- Workplace Romance
He’s got a killer to catch and no time for love. Fate has other plans.
TASK FORCE HAWAII, BOOK ONE
Former Army Special Forces Officer Martin “Del” Delano has enough on his hands chasing a serial killer and heading up TASK FORCE HAWAII. He definitely doesn’t need the distraction of Emma Taylor. From the moment they meet, she knocks him off his feet, literally. Unfortunately, she’s the best person to have on the team to make the connections to help them catch their killer.
For Emma, it’s hard to ignore the lure of a man like him. Tats, muscles and his Harley cause her to have more than a few fantasies about Del. He’d never be interested in a geek like her, but she can’t resist toying with him. When she pushes the teasing too far, she ends up in his bed. She convinces herself she can handle it until the moment he steals her heart.
Del can’t help falling for the quirky genius. She’s smart, funny and there’s a sweet vulnerable side to her that only he can see. As Emma gets more involved with the investigation, she becomes the target of the psychopath. When the danger escalates, Del promises to do anything to save the woman who not only captured his heart but also his soul.
Read an Excerpt
Martin Delano stepped out of his pickup and shut the door, as a light trade wind danced over his skin. He slipped his shoulder holster on, then looked up and down the street. Finding no traffic, he jogged over to the other side, following the lights set up by the Honolulu Police Department.
Being former military, he should be used to the early morning wakeup calls, but it didn’t mean he had to be happy about it—especially this morning. The lights burned his eyes. Damn, he was getting old when he couldn’t seem to make it up and at work without a cup of coffee. He should have grabbed one before he left his house in Hawaii Kai.
Police tape marked off the spot, and a very serious looking young officer in uniform stood by the entrance. His militant expression told Del this was his first big assignment. The kid raised his hand as if to stop him…or die trying. God save him.
He wasn’t in the mood.
“HPD only, sir,” he said, his voice stern.
Del sighed and pulled out his Task Force badge. He’d been there a year and people in the department still didn’t know who he was. Of course, the officer looked like he was straight out of the academy, so that was probably the reason. However, the department was small, and Del had been on TV enough that he thought everyone knew his face. And, as the local members of his team kept telling him, everyone knows everyone else on the island.
The officer’s face reddened. “Sorry, sir.”
Del nodded and attached the badge back onto his belt. “I’m looking for Rome Carino.”
“Of course, sir.” He turned and motioned with his hand. “He’s right over there, by the Medical Examiner.”
Del glanced over and saw where he was talking about. There was a barrier set up along the opposite side of the bridge. That would have been done probably before the ME had shown up.
“Mahalo,” Del said, as he walked past the officer towards the ME. He passed a few familiar faces. Some smiled, some frowned, and others barely acknowledged his existence.
The air was muggy from the recent rain, and the sun would start rising soon. Traffic in Honolulu was always a bitch. The influx of tourists added to the locals’ aggravation, but figure in the water main breaks and the rail construction, it could be a real pain in the ass. Being Monday made it worse, and the McCully Bridge over the Ala Wai Canal was always busy.
As he approached the group, he noticed a handful of detectives he knew. He had been there for a year now, and he still felt like an outsider. Being a Haole didn’t make for easy detective work in Hawaii. Not to mention, a few of them thought he shouldn’t have been given the job. Carino had been offered the job at one time, but he declined. Now, Del was starting to understand why.
Del knew it was a bad sign when Carino called him. Del’s team only handled the major crimes, the ones that would require more than a little diplomacy working with various law enforcements. Not that he was always good with diplomacy, but in other words, Carino didn’t want the headache.
He noticed Drew Franklin, the ME assistant. Nice kid, local, tall and skinny, with a world class mind and an irritating habit of trying too hard. But he was good on the job, even if he did have an odd sense of humor, and an odd choice in clothing. He was wearing a pair of jeans today, his regular sneakers, and a T-shirt that said ‘I like big books and I cannot lie.’
“Howzit, Del, I just got here too.”
Del nodded. “Did you get the call?”
He pushed his horn-rimmed glasses back up the bridge of his nose. “Dr. Middleton called. She said I didn’t need to be here, but I thought maybe Cat would be called out.”
“Nope, I was on call last night, so I took the call.”
“I’m glad you think so,” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm, but it went over Drew’s head.
He just smiled as they walked together. The closer they got to the scene, Del’s worry grew. He knew it was a dead woman, but for him to be called out, it had to be huge. Maybe a celebrity or dignitary. That meant it would hit the news services soon. Damn, he hated dealing with the press.
Carino noticed him and turned to greet him. Lean and tall, with feral eyes, he’d moved to Hawaii from Seattle several years earlier. The homicide detective had been one of the most welcoming in the HPD. His wife had insisted on inviting him over for dinner several times. A lot of folks weren’t happy when they hired an outsider like him, but Carino had been a transplant also, and Del had an idea he had wanted to make everyone know that he accepted him.
“Sorry about calling you out, Del, but Dr. Middleton thought it was important. Usually, I go with her gut, and when she showed me, I was sure of it.” He nodded. “No problem.”
Carino looked at Drew. “Dr. Masterson could use some help.”
“Of course,” Drew said and hurried off, almost tripping over his larger than average feet in the process.
Carino and he watched Drew greet the doctor with as much enthusiasm as he had Del.
Del shook his head. Was he ever that young and eager? He couldn’t remember, but he was sure that he had been when he entered the military. When he turned back to Del, he offered him a grim smile.
“Man, to be that young again,” he said, voicing Del’s thoughts.
Del nodded. “Makes me tired just listening to him sometimes.”
Carino’s smile faded. “I didn’t want to say anything in front of him, not yet, but I have a bad feeling this might be a serial.”
Del knew Carino wasn’t jumping to conclusions. When there had been a serial killer terrorizing Honolulu, and especially the BDSM club members at Rough ‘n Ready, he had been at the head of the case. He had caught the killer no one else had expected—with the help of an FBI agent, who had later become his wife. Carino did not make assumptions.
A heavy lead weight started to tighten in his stomach. This was going to be a fucking nightmare. He just knew it. And, it would put his team to the test again. He didn’t have a background in investigative work. Being an Army Ranger did give you a skill set that helped out in some things, but investigating a serial killer was different. Thank God he had a team with more experience in that department. Both Cat and Adam were in the department during Carino’s investigation. And he knew his ME had experience with that kind of thing.
“What makes you think that? Does it resemble any other killings?”
The detective shook his head. “No, but she was posed, grotesquely. There’s just something about the way she was left…” he sighed and rubbed his temples.
Carino nodded. “Yeah, and I was just thinking I was getting too old for this.”
“Nothing going on with Maria?”He knew the detective’s wife was pregnant and entering the final few months.
Flashing Del a smile, Carino shook his head. “No, just horrible insomnia for her, which means I have it because she wanders through the house constantly.” His smile faded. “It’s going to be a bitch of a day today, considering who I think is down there.”
His head was already pounding from the lack of caffeine, and this was just ramping it up to a whole other level of pain.
Carino looked toward the scene, then back at Del. “We have to wait for official word, but I think it’s Grace Singh.”
The name hit him like a ton of bricks.
Del knew the story. Hell, everyone in Hawaii knew the story. Two weeks earlier, a pretty schoolteacher had disappeared. Right off the street in a good part of town.
There was no sign of her anywhere, which was definitely odd. From all accounts, she was sweet and unassuming, a bit of a homebody who lived with her parents—not an uncommon occurrence considering the housing situation on the island at the moment.
When the news had hit, everyone had shown up to help. Honolulu might be a big city to some, but Hawaii still operated like a small town. When one of their own went missing, especially a cherished teacher, they called out the reserves. Citizens, law enforcement, everyone. They all had looked for her and could not find one bit of evidence as to her whereabouts.
“Exactly. I wouldn’t normally jump to conclusions, but she’s fresh, and I know her face, of course. That means she has been alive the last two weeks. And, it’s bad. There is no doubt in my mind someone tortured her.”
Fuck. Nightmare did not cover it. They would get attention from the mainland on this one, and they always sent the local press into a frenzy.
They walked side-by-side down to the scene. With each step they took, he felt the weight of the oncoming investigation. This was going to be a bitch—and more than anything, he wanted to do right by the woman. Her poor family had been so sure they would find her alive, and now they would forever be without one part of the whole.
No one deserved to die like this.
“Hey, Elle, how’s it going?” Del asked.
Dr. Elle Middleton was an English transplant, and one of the best in her field. He knew he was damned lucky she had been assigned to his team when she had arrived in Hawaii.
“Hullo, Del. Not good, especially for this young woman.”
She stood up and wiped her forehead with the back of her wrist. Since she’d cut her light blond hair, the fringe of it appeared just above her blue-green eyes. He read the horror in her gaze. This was not going to be pleasant for anyone.
“You got a time of death?”
“Within the last six hours from the liver temp. I would say less than three when she was actually found. She was left here after the rain stopped.”
“Yeah?” Carino asked.
Elle nodded. “The impressions of shoes are there and there,” she said pointing to the ground. “Drew is going to take a cast of them, but I am not sure we will find anything particularly important in that. They look pretty common. So, I’m assuming he waited on purpose until the rain was done. That ended about half past eleven last night here in Honolulu.”
Del sighed and shook his head. “Poor woman.”
“Indeed. I can tell you more when I get her on the table, but this woman went through hell.”
“Show me what you have right now.”
“Hey, I have a meeting with the brass at the top of the hour. They wanted an update. Call me if you need anything.”
“Sure. Give my love to Maria,” Del said as Carino slapped him on the shoulder and walked away.
He turned back around just as Elle moved and he finally saw the body. The memory of the smiling picture did not even seem like the same woman. Her eyes were closed, but he knew they were dark, always twinkling in all the photos. She was short in stature, five three if he remembered correctly, with short hair, and probably weighed no more than one hundred pounds. At least she had. If she had been posed, she had been moved, probably by Elle.
“We have pictures of her body before she was moved?”
“Yes,” she said irritated.
He looked up and offered her a smile. “Sorry about that. Just thinking things through, and I didn’t know who was here first. You know I am still new at all of this.”
Elle sighed. “Sorry. Knowing just how bad it was…it hurts.”
He heard the memory in her voice. “I understand.” And he did. Elle would comprehend what Grace Singh had endured more than most others.
She straightened her shoulders, then squatted down. “If you look here, she was tied up.”
She held up the hand of the woman and pointed to her wrist. He saw the burns on her wrists. Some light, some dark, and with different patterns pressed into her flesh.
It was done with some kind of rope, and probably impossible to narrow down.
“Her ankles are in the same condition.”
“And the different shades of the bruising?”
“Repeated injuries. And with different ropes from the burns. So, he kept her like this for some time. Probably the entire time she was there. I’m pretty sure of sexual assault, but I will verify that in the lab. There are also burns on her body.”
He squatted down beside her and looked over the body. There were small cylindrical burns over her flesh. Scabs had formed over some of them, while others were fresh.
“Looks like a cigarette lighter from a car.”
“Yes. Bastard really hurt her. This isn’t just about power. This is more about pain, and getting off on it. He should not be allowed in public.”
Her voice wavered at the end, and he knew what it cost her.
“We’ll get him, Elle.”
She nodded, but said nothing else as he stood and looked over the crowd. It was early, but there was always some kind of hum in the early morning there—especially on a Monday. Hell, that’s probably why the sick fuck had left her there on that particular day. More coverage, with a frenzy that would last for the entire week.
He saw one of the detectives taking pictures, and he wandered over to him.
“Did you get the crowd?”
“Yeah,” he said. “But I was going to take a few more because it is really gaining attention.”
He pulled out his card and gave it to him. “Could you make sure you get those to me as soon as possible?”
“With pleasure,” he said, grim determination filling his voice.
Del paused, then the detective said, “I knew her. We went to the same school, a few years apart. A real sweetheart. Always had a smile for everyone.”
Del nodded. That was the thing about Hawaii. Everyone had about six degrees of separation, or less. Either they knew Grace, or they knew someone who knew her. Her disappearance had been the focal point of the Hawaiian news shows since she had disappeared. And now, their focus would be on a killer.
The crowd was growing by the second, and he knew it would only be minutes before the news crews showed up. As if on queue, they appeared, screaming to a halt. He saw Jin Phillips, one very irritating newswoman, jump out of the van. Damn, the woman got on his nerves. She stood by, waiting for her crew before she attacked. And it would be an attack. The woman didn’t know how to deal with news any other way.
Del looked away from her and up the canal toward Diamond Head. The scent of plumeria hit him, and he realized he was standing by a bush filled with them. It was usually something he liked to smell, but now, he knew he would always associate it with Grace Singh and her last night on earth.
The sun was just starting to peek over the crater. The brilliant streaks of orange and yellow lightened the sky. Even after a year, the beauty of it still stunned him. Del didn’t think he would ever get used to the sight.
He looked back at the scene as Drew helped Elle put Grace Singh in a body bag, then lift her up onto the gurney. The buzz of the crowd was growing, and he could already hear Jin asking annoying questions.
Just another day in paradise.