Friday, August 26, 2022

FREE Trial by Fire by Taylor Lee



Riveting Full Length Sequel to Bestselling Sizzling Romantic Suspense “Playing with Fire”.

“The sexiest, most outrageous hero I’ve read in a long time. Snappy, laugh out loud dialogue, and a Sizzling HOT romance makes this wildly exciting murder mystery a true page-turner.” J. John
“A spellbinding police mystery thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. Pulse pounding action and steamy romance. A cast of unforgettable characters that will capture your heart.” Action Junkie

•A badass cop flaunts every regulation and finds himself the # 1 suspect in a violent murder
•A vicious killer who makes Hannibal Lecter seem tame
•Two wounded lovers haunted by the past

“A love story so poignant makes you want to cheer for Nate and Erin as they struggle to overcome the ugliness from the past.”RomanceReviews

Love Kaylea Cross's heart pounding romantic military thrillers? Sylvia Day’s and Maya Banks red hot sexy heroes, feisty heroines and high adrenaline action? Fern Michael’s compelling characters? Grab Trial by Fire and prepare to be addicted. 

Chapter 1

“What have we got, Jim?”
Seeing the Medical Examiner huddled with a cluster of techs and members of the
evidence team, Nate Stryker waited for the verdict. Jim Thompson’s face flooded with relief and
something akin to wonder when he saw Nate. Nodding to Dan Coulter, the wizened little man
turned his attention to Nate.
“We’re waiting for you, Nate. I’ve kept everyone out. Knew you’d want this one clean
until you saw it. Plus, I wanted to get your first impression. Sure as hell, it’s something I never
thought I’d see in Chicadia Falls, Minnesota.”
“Point me to it.”
Yanking on the latex gloves and paper booties one of the techs handed him, Nate
followed the diminutive medical examiner into what looked like a library. The opulent room
screamed money. It could have been the centerpiece of any well-appointed lounge in a
Gentleman’s Club; overstuffed leather sofas, matching armchairs, and occasional tables carved
out of teak contributed to a sense of masculine comfort. Dark hardwood floors and hand-woven
area rugs underscored the expensive taste of the owner. Guests had access to a bar stocked with
premium liquors and a cigar cabinet with all necessary accoutrements. Walnut-paneled walls,
hundreds of leather-bound books, a native stone fireplace complete with a flickering fire, spoke
to a room meant to be enjoyed, and--knowing the owner--envied.
And no doubt, before this evening, that was precisely the reaction this room and every
other room in the lumber baron’s ostentatious mansion received from all who were fortunate
enough to be invited in. Nate shook his head. So much for first impressions. From this night on,
Mike Peterson’s showplace library would be known as his funeral pyre. Humph. He should be
so lucky to have been burned to death. Would have been a hell of a lot quicker.
Dan’s muttered expletive said it all.
Nate nodded to his partner.
“That about sums it up, Dan.”
Exchanging a glance with Dan, who was rooted to a spot by the sofa, Nate moved toward
the makeshift cross in the middle of the room. Jim Thompson didn’t exaggerate. Wasn’t only

Chicadia Falls that hadn’t seen a scene like this. Nate was damn sure this one would go down in
police annals everywhere. Hell, their little township could become famous. Or infamous, Nate
snorted. Leave it to Peterson to go out in style. Fucking show-off. Couldn’t even be murdered
without drama.
Nate approached the naked man hanging on the cross. Fortunately for Mike, he’d relied
on his wealth to attract women. Sure as hell wasn’t his physique. Scrawny, sagging skin liberally
sprinkled with age spots, and a pendulant belly about summed up the former ladies man’s body.
And granted it wasn’t fair to judge a guy’s dick when it was stuck in his mouth, but c’mon! The
best that could be said was at least Mike didn’t choke to death. It was a cinch that little nubbin
didn’t reach much past his front teeth.
No, more likely Mike bled out. Inch-deep cuts marked his torso and limbs.
Systematically placed, the slashes were made by a pro. Someone well-schooled in the art of
slowly whipping a man to death with as much pain as possible. Of course, that open area
between his legs that used to anchor his manhood, contributed to the blood clotting on the floor.
From the way the blood had dried on his pale skinny thighs, that unkind cut was made early on.
Either Mike was unwilling to give up the information his tormentor wanted or the end goal was
torture, plain and simple.
Dan’s voice was shaky. Smearing a gob of mentholated ointment under his nose, he
offered Nate the slim metal tin.
“You want some of this, Nate?”
Nate shook his head and moved closer to the cross. Over the years he’d become inured to
the smells of death. Particularly violent deaths. Mike’s qualified--big time. The acrid smell of
blood, piss and evacuated bowels were all common odors at a violent death scene. Mike’s had all
three and then some. The stench was enough to deck a rookie officer. Nate barely noticed it.
Staring at the vicious slashes covering Mike’s body, Dan’s expression was as strained as
his voice.
“Jesus, Nate. What makes those kinds of cuts? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Nate shrugged.
“My best guess is a steel-tipped flogger, or could be a one-tail. Unlikely just leather could
go that deep. But, hell, the guy who wielded it was a master. From the looks of it, he enjoyed it.”

Dan began documenting the scene, his low voice droning into the ‘notes’ app on his
iPhone. Nate listened for a moment then got lost in his visual examination. Erin always used her
phone to capture the images at a fire scene. It was a great technique, but Nate was a visual kind
of guy. At least for him, the disadvantage of a verbal recording was that you only recorded what
you saw at the time. Once Nate saw a scene, it was imbedded in his memory. And there it lived--
forever. Days, even weeks later, he could retrieve it in technicolor. Experts called it eidetic
memory. Nate called it a pain in the ass. But as annoying as the unbidden replays were, he’d
learned to trust his gut. When the scene kept intruding, he knew he’d missed something. The
details were there from the beginning but often got lost in the crush of the crime scene. In the
past, they were the minor details that had helped him break a case when no one else could.
“You about done, Nate?”
Nate nodded to his partner.
“I’ve got everything I need for the moment.” He motioned to the door. “Go ahead and let
them in.”
As the troop of evidence clerks and uniformed officers flooded the room, Nate sought out
the M.E. Taking a deep breath, he asked the question that had been stalking his mind since they
got the call.
“Where’s Laura?”
Jim Thompson gave him a knowing nod.
“They have her upstairs in her bedroom. Dr. James and a couple of the EMT’s are with
her. She was pretty beat up.”
Nate’s gut clenched.
“She was hurt?”
Thompson frowned and shook his head. “No, she wasn’t here. She’d been out
Nate quirked a brow and murmured to Dan. “No surprise there.”
Dan’s lip curled in response.
Not hearing Nate’s offhand comment, the M.E. continued.
“Apparently she arrived home about an hour ago. She was the one who found Mike and
made the 911 call.”
“She conscious?”

“Yes. They had to dope her. She made quite a scene. Hysterical when the first
responders arrived. But I guess you can’t blame her. I doubt any of us are going to forget this
shocking bloodbath any time soon.”


Nate trudged up the circular staircase, running his hand over the opulent hand-carved oak
railing. Damn, he knew Mike was a lumber baron, but did he have to include every kind of wood
known to man in his home? In the library alone there were four different kinds of wood. By the
time Nate made it through the grand foyer he’d counted two more. Given Mike’s penchant for
pretention, what should have been beautiful was overkill.
Overkill didn’t begin to describe the bedroom they entered.
If the library was the epitome of masculine opulence, and the foyer was an adventure into
a Tuscan grand hallway complete with columns and multicolored tile floors, the bedroom was
Barbie’s playhouse. The last time he’d seen this much pink and white was when his little cousin
forced him to be Ken in her never-ending nine-year-old’s version of grown-up play. Once
again, in the Peterson household, the motto seemed to be, if it worked once, why not use it
multiple times? And in this bedroom, just in case you were sight-deficient, two of the walls were
floor to ceiling mirrors. Nate stifled a laugh at the incredulous expression on Dan’s face when he
glanced up and spotted the huge mirror above the bed. Apparently his straight-laced partner
didn’t know the woman dramatically stretched out on the pink velvet chaise lounge. Nate could
have told Dan, wherever Laura was, there were mirrors.
Laura was surrounded by worried-looking medics and a short, graying man Nate
presumed was Dr. James. Moving through the throng that separated to let him pass, Nate made
his way to the semi-conscious woman. He spoke quietly.
“Laura, its Nate.”
Laura immediately came to life. With a wild cry, she jumped up and threw herself at
“Oh God, Nate. Oh thank God you’re here. You need to help me. Please! Somebody
needs to help me. Mike… Oh God, Nate. Something awful… somebody hurt Mike… I need
you, Nate!”
Her stammering, incoherent speech ended in an uncontrolled wail.

Nate let her cling to him for a moment, then carefully unwound her hands from his waist
and helped her sit up against the back of the tufted lounge. His voice was calm but loud enough
to be heard over her jerky sobs.
“Yes, Laura. I saw him. Dan and I just left the scene. I’m sorry. It is a terrible crime.
I’m especially sorry that you had to see him like that.”
He stepped back, putting distance between them.
“I’m going to need to ask you some questions, Laura.”
At the sound of a small cough, Nate glanced at the clearly concerned little man hovering
by Laura’s side. Nate raised a questioning brow.
The doctor shook his head and motioned for Nate to follow him. They stood at the side
of the room.
“I’m Dr. Andrew James. She’s in shock, Detective Stryker. This is not a good time to
interview her. You are unlikely to get useful information. She’s coherent for short moments and
then becomes agitated, then hysterical. I’ve given her a significant amount of Valium, a much
larger dose than I like to give. I’m hoping that it will allow her to sleep.”
As if to punctuate his point, Laura’s head lolled to the side. Her breathing deepened
perceptibly and she appeared to fall asleep. Nate grimaced. Although she’d just discovered her
murdered husband’s body, and her life had turned upside down, Laura looked as beautiful as
ever. Her long blond hair hung down her back in shiny waves of gold. Dark lashes shadowed her
rosy cheeks. Her plump bee-stung lips were moist, even inviting. The peek-a-boo clothing she
always wore showed her voluptuous body to perfection. Her bountiful cleavage spilled out of
her abbreviated halter top. And, even asleep, she’d managed to hike up her short skirt, revealing
the lacy edge of her panties.
Seeing the EMT’s trying to look away, not to gawk, Nate gave a soft snort. He could
have told them not to bother. It didn’t matter. Even sleeping, Laura made sure she got attention.
Always had. Always would.
When it was clear that Laura was sleeping soundly, and questioning her was a non-
starter, Nate gave Dr. James his card.
“Please let Mrs. Peterson know that I will be back in the morning.”
The doctor responded with a polite nod.

The library buzzed with activity. Well-equipped technicians, EMT’s and cameramen
were hard at work, in colonies of specialized activity. Nate spoke with each of the uniformed
men in the room and then went to talk with the men positioned outside. He greeted cops that had
come in from several neighboring jurisdictions, who were working under the leadership of Sgt.
Charlie Hanson, one of Nate’s key men. According to Charlie, they’d barricaded the roads
surrounding the estate, building a five hundred yard perimeter around the house. Knowing that
there was nothing they could do until morning, Dan circulated among the men, indicating that
Nate wanted everyone at the station at 6 a.m. sharp.
From the doorway Nate took a last look at the pitiful shell of the man still hanging on the
cross. No question that in life Mike Peterson was an arrogant asshole. Hell, so was he. Nate
grimaced. He and Mike had something else in common. They’d both had the misfortune to have
been married to Laura.

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