Murder Notes (Lilah Love Book 1) - Book cover

Murder Notes (Lilah Love Book 1)

Lisa Renee Jones

Age Rating


As an FBI profiler, it's Lilah Love's job to think like a killer. And she is very good at her job. When a series of murders surface—the victims all stripped naked and shot in the head—Lilah's instincts tell her it's the work of an assassin, not a serial killer. But when the case takes her back to her hometown in the Hamptons and a mysterious but unmistakable connection to her own life, all her assumptions are shaken to the core. Thrust into a troubled past she's tried to shut the door on, Lilah's back in the town where her father is mayor, her brother is police chief, and she has an intimate history with the local crime lord's son, Kane Mendez. The two share a devastating secret, and only Kane understands Lilah's own darkest impulses. As more corpses surface, so does a series of anonymous notes to Lilah, threatening to expose her. Is the killer someone in her own circle? And is she the next target?

Age Rating: 18+

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Chapter 1

There is blood in the ocean.

I don’t notice it at first, but then, most people don’t. It’s called denial. We refuse to see what we eventually have to cope with, or perhaps even confess. For the innocent, they don’t expect the brutality of the actions required to take a life, so they simply cannot process the inconceivable. For the guilty, it’s all about denying your own ability to do such a thing, and denial can be a slow, brutal sword that carves you inside out. Though there is another class of people that are more animal than human. Those so sick, so demented that they feel a fleeting joy from death and then seek more joy by doing it again. And again. You won’t find guilt in their eyes. You won’t find remorse. There are times when I’ve felt like one of those animals, but then the guilt starts again.

But you see? There is no remorse. I’m not sure what that says about me.

And so I walk on the beach, not seeing what is there, and it’s like so many other walks along East Hampton’s beach. Cool sand between my toes. The taste of salt on my lips. A gust of wind lifting my long brown hair from my neck. I see it happening, like I’m above the scene, looking down. Like I’m dead and that other person on the beach is alive. Sometimes I can almost hear that wind whisper my name, too: Lilah. Lilah~. As if it’s calling me to a place it knows I must travel, but I continue to refuse. It is a gentle, soothing caress of a whisper—a seductive promise that acceptance will bring relief, even forgiveness.~

The wind lies. It always lies.

But then, that’s why it wants me. Because of my lies. Because it knows how they haunt me. It knows my secrets when no one else knows. Only that’s ~a lie, too, and I blink to find the only other person who does know in the distance and closing in quickly.~

He walks toward me, graceful and good-looking, his suit ridiculously expensive, the wet sand beneath his black lace-up shoes impossibly smooth everywhere he steps. But then he’s a man who easily convinces people he walks on water, so why not sand? A man whose accomplishments are second only to his arrogance, while his charisma is just one of his many weapons. He can kiss a woman and make her crave more—he certainly did that to me—but I remind myself that this does not make me naive, as he also has the power to utter only a word and have grown men follow him. He is the picture of perfection that very few see is framed with broken glass. But I see. I know things about him no one else knows.

Like he does me. And therein lies the problem.

Rejecting him, I turn away from his approach, facing the ocean, a new dawn illuminating the sky, a strange red spot tainting the deep blue of the water. It begins to grow, and grow some more, until the lifeblood of someone gone and possibly forgotten spills through it like oil set on destruction. Blood is now everywhere. There is nothing else but it and the guilt that I’ve tried to deny.

And suddenly he is behind me, his hand on my shoulder, and I shiver with that touch. He did this. He spilled this blood.

Only . . . no. That doesn’t feel right. I think . . . I did this.~

I wake from one of my freak-show nightmares, which I thought were finally over, to a dark room, my cell phone ringing on the nightstand and my body aching from the need for sleep.

“Rich,” I murmur, shoving against the big, hard body that has managed to drape over mine. “Get off. My phone’s ringing.” He doesn’t move, which is a problem that reaches beyond this moment and more directly to us working in the same field office and hopping into bed together. “Rich, damn it.”

He gives a groan and rolls in one direction while I go the other and grab my cell, glancing at the caller ID. It’s the local PD. “Special Agent Love,” I answer.

“We’ve got a body off the Santa Monica Pier and need your assistance,” the man on the line says. “Early-morning jogger made the discovery and called it in.”

I glance at the clock—5:00 a.m.—and wonder what idiot jogs at four in the morning, in the dark, on the beach, but this isn’t my job anyway. “That’s the local authority’s territory. You’ve got the wrong girl.”

“You are Special Agent Lilah Love, correct?”

“You knew that already,” I say irritably, and since this clearly isn’t going away easily, I sit up, preparing to fight for my need to sleep.

“Then you’re requested by name. Director Murphy sent the directive.”

My boss is meeting me there? This is more than me lending my profiling skills to the locals if he’s joining me, and my exhaustion fades into concern. “I’ll be right there.” I end the call and throw off the blankets, grimacing when I realize I’m wearing Rich’s shirt, which is not sending him the noncommittal message I need to send after dodging last night’s “talk.” But it smells good, the way he always does, I think as I push myself onto my feet and stumble toward the bathroom.

Stepping into the tiny bathroom, I scrape my foot on a cracked tile and grimace, then take up residence at the equally tiny, ancient sink and grab my toothbrush.

“When are we going to finish that talk we started last night?”

At the sound of Rich’s voice, I start brushing my teeth, making sure I’m as incapable of talking about moving in with him now as I was when we were having sex last night. “Lilah,” he says impatiently, my reprieve lasting all of ten seconds.

I glance over at him through the long drape of my messy dark-brown hair to find him leaning on the doorway. Naked. The man is all kinds of blond, hard-bodied goodness, but still. Good grief. “Why don’t you have clothes on?” I ask, though I’m not sure he can understand me with my mouth full of foam.

“I’m serious, Lilah. We’ve been hot and heavy for six months. We need to have this talk.”

“You’re naked,” I say, yanking the toothbrush from my mouth, since clearly he didn’t hear me the last time. “I’m not talking to you naked.” I go back to brushing my teeth.

“You aren’t naked. I am.”

“Aren’t you funny,” I say, turning on the water and rinsing my mouth, and since he’s still standing there when I’m done, I face him. “I’m serious, Rich. You’re naked. I have a dead body waiting on me. The two do not compute. Now is not the time.”

“You’re one of the top FBI profilers in the country,” he states. “You always have a dead body waiting on you. Which is why we never talk.”

I turn and press my hands to the sink, showing the white ceramic more interest than it deserves, while his naked body might deserve more than I can afford to give it right now. “Everyone has their fetishes, I guess.”

“You don’t like dead bodies. Why do you say shit like that?”

Because I want to scare you off, I think, and I might actually really freak him out if I insist I do have a fetish for dead bodies. Of course, as logical as Rich is, he’d know it’s because they help me catch killers. Instead, I just say, “I’m getting dressed.” Hoping he takes a hint and does the same, I turn to walk into the closet. Thankfully, his sound of frustration is followed by a shift in the air that tells me he’s finally gone to dress. Wishing for the shower I don’t have time to take, I yank a pair of faded jeans and a black V-neck T-shirt from their hangers, get dressed, and then lean on the wall to pull on black combat boots.

All of three minutes later, I reenter the bathroom to find Rich back in the doorframe, and while he’s not naked, his low-slung black jeans aren’t doing much to cover his assets, which I really want covered right now. I toss him his shirt, which he catches and pulls over his head. Seizing the momentary distraction I’ve created, I head back to the sink to wash my face, brush my hair, and contemplate how washed-out my pale skin is without the makeup I’d prefer to be wearing right now. I’m a girl. I like being a girl despite this job, and I pretty much fucking love how that, mixed with my “potty mouth,” as my mother would call it if she were alive, confuses the hell out of people.

Ready to get out of here for more reasons than one, I step to Rich and he doesn’t budge, his big body blocking my petite one. “So about that apartment,” Rich says. “You’ve been in Cali for two years. This place is the size of a Cracker Jack box, and it’s a dump, Lilah. It’s time to make a change.”

“You’re right. This place is tiny, a point driven home by the fact that you’re presently suffocating me. I need something bigger, and if it came with a toilet that doesn’t require me jiggling the handle every time I use it, that would be a plus.”

“I’m glad you agree.”

He’s glad I agree? Okay. That didn’t go as planned. He’s not registering what I’m telling him. I see it in his face, and I need to shut up before I dig myself in deeper. “Move, Rich. I need to go.”

Still, he blocks my path. “I have a long-term lease and a toilet that doesn’t need to be jiggled,” he says. “It’s not your fancy Hamptons place of old, I’m sure, but it’s a step up from this shit hole. Move in with me. I want to wake up and look into those gorgeous brown eyes of yours every morning from now on.”

Yep. Officially screwed this up big-time. “Did I mention I have a dead body waiting on me? And Murphy?”

His brow instantly furrows. “Murphy’s meeting you?” He backs away. “What the hell is going on?”

“I’m clueless,” I say, walking to the chair in the corner of the bedroom and slipping the satchel I carry to all my crime scenes over my head and chest.

“If Murphy’s at the crime scene,” he says, “we’re taking over.”

“Most likely,” I say, and not about to invite more conversation, I leave it at that and make my way to the door for my escape. But frustratingly, Rich steps in front of me.

“Move in with me,” he repeats, his hands coming down on my shoulders. “I’m crazy about you.”

“I’m not a relationship kind of girl.”

“What do you call what we’re doing?”

“Sex. Friendship.” I’m confusing him and I think me, too. I should have left out the friendship part, except I do like him. Quite a lot actually. Frustrated at myself, I add, “I don’t know.”

“You just described a perfect relationship, Lilah. That’s what we all want. Sex and friendship in one place.”

Note to self: friendship is a really bad word with men. “Look. Rich. I mean, you’re like the perfect Cali surfer dude: gorgeous and sweet, but—”

“Surfer dude and sweet? Holy fuck.” He drops his hands from my shoulders and scrubs one of them through his longish, curly blond hair. “That’s how you see me?”

I hold up my hands. “No. God no. I’m sorry. See? I suck at this stuff.” I toughen my voice to make sure he knows how serious I am. “You’re an all-American G.I. Joe badass. You would die for just about anyone. You are amazing, Rich. Absolutely fucking amazing. Too good for me. I’m the one that’s the problem. I have issues. Big issues. That’s why I don’t do commitment.” I shove a strand of hair from my face. “And I can’t do this now. You know I can’t do this now.”

His jaw sets hard and he gives me a disgruntled, reluctant nod. “Go. Deal with Murphy.”

I don’t argue. I step around him and dart for the living room, pausing in the doorway long enough to say, “Lock up when you leave. Sick fucks love me.” I take off for the front door.

“What the hell does that make me, Lilah?”

“The exception,” I call out, and he has no idea how true that statement rings.


Thanks to that early-Wednesday-morning jogger getting us all out of bed at the crack of dawn, I travel from my Los Feliz neighborhood to Santa Monica in thirty minutes, which would be unheard of any other time of the day. Parking my gray Ford Taurus in a lot near the beach is just as easy. I step out of the car, slip my FBI badge over my neck, fight a gust of September seventy-something wind, and head down the sidewalk toward the pier. Weaving my way through the now-sleeping perpetual carnival of the boardwalk, I make a beeline for the Ferris wheel certain to lead me to the end of the pier. Turns out, the growing crowd around the yellow tape on the nearby beachfront does the job just fine.

I approach several uniforms and show them my badge. “Who’s the detective in charge?” I ask.

“Oliver,” one of them tells me.

Great, I think, moving on along the sidewalk. That man hates me. I’ve made it all of ten feet across the sidewalk, about to hit the sand, when I hear, “Special Agent Love.”

At the sound of Detective Oliver’s voice, I grimace and turn to find the fortyish “Gray Fox,” as the ladies on the force call him, joining me. And yeah, I guess he’s good-looking. If you like the stereotypical, cigarette-smoking, perpetually-wrinkled-suit-wearing good cop with a bad attitude.


“Are you going to do a better job for me this morning than you did two days ago?”

And here we go. “It was a professional hit, Detective Oliver,” I say tightly. “You don’t just get a read on him, or her, with a snap of your fingers.”

“You didn’t get me a read at all.”

“This isn’t a thirtyish perp with two kids and a dog you can track down in the suburbs. There are papers written on this shit. They don’t fit profiles.”

“I don’t give a fuck about papers, college girl. And if you and your people are coming onto my scene, you had better find a way to get me a profile.” He starts walking, exiting the sidewalk to hit the sand.

Irritated, I whirl around and pursue him, catching up quickly. “My services are volunteered as a professional courtesy, not to invade your personal space.”

“Funny,” he says dryly. “I don’t remember being given an option this morning when I declined your services.” We reach the dock area where various officials have gathered several feet from another taped-off area. One of the badges motions to him, and he in turn motions toward the cluster of people gathered by the dock.

“Go. Get me answers this time,” he says before showing me his back.

Grinding my teeth, I face forward and walk, pushing through the layer of personnel to find Joe, the redheaded forensic guy—which is actually what everyone calls him—leaning over the victim, his thick-rimmed glasses inching down his nose. “Hiya, Agent Love.”

“Hi, Joe,” I say, but it’s not him that has my attention at present. It’s the dead, naked male body in the sand, water washing over his bare feet, and the chill racing down my spine, and not because I’m squeamish. Because this is exactly how we found another victim only two nights ago, and we never found the victim’s clothes. I don’t expect to now either. The absence of clothes on the body, or anywhere to be found, is assumed by most on the scene to be an effort to hide evidence. But not by me. My gut said there was more to it two days ago, and it most definitely does now as well.

I step closer and Joe moves to the dead man’s head. “Bullet between the eyes,” he says, glancing up at me and indicating the clean hole in the center of the brows. “Look familiar?”

“All too familiar,” I say, removing plastic gloves from my bag as I squat in the sand and inspect the remains.

“Clean entry,” Joe adds. “Perfect precision, no mess, no fuss.”

“Were the clothes taken off before or after the murder?”


I don’t ask his reasoning. He’ll detail it in his report.

“And the case two days ago?”

“Also before, and pending blood-splatter analysis and confirmation, of course, this case is a virtual clone to that one.”

“Only that was a woman,” I say, looking for any signs of struggle he might have missed, while I struggle myself with my hair that I should have tied back in this damn wind.

“But that doesn’t rule out a serial killer, right?” he asks, sounding a bit too excited about the prospect.

“Serial killers and assassins are different breeds,” I say. “And we’re at two victims, which does not equate to a serial killer, at least by definition.”

“Assassin? You think this is an assassin?”

“Yes,” I reply simply.

“What kind of assassin takes off the victim’s clothes?”

“This one,” I say absently, my gaze catching on the tattoo on the man’s arm, the arm not shoved half under his body and into the sand, a foreboding knot forming in my stomach. “Can I see that ink?”

“Oh yeah,” he says. “I wanted to look at that, too. It looks interesting.” He moves to the side of the man, shifting the arm, and the ease of movement says I’m right: the guy is practically still warm. “I’m thinking of getting a tattoo myself,” he says.

“Time of death?” I ask, focusing on the case.

“He’s fresh,” he says. “I’m estimating three a.m., maybe three thirty.” He changes the subject. “I’m thinking Superman. Do chicks dig Superman?”

“What?” I say, looking at him.

“I was thinking I’d get a Superman tattoo.”

“If you’re trying to embrace your resident geek status, it works.”

“Who says I’m the resident geek?”

“Everyone except you, apparently. Embrace it. It works for you.”

He glowers. “Seriously, Agent Love. Could you just—”

“The tattoo, Joe,” I say, feeling that knot in my stomach growing.

“Right. Tattoo. His. Not mine.”

He flips the arm just enough that I get the full view of the tattoo, and I hear nothing else he says. I see the Virgin Mary with blood dripping out of her mouth, and suddenly I am back on another beach. My lashes lower and I’m living the exact moment I was grabbed from behind. I had twisted around and thrown an ineffective defensive move. The ineffective part, and the punishment I’d received for being that weak, is the reason that I now train just as hard in my physical combat skills as I do on constantly honing my profiling abilities. I’d gone down hard on the sandy ground with a heavy male body on top of me, big, muscular arms caging me. One of his beefy forearms had been etched with a tattoo, moving and flexing with his flesh while he assaulted me. A tattoo of the Virgin Mary, bleeding from her mouth. Praying to her or anyone else did nothing to save me.

“Special Agent Love.”

At the sound of my name, I snap back to the present to find Detective Oliver standing behind Joe, glowering at me, not the dead body. “Are you sleeping or getting me my answers?”

I inhale and stand up, turning to find Assistant Director Murphy a good twenty yards away. Yanking my gloves off, I start walking in that direction, only to have Detective Oliver catch up with me. “Hold on there, sweetie.”

Anger officially ignited, I whirl on him. “Sweetie? Well, look here, honey. Unless you want me to shove that sock you have in your pants in your mouth, back off, Detective Oliver. I get it. This is your turf and I’m just some twenty-eight-year-old kid, while you’re the seasoned vet. But I’ve been in and around law enforcement since I was in diapers, and I’m damn good at my job.”

He arches a brow. “Are you done?”

“No,” I say, “but you are. We’re trying to catch the same damn monster, so back the fuck off.”

He stares at me long and hard, to the point that I move to leave. He gently shackles my arm and turns me around. “Don’t touch me,” I snap.

He holds up his hands. “Understood.” His eyes narrow. “You want to talk about what set you off back there?”

“Aside from you,” I lie, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He slides his hands to his hips under his jacket. “I challenge you every damn time you come onto my crime scene—”

“Challenge? Is that what you call it?”

“Every time you come onto my crime scene,” he repeats, “and you never let me rattle you. What got you back there? Because it wasn’t me.”

“That’s an assassination,” I say, moving away from the topic of me. “And this is an opinion and a working theory, not a fact, but I say he takes their clothes off at the directive of a client.”

“None of that answers my question. What set you off?”

The sound of footsteps has us both looking up to find my boss approaching, and there is something about his full-on gray hair, which is as perfectly groomed as his tan suit is fitted, along with his carriage, that radiates authority and control. His control, not that of Detective Oliver.

“Special Agent Love, Detective Oliver,” he greets, stopping in profile to us and glancing between our warring expressions. “Do we have a problem?”

“You and I should talk, Director Murphy,” Detective Oliver states.

“After I talk to my agent, who graciously got out of bed yet again to aid one of your cases.”

“The case you took over,” Detective Oliver reminds him.

“Oh, I did, didn’t I?” my boss replies and then says more firmly, “I did. I need to talk to my agent. Alone.”

Detective Oliver scowls and leaves while Director Murphy looks at me. “What was all that about?”

“Typical turf war when we take over. Nothing I can’t handle.”

I’ll handle it,” he promises and then, thankfully, moves on. “New York has a case that has enough similarities to these two here that we may be looking at a serial killer who’s crossed state lines. That makes this our baby.”

“This isn’t a serial killer,” I say, repeating what I told Detective Oliver. “It’s an assassination.”

“Or a serial killer obsessed with assassination-style murders. Profile the victims, then talk to me.”

I hesitate but can’t let this go. “You said New York?”

“That’s right. Your home state, which, aside from your profiling skills, makes you the right match for this case.”

That’s debatable, but I don’t tell him that. “I’ve seen the tattoo that’s on the arm of the victim before,” I say instead.

“Where? And in what context?”

“It wasn’t in a professional capacity, and it was many years ago. Back home in the Hamptons, actually.”

“That’s Mendez Enterprises territory,” he says. “A family and empire based in the Hamptons. Notoriously legit and yet not legit at all. Very soap opera–ish. I read up on them when you joined our team.”

A frisson of unease slides through me. “Why would you read up on them when I joined the team?”

“I like to know where my people came from and what influences them, directly or indirectly.”

I’m not sure what to make of that comment, but he doesn’t give me time to try to figure it out, already moving on. “I understand the son, Kane, took over after his father was murdered a few years back. Do you know him?”

“If you researched as you say, then you know that you simply can’t grow up in the Hamptons and not know the Mendez family,” I say, remaining as noncommittal as possible. “We all knew them. And yes, I knew him.”

“Word is he’s a smooth operator, but then, so was his father.”

“I would say that description fits,” I agree, thinking that Kane is that and much more, which I won’t elaborate on at this point.

“Always squeaky-clean when investigated, too, from what I understand. The kind of person who gets others to do the dirty work. Like perhaps the assassin you feel we’re dealing with. That, along with a tattoo that connects the body to the Hamptons, sounds like a connection to investigate.”

“I certainly think there’s a connection to the Hamptons, and we should have it checked out.”

“So go,” he says. “Check this out.”

I blanch. “What? No. With all due respect, Director Murphy, I left that place for a reason.”

“And you’re going back with a bigger one. Your job. Go pack.” He looks at his watch and then me. “It’s not even seven yet. Call the office on your way home. With luck, our team can have you in a bird by noon.” He starts walking and I stare after him, seeing nothing but an ocean of blood. I’m going back to where those nightmares started. And back to him.

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