Colton's Texas Stakeout

By: C.J. Miller

Chapter 1

Annabel Colton’s thoughts veered off course at the sight of the handsome cowboy sauntering into the police precinct. Though he looked familiar, she couldn’t place him as a resident of Granite Gulch, Texas. She would have remembered seeing the man of her dreams strutting around town. Granite Gulch was a small town, and having lived there all her life, Annabel knew almost everyone.

Just like almost everyone knew the Coltons. Not everything said about the Coltons was good but lately, mostly positive. Annabel considered that an accomplishment.

The sexy cowboy swaggered, confidence in spades, all six foot something moving through the precinct with determination and purpose. His blue-and-white plaid shirt covered broad shoulders, the sleeves rolled to the elbows; his worn jeans hung on him in just the right way, and he wore dusty boots, carrying his brown Stetson in his hand.

Annabel checked her mouth wasn’t hanging open and averted her eyes to watch him in her peripheral vision. Her heart was hammering, and she felt dizzy. She took a deep breath. Women in Texas hadn’t swooned in a century, and she wasn’t bringing it back into style.

The sexy cowboy distraction took the edge off her frustration. She was working—rather marginally—on the biggest case to hit Granite Gulch in twenty years. A serial killer, nicknamed the Alphabet Killer, was stalking and killing women in and around Blackthorn County. The killer had taken the lives of six victims: Anna, Brittany, Celia, Daphne, Erica and Francie, in that order. The killer’s obsession with the alphabet was one of their best leads in the case.

The police had been close to finding the Alphabet Killer, using clues Annabel had pieced together from reading the letters the killer had written to Matthew Colton.

Matthew Colton was Annabel’s biological father, an incarcerated serial killer, dying of cancer with only a few months to live. His killing spree had ended in the death of Annabel’s beloved, hardworking mother. Annabel’s brother Ethan remembered seeing Saralee Colton’s dead body in their farmhouse, a bull’s-eye drawn on her forehead, but she hadn’t been found. It was a source of great pain for Annabel and her siblings. Matthew Colton was dangling information in front of his children about where Saralee’s body might be located. Like everything Matthew Colton did, he had an agenda. He did nothing for the sake of kindness, not even for his children.

The Alphabet Killer, who the police now believed was a woman named Regina Willard, was still free on the streets hunting for her next victim. If the killer stuck to her pattern, women whose names began with G were on the chopping block. The entire county was worried. This was the second time the town had been terrorized by a serial killer, and whispers and rumors about Matthew Colton and the similarities between the killers had been at an all-time high.

Annabel’s curiosity grew when the cowboy stopped at her brother Sam Colton’s desk. Sam, a detective for the Granite Gulch Police Department, and her oldest brother, Trevor, an FBI profiler, had been in deep discussion. They had not looped her into their conversations, likely centering around the Alphabet Killer. The extent of her involvement in the high-profile case had been to read the letters from Regina to Matthew Colton and provide what clues and interpretations she could. The Granite Gulch police chief, Jim Murray, had believed Annabel might have some insight, being a fresh graduate of the academy and known for her keen attention to detail. He had been right. She had pointed the FBI to the boardinghouse in Rosewood where Regina had been staying.

Sam and Trevor straightened as the cowboy spoke to them. Their body language was defensive, and after several exchanges, the three men looked ready to throw fists.

When her brothers led the man to the interrogation room, Annabel beelined for the observation deck. If Trevor and Sam wanted to speak to this man, then it had to be about the Alphabet Killer. She wanted to know how he was involved. Could they finally have a witness who could provide a solid lead?

Watching the man up close, Annabel confirmed her initial assessment. He was gorgeous. His blond hair was cut longer but kept neat, and his green eyes were piercing. She was glad he decided to sit facing the one-way mirror. She could read his expression and body language.

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