A shocking murder carries echoes of the past for a psychologist in a startling novel of suspense by a Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestselling author. Psychologist and criminologist Dr. Gretchen White is a specialist in antisocial personality disorders and violent crimes. She’s helped solve enough prominent cases for detective Patrick Shaughnessy that her own history is often overlooked: Gretchen is an admitted sociopath once suspected of killing her aunt. Shaughnessy still thinks Gretchen got away with murder. It’s not going to happen again. When a high-profile new case lands on Shaughnessy’s desk, it seems open and shut. Remorseless teenager Viola Kent is accused of killing her mother...
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (August 1, 2021) Pages: 367 pages ISBN-10: 1542027349 ISBN-13: 978-1542027342 ASIN: B089GSVYJW
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Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Brianna Labuskes graduated from Penn State University with a degree in journalism. For the past eight years, she has worked as an editor at both small-town papers and national media organizations such as Politico and Kaiser Health News, covering politics and policy. Her historical romance novel, One Step Behind, was released by Entangled Publishing. She lives in Washington, DC, and enjoys traveling, hiking, kayaking, and exploring the city’s best brunch options. Visit her at www.briannalabuskes.com.
The lace curtain created patterns of splattered light on the back of Reed Kent’s hand as he held the wispy fabric away from the window, just far enough so that he had a clear view of the Porsche pulling to the curb.
When the woman stepped out of the little red sports car, she looked up directly at him, like she knew he was there, like she was meeting his eyes even though he was on the top floor of the town house.
Reed took a quick step back into the shadows, letting the curtain fall. It was insubstantial enough that he could still see her as she stared for a second longer. Then she nodded once, an acknowledgment, be-fore heading toward the steps.
Reed shifted, pressed his spine to the wall, and sank to the floor, listening for the knock. It came, came again, and again…
Reed’s fingers tapped an echoing beat against the barrel of the gun cradled so carefully in his hands, his forehead dropping to rest on his upturned knees.
How had it come to this?
The door opened two floors below him.
The woman was smart. She knew he was done hiding. There was no need to bother with a lock. And she wasn’t the type to worry about warrants.
The footsteps were tentative at first, and then quick and careful, the sharp staccato of high heels on marble pounding in his jaw. He could almost count the time it would take her to reach him.
Forty seconds maybe?
His lungs collapsed, his heart ripping at every vulnerable seam as he thought of the ways his life had led him to this exact moment.
Every tragedy. Every bruise, every laugh, every hesitation, every time he’d turned left instead of right.
The glassy eye of one of Milo’s stuffed animals watched him from where it was tangled up in Sebastian’s bedding. Both the boys had in-sisted on bunk beds, and Reed hadn’t been able to resist. They asked for so little, put up with so much.
A tiny whimper scraped at Reed’s throat, one he’d be embarrassed by at any other time, and he reached for the animal—the bear that had once been so cherished. He buried his face in the worn fur of its belly and convinced himself that he could smell Milo on it still. Maybe even Sebastian. That he could smell childhood and innocence and silly giggles and overwrought tears.
He dropped the stuffed animal to the ground and pushed to his feet, the gun pressed to the side of his leg, terrifying and powerful at once.
Reed breathed in.
The bedroom door opened.
Three days earlier—
Gretchen White couldn’t deny that the shadows pooling in Lena Booker’s bloodless hand fascinated her. As did the pale lips, and the way her friend’s head lolled back against the couch cushions.
“Why am I not surprised to see you standing over a dead body?” came a Boston-drenched rumble from behind Gretchen.
“Because you think I’m a killer you just can’t seem to catch,” Gretchen answered, thy and honest, as she turned to find Detective Patrick Shaughnessy lurking just over her shoulder. Next to him stood a petite but curvy woman with inky-black hair and the big hazel eyes of a baby deer.
It had been an hour since Gretchen had found Lena cold and clammy, two since her friend had left that desperate voice mail on Gretchen’s phone—the one Gretchen had no interest in telling Shaughnessy about.
“I messed up, Gretch,” Lena had said. Confessed.
“A killer I can’t catch,” Shaughnessy repeated, hiking up his trousers, the ones that always slipped down below the paunch of his belly, well fed as it was from a daily serving of pints and fried food. “Isn’t that the truth.”
The Bambi-eyed woman glanced between them. “You know each other?”
Gretchen bit back the cutting sarcasm that was her initial reaction. She’d long become an expert at swallowing her first response, and sometimes her second and third. In fact, she couldn’t remember the last person with whom she didn’t have to watch her words to some degree. Maybe Lena, when the woman was feeling vicious herself. “You’ve got yourself a true detective there, Shaughnessy.”
It still came out meaner than was socially acceptable. But most people would excuse the tone, considering they were all standing over the body of Gretchen’s friend.
Shaughnessy snorted at the jab. “Detective Lauren Marconi. Gretchen White.”
Gretchen flicked him a look because he’d bypassed her honorific just to needle her.
“Doctor.” “Dr. Gretchen White,” Shaughnessy corrected with irritating emphasis. “Our resident sociopath.”
The last bit was said as an aside to Detective Marconi, whose thick, unplucked eyebrows rose, creating wrinkles on her previously smooth forehead. Gretchen guessed the woman thought the comment was part of some schtick between them—the label of “sociopath” tossed around so cavalierly these days that it no longer carried any real weight. Marconi would learn soon enough that Shaughnessy wasn’t joking.
Gretchen took the moment to study the woman, who she’d origin-ally thought was in her late twenties. But the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, at her mouth, suggested she’d hit her early thirties.
Marconi’s lips twitched as she held still beneath Gretchen’s scrutiny. She was in the uniform that most of Boston’s female detectives seemed to have adopted—jeans, boots, a blazer, and then a button-down beneath that, as if the particular combination helped tilt it to-ward professional while still projecting a take-no-shit persona. There was not a trace of makeup on her face, but Gretchen was used to that—a rejection of femininity within the toxic old boys’ dub the city called a police department.
The detective presented as serious, tough, deferential to Shaughnessy—she’d positioned herself slightly behind his left shoulder. And even with all that effort she still couldn’t mask her inherent beauty, the stunning kind that usually made Gretchen want to inflict pain on someone in creative ways.
Gretchen shifted her attention to Shaughnessy, eyes narrowed.
His lip twitched up. “Our resident sociopath . . . and a valued outside consultant for the department,” he admitted. “She’s helped solve dozens of cases, specializing in antisocial personality disorders and violent crimes.”
“‘Consultant’ is shorthand for ‘doing his job for him,”‘ Gretchen said in her own aside to Marconi. If Shaughnessy wanted to be petty this morning, she wouldn’t hesitate to sink to his level. “I’m called in when the boys in blue here can’t navigate out of whatever dead end they’ve driven themselves down.”
“Called in from eating bonbons,” Shaughnessy muttered under his breath, though it lacked any real heat. This was familiar, well-trodden ground, teasing almost, though Gretchen wasn’t sure that was apparent to an outside observer. A look at Marconi’s completely blank face revealed nothing.
“Your incompetence keeps me busy enough,” Gretchen countered, though it wasn’t quite true. There were only so many murders, even in a city the size of Boston, and while she had been called on by the FBI several times, they didn’t use her for anything outside Massachusetts.
But it was enough. Her hefty trust fund supported her. The consulting work, more important, provided much-needed intellectual stimulation. Boredom had to be avoided at all costs—it tended to lead to self-destructive behaviors that were not compatible with the life she currently enjoyed.
The cases helped her scratch an itch, the dead bodies took care of that morbid fascination she could never quite shake. And the rest of the time she spent writing articles for academic journals that no one would read but that earned her respect in her field so that the cops would still be justified in calling her.
Gretchen refocused on the body sprawled on the ten-thousand-dollar custom couch Lena had dithered over buying for a solid two months.
“So what are you really doing here, Gretch?” Shaughnessy asked, stepping closer for a better view, his tone shifting to serious. Uniforms flowed in and out of the apartment like dark-blue water against Lena’s perfectly neutral walls, but Gretchen and Shaughnessy ignored every-one else.
“I found her.”
Shaughnessy huffed out one of his amused breaths. “For someone who’s not a cop, you sure find a lot of dead bodies.”
A truth she couldn’t deny.
Gretchen’s eyes strayed to Lena, finding and cataloging the very beginning symptoms of rigor mortis, the flush of chemicals working on her eyelids, her jaw, her neck. When Gretchen had burst into the apartment an hour earlier, there had been a moment when Lena had looked like she might be sleeping.
Now, there was no mistaking the reality of the situation.
“It was an overdose,” Gretchen said. Lena had dabbled with painkillers in the past, but she’d always had enough money to get the good stuff. Gretchen wondered if even the good stuff was cut with fentanyl these days. Or maybe Lena hadn’t cared enough to be careful this time. Hadn’t cared what the outcome would be.
“Overdose and not suicide?” Marconi asked, seeming to take her cue from Shaughnessy that Gretchen was allowed in on the investigation despite her lack of a badge. “I take it there’s no note?”
Gretchen’s urge to snarl at the inane question startled her into stepping away. It had been quite a long time since such a visceral throb of violence had nearly snuck past the iron wall she’d built within her-self, a long time since she’d wanted to feel the snap of bone and the splash of fresh blood on her hands.
“Why are you here?” Gretchen asked Shaughnessy instead of answering Marconi. The best strategy she’d found for fighting those violent urges was to forcibly disengage and redirect her own attention. “Overdoses aren’t exactly your wheelhouse.”
Shaughnessy surveyed the scene, the one the paramedics had left intact.
“I’m on the Viola Kent case,” he finally said.
Gretchen didn’t roll her eyes, but she did turn her back on him. “I’m aware.”
“Lena Booker was the lawyer defending Viola Kent,” Shaughnessy continued, as if the details of the case hadn’t made every front page in the city. As if Lena Booker wasn’t the closest thing to what Gretchen could call a friend.
“Believe it or not, that had not escaped my attention,” Gretchen drawled. She knew her expression gave nothing away. Not about the last voice mail Lena had left shortly before she’d died, not about the file that Gretchen had found lying beside Lena before the first responders had arrived. The one labeled KENT, VIOLA. “Is that why no one’s moved the body yet?”
Shaughnessy lifted one shoulder. “Both the mayor and the com-missioner want to make sure we’re careful with this one. If there’s even a hint of foul play, you know what a circus that will be!’
A death connected to the most high-profile murder case in recent memory? “A circus” was probably an understatement.
The Kent case had been dissected down to the inanest details, and Gretchen guessed viewers were getting tired of the same old talking points.
Six months ago, nearly to the day, thirteen-year-old Viola Kent had stabbed her sleeping mother, Claire Kent, to death. When pressed, her father, Reed Kent, had admitted that Viola had violent tendencies and was regularly seeing a psychiatrist. It didn’t take long for the gossipmongers to uncover the stories of animal bones found on the property, to dig up pictures of the brothers’ broken little bodies, bruised and covered in scar tissue. It didn’t take long for parents of Viola’s class-mates to come forward with stories of torture and manipulation.
It quickly became dear to everyone, including the Boston PD, that Viola Kent was a budding psychopath, even if she was technically too young to earn the diagnosis.
Everything about the murder looked exactly like what anyone could predict from such a situation—Viola Kent’s bloodlust had escalated as her parents had always worried it would.
Despite the public’s fascination with the story, there was nothing to suggest the case wasn’t open and shut. And when Lena had been alive, she’d refused to answer any questions as to why she’d taken on a client that everyone in the city—everyone in the country—knew was guilty.
Now this. It wouldn’t matter if Lena’s death had nothing to do with the Kent family; talking about it would certainly help broad-casters keep their ratings up. Not to mention the amount of pressure that would be on the police department to make sure everything was handled aboveboard.
Even the mere suggestion of a scandal this close to the trial could drag them all down.
Lena’s quiet sob, the damning hitch of breath right before her confession, echoed in Gretchen’s chest.
I messed up, Gretch.