Dr. Tessa McGowan had never seen anything quite like it. But the mutilated bodies on her exam table tell a stunningly macabre tale: someone with a twisted mind is kidnapping women and altering their faces to resemble real, life-size dolls. As a forensic pathologist, it’s her job to aid the agent leading the case—even if that agent is her estranged husband.
Twelve years ago an unspeakable tragedy destroyed Dakota Sharp’s world. Haunted by the ghosts of his past, he’s devoted himself to capturing killers. His only regret is that it cost him Tessa. Now, as the Dollmaker case brings them together—and raises his suspicions that he’s crossed paths with this deranged psychopath before—they may just have their second chance. But it seems Dakota’s not the only one who wants to make Tessa his own…
She may be the Dollmaker’s next target, but Tessa has no intention of winding up as another toy on his shelf. Can she and Dakota stop this ghastly killer before his next deadly playdate?
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Message from the Author
My latest romantic suspense, THE DOLLMAKER, features homicide detective Dakota Sharp and his estranged wife, medical examiner Dr. Tessa McGowan.
Eight months ago, when Tessa fled the US to work with a team identifying the remains of former U.S. serviceman, she thought her marriage to Dakota Sharp was over. Now she’s returned with a new perspective, and is determined to repair her crumbling marriage. While away, she came to see that the dogged singlemindedness Dakota brings to his cases, something she once believed drove them apart, is one of the most important things she loves about him. She knows that the demons driving him stem from his sister Kara’s unsolved homicide.
Dakota adores his wife but has cut himself off, accepting that his obsession with work and Kara demand he be alone. He knows he won’t find peace or be fit to live with until he finds Kara’s murderer. When the Dollmaker killings emerge, they rekindle questions about Kara’s death. As the deadly spree continues, the couple discover that one of the victims is a college friend both Tessa and Kara knew. The dead woman’s face had been heavily tattooed and, like Kara when she was found, she’d been dressed like a doll. A long-dormant killer is back in business. And Tessa and Dakota are determined to shut him down.
There’s something about Tessa and Dakota that keeps them coming back to me, even in the midst of my work in progress. It’s hard to pick favorites among all the characters I’ve written, but right now Tessa and Sharp top the list. Even if they’re both stubborn, as you’ll see in this excerpt in which they meet for the first time since their separation.
“Why the meeting, Tessa?”
“I wanted to let you know I’m back in Richmond. I’ve applied for a yearlong fellowship at the medical examiner’s office. In fact, Dr. Kincaid just offered me the job. I start in the morning. . . .”
Dakota’s question was as piercing as a honed blade. “So that’s it? You wanted to give me a heads up?”
“That was part of the reason.”
He didn’t speak. Barely seemed to breathe.
“I wanted to see you. To see for myself you’re doing okay.”
He shook his head, as if he were bracing for a second shoe to drop.
“I also wanted you to know I remembered today is Kara’s birthday. I haven’t forgotten.”
He didn’t blink. “Okay.”
“She was my friend, too. What happened to her changed my life as well.” Her thumb rubbed the underside of her ring finger as if expecting to feel her wedding band.
“Yes.” She’d hoped mentioning Kara would chip away at the wall between them, but it only added more bricks. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to rub salt.”
A weary sigh leaked from his lips. “I assume you’re now making small talk and screwing up the courage to talk about a divorce.”
Their broken marriage dangled between them like glass shards. Hardly anyone would have noticed any hope glinting around the jagged edges. “No, I’m not.”
“No, you’re not what?”
This was the moment she’d rehearsed a hundred times on the long plane ride home. “I’m not filing the papers.”
His gray eyes narrowed. “You want me to?”
“No,” she blurted . . .
“I haven’t changed and neither has my job, Tessa. It never will. I don’t know why you imagined I’d change.”
Shaking his head, he rose as if he could no longer stay still. “Do yourself a favor and move on with your life. File the fucking papers, and I’ll sign them.”
She stood quickly, again bumping the table, sloshing more coffee. As he turned away, she fired back, “I never figured you for a chickenshit, Sharp . . .”
“Figured you were more of a fighter,” she pressed. What the hell did she have to lose now? “Never pegged you for a quitter.”
Unruffled, he reached for his sunglasses. “I’m a realist. We are not suited for each other. I know. You know it.”
She moved a step closer to him, knowing the sunglasses were one of his tells. He put them on when he was rattled. She’d hit her target. “I’m not filing papers.”
“And then what? We remain in limbo?”
“No. We figure it out. We make our marriage work.”
Copyright 2016 © Mary Burton