Bad Blood Page 1

For William, who helped Mommy copyedit this book when he was just five weeks old.


Without order, there is chaos.

Without order, there is pain.

The wheel turns. Lives are forfeit. Seven masters. Seven ways of killing.

This time, it will be fire. Nine will burn.

So it has been decreed, and so it must be. The wheel is already turning. There is an order to things. And at the center of all of it—all of it—is you.

The serial killer sitting across from me had his son’s eyes. The same shape. The same color. But the glint in those eyes, the light of anticipation—that’s wholly your own.

Experience—and my FBI mentors—had taught me that I could delve further into other people’s minds by talking to them than by talking about them. Giving in to the urge to profile, I continued to appraise the man across from me. You’ll hurt me if you can. I knew that, had known it even before coming to this maximum security prison and seeing the subtle smile that crossed Daniel Redding’s lips the moment his gaze met mine. Hurting me will hurt the boy. I sank deeper and deeper into Redding’s psychopathic perspective. And the boy is yours to hurt.

It didn’t matter that Daniel Redding’s hands were cuffed together and chained to the table. It didn’t matter that there was an armed FBI agent at the door. The man in front of me was one of the world’s most brutal serial killers, and if I let him past my defenses, he would burn his mark into my soul as surely as he’d branded the letter R onto the flesh of his victims.

Bind them. Brand them. Cut them. Hang them.

That was how Redding had killed his victims. But that wasn’t what had brought me here today.

“You told me once that I would never find the man who killed my mother,” I said, sounding calmer than I felt. I knew this particular psychopath well enough to know that he would try to get a rise out of me.

You’ll try to burrow into my mind, to plant questions and doubts so that when I walk out of this room, a part of you goes with me.

That was what Redding had done months ago when he’d dropped that bombshell about my mother. And that was why I was here now.

“Did I say that?” Redding asked with a slow and subtle smile. “It does sound like something I might have mentioned, but…” He lifted his shoulders in an elaborate shrug.

I folded my hands on the table and waited. You’re the one who wanted me to come back here. You’re the one who set the lure. This is me, taking the bait.

Eventually, Redding broke the silence. “You must have something else to say to me.” Redding had an organized killer’s capacity for patience—but only on his own terms, not on mine. “After all,” he continued, a low hum in his voice, “you and I have so very much in common.”

I knew he was referencing my relationship with his son. And I knew that to get what I wanted, I’d have to acknowledge that. “You’re talking about Dean.”

The moment I said Dean’s name, Redding’s twisted smile deepened. My boyfriend—and fellow Natural—didn’t know that I was here. He would have insisted on coming with me, and I couldn’t do that to him. Daniel Redding was a master of manipulation, but nothing he said could possibly hurt me the way every word out of his mouth would have shredded Dean.

“Does my son fancy himself in love with you?” Redding leaned forward, his cuffed hands folding in imitation of my own. “Do you tiptoe into his room at night? Does he bury his hands in your hair?” Redding’s expression softened. “When Dean cradles you in his arms,” he murmured, his voice taking on a musical lilt, “do you ever wonder just how close he is to snapping your neck?”

“It must bother you,” I said softly, “to know so incredibly little about your own son.”

If Redding wanted to hurt me, he’d have to do better than trying to make me doubt Dean. If he wanted what he said to haunt me for days and weeks to come, he’d have to hit me where I was most vulnerable. Where I was weak.

“It must bother you,” Redding parroted my own words back at me, “to know so incredibly little about what happened to your own mother.”

The image of my mom’s blood-soaked dressing room surged to the front of my mind, but I schooled my face into a neutral expression. I’d set Redding up to hit me where it hurt, and in doing so, I’d steered the conversation exactly where I wanted it to go.

“Isn’t that why you’re here?” Redding asked me, his voice velvety and low. “To find out what I know about your mother’s murder?”

“I’m here,” I said, staring him down, “because I know that when you swore to me that I would never find the man who killed my mother, you were telling the truth.”

Each of the five teenagers in the FBI’s Naturals program had a specialty. Mine was profiling. Lia Zhang’s was deception detection. Months ago, she’d pegged Redding’s taunting words about my mother as true. I could feel Lia on the other side of the two-way mirror now, ready to separate every sentence I got out of Dean’s father into truth and lies.

Time to lay my cards on the table. “What I want to know,” I told the killer in front of me, enunciating each word, “is exactly what kind of truth you were telling. When you guaranteed me that I would never find the man who murdered my mother, was that because you thought she’d been murdered by a woman?” I paused. “Or did you have reason to believe that my mother was still alive?”

Ten weeks. That was how long we’d been looking for a lead—any lead, no matter how small—on the cabal of serial killers who’d faked my mother’s death nearly six years earlier. The group that had held her captive ever since.

“This isn’t a casual visit, is it?” Redding leaned back in his chair, tilting his head to the side as his eyes—Dean’s eyes—made a detached study of mine. “You haven’t simply reached a tipping point, my words haven’t been slowly eating away at you for months. You know something.”

I knew that my mother was alive. I knew that those monsters had her. And I knew that I would do anything, make a deal with any devil, to bring them down.

To bring her home.

“What would you say,” I asked Redding, “if I told you that there was a society of serial killers, one that operated in secret, killing nine victims every three years?” I could hear the intensity in my own voice. I didn’t even sound like myself. “What would you say if I told you that this group is steeped in ritual, that they’ve been killing for more than a century, and that I am going to be the one to bring them down?”