- Book info
- Author updates
On her hands and knees, Nikki moved to the other side of the body. She couldn’t stop her fingers from trembling as she brushed the dark hair off the victim’s face. She couldn’t look away. “I know her…” When Special Agent Nikki Hunt is called to the Boundary Waters near Stillwater, Minnesota, it’s not just the cold that shocks her to her core: the body of a young woman has been found frozen beside a remote lake. Nikki is devastated to see the victim is her childhood friend Annmarie, and she recognizes the velvet ribbon tied in her hair as the hallmark of a serial killer who she has been hunting for years. Desperate for justice, Nikki throws herself into the case. But she is shaken by what she finds at Annmarie’s home: a dead-bolt on her front door and a map in the spare room, with the locations of murdered women circled in thick, red marker. Did Annmarie know she was next? Then Nikki finds out that the killer has left a clue in Annmarie’s bedroom: a photo of Nikki’s mother that no one has ever seen. Has the murderer at large been in Nikki’s life since she was a child? Nikki soon realizes that the key to unlocking this case is in her own family, but digging up the past could put her own daughter in danger. She has spent her whole life protecting the ones she loves, but to find this killer Nikki might have to risk everything… Fans of Karin Slaughter, Lisa Gardner and Robert Dugoni will be completely addicted to this heart-pounding thriller. Once you start reading, the twists and turns will have you racing towards the end. What readers are saying about Stacy Green: “This is the thriller that I didn’t know I was waiting for and needed in my life until I picked it up. SO GOOD. I’m still reeling and trying to catch my breath from this highly suspenseful and emotionally charged story… I need more ASAP. ” Reading in Autumn, 5 stars “ Addictive. I read this in one sitting. It's unputdownable… Filled with intrigue and deceit… guaranteed to keep you up all night. ” Lisa Regan “ I couldn’t put it down. Suspense that will keep you hooked until the very last page. Even when I wasn’t reading it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it… I had to see what happened. ” Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars “ A dagger sharp crime thriller. Highly recommended… I loved Nikki Hunt… Engaging. I never figured out what was going to happen next until I read it myself.” NetGalley reviewer, 5 stars “ I knew nothing was going to get done outside of my day job until I finished this book, which I did in 24 hours… Fast-paced and jam-packed from start to finish.” Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars “ This book was fantastic! Everything about it worked… I was hooked from page one and didn’t put it down until I was done… I had no idea who the killer was until it was revealed. This is going to be a must read series! ” Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars “ Wow!!… opens with such force… and it keeps going until the very end… this is a top 10 for me!” NetGalley reviewer, 5 stars “ Bloody fantastic! I loved this book… I was hanging on to every word and couldn’t put the book down… full of tension and action and kept me guessing.” Bonnie’s Book Talk, 5 stars
Release date: August 27, 2021
Print pages: 350
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
The Superior National Forest was four million acres of wilderness that stretched along the United States and Canadian border. It was a coveted area for outdoorsmen—the reserve known as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area was one of Minnesota’s crown jewels. The interconnected waters stretched for a hundred and fifty miles, and it was a popular destination year-round. Canoes and kayaks dominated the water during the warm months, along with fishing boats. Cold weather brought out dog-sled teams, hikers, and ice fishermen. Snowmobile tracks still crisscrossed some of the waterways, but it was hard to imagine that just a few weeks ago, the ice was thick enough for the machines to safely travel across the water.
Despite the year-round activity, the Boundary Waters area was secluded, especially in winter. The victim had been spotted this morning during a routine flyover by the forest service. Rangers quickly confirmed the victim was dead and called the FBI. Nikki had been half-asleep when she took the call. She’d worked late the previous night, tidying up notes from recent cases.
“Looks like the ice is really starting to break up,” Liam said from behind her. “How are we going to land?”
“The area we’re landing in is still thick enough for a ski plane,” Mayberry replied. “Ice-out’s not for at least another few weeks.”
Mayberry had been Nikki’s first point of contact when they arrived at the Kawishwi Ranger Station less than an hour earlier. He was around thirty, with a round face and an eager-to-please attitude. Nikki could tell how keen he was to help, but she knew he’d never been part of a death investigation.
“Have you been to the scene yourself?” Nikki asked.
“Not yet,” he said. “When the report came in, my boss went to secure it. Although you won’t find any campers or hikers in the area, there’s plenty of wildlife to keep away. The black bears will be coming out of hibernation soon, and there’s a female we hope to see emerge with a cub or two. There are also about fifteen hundred wolves in the Superior National Forest area, and a large pack was spotted near the area last week.”
“But the body wasn’t found then?” Nikki clarified.
“Correct,” Mayberry said. “It was only spotted this morning when our supply plane flew over Deadman Lake.” Mayberry laughed nervously. “You think Frost chose the location because of the name?”
“It’s possible that’s why the killer chose that specific site, yes,” Nikki said. “But it may have been a special spot between him and the victim. We won’t know until we find out more.”
Mayberry twisted his hands in his lap. “I have to tell you, I never expected to be hanging out with a famous FBI agent when I woke up this morning.”
Nikki smiled. “I wouldn’t say I’m famous.”
Nikki had first found herself in the news twenty years ago when she’d found her parents murdered and helped put the alleged killer in prison. She’d become a household name again in the past several months after DNA results proved the wrong man had been convicted.
“You catch serial killers and murderers,” Mayberry said. “That’s pretty badass.”
“Not really,” Nikki said. “It’s much more glamorous on television, right, Liam?”
“That’s an understatement,” Liam said. He was Nikki’s partner and the first agent she’d trained when she’d established the behavioral unit she had been running for the last few years in the Minnesota office. “How close are we? My legs are cramping,” he complained.
“Poor baby,” Courtney Hart replied and Nikki watched Liam roll his eyes. Courtney was the team’s forensic specialist, and even though she’d only brought the necessities, Courtney was jammed into the small space like a sardine. The big leather bag containing the crime scene markers and yellow tape had been wedged between Courtney and the window, blocking her view, while the protective equipment and various evidence collection tools had been packed tightly behind her seat. “I can’t even see out the window.”
“Just a few minutes.” Mayberry paused. “You haven’t found a Frost victim this year, have you?”
Nikki sighed. One of her ongoing cases was well known. The Frost killer still hadn’t been found—he was believed to be responsible for killing five women, leaving their bodies frozen solid in several different locations. Nikki had been chasing him for years. There was a lot they didn’t know about Frost, but Nikki was sure that there was something significant in how he positioned them. Each woman was preserved, with her clasped hands resting on her torso as though she’d been placed in a coffin. She supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised that Mayberry knew there hadn’t been a Frost victim yet this year. Nikki’s name had been in the media on a regular basis since DNA evidence exonerated the man who’d spent twenty years in prison for murdering her parents. She’d also been involved in a couple of high-profile cases and had been asked about Frost numerous times.
“This may not be one of his victims. For one, it’s a little late in the year,” Nikki told him. She knew Frost timed the discoveries of his victims so they were hard to examine, and he’d have known that the ice was beginning to break.
“Meaning the body will thaw too quickly, right?”
Nikki shifted uncomfortably. She was used to people asking her about Frost, but it didn’t make answering their questions any easier. “You’ve followed the cases, I take it?”
“Not in detail, but we’re always prepped at the beginning of winter on how to handle any criminal activity, and Frost’s name always comes up.” Mayberry tapped the small window. “I’m surprised he hasn’t left a victim here before. It’s the perfect place to disappear.”
Nikki glanced at Liam and knew he was thinking the same thing. Frost didn’t want his victims to disappear. He always dumped them where they’d be found.
“How are you planning to get the body out of here?” Nikki asked. “Will the medical examiner be meeting us?”
“He’s coming on another plane,” Mayberry replied. “Should land around the same time we do. He’ll take the body back to be autopsied.”
“We’re going to land in a couple of minutes.” The pilot’s voice crackled over the radio. “The ice was solid enough to land on this morning, but it could get a little dicey. The plane can float, so if we break through the ice, don’t panic.”
Courtney whimpered from the back seat. She wasn’t the only one uncomfortable in the tiny plane.
Liam paled. “That’s reassuring,” he said sarcastically.
Nikki tightened her seatbelt, grateful she didn’t eat much this morning. She peered out the small window, watching the lake grow larger. She could see large chunks of ice floating in the water. “Ranger Mayberry, it’s really safe to land on the ice?”
He patted her hand. “Absolutely. The guy flying us has been doing this for thirty years. We’re in good hands.”
Nikki tried not to clench the armrest too hard as the ski-plane descended. The shore and the ice loomed larger and larger, until the runners scraped the ground. Ski-planes didn’t fly at the height or speed of a regular plane, but the landing was still bouncy. As Nikki felt it jerk up and down, she was certain the plane was beginning to skid out of control, and every horror story she’d heard about drowning in freezing water ran through her head, even though her practical side knew that wouldn’t happen. Nikki couldn’t relax her hands until the plane had completely stopped.
“We exit onto the dock,” Mayberry said. “It can be slippery, so be careful.”
Icy cold air shocked Nikki when she stepped out of the plane. It never ceased to amaze her how much colder it was just a few hours north of the Twin Cities.
A gray-haired ranger strode toward her.
“Agent Hunt, I’m Terry Smith, head ranger. Thanks for coming so quickly.”
“We appreciate how quickly you called us. As I’m sure you know, time is of the essence in cases like this.”
Smith nodded and then addressed Mayberry. “The medical examiner is landing in a couple of minutes. Let’s go help him with his stuff.”
Liam and Courtney exited the plane carrying Courtney’s equipment. Nikki introduced her team.
Smith pointed down the snow- and ice-covered shore. “The body is about three hundred yards east. Go ahead, we’ll join you when the medical examiner arrives,” he said.
Liam shouldered Courtney’s heavy bag, and the three of them started walking. The pit of dread in Nikki’s stomach suddenly felt like a big rock. She never looked forward to seeing a body, but this was different. Electricity seemed to crackle through her, as though her body was preparing her.
Nikki had requested the scene not be processed or touched until the team arrived. Yellow crime scene tape created a larger perimeter around the area where the body had been found. No matter how many cases she worked, seeing the absolute stillness of the body and realizing it was no more than a shell of a human always gave Nikki pause. Her mentor in the behavioral analysis unit at Quantico had told her that the moment death stopped affecting her, she’d know it was time for a career change, and she’d lived by that rule ever since.
She ducked under the crime scene tape, taking stock of the woman’s lack of obvious physical injuries and clothing. She still wore a heavy winter coat—something they’d yet to see on a Frost victim. But his victims never showed immediate signs of injury, always appearing to be asleep, and this woman looked similar. “Is that a Burberry jacket she’s wearing?”
“Yes, it’s a $2,000 coat,” Courtney said.
“Looks like she’s almost in the right position.” Liam sounded resigned. They’d kept the staging of Frost’s victim’s out of the media, stating only that they were “laid out in the snow.”
The woman lay with her arms folded over her stomach, her small hands clasped together. Her head was turned toward the lakeshore, the cold wind blowing her dark hair over her face. Nikki slipped on a pair of latex gloves and then crouched next to the victim. She appeared to be around Nikki’s height, with a stockier build.
Nikki’s nose burned from the chemical scent surrounding the body. “I can smell the bleach.”
“He didn’t use bleach on that coat,” Courtney said. “I’m pretty sure even color-safe bleach would have messed up the exterior. I’ll get it bagged first.”
“Is she wearing a ring?” Liam asked.
“Looks like it,” Nikki answered.
Liam crouched on the other side of the body and gave Nikki a pointed look. “Frost has never left jewelry on his victims.”
Nikki couldn’t see her face yet, but the woman’s exposed skin also didn’t have the same ghostly pallor as the other five victims. A sense of dread settled into the pit of Nikki’s stomach as she examined the thick ribbon tied around the victim’s head. All of Frost’s previous victims had a red velvet ribbon tied in their hair like a headband. “No, he hasn’t, but this ribbon is definitely velvet.” The ribbon’s material had also been kept out of the media, and even without Courtney’s expertise, Nikki could tell the ribbon was the same as the ones found on the other victims. “The bleach odor is stronger than any other victim.”
Nikki’s adrenaline had started to spike. They’d been called to numerous crime scenes over the past five years by local law enforcement who were certain they had a Frost victim on their hands. Nikki and her team could usually rule them out fairly quickly because of specific details that had been intentionally kept from reporters. But this woman had what Liam had once referred to as the Frost trifecta: the positioning, the velvet ribbon, and the bleach.
Nikki was beginning to think this could be Frost’s work, and she could see Liam and Courtney’s faces harden as they realized it too. The bleach was so strong that the body couldn’t have been here very long, which meant the killer could still be nearby.
Liam’s face was flushed from more than the cold wind, she knew. He paced back and forth, shading his eyes and scanning the shoreline before unzipping his coat, his hand lingering over his holstered weapon. “I’d assume she’s been here a while. But he could still be in the area.”
“If he were still here, surely one of the pilots would have spotted him from the air,” Nikki said quietly. She understood why Liam had jumped to that conclusion, but the staff were used to spotting and tracking wild animals, and they would have seen him. Liam looked only slightly reassured. “But we might be able to find evidence or figure out how he brought her here. We need as many people as possible to search the area and the connecting lakes.”
“How could he have just come and gone in the area unless he flew in?” Unease colored Courtney’s usual confident tone. “The ice isn’t broken up nearly enough for any sort of boat.”
“I’m not sure yet. Let’s ask Mayberry.”
Nikki edged closer to the body, trying to get a better look at the ring the victim was wearing on her right hand, but her other hand partially covered the jewelry. Hopefully it was a wedding band, or perhaps something engraved that would help them identify the woman. Nikki needed to get a better look at the ring’s gemstone. The glare from the sun made it impossible to tell if the stone was red or onyx. Still on her knees, she shifted until her face was nearly parallel to the ring. She gently touched the woman’s hand.
“She’s in rigor.” Nikki looked up at her team.
Courtney’s eyes widened. “Then she really hasn’t been here long.”
“Christ.” Liam stalked around the body. “I’m trying to get a decent signal so we can call in searchers, but evidently T-Mobile doesn’t work in the frozen tundra.”
Nikki wasn’t listening. A low buzzing had formed in her head. Her heart galloped in her chest. She grasped the ring and tried to work it off the stiff finger.
“Boss,” Liam said. “The medical examiner’s going to be pissed if he catches you messing with her before he gets here. He just reached the shore. Mayberry’s helping with his equipment. Can you check your phone and see if you have a better signal?”
But Nikki ignored him and tugged harder. She had to get the ring off before she looked at the face. She had to know.
The ring wouldn’t budge.
The buzzing had turned into a relentless hammering.
“Nikki.” Courtney’s voice echoed from somewhere behind Nikki. “What’s wrong?”
Her throat was too tight to answer. On her hands and knees, Nikki moved to the other side of the body. She couldn’t stop her fingers from trembling as she brushed the dark hair off the victim’s face. Watery blue, sightless eyes stared back at her.
Barely managing to stifle the wail in her throat, Nikki touched each of the victim’s stiff cheeks.
A hand tightened on Nikki’s elbow. She hadn’t noticed Courtney coming to kneel next to her. “Nikki?”
Nikki still clutched the dead woman’s face. “I know her…”
Her eyes blurry, Nikki tried to pull herself together. She knew she shouldn’t cry at a crime scene, but it was almost impossible to hold back the tears threatening to come out. “Her name’s Annmarie Mason. She was my best friend growing up. We haven’t spoken since…” Nikki’s voice caught, and she realized that she wasn’t going to be able to say the words without losing the remaining pieces of her composure.
Courtney fished a wad of tissues out of her pocket and pressed them into Nikki’s hand.
“Mayberry’s helping the medical examiner get his equipment out of the craft, but they’ll be heading this way any minute,” Liam said, taking two steps to his right, effectively blocking Nikki’s view of the others. He knelt down on the other side of Annmarie’s body and cleared his throat, his cheeks pinker than usual. “You haven’t spoken since around the end of high school?”
“She sat next to me every single day during my parents’ trial.”
Nikki studied her old friend. Annmarie’s face was rounder than Nikki remembered, with deep wrinkles around her eyes. The eyebrow piercing she’d been so proud of was gone, but Nikki could still see the faded scar in Annmarie’s graying eyebrow.
Nikki had to stop herself from holding Annmarie’s rigid hand. “I gave her this ring for her sweet sixteen. It’s inscribed ‘best friends forever, love, Nikki.’” Annmarie had stood by Nikki during the worst days of her life. When the dust settled, Nikki had decided that the only way she could survive life without her parents was to push everyone away and focus solely on school. Raise her grades, graduate, get into college, get the hell out of Stillwater and away from the living nightmare. She’d abandoned Annmarie.
“She’s in good condition,” Courtney said. “Even if the wolves Mayberry talked about weren’t in the area, there are a lot of scavenger birds around here. But they don’t seem to have touched her.”
Liam pointed to the red ribbon tied in Annmarie’s hair. “It’s definitely velvet,” he said, but quickly straightened up, looking at Nikki. “Mayberry’s coming,” he told her.
Nikki nodded and wiped her tears with her sleeve as best she could. She tried to remember that she was the senior FBI agent in a murder investigation. She knew that if anyone found out that the case was a person Nikki had a connection to, she’d be thrown straight off it. Better to keep her emotions to herself.
“Doug Larsen’s with him.”
Minnesota had several assistant medical examiners scattered throughout the state, and since Nikki’s unit covered all of it, she’d worked with just about all of them, including Doug Larsen. He was short, barely an inch taller than Nikki, but his personality made up for what he lacked in stature. He was kind and funny, and he always brought a sense of calm to the scene. He was also the only one-night stand she’d had after her divorce. They’d both attended a forensics conference a few years ago, and Nikki had wound up doing the walk of shame from Larsen’s hotel room at the Four Seasons to her own, two floors above. He’d always told her he was fine being single, that what had happened had been with no strings attached, but he invited Nikki for drinks every time she saw him.
Nikki stood and jammed her trembling hands into her coat pockets. She nodded at Larsen. “Doug, thanks for getting here so quickly.”
Doug smiled grimly. “No problem.”
“I’ve identified our victim as Annmarie Mason.” Nikki forced herself to sound as nonchalant as possible. “We attended the same high school, but we haven’t spoken in years.”
Larsen laid his equipment next to the body, crouching down to begin his examination.
“Mayberry, how do you think our killer got here?” Liam asked. “What about a ski-plane like we did?”
“Not without us knowing about it.” Mayberry rested his hands on his utility belt. “Air traffic control keeps better track of them than you think, and I already checked with them. No one but us has been in during the last twenty-four hours. He’s probably got a Wilcraft.”
“A what?” Liam asked.
Nikki turned her back on Larsen’s examination of Annmarie’s body. If her superiors got wind of how close Nikki had once been with Annmarie, she’d have to fight to stay on the case, and she wasn’t about to let Annmarie down again. “A Wilcraft,” Nikki repeated. She’d heard of it. “Basically, it’s an ATV that’s also equipped for ice and water.”
“Sounds expensive,” Liam said, glancing at Nikki. They’d long believed that Frost’s ability to keep his victims frozen for long periods and his skill at going undetected pointed to access to plenty of money.
“New, yeah,” Mayberry said. “We can’t get the federal government to spring for one. But every once in a while you find a used one for a reasonable price.”
“They’re supposed to be registered, just like a boat. We’ll try to get a list of owners in the state. Given the price, I’d think the number would be relatively low,” Nikki said. “Doug, can you confirm she hasn’t been out here very long?”
Larsen gently touched Annmarie’s arm. “She’s still in rigor mortis. Cooler temps can slow that, but even so, I don’t think she’s been dead for more than twelve hours, if that.”
“Can you slip the ribbon off and check her neck for any marks?” Nikki asked. Frost always killed his victims with a fatal dose of a strong sedative, and the injection point was always at the back of the neck. All of his victims also had bruising on their wrists that indicated they’d been kept under sedation before he killed them. Nikki kept her question deliberately vague, knowing that Liam would step in and examine Annmarie’s neck without cluing Larsen or Mayberry into specific details.
Larsen slipped the ribbon off Annmarie’s hair and slotted it into an evidence bag at the side of the body. He gently grasped her shoulder. “Agent Wilson, can you give me a hand?”
Nikki walked a few feet toward the lake, trying to focus on the sound of Courtney’s camera instead of watching Liam and Larsen move Annmarie’s stiff body in order to see the back of her neck.
Liam’s voice was grim. “There’s an injection mark on the base of her neck.”
Nikki shared a look with Liam and Courtney and knew they were thinking the same thing. It was another Frost marker that was kept out of the media. They both walked over to her, out of earshot of the other two men.
“Why is she looking in the wrong direction?” Liam asked quietly. Frost’s victims always faced the sky, likely held in place by some device until the bodies were frozen well enough to maintain the position. “The positioning of the body is right otherwise. This is the first crime scene we’ve been called to that’s ticked this many Frost boxes. It’s just the time of year and the positioning that’s awry. It could be him…” He looked worriedly. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...