“First of all, this is the last place a lion would bring a kill. Signs of humans are everywhere. Lions have an excellent sense of smell, and avoid fire.”

He nodded. “What else?”

“Lions attack by stealth or ambush. If he followed her here, or was lying in wait-where’s the blood?”

He didn’t have to look to know there was no pool beneath the body. “Maybe he drank it.”

“Sure, but some spilled onto her clothes. Why not on the ground as well?” Following that train of thought, she continued, “Even if he attacked her somewhere else, and dragged her from there, he would have chosen a more secluded place. That grass is high enough.” She lifted her chin toward the adjacent hills. “It would provide better cover.”

“So you’re saying it’s possible that he dragged her here, just not typical lion behavior.”


He played devil’s advocate. “Attacking humans isn’t typical, either.”

“Yes, but there’s another problem with your scenario.”

“What’s that?”

“No drag marks.”

Looking out at the horizon, he swore softly. “Do you know who she is? The man who reported the body gave a name, but I’d like a confirmation.”

“Didn’t Garrett tell you?”


She sighed, wondering if the deputy was too lily-livered to take a good look, didn’t want to admit his connection to the victim, or was just refusing to be helpful on principle. Garrett wasn’t qualified to run for sheriff, so maybe he resented Luke Meza. “It’s Yesenia Montes.”

“Garrett knows her?”

“Every man in town knows her. Except you, I guess.”

“She gets around?”

“And then some.”

His dark gaze narrowed on Garrett for a moment, then came back to her. “Have you seen her with anyone in particular lately?”

She felt the color drain from her face. “You don’t think-”

“The body was moved somehow,” he interrupted, “and I don’t suppose a lion floated her over here on a cloud. There’s a term we use for circumstances like these.”

“What’s that?”

“Foul play.”

Feeling weak-kneed, she lowered herself to sit on a nearby rock. Her stomach churned with renewed nausea. “I saw her at the bar last night,” she whispered.

“With who?”

“Jesse Ryan,” she said, putting her head in her hands.

Shay spent another hour searching for lion signs, scouring every inch of terrain. During that task, which required both patience and concentration, she couldn’t find a single track, nor could she come up with a plausible explanation for the discrepancy.

The county coroner took the body to the morgue for an autopsy, and until he made a ruling concerning the cause of death, Luke said he had to consider it a homicide. Accordingly, he spent a lot of time taking pictures with a digital camera, recording everything from the position of the body to shoe prints and tire markings.

Then he started collecting evidence.

As a deputy, a crime scene investigator, and a man, Garrett Snell was pretty much worthless, so Shay asked Luke if she could help. He countered by suggesting she let Garrett drive her home. Both offers were politely refused.

With nothing left to do until she heard from her supervisor at the Department of Fish and Game, Shay curled up on the passenger seat of Luke’s government-issue pickup and fell asleep. She dozed on and off, plagued by strange dreams. An indeterminable time later, Luke laid a warm hand on her bare shoulder, startling her awake.

She jumped at his touch, instantly alert. Her hands were curled up beneath her head, buried in the sweatshirt she’d been using as a pillow. As she straightened she cataloged her condition. Her headache had faded. She felt better.

“Mike Shepherd wants you to call him back.”

Groaning, she massaged her eyes. They refocused on Luke, who was standing at the driver’s side door, extending his cell phone toward her. Not ready to talk to her boss, she merely took the phone from him and rested it in her lap.

His gaze followed her hand. It lingered there for a moment then wandered up to the shoulder he’d just touched.

Shay felt her bra strap slip down her bare arm. Damned ill-fitting thing.

Across the cab, their eyes met. Her heartbeat kicked up, throbbing hard and heavy against her ribs. Her fingers tightened around his cell phone.

“Just let me know when you’re done,” he muttered, pushing away from the door.

After his back was turned, she let out a deep breath, resisting the urge to fan herself. Had it gotten hot in the cab of the truck, or was it just him? While she’d slept, the morning sun had come out in full force, blazing through the front windshield. Her can of Coke was sitting in the cup holder where she’d left it, getting warm.

No longer nauseous, she drank every drop.

Luke wasn’t an easy man to read, but the look on his face just now had been clear enough. It was the same expression she wore when she saw leftover chocolate cake in the refrigerator.

Disgusted with herself for wanting it.

She didn’t know whether to feel flattered or insulted. Confused by his reaction, she stared at the phone in her lap. It looked harmless enough now. A moment ago its placement had seemed disturbingly erotic, an object he’d held to his mouth resting between her thighs. Was she just imagining that he’d thought so, too?

Trying to dismiss the exchange as post-hangover hormones, she flipped open his cell phone and scrolled down to recent calls. Mike’s number was at the top of the list. Hoping Luke hadn’t said anything to her boss about her “illness,” she pushed Send.

“Mike Shepherd,” he answered.

“It’s Shay.”

“Tell me what you’ve got.”

Feeling way out of her league, she told him what little she knew, assuming he would think she was either blind or inept.

“Meza said he didn’t see any sign either,” was his only remark.

“Are you coming out?”

“I can’t. Teri’s in Sacramento, and I have the girls.”

“What about Jeff?”

“I haven’t been able to reach him.”

Shay experienced a twinge of panic. She knew as well as anyone else in the field what procedure to follow when a wild animal threatened or attacked humans. The Department of Fish and Game’s response to this kind of situation was to shoot on sight. She just hadn’t expected to be the one to pull the trigger.

“I checked the GPS,” he continued. “Sign or no sign, one of our collared lions was in the area at approximately 2:00 A.M. I triangulated his position to the exact coordinates of the attack. Now he’s holed up at Queen’s Den.”

Her grip on the phone tightened. “Who?”


“Oh, no,” she whispered, squeezing her eyes shut.

“Shay, I know he’s special to you,” Mike said, his voice pained. “I was there when we found him. It kills me to ask you to do this.”

“Then don’t.”

He was silent for a moment. “The sheriff says his deputy has some experience with long-distance

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