Gut Instinct (The Campbells of Creek Bend)

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9780373698097: Gut Instinct (The Campbells of Creek Bend)
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Reunited...by a murderer 

FBI agent Luke Campbell has never been more determined to catch the serial killer who's eluded him for two years. Because this time the monster is after Julie, the ex he walked out on when he returned from Iraq, emotionally scarred and burdened by a secret. Now Luke will do anything—even risk his life—to protect Julie and regain her trust. 

But it's a tense race against time. Defying FBI rules, Luke keeps Julie by his side throughout a harrowing chase. Once they're finally at a safe house, it's clear to him that the passion they once shared hasn't cooled. Can Luke redeem himself and keep evil away from the woman he refuses to let go of again?

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About the Author:

USA TODAY Bestselling Author Barb Han lives in N. Texas with her husband, three beautiful children and a spunky Golden Retriever/Poodle mix. She loves romance novels, thriller movies, and cooking. Her favorite hobbies include hiking, swimming, and skiing.



 

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Luke Campbell bit back a groan. Why did Julie Campbell—correction, Julie Davis—have to interrupt a killer in the middle of one of his "projects"?

His ex-wife's landscaping business had brought her to the doorstep of one of the most devious serial murderers in Luke's career. A knot tightened in his gut as he pulled in front of her small redbrick town house in a North Dallas suburb, the one they'd shared, and parked his truck.

An emotion he refused to acknowledge kept him from opening the door and stepping into the frigid night. How many times had he wished he still lived in that house after he'd come home from active duty a wreck? How many times had he prayed he could go back and change the past since then? How many times had he missed the feel of her long silky legs wrapped around him, welcoming him home? Too many.

Hell, he wasn't there for a reunion. She was in jeopardy, and his job was to protect society from national-security threats and major criminals. Keeping her safe was the least he could do after the way he'd hurt her.

He stepped into the crisp evening air.

A young detective with a thick build and sun-worn face approached. "Evening, Special Agent Campbell. Not sure if you remember me, but I worked the Martin crime scene earlier."

"Detective Wells. Thank you. I appreciate the call." Luke shook the outstretched hand in front of him.

"I wouldn't normally bother you with something like this. My boss thought you'd be interested."

The young guy reported to Detective Garcia. Garcia's judgment was dead-on. "What do you have?"

He waved another detective over. "This is Detective Reyes."

Luke shook hands with the detective.

"Show him what was taped to Ms. Davis's window earlier," Detective Wells said.

The officer used tongs to hold out a standard-size piece of white paper. The words I hope you enjoy your dance with the Devil. Be in touch soon, Rob were handwritten.

"Whoever wrote this has good penmanship." Luke noticed. He took note of the capitalization of the word Devil. The tension between his shoulder blades balled and tightened as he reread the name. His killer, Ravishing Rob, never left a clue as to whom he would target next. If this was him, why would he change his M.O.?

One reason came to mind. Anger. Rob was meticulous. Julie had interrupted his ritual killing, which he'd described as more of a turn-on than sex. That might be enough to trigger a variation.

Luke couldn't ignore another possibility. This could be a copycat. Julie's picture had been splashed all over the news and internet.

Then again, Julie had black hair just like all Rob's targets.

He examined the neat print. Cursive would give more clues to Rob's personality. With his high IQ he was smart enough to know that, too, which made the capitalization of Devil even more poignant. "Whoever wrote this took his time."

Luke pulled an evidence bag from his glove box and pointed at the note. "I'll send this up for analysis." The detectives nodded.

"Can you spare one of your uniformed men for the night? I'd like someone to keep watch on the alley behind her house."

"Sure thing," Detective Wells said. "I made some notes after interviewing Ms. Davis. Do you want to take a look?"

"Absolutely." Luke studied the page. He focused on the word boyfriend. The knot tightened in his gut. The thought of another man's arms wrapped around Julie ignited his possessive instincts. He still wanted her, needed her. Those selfish emotions had caused him to stay at the town house to be near her when he'd returned from Iraq a broken man. The front-row seat he'd had to her pain—the hell he'd caused—when he pushed her away day after day had forced him to man up and leave before he permanently damaged her. Intelligent and beautiful, she deserved so much more than him. He glanced up at the detectives who were waiting for his response to the report. Not wanting to give away his bone-deep reaction to her, he skimmed the rest and handed it back. "Good information. Send my office a copy of the report when it's filed."

Detective Wells gave a satisfied smile. "I'll keep a man outside tonight. Let me know if you need anything else."

"Will do." Luke turned and walked toward the house. A thought stopped him at the base of the stairs. What if she wasn't alone?

The detective's notes said she'd been dating a dentist on and off. Was he here?

Davis had been her maiden name, which meant she was still single. Even so, she might be on with the dentist again. After the day she'd had, he might be there with her in Luke's house. Old house, he corrected, ignoring the all-too-real tug of emotion at seeing the place again.

Taking the couple of steps to her porch in quick strides, he clenched his fists.

The thought of Ravishing Rob targeting Julie didn't do good things to Luke's head. He knocked on the door and his chest squeezed as he thought about seeing her again.

The solid hunk of wood swung open, and suddenly, there she was, his ideal combination of beauty and grace, staring at him with a shocked look on her face. He could see those long legs where her bathrobe split, her taut hips where the robe cinched. A hunger roared from deep within him. The reality of why he was there chased it away.

Her amber eyes stood out against pale skin. Even red-rimmed and puffy, their russet-coppery tint was every bit as beautiful as it had been the last time he'd seen her. Her shoulder-length hair was still inky black. His fingers itched to get lost in that curly abyss again. Muscle memory, he decided. Besides, the frown on her face and stress in her eyes said he was the last person she wanted to see.

Under the circumstances, he was her best bet.

She opened her mouth to speak, but her ringtone sounded. "Dammit. Hang on."

Bad sign. She only cursed when she was hanging on by a thread.

"May I?" He motioned for permission to enter.

Her gaze narrowed, but then she nodded and turned her back to him. She spoke directly into the phone. "I'm okay. No. I promise. You don't need to come over right now. I'll see you when you get off work."

Was she talking to her boyfriend? The last word stuck. Tasted bitter as hell, too.

One step inside and he almost lost his footing. A wave of nostalgia slammed into him. The furniture was in exactly the same spot as when he'd left. The coffee-colored leather sofa against the wall to his right. The flat-screen directly across from it mounted on the wall to his left. He could see all the way to the back door from where he stood. Same black pedestal dining table with avocado-green chairs tucked around it. The place looked completely untouched, except all the pictures of the two of them had been removed. She'd probably enjoyed stomping on the frames.

The town house might've looked the same, but it had a different air. Funny how out of place he felt in what used to be his own home.

He folded his arms, parted his feet in an athletic stance and stood next to the door. He wasn't there for a reunion. This was business. And no matter how much Julie looked as if she'd rather crawl out of her skin than be in the same room with him, he had a job to do.

She closed the call and whirled around on him, still wearing her angry expression. There was something else in her eyes there, too. Hurt? "Why did they send you?"

"I've been tracking this guy for the past two years. He's my case." He intentionally withheld the part about Ravishing Rob being the most ruthless killer Luke had come across so far in his FBI career.

Her eyes narrowed to such slits he couldn't figure out if she could see him anymore. Then again, she probably wanted to block him out altogether, and he couldn't blame her. She'd pleaded with him to stay, but he couldn't stand watching her pain when he had no way to heal either one of them.

With all the daggers shooting from her eyes, he couldn't tell if she was using anger to mask other emotions. Hurt? Fear? Regret?

"There's no one else they could've sent?" The hollow sound in her voice practically echoed.

"I'm afraid not."

"So the note's from him? You're sure?"

"I need to get a little more information from you to help me decide." Even though she'd already given her account to police and he'd read the jacket, he needed to hear her words. He needed to know what she thought she saw. Maybe she'd remember something that could help put this monster away or help Luke figure out if it was a copycat. "Tell me what happened when you arrived at the scene of the murder this morning."

She shivered, looked lost and alone. "My client Annie Martin wanted to meet with me to discuss landscaping after her new pool was installed. I brought a rendering with me and planned to give my presentation. It was a big project that would start in the spring, so I broke all the planting down into zones." She glanced up at him curiously as if she realized he didn't know the first thing about plants or landscaping, or care. "Sorry, I'm babbling. I'm sure you didn't come here to talk about the details of my business."

"I did," he said quickly. He covered a crime scene the same way, broke it down on a grid. "I want to hear everything even if you don't think it's important. You never know what might spark a memory. Something you didn't think of before when you talked to the police." His hopes she'd be more comfortable talking to him had diminished the second he saw her. He wanted to ask her how she was doing, but decided not to, even though he found he still really wanted to know, needed to know. He'd left things broken between them, and thoughts of the sadness in her eyes every time she'd looked at him still haunted him. Outside of this case, he had no right to know anything about her. Why was he already reminding himself of the fact?

"As soon as I pulled up to her house, I heard a noise. Like a muffled cry or something. I couldn't make it out for sure. She'd asked me to come around back in case she was with contractors for the pool, so I ran to make sure she was okay. I thought maybe she tripped or was hurt. But there was no one out there. She screamed again and I ran to the front door. Someone bolted from around the side of the house about the same time. He killed her, didn't he?"

He locked gazes with her and wished like anything he could protect her from the truth. He felt pained that she'd had to witness this and his heart went out to her. "Yes. You get a good look at him?"

"No." She hugged her arms to her body. "I didn't see anything. By then I heard an awful sound coming from inside. Sounded like an animal dying." She shivered.

He pulled out a pad and scribbled notes. Not that he needed a piece of paper to remember the details of their conversation. His memory was sharper than a switchblade. He needed something to look at besides her fearful eyes. Old instinct kicked in and he wanted to maim the person who'd made her feel that way, offer comfort she would certainly reject. "What happened next?"

"You want to sit down?" She moved to the couch and sat on the edge. She clasped her hands together and rocked back and forth. "It was bad, Luke."

The sound of his name rolling off her tongue was a bitter reminder of the comfort and connection he hadn't felt in a long time. He took a seat next to her but not too close.

Tears spilled down her cheeks. "I don't want to think about it again, let alone say the words out loud."

"I know how hard this is." Every muscle in his body tightened from wanting to reach out and comfort her. He didn't want to press further, but the information he gained could mean saving her life. "It's important you tell me everything. Do you want a cup of tea or something?" He made a move to stand.

"No. I'm fine." The uncertainty in her words made him freeze.

"Anything else you can give me might save another woman from going through this."

"We both know he's going to come after me next." Her voice shook with terror.

"I'm not certain it's him yet. Besides, I'll catch him first."

The suggestion of depending on him for anything after the way he'd hurt her set her eyes to infernos. "I didn't ask you to come."

"This is my territory. My guy. I know him better than anyone else."

"I didn't even know you were FBI." The exasperation in her voice made him clench his fists involuntarily.

"I didn't think it was appropriate to send you Christmas cards after your lawyer sent me papers." It was a low blow and he regretted saying the words as soon as they passed his lips. After all, he'd been the one to leave and force the divorce issue.

She looked straight through him. "I lost track of you after..."

This wasn't the time to talk about their past. It complicated the situation. He was professional enough to look beyond shared history and concentrate on doing his job. He focused his gaze on the opened laptop on the coffee table. There was a picture of Julie at the crime scene beneath the banner Breaking News. Damn. Another reminder that she'd been placed right there for the killer or any other lunatic to see.

The last time the local newspaper printed a story with the headline The Metroplex Murderer Strikes Again, Rob went off. He'd left a message on Luke's cell complaining about how common that made him seem. Luke still hadn't figured out how the man got his number. The man calling himself Ravishing Rob—someone who captivated and then decapitated—had done his research. Efforts to trace the call were futile. He'd used a burn phone. Rob was thorough. He also knew how to play the media.

Reporters had their uses. In this case, they might've issued Julie a death warrant. "You said earlier you didn't get a good look at him. Any idea as to general information like height? Build? Race?"

She shook her head. "I was so horrified. The whole thing shocked me. One minute I was planning to meet a client, like usual, and then I thought the worst-case scenario was that I'd walked into a robbery in progress. The next thing I know, I'm staring at a person whose throat had been slit. I'll never forget her eyes, pleading." She shivered again and tears streamed down her cheeks.

Luke had to grip the pencil tighter to stop himself from wiping them away. He didn't like seeing her cry. He'd seen those tears enough for a lifetime. If it didn't mean saving her life, he'd stop questioning. "When did you find the note?"

"This evening. I'd just gotten home from spending the day at the police station answering questions."

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