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Bucking Bronc Lodge 04

By:Rita Herron

Prologue
The verdict was in.

Perspiration beaded on Detective Miles McGregor’s neck. He hoped to hell it was guilty. Robert Dugan deserved to die.

He had killed four women so far, brutal stabbings that had left his victims raw and exposed to the elements, suffering as they bled out, alone and frightened.

The coldhearted bastard.

Marie’s face flashed in his mind, a reminder that his son’s mother could have been a victim just like these other women.

Remorse hit him for the way their relationship had soured over time. They’d had a brief affair when he was in between cases a few years ago, and she’d gotten pregnant. He’d offered to marry her, but she hadn’t wanted it. She said he was married to the job.

That was true. But during this case he’d worried about her. Not because he was in love with her, but he did care, dammit. And his son needed them to be on the same page. To get along.

He’d make it up to her for not being around the past few months. He’d be the man she wanted. The one she deserved.

The father his little boy, Timmy, needed.

He took a deep breath, splashed cold water on his face, then grabbed a paper towel and dried his beard-stubbled face. One look into the mirror and he cursed.

Damn, he looked like hell.

He hadn’t slept since this case had started, since he’d seen that first victim’s body. He’d thought catching the maniac would help him rest, but still the images haunted him.

Only seeing Dugan rot in jail would ease the pain.

He tossed the paper towel into the trash, strode from the men’s room toward the courtroom, then slipped inside and took a seat on the bench behind the prosecutor. He’d testified, and now he wanted to watch the look on Dugan’s face when he was convicted and sentenced to death row.

At least he hoped to hell he was convicted. DNA evidence had been iffy, and Dugan had managed to make sure he’d left no witnesses behind, so circumstantial evidence, a partial fingerprint, the profile from the Behavioral Crime Unit and Miles’s testimony had made the case.

He wiped his sweaty hands on his pants. It might not be enough.

A low murmur of voices rippled through the courtroom as the door opened, and the jurors filed in, heads bowed, faces pinched and drawn. Twelve people who held the future of one man in their hands.

A future that, if he was released, would cost more women their lives.

Miles had no doubt in his mind about that.

The bailiff cleared his throat. “All rise for the Honorable Judge Fenton.”

Everyone stood while the judge entered, then Dugan strode in, his slender face etched with worry in spite of the cool facade he tried to paint as he took his seat.

The judge pounded the gavel, then asked for the verdict, and the jury foreman stood and handed the bailiff the envelope. The man who’d led the jury was a hard-assed construction worker who Miles had liked on sight because he could tell the man had been raised right, to respect women and see through the fake charms of men like Dugan.

A real polished smooth talker who had undoubtedly seduced his way into close proximity to his victims and made them feel safe—until he’d slit their throats.

The soft rustle of clothing and shaky breaths reverberated through the room as the judge opened the envelope and perused its contents. Without batting an eye, he handed the envelope back to the bailiff, who passed it to the foreman.

“Mr. Dugan, please stand for the reading of the verdict,” Judge Fenton said.

Miles studied Dugan as he buttoned his suit jacket, then Dugan shot him a smug smile and squared his shoulders.

Judge Fenton gestured toward the foreman and he nodded.

“On the first count of murder, we find Robert Dugan guilty.”

Collective sighs of relief filled the room, then heads nodded as the same verdict was handed down for the other three murder charges.

Miles’s heart pounded as they polled the jury and a unanimous count was confirmed.

Dugan’s breathing faltered slightly, the only sign he was affected by the verdict, then the judge announced that the sentencing would be delivered in three days. Dugan’s lawyer, a female who looked as if she too had fallen for Dugan’s fake charms, patted his shoulder, mumbling, no doubt, about filing an appeal.

Then the police stepped forward to escort Dugan back to his cell. The crowd dispersed, hushed voices murmuring about whether or not they agreed with the trial’s outcome, and Miles shook the prosecutor’s hand then stepped into the hallway.

Cameras flashed, reporters swarmed. Dugan’s attorney tried to shield him, but her client seemed to like the attention.

In fact, he looked over at Miles and a slow sadistic smile creased his face. Then he mouthed the words You’ll pay.

Miles’s heart pounded, even as he knew that he was safe for now.

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