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The Sweetest Obsession: Chapter 1


Well, damn.

That’s definitely a dead body.

I tilt my head back, looking up at the pair of heeled loafers twisting slowly over the grand ballroom of the Arrendell mansion.

We’re standing on the upper walkway looking down over the massive checkered floor. I’m so far away that the dead woman still looks tiny, dangling from the central chandelier.

Her own weight makes the whole thing sway gently with a morbid chiming of glimmering ornaments.

I cock my head to the left and right, frowning up at the body.

Next to me, Junior Sergeant Micah Ainsley huffs, cocking his head to the right, his pale-blue eyes pensive.

“Don’t know how else to call it, Captain Faircross,” he says. “It’s a textbook suicide. Pretty clear-cut.”

I grunt in numb agreement.

Not much way it can be anything else, of course, but I can’t help scrutinizing the scene anyway, considering where we are.

Call it a cop’s overdeveloped instincts for detail, but I need to be sure, dammit.

Because right now, looking at this woman dangling some fifty feet off the ground, hanging there by a trailing velvet red curtain drawn into a noose, I’m not fucking feeling it.

Oh, I am feeling lots of other things.

I don’t know.

Maybe it’s because it happened in this house, but even if it hadn’t, I’d still get a damned funny feeling about this whole mess.

The woman looks like she was in her late forties or early fifties, her dark-brown hair just starting to grey. She’s short, a little thick. Her body hangs slack inside the severe plain blue-and-white pinstriped uniform dress that’s typical for the mansion staff.

The women gathered below, nearly breaking their necks as they stare up at the scene, are wearing the same thing.

Same apron. Same thick beige stockings. Same low-heeled leather loafers.

Even the same hairstyle with their hair pulled back into tight, no-nonsense buns.

The deceased has a round, square-set face with deep laugh lines despite the puffiness already starting to set in.

There’s a terrible purple bruise around her neck, just visible past the twist of garishly red velvet.

Despite the plainness of her outfit, her nails are painted a vivid scarlet.

I scan the room again.

The walls all around the grand ballroom are draped with floor-to-ceiling velvet tapestry that sheet past the walkway where I’m standing, evenly spaced at broad intervals. They pour down like runners of blood to the ballroom floor below.

There’s one conspicuously absent on a diagonal from where Micah and I stand, just around the corner of the square walkway.

It’s easy to see what happened.

She stood at the railing of the walkway and pulled the drape loose from its overhead fixtures, then dragged the full length of it up. Must’ve done it in the dead of night—considering it’s about six in the morning right now, and her appearance tells me she’s been dead for three to five hours.

She could’ve tied one end of the drape around the upper walkway railing, then knotted the other end to weight it.

I don’t want to think how many tries it took her to toss the end until it caught just right on the chandelier and let the rest swing back to her.

From that point on, it would’ve been easy.

Undo the knot.

Tie the end into a noose.


Leaving her life behind with a damning question.


According to the Lord and Lady of the house, one of the younger girls on the live-in housekeeping staff woke up early to get started on her chores. She came into the ballroom, saw the woman hanging, and screamed—sending the entire house scrambling to call into town.

To the Redhaven PD, namely.

To me.

“Oh, my, this is dreadful,” Lucia Arrendell hisses at my other side, wringing her thin hands.

Her aristocratic face twists, a caricature of dramatic distress. Even this early in the morning, she’s in a deep wine silk robe with perfect makeup, her white-streaked icy-blonde bob so stiff it barely moves with all her fluttering.

I just stare at her as she sniffs loudly.

“To think, the poor dear was so unhappy that she’d turn to this. God. But we always include mental health coverage as part of our employee insurance policy. I don’t understand, I just wish—”

“Quiet,” I mutter. “I’m trying to think.”

The air goes cold.

Well, colder.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Lucia Arrendell never heard those words in her pampered life. Definitely not from the offended gasp she gives back, but before she can do more than open her red-painted mouth, her husband—standing at her back in a burgundy velvet smoking jacket and black silk pajama pants—silences her with a hand against the small of her back.

“Now, now, dear,” Montero Arrendell drawls in his exaggerated Clark Gable accent. “I know you’re distressed, but do let the detectives focus on their work, yes?”

He meets my eyes over the top of his wife’s head like he’s doing me a big fucking favor.

No matter how conciliatory and smooth he sounds, I see what’s behind those impenetrable green eyes.

They’re empty.


Measuring me.

Probably asking about my price, assessing whether or not I can be bought to keep this out of the press. The Arrendells have a little bit of a reputation problem to deal with right now.

It’s been a few months since their son turned out to be a prolific serial killer and my lieutenant’s new wife almost ended up as his latest victim. Ulysses and his accomplice, Culver Jacobin, died in police custody in an apparent suicide.

But the whispers are alive and well.

Two suicides connected to the same rich family in just a few months?

People start to wonder.

Including me.

“Tell me her name again,” I clip, watching below as Lieutenant Lucas Graves and Officer Henri Fontenot move through the assembled staff. Their voices sound distant, turned into hollow echoes by the far reaches of the ceiling as they take statements from the house personnel. “How long has she been working here?”

Lucia makes an irritated sound, but then seems to get over herself.

“Cora, I believe,” she says quietly. “Yes, her name was Cora, I… oh dear, what was her last name again? She made the most delightful coq au vin, and she always remembered to pick up this wonderful orange blossom hair mask for me. Oh, I’m so terrible with names…”


You can remember her damn cooking and shopping trips, but not her name?

“Lafayette,” Montero fills in, smoothing a finger over his thin black mustache. He’s still watching me, unblinking, like we’re playing a game of chicken. I’m not interested. “And I believe we hired her ages ago? It was April, I recall. A delightful spring day. The hawks were out.”

I don’t give two shits about the hawks or all these diverting details.

I just file everything away into a deep, dark file in my head.

I’ve long since learned that taking the direct approach with an Arrendell is useless. The best thing to do is watch. Listen. Read between the lines.

Then wait for the right moment when something slips.

If I’m being honest, there’s not much waiting to be done today.

Whatever pushed this woman to the edge, there’s little doubt that it’s suicide, and after studying Cora Lafayette a little while longer, I sigh and jerk my head to Micah.

“Go with Henri and cut her down. We’ll get the county coroner in, confirm ID, notify the next of kin. Standard procedure.”

Micah frowns. “You want to wait until the autopsy? Knowing the cause of death might give them a little closure, at least.”

“I… yeah.” I clench my jaw, watching that slow depressing sway of the dead woman’s feet.


That word stings like hell.

Too much death in this damn haunted house.

Earlier this year, one of those deaths was confirmed to be Lucas’ sister, too.

The first victim.

After years of having to accept that Celeste Graves was just missing, that she’d run off and left him, Lucas finally got the closure he needed on his poor sister.

But Celeste wasn’t the only person who went missing that night.

Rumor had it that Ethan Sanderson—a man I grew up with, a man I loved like a brother, a man who was desperately in love with Celeste—had either run away with her, or else killed her himself and fled.

I knew better, though.

Ethan, he’d have never run off without telling me or leaving his sisters in the dark. I knew him well enough to know he’d never murder the woman he loved. So with Celeste dead and her case shut, that leaves the question.

Where is he?

What happened to Ethan?

Where’s my fucking closure?

What the hell happened to my best friend?

And what about his family; what about—


I can’t bring myself to think her name.

Even after all these years, the ache of missing her stings. Just as fresh as if she only left yesterday.


Like I only drove her away yesterday.

I never got a chance to apologize. Maybe I never will.

I don’t know if she’s ever coming back.

There’s a part of me that wants to break my silence. To demand that Lucia and Montero cough up that information, spill everything they know about my very personal lingering mystery.

For all their big fluffy speeches as First and Second Selectman of Redhaven, North Carolina, waffling on with We can’t express enough how sorry we are for our son’s actions and Our apologies to this beautiful town for the horrors its citizens have faced, I think they know.

Yeah, bull.

They know more about what their son was really up to than they let on.

“Captain?” Micah presses.

“Yeah,” I finally confirm, tossing my head at him. “Get going. Call it in.”

He nods sharply and walks off, slipping his fingers between his lips and whistling toward the ballroom to get Henri’s attention. I watch Henri glance up, then peel his tall frame away from the crowd and walk toward the red-carpeted stairs.

I beam a long look at Montero first, then Lucia. “Mr. and Mrs. Arrendell, where are your sons right now?”

For just a moment, the look in Lucia’s steely-grey eyes turns almost black with hatred.

Just the tiniest slip of her mask—because we both know where one of her sons is.

In the dirt. Forever.

The murderer a murder victim himself.

And his untimely demise happened with the Raleigh PD and not locally, but our badges aren’t that different. It’s not hard to tell what she thinks of us.

Lucia Arrendell blames me.

She holds the entire Redhaven police crew responsible for her son.

Still, she pins her mask back in place, her smile cooling, once more the grand duchess talking to the plebeians whose names she never bothers to remember.

“You know, Sheriff—”

“Captain,” I correct. “Redhaven PD isn’t affiliated with the county sheriff.”

Her lips twitch sourly before that frozen smile returns. “Captain. Xavier’s off in Dubai, closing a new real estate deal, you know. And Vaughn—oh, you know, he’s always too busy to call home to his mother. Who knows.”

Yeah, I’ve wondered about that for a while.

“Aleksander, though, he should be around here somewhere. I thought I passed him in the hall just a minute ago?” Lucia makes a great show of looking around, then raises her voice. “Aleksander! Darling, are you around?”

I just watch her skeptically.

Montero looks almost bored, hovering as silent and watchful as a crow. There’s something especially odd in his eyes today as he glances at the body of Cora Lafayette. The dead woman swings as Henri and Micah work carefully at the knotted drape tied to the banister.

Lucia clucks her tongue, staring down the hall.

Aleksander? Come on out. I know you’re both there.”


I get my answer when a girlish giggle answers.

A few seconds later, he comes shambling around the corner of the hallway branching off from the upper walkway.

He’s not alone.

Aleksander Arrendell is the impeccable portrait of a man who’s graced nearly every fashion magazine cover in the world. His tailored linen shirt hangs off him over the latest designer jeans, his longish platinum-blond hair swept artfully to one side. His face is slim and fox-like. The same otherworldly green eyes that run in the family complete the eerie look.

I’ve never interacted much with Aleksander, but I know him on sight the same way I know the rest of this little town.

The woman on his arm, that’s another story.

I know her so well my fucking heart plummets to my knees.

Rosalind Sanderson.

Little sister to my missing friend Ethan—and to her.

The woman whose name I won’t let my mind even whisper.

And it hurts like hell to see Rosalind this way, her skimpy silver dress half-falling off her bony frame, her honey-blonde hair a disarrayed mess, her lipstick a smear.

She’s damn near falling over in her strappy heels, barely held up by Aleksander’s firm arm perched around her shoulders. Her dark-green eyes look dilated and unfocused.

Mostly, it’s the nails, though.

Her nails are painted screaming red, loud and blinding.

The same glossy shade as the dead woman’s, weirdly enough.

That doesn’t sit right with me.

They’re both staggering, too, clearly either drunk or high.

High, I’d guess, considering they both glance at the dangling body like two teenagers sneaking a naughty peek at some X-rated film they aren’t supposed to see.

It’s a struggle not to wince when they both burst into a laughing fit, nuzzling at each other like catnip-drunk felines.


Part of me wants to rip Ros away from him and send her right home.

Only, I haven’t seen her in a while.

Not since the last time my little girl Nell got mad at me and “ran away” to sulk with Ros until she felt like speaking to me again.

I’ve been too busy with my promotion to captain and—if I’m being honest with myself—avoiding painful memories associated with her sister.

Hell, for the longest time growing up, I thought of Ros as my baby sister.

When a man does that, he doesn’t much like the idea of his baby sister dating Aleksander fucking Arrendell of all people.

She really couldn’t pick one of the nice, boring boys her own age?

I also don’t like the change that’s come over her one bit.

That’s not Ros.

The Ros I knew wouldn’t be able to look at a dead body without breaking down in tears.

Not hysterics.

She used to be the shyest thing, full of air and sun, innocent and withdrawn. The girl in front of me looks more like a stranger wearing Ros’ skin.

Her ma’s not gonna like this either—if Angela even knows.

Goddammit, does Ros know Angela’s back in the hospital?

I must be wearing some kind of sour look I can’t hide. Because Ros stumbles to a halt as she catches sight of me.

All the color drains from her face and her eyes widen as she stares up at me.

“O-ohhh,” she falters. “Hi, Grant!”

“Ros,” I grind out, reminding myself she’s not my little sister.

Not my kin, meaning I have no right to say anything, much less condemn her dating life.

Lucia thins her lips. “Do you think you two could compose yourselves well enough to speak with the police captain? Or are you late for another party?”

Aleksander smirks devilishly.

“Oh, come now, Mummy.” He fakes this cringe posh British accent that only makes me angrier. Rosalind giggles and looks away from me guiltily. “You should be nicer to your future daughter-in-law.”


I stiffen and stare.

“Daughter-in-law?” I echo before I can stop myself.

“Well now,” Montero tells his son, clearing his throat. “I suppose we can excuse a little young mischief as long as we keep it in the family.”

Rosalind bites her lip, smearing her lipstick more, and leans into Aleksander, holding up her left hand.

In the low sickly orange light, a large diamond embedded in gold flashes like a drawn dagger.

“He asked me last night,” she says with the same sheepish smile I used to see when she was a little girl, always begging the big kids for their approval and affection. “Of course, I said yes! Um, please don’t tell Ophie yet, Grant. She doesn’t know… and she might be kinda pissed.”

As she damn well should be.

Ophelia’s baby sister, getting tangled up with this family?

I growl “fine” almost on auto-pilot before I realize what she just said.

“Wait. Hold up. Ophelia… Ophelia’s back in town?” I hold my breath, bracing for the gut punch.

Then it hits me dead-on.

That old familiar pain.

That wrenching loss, stronger than ever.

That sense of longing, stretched across a decade without her like a man straining on a torture rack.

Ros licks her lips, still watching me like a little girl who’s afraid of being punished.

“Yeah. Just today,” she says quietly. Behind her, Micah and Henri lower Cora Lafayette’s body down slowly into Lucas’ waiting arms. “She’s driving in from Raleigh-Durham right now.”

Oh, I think, as the past rushes up to meet my face like a brass knuckle uppercut.

Oh, shit.


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