Promises in the Dark
"Another phenomenal instalment to this series. I love the new characters... Some scenes had my heart threatening to burst out of my chest."NetGalley reviewer, 5 stars
The young girl pushes against the backseat of the family sedan, fighting to free herself from the crude ties restricting her hands and feet. As the car speeds toward the edge of town, she looks back at her family home, and watches in horror as it suddenly explodes in a mass of flames. Trembling with fear, she turns toward the driver and hears only laughter. She knows that the worst is yet to come...
Detective Jenna Alton surveys the charred remains of the large suburban home, stopping to pause at the three lifeless bodies of the Woods family. Jenna knows she's looking for a serial killer, but her priority is finding the missing teenage daughter last seen on the night of the inferno.
Days later, Sophie Woods's body is discovered floating in a shallow pool of crystal-clear water - known locally as Dead Man's Drop - but Jenna still doesn't know who would target the quiet family in such a brutal attack.
Delving into the family's past, she makes a shocking discovery - a link between the killer and someone connected to her deputy David Kane. If Jenna is right and the killer is back and seeking revenge, then she must act fast to keep her deputy safe.
When another girl is taken, Jenna and David follow the trail into a network of underground caves on the outskirts of town. With little time before the killer claims his next victim, they race into the pitch-black tunnels, unsure whether they have just walked into the killer's trap. Can they find the girl in time and escape the caves without the killer chasing them down?
If you like pulse-racing thrillers from Lisa Regan, Melinda Leigh and Kendra Elliot, you will love this gripping new book from USA Today bestselling author D.K. Hood.
**Each Kane and Alton book can be read as part of the series or as a standalone**
Release date: November 25, 2020
Print pages: 339
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Promises in the Dark
Startled, Sophie Wood dropped her phone and gaped at the man holding a gun to her father’s head. She shot up from the bed, alarmed by her father’s bruised face and red eyes. “Daddy what’s happening?”
“Do what the man says, Sophie.” He didn’t meet her gaze and his hands shook.
“Yeah, do what the nice man says, Sophie.” Dark brown eyes peered through the skull-like holes of a balaclava. The man dressed in black slid his attention to her little sister. “You too. Go down to the kitchen and wait with your mom. Better run before I spray the wall with Daddy’s brains.”
Sophie’s heart raced in terror but one look at Jody’s wide eyes and trembling bottom lip gave her courage. She needed to protect her sister. Taking a firm hold of Jody’s hand, she hurried into the hallway. The man shoved her dad and they followed close behind but her dad was stumbling as if deliberately slowing him down. Maybe he wanted to give them time to escape? She scanned the family room as they descended the stairs, but the closed front door had the deadbolts in place. How had the man gotten inside the house? Her dad was so careful about locking up at night. Beside her Jody sobbed out a wail and broke away from her. The little girl ran ahead and then stopped dead at the kitchen door.
“Mommy?” Jody took a step back and looked up at Sophie, her eyes wet with tears. “Is Mommy okay?”
Fear gripped her stomach as she peered around the door. Sitting at the table tied to a chair, her mother didn’t respond to Jody’s cries. Her head hung on her chest and a constant stream of blood dripped from her nose to her ripped dress. Heart thumping like a big bass drum, Sophie swallowed hard and then towing Jody behind her, ran for the backdoor. Frantically, she fumbled with the lock but then the man’s voice came from behind her. He was calm and in control and gave orders with no emotion as if he was ordering takeout.
“I’ll shoot your daddy and then your mama if you don’t come and sit down. I’m leaving as soon as y’all behave yourselves.” The man thrust her father into a chair and aimed at the back of his head. “I won’t stay to keep you company but I’d like to.” He pressed the muzzle of the gun hard into her father’s head. “Ain’t that right, Daddy?”
“You have what you came for, now leave us alone.” Her father’s eyes flashed with anger. “If you touch my girls, I’ll—”
As if in slow motion, Sophie stared as the man raised the weapon and brought it down in a sickening crack across the back of her father’s skull. Finding it hard to breathe, she pushed Jody behind her. “Leave him alone.”
“Or you’ll do what? There isn’t a darn thing you can do, princess. Best you do as you’re told.” The man used the gun to beckon her. “Come here and tie your daddy to the chair. Use the zip- ties your mama kindly supplied for me.” He waited for her to comply. “Good, now do the same to your sister.” He leaned against the counter and folded his arms across his chest but he still had a hold of the gun. “That was easy and see, no one got hurt.”
Sophie stared at him trying to remember everything about him, how tall, his build and eye color. She kept running the description through her mind to tell the sheriff. White, as tall as Daddy, strong, brown eyes. She started when he banged on the table and lifted her gaze to him. “What else do you want me to do?”
“Set the table.” He aimed the pistol at her. “Do it nice like when someone is coming to dinner.”
Sophie cast her eyes over her unconscious parents and then glanced at her sister, who sobbed gently. She eyed the carving knives and wanted to grab one but then he’d shoot her father. In silence, she collected plates and set the table. She rested a hand on her sister’s shoulder. “Hush now, Jody, it will be okay. He’ll be going soon.”
“She’s telling you the truth. I’m leaving.” The man bent close to Sophie and sniffed her. “You smell all fresh from the shower. Now turn around and I’ll tie your hands.” He thrust the pistol into the waistband of his jeans, pushed her hard against the wall, and dragged her arms behind her.
She struggled against him. “No!”
“Do you want me to hurt you?” His breath brushed her cheek. “Was that a ‘yes’?”
Pain seared into her back just below the ribs taking her breath away. White spots danced before her eyes from the shock of the blow, her knees buckled and she gasped in air. “Don’t hit me. I won’t fight you.”
“Good.” He tied her ankles together and then covered her mouth with duct tape. “Sit there and don’t move.” He went to the backdoor and returned with a bag and a can of gas.
Too scared to breathe, she watched him as he shoved the bag into the family room, opened the gas can, sniffed it, and then placed it on the floor and kicked it over. Fumes filled the room as the gas ran over the tiles. She stared at her sister’s crumpled face, wanting to tell her it was okay. She’d do whatever he wanted and he’d leave them alone.
“Stand up.” He grabbed her arm. “Be good and I’ll walk out of here.”
In one swift movement, he had her over his shoulder. Air rushed out of her nose as his bones pressed into her stomach. She wriggled to no avail. He had her in a vice-like grip. Where is he taking me? Her stomach ached and she tried to scream as he ran outside but couldn’t suck in enough air. The next moment he’d dumped her face down on the dusty back seat of a car. The vehicle sagged as he climbed in and the next moment they sped away. She could hear him counting as they bounced along the uneven dirt road.
Terror rushed over her and with her face pressed into the smelly fabric of the back seat, she fought against the zip-ties binding her hand and foot. Tears streamed down her face but she had to stay calm. The tape covering her mouth made it difficult to breathe and if her nose blocked, she’d suffocate. As the car sped into the night, she pushed onto her knees and peered at the house getting smaller by the second. An almighty explosion ripped through the night and a mushroom of orange flames engulfed her home. Behind the gag, she screamed in horror. He’d killed them all.
Deputy Dave Kane stared out the windshield of his truck to watch the vehicles go by on Stanton Road, and wondered how he’d become a traffic cop. His previous employment as a bodyguard to POTUS had ended after he’d been involved in a terrorist’s car bomb attack resulting in the death of his wife, Annie. He’d had a good career in special forces. As a sniper and one-man killing machine, he’d been perfect to protect POTUS but to guard him from terrorists, intent on revenge, the powers that be informed the world he’d died and even buried an empty coffin beside his wife. He’d arrived in Black Rock Falls with a metal plate in his head, a new face and identity, and with the position of Deputy to Sheriff Jenna Alton, an ex-DEA Agent with a secret past. That was some years ago now and he had to admit, he usually enjoyed his work. The murders in Black Rock Falls since his arrival had been horrendous but they’d caught all the perpetrators. However, the last action he’d seen had been before Christmas and now it was June. Tourists had started to flock to the many attractions in the county and everyone was behaving themselves. It seemed the mountains had given a huge sigh of relief as the warm rush of summer had arrived without a psychopath in sight.
He stared into the forest. In June it changed once more from dark and foreboding to light and inviting. Beams of sunshine pierced the darkness to reveal flowers sprinkling the trails with color. The cool wind blowing from the mountains had the familiar pine scent he’d grown to enjoy. Riding the trails in summer, fishing, and just taking it easy was his recipe for a long life. His thoughts of a weekend in the forest shattered as the radio crackled. It was Deputy Jake Rowley, who was parked a half mile or so along Stanton.
“Older style, blue Ford sedan, heading your way doing ninety.”
Kane pressed his mic. “Copy.” He flicked on his flashers and pulled out of the trees.
As the sedan flashed by, he gave chase and in no time the driver pulled over. Sliding out of his truck, Kane walked slowly to the vehicle, one hand resting on his Glock. He made out the reflection of the driver in the side mirror. He estimated the young man with messy blond hair was around eighteen. He made a winding down signal with his fingers and the window buzzed down. “License and registration. Do you know we clocked you doing ninety? Once you hit the ‘Welcome to Black Rock Falls’ sign it clearly states the speed limit is sixty.”
“I must have missed it.” The young man leaned over to take something from the glovebox.
Cautious, Kane slid out his weapon—being shot in the face wasn’t in his schedule for today. When the young man handed him the paperwork, he stared at the image of an elderly woman with white hair. “Keep your hands where I can see them and get out of the vehicle.”
When the young man climbed out, Kane took his arm and walked him to the back of the sedan. He pressed his mic. “I need you to run a plate for me.” He gave the details.
“No need. I put a BOLO out on that vehicle, it went missing on Sunday. Owned by Mrs. Dotty Grace, an elderly woman. She lives in that old place beside the Triple Z Bar.” Rowley cleared his throat. “I filed it just before we left this morning. I’m sorry I didn’t bring you up to date.”
“Copy.” Kane sighed. “I’ve apprehended a suspect in charge of the stolen vehicle. Come and get him and throw him in the cells. I’ll deal with him when I get there. I need to arrange a tow truck for the vehicle.” He turned to the guy and read him his rights. “What’s your name?”
“Dotty Grace.” The young man sneered. “What, can’t you read?”
Kane cuffed him and patted him down. “Well unless you’ve changed sex and time traveled, you’d better come up with a name. I’m arresting you for theft of a motor vehicle.”
“Dotty Grace, man. Are you deaf or something?” The young man looked at him over one shoulder.
Kane smiled. “Well, Dotty, maybe you’ll change your mind when you meet our sheriff.”
After dispatching his prisoner and waiting for the tow truck, Kane followed it to the Black Rock Falls impound yard. He arrived back at the office at noon and after filing a report, strolled into Sheriff Jenna Alton’s office. “I’m back from another inspiring morning. Are there any exciting cases for us to solve today?”
“Nope, it’s as quiet as the library here today.” Jenna rubbed her temples. “Just me and the books.”
Kane dropped into a chair. His bloodhound, Duke came into the room, his claws tapping on the tile. He climbed into the basket beside Jenna’s desk, did three circles, and sat down with a sigh of contentment. Kane turned his attention back to Jenna. “I booked five people speeding and I want to charge a man for theft of a motor vehicle. Problem is, he won’t give his name, which makes filing the paperwork difficult.”
“Has he lawyered up?” Jenna lifted her gaze from a stack of files and pushed her raven hair behind one ear.
“Nope. He insists he is a seventy-five-year-old woman by the name of Dotty Grace.” Kane smiled at her. “That’s all he said apart from insulting my intelligence.”
“I’ll go speak to him later.” Jenna stretched and yawned. “I’ll ask Rowley to run his prints. We’ll leave him to cool his heels in the cells until after lunch. Maybe then he’ll be more cooperative.”
Kane removed his black Stetson and ran his fingers over the rim. “You know, I don’t have the patience to be a traffic cop.” He chuckled. “The problem is they all pull over when I hit the siren and I don’t get to chase them down. It’s no fun at all. Can’t we hire a few rookies to do the grunt work?”
“I’ll swap you. I’d prefer sitting outside than dealing with the mayor’s office any day.” Jenna waved at the paperwork on her desk. “This is the inventory of everything here, for our insurance. I have to get builders in to increase the size of our evidence room because of the amount of work we’ve had over the last few years.” She pushed a set of plans across the table to him. “This is what the architect suggests. It’s a two-story extension, which will mean a bigger office for me and then you and Rowley will get this room. The evidence lock-up will be moved upstairs in a secured area along with our locker rooms. If we get the rookies I’ve requested, they can work out in the main office.”
Kane scanned the files. “Apart from Rowley’s wedding, it’s the most thrilling thing that’s happened here in the last six months.”
“Now that was a day or should I say a week to remember.” Jenna laughed. “I couldn’t believe it when the bride arrived in the cabin of a snowplow. Sandy wasn’t going to allow anything to spoil her day.”
“Yeah, of course, a blizzard had to hit that afternoon.” Kane met her gaze. “Thanks to your wedding planner skills, you had everyone except the bride holed up at the Cattleman’s Hotel and our horses boarded in town. I’m still not sure why she insisted on remaining at home with her parents.”
“It was because she lived close by but nothing would’ve happened if you hadn’t arrived in the Beast with Father Derry.” Jenna beamed at him. “It must have been a terrifying trip.”
Kane chuckled. “Nah, we were fine. Mind you, I don’t figure Rowley or Sandy really wanted us and their folks around for the first three days of their honeymoon.”
“Well, you sure didn’t get bored, playing cards and pool with the other guys.” Jenna rolled her eyes.
“As best man, I had to keep them occupied.” He grinned at her. “They all enjoyed themselves.”
“They sure did.” Jenna smiled. “When the blizzard was over, no one wanted to leave.” She sighed. “If you’re bored, you can help me take inventory in the evidence room.”
“That’s non-essential and everything is listed as it arrives.” Kane linked his fingers behind his head and stared at the ceiling. “So, this is what we’ve come to? From special agents to desk jockeys. This is what Maggie usually handles and you have a couple of interns helping her in the office. Why are you doing this, Jenna?”
“Oh, well I did hand out a fine to a man who allowed his dog to foul the footpath this morning. That was the highlight of my day.” She collected the papers, tapped them into neat piles, and placed them inside folders. “Maybe a foot patrol would be more interesting.”
“Oh, there was something.” Kane’s attention followed her across the room as she filed the folders. “The fire chief went by, lights and sirens about ten minutes ago. I gave the forest warden a call to ask if he knew about any fires. He said they’d seen smoke out toward Louan.”
“Hmm.” Jenna leaned against the filing cabinet and folded her arms. “They have volunteer fire fighters in Louan. It must have been a housefire and they needed him to verify the cause for insurance. If it’s anything to do with us, I’m sure he’ll let us know.” She straightened. “I need a break and something to eat. We could stop by Aunt Betty’s Café. Are you hungry?”
Kane stood. His stomach had been complaining for an hour or so. “I thought you’d never ask.” He pushed his hat on his head. “I’m sure the town won’t be invaded with Hell Hounds while we’re out of the office.”
“There you go again, tempting fate.” Jenna took her weapon out of the desk drawer and holstered it.
“Oh, come on, Jenna.” Kane grinned at her. “I don’t want a psychopath murdering people any more than you do but you have to admit, a nice drug bust, cattle rustling, or a bank hold up would break the monotony.”
“I figure an invasion by aliens would be more interesting.” Jenna chuckled and headed for the door. “Can you imagine what Wolfe would do with alien technology?”
Kane whistled Duke and followed her. “Oh, yeah. He’d be reverse engineering everything.” He laughed. “But with our luck the aliens won’t be little green men, they’ll be ax wielding psychopaths.”
FBI Special Agent and behavioral analyst Jo Wells picked up the phone in her office. “Agent Wells.”
“Agent Wells, this is Tom Crenshaw. I’m the sheriff out of Louan, we had ourselves an explosion last night. The fire department was first on scene and found a mess of bodies. I notified the ME out of Black Rock Falls, Shane Wolfe. He arrived with his team and has ruled the explosion as homicide. He mentioned you have an explosives expert and I should bring you in on the case. We need someone to search for secondary devices before we can enter the premises.”
Jo made a few notes. “Yes, we have an explosives expert on our team. Give me the coordinates and names of the victims.”
“I can give you the name of the person who owns the property but the ME hasn’t identified anyone. No one has been allowed to step foot inside the house.”
“Okay, that’s good. Give me the property owner’s name.” Jo took down the details and then ran a list of things to ask the man through her head. “Is there a place to set down a chopper close by?”
“Yes, ma’am. There’s grassland adjacent to the ranch house. I’ll lay down some flares close to your ETA.”
“That’s great, can you hold for one minute, Sheriff?” Jo muted the call and turned to ex-navy seal and one of the best crime scene investigators she’d ever known, Agent Ty Carter. “We have a case. Explosion, multiple victims, out of Louan. That’s north of Black Rock Falls, in a little place called Aspen Grove. What’s our ETA?”
“I refueled yesterday and she’s ready to go.” Ty ran his hand through his shaggy blond hair, dropped his cowboy boots to the floor, and smiled around a toothpick. “How long will it take for you to be ready? I’ll need time for a preflight check and packing our gear.” He gave her a slow smile and indicated to a Doberman with a coat like silk, ears pricked and waiting for orders. “The bomb squad is always ready.”
Exasperated by his casual approach to everything, Jo sighed and met his amused green gaze with as much tolerance as possible. “I have a bag packed. I can leave in ten minutes. I just need to call home and inform Clara I’ll be away for a couple of days. I’ll call Jaime after school.” She jotted down the info again and handed it to Bobby Kalo, the FBI’s computer whizz kid. “I want everything you can find on this man and if he lives at the property. If he rents it, I want to know the name of the tenant.”
“You got it.” Kalo went to work.
“Okay, we’re set.” Carter closed his computer. He stood and stretched his lean body before ambling over to a locker. “ETA eleven hundred hours.”
Jo unmuted the phone. “Thank you for holding, Sheriff.” She glanced at the clock. “We’ll be there by eleven.”
“Thank you kindly, ma’am. The ME wants to speak to you.” There was a rustling as the phone changed hands.
“Hi, Jo, it’s Shane.”
The image of Shane Wolfe, a six-three blond-haired man built like a Viking marauder, drifted into Jo’s mind. In his early forties, Shane worked as the ME for most of the local counties around Black Rock Falls, Montana. He was a good friend, who’d raised his three girls after nursing his late wife through her battle with cancer. Not only a great ME, Shane was also an IT specialist and spent most of his time assisting Sheriff Jenna Alton and Deputy Dave Kane with murder cases at his base in Black Rock Falls. “Hi Shane, what have we got?”
“I thought maybe a gas explosion but I’m not sure. It smells like C-4 and we need a bomb squad to clear the area before we remove the bodies. I don’t have time to wait for someone from Helena. I called out the fire chief from Black Rock Falls and he’s standing by to examine the area once it’s cleared for explosives.” Wolfe paused a beat. “It’s a homicide. I can see the remains of zip-ties on one of the victims. Can you handle the case?”
“That’s what we’re here for, our field office is available to all who need us.” Jo pushed to her feet and headed for her locker. “We’ll be there by eleven. Kalo is doing a background check on the property owner. We’re leaving now.”
“Okay, catch you later.” Wolfe disconnected.
After making a call to Clara, her daughter Jaime’s nanny, Jo picked up her duffle and headed out the door. She took the elevator to the roof and handed Carter her bag. He’d packed everything they needed in the chopper, including their crime scene kits, Kevlar vests, extra weapons, and a forty-pound bag of dog food. His dog, Zorro—their bomb squad—sat on a back seat in his harness. “Is that everything we need?”
“Yeah, I can refuel in Black Rock Falls.” Carter moved his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other and pulled down the rim of his Stetson. “We’ll be able to go by and see Jenna and Kane, maybe grab a meal when we’re done?”
Jo smiled. “That would be nice. Let’s hope we get this case wrapped up fast. I have no idea what experience the Louan sheriff has in arson cases. We might end up completing the entire investigation alone.” She slid on her sunglasses. “At least we’re coming into summer. I’m over freezing my butt off in the mountains.”
Although the sobering fact of visiting another crime scene was ever constant in Jo’s mind, as Carter lifted the bird high into the air and they headed on their journey, her heart leapt at the sight of Montana’s wild and magnificent west. The mountains, standing proud against a clear blue sky, shimmered in the sunshine like a fortress. The vast and lush forests, pristine waterfalls and lakes mixed with the endless color palate and subtle textures of the lowlands. As they flew high above the towns and ranches spreading out across glorious vistas, she wondered how man had dared to taint this beauty with murder.
She glanced at Carter. He was in full professional mode and handled the chopper with skill. His appearance and happy-go-lucky manner fooled many people and lured criminals into a false sense of security. One thing she could say about Carter is he’d never be called one of the boys. He preferred to be alone, just a man with his dog. He’d sure fooled her but underneath his facade, was a complicated man who hid his emotions. Trained as a deadly force with abilities too many to comprehend, he had a way of looking at things from every angle at the same time. He drove her crazy sometimes, but she had to admit, she admired him.
“You okay?” Carter frowned at her. “Worried about leaving Jaime?”
Jo shook her head. “I’m fine, just admiring the view and Jaime is used to me being away on cases. Now she’s settled in to life in Snakeskin Gully, she is a happy little girl. It’s a great place to raise kids.”
“There’s no substitute to small-town values and close friendships that last a lifetime.” He turned his concentration back to flying the chopper. “The community sure helped me when I went off the grid.” He chuckled. “They acted like they were leaving me alone, but the mailman would sound his horn until he saw me heading to the gate to collect my mail. I’d find care packages from the local church, my prescription filled by the pharmacy, food for Zorro. I was being left alone to recover but I was really never alone.”
This was the first time Carter had discussed the PTSD he’d suffered after leading a mission resulting in the death of three children. He’d chosen two years of isolation, unable to cope with the flashbacks. Jo understood the condition well, the triggers that plunged a person back into a recurring nightmare would always be lurking in their subconscious. She kept her gaze ahead. Confiding in her about his condition was a breakthrough. He’d grown to trust her. “Do you figure your handler arranged to make sure you had supplies?”
“The meds and dog food would have come from him for sure but the local minister often came by to visit.” Carter cleared his throat. “I was rude and intimidating back then but he kept on coming back. The man is a saint. He never gave me the ‘it’s God’s will,’ crap. We spoke about baseball mainly and he helped me turn my cabin into a home. He ended the chaos with simple logic and friendship. I owe him bigtime.” He lifted his chin scanning ahead. “I see flares, we’re close to the coordinates. We made it ahead of time.”
They set down in a field of wheatgrass surrounded by trees, the wind from the chopper giving the impression they were landing in a turbulent green sea. When the door slid open the smell of fire filled the air in a choking stench. All fires had their own signature. A housefire carried the smell of burning wood and textiles, the sharp toxic aftertaste of molten plastic fumes and worst of all, the stench of burning hair and flesh. Jo reached into her pocket for a mask as a blast of ash-filled air hit her face, her senses picking up the awful devastation awaiting them. Moments later, a sheriff’s cruiser sped out to meet them. Jo climbed from the chopper and shook the man’s hand and introduced Carter. “Nice to meet you. Walk us through the crime scene.”
“I’ll leave that to the ME. He’s pulled rank on us, ma’am. Keeping us right away outside the tape. He said he doesn’t want anyone tripping a wire. I hope you clear the area soon. The smell is getting so bad my deputies are getting sick to their stomachs.”
“Maybe it’s time to get real men to take their place.” Carter peered at the sheriff over his sunglasses. “How did Wolfe determine it was homicide if he didn’t examine the victims?”
“The explosion blew out the front of the house. The townsfolks said they seen an orange mushroom. There’s no gas here, so the firefighters turned off the power and doused the flames. They kept their distance in case it blew again. There wasn’t too much they could do. It was well ablaze when they arrived.” The sheriff helped load equipment and their bags into the trunk of his cruiser. “The ME used binoculars to view the scene and then told me to call you. He’s been on scene since we called him. He’ll be glad to see you.”
“We’ll need a list of witnesses and names of the people who called it in.” Carter frowned. “Who was first responder?”
“That would be me.” The sheriff tipped back his hat to look up at Carter. “I called the fire department and the ME and we’ve been on scene since.”
“Were there any bystanders?” Carter scanned the area.
“A few and we moved them on.” The sheriff’s cheeks pinked. “I did think to take down their names but I didn’t record the vehicles . . .
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