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Colton's Deadly Engagement
Addison Fox

Chapter 5 (#u13c5b45f-f7ca-5602-af05-4aeddb131196)

Chapter 6 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 7 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 8 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 9 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 10 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 11 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 12 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 13 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 14 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 15 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 16 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 17 (#litres_trial_promo)

Epilogue (#litres_trial_promo)

Extract (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 1 (#u06784735-3657-5356-8ba1-233e402e88df)

Cold air pierced Finn Colton’s lungs as he ran hell-for-leather beside his faithful and loyal partner, Lotte. Although she was trained specifically for attacking and guarding her quarry, the German shepherd was a mighty fine tracker and Finn followed in her wake as she pounded over the hills and valleys of Red Ridge, South Dakota.

In February.

Damn, it was cold.

As soon as the thought registered, Finn pushed it aside as he pressed on toward the fleeing figure about seventy-five yards ahead, weaving in and out of shadow. Was it possible they were this close to the suspect dubbed the “Groom Killer”?

Although he’d put little stock in the sensational and lurid depiction the local press had been dreaming up for nearly a month, he would cop to concern over the safety of his town. A police chief’s duty was to his people and that was a mighty challenging job when everyone he spoke to admitted to walking around in fear.

Tonight’s discovery of a second dead groom was going to turn subtle unease to full-on terror.

Lotte’s bark pulled him from his dismal thoughts as she put on another burst of speed, leaping forward into the night. Finn ignored the cold air and kicked it up a notch, digging deep for the stamina to keep moving.

In an apparent burst of speed of his—or her—own, their quarry put on the juice and zagged out of view. Finn kept going, trailing Lotte so close he could feel her tail slapping against his thigh, but in moments it was clear they’d lost the trail.

Lotte whined as she slowed, running in a circle as she fought to pick up a fresh scent on the ground before letting out a sharp cry.

The distinct odor of bleach, especially piercing in the bitter cold, hit his nostrils as he narrowed the distance to his partner. He came to a solid halt and bent to settle his hands on his knees. He quickly stepped back, ordering Lotte with him, out of range of the harsh scent.

Years of consistent training and the deep love and affection they’d built had her backing up immediately and she moved to his side.

“We were set up, girl. That bleach was laid down only a little while ago. Bastard wasn’t running from us. He was running to his own version of the finish line.”

Finn cursed again and stood to his full height, willing his other senses into action as he searched the darkened night. A wash of stars lit up the sky, made even brighter by the thick halo of a nearly full moon, but revealed nothing. Whomever they’d chased was gone and the night held no clue as to where.

He toyed with following, anyway, heading in the last direction he’d seen his quarry, but knew it was a lost cause. If the killer was smart enough to put down the bleach in advance, he or she was smart enough to change direction once out of sight.

Lotte edged toward the chemical, backing away when the scent hit her nose once more.

“Clever,” he muttered. And dangerous, he added to himself. Very dangerous if the killer had enough sense to prepare like that.

Red Ridge’s K-9 unit was famous across the state and even farther on than the boundaries of the Black Hills and the South Dakota border. The killer would have known they’d use every resource at their disposal, including well-trained K-9 dogs who needed relatively little scent input to hunt their quarry.

He patted Lotte’s head, burying his fingers into the thick pelt of her fur. She was lean and fit, but winter had brought her thicker fur and he loved the way his palm seemed to sink into the warmth. She was a beauty and he scratched behind her ears as he praised her, reassuring her of her successful tracking even if the perp did get away. Finn Colton loved his sweet girl and he always made sure she knew she was appreciated and important.

He also talked to her like a partner. While he harbored no delusion she understood the differences in the gauge sizes of guns or the headache of late-night paperwork, she understood her role in their partnership and always sat and listened, staring up at him with large, soulful eyes. They shared an amazing bond and he never took her or her training for granted.

His wealthy uncle, Fenwick Colton, had seen to it that his investment in the unit and its cofunded training center—one of the largest in South Dakota—was well publicized. His uncle was an old bastard, Finn thought, but a crafty one. Man could get three dollars out of one and was always looking for an angle. If there was an opportunity to put Colton Energy in the paper, on TV or splashed all over the internet, he leaped at the chance.

The K-9 unit and training facility had given Fenwick that and more. Not only did they receive more than their fair share of local news coverage and even the occasional spate of national attention, but the unit had been a tribute to Fenwick’s late first wife. Dubbed “the only one he ever loved” by Fenwick’s own admission, he’d continued the funding long after he’d assuaged his grief with a string of generously endowed younger women.

The training center was one of the few reasons Finn tolerated his uncle. While his appreciation had a solid core of selfish motivation for the continued support of his precinct, a small corner of his heart liked the fact that Fenwick might have been a decent human being once upon a time.

Since he’d gotten Lotte as well as his entire department from the deal, Finn could hardly complain. But it did mean his uncle came calling a bit too often at police headquarters. His recent rant over the need to catch the Groom Killer had been a world-class tirade.

The fact that his uncle believed it was his niece and Finn’s cousin Demi Colton who was responsible, had added an uncomfortable edge to the proceedings. He knew how to deal with his uncle—he wasn’t a man who backed down easily before anyone—but the determined rant that Demi had gone so far off the edge she’d started killing men was a tough pill to swallow.

If asked, Finn would have said it was ludicrous. But after finding her necklace at the first crime scene and her name drawn in blood beside the body, he could hardly ignore what was in front of his face. Given her strong motive—she’d been engaged to Bo Gage before he’d dumped her for another woman he’d quickly proposed to—and the circumstantial evidence, Demi was their prime suspect. Yet the man who’d known her since she was an infant wanted to believe in her innocence.

The police chief had to work every angle, run down every lead and needed a great deal of objectivity. Especially with Demi on the run and seeming uncomfortably guilty when he’d questioned her after Bo Gage’s murder.

With their race toward answers lost, he gestured Lotte to follow him. It was time to head back to review the crime scene they’d abandoned—a celebration turned tragedy—to chase a murderer.

He still saw it in his mind—had already begun the mental walk through the details of the crime. The second groom lay outside the back door of the kitchen at the Circle T Steakhouse. The man had been murdered in the midst of his rehearsal dinner, his body discovered only when one of the line chefs had run outside for a quick break. The man’s scream had been heard all the way inside the restaurant and it had taken the foresight of the head chef to keep everyone away from the body. There was no way anyone could have helped Michael Hayden, even had they tried.

Not with a bullet hole seared clear through his heart and a black cummerbund shoved deep into his mouth.

* * *

Darby Gage patted the cushion beside her and tried to coax Penny onto the couch. Darby had lived in the same house with the stubborn female for the past two weeks and had been unsuccessful in getting Penny to share any common space. She refused to share the couch, the bed or even a small chaise longue on the back porch.

Since it was February in South Dakota, the chaise experiment hadn’t lasted long—it was too damn cold to sit waiting for a stubborn dog to join her on the rattan recliner—and Darby had taken some small measure of pride in the fact that she’d tried.

But enough was enough.

The German shepherd was the crown jewel in the dismal inheritance from her ex-husband and it was high time they came to some sort of grudging truce. Bo wasn’t coming back courtesy of the bullet in his chest and Darby was in charge now.
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