Pretty Broken Things - Melissa Marr Page 0,1

caught in the wet of the air, and I swear it clings. To my clothes. My hair. My skin.

I drive out to the park. I’ve hiked here. It’s almost six thousand acres of land with trails, campsites, and lakes. A part of me wants to believe this was a shooting or an accidental death. The logical part of my mind can’t quite do that. The park is well traveled enough that there is little chance of death by exposure or animal. A shooting here is likely to have drawn attention, but it’s not impossible to stealthily shoot or stab someone in the park.

The worst possibilities play in my mind: a child, sexual assault, murder suicide, group suicide, multiple graves. Sometimes, my mind wanders down paths I wish it wouldn’t. It’s a consequence of my job: I see the unvarnished truth, the details that are half-hidden or soft-focused before the family or friends hear about it. The truth is that people are cruel. It’s why Uncle Micky drinks. It’s why I check my locks more than once at night. It’s also on the long list of reasons I’m lousy at dating. Better to be single and haunted by my nightmares than to raise a child in this world.

I park at Umstead in the lot closest to the crime, and get out.

I force my steps to be even, my expression neutral, as I walk over to the taped off area of the park. My part-time function with the medical examiner’s office means that I have credentials to get past the police tape—not that I need them today. The officers here all know me.

“Jules.” Henry nods to me. His eyes take me in like he can read things in my skin and stance. He probably can.

I nod back, and for just a moment, I let myself look at him.

Henry’s young for a detective, the sort of man who has the indeterminate age that could be anywhere from early thirties to late forties. Ex-Army. Descended from freed slaves. One tattoo. Proud nose. Military haircut. No glasses. He’s born Southern, raised Southern, and undoubtedly will die here, too.

He also kisses like a man who enjoys desserts and fine whiskey, slowly savoring each moment. That particular detail is one I shove back into the box where I prefer to keep it. Late night mistakes are best forgotten, even when they’re rich with promise . . . perhaps especially when they are.

“Male or female?” I ask, silently hoping it’s a man. The Creeper doesn’t kill men.

“Woman.” Henry’s expression is unreadable, even to me. That’s not an accident. Even that single words feels heavier in his rich deep bass voice, though.

I’m not going to think about his voice or any other aspect of the mystery that is Henry Revill. Henry and I are just colleagues these days. When we were younger, we were something else. A few times, I’ve slipped up and fallen into his bed after deciding we were done with that part of our history. Right now, though, our past means we know each other too well to be standing over a body together without stealthily checking in on the other one's well-being.

I slip on my gear. My gloves are purple. Uncle Micky thought I’d like them better, but they stand out too much, too bright at the edge of death. The only thing keeping me from ordering a box of the black ones is fiscal responsibility. I focus on retrieving my coveralls, glasses, and gloves.

It’s too damn hot to want to wear any of it longer than necessary, but contaminating the scene forensically is not an option.

Henry looks away as I shimmy into my coveralls. There’s nothing improper about it. My clothes stay on under them, but to a lot of Southern men, modesty matters. Respect matters, especially respect toward women. And as much as we are in a modern part of the South, there are still those who look at a Black man with a different level of scrutiny. Henry and I having a past doesn’t erase that reality either.

From behind me, I hear, “We aren’t making any statements.”

Officer McAllister glares at the reporter who’s craning his neck as if seeing what’s behind the black tarps would be wise.

Those hanging tarps aren’t erected just for the deceased’s privacy. The tarp hides the sight of what’s sure to be awful, yet do nothing for the scent of death.

It takes a certain sort of mindset to bury a body here. It means that he—and yes, most

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