Tangled Passions - Melissa Schroeder

Tangled Passions

Book 4 in the Task Force Hawaii Series

Part of the Harmless World

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Facing an obsessive killer proves to be easier than falling in love.

The last person Drew Franklin wants to work with is Cat Kalakau. Their history makes it difficult being in the same room, let alone being joined at the hip during a case. Months ago, they’d shared a night filled with romance and a bit more, but that ended after he was shot. Since then, even their friendship seems to have fallen apart. But he will do his job, even if spending more time with her is killing him.

Working with Drew every day reminds Cat she’s to blame for his injury. It doesn’t matter that she wants him more than her next breath, or that every time he looks at her she melts into a puddle of lust. She needs to resist her own desires to protect him as they hunt a serial killer targeting wealthy men signed up for dating services. Soon though, their time together proves to be too much.  One fight leads to a kiss, which leads to so much more.  Neither of them is prepared for the overwhelming need they have for each other or the connection they seem to have. But when Cat realizes Drew is the object of the killer’s obsession, she will do anything to protect him even if it means sacrificing her life for his.

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Tangled Passions

Tangled Passions

Book 4 in the Task Force Hawaii Series
Part of the Harmless World

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Tangled Passions

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Bright sun seared Drew Franklin’s eyes as he walked out of his apartment. Monday mornings sucked. He pulled out his sunglasses and slipped them on. It was way too damned early for this, but he had no choice. Commander Martin Delano had called him to a crime scene. He hadn’t wanted to drag his ass out of bed, but when the boss called, there was no way out of it.

Drew had never been a morning person. It came from nights of gaming and always having the closing shift at one of his family’s restaurants. Since his shooting a year ago, he had noticed the mornings were getting harder to deal with. Granted, he was happy he was still alive, but did it have to be so fucking bright in the mornings?

Since he’d moved into the apartment several months ago, he had started walking to work. Unless it was raining, which was almost never, he enjoyed the morning walks. Well, he wouldn’t say he liked them. He would say he liked his evening walks. And it had nothing to do with work. He loved working as the assistant to Task Force Hawaii’s ME, Dr. Elle Middleton-McGregor. It was that morning thing.

Before he made it a block down the street, he saw the Task Force Hawaii’s ME van barreling down the street. Elle stopped by the curb and wound down the window.

“Hey, sailor, need a ride?” she asked with a laugh.

“Only if you promise to be gentle,” he said smiling. Elle was one of the best bosses he had ever had—and that included working for various family members as he had in their restaurants. He smiled, opened the door and hopped up into the van. He had barely shut the door when she took off.

“Whoa, in a hurry?”

She slanted him a look. “I want to get this over with. I haven’t had any sleep thanks to this idiot.” She pointed to her very rounded belly. She was in the last trimester of her pregnancy, and he knew it hadn’t been easy on her. “And I will definitely have to pee by the time we get there. When the bugger isn’t jumping around in my stomach, he’s sitting on my bladder.”

Elle was usually in a good mood for the most part, not to mention her excellent sense of humor. Lately, though, Drew knew the pregnancy was starting to wear on her.

“I think you should take the next six weeks off.”

Another slanted look. “You’ve been talking to Graeme.”

Graeme McGregor, TFH team member and newly wed to Elle, had been trying to get her to take a leave of absence for the last two months. He knew they’d had a few arguments about it.

She stuck out her chin, which was a sure sign of a brewing argument. She was a sweetie, but Elle had a definite stubborn streak, especially when talking about her abilities.

“I am not fragile.”

Oh, boy. Elle was sweet, unless you irritated her. “No one said you were. But, you are of…” he let his voice trail off when he realized he was about to mention her age. Dammit, he had better control than that these days. Or thought he did. The lack of caffeine didn’t help.

“What were you saying?” she asked, her voice just a little too sweet.


“Good, because Graeme made a comment about my age last night. Stupid goat.”

“He’s just worried about you.”

She softened. “I know. I would divorce the wanker if I didn’t believe that.”

“And it’s nice to have someone to worry about you.”

She said nothing when she came to a stoplight. Then she glanced at him.

“Are you all right?”

He hated the pity. He’d had enough of it since the shooting. “Yeah. I haven’t had any coffee.”

She nodded. “I know that feeling. Right now, I would kill for a big cup.”

“So, where is this case located?”


“Ah. And…”

“Oh, sorry.” She sighed as she hit the gas. “My head is a sieve these days. Emma keeps telling me it’s pregnancy hormones, and as a doctor, I understand that. But, still. Anyway, it’s that case Del had looked at a few months ago. The dating service? I think we are officially taking it over.”

In the last two years, there had been three murders, now four if this was one. They were all very rich men who had been involved with the same dating service, Premiere Connections.

“And calling it a serial?”

She nodded. “At least, we have to consider it.”

“What’s the name?”

“Uh, Branson Anderson.”


She glanced at him. “Did you know him?”

“You know that isn’t an easy question here. I’m acquainted with most of the island.” In Hawaii, everyone seemed to know everyone else, or knew someone you were related to. With his family in the restaurant business, it was impossible to remember everyone you met. “But, he was a huge high school football player. Quarterback, if I remember. Back in the early nineties. He went to UCLA, then got drafted.”

“He was in the NFL?”

“Well, officially, yes. He blew his knee out in his first game and it ended his career.”

“You seem to know a lot about him.”

“You know how it is here. Hawaiians always support each other. Hawaiians started supporting the Steelers because so many Hawaiians have played for them.”

She nodded. “His maid found him this morning. I’m not sure what else.”

“Damn, this is definitely going to get some attention.” A murder here and there didn’t always draw that much news, but a legend like Anderson was going to attract notice from the sports networks on the mainland

“Maybe that’s the point.”

“Yeah, well, the others got attention too. But this one will be different. A lot of people followed his career. Add in the fact that he returned and started a local business, and the TV vultures will start to circle soon. Add in meddling from the mainland, and it could get sticky.”

“Definitely,” she said as she started the winding road that led to Kailua. “I have a feeling Del is going to put Cat on the case.”

Cat Kalakau. The TFH team member had been Drew’s crush for years, but once they had a falling out, there seemed to be no going back to their friendship. They worked together, but the camaraderie they had shared was now gone. Uncomfortable silences seemed to be their only connection now. That is why he did his best to avoid her.

He glanced at his boss. There was no doubt that Elle was fishing for his feelings on the subject. “That’s cool.”

“Graeme actually thinks Del might give her the case to run lead on.”

For a quick second, he felt a burst of pride. It was hard to ignore that feeling. Unlike many of the others, he and Cat grew up on Oahu and had known each other for years. Knowing how far she had come and how hard she had to fight to gain recognition, made the idea that she might run an entire investigation of this size even sweeter.

“That’s good. She definitely deserves it.”

“Yes, she does.”

Elle seemed to want to talk about his relationship with Cat. He didn’t want to rehash something that had started out so promising and then had fallen apart. He just wanted to move on. So, he decided to distract her.

“We don’t have time to even hit a drive thru for coffee? Remember, it is Hawaii. Even McDonald’s serves Kona Coffee.”

“I can’t have any, you know that.”

“But I need some.”

She glanced at him.

“And they have food.”

“None of it is good for me or the baby.”

“Oh, come on, Elle. Live a little.”

“If we go, I don’t want you to tell Graeme.”

“Why not?”

“He’s worried about eating fast food while I’m pregnant.”

“Promise,” he said crossing his heart.

She glanced over at him and laughed. “Okay.”

* * *

Cat slammed her car door and hurried passed the parked vehicles and people milling in the yard. Damn, she hated being late. She was never late. For anything. Ever.

There were people streaming in and out of the house, and she had seen the ME van when she’d parked. Which meant that Drew was there. Everyone had arrived before her, and now she felt as if she were ten steps behind. It wasn’t a position she liked to be in. She had learned early in life that if she wanted to be taken seriously, she had to work harder than men and be better at the job. Still, before joining TFH, she had never gotten the credit. Thankfully, Del was a good boss.

She located him as he stood by the body and watched Elle and Drew do their work. She tried to ignore the little hitch in her step when she saw Drew. Months after their disastrous weekend, she still felt the rush of excitement whenever she caught a glimpse of him.

“Howzit?”  Del asked as she stepped up beside him.

“The traffic was a bitch. Sorry, boss.”

He shook his head. “It’s only going to get worse.”

“Yeah. So, what happened?”

“Anderson had a date two nights ago with someone from Premiere Connections. No one had seen him since, until his cleaning service showed up this morning. Unfortunately, they cleaned the entire first floor before finding his body.”

Damn. “That’s going to suck.”

“Yeah, but if it’s like the other murders, there will be nothing.”

She glanced at him from the corner of her eye. “So, we are calling it a serial?”

He nodded. “Just not to the press yet. I want to keep a lid on this. They seemed to have missed the connection with the other three. It has given us a little time to play catch up.”

“Of course,” she said, waiting for him to tell her what her assignment was. She was probably going to get stuck running interviews again, which she didn’t mind, but it was a thankless job. People often wanted you to comfort them and she understood that. But when you did four or five interviews a day, it got a little overwhelming.

“I want you to head this one up.”

For a long moment, she said nothing because his words didn’t register. When Cat realized what he had said, she turned her head to look at him. He must have noticed her attention because he glanced at her.

“What?” he asked.

“You want me to take over the case? This is a serial, boss.”

“Yeah, I know. I just told you that.”

“This would be my first case to head up.”

He nodded. “I know that. Part of it is timing. I have Marcus on that terrorism committee; and, of course, we don’t know about Graeme because we don’t know when Elle is going to pop.”

“What a lovely visual,” Elle said. “And I am not due for another six weeks.”

Del looked over at her. “As long as you try to hold off until the tenth of May.”

The doctor rolled her eyes. “I take it there’s a bet lined up for that?”

“There’s always a bet,” Drew said with a smile, then he glanced in her direction and it faded. “Hey, Cat.”

She nodded in return, but didn’t say anything. She turned back to Del.

“You want me to head up a serial?”

He nodded. “Yeah. Adam will be overseeing the entire investigation, acting in a supervisory role. As I said, one thing is that many of us are loaded down with work. The other is that we are going to be restructuring the team. I’ll talk more about it today when we have the meeting.”

That was an odd turn of phrase, but she mentally shrugged it away. “Oh. Okay.”

“So, you are the one on point. Of course, all the media are going to try and talk to you, and you know what to do.”

“No comment for now.”

“Yes. As soon as they realize we’re heading up this murder, we’ll get calls. They know if we are on the case, it is bigger than just one murder.”

In the past two years, the press had learned when the governor assigned TFH a case, that meant it was huge. The moment media heard TFH were working a particular crime, they would go bonkers. They understood that it was the kind of case that could make their careers, if they got the inside scoop.


“So, Marcus and Adam have been doing a canvas, and they’ll report to you what they find. Make sure you give people tasks. Delegate, or it will become too much work and overwhelm you.”

“Sure thing.”

“Also, I’m sure you will probably get some questions about why you were assigned to the job. Not from the team, as both Adam and I think you can handle it, and I’m sure the rest of the team does too. But being one of our younger members and least experienced, you will get hit with that question. They will insinuate that you were picked because you were a woman and our only active investigator who is a woman.”

She opened her mouth but he continued.

“And partially they would be right, but it has nothing to do with quotas, it has to do with the suspect.”

“We have a suspect?”

“No. But there is a higher chance this is a woman, and we need a woman who will think like one to catch her if that is true. We can do it, but I think it would be best to have you steering this case. Your perspective might help. Plus, you are a damned fine investigator. You’re ready for this, and this case is tailor-made for you, I think.”

“Thanks, boss.”

“I have a meeting with the mayor and the governor, so I need to go. We will do a rundown of the case at two this afternoon. Sound good?”

She nodded.

“Good. See you then. Later, Elle, Drew.”

They waved him off and Elle walked over to her. “Your first case to lead up. You must be so excited.”

Excited…yeah. And scared out of her mind, not to mention sick to her stomach.

“I am. I just hope I can do it.”

Elle shook her head. “You will, plus this team is brilliant, so you have good support.”

She nodded. “Okay, can you tell me what you found?”

“More than likely he was asphyxiated. Manually.”

“Like the others.”

“Yes. I’ll run the normal tests and, more than likely, just like the others, he had sex not too long before he was killed.”

“This is going to be all over the news with it being Anderson.”

“Yeah, I told Elle that,” Drew said, rising to his feet. “Anderson was local grown like the others, but more entrenched. Add in being former NFL, and that’s going to get a lot of attention.”

“He did a lot for the community.”

Drew nodded. “So, first big case?”

“Yep. Elle, do you think a woman could do this?”

She nodded. “It was with a ligature of some sort. Looks like a rope, like the others. If it was hands, it would be a dead giveaway whether it was a woman. This way, we aren’t too sure.”

“Oh, hey, it could be like Sea of Love with Al Pacino,” Drew said.

“That was the ex in that one, wasn’t it? The man she had dated before?”

“Yeah, so it could be something like that.”

“True. Okay, I’m going to go talk to the guys and see if they need me, then I’m going to head back to the office.”

“Good luck,” Drew said.

“Thanks. I’m definitely going to need it.”

He shook his head and offered her the first smile he’d given her in months. “You got this.”

Then he turned back to his work. Why that comment meant more to her than Del’s vote of confidence, she didn’t know. With that, she turned on her heel and went in search of Marcus and Adam. She had more than enough work cut out for her and a lot to prove.

She just hoped that she didn’t let everyone down.

End of Excerpt

Tangled Passions

by Melissa Schroeder

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