Friday, February 4, 2022

Read an Excerpt from JUDE by Taylor Lee

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JUDE, Book 2 in USA Today best-selling author Taylor Lee’s provocative new series, The Justice Brothers.

•A shockingly gruesome murder
•An arrogant go-it-alone homicide detective
•A quirky intelligence analyst known for her brains and Clark Kent glasses
•Together they discover that Justice—like Love-- isn’t always fair or easy.

WARNING: Romance so HOT it singes the pages. HOT, tough, explicit. Not for the faint at heart. Definitely bring a fan!

Excerpt:

Jude strode into the conference room at 7:00 a.m. sharp. He was gratified that most of the team was already in place. Grabbing a mug from the sidebar, he filled it to the brim with what was sure to be the first of many cups of the steaming hot brew. The three large coffee urns on the counter, none of them labeled decaf, confirmed that like the rest of the DPD, the kitchen staff understood that they all had a long day and night ahead of them. The sight of the ubiquitous pile of sugary doughnuts turned Jude’s stomach. Christ, whoever could choke down five hundred empty calories of artery-clogging fat and refined sugar after seeing what they had seen last night had a stronger stomach than he did. Tossing his sheaf of papers in front of him, he assumed his place at the head of the table.

Glancing up when the door opened, he chided his brothers. “Glad you decided to join us, Commander Justice, and you too, Agent Justice. Been catchin’ up on your beauty sleep?”

Jared guffawed. “Hell, Detective, some of us don’t need shuteye to look good. It comes with the territory.”

The laughter from around the table confirmed that the group of hardened cops and CSI techs knew that none of the Justice brothers had slept. They were also aware that the brothers had just finished a press conference with the rabid press corps jamming the front of the precinct.

When the two big men cleared the doorway, Jude saw that the diminutive intelligence analyst was behind them. As they moved to the coffee bar, Jake put his hand on her shoulder and nodded to Jude. “I think all of you, except maybe you, Jude, have met Skylar Hughes.” Grinning at his brother, he added, “I know how intimidated you are by women, bro, but I can assure you, this young woman has intimidated us all. Don’t let her size fool you. What she lacks in stature, she twice makes up for in smarts.”

Ignoring the laughter from his cohorts at the suggestion that Jude might be intimidated by anyone—especially a woman—he pinned the young woman with a hard glare. Not sure why, Jude was annoyed that his brothers had invited the pixie to the briefing without clearing it with him.

He threw her a curt nod. “So I’ve been told. Welcome, Specs. We ignorant cops can always use an IQ boost to help us analyze a crime instead of stumbling around with our thumbs up our asses like we usually do.” Seeing the flush on her cheeks at his antagonistic reference to her black-rimmed lenses, Jude softened his tone but didn’t let her off the hook. “Help yourself to the java then come and join us. I look forward to you elucidating us with your erudite analysis.”

Ignoring Jake’s surprised glance and Jared’s warning frown at his rudeness, he nodded to the coffee bar, then turned to the rest of the team. “Okay, men, and woman. Let’s get started. I don’t have to tell you that these next several weeks are going to be the most challenging most of us have faced. The gruesomeness of the murders combined with the fact that the Parker family is in the top one percent of wealth in the whole fucking country means that we are likely to be national, if not international, news for weeks to come. Christ, by six o’clock this morning, we were labeled as breaking news on every national television channel. All I can say is that if any of those media whores get wind of the state of the bodies, we’re in for the biggest shitstorm of publicity this state has ever endured.”

Jude let his hard glare rest on each of the solemn men circling the table, ensuring that they understood. Hammering the point home, he added, “That said, if and when the gory details get out, and I find out who decided to squeal, his or her days in this department are over.”

Waiting until Jake, Jared, and Specs, as he’d decided to call Skylar, had settled in their chairs, Jude turned to the coroner. “Dr. Evans has given me a preliminary autopsy report and I’ve asked him to lay out his findings for you. Understand that I’m pushing our fine coroner for details that he can’t possibly have at this point. But accepting that the findings are preliminary, tell us what you can, Doc.”

The bespectacled, gray-haired man booted up the computer in front of him and nodded at the monitors ringing the front of the room. With the help of the highlighting mechanism he began to describe his findings. For the next thirty minutes, the solemn man walked through an analysis of stomach contents, liver temperature, rigor mortis, and other statistics, as though he were giving an anatomy lesson. The number and intensity of the wounds that the victims had suffered were mind-blowing. Even though Jude had combed through the preliminary autopsy report until he was bleary-eyed, the doctor’s emotionless, monotone, and scientific vernacular was unnerving. When the coroner finished describing the hideous injuries that were all-too-fresh in their minds, Jude asked the stony-faced team if there were any questions.

After a long moment, Skylar broke the heavy silence. “Were you able to tell when Mrs. Parker’s tongue was removed?”

When the doctor startled and frowned, Skylar added, “I’m not asking what time it happened, rather, I’m interested if you know the sequence of the injuries that the victims endured, and when the perpetrators cut out her tongue?”

The coroner put up his hands in a defeated gesture and shook his head. “Uh…no, Ms. Hughes. The best I can tell you at this time is that the victims were tortured over a period of several hours, perhaps as long as three, maybe even four hours. We know that the rapes of both bodies were committed relatively early on. We know this because of the state of rigor in the genital regions of both the male and female.”

Stifling his surprise, Jude pinned a narrow gaze on the young woman who had asked the only question. And an unexpected one at that. “Mind telling the rest of us why that is an important factor, Ms. Hughes?”

Skylar met his gaze and shrugged. “I’m not sure that it is, Detective Justice. It’s just that among all the injuries the victims suffered, for me, that one was the most unexpected.”

Jude studied her for a long moment and then conceded, “For what it’s worth, Specs, I agree. The removal of the tongue and both of her eyes was unusual, or as you indicated, unexpected.”

He saw the flush on Skylar’s cheeks and knew that his insulting nickname had hit the mark. Not trying to figure out why he felt the need to diminish her, he piled on. During the whole gory recitation from the solemn doctor, he’d watched in amazement when the young woman, who couldn’t weigh more than 110 pounds soaking wet, had eaten not one, but two baseball-sized, maple-frosted doughnuts. Nodding at her empty plate, he grunted.

“Speaking of unexpected, in fact downright amazing, I’m glad that the sight of dismembered bodies and what are gruesome details to some of us, that the doc’s autopsy report didn’t spoil your appetite.”

 Skylar looked down at her plate and shrugged. The rosy splotches on her cheeks were the only giveaway that his barb had struck home. Looking at him, she responded quietly, “I have a fast metabolism.”

Jude muttered, “Sure as hell hope so, or you’ll weigh two hundred pounds by the time you’re twenty.”

Not willing to explain to his two frowning brothers or frankly, to himself, why the brainy young woman had gotten under his skin, Jude rose to his feet and marched to the whiteboard. 

“Okay, men, let’s hear it. I want to know from each and every one of you why you think the Parkers were killed, and specifically why they were murdered in such an egregious way.” Skipping his two brothers, Jude started with Mac McGee, the youngest cop on the homicide squad.

“How about it, Mac? What drove the perpetrators to do what they did?”

Flushing to the roots of his fiery red hair, the young Irishman stammered, “Well, for sure they got off on sex. Hell, they were even willing to do it with old people.”

Jude put up his hand to stop the titters at the young man’s obvious horror at the idea of having sex with fifty-five year olds.

“That’s a good observation, Mac.”

Turning to Sgt. Sullivan Solberg, who was as Swedish as McGee was Irish, he asked, “Anything you’d add, Solly?”

The big man frowned and said thoughtfully, “The sexual assaults are the most telling to me. But Jesus fucking Christ, why the hell were they both raped? And why in such a hideous fashion?”

Peter Jensen chimed in. “I gotta say it’s pure and simple to me, Jude. The perps were on a joy ride. We all saw the coke and booze lying around. My guess is that what likely started out as a wannabe robbery became mayhem when they found the cocaine. Hell, man, we all know that crystal begets sex. And once they got started, looks like they wouldn’t, or couldn’t stop.”

Jude gave Pete a thumbs-up. “Good point, Pete. The lab guys said there was enough crystal scattered around the room that it’s a certainty that whoever did this were flyin’ high. We need to wait for the results from the lab to know if the vics ingested any of the dust.”

When the others agreed and one by one gave their opinions, Jared spoke for the first time.

“If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that the perps were likely high before they arrived. The state of the room says a hell of a lot. Shit, I don’t think there was one piece of furniture that wasn’t destroyed. And fuck it all, there had to be a million plus dollars of artwork that the animals took out in their temper tantrum. Christ, either these guys were as big and strong as we are, or they were out of their minds on drugs.”

“Or rage.”

Everyone stopped talking and stared at Skylar. Jude couldn’t ignore the fire ants crawling up the back of his neck at her on-target assessment.

He held her gaze for a long moment then drawled, “You want to elaborate on that, Squirt?”

Jude had the decency to be embarrassed when the pale young woman bit down on her bottom lip and didn’t answer.

Jared ratcheted Jude’s embarrassment up the scale to where it might even reach shame when he gently prodded, “Yeah, Sky, that’s an interesting observation. What’s your initial take on the scene?”

The young woman took an audible breath and then spoke firmly. Jude was impressed with her quiet dignity.

“They were angry. They were angry when they arrived; the cocaine and the heroin that I smelled drove their anger higher. The sexual assaults and the mutilation are telling. They wanted to humiliate the victims, punish them. In specific, intentional ways. Ultimately, they wanted to destroy everything the Parkers stood for. Which is why they tore apart the beautiful, expensive things that the Parkers valued. And then they tore apart the Parkers.”

Jude let the silence stand for a few moments, then waited until the young woman looked up at him. Holding her gaze, he pressed, “Given that, where would you start to look for the perpetrators?”

Skylar sucked in an audible breath and shrugged. “I’d begin with a financial analysis. Clearly, the Parkers valued wealth above all else. The people who did this wanted to punish them. In my mind, it’s clear that the Parkers damaged them in fearsome, personal ways. Given their enormous wealth and the people they climbed over to accumulate it, I would start by identifying people who the Parkers raped financially on their way to the top.”

The best Jude could do was to nod his approval. How could he tell her that she had articulated the conclusions that he had come to after wracking his brain for hours since he first walked into the shattered library? It would have been graceless at best to “me-too” her conclusions. It would only look like he was trying to piggyback on her astute analysis.

Instead he shrugged and said, “You are correct. It’s a given that finances have to be a part of this, but are you intimating that we ignore the vicious sexual elements? That they aren’t an important factor?”

Skylar returned his shrug. “Of course they are. But raping someone financially can be as devastating as raping them physically.”

Jude nodded thoughtfully. “I think you’re on to something, Specs. It would seem as though we should start by getting us a first-rate accounting team to go over the Parker’s finances.”

Jake and Jared laughed in unison.

Jared’s voice was laced with disdain. “You’re in luck, bro, it just so happens that…” He paused for effect, then said with a snort, “You ready for this, big guy? One of Skylar’s degrees is in forensic accounting.”


 

 

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