Image of suspense author Mary Burton


Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.

It was the sound of fingers clawing against the dirt, and it had echoed through Special Agent Macy Crow’s dreams last night. She was accustomed to nightmares, which had plagued her since she was a small child. But this one had been agonizingly real.

Still unsettled, Macy opened the driver’s side door of her four-door Toyota. She tossed a worn black backpack into the passenger seat, slid behind the wheel, and shifted the pressure off her right side and away from the annoying pain. The discomfort had been a daily part of her life since a hit-and-run five months ago in Texas.

The attack had broken her right leg, cracked her skull, and flatlined her heart for nearly a minute. By rights, she should be dead. She shouldn’t have walked again. She shouldn’t have returned to work.

But here she was, ignoring not only the lingering discomfort but also the crazy dreams that had followed her back from the other side of the rainbow.

Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.

She started her engine, slid on her sunglasses, and drove out of the apartment building lot onto Seminary Road. She followed side streets to the I-95 south entrance. The morning traffic was already heavy and, like always, pissed her off.

Following a familiar route to the FBI complex, she was more anxious than most days. She juggled jolts of worry and excitement as she visualized her upcoming interview with Special Agent Jerrod Ramsey.

Ramsey headed up a small team that tackled violent crimes. His group had cracked several high-profile cases in the last year. Details about their deeds were scant, but their results made them legendary.

After cutting through the traffic sludge, she took her exit and slowed as she approached the guard station at Quantico. She reached for her badge, flipped the leather case open, and handed it to the marine on duty. “Morning, Corporal.”

The marine looked at her picture and then at her, frowning as he’d done almost every day since her return three weeks ago. He handed back her identification and waved her through. She drove to the main FBI building, parked, and presented her badge to the familiar FBI security guard while her backpack was x-rayed.

“Crow, what you call a pen with no hair?” he asked with a straight face.

Every day it was a new joke about her short hair.

“Shoot me now, Ralph, and just get it over with.”

A neurosurgeon had shaved her head minutes before he had cracked open her skull and relieved pressure on her brain. Yes, she currently looked like a cross between Twiggy and a bristle brush. Desperate hunts for hair ties were gone for the near future, but she was aboveground.

“Come on, Special Agent, I bet you know,” he gently coaxed with a shit-eating grin.

“What?” She carefully tucked her badge in her jacket breast pocket.

“A bald point.”

Despite herself, she laughed. “Jesus, Ralph, you need help.”

“Who loves ya?”

Ignoring the Kojak reference, she took the elevator up to the third floor, where Special Agent Jerrod Ramsey worked. She made her way to his corner office and knocked.


She pushed open the door as a leather chair swiveled toward her, offering her first up close look at Jerrod Ramsey.

Thick brown hair was cut short and swept off a striking face that conjured images of East Coast prep schools, old money, and the Hamptons. He wasn’t classically handsome, but the sharp green eyes and olive skin coupled with tailored suits had to be kryptonite to the ladies.

Ramsey rose and adjusted his blue tie before he crossed the room to her.

“Special Agent Macy Crow,” she said.

A faint smile hinted of a welcome. “Good to meet you, Agent Crow,” he said, extending his hand.

She accepted his strong grip, clasping his hand firmly. “And you as well, sir.”

When Macy had declared her intentions to return to the bureau, she had been temporarily assigned to the ViCAP computer section because her former position had been filled. If she wanted back in the field, she would have to apply for another position.

When she had heard Jerrod Ramsey’s profiling team had an opening, she had thrown her name into the hat. She had expected a quick no to her request but instead had received what amounted to a “Let’s talk.”

Either returning from the dead had earned her points, or someone with juice was pulling strings. Whatever the reason, she hadn’t looked a gift horse in the mouth and had agreed to the meeting. Last night a courier had delivered a file from Ramsey. He’d instructed her to review the case and be prepared to discuss.

Ramsey offered her one of the two seats in front of his desk. When she sat, he took the remaining one.

“How do you like being back at work? Working with tech in the ViCAP unit must be a change,” he said.

“It’s been great.” In truth, staring at the four walls of a cubicle and a computer screen sucked. But it was the price of readmission.

He allowed the pause to linger, expecting her to fill in the silence with nervous chatter. It was a good trick. And one she used when she interviewed suspects.

When she didn’t speak, he said, “I heard you’ve set a few recovery records.”

“Queen of rehab,” she said with a smile. No agent wanted a weak partner. “Ready to rumble.”

His eyes narrowed. Either he had decided she was too flippant, or he liked her moxie. Or maybe the pointed stare was supposed to make her second-guess and worry while he figured her out.

She again absorbed the silence. What the hell. She was her own person and wouldn’t tone herself down for him or anyone else. Near death had a way of cutting through petty worries cluttering everyday life.

He reached across his desk and retrieved a file. Her name was marked on the tab in precise block letters. She imagined he already knew her professional credentials and her Texas origin story. Reading the file now was for show.

“Ten years with the bureau,” Ramsey said. “You worked in Denver, Kansas City, Seattle, and Quantico. Human trafficking is your specialty. You led several successful undercover operations.”

“Blessed with a slight frame, and in the right light, I pass for a teenager.”

He closed the file. “Why not go back to that?”

“The miniskirts and halter tops don’t fit as well as they used to,” she quipped.

“They’d also showcase your scars.”

“Honestly, the scars would have added to my mystique on the streets. But with or without the red racing stripe running up my leg, my days of passing as a teenager are over.” Climbing back-alley fences was also no longer in the cards for her. “Time for a new challenge.”

“I’ve heard good things about you,” Ramsey said. “Texas Rangers said you cracked a big case for them. ViCAP also likes having you.”

“The Rangers solved the case in Texas. I just gave them the crowbar to pry open the cracks.”

“Tell me about Texas.” Ramsey wasn’t going to make her return easy. No slam dunks in this room.

Reciting the story wasn’t easy, despite lots of practice. “You have a reputation for being prepared. You must know as much as I do.”

“I’m not interested in the facts in a report. I want to hear your version.”

She shifted in her seat. “I returned to Texas when my father was murdered. Pop left a message for me. Basically, he said there was a grave in the desert. The grave belonged to my birth mother. Turns out there were three graves. All girls who’d been kidnapped, raped, and murdered after they gave birth.”

“Did you know you were adopted?”

“Hard to hide it. When both parents have black hair and brown skin, it’s difficult to pass a pale blond kid off as their own.” She shrugged. “They were always up front about the adoption. But they left out the part about my birth mother being murdered.”

“That must have been a gut punch.”

“Learning I’m a child of rape and that I’m half-monster wasn’t pleasant. Gut punch sums it up.”

Her adoptive mother had once whispered that Macy had bad blood. When a girl in her third-grade class had been kidnapped and murdered, the other children had been afraid. Macy hadn’t. She had been fascinated by the cops, the cadaver-sniffing dogs, and the blue wave of law enforcement sweeping over their community.

“No one but Macy dare goes near that alley,” her mother had whispered to her father. “It’s not normal.” Her mother hadn’t relaxed until the fourteen-year-old murderer had been arrested.

The Texas trip had driven home the true meaning of bad blood. Since then, its full weight had rested heavily on Macy’s shoulders.

“Violence is forged in my DNA,” Macy said. “Maybe it explains why I’m good at hunting monsters.” Modesty didn’t become her, so she didn’t bother with it. “I’m good at what I do, or I wouldn’t be here now.”

“Do you think you’d have been injured in Texas if you’d had backup?” Ramsey asked.

Macy refused to apologize or backpedal. “I take risks. It’s the secret sauce behind my high-profile arrests, and yes, it set me up for the HNR.”


“Sorry, shorthand for hit-and-run. The incident has come up a few times, so I abbreviate it. Federal employees love acronyms.”

Ramsey wasn’t amused. “Did your injury teach you any lessons?”

“To be more careful. But I can’t promise. No agent really knows what they’ll encounter in the field or how they’ll react.”

A muscle pulsed in his jaw. “How are you physically?”

“Solid and better every day.” She could lie without blinking, thanks to the undercover work.

If he didn’t buy her assessment, he didn’t give any hint. “Technically, you’re to remain on desk duty for another month.”

She decoded the thoughts lurking behind his dark eyes. Instead of wondering, she asked, “Are you saying you want me on your team?”

A smile tugged at the edge of his lips. “Do you want to be on it?”

“Yes, I do.”


More silence settled between them as they played an invisible game of chicken. Would she stay silent? Or would she admit that catching monsters was how she justified her existence and eased her crushing sorrow for the brutalized girl who’d died giving birth to her in the desert?

“All I can say is that I love the work,” she said.

“Working on my team isn’t easy, Agent Crow.”

Membership on his team meant long hours and unearthing evidence in horrific cases. Ramsey’s agents had a front-row seat to a brand of darkness that most law enforcement officers never saw.

“No one outworks me,” she said. “I settled so many cases in Kansas City, Seattle, and Denver because I took risks and didn’t give up. I’m here now because I don’t give up. I’m the proverbial dog with a bone when I get my hooks into a case.”

He didn’t speak for a moment. “In the weeks you’ve been with ViCAP, you’ve picked up on several patterns in cases around the country.”

She wasn’t here for a pat on the back. “Are you going to ask me about the case file you sent me? The one I studied last night until one a.m.?”

Intrigued, he sat back in his chair. “Tell me about the case.”

She was relieved. They were sailing into the safe waters of murder. “Last week, the skeletal remains of Tobi Turner were discovered in a Shenandoah Valley barn. The teenage girl went missing fifteen years ago. Sheriff Mike Nevada, the new county sheriff and a former member of your team, requested the FBI’s assistance after DNA found on the girl’s backpack matched the DNA of an unknown serial rapist active in the summer of 2004, three months before Tobi vanished.”

Ramsey didn’t look impressed. “Continue.”

Macy carefully crossed and uncrossed her legs. “Unfortunately, this offender isn’t in the CODIS system.” CODIS, the Combined DNA Identification System, was a database of DNA collected from prisoners and arrestees. “Tobi Turner and the rape victims all had a similar look. Slender, dark hair, and petite.”

“Anything else?”

“I did a data search of the Deep Run area in 2004. There was another girl who also vanished two weeks after Tobi. Her name was Cindy Shaw. She was mentioned in a two-paragraph article. The headline read ‘Second Girl Missing?’ There were no follow-ups to that article.”

He frowned. “Cindy Shaw was not in the file I gave you.”

“I always dig deeper than the file.”

“Why is Cindy Shaw significant?”

“Ms. Shaw may not be, but she attended Valley High School with Tobi Turner, she had long dark hair, and she vanished. No missing person report was filed on her behalf. Her last known address was a low-income trailer park. I suspect she was an at-risk kid, and when she disappeared, no one cared.”

“Not all poor girls who go missing are kidnapped, raped, and murdered.”

The reference alluded to her birth mother. And if it was meant to sting, it did. But a little more pain in an overflowing bucket didn’t really matter. “Every case surrounding the time period of Tobi Turner’s disappearance has to be questioned and examined.”

Ramsey looked almost impressed. “What do you suggest I do?”

So there it was. Her shot.

Discipline kept her from scooting to the edge of her seat. “I’d like to go to Deep Run and look into all these cases. I’m a fresh set of eyes, and as you’ve already suggested, I have a knack for detail and pattern.”

Ramsey regarded her for several beats before he said, “I’ll send you to Deep Run for five days. I want to see what you come up with.”

The green light warranted a fist pump, but she resisted. This was a test. Ramsey didn’t care about a personnel manual’s BS question or boxes that needed checking. The field would tell him.

“Should I check in with my superior downstairs?” she asked.

“No. I’ll clear it with him,” Ramsey said.

“You won’t be disappointed,” she said.

He raised an index finger. “I’m not looking for a cowgirl who’s going to ride into town, shoot it up, or get herself killed. I want you to dig up solid intel, and then you’ll debrief the team at Quantico next Monday. I still don’t know if you’ll make the cut,” Ramsey warned.

She hadn’t scored, but she had the ball. Time to take her best shot. “Like I said, you won’t be disappointed.”

“I saw just the slightest limp as you crossed the parking lot. You do a hell of a job hiding it.”

She glanced out his window, which overlooked the lot. “I qualified for the mile run time and retained my expert status at the shooting range.”

“Both scores have dropped since the attack.”

“I can hold my own.” She would not apologize or make excuses. She was done talking.

He studied her. “Hell, I can’t think of many people who would come back after what happened to you.”

“That’s ancient history. All that matters now is this case and me proving I belong on your team.”

“Glad you feel that way, because I can’t cut you any slack. Five days, Special Agent Crow. We’ll both know if you make the grade.”

She resisted the urge to uncross her legs and relieve the pressure on her nerves. Instead, she grinned. “I’m up to the challenge.”

“You’ll be working with Sheriff Mike Nevada.”

“I assumed as much.”

“Didn’t you work with Nevada when he was with the bureau?”

“Our paths crossed in Kansas City. He was searching for a serial killer who preyed on prostitutes trafficked along I-35. I was trying to catch the man pimping the girls. Turned out we were hunting the same guy.”

Crossing paths with Nevada. It was a nice euphuism for sex between two commitment-phobic agents. They had ended whatever it was they’d had on good terms, but walking away from him had been the only time she’d resented the job. “Nevada was a first-rate FBI agent, and I imagine he’s just as good a sheriff.”

“I’ll let him know you’re on your way. Stay in contact,” Ramsey said.

She rubbed her hand over her right thigh. “When do I leave?”

“Today. Pack your bag and hit the road.”

She checked her watch. “Will do.”

Ramsey’s smile was polite, but he clearly had his doubts.

©2019 Mary Burton





The Countdown to The Hangman Continues with a Giveaway!


Did someone say giveaway? Yes! I did. And, since I think the best advertisement is when readers tell readers what they like, I’m giving away two Advance Reader Copies of my latest The Forgotten Files novel, The Hangman,  to keep the positive buzz going! Enter now and I’ll hurry to get the book in your hands in time for you to be among the first readers.  Contest ends midnight, Tuesday, April 18th.  Thanks for entering!


a Rafflecopter giveaway




Excerpt: Meeting Julia

The cover for Mary Burton's THE HANGMAN, The Forgotten Files Book 3Across from her bed was a large gilded mirror; it’s streaked and faded silver backing hinted to its decades in an old hotel lobby. Below it, her secondhand dresser, painted a bright indigo, was covered with perfume bottles, makeup, and earrings. A rocking chair in the corner was draped with yesterday’s jeans and a white T-shirt. Beside it were ankle books kicked off midstep in her rush to get to a hot shower and wash away yesterday’s homicide scene.

Controlled chaos. Just as she’d left it when she went to bed Julia hustled to her closet and yanked on slim dark pants and a black T-shirt. She threaded a worn leather belt through the loops. The belt buckle had been her father’s and doubled as a knife. Fastening it, she shrugged on a jacket.

Her black hair curled around her face as she tugged it up into a ponytail. High-heel boots and a collection of beaded bracelets around her wrists made her look more like a rocker than a cop. She secured her service weapon, badge, and handcuffs to her belt. She tucked the cigarette pack in her pocket for good measure.

Julia had been with the Virginia State Police for eight years. As all agents did, she’d started as a trooper and worked the highway for six years before she landed an undercover gig in Virginia Beach. Turned out she had a knack for slipping into pretend lives and found working back alleys and smoky bars preferable to a cruiser. Six months ago, her arrest record had landed her a promotion to the criminal investigation team in Richmond.

Her single-cup coffee machine spat out a strong blend and, with travel mug in hand, she made her way down a back staircase leading to the alley where she’d parked her unmarked car. She drove east on Cary Street and then up Church Hill. She turned north toward Broad and spotted the blue lights flashing atop three city cruisers. She parked in front of the smoldering old town house. Rolling her head from side to side, she drained the last of her coffee. She stepped into the cold night air. Cursed.

Julia spotted Novak’s tall, broad-shouldered frame. He stood by his unmarked vehicle, feet braced and a cell phone pressed to his ear. He was one hell of a cop. One of the good guys. One day he’d figure out she hauled too much emotional baggage around and leave, and their late-night encounters would end. Too bad. Because if she could have liked a guy, it might have been him.

She stepped into his peripheral vision, and he turned, holding up a finger. She shifted from foot to foot, folding her arms over her chest, telling herself she wasn’t really that tired or cold.

He quickly finished his call.

“Julia.” His tone wrapped an unwanted familiarity around her name.

“Novak, this better be good.”

He tucked his phone into his breast pocket. “Nothing excites me more than meeting you at a crime scene in the middle of the night.”

The dry humor tempered some of her irritation. “So seduce me with sweet talk. Make me glad I’m not at home asleep in a warm bed.”

Copyright 2017 Mary Burton






























Excerpt: Tobias Connects Julia to the Crime

The cover for Mary Burton's THE HANGMAN, The Forgotten Files Book 3Detective Novak discovers the unexpected in Church Hill …

Flashing lights from the patrol cars and fire engines made it easy for City of Richmond detective Tobias Novak to find the Church Hill murder scene. He parallel parked at the end of the block, climbed out of his SUV into the bitter cold, and burrowed deeper into his overcoat as he made his way up the brick sidewalk past century-old row houses, some looking every bit their age.

It was his evening off and he was not happy about leaving behind a warm bed and the woman in it. Blame it on the lunar cycle or Halloween week, but the dispatcher had every on-duty detective already committed. He was needed.

A uniformed officer stood by the strip of yellow crime-scene tape tied to a wrought-iron fence encircling the small front yard. A “Rice Renovation” sign was planted in a bed of overgrown weeds. He’d seen the company’s signs around the old Church Hill and Fan District neighborhoods and knew similar companies were Buy Burtonbuying and remodeling these vacant old homes for empty nesters hungry to move back into the city.

The uniformed police officer was lean, muscular and in his early twenties. “Detective Novak,” the officer said as he raised the tape.

“What do we have?” Novak asked.

The officer shifted his feet and rubbed his hands together to chase away the night chill. “Neighbor across the street spotted a fire on the first floor and called it in. Crews put it out in fifteen minutes. It appears electrical, but they’re calling in the arson investigator. The house’s new owner was alerted. You received the call when they found the body in the basement.”

Novak blew warm air on his cold fingers. “Is the death related to the fire?”

“Doesn’t look like it.”

“How can you tell?”

“You’ll have to see it for yourself, sir.”

Novak stared up at the peeling gray-white paint of the early twentieth-century row house. The wide front porch had rotted in several places, a section of the portico roof had collapsed, and two of the four floor-to-ceiling windows were broken. Six faded “No Trespassing” signs were nailed across the front of the house.

“Who’s inside now?” Novak asked.

“Another uniformed officer and the forensic technician has been on scene for nearly an hour.”

Across the street, a couple of dog walkers huddled close as they stared at the scene. At least there were no television crews yet, so he might have more time before this went public.

Novak climbed the front steps, crossed the rotted porch, and entered the foyer. He’d been in countless city houses like this before. Called shotgun houses, the homes were built with a staircase on the left, a long hallway leading to the back and two rooms on the right.

The front room was dark, filled with trash and several stained pieces of upholstered furniture. The pungent scent of smoke grew stronger as he moved closer to the adjoining room, which was blackened from smoke and flames. Jagged burn marks originated at an outlet and crawled up the wall. Water dripped from already peeling wallpaper.

Under the scent of charred wood lurked hints of mildew, dust and urine, but no sighs of human decay. The cold snap would have slowed decomposition, but there was still generally some smell of death.

Temporary lighting set up in the kitchen illuminated the hallway, which was filled with more rubbish and fallen ceiling plaster. In the kitchen, a set of dark cabinets dating back a half century hung over a filthy porcelain sink filled with trash. The black-and-white linoleum on the floor peeled and buckled in several spots.

Noise echoed up from the basement and pulled him toward the open door that led to a wooden set of rickety stairs. He climbed down into the basement.

The ceiling and ductwork were low and only inches higher than his ix-foot-three frame. In the far right corner, he found the uniformed officer and a forensic technician who was aiming her camera into a small room.

Novak moved toward the tech. In her mid-twenties, Natasha Warner was short and slender with dark hair pulled into a ponytail. He’d worked scenes with her before and knew she was sharp and ambitious and cut no corners. Novak fished latex gloves from his pocket and worked his large hands inside them.

“Officer Warner,” Novak said.

Natasha turned and lowered her camera from her angular face. “Detective Novak.”

Novak nodded before stepping past he rinto the small room. The air was dry, but there was no scent of rotting flesh. “Natasha, what do you have?”

Her gaze sparked with keen curiosity. “A woman who was locked in this room, which was probably a root cellar at one time. By the looks of her clothes, I’d say she’s been here around twenty-five years.”

“Twenty-five years?” Novak pulled dark-rimmed glasses from his pocket and slid them on as he accepted a flashlight from Natasha. “Were you born twenty-five years ago?”

Natasha glanced in her viewfinder. “Barely. You?”

“Very funny,” he said. The forensic technician looked like a kid. Natasha Warner couldn’t have been much older than his daughter. Frequent workouts kept Novak’s body trim but the glasses and the flecks of gray at his temples gave away his approaching forty-second birthday.

Lying on the floor were skeletal remains of a body appearing to be lying on its back, arm and leg bones outstretched. The mandible, or lower jaw, was slightly agape. The clothing was intact and amounted to what remained of a faded pair of jeans with yellow and white flowers embroidered on the pockets and a pale-blue blouse with a wide collar and cuffs. What had been the victim’s long red hair remained partially intact and still knotted into a braid that draped over her shoulder.

“You said female,” he said.

“Clothing is one clue, but the deciding factor is her brow ridge. It’s thin, indicating female.”

“She’s only bones.”

“In Virginia’s hot and humid climate, this kind of decomposition is expected. And she’s intact because she was in a sealed room. Animals would have scattered her bones if she had been outside.”

Novak studied the position of the arms and legs. “She looks posed.”

“Or she did it herself,” Natasha said. “I worked a suicide once that was like this. The woman took a couple handfuls of pills and then laid herself out on her bed.”

“Presenting herself to the Almighty?” Novak asked.

Natasha shrugged. “Her husband said they’d argued that morning an she promised to ‘show him.’ he said the suicide was an f-you message to him.”

The summary struck a sharp nerve. His late wife had killed herself. But she’d not chosen pills. That was too passive for Stephanie. No, she’d driven her car into a lake. The kicker had been that she’d strapped Bella, their one-year-old, into her car seat. Fortunately, someone had seen Stephanie’s car plunge into the water. Bella had been pulled out as Stephanie screamed and fought to be left alone. The lake had quickly sucked the car under, and by the time Stephanie had been pulled from the water, she was dead.

Two days later, a letter from Stephanie posted the day she died had arrived at their home. In it, she blamed him for her dark moods and miserable life. At the time, he’d been too damn angry to care why. She’d tried to kill Bella and that was unforgivable.

His father had moved in with them, helping with child care while Novak worked. From then on, his priorities had been simple. Raise Bella and catch bad guys. She’d been an easy kid. Smart. Funny. Strong. His father had passed two years ago, and when Bella had left for the University of Virginia last year, he’d thought he’d finally get a chance to enjoy a bachelor’s life. Instead, the house remained too empty. Too quiet. Until a few weeks ago, he’d pacified the restless silence with work.

Novak thought again about the woman he’d left in her warm bed. For the first time in a long while, he resented the job.

Copyright © Mary Burton 2017

Buy No button for Mary Burton's The Hangman