Love Kills – Lisa Renee Jones

Love Kills picks up right where Love Me Dead left off. Lilah Love, our resident badmouthed FBI profiler is in a faceoff with the Umbrella Man. A serial killer who is wreaking havoc in New York, killing women, and getting Lilah’s attention in all the wrong ways. There’s parts of this case that just can’t be ignored are pointedly for Lilah herself. This is no ordinary serial killer, but when has Lilah ever attracted an ordinary serial killer? This case first opens up with Lilah’s current boss, Director Murphy, calling Lilah to inform her that her former mentor Roger Griffin asked for her assistance on three murders. But when Lilah turns up at the current case, she soon learns Roger never called for her, he’s not even involved in the case, which is singular, not triplicate, but this case is too gruesome, and her happenstance upon it, is too peculiar to let go. So, soon, Lilah has taken jurisdiction, over not just the one victim, but another who died in her arms. Both of poisoned. Both with pristine homes, which was unlike them. Both holding umbrellas forced in their hands. And now, loved ones of theirs are dead too. The local detective on the case, Lori Williams, who doesn’t match the victim appearances at all, soon goes missing, causing another wrinkle in this case, which worsens when her boyfriend kills himself in court. A mark of the serial killer, which is to force the loved ones to kill themselves. While Lilah is navigating her first case back in New York City, she’s also navigating her relationship with the infamous Kane Mendez. They toe a fine line between her badge, and his family’s cartel involvement.

They’re the worst match on paper, but in the real world they’re made for each other. And while this case is reminding Lilah why she does what she does for a living, Kane is reminding her how good they are by welcoming her back into the home they once shared—her clothes right where she left them. But Lilah and Kane aren’t the roses and unicorn type of couple. No, amidst this insane case she’s working, and his missing uncle who runs the cartel, Kane has assigned one of his men to closely watch over Lilah much to her absolute refusal, but Jay isn’t going anywhere, despite her best efforts to threaten him away. Though shockingly, as the case progresses, he proves himself helpful and loyal time and time again. Eventually, Kane and Lilah end up at a high-society event in “support” of her father (as much support as she could ever give that man), to make a statement, that they’re back and a force to be reckoned with. But soon, this even leads right back to Lilah’s case with a dead pig making an appearance which relates back to the massive amounts of pig’s blood found at the first crime scene. Just as the case is heating up, Kane has to leave, and Lilah is left trying to figure out which way is up and which was is down with this case. Does it relate to her? Is this just some sick and twisted individual? But the scene at her father’s event, the victims’ likeness to her old friend, Beth Smith, who was also mysteriously called to the first crime scene as the medical examiner, and then subsequently shipped off to Europe because of said likeness to the victims, all of it just doesn’t set right with Lilah. So she sets off to do what she was trying to avoid, she sits down with her old mentor Roger, who has input himself into the case, to work through it how they used to.

But on the tail end of that brainstorming session, when Lilah is on her way home, she knows this is the night Umbrella Man will strike again. And so he does. In an alleyway, she’s at a standoff with Umbrella Man, a victim, and Detective Williams. Just as bullets begin to fly, Jay leaps in front of her to save her and gets shot, and she’s now walking toward the figure she believes is the killer and all the answers right along with him… CHAPTER ONE It’s as if time stands still. Jay, Kane’s idea of the bodyguard that I don’t need, is now lying on the ground bleeding out, while I’m running down a dark alley toward his shooter, gambling that I’m not about to bleed out with him. Gambling that this person in front of me, dressed as a woman and holding an umbrella, doesn’t want me dead, too. Gambling that this is, in fact, the Umbrella Man, who wants to keep playing games with me. Gambling that I’m about to be close enough to use the gun in my hand and shoot the fucker, with the intent to kill him, and do so with a smile on my face. I’m halfway to my target, the person and that umbrella, when a hard, loud crack sounds, echoing through the alleyway, the origination source impossible to pinpoint. “Get down, Lilah!” Jay shouts, and I consider the very real possibility that the Umbrella Man is behind me, or worse, the sick fuck has another sick fuck helping him kill people, and that sick fuck is now behind me.

In which case, Jay is all but dead, and the woman in front of me, really is a woman, not the Umbrella Man, meaning she needs my help. I launch myself toward her, and the instant I’m in motion again, another crack breaks through the stiff rain-laden air, seeming to come from right in front of me. I can feel the moment that bullet zips past me. He’s fucking firing right at me, testing me, pushing me, trying to scare me. I don’t stop moving, but a part of me gives him what he wants. I react. I brace for impact when I normally wouldn’t give a fuck. Clearly, that’s changed, and I know why— Kane fucking Mendez. I fucking want to live for Kane. I don’t want to leave this earth because of that man, and I hate him right this minute for making me a scared little bitch.

I hate scared little bitches. Another crack sounds, and this time, I’m certain the sound is coming from above. Instinct has me looking upward, scanning rooftops, when suddenly, the person in front of me crumbles to the ground. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. That’s not the Umbrella Man. “Call an ambulance!” I shout at Jay and then I forget about protecting myself. I lunge for the person sprawled on the pavement to find it is a woman, an umbrella over her head, along with her hands, which I assume to be taped to the handle, as was the case with the prior victim. Thunder roars above, and more rain begins to pelt down on me in cold droplets, but I push onward.

I kneel next to the victim who has lipstick smudged all over her face and a bullet hole in her chest, a hole gushing blood. Nothing about this fits what I know of the Umbrella Man who kills with poison. I check for a pulse, and there isn’t one. “Take cover!” Jay shouts. “Take cover.” I ignore the warning because let’s face it—if the shooter wanted me face down and bleeding out, I’d be face down and bleeding out. My focus is now on the eerily silent Detective Williams, who’s still tied up in the corner, no longer shouting out warnings. I grab my flashlight, shining it toward her location to find her slumped over, which I’d bet my crime lord Latin lover, who says he’s not a crime lord, means she’s dead. I jerk my flashlight right, standing as I do, searching the dark shithole of an alleyway, that feels like it’s about to swallow me whole. A movement, or more a shift in the air, has me swinging back to my light left, when suddenly a man comes from above, jumping to land a foot in front of me.

By the time he’s steady on his feet, my weapon is steady in my hand and pointed at him, right along with my light. Un-fucking-fortunately, his gun is pointed at me as well. I’m a good shot. He’s better. I blink to confirm that the most notorious assassin on planet earth, at least that’s still living, is standing in front of me. A man who recently did me and Kane a favor, which means nothing. A favor from this man won’t stop him from killing you the next time. “What the hell are you doing here, Ghost?” I demand, because this man doesn’t play games about killing. He just pulls the trigger, and yet, he’s wasting time pointing a gun at me. “Saving your ass,” he says, “say thank you.

” “I can save myself, which includes killing you and becoming a hero.” “A hero to who?” he asks. “Everyone you might kill in the future, which we both know will be many.” “But you won’t kill me,” he counters. “You’re too like me to want to see me fall.” Too like him. It’s not a statement that I wear easily, but it’s one I wear too well for comfort. “Did you kill those women?” “Yeah, honey, I killed them. They were both booby traps. It was you or them.

Look for yourself.” He shines a flashlight on Detective Williams’ hand, where it dangles near the ground, a gun taped to her palm. “Her finger is right above the trigger,” he says. “The minute you tried to move her, she’d shoot you. It’s really a clever setup if you get the time to study it and appreciate the thought that went into it.” And knowing all this, that bitch, a member of law enforcement who vowed to protect and serve, called me forward, lured me in. “She didn’t take her oath seriously, now did she?” he asks, reading my mind. “She lured you further into the trap.” Which makes me wonder if she was involved in this, if she felt safe. If she was playing the victim.

If she was him. My gaze jerks back to Ghost. “And the other one?” I demand. “She was booby-trapped, but that was irrelevant. I showed the other one mercy. He poisoned her. It wasn’t going to end well for her.” “You show mercy?” “Even I do, indeed, put a wounded animal out of its misery.” I move on. “How do you know he poisoned her?” “I saw him set the whole thing up.

” He saw him. A statement that says Williams wasn’t the Umbrella Man. “And you let this happen?” I challenge. “I don’t get involved in other people’s business.” “And yet, here you are,” I say dryly. I don’t wait for a reply. “Who is he?” “Sick fuck had paint on his face.” “But it was a man?” “It?” He laughs. “Yes. It was a man.

” Now he’s just pissing me off. “Why the fuck didn’t you shoot him?” “I don’t interfere in what isn’t my business.” “You just shot two women.” “Once you were involved.” I don’t even hesitate. I close the space between me and him and shove the muzzle of my weapon into his chest, my flashlight beaming into his face. “You just shot two women. That’s involved.” “You’re my business.” “I am not your business.

” “I’ve decided that you are.” “I should shoot you just for saying that,” I warn, and I mean it. He’s a killer. Interest in me is trouble. “And yet, we both know you won’t.” “You underestimate me if you think I won’t,” I counter. “I don’t underestimate you, Lilah Love. I understand you.” Sirens sound in the near distance, approaching quickly. “Who hired you to kill me?” I ask, going where his interest leads me.

“No one.” “Who hired you—” “You’re asking the wrong question.” The wrong question. What the fuck is the right question? Because I know that he’s not Umbrella Man, and yet—he’s here, and so is Umbrella Man, and that can’t be a coincidence. “You’re setting me up.” “I just saved your life.” “All right then. How much to kill the man in the makeup?” “That’s your question?” “No,” I snap. “It’s someone else’s, but answer anyway. How much to kill—” “For you, it’s free.

I just need a name.” “Are you serious right now? If I had a name, I’d kill him my damn self. What good are you?” “I do always wonder why a killer hires a killer.” “And here I thought you didn’t play games,” I counter. “I don’t play games, Lilah Love, and you know it.” That’s exactly what he’s doing, playing games. It doesn’t sit right in my gut. In fact, it makes me wonder if the victims could be hits he’s organized to look like victims of a killer that isn’t. It makes me wonder if I’m one of the targets. Nothing else explains why this man is here or the content of this conversation.

I shift the light from his face to just his eyes. “You don’t want to cross—” “Kane?” he challenges. “Me, asshole,” I say. “You don’t want to cross me because I don’t give a fuck where you land or how bloody the view. He does.” “You think Kane Mendez cares how bloody he gets? Interesting.” The sirens rip through the air, and vehicles screech behind us. Ghost backs away into the darkness. He’s betting that I won’t stop him. I could shoot him.

I could arrest him. I decide to let him go. For now. But he hasn’t seen the last of me. And I haven’t seen the last of him. CHAPTER TWO Rain splatters on my shoulders, while just behind me, the voices and footsteps of emergency crews echo in the dark night, made darker by cloud cover. I ignore it all, aware of the killer I just let back away from me, my flashlight and senses homed in on the alleyway, right along with my weapon. Movement to my right catches my attention, and I watch as Ghost scales a fire escape, far too quietly, invisible to anyone who doesn’t know he’s there. He’s showing me how Umbrella Man got here and left. I swipe the light away from him before someone else sees him.

He came here for a reason, and his reason is my reason for letting him go. Whatever that proves to be, whoever is behind his presence here tonight at the same time as Umbrella Man, I need to know. And it won’t be dealt with by way of the men and women in blue. I do one last scan of the alleyway with my flashlight and weapon just to make sure Ghost is gone, though I feel no danger. Not now. Not to me, at least. Ghost didn’t want me dead, or I’d be dead. Umbrella Man didn’t want me dead, or I’d be dead. Cold comfort, perhaps, but really, I’m not one of those girly girls who needs comfort at all. It’s all about facts to me.

Cold hard facts. If Ghost comes for me to kill me, I’ll embrace the killer inside me. And I’ll show him a woman isn’t an animal to be put out of her misery. He’ll be the one who dies. I give that bitch of a hellhole alleyway my back to find the EMT crew now kneeling next to Jay and a rush of law enforcement. “Two dead!” I shout out, flashing my badge. “Agent in Charge. This is my crime scene. Secure the area now and draw a wide perimeter.” The officer nods and takes off running.

Another three uniforms stop in front of me, none of them familiar faces. “Who’s in charge?” Not a one of them steps up, or even offers to play that roll, and I just start spouting orders. “Time is not on our side. Victim number one is one of ours. I know her data. I need to know who victim number two, center stage, is now. This guy kills his victim’s families. We aren’t going to find identification on her. Get me a team to fingerprint her and get me her name and address now.” I point to an officer.

“You. Do it now.” He nods, and turns away. I focus on the rest of the crew. “I need tents up now. I need forensics teams in here now, before the rain washes away everything worth seeing. I need lights. I need photos. I need evidence bagged. I need it now.

Who’s making the calls?” “I got it,” one officer says, holding up a hand and already hitting the button on his shoulder, that controls a microphone. Finally someone fucking does something other than get rained on. “Get me the officer in charge,” I say, “and get moving now!” With that, I dismiss them all to kneel next to Jay, who grabs my arm. “You’re a crazy bitch,” he chokes out. “They might as well not even save me. Kane’s going to kill me.” Spotlights blast into the alleyway, and I note the pale line over his lip, a stark contrast to his dark skin. “He told me not to kill you,” I tell him. “He’s not done with you.” “Wasn’t done with me,” he says, letting go of my arm, his eyes shutting.

“Wasn’t,” he whispers. “He is now.” I should be bothered by how afraid this man is of Kane. I’m a fucking FBI agent for God’s sake, but it’s not an emotional blow. It’s not a shock. It’s just Kane. I know the man is refined and handsome, well-spoken and polite, but he’s also brutal. Because I’m brutal. I understand you, Ghost had said to me. He doesn’t fucking understand me.

And I am bothered by Kane scaring the fuck out of Jay. I lean in and whisper in his ear, “You took that bullet for me. No one gets to fucking kill you. I won’t let them.” When I pull back and look at him, there’s a twitch to his lips, his attempt at a smile that is never fully realized. I eye the EMT who answers my unspoken question by saying, “He’s lost a lot of blood.” Translation: the vultures are already circling above, and the grim reaper is ready to reach through the ground and yank him to hell because that’s what people who run with me and Kane do—they go to hell. Only, I plan to scratch the devil’s eyes out on the way down. Jay won’t do that, or he wouldn’t have saved me, so I just have to do it for him. Therefore, I pin the EMT in a stare and reject his bullshit secret answer hard and fast.

“Save him,” I order. “You fucking save him or someone will have to save you from me. Understand?” His eyes go wide, and he nods quickly, a response that says he’s clearly aware that I mean what I’m saying. Which is smart on his part because I really want to kill someone right now. I should have killed Ghost. Why the fuck didn’t I kill Ghost? I could have found the instigator in all of this with him dead in the ground. I push to my feet, determined to go hunt his ass down again. An officer rushes toward me and offers me a NYPD raincoat that is big enough that I pull it over my thinner version of the same type of coat, yanking the hood over my soaked hair. “What’s the ETA on the medical examiner?” I ask, shoving my arms into the jacket and pulling up my hood. Before the officer can answer, I hear, “What the hell is going on?” That demand, delivered in a snarly voice, has me turning to find Houston barreling toward me like a linebacker.

He shouldn’t be here is the only thought I manage before he again demands, “What the hell is going on?” His out-of-character stabbing question hits ten nerves, and anyone who knows me, knows I don’t have ten nerves to spare. “I just called this in. Unless you’re my new stalker, and—and this is a big and—also the invisible man—who last I heard is being played by Johnny Depp, if he gets his shit with his ex cleaned up, of course—you can’t know about this crime scene yet. It’s not possible. And yes, that’s a fucking accusation. Do with it what you want, but explain yourself and now.” “I don’t even know what the hell that means, Lilah,” he snaps, and I swear his body is all but twitching with his effort to contain his agitation. And the thing is that Houston is a chill and Netflix kind of guy all the damn time. He doesn’t get agitated. He doesn’t twitch.

Unless that’s how he’s dancing, and I don’t think he’s dancing at a crime scene, though I’ve seen a lot of weird shit when people are stressed since taking this job. “This is my city,” he adds. “You get that, right?” “And my case. My jurisdiction.” His lips tighten. “My city, Lilah. My job. My responsibility. And as to your question: I was nearby. And funny thing about having you and a serial killer around at the same time is that the mayor continues to breathe down my fucking throat.

It keeps me on edge.” “How the fuck are you here, Houston?” I repeat. “I have an alert set for anything Lilah Love, which I’d tell you was to be supportive and that shit aside, I’m protecting my ass, too. You make everyone, including the mayor, act like a little bitch ass whiner. What the hell is going on?” “You know what’s going on,” I say, not happy with his answer. “He struck again.” “If you mean Umbrella Man,” he replies, “since when does Umbrella Man shoot random men on the street?” “He didn’t randomly shoot a man on the street,” I snap, though he’s hit another nerve. Who the hell did shoot Jay? Because Ghost doesn’t shoot to maim. He shoots to kill. “Jay was with me,” I say.

“And he got between me and Umbrella Man.” He steps closer. “You saw him? He showed himself to you?” “No,” I say flatly. “I was going into the alley to save the two women he had captive. Jay tried to stop me. That earned him a bullet. The bottom line right now is that he’s alive, but we have not one, but two dead women.” “Two? There are two?” “I already said that,” I reply. “Yes. Two.

” “Holy hell.” He runs rough fingers through his light brown hair. “Holy fucking hell. And clearly, they were meant as gifts for you. This is Kane’s place, right?” “You know where Kane lives?” “Oh, come on, Lilah. He’s Kane Mendez. His father was—” “I know who his father was, Houston. Are you surveilling him?” I hold up a hand. “Don’t answer that. I don’t have time to be as pissed off as you’re about to make me.

You’re correct. Umbrella Man didn’t choose this location by accident, because apparently, everyone knows where the fuck I live. The victims were booby-trapped to kill anyone who tried to help them.” “Meaning you,” he supplies, but he doesn’t wait for an answer. “But you outsmarted him. You’re still alive. You won.” “He won, Houston, or Jay wouldn’t be bleeding out while two dead women decorate the alleyway with bullet holes in their chests.” “Bullet holes? What happened to poison?” “This was a twisted game,” I say, “with many moving pieces.” I leave out the part where one of those moving pieces includes Ghost.

“He didn’t plan on anyone but me leaving that alleyway alive.” His gaze narrows, his attention sharpening. “And yet you did. What aren’t you telling me, Lilah?” He thinks he’s cornered me, but I snap back with a punch he shouldn’t expect. “Detective Williams didn’t make it out. She’s one of the victims.” His face lifts skyward, jaw clenching, and it’s a good thing we’re under the overhang, or he’d have a mouth full of rain. And I’m pretty sure rain in New York City has rat shit in it, which is why you keep your mouth shut. His is not, but he remedies that when he levels me in a stare and purses his lips like a chick about to go at her man. I am not his man.

“Williams is in that alleyway?” he confirms, blame in his voice. “Don’t ask that question like I did this shit. Which I would have. I’d have killed that bitch if I’d gotten the chance. She tried to kill me. She tried to lure me into a trap. She called me. She knew what was waiting for me.” “Are you telling me that she was Umbrella Man?” “No,” I say, because Ghost named a man in makeup, but I can’t know that. Not where Houston’s concerned.

“My guess is he promised her she’d live if I died.” I pause to consider who shot Jay all over again. It could have been her, but I can’t be sure. “Or, she was his partner,” I continue. “She wasn’t in this alone. There were shots fired from above.” “None of this adds up to a serial killer.” “Because you know serial killers so well?” I challenge, reminding him that I’m the profiler. “I know enough,” he rebuts. “What the hell happened to poison? He kills with poison.

” “We don’t know how many times or ways he’s killed,” I say. “He kills how he kills. We just might not be in on the secret codes.” “Sir,” an officer says, “the press is here.” “Of course, they are,” Houston replies. “Block them the hell off. I want this area sealed so tightly that a dog in heat could be right here with us and a pack of wolves couldn’t get to her. You hear me?” “Yes, sir.” The officer rushes away, and Jay’s ambulance pulls onto the road. “I need to deal with the press, and the boots on the ground before this gets out,” Houston says, scrubbing his jaw.

“And call the damn mayor, which is one big pile of shit I need to dive into. I’ll find you when I have my head that he’s about to take off reattached to my body.” He doesn’t wait for a reply. He turns away and starts walking, stepping into what is now a downpour all over again. I don’t move. Not because I’m worried about getting wet. Water doesn’t bother me. Bullshit does, and I can smell it, like the stench on my shoe last week when I stepped in dog shit. I couldn’t figure out where the smell was coming from until doodoo was smeared all over the fucking floor. I cleaned that up.

I need to clean this up. Ghost clutters up my mind. Why was Ghost here? He didn’t want me dead. He didn’t want Jay dead, or Jay would be dead. I rotate and look toward the building I now call home with Kane and realization hits me. Oh fuck. Ghost was here for a reason, and if that reason wasn’t me and it wasn’t the victims—oh fuck, I think again. I grab my phone and dial Kane. “Hello, beautiful,” he answers. “I’ll be there in five minutes.

” “Listen to me now. I’ll explain later, soon. Turn around. Don’t come home. I’m safe. You are not. Do it now. Now. I need you to do it now.” “Turn right,” he orders his driver and then he’s back.

“Done. Talk to me, baby. What’s going on?” His voice is calm. He’s calm. He’s always so fucking calm. “Ghost was here, and he didn’t come for me. That means—” “He came for me,” Kane says, finishing my sentence.

.

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