I’m on a roll with the character interviews this week! And I have something a little different for you today, Dear Reader. I’m chatting with FBI profiler Jeff Crandall from Mia Kay’s HARD SILENCE who I happened to visit in the Sawtooth Mountains (talk about getting your isolation on!). Read on to check out what happened. 😉
Standing on the porch of a hilltop farm house, the field slopes down to a river and the tree-cluttered valley, and a neighboring small ranch is visible. The Sawtooth Mountains loom in the distance. I ring the bell.
The man who opens it has glasses perched on his nose, and his bright green eyes stare over the rims. His dark, shoulder-length hair is shaggy and graying at the temples. His beard matches in color, but it’s well-trimmed.
This interview could be fun. Dr. Crandall? I’m Linda.
He blinks at me, clearly confused.
Your SAC in Chicago called you, right?
“Shit. Sorry. Yes. Bob called a few days back.” He yanks his glasses from his nose. “I’m just trying to get a few things done before I have to pick Evan up at school. Come in, and please call me Jeff.”
I walk into a dark, cool hallway, and immediately turn right into what appears to be an office. The first thing that catches my attention is a lovely photograph–a landscape of a lone tree, its leaves silver-green in the fog.
His broad smile, slashing through the dark beard, is almost as distracting as his thick eyelashes. This is definitely going to be a fun afternoon.
“Abby took it. It’s one of my favorites.”
When I turn to survey the room, the pictures on the opposite wall are startling. Crime scene photos are taped everywhere. Skeletons and excavation sites mark them as old burials.
“We can talk in the living room if you’d prefer.”
I walk along the wall, staring at the photos. “No, this is why I’m here after all. So Agent Myers–Bob–says you think all these cases are related.”
“You’re going to sit on the interview until we’re sure we’ve caught the killer, right?” When I nod, he relaxes. “Then yes, they’re related. I think a mother/daughter team was involved in the first three. After 1997, I believe the deaths were committed by the younger member of the team.”
Footsteps in the hall catch his attention, and he turns just as a young woman pokes her head in the door.
“I’m leaving for town, do you need–oh, hello. Sorry to interrupt.”
“Nope, but thanks for checking, Cassie. I’ll be at Abby’s tonight for dinner. Evan and I are going there after baseball practice.”
“I won’t wait up,” Cassie says, winking. She’s gone before I can say anything.
Given her resemblance to Jeff, I hazard a guess. Daughter?
He shakes his head. “Youngest sister. She came out for a visit and I can’t get her to leave.”
She must be a big help with your son. When I reach the end of the wall, I turn to see the rest of his notes.
“Son? Oh, Evan. He’s not…not really. He lives in the valley with Abby.” The alarm on his phone interrupts him, and he fumbles with the buttons, cursing until it quiets. “Sorry. I will never get the hang of that damn thing. Abby is Evan’s foster mother. We’ve sort of agreed to co-parent while I’m here. It’s a long story.”
Abby. Her name is on the makeshift workspace on the opposite wall. Below it are scribbled notes that I recognize as behavior patterns, phobias, and symptoms. You profiled your neighbor?
He runs his hand back through his hair, staring past me at the notes. “Um, yeah. She doesn’t like to talk about herself, so this was easiest.”
So baseball practice, dinner, sister, neighbor, little boy…when do you have time to catch a killer?
He snorts a laugh. “That’s a good question.” He checks his watch again. “I’m sorry to cut this short, but I really do need to get Evan. He shouldn’t stand on the sidewalk alone.”
Would you like me to visit again when you get back to Chicago? Maybe in your lab?
“That would probably be best,” he says as he grabs his jacket.
When will that be, Jeff?
“I’m due to be back in September.” He takes a deep breath as we walk to the cars. “Honestly, Linda, I have no idea when I’ll be back. Don’t tell Bob yet, okay?”
Your secret’s safe with me.
FBI profiler Jeff Crandall returned to Fiddler, Idaho, to work on new Bureau protocols in peace…and because he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about Abby Quinn. Kind, beautiful and quietly sexy, the petite rancher next door is loved by the entire town but keeps fiercely to herself. She’s a mystery that doesn’t want to be solved, though he’s desperate to try.
Whether that interest is professional or personal is a question he’ll sort out later.
Abby knows sharing her secrets would bring death and destruction to Fiddler. She survived her childhood, barely, but a long list of stepfathers weren’t nearly so lucky: their bodies are buried across the country, waiting to be discovered. The best protection is silence, anonymity and isolation, though the handsome agent next door seems hell-bent on destroying all three.
And he just keeps kissing her…
When Jeff is called in to investigate an interstate serial killer case spanning two decades, Abby knows it’s only a matter of time before he connects the dots, sees her for who she really is and walks away. But it’s when he’s standing in the crosshairs of Abby’s past that Jeff faces his biggest challenge yet: how to give the woman he loves the life she doesn’t believe she deserves.
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She lay down on the blanket and stared up at the stars winking down at her. There. The one that looked pink was Connie. Pink had been her favorite color. And that one was Beau, and that one was Ron, and that one was John. The one there, all alone, was Walt. That fuzzy one there was the Toby Wallis had killed. The twinkly one nearest the horizon was Buck. And the brightest one, in the middle, was Papa.
Raising her camera, she focused on that one and adjusted the lens. She could see the wispy clouds in front of it and the drifts of stars behind it. Then she couldn’t see anything. Putting her feet flat, she pushed her back against the ground and prepared to fight. The auto-focus adjusted, revealing—not a monster—but gray hair gleaming in the moonlight.
Moving the camera, she blinked up at the obstruction. “You’re in my shot.”
“Sorry,” Jeff muttered.
He wasn’t sorry enough to move. Instead of taking the picture, she sat up, put her camera on the blanket and grabbed her ale. The sour apple flavor reminded her of Jolly Ranchers. She blinked up at him, waiting on his anger.
“Look, I don’t mean to ruin your evening or push you. Just tell me what I did to piss you off so badly you’d refuse an apology.”
Her skin heated. Shit. See? This is what happens when you try to be normal. People find out you’re weirder than they thought. “Why would you. Apologize. To me?” she asked, cursing that he’d approach her tonight when so many memories clanged against her tongue, begging to be told. “I’m the one. Who ruined. Everything.”
Without waiting on an invitation, Jeff sat next to her on the blanket. “Are you? I—” he ticked the items on his fingers “—didn’t let you cancel, didn’t make reservations, forgot our date, took you to the hospital for an emergency, and then asked you to talk about something very painful.” He looked at the bottle in her hand. “I thought you didn’t drink.”
“Only on special occasions.” She smothered her belch and put the empty in the six-pack.
“It looks like a very special occasion.”
She stared at the Jack Daniel’s bottle in his hand. Buck had loved Jack Daniel’s. “You seem to be having one of your own.”
She wove her fingers through the yarn fringe on the blanket. She’d attached it after the satin border had given way during the first year she’d been here alone. “Anniversary.”
“My best friend.” Abby preempted the question she knew he’d ask. “She was murdered.” The last word tightened her lungs.
“How old were you?”
You can do this. One word. Just this one. “Eight.”
“Did they catch him?”
It wasn’t a him, it was a her. And no, they didn’t. She got away, and she’s out there, and I can’t tell anyone. Every nerve in her body begged her to tell him. He’d find her monster. Just like he’d found Maggie’s monster last year.
But Wallis would escape. She always did. And then Maggie would have a new monster to fear. So would Faye, and Evan, and even Jeff. He’d pay for his good deed. So Abby glued her lips together and shook her head.
“Do you know how frustrating that is?” Jeff asked. “To be talking to you and have you just stop?”
“Then why spend time with me?” she countered. “Go home.” Though she used her best glare, he stayed put. “You can’t help me,” she persisted. “I’m not a. Victim. You can save.” It’s too late for me.
He took a sip of whiskey. “Can’t I just like spending time with you?”
No he couldn’t. He should go away. “Jeff—”
“I need someone to talk to, Abby. If I was back in Chicago I’d be out with friends, where I wouldn’t be stuck in my own head.” He looked across at her.
“What about Cassidy?”
“She’s out with Carter.” His smile widened. “She’s my sister. Didn’t she tell you?”
Not his girlfriend. She stared back, her skin heating even as her heart thudded. She ought to stick to her resolution. One last rebuff, after he’d confided in her, would permanently exile her. Taking a deep breath, she rehearsed the damning lines. I don’t care. Go away and leave me alone.
“Is this the date your father died?” she asked.
“Twenty-three years ago today,” he said. “It’s weird. I’ve not had him longer than I actually did have him, but it never gets easier. I was still looking for him in the crowd when I finished my PhD. Hell, I even dreamed Mom had him stuffed and put him on the sofa like a pillow. He’s missed all the experiences that made me who I am, but he’s colored all my decisions.” He sighed. “I feel like he’s looking over my shoulder, and I don’t want to disappoint him. And I have. One of his murderers was just granted parole, and I wasn’t there to fight it.”
She nodded. She felt a similar weight every day that Wallis walked free.
“Maybe it was meant for us to hang out together,” he murmured, nudging her. “My dad, your friend, same day. That’s a big coincidence.”
If this was Fate in action, she had a sick sense of humor. Still, it was comforting to share this loss with him, knowing he’d experienced something similar. Even if she couldn’t talk about it.
“What was her name?” he asked.
“Connie.” That was safe enough. No last name, no location. Just a little girl who’d died.
“Did you grow up with her?”
Abby shook her head. “I met her my first day of third grade. The desk in front of her was empty, so I sat there. We were wearing the same shoes.”
“So you became instant friends?”
She nodded. “We used to stay on the playground until she had to go home, swinging so high the chains buckled and we’d drop like we were on a roller coaster. Her braids would bounce against her back, and she’d whoop and laugh and start again.”
“I always liked the seesaw,” Jeff whispered. His breath brushed her ear. When she turned her head, they were almost nose to nose, and his arm was warm against her back. This close, his smile was blinding. “You looked cold,” he explained as if reading her mind. “My younger sisters were Brownies. Were you and Connie?”
“No. But she’d found an old handbook at the library, so we were working through it. One night we camped in her backyard and her dad showed us the stars while we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows.”
He shook out her extra blanket and covered their legs. The flannel trapped his body heat against her skin and concentrated his scent.
“What constellations did you learn?” he asked.
She pointed at the sky. “Big Dipper. Little Dipper. Perseus—”
Jeff pointed to her left, and drew a design. “There’s Cassiopeia.” Then another. “Andromeda.” Then he pointed to her right. “And there’s Hercules.” His fingers tightened on her hip. “You know, that thing you’re doing with your hand is driving me crazy.”
His words made her focus on the hand resting on his thigh. His well-worn jeans were silky soft, and she was rubbing the inside seam between her fingers. He shivered as her nails scratched the fabric. She yanked her hand away.
He pulled her back to him and placed his hand atop hers. Underneath were large solid muscles and bone, above were long, gentle fingers. Everything about him was comforting and not at the same time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mia Kay spent years writing legal documents and keeping people out of trouble. Now she spends her days looking for ways to get her characters into trouble. She lives in Arkansas with her husband, who doesn’t mind discussing (and sometimes causing) mayhem over breakfast.
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