Fairest One of All
By: Jullian Scott
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Copyright © 2019 by Jullian Scott All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Kindle Edition, License Notes This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author.
Olivia felt his presence in the room even before she opened her eyes. When his hand touched her cheek, her eyes flew open. Her heart was pounding even as her eyes focused on a familiar face.
“It’s just me,” Nate said, staring at her in the dark.
He wasn’t in bed next to her like he should’ve been. Nate had still been working when she’d finally fallen asleep. He had pulled a chair close to the bed, apparently to stare at Olivia while she was sleeping. It was creepy, but also a little sweet.
Olivia had tried to stay awake, wanting to see Nate and hear about his day, but exhaustion had won the battle. She had been out of town for work all week and had missed him fiercely. Seeing his face, even in the dark, sent a wave of heat through her entire body.
“You’re home,” she said, an involuntary smile appearing. “How long have you been sitting there?”
“Awhile,” Nate admitted. “Did you think I was someone else?”
“Just for a second,” Olivia said. She’d been on edge for the last couple of months. After finding out that Mark Gilliad was out of his coma, Olivia hadn’t been able to shake the feeling that he was going to; come for her again. It didn’t matter that he’d been arrested right after waking up. He’d still nearly made it out of the hospital before anyone had even realized he was awake. Until his trial was over and Olivia knew that he was locked away in a maximum-security prison, she wouldn’t be able to shake her nightmares.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” Nate stroked her cheek again. “Watching you sleep calms me down.”
“Rough day?” Olivia guessed.
Nate forced a smile. “Any day I get to come home to you is a good day. I’m going to check on the kids. Keep the bed warm for me.”
Olivia knew that Nate had been working on a particularly gut-wrenching case at work. As always, he had tried to shield her and the kids from his work, but Olivia knew him too well. She knew when a case was getting to him. By the time Nate returned, Olivia had turned on the light next to the bed and she was wide awake.
“I’m sorry, Liv. I didn’t mean to wake you.” Nate frowned at her as he slipped out of his suit jacket. His gun was still strapped to his side and as he removed it, she slid out of bed. After it was securely locked in the gun safe in their closet, she breathed a sigh of relief. Once that gun came off, he was her Nate again and not Detective Tucker.
“Seriously, Liv. Go back to bed. I’ll join you in a minute.” Nate gave her a scolding look that she ignored.
“Come here.” She grabbed him by his tie and pulled him close, putting her arms around him. “This is where I want to be, Nate.”
Nate buried his face in the crook of her neck. “How do you always know exactly what I need, love?”
“Because you always need me,” she replied easily. “Now, let’s get you out of these clothes and I’ll give you the best massage of your life, followed by some amazing sex, and then you’re going to tell me about your day. And I don’t want to hear any arguments from you, Tucker.”
“Ugh, you are so demanding.” Nate grinned as Olivia loosened his tie and slipped it over his head. As she unbuttoned his shirt, he slowly stroked her hair. “You are so beautiful, Liv.”
“You are blinded by your love for me, but I’ll take the compliment.” She moved her hands to Nate’s belt while he shrugged out of his dress shirt and pulled his undershirt over his head. “Did you remember to lock the door?”
“No. You take care of that and I’ll finish this.” His hands took over for hers and she went to the bedroom door, stepping into the hall and listening carefully before shutting and locking the door.
“The kids have been sleeping so good lately, I keep waiting for that to change.” She turned back around and her heart fluttered happily. A naked Nate Tucker was a sight to behold. “Are we skipping the massage?”
“Let’s be honest, it was always going to be a gray line for us anyway,” Nate said with a smiled that oozed sexiness.
Olivia tore off her nightshirt– Nate’s t-shirt– and threw it aside. Nate reached for her and quickly hooked a thumb into her underwear, sliding them down. A second later, he was lifting her and carrying her to the bed.
“I think you are getting hotter with age, Mr. Tucker,” she told him as he set her down and climbed over her.
“I think you are blinded by love,” he replied, grinning adorably as he turned Olivia’s words on her. “But I’ll take the compliment.”
Olivia ran her hands over his chest, slowly tracing the defined muscles that rippled as he positioned himself over her. After eight years together, they were well-past guessing games. Nate knew exactly what Olivia liked and he didn’t hesitate. Olivia was the one to stop him. “Hang on, Nate,” she said.
“What’s wrong?” He gave her a confused look that made her smile.
“Nothing is wrong.” She kissed him long and hard. “I get to be in charge tonight, Tucker.” Olivia rolled him over as he laughed. Nate didn’t put up a protest and she happily kissed her way down his chest.
His fingers tangled in her hair and he moaned slightly before saying, “I love you so much, Olivia Thompson.”
“Tucker,” she added as she always did. “And I love you, too. Now, shut up and let me prove that you have the best wife ever.”
Nate didn’t have to be told twice.
When Olivia was finished with Nate and after he loudly agreed that she was the best wife ever, she had him roll over and got busy massaging his tense muscles. “Nate, this is ridiculous. Your entire back is in knots.”
“I did that on purpose just to get a naked massage from my hot wife,” Nate muttered into the pillow. “You are earning some serious wife points tonight, love.”
Olivia leaned down and kissed his neck. “I think it will help you relax if you tell me about your day.”
“I’m not talking about work while your naked body is straddling me, Liv,” Nate said. “Finish working your magic with those hands and then I’ll tell you everything you want to know about my day.”
Even though it went against her prying nature, Olivia spent the next twenty minutes quietly massaging Nate. She wasn’t surprised when he groaned loudly as she finally kissed him one last time and then slid away.
“You are a goddess, Liv,” Nate said, rolling onto his back. “If we weren’t already married, I would definitely be asking you to marry me after that.”
“Nate, what day is it?” Olivia had been fighting an inkling feeling all day that she was forgetting something.
“No, the date,” she said.
He blinked a few times. “Um, December 13th.”
“No.” Olivia gasped. “No, it can’t be.”
“I didn’t create the calendar system, honey.” Nate put a hand on her leg. “What is that look of panic on your face?”
“It’s the holiday party at the kids’ school tomorrow.” She groaned and jumped out of bed, scrambling to find her shirt. “They are supposed to bring in a homemade treat for the entire class.”
Nate sat up. “Wait, that’s tomorrow?”
“Apparently.” She pulled open a drawer and yanked on a pair of flannel pants. “How the hell did I forget about this?”
“You’ve been out of town all week, Liv.” Nate got out of bed and pulled on his own pair of flannel pants.
“I guarantee you none of the other mothers forgot.” Olivia sighed loudly as she jerked a shirt over her head.
Nate grabbed her arm. “Hey, our kids have two parents and we both forgot.”
“Yeah, but I’m the one society will punish.” She shoved her hair out of her face. “I think we’ve got enough ingredients that I can whip up some cupcakes. You should get some rest, Nate. There’s no reason for both of us to be sleep deprived in the morning.”
“I haven’t gotten to see my wife all week. I would be delighted to assist you in the kitchen.” Nate scooped her up and tossed her over his shoulder, slapping her playfully on the butt. “Let’s crush the shit out of this cupcake business, Thompson.”
Olivia was laughing uncontrollably when Nate set her back on her feet in the kitchen. “Marrying you is my favorite thing I’ve ever done,” she declared happily.
“It’s my favorite thing you’ve ever done, too.” Nate kissed the tip of her nose. “Now, get baking, woman. I’m just here to supervise and mansplain.”
“I really am the luckiest woman in the world,” Olivia said with a dramatic sigh as she opened the pantry. “Darling, could I trouble you to at least make me some coffee?”
“After what you did for me tonight? I’ll hand grind each bean.”
“That’s really not necessary,” Olivia said, laughing.
Nate headed to the coffeemaker and Olivia found the mixing bowls. She was focused on measuring and stirring and didn’t notice that Nate was staring at her.
“What?” she asked nervously. “Are you thinking about how hot I look right now?” In addition to her flannel pants and an oversized t-shirt, Olivia had also pulled her hair into a haphazard bun.
“Are other people not as happy as us?” Nate asked.
“I’m not sure I understand the question,” Olivia said, stopping what she was doing. “I’m sure there are some unhappy people in the world.”
Nate let out a long breath. “The case I was working all week was a 30-year-old homicide. A man murdered his wife and disposed of her body in a barrel of oil. They were married 20 years and he just...killed her. When we arrested him, he didn’t show any remorse.”
“You’ve investigated hundreds of murders, Nate. Why is this one bothering you so much?” Olivia leaned against the counter right across from him.
“I don’t know. I just kept thinking that there isn’t a single thing you could do that would ever make me want to hurt you, let alone do something as terrible as he did.” Nate gave his head a firm shake. “I think sometimes I forget just how lucky I am to have you. It’s an amazing thing to be married to my best friend.”
“Nate.” Olivia stepped forward and he put his arms around her, drawing her in close. “I cannot wait to tell Vince that I’m your best friend.”
“You really know how to ruin a moment, Liv.” Nate rolled his eyes. “Besides, Vince is well aware that you are my number one person.”
Olivia gave him a long kiss. “I’m really glad that I get to spend my life with you, Nate Tucker. Now, pour me some coffee and stop distracting me.”
Nate did more than pour the coffee. He helped Olivia bake three-dozen cupcakes and carried on an engaging banter that kept Olivia from focusing on the fact that it was just a few hours until sunrise. When the last batch of cupcakes was in the oven, Nate cranked up the radio and forced Olivia to dance with him.
While the cupcakes were cooling, Nate and Olivia sat in the living room, cuddled together under a warm blanket. Nate told Olivia all about his day and she finally understood why he had been so rattled by his latest case.
“He took their kids with him when he dumped her body?” Olivia said, stunned and disgusted. “That is a whole other level of fucked-up.”
“You should see this guy, Liv. He told us every detail with this complete deadpan. It was like he was reading a script.” Nate twirled Olivia’s hair through his fingers. She’d let her hair down anticipating his move. Nate always twirled her hair when he was stressed.
“Maybe I should add him to my interview list,” Olivia said.
Nate grimaced. “Please don’t. I’m already living on edge with you interviewing serial killers. Don’t add a psychopathic wife-killer to your list.”
“You knew I had weird hobbies when you married me, Nater.” She grinned. “Speaking of marriage, I have bad news for you.”
“Is this how you’re going to tell me you want a divorce?” Nate teased.
“Your daughter informed me when I picked her up from school that she has found the boy she is going to marry.” Olivia’s smile grew when Nate put a hand over his heart.
“She’s five.” Nate sighed dramatically. “Remember when she wanted to marry me? Whatever happened to that plan?”
Olivia shrugged. “She’s five. Look at this way, at least she won’t be living with us until she’s thirty.”
“You know, I’m all for female empowerment, but I think she should be at least eight before she gets married.” Nate pouted adorably.
“We still have Tuck,” Olivia said.
“He’s such a mama’s boy there’s no way he’s leaving us anytime soon.” Nate tugged gently on her hair.
“I’m sure your mother used to say the same thing about you.” Olivia kissed Nate’s cheek and then nuzzled his neck. “I confirmed with Marge that she’ll be here tomorrow right when the kids get out of school. I cannot wait to have you all to myself for the next three days, Tucker. I’ve got big plans for you.”
Nate tightened his arm around her. “I hope part of those plans includes sleep.”
“There is a bed involved,” Olivia said.
“If I had known that women in their thirties were this insatiable, I would’ve dated older women in my twenties,” Nate joked.
“It has nothing to do with my age and everything to do with these abs.” She ran a hand over his rippled stomach to prove her point.
“Better not do that until we’re done baking.” Nate grimaced.
“You know, we could call it a night and finish frosting the cupcakes in the morning.” Olivia gave him a suggestive look.
Nate pretended to consider her suggestion. “I suppose we could do that...”
“You suppose?” Olivia poked him in the side.
“Hey, be gentle. You wouldn’t want to damage those abs that get you so hot and bothered,” he teased. “Look, if you really want to, we can go upstairs and have a lot more sex. I’m a team player, Thompson.”
“Team? We’ve never tried that,” Olivia joked.
Nate pinned her down on the couch and dug his fingers into her side, making her squirm and gasp. Then his touch turned gentle. As he lifted the hem of her shirt, he kissed her stomach and slowly inched his way up to her breast. She let out a moan and dug her fingers into his arm.
Nate’s head snapped away and he tugged her shirt down with the smooth perfection of a man that had been caught making out with his wife on many occasions. Olivia sat up and took a deep breath.
“What’s wrong, Tuck?” she asked as her son shuffled into the room.
“I can’t sleep,” he said, eyeing Nate suspiciously. “What are you guys doing?”
Nate cleared his throat and Olivia said, “We were just talking.”
Tuck looked unconvinced, but he had a short attention span. “Will you come tuck me into bed?” he asked, batting his beautiful, sleepy eyes.
“You want me to do it, bud?” Nate asked.
“No.” Tuck shook his head. “I want Mom.”
“Me too,” Nate muttered so low that only Olivia could hear him.
Olivia smiled and rubbed his leg. “Hold that thought,” she said. Then she got up and held out her hand. “Let’s go, kiddo. Back to bed. You’ve got a big day tomorrow.”
It took twenty minutes for Tuck to fall asleep. Olivia stayed a few minutes longer just to watch him sleep and then she went into Rosalie’s room to stare at her daughter for a while. She was surprised when she didn’t hear Nate come upstairs but when she went back to the kitchen, she understood.
Olivia’s mouth dropped open and she stared at him for a long moment before he looked up and grinned at her. “I’ve found my new calling, Liv. Look at these cupcakes.”
Nate was still shirtless, his flannel pajama bottoms hanging low on his hips as he hunched over the tray of cupcakes. He was holding a pastry bag in one hand and a cupcake in the other. Olivia was certain this was the sexiest he had ever looked.
“That is one lucky cupcake,” she said, feeling a little weak in the knees.
“I know we talked about doing the green frosting, but I think white was the way to go,” Nate said, oblivious to the effect he was having on her. “Green isn’t an appetizing color in the baking world, even if it is for a holiday party.”
“Did you frost all these cupcakes while I was upstairs?” Olivia said.
Nate shrugged. “I wasn’t just going to sit around and wait for you to come back and ravish me. We have things to do, Liv.”
“Nathaniel Tucker, put down that damn cupcake and come screw my brains out,” she said with a rare ferocity.
“Whoa.” Nate grinned and put down both the cupcake and the pastry bag. “I can’t say no to a request like that.”
Olivia didn’t wait for him to come to her, she charged him, throwing her arms around his neck. Nate backed her against the fridge, kissing her eagerly. He tasted sweet.
“You’ve been sampling the goods, Tucker,” she said with a smile.
“I’ll be sampling your goods soon, Thompson,” he said with a leer. “Should we take this upstairs?”
“No, just take me now,” she said, breathless. She’d already shoved her hand down his pants. It wasn’t the first time they’d had sex right there on the kitchen floor and Olivia doubted it would be the last time.
When they were done, Olivia sat up and tugged her clothes back into place. Nate pushed himself up on his elbows and said, “You know, I don’t talk about my personal life at work but if I did, the guys at the station would really hate me.”
“You mean, you don’t brag about your amazing wife?” Olivia teased.
“They’d never believe that you are this perfect,” Nate said with complete honesty in his voice. “Except for Vince. He already thinks you are an angel who can do no wrong.”
“That’s because Vince is a genius,” Olivia said with a grin.
It was a different little voice this time. Rosalie waddled into the kitchen holding a stuffed pig in her arms and rubbing at her eyes. When she saw Nate, her face broke into a huge smile. “Daddy!”
“Hey, Rose.” Nate’s smile matched his daughter’s as she rushed forward and threw herself on him. “How’s my favorite girl?”
“Good,” she said, burying her face in Nate’s chest. Olivia’s heart fluttered happily, the way it always did when she saw Nate with their daughter. The two of them had an undeniable bond. Rosalie looked up. “Why are you and Mommy on the floor?”
Nate smirked at Olivia. “Your mom dropped something and we were trying to find it.”
“Oh.” That answered seemed to satisfy Rosalie. “I heard some noises down here and I got scared.”
Olivia’s cheeks flushed and she had to look away from Nate’s growing smirk. She had gotten a little caught up in the moment and hadn’t been as mindful as she usually was about the noise they were making.
“I’m sorry, honey,” Nate said. “We were just making cupcakes for your school holiday party.”
“Cupcakes?” Rosalie’s eyes lit up. “Can I help?”
“You are supposed to be in bed, little lady,” Nate said, tugging on one of her dark curls.
Olivia was usually the disciplinarian, but she was still in a state of post-coital bliss. “Just let her help. There’s only a couple of cupcakes left anyway.”
“Alright, Mom says you can help.” Nate gave Olivia a surprised look. “But then you have to go right to bed and stay there for the rest of the night, okay?”
Rosalie nodded enthusiastically and Nate impressively got to his feet while still holding her in his arms. Olivia barely made it to her feet without an extra forty pounds in her arms. While Nate and Rosalie finished frosting the rest of the cupcakes, Olivia cleaned up the mess that she and Nate had made while they’d been hurrying to bake three-dozen cupcakes. Ten minutes later, Nate was taking Rosalie to bed and Olivia was back in bed, too.
She checked the time on her phone. It was 3:00 in the morning and they would have to be up in three hours. Olivia opened her email and frowned.
“Alright, Thompson. I’m officially exhausted. No more sex tonight,” Nate declared as he climbed into bed next to her. “I will, however, allow you to spoon me as long as you promise to keep your hands above the belt.”
“Nate, you’ll never believe who just approved my request for an interview,” Olivia said after she had read the email twice. “Sean Tenlinson.”
“The Beauty Queen Killer?” Nate narrowed his eyes at her. “You put him on your list?”
Olivia nodded. “I never thought he’d agree to it, but I figured I might as well try since we’ll be in town this weekend. His lawyer just got back to me two hours ago. Tenlinson says he would be happy to speak with me Saturday morning.”
“Liv, that guy murdered at least thirty women over ten years. Are you sure you want to dig into his criminal psyche?” Nate looked more than a little worried.
“I’m absolutely sure,” Olivia said. “Tenlinson hasn’t done a single interview since he was incarcerated ten years ago. He might tell me something that will help the police find the bodies of his victims. I have to do this interview.”
“I don’t have a good feeling about this, Liv.” Nate’s eyes had darkened. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you are the first person he’s agreed to let interview him. You are exactly like the women that he targeted.”
Olivia knew that Nate had a good reason to be concerned, but she wasn’t easily scared. “I’m doing this interview, Nate. If it makes you that uncomfortable, come with me.”
“Vince will be jealous if I partner up with you again,” Nate said with a tight smile.
“If Vince wants to be your only partner, he’s going to need to step up his game.” Olivia smiled smugly. “I’m smarter, prettier, and I know exactly how to make you happy.”
“And this is why you will always be my number one person, Dr. Thompson,” Nate said.
Olivia tossed her phone aside and turned to kiss Nate. “Damn straight, Detective Tucker.”
“You look like death,” Vince said when Nate strolled into the station the next morning. Nate was arriving later than usual because he’d helped Olivia take the kids to school and deliver the cupcakes.
“It was a late night,” Nate said vaguely.
“I’ll bet it was,” Vince said knowingly. “Liv got back yesterday, didn’t she?”
“Yes.” Nate braced himself for what was coming next.
Vince smirked. “If you didn’t make that woman orgasm at least twice last night, you don’t deserve her.”
“Shit, Vince.” Nate glanced around, but no one was paying any attention to them. “It was three times.”
“Atta boy.” Vince grinned. “Maybe Liv will put up with you for a few more years if you keep that up.”
“Please stop talking about my wife,” Nate said, picking up the file on his desk.
Vince shrugged. “You know I love my wife, but we both know that Olivia is a damn queen. You better appreciate her.”
“You don’t need to tell me that, Monroe. We’re going away together this weekend.” Nate smirked. “I plan to appreciate the hell out of her.”
“Good.” Vince nodded once, satisfied. “Is she still schmoozing with serial killers?”
“She’s only halfway through her list,” Nate said, frowning.
A few months ago, the FBI had reached out to Olivia with a job offer. She’d done some work for them previously, training their behavioral analyst teams. This time, they wanted her to write a training manual that would be used in the Bureau and in police departments across the country. As part of her research, she’d been told to identify a list of representative serial killers that she would interview as a foundation for her recommendations.
Nate was more than a little uneasy with the idea of Olivia interviewing serial killers, but he knew better than to tell her not to do it. So far, she’d already met with two-dozen of them. She’d started with some of the easier ones, the ones that hadn’t been quite as heinous. She was slowly building up to the ones that made even Nate sick to his stomach.
“Guess who just agreed to speak with her,” Nate said.
Vince’s eyes widened. “The Beauty Queen Killer? Are you really going to let her meet with him?”
“Let her?” Nate scoffed. “You’ve met Olivia, right? My wife doesn’t ask my permission to do things like interview serial killers.”
“Sometimes I’m really glad Natasha wants nothing to do with my job,” Vince said, shaking his head. “I could never be as chill about this as you are being.”
“Olivia invited me to go with her,” Nate said.
He knew she’d only done so because of how clearly he was bothered by her going alone. He also knew that he would be nothing more than a silent observer during the interview. But Nate was intrigued by the opportunity to meet Sean Tenlinson. He’d studied his case intensely when he first became a detective.
“Are you gonna go?” Vince asked. “That’s a hell of an invitation.”
“Yeah, I think I will.” Nate wanted to pretend it was just professional curiosity, but he mostly wanted to keep an eye on Olivia.
“How’s she feeling about Gilliad’s trail coming up?” Vince asked.
“The State’s Attorney thinks he’s going to agree to a plea,” Nate said, frowning. “That would be a best-case scenario. I don’t want Olivia to have to testify at trial.”
Vince nodded. “It would be good for both of you to finally put all of that behind you. It’s been six years.”
Nate agreed with Vince. The whole time that Mark Gilliad had been in a coma, Nate had still worried there was a chance he might wake up and try to hurt Olivia again. Now that he was awake, Nate wanted him locked away for good.
When his phone rang and he saw Olivia’s name appear, he smiled. “Hey,” he said.
“Tell Liv I say hi,” Vince said loudly.
“Hey, loverboy.” Olivia’s voice was extra-sultry. “Miss me yet?”
“Always,” he replied honestly. “Vince says hi.”
“I heard him,” Olivia said with a laugh. “Tell him I said to stop eavesdropping and get back to work.”
“It wouldn’t do any good,” Nate said. “What’s up, Liv?”
She hesitated. “Did you hear about the murder last night in Charleston?”
“Charleston? No.” Nate shot a glance at Vince. He was staring blankly. “Charleston is a little out of our jurisdiction, love.”
“You’ll want to look into this one. Trust me.” She dropped something and swore. Nate smiled. “Don’t forget our flight is at 6:00, big guy. If you aren’t home by 4:00, I’m leaving without you.”
“I won’t forget. There’s not a chance in hell I’m missing that flight. I saw what you were packing in your luggage this morning,” he said with a grin.
Olivia laughed. “Did I forget to tell you? That’s for my jailhouse visit.”
“There would be a prison riot for sure.” Nate didn’t want to hang up, but he had a lot of paperwork to do before their trip. “I’ll talk to you later, Liv. Love you.”
“I love you more, Nater.”
“That’s not possible.” He hung up, still smiling.
“So...what was she packing?” Vince asked with a hopeful smile.
Nate glared at him. “Liv says you need to stop eavesdropping and get back to work.”
“We both know that’s never going to happen.” Vince leaned back in his chair and put his feet on his desk. “I like to think that Natasha and I have a solid relationship, but you and Liv are on another level. You should see how your entire being changes whenever she calls. What the hell is that?”
“I don’t know, man.” Nate shrugged. It wasn’t the first time someone had commented on the intense connection he and Olivia had. Nate couldn’t explain it in a way that would make sense to anyone that wasn’t part of it. “We’ve known each other for almost twenty years.”
“Have you seen the men around here that have been married to the same woman for twenty years?” Vince shook his head. “None of them smile the way you do when their wives call them in the middle of the day.”
“None of them are married to Liv,” Nate said simply. “Do me a favor. Liv mentioned something about a murder last night in Charleston. See what you can find out about it.”
Vince scoffed. “Are we partners or are you my boss?”
“Both,” Nate said easily. “I’m going to pull what I can on the Tenlinson case. If I’m going to visit him tomorrow, I need to brush up on the details.”
Nate was deep into some grisly details when Vince leaned over. “Tucker, you need to see this. Liv was right to have you look into it.”
Nate wheeled his chair over and read the news article on Vince’s screen. A young woman’s body had been found on a bench in a downtown park. The woman had been identified as a Karli Gossman. She had been reported missing over a week ago. According to the limited details in the article, Karli had been left completely naked with her hair curled and her face covered in makeup. That signature wasn’t just quirky, it was infamous.
“Looks like a Beauty Queen Killer copycat,” Vince said. “That timing is alarming, Tucker. You and Liv will be there tomorrow.”
“It is quite a coincidence.” Nate wheeled back to his desk. “I’m sure it’s just some sicko trying to get attention from the national media.”
“It sounds like Liv wants you to look into it,” Vince said.
“Liv wants me to look into every case,” Nate said. He was flattered that Olivia thought he was a good detective, but Olivia gave him too much credit. She thought there wasn’t a single case that he couldn’t solve.
Nate stayed focused despite the new distraction and he made it home by 3:30. Olivia gave him a surprised look when he entered the living room. Gone were the days when she would greet him at the door with a beer and a long kiss. Now, she had two kids climbing all over her. One of them was crying.
“Do I want to know?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I’ve been here the whole time and I still don’t know why she is crying.”
“Rose, honey, why are you crying?” Nate reached down and plucked his daughter from Olivia’s lap. She immediately buried her head in Nate’s shoulder and wailed words that he didn’t understand. “Calm down. I can’t understand you, honey.”
“She’s sad because Ricky said he doesn’t want to marry her anymore,” Tuck said matter-of-factly. He slid from the couch and started digging in his book bag. “I told her that Ricky is dumb, but she won’t listen.”
Nate’s heart dropped. Rosalie might only be five, but she’d just had her heart broken for the first time. “You should listen to your brother, Rose.”
“But I like him!” Rosalie yelled, right in Nate’s ear.
“I know.” Nate gave her a tight hug. “But you’ll find someone you like more. I had my heart broken a bunch before I met your mother.”
“Really?” Rosalie lifted her head. “Mommy wasn’t your first girlfriend?”
Nate glanced Olivia and she grimaced. One day, they’d have to tell the twins that Nate had been married to another woman before he married Olivia. Nate quickly decided that day wouldn’t be today. “Sure. When I was your age, I liked a girl named Beth. She said she liked me, but then she ate lunch with David Legan. I was devastated.”
“The nerve of Beth...” Olivia muttered before grinning. “Beth was dumb.”
“She was,” Nate agreed. “She used to eat glue.”
“When did you meet Mommy?” Rosalie asked, riveted to Nate’s story.
“Let’s see... twelve years later.” Nate did the math. “And then we got married about thirteen years after that.”
Rosalie’s eyes widened. “I have to know someone thirteen years before I can marry them?”
“Not a bad rule of thumb,” Nate said, smiling.
“Maybe I won’t get married at all,” Rosalie said, furrowing her brow.
“Amen, sister!” Olivia called out.
“Hey.” Nate shot her a glare. “Current husband standing right here.”
Olivia shrugged. “The girl needs to keep her options open.”
The doorbell rang and Nate set Rosalie down. “We’re not done here, Thompson,” he said before going to the door. It was his Aunt Marge, fully prepared to watch two five-year-olds for the next three days. Nate and Olivia were lucky to have Aunt Marge. She filled the gaping grandparent hole for the twins and they adored her as much as she adored them.
“You two lovebirds have fun,” Marge said as they were leaving. “The kids and I are going to be just fine.”
They took a cab to the airport and made it onto their flight with only a slight bump going through security.
“Have you ever noticed that you always get ‘randomly selected’ for the TSA pat-down?” Olivia teased after they had taken off. “Those men were getting all up in your business.”
“Can you blame them?” Nate responded.
“Nope.” Olivia put her head on his shoulder.
They were sitting in a row with three seats, but the third seat was empty. Rather than spread out and enjoy the extra space, Olivia was sitting extra close to Nate and he didn’t mind one bit. He put his hand on her leg and leaned his head back. Both of them were still recovering from their sleepless night and it didn’t take long for them to doze off.
Nate was woken by a heavy hand shaking his shoulder. “Hey, man.”
He blinked a few times until his eyes focused on the man sitting across the aisle from him. “Can I help you?” he asked.
“I’m Jake Danbury. Is that Dr. Olivia Thompson?” the man asked.
Nate stared hard at the man. “This is my wife.”
“Oh, sorry. I probably sound like a weirdo.” Jake reached into his pocket and pulled out a badge. “I’m an FBI agent. I was in one of Dr. Thompson’s training sessions and your wife looks like her.”
“Right.” Nate felt a little relieved. “Yes, she is Dr. Thompson.”
“Cool. Your wife is a genius, man.” Jake grinned and put his badge away. “I sent her some info about a case I was working a few months ago and she got back to me right away with a profile that ended up being completely accurate.”
That wasn’t surprising. Nate didn’t have to be convinced that Olivia was a genius. “I believe you. She makes me look like an idiot regularly.”
“Must be rough.” Jake gave him a sympathetic look. “What do you do for a living? You look like a cop.”
“I get that a lot.” Olivia was forever telling Nate that he carried himself like a cop. “I’m a detective with the CPD.”
“No shit?” Jake laughed. “I bet the two of you have some fun pillow talk.”
“We try not to bring work into the bedroom,” Nate said. “You married?”
Jake shook his head. “I tried that twice. I wasn’t very good at it.”
“I didn’t figure it out until the second time around,” Nate admitted dryly.
“You just gave me hope,” Jake said with a chuckle. “Sorry I woke you up, but I was kind of hoping to pick Dr. Thompson’s brain. I’m headed to Charleston to advise on a murder investigation.”
“The BQK copycat?” Nate said.
Jake nodded. “That’s what they’re calling it. I’m not convinced that’s what it is.”
“Let me wake Liv,” Nate said. “I’m sure she’ll want to hear this and weigh in on it.”
“That would be great, thanks.” Jake sat back to give them some privacy.
Nate shifted his shoulder to lift Olivia’s head slightly. He put his lips to her ear and said, “Liv, honey, wake up. We need your brain.”
“Just take it,” she said without opening her eyes.
“That’s not how biology works, love.” Nate chuckled softly and squeezed her leg. “Someone wants to talk to you.”
Olivia sighed. “It’s hard being so popular.”
“You should be used to it by now.” Nate watched as she yawned and tucked her hair behind her ear. “You ready to meet your biggest fan?”
“We’ve already met, Nater.” She grinned adorably.
Nate leaned in to kiss her, but then remembered that Jake was watching them. He settled for a quick peck on her cheek. “Olivia, this is Agent Danbury.”
“Jake?” Olivia recognized him instantly. “How are you? I can’t believe we’re on the same flight.”
“Hey, Liv. I’m good.” Jake grinned and Nate felt a flush of annoyance. Suddenly, Jake had dropped the Dr. Thompson riff and had gone straight to calling her Liv. Nate had only recently accepted his partner calling his wife Liv and he wasn’t pleased to hear a stranger using that nickname for his wife. “I was just chatting with your husband. I didn’t know you are married.”
“The ring isn’t just a fashion statement,” Olivia said. She put her hand on Nate’s leg and some of his annoyance faded. “What were you doing in Chicago?”
“I live there now.” Jake’s eyes drifted to Olivia’s hand. “The FBI relocated me about six months ago, just after I closed that case you helped solve.”
“Welcome to town,” Olivia said. “You’re headed to Charleston, too?”
Jake nodded. “I’m headed there to help out with the copycat case. I’d love to run it past you and get your take.”
“I think we’re landing soon,” Nate said when the flight attendants began to collect trash from the passengers. “Maybe we should hold off on the serial killer talk.”
“Hopefully this isn’t too forward, but maybe we could go somewhere and grab a drink?” Jake asked, looking only at Olivia.
“Oh.” She looked at Nate. “We had a pretty late night last night and we’re both ready to crash.”
Jake frowned. “I understand. I wouldn’t have asked except there’s a concern that the killer might have abducted a second victim.”
“When?” Olivia’s hand pressed down harder on Nate’s leg.
“This morning. A nurse was abducted after her night shift at the hospital.” Jake pulled a card from his pocket. “Here’s my number. If you have some time, I’d appreciate anything you can tell me about how to find this killer.”
Nate grabbed the business card before Olivia had even twitched a finger. “We’ll be in touch,” Nate said.
Jake gave him a long look. “Right.”
“If it is a copycat, the killer has had some contact with Tenlinson at some point. It might be a small moment, or it might be an established relationship.” Olivia spoke with complete authority. “Make sure you dig into any visitors or pen pals Tenlinson has had while he’s been incarcerated.”
“I will. Thanks.” Jake leaned back in his seat as the flight attendants made their final pass down the aisle.
Nate could feel Olivia staring at him. “What?” he asked without looking at her.
“I’m not that tired,” she said quietly. “Are you?”
“You want to get that drink, don’t you?” Nate chuckled and shook his head. “I knew you’d never be able to turn down that offer.”
“You know me so well.” Olivia kissed him on the cheek. “Just one drink?”
“You know I’d be more likely to agree if you promise me Drunk Olivia will make an appearance,” Nate teased.
Olivia winced. “I think she’s been retired for good. Maybe, if you’re really good, I’ll give you Slightly Buzzed Olivia at the wedding reception.”
They were headed to Charleston for their friend’s wedding and if it was anything like the other weddings of their college friends, everyone would be more than slightly drunk. “I’ll take what I can get,” Nate said.
“Aw. Those are the same words you used during our wedding vows,” Olivia said, grinning. “Oh, before I forget, we have to leave by 7:30 tomorrow. If we aren’t at the prison by 10:15, they won’t let us in to meet with Tenlinson.”
“I thought we’d be getting more sleep without the kids here to keep us awake, but now you want to go out drinking at 10:00 at night and then be on the road by 7:30 tomorrow?” Nate sighed dramatically. “You really don’t know how to vacation, Thompson.”
“We’ll be back in Charleston by early afternoon tomorrow,” Olivia said. “You can be in charge of our schedule for the rest of the trip, Nater.”
Nate grinned. “You know that if I’m in charge, we’re never leaving the bed.”
“Why do you think I put you in charge?” Olivia said, moving her hand higher up his leg. This time, Nate kissed her on the lips and hoped that Jake was watching. He wanted it to be clear that Olivia wasn’t an option. “Settle down, Tucker,” she said when he nibbled on her lower lip. “Save it for the bedroom.”
“You’re the one who just put her hand on my crotch,” Nate said.
She glanced down and giggled. “Whoops.”
“Hey, um, sorry to interrupt.” Jake glanced nervously between them. “Liv, I sent you over some files from the case. You can take a look at them whenever you get a chance.”
“Actually, Nate and I are both getting a second wind. We’ll take you up on that drink suggestion,” Olivia said. “We’re staying right off King Street.”
“Same.” Jake grinned. “That works out well.”
“Great. Nate has your number. He’ll text you a spot to meet up once we’ve checked in at our hotel.” Olivia had smoothly avoided giving Jake her number and Nate felt a surge of appreciation for her considerate maneuver. Even if she didn’t think that Nate should be jealous of Jake, she’d detected that he was and she’d made a point not to let that jealousy grow legs.
When the plane reached the gate, Nate jumped up and grabbed both of their bags. The plane was half empty, so Olivia stood and stretched her back. Jake had also stepped into the aisle but had moved up a row to get his bag. Olivia turned to kiss Nate. “Thanks for getting my bag, darling.”
“You’re welcome, love.” He flinched when he glanced past Olivia and caught Jake staring at her, an unmistakable look of desire on his face. Jake immediately looked away when he realized Nate had busted him. “Take your time getting off the plane,” he whispered in Olivia’s ear.
She gave him a confused look, but she did as he asked. By the time they had stepped off the jet bridge, Jake had disappeared into the airport masses. Nate breathed a sigh of relief and put his arm around Olivia as they headed to the rental car station.
“Are you sure you want to meet up with that guy?” he asked.
“You heard what he said, Nate. Another woman is missing.” Olivia’s shoulders tensed. “If we can help with the investigation, we can’t let your illogical jealousy get in the way.”
“Illogical jealousy?” Nate said with a laugh.
“Don’t play dumb, Nater. It’s not a good look on you.” Olivia added, “I would never, ever, cheat on you. You are still the star of every dirty dream I have, Nate. Feeling jealous is just a waste of your time and energy.”
Nate sighed. “I know, Liv. My feelings have nothing to do with you and everything to do with my own insecurities. I think I’ve just seen too many women harmed by men and I don’t have a lot of faith in my gender when it comes to being around a woman like you.”
“Most men aren’t murderers and rapists,” Olivia said. “Most men are good men, like you and Vince. Most men would rather save a woman than harm one.”
“You’re right.” Nate forced a smile. “Now, tell me more about those dirty dreams I’ve been starring in.”
“I’ll tell you all the dirty details later tonight,” Olivia promised. “Spoiler alert– you are naked in all of them.”
“I didn’t even know that women have dirty dreams,” Nate said.
“There is so much you don’t know about women.” Olivia smiled at him. “By the way, you handled today’s Rosalie meltdown like a champ.”
Nate grimaced. “I’m dreading the day she finds out about Candy.”
“Why?” Olivia looked at him in surprise.
“When our daughter looks at me now, she sees someone that is utterly devoted to her mother. Finding out that I was married to someone else first is going to alter how she sees me. It might even alter how she sees marriage and love.” Nate could see the rental car desk up ahead.
“Just wait until she finds out about my parents,” Olivia said. She pulled Nate to a stop. “I think you’re putting way too much pressure on yourself, Nate. Rosalie is learning far more about relationships and love in all the small moments she has with you every day than she will ever learn from one piece of information about your past.” She put a hand on his chest. “Marriage is hard, Nate. You and I got lucky, but most people don’t have it this easy. Rosalie needs to know that, too. She needs to know that if both people aren’t committed to making it work, there isn’t going to be a happy ending. You and Candy are the cautionary tale. You and I are the fairytale.”
“That was beautiful, Liv.” Nate put a hand to her cheek. “I’m definitely stealing that line in the future.”
“It’s all yours.” She grinned at him. “I think we should both be much more worried about Tuck than Rosalie. He’s just like you, Nate. He’s going to be breaking hearts all over the place.”
Nate leaned down and kissed her softly. “Not yours, love. I’ve had your heart safely locked away for twenty years and I plan to keep it safe for the rest of our lives.”
“Alright, here’s the deal, Tucker.” Olivia slapped a hand on the table. “Let me do the talking. Jake is clearly hot-for-teacher and is not a fan of you.”
“I don’t know why not. I’m charming AF.” Nate took a swig from his beer.
“Really, Nate? Haven’t we talked about you not using slang?” Olivia shook her head. “You sound about ninety-years-old when you say things like that.”
Nate scoffed. “That’s how young people talk.”
“Yes. Exactly. You are middle-aged, Nater.” Olivia had finished her first beer and was debating ordering a second. Jake should be along any minute and she didn’t want to be buzzed while they talked, but she was having fun with Nate.
“Do you realize that we are literally growing old together?” Nate asked. “I mean, that’s just a thing people say. I want to grow old with you. And here we are, getting older together.”
“You are being way too philosophical for a guy that’s only had half of a beer,” Olivia teased. “We’re not that old.”
“Easy for you to say. You don’t have all this gray hair.” Nate ran a hand through his mostly brown and only lightly speckled hair.
Olivia frowned. “You’re the one that has it easy. Gray hair looks sexy on men. When my hair goes gray, I’m going to look like an old maid.”
“You’ll never not be hot as hell, Liv.” Nate squeezed her knee under the table.
“Ditto, Nater.” Olivia ran her hand through his hair and kissed him gently on the lips. When she looked into his eyes, she saw the same desire that had been there back when they first got together. “I love you so much,” she said.
“Will you marry me?” Nate said.
“Again?” Olivia sighed. “I suppose, but only so we can go on another honeymoon.”
Nate laughed. “You do remember that you were pregnant for that first honeymoon?”
“That won’t be a problem now,” Olivia said, somewhat sadly. If it had been up to Olivia, she would’ve had a dozen kids with Nate.
“If it is, you and I need to have a talk,” Nate teased. After they had lost their baby last year, Olivia and Nate had decided to stop trying to have more kids. Olivia had had a lot of health issues with both her pregnancies and it was just too risky. Nate had taken one for the team and offered to get a vasectomy. If Olivia did end up pregnant again, it wouldn’t be with Nate’s baby.
“That will never happen,” Olivia said quickly.
“Did you give any more thought to what we talked about?” Nate asked hesitantly.
A few weeks ago, they’d discussed the possibility of becoming foster parents. They both wanted more kids and Nate thought it might be a good option for them. Olivia had some concerns, though.
“I have given it some thought,” Olivia said. “I’m just a little nervous that I won’t be good at it, Nate. I can’t imagine getting attached to a child and then being told I have to give them up, potentially returning them to an unhealthy situation.”
“There are a lot of kids that need help, Liv. Even a few days in a good home could have a huge impact on those kids.” Nate smiled. “I think you’d be an amazing foster mom, Liv, but you know I’d never want you to do something that makes you uncomfortable.”
“I know.” Olivia took a deep breath. “When we get back to Chicago, let’s talk to your friend about it.” Nate had a lot of connections in the foster system and one of his former coworkers was now a director at the DCFS.
“Alright, I’ll give Jamie a call.” Nate brushed her hair over her shoulder and gazed into her eyes. “I love you so much, Liv.”
“Put your game face on, Tucker,” Olivia said. “Jake is here.”
Nate groaned and Olivia rubbed his arm. Jake spotted them across the bar and headed in their direction. She would never mention it to Nate, but Jake was a good-looking guy. If Nate hadn’t been there, Jake would’ve easily been the best-looking guy in the bar. More than a few women were casting curious glances in Olivia’s direction, wondering how she’d scored two hot guys.
“Hey, Jake,” she said, smiling politely. “Glad you could make it. Hopefully, this wasn’t too big of a trek for you.”
“No, not at all.” He slid into the empty chair across from Olivia. “My hotel is just a few blocks away.”
“Good.” Olivia rubbed Nate’s arm again. He was trying not to let his jealousy flare, but Olivia could tell that he was still annoyed by Jake. “Let’s get you a drink, Jake.”
Nate cleared his throat. “I’ll go up to the bar. What can I get you?”
“Beer is fine,” Jake said. “Thanks”
“Be right back.” Nate kissed Olivia on the cheek before walking away.
Jake watched Nate walk away and then said, “I don’t think your husband likes me very much.”
“Nate? Don’t worry about him. He just takes a while to warm up to new people.” Olivia was only partly lying. When Nate wanted to, he could charm anyone. He just had no desire to charm Jake.
“How long have you two been married?” Jake asked.
“Six years.” Olivia smiled the same way she always did when she thought about marrying Nate. “We’ve been together a lot longer, though.”
Nate had returned and he placed three beers on the table. “Liv and I have spent more than half of our lives together.”
“We have the gray hairs to prove it,” Olivia said with a laugh.
“Those are from the kids,” Nate corrected her.
Jake flinched. “You have kids?”
“Twins,” Olivia said, smiling sadly at Nate. She knew how much he hated that question. It always reminded him of Evelyn, the daughter they’d never gotten a chance to know. “They are turning six in a few days.”
“You look surprised,” Nate said, eyeing Jake closely. “Do we not seem like responsible parents to you?”
Jake laughed uncomfortably. “No, that’s not it. Forgive me, you just seem far too in love to have been together for so long with two kids at home. Most parents I know are so stressed out they can barely stand to be around each other. You two seem like you like each other.”
“Most of the time, we do.” Olivia put her hand on Nate’s back and rubbed a slow circle. “Keep in mind that we just left our kids for three days, so we’re riding a high right now.”
“Fair enough.” Jake took a deep breath. “Alright, let’s get down to work. How familiar are you with the Beauty Queen Killer?”
“Very familiar,” Olivia said. “A large section of my dissertation was centered around Tenlinson.”
“Then you don’t need me to rehash all the gory details. One of the key things to remember is that Tenlinson was only caught because he reached out to the police. Prior to his letter, there was absolutely nothing tying him to the abductions and murders.” Jake paused. “Another piece of information that was never shared in the media was the one thing that was found on every body.”
“The lipstick?” Olivia said.
Jake nodded. “It wasn’t just the same shade. The lipstick on every victim was from the same tube of lipstick. Some of the bodies even contained trace DNA from other victims.”
“It was Tenlinson’s signature,” Nate said.
“It was the only thing that affirmatively tied together all the murders since he never left behind any of his own DNA. This latest murder, the copycat murder, wasn’t just similar to Tenlinson’s work. The body was also wearing that same lipstick.” Jake looked at Olivia. “What do you think that means?”
Olivia thought for a moment. “It means one of two things. Either Tenlinson had a partner back then or Tenlinson has a partner now.”
“So it’s not a copycat?” Jake pressed.
“I would need to see the crime scene photos and do some comparisons. I don’t think you can completely rule out a copycat yet, but it’s looking less likely,” Olivia said. “Was there anything about this crime scene that was different than the other ones?”
“No. If it’s a copycat, it’s a very good copycat. And it had to be someone with access to the case file.” Jake took a swig from his beer. “Unfortunately, that list is pretty long after ten years. The details of these murders have been used as case studies across the country. You even used it as an example during your training.”
That was true. Olivia smirked. “Good to know at least one person was paying attention.”
“Hanging on every word,” Jake said with a smile that was just a little flirty. “You were the best instructor we had.”
Nate shifted in his seat and Olivia glanced at him. His jaw was clenched. “You are quite the kiss ass, Agent Danbury.”
“That’s true.” Jake smirked and cast a furtive glance at Nate. “It would’ve broken a lot of hearts if you’d told the class you were married.”
“Again, this ring isn’t from a Crackerjack box.” Olivia flashed her wedding band. “It’s getting late. Is there anything you need from me tonight or can I take some time to review the stuff that you sent me and get back to you tomorrow?”
“Sure, sure.” Jake smiled. “I can take a hint. I’m sure the two of you don’t want to spend your precious time away from the kids talking to a stranger.”
“It’s not high on my list,” Nate muttered. When Olivia stepped on his foot, he added, “No offense.”
Jake laughed and stood. “None taken. Just give me a call sometime tomorrow. Enjoy your night.”
Nate and Olivia headed out just a few minutes later. Olivia was tired and she leaned heavily on Nate as they walked back to their hotel. “I’m going to pass out as soon as my head hits the pillow,” she said as they walked into the lobby. “You should feel free to take advantage of me.”
“Sex with my unconscious wife isn’t on my bucket list, Liv.” Nate pulled her to a stop. “Do you hear that?”
“What?” Olivia looked around the lobby.
“Come on.” Nate took her hand and pulled her toward the hotel’s lounge. In addition to several people sitting around having drinks, a guitarist sat in the corner, playing a familiar song. “It’s our song, Liv.”
“It is.” She smiled at him as he pulled her close. “What are you doing?”
“Dancing with my wife,” Nate said. He put one hand on her lower back and used the other to put her hand on his chest, covering it with his own.
Olivia put her free hand on the back of his neck and buried her face in the crook of his neck. Nate’s heart was beating steadily beneath her hand and she put her lips against his skin and said, “Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly love you more, you find a way to prove me wrong, Nate.”
“Loving you is the best thing I will ever do, Liv.” He kissed her just above her ear. “I intend to do it right.”
Olivia wasn’t lying when she said that she had never loved Nate more. It had been almost three months since Nate and Olivia had been reunited after three months apart. In that time, Nate had worked extra hard to be the best husband and father that he could be. He had always been hands-on with the kids, but he’d stepped up his game even more. Nate rarely worked late these days, preferring to make dinner for the kids and help them with homework. He sometimes still worked from home after they had gone to bed, but he’d also been focused on spending quality time with Olivia.
Olivia was proud of how hard he was trying and she appreciated everything he was doing, but she was most proud that he’d also started seeing a therapist once per week. Since he’d started going to those appointments, he had been more relaxed at home. She didn’t ask him what they talked about during his sessions, but she suspected that he was finally dealing with a lot of the trauma that had been building up inside due to the nature of his job.
“The song is over,” Nate said when she didn’t let go right away. “Let’s go upstairs and get you into bed.”
“Dirty,” Olivia joked.
“That’s not what I meant.” Nate let go of her and reached into his pocket. He slipped a twenty into the guitarist’s tip jar. “You’ve got an intense morning ahead of you, Liv. You need to get some rest.”
“We don’t have any kids with us to interrupt us, Nate. There is no way I’m not taking advantage of that.” She took his hand and pulled him toward the elevator. “By the way, when I talked to Marge earlier, she said that Rosalie cried for two hours after we left because she missed her daddy.”
Nate groaned. “Why would you tell me that, Liv? Now my heart hurts.”
“It’s a good thing, honey. It means that she loves you.” Olivia smiled at him. “You know she’s never going to get married, don’t you? She’ll never find a guy as great as you and our Rosalie won’t settle for anything less.”
“I think you’re wrong about that, Liv. She’s already boy crazy and she’s only five. I think she’s going to be driving me nuts for the next twenty years.” Nate opened their hotel room door and held it for Olivia to enter first.
“She reminds me of Rosie,” Olivia said, smiling.
“Driving me nuts for twenty years? Liv, she reminds me of you.” Nate immediately began stripping off his clothes. “What do you think about this copycat case? Do you think Tenlinson might’ve had a partner?”
Olivia unbuttoned her blouse and removed it slowly as she thought about Nate’s question. “I don’t know. Nothing in the original investigation hinted that there might be a partner. I really can’t say for sure until I see the new crime scene.”
“Are you sure you want to look at those pictures?” Nate asked.
She stepped out of her jeans and folded them neatly. A mirror hung over the desk and she caught Nate’s eye in his reflection. “I think I’ve seen worse, Nate. What is it about the Tenlinson case that makes you think I can’t handle it?”
“I never said that.” He came up behind her, putting his hands on her shoulders. “I just know what it means to have those images in your head all the time. I know the kind of damage it can do and I don’t want that for you.”
“Another woman is missing, Nate, and I think I might be able to help her.” Olivia held his gaze.
He nodded. “Let’s go to bed, Liv.”
“I need to take a look at the stuff that Jake sent over. I wanted to know the details before I speak with Tenlinson.”
“You can take a look in the car tomorrow while I drive us to the prison. You don’t want to put those images into your head right before going to sleep.” Nate stepped away. “I’m going to brush my teeth.”
Olivia joined him in the bathroom a minute later and they took turns fighting for sink space. “This reminds me of our old place,” she said, laughing when he bumped her out of the way.
“We didn’t live there together very long since you had to go and get knocked up with twins,” Nate said after spitting in the sink.
“Yeah,” Olivia rolled her eyes at him. “That was all my fault.”
“Look at it this way,” Nate said, grinning. “Now we get to have all the unprotected sex we want.”
“Way to take one for the team, Tucker,” Olivia teased, smacking him on the butt.
He hooked a finger into her underwear and pulled her close. “I’ve got some ideas on how you can pay me back.”
“Great.” She put her hand on his hip. “I’ve got some ideas on how you can pay me back for carrying three of your children.”
“I’m never going to be able to top that, am I?” Nate said as he inched her underwear down.
“You top it every day just by being you, Nate.” Olivia reached behind her and unhooked her bra. Nate slid the straps down her shoulders and tossed it aside. She smiled and said, “No interruptions tonight, lover.”
Olivia and Nate were both too tired for anything crazy, but they powered through for a good twenty minutes before crashing. Olivia woke first and got coffee brewing while she watched Nate sleep. Without the worry of children sneaking into their bed in the middle of the night, they had both slept naked. Nate’s long body was spread the length of the mattress and Olivia took a long look before she covered him with a blanket. He was in even better shape now than he had been when they first started dating.
“You beautiful man,” she said, brushing her fingers over his cheek. “How did I ever live without you in my bed?”
It was still early and Nate didn’t need to be awake for another hour. Olivia let him sleep and took her coffee to the desk where she opened her laptop. She’d already gotten dressed and had some time to review the documents from Jake.
As she read the notes from the lead detective working the case, Olivia had a new appreciation for how good Nate was at his job. There were so many holes in the notes that Olivia could barely piece together what had been found at the crime scene. She had no choice but to open the folder of pictures.
They were horrifying. Just like the victims of the original BQK, Karli had been a beautiful woman. Olivia had pulled up the picture that had been released to the press showing a dark-haired woman with a big smile and flawless skin. That was almost hard to see in the crime scene photos through the desecration of her body. She had been left completely naked, her body covered in cuts and bruises. Her face was covered in a thick layer of makeup that masked the beauty of her natural features.
“It’s a little early for that, don’t you think?”
Olivia whirled, surprised to see Nate sitting on the edge of the bed. He looked like he had been awake for a while and he’d even pulled on his boxers without her noticing he was awake. “You need to see this, Nate.”
“Do I?” He sighed. “I don’t know if anyone needs to see what the sicko did to that woman.”
“We do if we’re going to stop this guy.” Olivia turned back to her laptop. “This guy wasn’t a partner of Tenlinson’s. The victimology is the same, as is the body desecration, but this dumping ground is nothing like the other ones.”
“Why didn’t Danbury notice that?” Nate asked. He came over and leaned down. “It’s just a park, Liv. Pretty standard.”
“It’s not just a park, Nate. See this?” She tapped the screen.
“A swing set?” Nate gave her a blank look.
Olivia nodded. “Karli was left right in front of a playground. Tenlinson would never have picked a location like this. He hates women, but he never did anything to harm a child. He bailed on two different attacks because his targets were with their children at the time. He wouldn’t have wanted children to see something like this.”
“That begs the question, why would the copycat pick this location?” Nate said.
“Excellent question, Detective.” Olivia clicked a new tab on her computer, revealing a map of Charleston. “He had other options. Parks that aren’t anywhere near a school. If this was the copycat’s first murder, he probably picked a park that is significant to him in some way. I’d need to see the park in person to make a better assessment.”
Nate sighed softly. “Liv, we’re not working this case. We are in Charleston to go to a wedding and you’ve already dedicated half of a day to interviewing a serial killer. Just flip through the file and send Jake your initial thoughts. I’m going to go take a shower.”
Olivia knew she should listen to Nate. They were in a complete role-reversal. Usually, Nate was the one obsessing over a case and sacrificing his personal life in the process and she was the one trying to persuade him to step back. But Olivia couldn’t shake the knowledge that another woman was missing and that she might be able to save that woman.
It was more than a two-hour drive to get to the prison where Tenlinson had been incarcerated for the last ten years. Olivia and Nate were mostly quiet during the drive, but that wasn’t completely unusual. Nate was listening to a sports broadcast and Olivia was reading through her notes to prepare for the interview.
“Liv.” Nate spoke for the first time in at least an hour.
Olivia looked over. “Yeah?”
“Don’t be mad at me. I have to say this because I love you.” Nate paused and Olivia stared at him, bracing for whatever he was about to say. “We can’t have two people in this relationship that don’t know when to step back from something ugly.”
“It’s okay if you’re the one getting involved in cases like this, but it’s not okay when it’s me?” Olivia said hotly. “Why would that make me mad?”
“Liv.” Nate cut her a sharp glance. “Don’t use sarcasm and expect me to keep a civil tone. I’m trying to have a serious conversation.”
“Fine. What is your concern?” Olivia said after taking a deep breath.
“I know that I’m the one who usually gets completely obsessed with a case and you are always very supportive. I appreciate that and I can understand why you would expect the same support in return.” Nate was speaking calmly and that helped Olivia focus on his words rather than her own feelings. “But you are my north star, Liv. When I lose myself in those cases, you are the one that pulls me out. I don’t know how to be that for you. If you get too deep into this case, I might not be able to pull you out.”
“I can handle myself, Nate. I promise I won’t get too involved, but I can’t sit back and do nothing.” Olivia turned back to her notes. “You know better than anyone the responsibility that comes with being good at your job.”
Nate went back to not saying anything and this time the silence was awkward. He clearly didn’t agree with Olivia’s desire to be involved in the case, but he also knew it was her decision to make. They arrived at the prison and spent the next fifteen minutes working their way through security before being escorted into a room where Tenlinson’s attorney was already seated.
He greeted them both and introduced himself as Marvin Klein. “I have to admit, I was surprised that Sean agreed to speak with you,” Marvin said.
“People find me hard to resist,” Olivia said dryly.
“Yes, well, I believe your background may have had something to do with it. Sean read both of your books.” Marvin glanced at Nate. “Are you here as an interested party or as a protective husband?”
“Both.” Nate wasn’t going to bother lying.
“Fair enough.” Marvin jumped to his feet as the door opened. Two guards came into the room with a shackled man wearing an orange jumpsuit. Olivia had seen many pictures of Tenlinson, but in none of them had he looked like this. He’d lost at least thirty pounds in prison and he hadn’t been a big guy to begin with. His hair was completely white and he wore thick glasses. The Tenlinson that had been arrested ten years earlier had been a charming middle-aged man that had been attractive in his prime. This man looked old and frail.
“Dr. Olivia Thompson,” Tenlinson said, a smile spreading across his face. “You are even lovelier in person.”
“Mr. Tenlinson. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.” She nodded her head toward Nate. “This is Detective Tucker.”
Tenlinson was led to the chair across from Olivia and he sat slowly, eyeing Nate. The guards stood against the wall, watching Tenlinson closely. “Detective Tucker? Does it bother you that she doesn’t introduce you to other men as her husband?”
“You’re not a man. You are scum.” Nate’s face was impassive, but Olivia saw the twitch in his jaw.
“Mr. Tenlinson, Nate is here merely to observe. I’m the one that is here to ask you questions.” Olivia looked down at her notebook. “Ten years ago, you pled guilty to the abduction, rape, and murder of 31 women.”
“Let me guess. You want to know which one of the offenses is my favorite?” Tenlinson grinned again. “It’s a tie between rape and murder. I don’t know how anyone can do one and not the other.” Tenlinson spoke with a heavy southern drawl.
“How old were you when your mother abandoned you and your father?” Olivia asked.
Tenlinson visibly flinched. “I’m not going to talk to you about my mother or my childhood, Olivia. Can I call you Olivia? You can call me Sean.”
“Call me whatever you want, Mr. Tenlinson.” Olivia wasn’t going to call him Sean like they were old friends. “During your sentencing, you addressed the court and stated that you killed those women simply because you could. You expressed hatred for all women and said that if you were ever released from prison, you most certainly would kill more women. Tell me, Mr. Tenlinson, which woman from your past was the trigger? Was it the first woman who refused to have sex with you? That’s usually the case with men like you.”
“How old were you when you lost your virginity, Olivia?” Tenlinson leaned back in his chair. “I’m going to guess 17.”
“16,” Olivia said, staring right at him. “I’m going to guess you were much older.”
“How about your husband?” Tenlinson narrowed his eyes at Nate.
“14,” Nate said calmly.
Tenlinson laughed dryly. “I’m not surprised. You strike me as a guy that doesn’t have a hard time getting women to sleep with him. That wasn’t the case for me when I was a teenager.” He turned back to Olivia. “I was 19. Can you believe that?”
“Yes.” Olivia blinked once when his eyes flared with anger. “I’ve seen pictures of you from high school. You were attractive enough. You were also smart, got good grades. But you always had a hard time making friends and women were especially confusing to you. I’m willing to bet you didn’t even try to kiss a female until you were in college.”
“Her name was Stacy. We met our freshman year of college and we were friends for six months before I kissed her. I used to respect women,” Tenlinson said forcefully. “But Stacy said that she wasn’t interested in dating me. She wanted to date a guy from the baseball team instead. That was my first lesson that respecting women is a pointless activity. It’s much easier to just take what you want.”
“But you didn’t start killing women yet. When did you decide to take that step?” Olivia had her suspicions, but she wanted to hear it from Tenlinson.
He leaned forward. “Let me ask you something, Olivia. The boy who took your virginity– did he bring you to climax or did he pull out as soon as he got off?”
“We were 16,” Olivia said. “Neither of us knew what we were doing.”
“You’re making excuses for him.” Tenlinson’s eyes narrowed. “When it comes to sex, men always focus on their own satisfaction. Sometimes they will please the woman first, but only if they get something better in return. I’m sure your husband is really good at playing that game. You probably even think that he respects you because he occasionally goes down on you without being asked, but he’s only doing that because he wants your lips around his dick. He’s no better than other men and he’s certainly no better than me.”
Nate slammed both hands on the table and stood. “You sick mother fucker. Don’t you dare put me in the same category as men like you.”
“Nate.” Olivia understood why he was angry, but his reaction was exactly what Tenlinson wanted. Tenlinson wanted to embarrass Olivia in front of the other men in the room and in turn, enrage Nate. “If you can’t keep your emotions in check, you need to leave the room.”
Tenlinson turned his glare to Olivia. “He’s your husband, not your child. You have no right to order him around.”
“That bothers you, doesn’t it? Women like me who speak up and don’t take their cues from men?” Olivia asked as Nate slowly settled into his chair. Tenlinson was visibly agitated. “In your confession, you told the detectives that Joanna Spencer was your first victim, but Joanna was a quiet girl. She was raised in a very traditional and conservative family. She wasn’t the kind of girl that would look at a man, let alone order him around. What was it about her that made you want to kill her?”
“Joanna.” Tenlinson’s eyes flickered like he was remembering her. “Just like all my girls, she was gorgeous. Dark hair that went down to her ass. Big, innocent eyes. Nice rack, the kind you can dig your fingers into.” He eyed Olivia. “A lot like you, Olivia.”
“You killed her because she was pretty?” Olivia shook her head. “I don’t buy that for a second. You picked Joanna for a reason.”
“Olivia, why is a pretty thing like you trying to understand the mind of a serial killer? You should be at home, pleasuring your husband and raising your children.” Tenlinson was enjoying the power he had to avoid answering any of Olivia’s questions.
Olivia put her elbows on the table and leaned forward. “Can I tell you a secret, Sean?”
“I’d love that, Olivia.” Tenlinson’s eyes lit up when she used his first name.
“Some women– women like me– can speak their mind, have a job, raise their children, and please their husband all at the same time. If you don’t believe me, ask Nate.” Olivia smiled smugly. “Your problem is that you can’t handle a woman like me because you are insecure. I have some theories about why you are so insecure around confident women. Would you like to hear those theories?”
Tenlinson was trying to remain impassive, but he was flustered by Olivia’s bold assertion. “Alright, Dr. Thompson. I’ll play your game. Tell me your theories.”
“Your mother was an addict. Drugs mostly, but also alcohol. She needed money to pay for her habit, so she had sex with men for money. She only did that when your father wasn’t around, for obvious reasons, but she never bothered to hide it from you. One day, your father comes home and catches her in the act. That was the last time you ever saw her.” Olivia paused, letting that linger in the air.
“You struggled to connect with anyone throughout your teens. You blamed everyone else, claiming that you were just too intellectual for people your own age. You thought things would be different in college, but it was more of the same. Stacy wouldn’t be the last woman to reject you. At some point, you finally found a woman that was willing to sleep with you, but you were nervous. You had trouble performing and she laughed at you. I’m guessing she wasn’t impressed by you blowing your wad after three seconds.”
Olivia was completely guessing with this theory, but she could tell from the firm set of Tenlinson’s jaw that she had guessed correctly.
“That was your trigger. You knew you couldn’t please women, so you decided to not even try. It was easier to just take what you wanted, hence the rape. And you didn’t want to worry about how they would judge your performance, so you killed them.” Olivia tilted her head. “How’d I do, Sean?”
“It was longer than three seconds,” he said defiantly, further proving that Olivia had been completely right.
“I’m sure it was,” she said in a patronizing tone. “Here’s the one thing that still doesn’t make sense to me about you. Why did you lie about your first victim?”
Tenlinson flinched. “I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did. Joanna wasn’t your first victim,” Olivia said.
“Joanna Spencer was the first woman I killed,” he said and Olivia noticed that Marvin the Lawyer flinched.
“That may be true,” Olivia said, feeling a surge of excitement building inside her chest. She was about to learn something about Tenlinson’s crimes that no one else had been able to discover. More importantly, it might be the one thing that would help them find the copycat killer. “Joanna might have been the first victim you killed, but she wasn’t your first victim. Tell me, Sean, who was she?”
Listening to Olivia’s conversation with Tenlinson was as close to torture as Nate had ever been. Hearing how coldly Olivia was able to question a serial killer was only slightly less uncomfortable than all the disgusting things that the serial killer was saying to Olivia. Nate was barely controlling his anger while Olivia was calmly answering questions about losing her virginity and her sex life with Nate.
He knew that all of this was only adding fuel to Tenlinson’s sick fantasies. He also knew that Olivia was masterfully manipulating Tenlinson and he had no idea. Nate would’ve been proud if he hadn’t been so horrified. When Tenlinson more or less admitted that he’d attacked at least one other woman before killing Joanna, Nate just barely suppressed a smirk.
“It must be hard to be both beautiful and smart,” Tenlinson said. “I’m sure most men discredit your intelligence because they are too busy imagining what you look like naked.”
“Answer my question,” Olivia said. “Who was she?”
“I’ll answer your questions if you answer mine,” Tenlinson said. “I’ll go first. Do you like to be tied up during sex, Olivia?”
Nate leaned forward, fully prepared to knock the grin off Tenlinson’s face. Olivia shot him a cautioning glance. “It’s something we tried once,” she said calmly to Tenlinson.
“But did you like it?” His grin was pure evil.
“It’s not our thing. Neither of us gets off on bondage. We’ve both seen the dark side of that too often.” Olivia cleared her throat. “My turn. What was the name of the first girl that you either raped or tried to rape?”
Marvin started to interrupt, but Tenlinson waved a hand to dismiss him. He looked right at Olivia and said, “Her name was Patty.”
“What was her last name?” Olivia asked.
“Not so fast. My turn.” Tenlinson’s eyes narrowed. “Have you ever asked your husband to put his hands around your throat during sex?”
“You should. I think you might like it.” Tenlinson sighed. “Patty LaBeau. I have a question for your husband. Detective, do you ever get turned on by the dead women you see in your job?”
“No. Never.” Nate was digging his fingers into his thigh. He took a deep breath. “My turn. What did you do to Patty?”
“Patty was my neighbor. She was beautiful. Utterly stunning and she had no idea. She was always so nice to me. I finally worked up the nerve to ask her to come over for dinner and she agreed. Can you believe that?” Tenlinson shook his head as if he was still in disbelief. “She wore a beautiful dress just for me, but she changed her mind about coming inside. She asked to take a walk instead.”
Nate didn’t believe Tenlinson’s story. He believed that Tenlinson had seen Patty taking a walk and he had followed her. Any normal female would’ve immediately felt uncomfortable around a guy like Tenlinson and they would never agree to be alone with him. Olivia’s face was completely unreadable as she listened to his story.
“We went to a park around the corner and she kissed me. I was surprised because it was only our first date, but I wasn’t going to reject her. I kissed her back and the next thing I knew, she was on the ground and I was on top of her.” Tenlinson’s eyes had gone dark and unfocused. He had been transported back in time. “I don’t remember most of the details. I know I had sex with her and she tried to fight me off. I remember being angry because she had clearly wanted to have sex with me and then she just changed her mind. You can’t do that to men. Once we cross that line, we can’t go back. I had to keep going.”
“That’s bullshit,” Nate said, unable to sit quietly any longer. “You could’ve stopped, you just didn’t want to.”
Tenlinson shrugged. “Maybe that’s true. Or maybe you just let women control you. You let them manipulate you and you do things that go against your nature. Tell me, Detective, does Olivia ever turn you down when you want sex and then make you feel guilty for wanting it?”
“No.” Nate could see that something had shifted inside Tenlinson and he suspected it had something to do with Nate speaking up. He decided to keep talking. “We have a very healthy sex life. I’m sure you wouldn’t understand what that’s like.”
“Even when she was pregnant with your children?” Tenlinson pressed.
“Not so fast. It’s my turn.” Nate leaned forward. “Tell me, Sean. Have you ever made a woman scream your name in pleasure or was it always in fear and pain?”
Tenlinson flinched and his nostrils flared. “The women I’ve been with have never complained.”
“Of course not. You killed them when you were done.” Nate laughed humorlessly. “There’s not even an ounce of man in you.”
“Leave me alone with your wife and she’ll have far more than one ounce of me inside her,” Tenlinson said.
Nate stood again, this time slower and more purposefully. The guards both took a big step forward, but neither of them looked eager to stop Nate if he should decide to attack Tenlinson. “Olivia would kill you before you could even touch her.”
“We’ll see,” Tenlinson said, not looking away from Nate. “I can get to her anywhere, Detective. You won’t be able to stop me.”
“While you’re shackled and locked behind bars?” Nate challenged him.
“I got to Karli, didn’t I?” Tenlinson laughed. “What I did to her will be nothing compared to what I’m going to do to your wife.”
Nate’s heart was pounding in his chest. “Do not threaten my wife, Sean. I can get to you anywhere, too.”
“I’m done here,” Tenlinson said, looking at his lawyer. “I want to be taken back to my cell now.”
Less than two minutes later, the guards had taken him away. Olivia put her notes into her bag and stood. “Let’s go,” she said quietly.
Nate took a few deep breaths as he followed Olivia out of the room and down the hallway. She was keeping her head down, lost in her thoughts. Neither of them spoke until they were outside, just a few feet from their rental car.
“Are the interviews always like that?” Nate asked quietly.
“More or less.” Olivia shrugged. “Men like Tenlinson go for shock value. They think that because I’m a woman, I’ll embarrass easily. If they can shame me, they get the upper hand. Usually, after I answer a few of their perverted questions, they settle down and answer my questions.”
Nate grabbed her arm. “Olivia, I don’t want you doing these interviews.”
“Nate.” Olivia gave him a firm look. “This is my job.”
“This is insane!” Nate hadn’t meant to raise his voice, but his adrenaline was spiking. “You’re just feeding into their sick fantasies by telling them details about your sex life. Tenlinson is probably back in his cell jerking off to a mental image of me choking you.”
“You need to calm down, Nate,” Olivia said, barely holding back her anger. She held out her hand. “Give me the keys.”
“I’m not letting you drive when you’re worked up like this.” Olivia stared at him with her hand out. “Either calm down or give me the keys.”
Nate took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “If we were in a bar and a man talked to you like that, I would’ve beat the shit out of him.”
“It’s a good thing we weren’t in a bar.”
“He threatened you, Liv.” Nate had no idea how Olivia had stayed so calm. “He threatened to have you killed and he taunted me. Do you really think I shouldn’t be upset right now?”
“I think he made that threat to rattle you. You’re giving him exactly what he wanted.” Olivia put her hand on his arm. “Try to let it go, Nate.”
He laughed dryly. “That’s never going to happen, Liv. You know that’s not how I’m wired. If a man threatens my wife, I don’t just let it go.”
“You’re a good husband.” She kissed his cheek. “Can we get out of here? I feel like we’re being watched.”
“We probably are,” Nate said, glancing at the stone building. “How did Tenlinson know about the kids?”
“Nate, I think he knew everything about both of us,” Olivia said. “He has access to computers and you and I don’t exactly lead private lives. It wouldn’t be hard to find out that we have twins at home.”
He sighed and opened the passenger door for Olivia. “I hate that.”
“Unless you want to enter the Witness Protection Program, there’s nothing you can do about it.” She kissed him again, this time on the lips.
Nate’s heart was beating a normal rhythm again and he felt much calmer. The long drive back to Charleston gave him even more time to decompress. Olivia was more talkative on this drive and she happily told Nate the latest gossip about the parents from their kids’ school. While Nate and Olivia had done their best not to get involved in the drama, it always had a way of finding them.
“So then, Tyson’s parents said that because their son has an aversion to foods that smell, no one should be allowed to pack smelly foods in their kids’ lunches.” Olivia rolled her eyes. “It begs the question, what constitutes a smelly food?”
“And who names their kid Tyson?” Nate added, laughing.
“Speaking of kids’ names, Tuck told me yesterday that he might want to go by Nathaniel once he’s in second grade.” Olivia put a hand over her heart. “I may have cried when he told me that.”
“May have?” Nate shot her a knowing look. “Nathaniel is his real name, love. This was bound to happen eventually.”
Olivia sighed. “But did it have to happen so soon? He’s still my baby.”
“Well, at least he’s not trying to get married like his sister.” Nate grimaced. “Should we be at all worried that Rosalie is already thinking about things like that.”
“You clearly were never a five-year-old girl,” Olivia said ginning. “I had my first marriage in kindergarten. His name was Parker Adamson. I didn’t really like him, but he had a pet hamster and he let me play with it.”
“How am I just now hearing about this Parker guy?” Nate asked with mock indignation. He loved that there were still things he didn’t know about Olivia, even after twenty years. He hoped that she would never stop surprising him. “Please tell me you divorced him, otherwise our entire marriage is a sham.”
Olivia laughed. “I had it annulled when his hamster died.”
“Wow, that’s harsh.” Nate chuckled. “Seems like you had your priorities straight though. Poor Parker lost his pet and his wife at the same time.”
“I never was a girl who would settle.” She gave him a pointed look. “I think this second marriage is working out pretty well.”
“Are you sure I shouldn’t be stocking up on some hamsters?” Nate joked.
“The kids would love that.” Olivia grimaced a little. “Rosalie is still dying to get a puppy. I think she’s asking Santa for one again this year.”
Nate groaned. “That’ll be four years straight of disappointing our daughter on Christmas morning.”
“At least we’re consistent!” Olivia turned her head toward Nate and the sunlight was hitting her perfectly, casting her in a warm glow that only enhanced her natural beauty. Her smile was so perfect and her eyes were full of adoration when she looked at him.
Nate took her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing the back of it and each finger. “I can’t imagine going through this life with anyone but you, Liv.”
“I am pretty amazing,” she agreed, laughter dancing in her eyes. “I guess we both did better in our second marriages.”
“Speaking of marriages, we have some time to kill before the wedding this evening.” Nate took the exit that led to Charleston. “What do you want to do?”
“I need to call Jake and tell him about the new victim, Patty. After that...it’s entirely your call.” Olivia squeezed his hand. “I would be perfectly happy spending the rest of the day in bed with you.”
For the first time in his life, Nate couldn’t imagine having sex with Olivia. “No offense, Liv, but my head is not in the right space for that.”
“Fair enough.” Olivia fell quiet. After a long moment, she said, “I’m going to call and check on the kids.”
Olivia talked to Marge for a few minutes and then used Nate’s phone to call Jake and give him the update.
“Why not just put his number in your phone?” Nate asked after she hung up.
“Because then Jake would have my number. Do you really want that?” She gave him a knowing look.
“No, but you’re a grown woman and I trust you.” Nate might not trust Jake Danbury, but he knew that Olivia would never cheat on him. “You have to admit that guy is just a little too smooth.”
“A little too smooth?” Olivia laughed. “Nate, Jake Danbury is basically your twin.”
Nate stopped at a red light, tapping the brakes a little too hard. “What the hell does that mean?”
“He’s the federal equivalent of Nathaniel Tucker,” Olivia said, still laughing. “He’s charming, smart, good-looking, funny... Do you want me to go on?”
“You think he’s good-looking?” Nate said.
“Objectively.” She shrugged. “He’s not my type, but I’m sure he doesn’t have any problem scoring with the ladies. I’m sure he probably also lost his virginity when he was 14.” Olivia shook her head. “By the way, our kids are almost halfway to that age.”
Nate shuddered as he moved his foot to the gas pedal. “Please don’t ever say that again.”
“I’m just saying, you were still a child, Nate.” Olivia grimaced. “Neither of our kids is going to be allowed to date until they are at least 16.”
“Try 18,” Nate said. He didn’t disagree with Olivia. Though he’d thought he was more than ready at the time, 14 was too young to be having sex, even if his girlfriend had been a lot older. “Maybe we should homeschool them.”
“You planning on quitting your job to do that?” Olivia said.
They were back at the hotel and Nate turned into the parking garage. “If I did quit my job, we could finally move out of the city. The lake house would be a great place to raise the kids and Rosalie could finally get a dog.”
“Are you being serious right now?” Olivia asked. “You love your job, Nate.”
“Not as much as I used to,” Nate said honestly. He parked the car and killed the engine. “It’s starting to weigh on me, Liv. I can’t shut it out as well as I used to.”
Olivia studied him closer, putting her hand on his arm. “Nate, if you think you need to quit, I support you completely.”
“Thank you.” He forced a smile. “It’s not something I’m going to do tomorrow, but it’s good to know you’ll have my back if I need to make a move in the future.”
“Of course.” She grinned. “Selfishly, I’d love to have you home all day.”
“I’d have to get another job eventually, Liv. We aren’t the Rockefellers.” He didn’t add that his own sense of responsibility wouldn’t allow him to not provide for his family in some way.
Olivia hesitated before saying, “We don’t need your income, Nate. My book royalties would more than cover us.”
“I’m not going to be a deadbeat dad, Liv.” Nate didn’t mean to sound angry, but his pride was wounded.
“I’m not implying that you would be. I just think that you should consider a life where money isn’t your biggest concern. What if you started your own business?” Olivia was talking so quickly it was clear that she’d already given this some thought. “You could be an independent consultant for the FBI like me. Or you could start a private investigator company. You’d be able to pick the cases that you wanted to work on and you could make your own hours.” She gave Nate an embarrassed smile. “Just think about it, okay?”
Nate nodded, letting her words sink in. “Yeah, okay. I’ll think about it, Liv.”
“Just remember,” Olivia added as she opened the car door. “I will love you no matter what. I’ll always support you, Nathaniel Tucker. I’m your biggest fan.”
It had been a long, dark morning and Olivia seemed determined to bring Nate out of his funk. She didn’t even let Nate step into the hotel, instead grabbing his hand and pulling him into the nearest bar.
“I think we could both use a drink after the morning we had,” she said. “Grab a table and I’ll get the drinks.” Nate started to protest, but Olivia shoved him away. “Don’t fight me on this, Tucker.”
Olivia came back with what appeared to be an entire glass of whiskey for each of them. “Drink up, lover.” She winked at him as she took a big drink from her own glass. “Drunk Olivia is ready to party.”
“Really?” Nate smiled. “Party hard enough that I’m going to be holding her hair back while she pukes tonight?”
“I make no promises, Nater,” Olivia said. “Also, I texted Paul and Collin and told them to bring their wives to the bar. We can all get wasted before the wedding and make Russell regret that he invited us.”
Nate thought that Olivia was kidding, but she quickly made her way through three drinks. Their friends had arrived and were also enjoying a kid-free weekend. All of them were celebrating a little harder than they probably should be, but Nate was enjoying seeing Olivia let loose.
“Answer honestly,” Collin’s wife, Becca, said. “How many times per week do you two have sex?”
“You don’t want to know the answer to that,” Olivia said.
“We do,” Collin insisted. “Because after we had kids, our sex life never recovered. The two of you also have two kids now, so please tell me it’s not just us.”
Olivia frowned and stared at her drink. “I’m sure that’s normal.”
Paul laughed. “Wow, you are being super-evasive. That can only mean one thing. The two of you are still going at it like rabbits. Come on, Nate. Just answer the question.”
“It’s none of your business,” Nate said.
“Come on.” Paul rolled his eyes. “Rachel and I average twice per week. Sometimes three times if the kids have a sleepover at a friend’s house.”
Rachel laughed. “That almost never happens, Paul. Come on, Liv. Just tell us. We want to live vicariously through you.”
“Every night,” Olivia said quietly. “Or if Nate works too late, we’ll squeeze it in when we wake up.”
“Every night?” Collin gaped at her. “How is that possible?”
Olivia shrugged. “Have you seen Nate?”
They all turned to look at him and Nate shrugged. “Sometimes Liv travels for work, so technically it’s not every night.”
“That’s true.” Olivia smiled at him. “But we make up for it later.”
“Here’s a tip,” Paul said, glaring. “Next time someone asks you that question, lie.”
“She tried to warn you,” Nate said, not bothering to hide his smug smile.
The truth was that they had gone through a lull in their sex life when the kids were younger. They hadn’t truly recovered until after Nate returned from D.C. Now that things were right between them again, they craved each other like they had when they first started dating.
“Doesn’t your line of work make it hard to be in the mood all the time?” Rachel asked. “I don’t think I could see the things you see and then still want someone to touch me, let alone have sex with me.”
“You get used to it,” Nate lied.
Olivia was about to head to the bar for another drink when Nate grabbed her arm. “Come here instead,” he said, trying to sound playful.
“Okay.” She sank into his lap and put her arms around his neck. “I think I might be drunk, Nater.”
“Yeah, I think you are.” He laughed. “Maybe stick to water until we get through the wedding ceremony, okay?”
“We should go soon and change.” Olivia glanced at her outfit. “I’m planning to wear some very slutty lingerie under my dress tonight, loverboy.”
Nate ran his hand up her leg. “I look forward to taking it off you.”
“Get a room!” Becca yelled and the others booed.
Olivia giggled adorably and touched his cheek. “What do you say we give them a reason to really hate us?”
Nate grinned and then kissed her eagerly. The sound of groaning was quickly erased as Olivia returned his kiss. Whenever he was kissing Olivia, the rest of the world faded away.
When she pulled away a little to put her lips to his ear, she said, “Don’t ever stop kissing me like that, Nate.”
He smiled and reveled in the feeling of her lips brushing lightly over his ear. He’d waited twelve years to be able to kiss Olivia and he had no intention of ever stopping.
Olivia drank two full glasses of water before they left the bar. When they got back to the hotel, her buzz was mostly gone and she was regretting some of the things she had said over drinks.
“I’m sorry I told them how often we have sex,” Olivia told Nate as he was unlocking their door.
“That was pretty mild compared to what you told Tenlinson,” Nate said.
“Maybe, but it wasn’t any of their business.” Olivia was surprised when Nate smiled at her.
“Sometimes it’s fun being the smug couple at the table,” he admitted. “We’ve worked hard at our relationship, Liv, and it hasn’t always been easy, but I really like where we are now. I don’t mind if other people know that.”
Olivia returned his smile. “Me too, Nate.”
Nate held the door open for her and she walked straight to her luggage. They were running a little behind schedule so she needed to change right away. When she noticed that her bag was open, she froze.
“What’s wrong?” Nate asked.
“Someone has been in my bag,” she said. “You didn’t open it this morning, did you?”
Nate shook his head. “No, I didn’t.” He scanned the room and his eyes froze on the bed. “Liv.”
She turned and her heart dropped into her stomach. In the middle of her bed, someone had laid out her lingerie. “Nate, I didn’t do that.”
“I know.” He looked at her. “Don’t touch anything.” Olivia stood frozen, arms crossed over her chest. Nate walked closer to the bed and leaned down. “Son of a bitch.”
“What?” her voice trembled.
“There’s some kind of fluid on it.” He glanced at her. “This was brand new, wasn’t it?”
“Alright. We need to call the police.” Nate pulled his phone from his pocket.
“What’s on the lingerie, Nate?” she asked even though she suspected the answer.
“I can’t say for sure. We need to run some tests.” Nate was avoiding eye contact with her as he looked at his phone. “It looks like semen.”
Nate stepped into the hall to make the call to the police, leaving Olivia alone with the offending garment. She didn’t want to look it at, but she also could take her eyes away from it. When Nate returned, he took her by the arm and pulled her away from the bed.
“Let’s wait downstairs,” he said.
They went down to the lobby and Olivia glanced nervously over her shoulder every time someone came through the revolving door. Nate was being jumpier than usual, pacing in front of Olivia. “It’s going to be fine, Liv,” he said without looking at her.
“He said he could get to me anywhere, Nate.” Olivia shuddered.
Nate froze, taking in Olivia’s worried look. He came over and put his arms around her. “Nobody is getting to you, Liv. I would never let that happen.”
“He was in our room. He went through my things.” Olivia usually felt better once Nate’s arms were around her, but they weren’t as effective as usual. “You were right, Nate. Telling him all those things this morning was a bad idea.”
“Liv, we don’t know that what happened upstairs has anything to do with Tenlinson. It could just be some perverted hotel employee.” Nate didn’t sound like he believed that at all. “Look, the police are here. Let’s not go into panic mode until we know for sure what we’re dealing with.”
Olivia nodded, but she didn’t move away from Nate. He was content to keep his arms around her as he greeted the police. “Thanks for coming so quickly,” he said.
“We were in the neighborhood.” The voice was familiar. Nate had called Jake.
Olivia lifted her head. “Hey, Jake.”
“Hey, Liv.” He smiled sympathetically. “Try not to worry. I’ll take care of this.”
Nate pulled a keycard from his pocket. “Room 318. It’s right out in the open, you won’t be able to miss it.”
“We’ll work as fast as we can,” Jake said as he took the card. Two uniformed policemen followed Jake to the elevator.
“I don’t like the idea of Jake being the one to go through my things,” Olivia said.
“I don’t either, but I didn’t trust this with the local police. Some of them have probably never dealt with something like this.” Nate rubbed Olivia’s back in a slow circle. “Please don’t take this the wrong way because I’m more than happy to hold you as long as you want, but you aren’t usually this easily rattled, Liv. What’s going on?”
Olivia put her head on Nate’s chest and breathed deep. “I think I’m still drunk.”
“You are not.” Nate gave her a small shake. “Just tell me.”
“One of Tenlinson’s early victims filed a police report a week before he abducted her. She said that someone had been in her apartment and had displayed her underwear on her bed.” Olivia lifted her head and looked at Nate. “The weird thing is that Tenlinson never admitted to doing that. In fact, he outright denied it.”
“Do you think he was lying?” Nate said.
“No.” Olivia frowned. “I think someone else knew that Tenlinson had targeted that woman and wanted to make himself known to Tenlinson.”
Nate’s brow furrowed. “That could be our copycat.”
“Not just a copycat. A puppet.” Olivia fidgeted with one of the buttons on Nate’s shirt. “Tenlinson threatening me the same day that the copycat taunts me can’t be a coincidence.”
“It’s probably not,” Nate agreed. “Look, Liv. We can go back to Chicago first thing tomorrow.”
“He knows about the kids, Nate,” Olivia said, finally revealing why she was so upset.
Nate pulled her close again, wrapping his arms tighter around her. “No one will ever get close enough to hurt the kids. I promise.”
“We need to work this case.” Olivia kept her face buried in Nate’s chest. “We need to find this copycat and make sure he is locked up before we go home.”
“This isn’t my jurisdiction, Liv. I can’t just decide to work the case.” Nate ran his finger through her hair. “Jake is back.”
Olivia sighed and pulled away from Nate. His therapeutic touch had just begun to work and she wasn’t ready to give it up yet.
“We bagged it up and we’ll run tests. There was no point trying to take fingerprints in a hotel room or to test the bed for fluids.” Jake’s cheek twitched when he looked at Olivia.
“Thanks for coming,” Olivia said. “I’m sorry if we pulled you away from the copycat case.”
“Liv, I’m pretty sure this incident is very much related to the copycat case, especially given your conversation with Tenlinson this morning.” Jake turned to Nate. “You should keep an eye on her. Whoever did this is only just getting started.”
Olivia saw Nate’s shoulders tense. He wasn’t going to like what Olivia was about to say any more than what Jake had just said. “Jake, I’d like to help with the investigation. I have some theories based on my talk with Tenlinson and my extensive research into his previous attacks. Is there any chance we could meet up in the morning to run through things with you?”
“Of course. I’d love to hear your thoughts.” Jake glanced at the police officers. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do tonight. Give me a call in the morning.”
Olivia nodded and watched as Jake headed to the door. “We missed the wedding.”
“Yep.” Nate sighed. “We’ve still got time to make it to the reception. I’m going to see if they can give us a new room and then we can change.”
A few minutes later, he sent Olivia to their new room while he went to collect their things. Olivia had offered to go with him, but he had correctly guessed that she had no desire to go back to that room. It took about an hour for them to complete the room swap and change into their wedding clothes.
“Liv, we don’t have to do this if you aren’t feeling up for it,” Nate said when he caught Olivia staring blankly at her reflection in the mirror.
“I’m fine,” she said, giving her head a shake. She turned and took a good look at him. “You look so handsome, Nate. I’ve got to take you out and show you off.”
“It’s hard being a trophy husband,” Nate said with a smile. “I love you, Olivia.”
“I love you, Nate.” She blinked a few times to keep the tears from falling. Anytime she thought too closely about how lucky she was to have Nate, she became overwhelmed by emotion. “Let’s go. I have big plans to dance with my husband tonight.”
Nate and Olivia arrived just as the cocktail hour was beginning. Their friends had understandably been worried when they didn’t make it to the ac