FBI BAU Special Agent Ruby Hunter remains haunted by “The 13 Killer,” the serial killer who took everything from her—including her partner—before she put him away for good. Yet somehow, though behind bars, new bodies are showing up with his trademark 13 signature. Is he behind it?
“Molly Black has written a taut thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat… I absolutely loved this book and can’t wait to read the next book in the series!”
—Reader review for Girl One: Murder
IF I FORGET is book #4 in a new series by #1 bestselling mystery and suspense author Molly Black, whose books have received over 2,000 five-star reviews and ratings.
A new serial killer is taking victims in seemingly random fashion—yet, somehow, Ruby feels they all are connected to the number 13.
Ruby races to crack the code, to figure out his M.O., before the next victim is claimed.
Yet the shocking twist is something not even Ruby can anticipate.
A complex psychological crime thriller full of twists and turns and packed with heart-pounding suspense, the RUBY HUNTER mystery series will make you fall in love with a brilliant new female protagonist and keep you turning pages late into the night.
Book #5—IF I RETURN—is also available.
Release date: August 15, 2023
Print pages: 165
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If I Forget
Cassandra Scott softly glided her fingers over the embossed gold lettering once more before she tossed the invitation from last weekend’s wedding into the nearby trash bin. Another wedding, another bride, someone else’s happiness.
Cassandra sighed as she looked around her home. It wasn’t much, but it was hers. She had started saving in high school, and when she got a full-ride scholarship to a prestigious college in Virginia, she had put her savings towards buying a home. At twenty-three, she’d bought the two-bedroom rambler while most of her friends were fifth-year seniors or running down the aisle to get hitched. Since then, Cassandra had spent almost every weekend working on the compact space to make it the home she hoped someday soon she would share with that special someone. So far, it seemed like she was just destined to be a bridesmaid and never a bride.
A wilting bouquet of blush pink roses on the kitchen table caught her eye. Cassandra shook her head. It had only been two days since Ione’s wedding. The flowers should not be dying already, especially not for how much Ione paid for them. Cassandra had already been in four weddings in the last three months, each with its own style and flower budget. Only one bouquet had made it beyond the five-day mark, and those were tulips. Cassandra knew right then and there that tulips would be the only flowers she would have in her wedding.
She wondered if the reason she was still alone had something to do with her, like maybe something was wrong with her. Maybe she was the problem. After all, she was the common denominator. Cassandra had been to countless weddings, and she had been a bridesmaid more times than she could count on both hands. She had dated some, but it seemed like none of the relationships ever lasted longer than a couple of months. She was starting to wonder what she figured most single women just four short years away from thirty wondered: When is it going to be my turn?
Cassandra pulled the dying flowers out of the vase and threw them in the compost bin. Then she cleaned out the vase and placed it back under the sink. She poured herself a glass of Pinot Grigio and looked at the wall calendar. At least there were no weddings or wedding-related events for the upcoming weekend. Maybe she could go to the local farmers market and get herself some flowers that would last longer than two or three days.
Cassandra curled up on the loveseat, sipping her wine, and trying hard not to feel sorry for herself. It wasn’t just pity or loneliness. She felt like she had missed out on the life she was meant to have. Every wedding reminded her of the road not taken, and the melancholy of that lost path seeped into every part of her. It was especially hard right now because she did not even get asked once to dance at Ione’s reception.
Almost everyone at the wedding had brought a date, but the handful who did not come with anyone just did not seem to be interested in her. It wasn’t like she was ugly or anything. She just did not stand out. Nothing about her was memorable.
Before Cassandra could spiral any further down into a black hole of pity and self-loathing, someone lightly knocked on her door. At first, she did not hear it. Then they knocked a little louder. She set her wine on the coffee table and stood up.
“Just a minute,” she said forcefully as she made her way to the door. She checked the peep hole and saw a man in a tannish brown uniform. He looked like a delivery driver, although she could not make out what the delivery service was. She could not remember if she had ordered anything or not, but she seemed to always be getting some kind of package here or there. Cassandra unlocked the deadbolt and opened the door.
“Can I help you?” she asked, trying to sound polite but hurried, like she had somewhere to be. She had read somewhere that single women living alone should always appear busy when they answer the door for strangers, like maybe they were not home alone after all. She had not had much practice, but she gave it a try anyway.
“I have a package for Cassandra Scott,” the man said, his eyes covered by a matching tannish brown, non-descript baseball cap. She dropped her guard a little, assuming whatever he was delivering could be either a thank you gift from Ione or an invitation to yet another wedding of a distant friend.
“That would be me,” she smiled as if she had just won the blue-ribbon prize at the State Fair. Cassandra was always overly excited to get mail or packages, especially when she wasn’t expecting them. It lifted her mood a little and made her feel less invisible to the outside world.
The man raised his right hand, as if he was about to give her the package or have her sign for it. He lifted his head so their eyes could meet, her caramel brown to his pale gray blue. She quickly noticed something in his eyes was off, like there wasn’t anything human behind them. Cassandra took an unsteady step backwards, unsure of what to do if this man wasn’t who she thought he was. Cassandra had no clue how to defend herself, and her fight or flight mode seemed to only know how
In one swift move, the man put his foot in the door as she quickly tried to close it and sprayed her in the face with some sort of mist. Her eyes immediately began to sting and blur with tears. Cassandra rubbed them furiously, desperate to see what was happening. She began to cough from the chemical, her throat burning like she had chugged a bottle of hot sauce.
She felt disoriented and unsure of what to do next. A scream lodged in her throat, not that any neighbors were close enough to hear. All Cassandra knew was that the man, a complete stranger, had sprayed her with something toxic and walked into her house without an invitation. It was a bold move, and she was terrified. Cassandra believed with every atom of her being that she was in grave danger, especially as he stalked towards her. The blurriness of her vision made it hard to differentiate his shadowy figure from other shadows around her.
Cassandra backed away quickly, her hands spread out to try and keep her from running into anything as she tried to escape the threat of further violence. She heard the nozzle spritz again but turned away just in time. Cassandra lurched in the direction of what she thought was her bedroom door, hoping she was right. If she was, she could use the backdoor off her bedroom to escape and get help.
Instead, she hurled herself into the wall next to her bedroom door, bounced off, and fell to the floor. She strained to keep her head from thwacking against the tile, but she felt the crack instantly as her skull made contact. Black spots filled what little vision remained, and Cassandra struggled to get herself upright again.
“That looked like it hurt, Cassandra,” the man said. His voice was gruff and low like he was a three-packs-a-day chain smoker, but she could also hear the satisfaction in it. She tried to get her thoughts together, make her body move, but her brain was too scrambled.
“Who are you?” she asked, the words coming out garbled and wobbly, suddenly foreign in her mouth. She wasn’t sure it mattered if she knew who he was. It was just the first question she could finally put together. She hoped
he would stop long enough to answer her and give her time to reorient herself. Maybe she could still get away.
Cassandra started to get up again. Then she felt something hard and heavy press down on each of her arms. She blinked her eyes quickly, trying to clear the fog of whatever he had sprayed into them, but nothing worked. Throbbing pain pulsed in the back of her head from the fall, and she felt like she was watching the scene from a movie, not actually experiencing it in real time.
Every inch of her body froze in fear as she realized the man was pinning her to the ground with his knees. Once he seemed sure she could not get away, he sat on top of her with the entire weight of his being. Cassandra struggled to breathe under his heaviness, terrorized by the idea of what he could or would do to her next. She’d read the horror stories of what happened to women in home invasions, and she wanted no part of it. She had to think, had to come up with a plan. The only problem was her brain was too muddled with fear and injury.
“You have a beautiful smile, Cassandra,” the man said, warmth oozing from his voice. Ever the polite woman, she muttered a thank you and tried to force a grin onto her face. It was all she could think to do to try and make him see her, see that she was a living, breathing human being.
“And I’m going to make sure you have it for all the world to see.”
His hot breath covered her face, making her grimace. He was too close. She tried to wriggle her arms free, but he pressed his knees down harder. Cassandra yelped in pain, feeling like her bones were on the cusp of splintering.
“Please …” she mananged
one last sob as his weight shifted. Maybe he was getting up. She could not tell. Then, she felt his rough, calloused hand grip her chin, holding it in place. Cassandra tried to jerk away from him, knowing nothing good was coming next. He tightened his grip, instantly subduing her.
Tears rolled down the sides of her face as she awaited her fate. She could not move; she could not scream. No one was coming to her aid. Cassandra let herself fall apart, praying whatever was next would be quick.
The man slipped something cold and hard just inside the right corner of her mouth. Her body shook uncontrollably even though he kept her head still with his grip. The fogginess in her eyes slowly started to lift, and she realized his face was directly above hers. They were once again staring eye-to-eye.
Cassandra saw the crumpled up mess he had made of her in the reflection of his eyes, and she knew she had never had a chance from the moment she had opened the door.
The man smirked at Cassandra. She started to say something, make one last ditch effort to beg for her life even, but he quickly jerked his free hand to the right. In one swift move, he took Cassandra Scott’s scream, grotesquely expanding the smile across her face.
It didn’t make sense.
FBI Special Agent Ruby Hunter scrolled up and down the list of names on her notes app of whom could be helping Vincent Vallejo communicate with his followers.
But she’d learned, early on, that very little made sense where Vincent Vallejo, the defining case of her career, was concerned.
Vallejo, the Lucky 13 Killer, had been locked away for over three years, but somehow, he had managed to signal his lackeys on the outside to start killing people several months ago. Try as she might, Ruby couldn’t seem to figure out how.
After Ruby realized the second serial killer was connected to Vallejo, she had worked with the prison to ensure all his communications in and out of the prison were stopped. Yet somehow, some way, Vallejo’s killers kept coming. The last three cases in a row were all Vallejo’s people, but Ruby still did not know how they had been selected or what their motivation was. Loyalty? Infamy? Or were they all just a bunch of sickos like Vallejo?
Nine women had died by three of Vallejo’s followers, and three others were no doubt traumatized for life. Ruby’s stomach turned at the thought of how many more of Vallejo’s followers were out there. The last killer they took down, Evan Pearson, had proven it was something more of a network of bad actors than just random men chosen to carry on Vallejo’s legacy of murder and mayhem.
Ruby refocused on the list, hoping she would find the needle in the haystack she needed to identify who the leak was. One of these six names was Vallejo’s contact. She was sure of it. After all, she had the best hacker in the world helping her.
Milo Quincy, the white hat hacker turned Tech Ops agent from the Tampa field office had used his unique set of skills to narrow the list down to six names. The problem was that it was still five people too long. Percy Woodward, the steely warden of Boone Correctional, had assured Ruby personally that Vallejo had no contact with the outside world. Yet Ruby knew that wasn’t true at all. She’d seen it for herself. Plus, she had caught not one, not two, but three killers who were clearly in cahoots with him.
None of the names stood out, and they all had way too much to lose if they were the ones colluding with the murderer. Some of them had families, some were students working a side job. All just regular people trying to make a living. All but one, anyway, and she had no idea which one was the culprit.
“Hunter? Hunter? Ruby!”
A low voice pierced her concentration. Startled, Ruby looked up. Her partner, FBI Special Agent Gabriel Ruiz, stared at her expectantly.
“Do you think if you stare at the names long enough, they will morph into the answers you are looking for?”
Ruby shrugged. She pushed herself off the side of the unmarked SUV and turned back towards the non-descript house. She looked at the scene around them trying to gauge how much longer it would be before they could go in. Crime scene techs bustled in and out of the front door while the medical examiner’s dark van sat quietly off to the side. She was so sick of crime scenes.
Ruby looked up and down the street, noticing how quiet the area was. It was mid-morning, but the air was still as cool and crisp as it was when Ruby woke up at five a.m. Everyone was already wherever they were going for the day, whether that was work or school. Except the victim.
“Another one, Ruby, and we saw this one coming a mile away!” Gabe fumed. He had every right to be angry. It had only been a few weeks since they had caught Evan Pearson, the third serial killer who was also a devout follower of Vincent Vallejo. Ruby instinctively reached up and touched her throat, ...
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