny National Forest without being noticed. She tapped the steering wheel. Maybe she was chasing a wild hare of an idea.

As more and more trees flashed past her window, she switched radio stations, searching for clearer airwaves. She wasn’t headed out there to search for Aaron Harris today but to investigate the horrific end to a young girl’s life. The victim of a stone-cold killer who’d left her mutilated body to rot in the woods.

The GPS told her to turn left at the next intersection. As she pulled off the road, she was surprised to find the location wasn’t as isolated as she’d expected. The address Keller had given her was a moderate, two-story residence with tan siding and a well-maintained lawn.

There were other houses on the street, too, though they were too distant from each other to resemble a typical suburban neighborhood. The only way to make the block of seven homes she’d grown up on look like this community would be to erase the five houses in the middle of the street and replace them with a copse of gigantic pine trees.

Journey didn’t even have to step out of her Mazda to spot the yellow tape blocking off a patch of forestland about a hundred yards from the house. A few feet closer, and this murder would have been a local county crime instead of a federal investigation.

She wondered whether the killer had known.

Lucas hadn’t arrived yet, but Keller had told her to connect with a park ranger by the name of John Wexler. He wasn’t hard to spot. Behind a forensic investigator pulling on a white suit stood a tall, heavyset man in a khaki-and-green uniform with a big hat balanced on his bald head. He looked like he’d come straight out of a Yogi Bear cartoon.

“Ranger Wexler?” She extended her hand. “I’m Special Agent Journey Russo from the Pittsburgh FBI field office.”

“Call me John, please.” He had a firm grip, hard but friendly.

“I’ll call you John, if you’ll call me Journey.”

He nodded, and as he did so, his weatherproof ranger hat didn’t even bobble.

Journey found herself wondering whether the ranger was smarter than the average bear. She pushed the thought out of her head. This was no joke, and at well over six feet, Ranger Wexler was no bumbling fool.

“I can walk you over to the body.” He took a step, then hesitated. “I’m guessing this isn’t your first.”

“No.” Journey had seen a lot of bodies, too many to count. Far too many.

Still, Wexler didn’t move. “Could be your worst, though. I hope it is. I really do. Because I hope you never have to see anything worse than this.”

Journey breathed in slowly and wondered what she was about to get into.

As they stepped into the woods, one of the forensic techs turned around. Even behind her white mask and with her hair hidden by her hood, Journey instantly recognized the tech’s grin. The crinkle around her eyes was a dead giveaway.

Michelle Timmer, Journey’s sister. She was a forensic analyst at the Pittsburgh FBI field office. Like Journey, she’d graduated near the top of her class at Yale. Unlike Journey, a couple years ago, she’d dyed her light hair jet-black, pulled it up into a couple of high pigtails, and had adopted a general Goth-beauty vibe. She looked like Wednesday Addams, if the latter could also identify a thousand different blood-spatter patterns.

Though, as Journey considered it, she realized Wednesday Addams probably could identify those patterns.

In any event, the look suited Michelle.

“Hold up a second, John.” Journey approached Michelle. “You guys met?”

Ranger Wexler shook his head. “Haven’t had the pleasure.”

“This is Michelle Timmer. She’s about the best forensic analyst the FBI’s got. And she’s my sister.”

“Nice to meet you. Some family business you got there.” He stretched out his hand, spotted Michelle’s latex gloves, and withdrew it. Michelle pulled down her mask.

Journey studied her sister. Two years ago, Michelle had been abducted and assaulted by her ex—a fellow FBI agent. The event had been harrowing and traumatic but time off, therapy, and Journey’s ever-watchful gaze had helped Michelle fight her way back. Everyone had their triggers, though, and violence against women of any kind could still send Michelle into a spiral.

This case had violence against women written all over it.

But Michelle didn’t look triggered. At least, not yet. Her face was relaxed, her expression professional.

As Journey pulled on a set of booties and gloves, she whispered into Michelle’s ear. “You okay to do this? From what Keller told me, you might want to sit this one out.”

Michelle shook her head. “No way. This is exactly the kind of case I should be working.” She picked up her tool case, and they quickened their pace to catch up with the ranger.

The first sight of any murder victim was always unsettling. Photos never quite captured the scene. A lifeless body was its own spectacle. Eyes that no longer opened and closed, lungs that couldn’t breathe, a smile that once lit up a face gone forever. In ten years on the force, Journey had developed a numbness at crime scenes. It was the only way to survive this job.

That numbness, though, was nearly powerless against the sight of Rachel McNeil.

Keller had said she was eighteen. The girl on the ground was petite enough to have passed for fourteen or fifteen. She was dressed for a night on the town, with silver nail polish, black eyeliner, and shimmering purple lids, all of which were dotted with mud and grass stains. Her hot-pink dress had been reduced to shreds of fabric smeared with dirt and blood. A piece of duct tape was stretched across her mouth. Rachel’s exposed pubic area peeked out from what was left of her white panties.

If that had been all, Journey’s head wouldn’t have drained of both blood and oxygen. But Rachel’s face had been mutilated. Xs carved into both eyes. Mouth cut into a clownish smile.

Wexler gave Journey and Michelle a moment to take it all in before speaking. “Her father found her this morning. Ted McNeil.”

Journey’s heart leaped to her throat. “Her father saw this?”

Wexler pursed his lips. “I know. He was walking their dog. The pooch smelled the body and pulled him into the woods. He called the sheriff, who recognized the jurisdiction issue, and called us. I went out to verify his story, then called you.”

Journey knelt beside Rachel’s shoulder. A deep wound cut across the side of Rachel’s neck, a single stab, which would have severed the carotid artery. The dirt beneath Rachel’s head was dark and covered with ants. “So he must’ve identified her. Horrible.”

Wexler shook his head. “You should’ve seen it when I arrived. He was just sitting by the body, weeping. Worst shock of his life, from what it looked like. He could barely speak.” He rubbed his hand over his face. “I wish he’d never seen it. I don’t know how he managed it, but he didn’t touch her…I mean, he didn’t tamper with the scene. And we’ve found what we assume are her shoes and keys near the porch. That must’ve been where the perpetrator took her. She was so close to home.”

Journey didn’t want to picture it but couldn’t stop the scene from replaying in her mind, over and over. “She’s dressed for a night out…barely. Her dad say where she went?”

“They thought she was staying the night at her friend’s house. Girl by the name of Kate Riddle. Guess they didn’t stay in. We have her contact information when you’re ready for it.”

Journey thanked him. Michelle opened her tool case, removed a long pair of tweezers, and began to tug the duct tape off Rachel’s face. She deposited the tape into a clear plastic evidence bag. But the victim’s mouth wasn’t empty. There appeared to be a piece of cloth stuffed inside of it, which made it look like Rachel was vomiting fabric.

Wexler stood beside Journey and watched her sister work.

“There’s something else too. We had a similar victim last August, also on national forestland. Same stab to the neck. Same disfigurations. That murder was never solved. Given the similarities, though, we might be looking at a serial killer. Enter the FBI. If you were here then, this poor girl might still be alive.”

“Happy to help.” The irony of saying that with such eagerness while standing next to such a young, horribly violated victim wasn’t lost on Journey. And to think she’d been excited to get Keller’s call.

Therapy might not be such a bad idea, after all.

Michelle extracted the fabric gag, dropped it into an evidence bag, and sealed it shut. “From what I’m seeing, I’d guess the killer might’ve stabbed her while she was face down, then turned her over to desecrate the body. Some signs of a struggle too.” She pointed at Rachel’s fingers, where a few nails had been torn off. “We’ll need more information to determine whether she was still alive when the cutting happened.”

Journey had no choice but to close her eyes and take a deep, calming breath. Sometimes, having a staring contest with her cat was better than contemplating reality.

Dive in. The water’s great…for murder.

FBI Agent Journey Russo excels at keeping the shadows of her traumatic past at bay. So when she’s called to investigate a murder on a Sunday morning, she views it as a welcome distraction.

Until she arrives at the horrific crime scene.

The teenager wasn’t just murdered—she was nightmarishly mutilated, and her body discarded on the edge of the Allegheny National Forest. The same forest where Journey recently learned the leader of the cult from her childhood may own a cabin, and where her previous case led her on a wild chase for a hunter who favors a hunting bow as a weapon. Read More