She handed him a filled glass and they began eating their meals while still going over the files.

Puller took a bite of steak and said, “The locals didn’t do a great job of processing the crime scene, and it doesn’t seem that the

FBI raised the bar much when they came on board.”

Knox swirled the wine in her glass before taking a sip. “Well, we know the high standards you have, Chief Puller.”

“This isn’t a joke, Knox,” he retorted.

She glanced up at him. “I never said it was. And unless you’ve forgotten, I’ve seen you process a crime scene, so it was actually a compliment. And just for the record, I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t bite my head off over everything I say.”

Puller looked down. “I’m sorry. This case…”

“Is like no other, I get that, Puller. So let’s keep digging and see what we find.”

“Okay,” Knox said a few minutes later. “The best I can make out, all the women murdered were single, professional types in their late twenties.”

“Which is very unusual for a serial murderer,” noted Puller. “The populations they often go after are prostitutes, runaways, people with little family support, risky occupations.”

“And no one to care when they go missing,” added Knox. “But your mother fits none of those categories. And she also doesn’t fit the young professional type.”

“It could be a one-off,” suggested Puller. “Or a wrong place, wrong time. If he saw my mother walking alone in her Sunday best? And while she was older than the murdered women, my mom looked a lot younger than her age.”

“She was a beautiful woman, Puller.”

He looked up to find Knox staring at him from the bed.

“You’ve seen a picture of her?”

“Like I said, I did my homework before I came here.” She paused. “And I’m seeing her right now.”

“What do you mean?”

“You have your dad’s height but your mother’s eyes, nose, and cheekbones.”

Puller glanced down at the file he was holding, evidently uncomfortable with her observation. “I guess I never really thought much about that.”

“Because it reminded you of your loss?” said Knox.

Puller didn’t answer her.

She said, “It is a weird coincidence that a serial killer was operating barely thirty minutes away killing young women and it doesn’t seem like the police here even made inquiries into whether your mother’s case was connected or not. At the very least they should have done a little digging, particularly since they really had no other leads.”

“It’s more than weird. It’s inexcusable.”

He reached over and snagged another file he’d brought into her room.

“What’s that?” she asked, finishing her wine and pouring herself another glass.

“CID file from my mom’s case. If the special agent on the case is still alive maybe we should talk to him.”

“You think he’ll remember anything pertinent?”

“It’s why we ask the questions.”

They finished going over the files and then Puller made some calls and located retired CID agent Vincent DiRenzo. He left a message for DiRenzo, rose, and stretched out his tall frame.

“I think that’s all we can do tonight, Knox.”

Knox had taken off the pullover, revealing a tight white tank top underneath. She laid aside a file, sat up, freed her hair from the knot, tousled it, and looked at him.

“It’s not that late,” she said. “And we haven’t finished our wine.”

“It’s after midnight,” he pointed out. “We both need to get to bed.”

“Okay.”

He stared down at her and she back up at him.

“What?”

“You know what, Puller.”

“Where exactly is this coming from?” he asked quietly.

“It’s coming from a missed opportunity back in Kansas.”

“So you’re saying you made a mistake?”

“Yes.”

He nodded, considering this.

She moved over to the edge of the bed and touched his arm with her hand. Knox’s large eyes locked on his as she rubbed his arm. Puller felt a jolt of something go right through him.

“I want this, John,” she said. “Right here, right now. I just want to be with you.”

He said, “And you’ve thought this all the way through?”

“I don’t want to think anything through. I’m leading with my heart, not my head.”

He thought about this for a moment as she continued to stroke his arm. “We’re working a case, Knox. So I have to lead with my head. Good night.”

He walked out the door.

Knox sat there looking devastated.

She let out a long groan and slumped back on the bed.

Chapter

25

I’M SORRY ABOUT last night.”

A pale Knox glanced over at Puller, who was driving due west across Virginia. They were on their way to see retired CID special agent Vincent DiRenzo. He lived on Smith Mountain Lake near Roanoke.

Puller kept his eyes on the road. “I don’t like getting played, Knox. I don’t deserve that, not from you.”

She tapped her toe against the floorboard. “Meaning what?”

“Meaning I would like to know why you really showed up on my doorstep.”

“I already explained that.”

“No, you already told me a bullshit story. I’d like the truth now.”

She folded her arms over her chest and looked crossly out the window. “So I guess because of what I do for a living you always think I have a hidden agenda? That I’m never telling you the complete truth?”

“Couldn’t have summed it up better myself.”

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