Thursday, March 28, 2024

#Review - When I'm Her by Sarah Zachrich Jeng #Thriller #SyFy

Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Release Date: March 26, 2024
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Publisher
Genre: Science Fiction

How far would you go to get even with the woman who ruined your life?

In this electrifying thriller, a young woman gets everything she’s ever wanted—and everything she doesn’t—when she swaps bodies with her sworn enemy.

Though polar opposites, Mary and Elizabeth are as close as can be—until the night Elizabeth makes an irrevocable mistake and leaves Mary to take the blame. Years later, Elizabeth seems to have forgotten Mary exists.

Mary hasn’t forgotten her.

She follows Elizabeth’s every move online, obsessed with paying her back for the betrayal that cost Mary her dreams. Now Mary has found a way to switch bodies with Elizabeth, and she’s got a plan to steal her charmed life. Her career. Her looks. Her husband. 

They do say living well is the best revenge.

Or is it? The more Mary uncovers about Elizabeth’s life, the more she realizes she may have made a deadly mistake. And she'll need the help of her worst enemy to stay alive.

Sarah Zachrich Jeng's When I'm Her could be compared to Freaky Friday on steroids. The story alternates between two women, as well as flashbacks to 8 years ago. Elizabeth and Mary were roommates in college. Elizabeth was the gregarious gorgeous one. Mary was the one nobody saw, and pretty much overlooked. Mary was an intern for a company named Confluence Innovations which invented a device called Empathyer. The Empathyer was a pair of bracelets that look like smartwatches that can be worn by two separate people. 

It allows you to swap bodies and literally walk in the other person's shoes. Elizabeth urges Mary to steal a pair of Empathyzers to see if they work. Surprisingly, they do with minor issues with Mary in Elizabeth's body. Until Halloween 7 years ago, when Mary and Elizabeth swapped, and a sexual pervert named Garrett came onto the wrong woman which ended up with him falling down a flight of stairs. To this day, Detective Johns has always thought that Mary got away with assault, and he isn't going to let it go anytime soon.

The story is actually told in the past and the present the chapters are labeled: Mary (Elizabeth) and Elizabeth (Mary) the first name being the actual person and the second name in parentheses, being the body they are inhabiting. So, for 7 years, Mary has been obsessed with getting revenge on Elizabeth for allowing her to be blamed for what happened on Halloween while Elizabeth was inhabiting her body.

7 years after her expulsion from college, the victim's rich parents have successfully destroyed her life and taken away everything. She lives in squalor, and she has little money because it is taken from her each payday. Mary has been trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life by avenging the person who ruined everything she worked for. Elizabeth, a highly popular, rich influencer, is living her dream life, married to Nate, the boy Mary fell for in college.

But without one of the Empathyzers, Mary has to bide her time. But finally, her prayers are answered by an anonymous benefactor who sends her the Empathyzer, which may help her switch bodies with Elizabeth and live her life to the fullest, just as Elizabeth might also take the blame for the death of her college nemesis who ruined her entire life. But what if Elizabeth's so-called happy life isn't exactly what it may seem? What if the only way to get out of this circumstance is to team up with her arch-nemesis to save both of their lives? 

I can honestly say that I didn't much care for either main character as well as certain secondary characters like Garrett, Nate, and Detective Johns who does everything he can to make Mary feel as though she's a criminal. I can sympathize with Mary but there are some things you need to say no to, especially your best friend who ends up costing you everything. Elizabeth should have never waited so long to do right by Mark, especially since she was far from living the perfect life. The ending of this book needs to be examined by a professional to see if it actually makes sense, and no, I will not spoil it for you.




I've just left my apartment, the cold hitting me like a snowball to the face, when Detective Johns appears.

I was never charged in connection with what happened that Halloween, but attempted murder doesn't have a statute of limitations. It kills me that I didn't see this coming.

As a child I hated when my parents said to "go play in the snow," because unsupervised time with other children never went well for me. It was only a matter of time until someone-often my brother, two years older and big enough that I could have fit stacked inside him like a matryoshka doll-would hold me down and force a handful of snow down my collar. Johns' attack is just as sudden, if more subtle. When he falls into step with me, I'm so startled, my worn boots slide out from under me on the icy sidewalk.

He grabs my elbow. "Watch yourself, now. Those slips and falls can really mess you up."

Did he just wink?

I jerk my arm from his grasp, too rattled to pretend I don't recognize him.

"Good to see you, Mary," he says. "It's been a while."

Seven years. Anthony Johns was the lead detective, a bald Black man with hunched shoulders who spoke in a deep, soothing voice. His voice is still soothing. His presence outside my building, not so much.

He smiles slightly. In contrast to my mismatched layers, his only outerwear is a black topcoat, unbuttoned to reveal the badge clipped to his belt. No hat shelters the shiny dome of his head from the cutting wind, yet he seems perfectly comfortable. Maybe the prospect of a new break in an old case is what warms him.

"What do you want?" I say.

"Every bit as direct as I remember." His tone is fond, as if he never told me I had nothing to gain by being a bitch. "Are you aware Garrett Deegan died a few months back?"

"Of an overdose."

The news made the rounds through Elizabeth's social media circles, people acting their asses off about what a great guy Garrett had been. How much they would miss him. How they'd had no idea of the demons he was battling.

Please. The only battles Garrett ever fought were against people with a fraction of his power. In my opinion, he lived a lot longer than he should have.

I don't say that to Johns, because I'm not stupid. Garrett's parents placed the blame for his near death-and subsequent decline into addiction-squarely on me. They are rich and powerful, so this makes life difficult. I'm not looking to make it unbearable.

Johns taps his chin. "Did you know illicit drug deaths are treated as homicides?" He plainly does not expect an answer. "Part of my investigation consists of just talking to people who knew the victim."

The victim. Just talking, my ass. "I haven't spoken to Garrett in years." I wasn't allowed to speak to him, even if I'd wanted to.

Johns' voice sharpens. "But you know how he died."

My mouth opens, to say what, I don't know. That I saw it on the internet, but Garrett wasn't the one I was spying on? Yeah, that wouldn't sound suspicious at all.

I snap my mouth shut. I of all people should know it's never a good idea to talk to the police.

Johns is blocking the way back to my building. I'm afraid that if I get on the bus that's pulling up next to us, he'll board it along with me.

"Do you have a minute to talk? In your apartment, maybe? Sure be a lot more comfortable than out here." Now he shivers, but we both know it's a performance. I'm already shaking my head. "Come on, now, Mary. I've just got a couple things I need you to clear up. You don't want to have to come up to the precinct and piss away half your day, do you?"

My chest tightens, lips going numb as the blood drains from my face. I've never been great at thinking on my feet. The bus pulls away, and there's that escape gone, along with any hope of being on time for my newest crappy job.


I whirl around, narrowly avoiding a face-plant situation, though this time Johns doesn't bother to help me. Behind us is Miguel, who lives in my building. Great. He's holding his phone vertically. I am so, so glad that my humiliation will be fodder for his @OBEPhDLife channel or whatever the fuck he has. Everyone's got a presence, no matter how obscure, and they're all just waiting for their viral moment.

But his eyes are narrowed in Johns' direction. He asks me, "Everything okay here?"

Johns puts on a warm but insincere smile. "Well, that's up to Ms. Burke-"

"Is she free to go?"

Johns glances at me, then at the phone, and for the first time seems less than in control. "You don't have permission to record-"

"I don't need it. We're on a public street. Is she under arrest?" Miguel's tone remains pleasant; it's the words that are incendiary.

Johns makes eye contact with me. "You should get your side of the story on the record before it comes to that."

"My side of the story? I don't have a story. I didn't have anything to do with it." I'm intentionally vague, because Miguel already knows more than he needs to about my sordid history.

"Then you've got nothing to worry about," Johns says. "You want to put this to bed, Mary, and now's the time."

He holds my eye. I try not to look away, but after a moment that feels much longer than it probably is, I have to.

Miguel's phone, and Miguel behind it, continues to bear witness.

Johns sighs. He brings out a card and extends it to me between two leather-gloved fingers.

"Give me a call when you get a minute. Among other things, I've got Garrett's people wondering where you were the night he passed, and I'm sure you want to allay that interest as soon as possible."

If he's trying to intimidate me, it absolutely works. Wordlessly, I accept the card, because that's how I push the detective out of my life for a little longer. Glancing at it, I see he works here in the city now. It's a common enough pipeline from the town where I went to college.

Where Elizabeth and I went to college.

"You planning any travel? Going home for the holidays?"

I don't imagine the mocking note in his voice. That particular trip hasn't happened for a long time. I shake my head, avoiding his eyes.

"Good. Let me know if you decide to leave town. Then I won't have to come after you."

Johns throws Miguel one last, irritated glance before striding off in his wing tips. Miguel and I watch him go, hoping he'll slip and fall on his ass. Or I'm hoping it, anyway.

Miguel puts his phone away and turns to me, which is my cue to scuttle back through the building doors and hopefully up the stairs before he gets a chance to ask any questions. I've decided I'm not going in to work. Under-the-table cleaning and call-center jobs aren't the easiest to get, but they aren't the hardest, and I don't need any more proof that leaving my apartment today was a bad idea.

Maybe staying here was the bad idea. I should have moved across the country years ago; then I wouldn't be in this mess.

But if I'd moved, I wouldn't live in the same city as Elizabeth.

"Mary, hold up!"

I can't flagrantly be a bitch, not when Miguel saved me out there. I stop in front of the mailboxes, most of which have broken locks, and sweep at least a week's worth of bills, payday-loan circulars, and whatever else into my bag.

"Thanks for stepping in," I say. "I think he had me confused with someone else, but cops never believe you when you tell them that."

Miguel's shaking his head while he grabs his own mail. "I hate how they throw their weight around." Usually he speaks in a mild drawl, but now his tone is sharp with indignation, which reminds me why he's the only person in this building I talk to voluntarily. We're not friends. I've never gotten the hang of making those, with that one unfortunate exception. Still, we've bonded somewhat over the fact that we're both from small, shitty towns, his in Florida and mine farther north.

"By the way," he says, "I've been meaning to say sorry about what happened with the job at the lab. Were you able to get your other job back?"

"No, but it's fine."

"Ah shit. I mean, I feel bad. We got your hopes up, and then-"

I make a cutting motion with my hand. "Forget it. Not your fault."

He rocks back on his heels, eyes on the floor; he's still troubled. Not much either of us can do about it, though, is there? "For the record," he says, "Dr. Ofori and I thought you were perfect for it. Just because the Deegans are donors doesn't mean they should have a say in staffing."

But they do. And the last thing Garrett's parents want is for me, the person who ruined their son's life, to have any security. The job wasn't fancy-glorified receptionist in a university research lab-but it offered that much, plus a possible alternate path to the goal I've been working toward. Failing at, rather.

That chance is gone now, and I'm still right where Brian and Rosemary Deegan want me. Scraping a living, looking over my shoulder.

I pretend to be absorbed in my phone so I won't have to make any more awkward conversation with Miguel, who murmurs a farewell and moves on to the stairs.

I'm worried. Johns might not have had enough to arrest me just now, but I've had the look in his eyes directed at me before. The look of a cop who's found his perp. I barely slipped his net last time, and that's got to have pissed him off.

It's always been a vendetta for the Deegans. And now their son isn't just broken; he's dead.

I have no idea what I was doing on the night of Garrett Deegan's alleged overdose. I'm not even sure which night it was-if the rumors are true, he wasn't actually found until a couple of days after the fact, when the housekeeper let herself in and encountered a little more than the usual post-party cleanup. Even if I could come up with an alibi, I'm not sure that would be enough against people who own a private jet and a couple of members of Congress.

I got the blame for Garrett's "accident" in college, and now I'm under suspicion in his "accidental" death. I know what a frame job looks like. This won't end well for me.

At root, this isn't the Deegans' fault. As shitty and destructive as they are, I can almost understand where they're coming from. First rule of the woods: don't fuck with mama bear's cub. Also, trying to fight them would be about as effective as using my bare fists against a grizzly's claws.

Elizabeth is the one who did this to me.

If I try, I can bring up a sense memory of rain pelting my head and shoulders, wet polyester sticking to my skin. The bone-deep chill from that night. We kept shivering long after we'd gotten back to the dorm. Elizabeth told me everything would be fine, but she lied.

And unlike the Deegans, she's not so high up that I can't take her down.




As soon as I get upstairs, I scroll down Elizabeth's profile. It's my daily-all right, multiple-times-daily-ritual: watching her flourish while I struggle.

There's a new post, a photo of her and Nate posed in front of their meticulously decorated Christmas tree, laughing into each other's faces. They're both so beautiful, it's easier to focus on them in pieces. White teeth, soft sweaters. Nate's shapely fingers tangled in the ends of Elizabeth's long red hair. The caption is some treacly bullshit about the importance of a sense of humor in marriage. She posted it two hours ago and there are already more than five hundred comments.

I switch apps and, for the fiftieth time, watch the tree-trimming video she posted last week. I've got every word memorized, the pitch of their laughter burned on my brain. Their voices echo from my phone's tiny speaker against the bare walls of my apartment, making the space seem emptier. I scrub backward so I can listen to Nate sing the first few bars of "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" one more time. I watch his mouth until Elizabeth adorably stuffs a cookie into it.

The video has twenty-something thousand comments, most in the vein of OMG U GUYS ARE GOALS!!!!, and it makes me want to throw up. Still, I scroll down to my own cartoonishly effusive comment, left from a fake account right after the video was first posted. Elizabeth, or her lackey, has acknowledged it with a heart. I switch back to her new post and leave a similar comment there.

The response (Thank you so much!! *sparkly heart emoji*) comes so quickly, I wonder if she's got some kind of answer bot set up, but I still get an unwelcome squirt of dopamine at being acknowledged by the great, the amazing, the perfect @bethybeth.

We met at the beginning of freshman year, matched as roommates, immediately inseparable. I'd never had that happen before. Other girls in my hometown had formed friendships as easily as breathing, but I'd always been a loner. Not by choice; it was as if everyone else was in on some secret from which I remained cut off, unable to understand a language they'd known since birth.

Yet, inexplicably, Elizabeth chose me. She scooped me up and, for a time, transformed my life. I transformed hers too. What would have happened to our friendship if it hadn't been for me? It was already starting to have run its course by the end of our first term, but I couldn't let it go.

A part of me has missed her every day since it ended.

No. I haven't missed her. I've missed being her. Speaking in her voice, walking around with her confident stride, having people look at me like I mattered. Life isn't fair; people aren't fair. That won't ever change. The rich get richer. The manipulative manipulate. Advantages accrue in one direction. And in this world, the right face can get you a hell of a long way, which is one reason I've been trying to take Elizabeth's for years.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

#Review - Wrath of the Talon by Sophie Kim #YA #Fantasy #Mythology

 Talons # 2
Format: E-Galley, 416 pages
Release Date: April 2, 2024
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Asian Mythology

Everyone thinks the Reaper of Sunpo—eighteen-year-old assassin Shin Lina—is dead. The only ones who know the truth are her cherished little sister and Haneul Rui, the icily gorgeous Dokkaebi Emperor, who she was sent to kill…and kissed instead.

Now, with the potent Imugi venom surging in her veins, Lina’s returned to right all wrongs. Already her body is changing, growing stronger, stealthier, and more agile, with serpentine scales she can call at will. She is living vengeance, seeking retribution for the massacre of the Talons. She’ll become the sword who cuts down the rival Blackbloods gang, along with their ruthless crime-lord leader. And when she is through, she will take the kingdom as her own.

But there is a mysterious side to Lina’s growing power, a dark voice inside her that whispers and guides her as she slips through the shadows of Sunpo’s streets. One that warns her not to trust the Dokkaebi, especially Rui.

Because if her destiny isn’t to love him…it must be to destroy him.

Wrath of the Talon, by Sophie Kim, is the second installment in the author's Talon trilogy. Everyone thinks the Reaper of Sunpo—eighteen-year-old assassin Shin Lina—is dead. She has been reborn from the venom of the scale of a snake, the enemy of the Dokkaebi. The only ones who know the truth are her cherished little sister (Enubi) and Haneul Rui, the icily gorgeous Dokkaebi Emperor, aka The Pied Piper whom she was sent to kill and fell in love with instead. 

Now, with the potent Imugi venom surging in her veins, Lina’s returned to right all wrongs. Already her body is changing, growing stronger, stealthier, and more agile, with serpentine scales she can call at will. Lina goes on a one-woman revenge tour, and nobody is safe from her. She is living vengeance, seeking retribution for the massacre of the Talons. She’ll become the sword who cuts down the rival Blackbloods gang, along with their ruthless crime-lord leader, Kalmin, who destroyed the Talons and claimed Sunpo. 

With the help of the last Gumiho, a nine-tailed fox named (Iseul), as well as Sonagi, an Inugi snake who calls Lina daughter, Lina plans to destroy anyone who stands in the way of her taking Sunpo. But there is a mysterious side to Lina’s growing power, a dark voice inside her that whispers and guides her as she slips through the shadows of Sunpo’s streets. One that warns her not to trust the Dokkaebi, especially Rui. Because if her destiny isn’t to love him…it must be to destroy him. 

The tale brings in some elements of Korean myths that set it apart from most revenge fantasies. I find it interesting that both Rui and Lina have issues with panic attacks. I dare you to find another book in this genre that does this. This book will stab the reader directly in the heart with an ending that is so shocking, that the author literally giggles that you haven't seen anything yet. EVIL!! The author uses Interludes throughout the book to fill you in on what Rui and his people are doing to either help Lina or stop her from a dangerous path that may open the way to prophecy that could see a war between the Inugi and Rui's people.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

#Review - Cheater by Karen Rose #Mystery #Suspense #Romance

 The San Diego Case Files # 2
Format: Hardcover, 464 pages
Release Date: March 26, 2024
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Publisher
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Romance

A shocking murder leaves an affluent retirement community reeling in this riveting high-stakes thriller from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Karen Rose.

Death is not an unfamiliar visitor to Shady Oaks Retirement Village, which provides San Diego’s premier elderly support from independent retiree housing to full-time hospice care. But when a resident’s body is found brutally stabbed and his apartment ransacked, it’s clear there’s someone deadly in their community. Detective Katherine “Kit” McKittrick quickly discovers that Shady Oaks is full of skeleton-riddled closets, and most tenants prefer to keep their doors firmly closed to the SDPD.

A longtime volunteer at the retirement facility, Dr. Sam Reeves honors his late grandfather’s memory by playing the piano for the residents regularly. So it shouldn’t be such a surprise when Kit crosses paths with him during her investigation, after she’d avoided the criminal psychologist—and the emotions he evokes—for the last six months.

Sam’s rapport within the retirement village proves vital to the case, and the pair find themselves working together once again—much to Kit’s dismay. But she is determined to apprehend the shadow of death lurking around Shady Oaks...and equally determined to ignore the feelings she’s developing for a certain psychologist.

Karen Rose's Cheater is the second installment in the author's The San Diego Case Files, and the 29th in the author's Romantic Suspense world. The author and publisher are actually releasing two books a year that are set in San Diego and New Orleans. This series follows two main characters: Homicide Detective Ki McKittrick and Dr. Sam Reeves who is a criminal psychologist. For the record, I did not read Cold Blooded Liar which was the first installment in this series, and the story where Kit and Sam first meet. Hopefully, I will soon. 

Kit lost her sister Wren to a killer when she was 16. A failure that still haunts her to this day. Kit still searches for Wren's killer hoping to find answers to a decades-old cold case. Kit was taken in by Harlan and Betty McKittrick who 6 months ago, took in another young girl named Rita who discovered her mother's dead body. Kit loves the water. She lives on a boat, and when she's not solving crimes with the SDPD, she's assisting her foster sister Akiko with her charter fishing business, scuba diving, or playing with her poodle. 

Which brings me to the story itself. Death is not an unfamiliar visitor to Shady Oaks Retirement Village, which provides San Diego’s premier elderly support from independent retiree housing to full-time hospice care. But when 85-year-old Franklin Delano Flynn's body is found brutally stabbed and his apartment ransacked, it’s clear there’s someone deadly in their community. Kit and her partner of six months Detective Connor Robinson quickly discover that Shady Oaks is full of skeleton-riddled closets, and most tenants prefer to keep their doors firmly closed to the SDPD.

Unfortunately for the facility, the murder victim was a highly respected former Homicide Lieutenant before he retired 30 years ago. Fortunately for the victim, Kit is a rising star in the department, and she has a reputation as someone who gets the job done. To make matters worse, a second resident is soon found dead, and more bodies will likely be found unless Kit and her team identify and stop the cold-blooded killer. Meanwhile, Dr. Sam Reeves, who works as a profiler for the SPD, is a longtime volunteer at the facility where he honors his late grandfather's memory by playing the piano for the residents. 

Because of all the time he spends here, Sam knows all the residents, especially the old man who dared Sam to play a hard rock song he loved. So it shouldn’t be such a surprise when Kit crosses paths with him during her investigation after she’d avoided the criminal psychologist—and the emotions he evokes—for the last six months. Sam’s rapport within the retirement village proves vital to the case, and the pair find themselves working together once again—much to Kit’s dismay. But she is determined to apprehend the shadow of death lurking around Shady Oaks, especially since he knew the victim, and equally determined to ignore the feelings she’s developing for a certain psychologist.

Although this is supposed to be a romantic suspense, it is the mystery itself that is so compelling to the point where you can guess who the killer is, but you will have to wait to find out if you are correct or not. The slow-burn romance between Kit and Sam is something that weighs heavily on the entire story. The two are like planets circling each other because Kit is giving him, and her attraction to him, a wide berth because she doesn’t believe she’s what someone as kind as Sam needs. There is hope that the author will eventually get these two together, but we shall see. 

Chapter One

Shady Oaks Retirement Village

Scripps Ranch, San Diego, California

Monday, November 7, 11:20 a.m.

Kit McKittrick allowed herself a moment to feel pity as she stood over the body of the elderly man lying dead on his apartment floor in the Shady Oaks Retirement Village. Then she squared her shoulders and proceeded to do her job.

The mood in the dead man's living room was subdued. The ME was examining the body while CSU took photos and Latent dusted for prints, but there was little of the normal scene-of-the-crime chatter to which Kit had become accustomed in the four and a half years she'd been in Homicide.

Everyone spoke in hushed whispers, like they were in church. Because it kind of felt like they were. Haunting melancholy music from a single piano was coming from the speaker mounted on the victim's living room wall. The music wasn't loud, but it was overwhelming nonetheless. Kit wanted to turn it off, because the music was so sad that it made her chest hurt and her eyes burn.

But neither the speaker nor its volume controls had been dusted for prints, so she couldn't touch it yet. Until then, she could only square her shoulders, ignore the music, and focus on getting justice for Mr. Franklin Delano Flynn.

The cause of death of the eighty-five-year-old white male was most likely the butcher knife still embedded in his chest. But she'd learned long ago not to assume. Still, a butcher knife to the chest was never good. It was a long wound, the gash in the man's white button-up shirt extending from his sternum to his navel. Whoever had killed him had to have had a lot of strength to create such a wound.

The victim had been dead long enough for his blood to dry, both the blood that had soaked the front of his shirt and the blood that had pooled on the floor around his torso.

His eyes, filmy in death, stared sightlessly up at the ceiling. His arms lay at his sides, his hands slightly curved. Not quite flat, but not quite fists, either. It wasn't a natural pose for the victim of a homicide who'd fallen after being stabbed. She wondered if his killer had repositioned his arms.

Mr. Flynn had been a hardy man, broad-shouldered, tall, and still muscular. Not in bad shape for eighty-five, she thought. He wore dark trousers, the pockets turned out, as if he'd been searched.

His shoes were black oxfords, buffed to such a shine that she could nearly see her own reflection. She wondered if he'd come home, surprising his attacker, or if he'd welcomed his killer into his home.

His living room had been ransacked, books knocked off shelves, knickknacks strewn on the floor. The sofa cushions had been slashed open, foam stuffing on the floor as well. The man's bedroom was in a similar state. The drawers in the kitchen had been opened and emptied, their contents dumped on the counters. Flour and sugar containers had been dumped on the kitchen's tiled floor. Someone had been looking for something and had left a terrible mess.

Kit wondered if they'd found what they'd been looking for. She wondered if Mr. Flynn had fought back.

Kit crouched on the victim's right side, leaning in so that she could better examine his hands. The knuckles of his right hand were scraped and bruised, but his fingernails were what caught her attention. They were mostly gone, clipped way past the quick, down into the nail bed.

That he'd fought back was a decent assumption, then. His killer hadn't wanted any evidence to be found under the man's nails.

"Time of death?" Kit asked the ME, who knelt on the other side of the body.

Dr. Alicia Batra glanced up, a slight frown creasing her brow. "Less than twenty-four hours, according to the first responder, who talked to the facility director. The residents in this part of the building live independently, just like in any other apartment, except that they have to pull a cord every morning by ten a.m." She pointed over her shoulder to a cord on the wall in the breakfast nook. "If they don't pull it by ten, the staff assumes they need help and comes in to check. The victim supposedly pulled the cord yesterday at ten, but not today. When the staff checked in on him, they found his body."

Supposedly? "The first responders told Connor that the victim was found by one of the nurses," Kit said, her partner, Connor Robinson, having arrived at the scene an hour before. He'd already reviewed the crime scene and was somewhere downstairs, making sure the witnesses were properly situated in separate rooms while they awaited questioning.

"A nursing assistant," Alicia corrected. "She's downstairs with Connor. He said you had something personal to do this morning, but he didn't say what. Is everything okay?"

Kit appreciated that Connor had been discreet with the details of her morning meeting, but Alicia was a friend and this was happy news. "We were at social services with Rita. She's decided she wants to be adopted and Mom and Pop took her in to start the process. She asked me to go with her, too."

Which had filled Kit with a lot of affection and more than a little pride. She'd known most of the foster kids to go through McKittrick House since she'd landed there nineteen years ago, but Rita was special. They had a bond.

Alicia's smile was brilliant. "I'm so happy!"

Kit smiled back. "Me too. I asked Connor to keep it under his hat because we didn't want any media attention, what with Rita's mom's murder case coming to court soon, but that didn't include keeping it from you."

Alicia's brows rose. "How's it working out with Connor?"

"Pretty good. We're getting used to each other." Connor Robinson was Kit's new partner of six months. At thirty-two, he was a year older than Kit, although he'd been a detective for only eighteen months to her four and a half years. He was something of an overgrown frat boy who spoke before he thought, although he was improving. There were times that he could be incredibly insightful and kind. "I still miss Baz, though."

"Of course you do. He was your first partner in the homicide department, after all."

"We worked together for four years, and I've known him four times that long." Baz Constantine had been the detective who'd investigated the murder of Kit's sister, sixteen years before. As an angry fifteen-year-old, Kit had assumed the man hadn't cared about finding Wren's killer, but she'd soon learned that he cared far too much. He'd encouraged her as she'd grown from that angry teen into a responsible adult, helping her realize her goal of becoming a homicide detective.

She understood why Baz had retired after having a heart attack, though that didn't make her miss him any less. But wishing he were here wasn't getting justice for Mr. Franklin Delano Flynn.

"Why did you say the victim 'supposedly' pulled the cord at ten a.m. yesterday?" Kit asked.

"Because rigor has fully passed. I would have thought he'd still be in the final stages of resolution, given his musculature. But he is elderly, so we'll see what we see when I get him on the table."

"Can you lift his left hand?"

Alicia did so, and Kit frowned. The fingernails on his left hand had also been clipped to the nail bed, but there was also a strip of pale skin on his ring finger where a ring had been. "He was married. I'll need to find out where his wife is."

"Husband," a man said behind her. Kit looked around to see CSU's Sergeant Ryland holding a photo encased in an evidence bag. "All the photos were out of their frames, the glass shattered. This one was lying on top of the pile, so I grabbed it for you to check out."

"Thank you." Kit, hands already gloved, reached for the photo, snapping a picture of it with her phone in case she needed it later. In the photo, the victim and another man stood side by side, the victim's right arm around the other man's waist. They wore black suits and brilliant smiles, and each man had his left hand extended, showing off their shiny gold wedding bands. The iconic door of San Francisco City Hall was in the background.

"He's considerably younger in this photo than he is now," she said, frowning at the feeling of déjà vu that she got from the picture. "At least ten or twenty years. Any idea of when it was taken?"

"Not yet," Ryland said. "But there'll be a record of the marriage."

So they had a gay man stabbed to death in his own apartment, the place ransacked. They'd have to at least consider the possibility that this had been a hate crime.

She started to hand the photo back, but a memory was struggling to the surface of her mind, so she refocused on the taller of the two men-Mr. Franklin Delano Flynn.

"What's wrong?" Ryland asked.

Her frown deepened. "I have the feeling that I've seen this man before." She darted a quick glance at the victim's ashen face as he lay dead on his living room floor, then looked back at the wedding photo. Yes, she'd definitely seen him before.

"Where did you see him?" Ryland asked.

Kit stared hard at the picture, mentally sifting through all the faces and places in her mind, but nothing was clicking. "Can I see the rest of the photos?"

Ryland handed over a stack. "These are the ones we've bagged so far."

Kit examined each one. They were mostly photos of the deceased with his husband, taken in faraway places-Cairo, Rome, Paris. A few featured another couple, a woman and a man, and there were a few with two other women, both elderly.

Nothing here helped. Until she got to the bottom of the stack. Here was a much younger Franklin Delano Flynn, holding up a mug of beer, a somewhat reluctant smile on his face.

"This," she said softly. "This place. Look at the walls, the pictures."

Ryland looked over her shoulder, sucking in a surprised breath. "That's Julio's."

Yes, it was. Kit knew this place well. Knew the faces in every photo that hung on its walls. She'd been studying them since the first time she'd entered its battered wooden doors.

The first time . . . And then the memory snapped into place. "Oh. I was twenty-one and Baz took me to Julio's for a birthday drink, because I was finally legal."

"The cop bar," Alicia murmured. "I've never been there."

"It's a dive," Kit said with a fond smile, "but we love it. I remember the day because Baz told me to change out of my uniform-I was still in the Coast Guard then-before he picked me up, because we were going to the bar. I was so excited, because I'd heard so much about it." She studied the victim's face in the photo thoughtfully. "This man was there. Baz introduced us."

"He was a cop?" Ryland asked, his eyes going wide.

"He must've been." Kit drew in a sharp breath, because now she remembered it all. "Oh my God. Not just a cop, Ryland. He'd been a homicide lieutenant, retired for twenty years by that point. I remember being tongue-tied."

"You were tongue-tied?" Alicia asked, surprised. "No way."

"In the presence of greatness like this man? Oh yeah. Baz was, too. This guy had been the homicide lieutenant when Baz was still a rookie. Baz talked to him at the bar sometimes. Said he was open and helpful, really encouraging to young cops. Baz considered him something between a mentor and a hero. Baz was so excited when he saw him that day. The man hadn't been at Julio's since his retirement. When Baz introduced us, I got chills. I'd read articles about him and he was a kick-ass detective before he was made lieutenant. But his name wasn't Flynn. It was Wilson. Frank Wilson."

"Frank Wilson?" Ryland exclaimed. "I've heard of him from some of the old-timers. This is him?"

"I believe so," Kit murmured. "I wonder if he changed his name after he married the other man in this photo." She gave the photo back to Ryland. "This could be another high-profile case."

Ryland sighed. "I was thinking we were about due. It's been, what? Six months?"

Six months since they'd stopped one of San Diego's deadliest serial killers, throwing their entire homicide department into disarray. They were finally getting their acts together again and now they had a dead, high-ranking retired cop. "Yep. I guess we are due."

"Should I expect your lieutenant to breathe down my neck again?" he asked.

"Probably." Lieutenant Navarro had recently returned from personal leave and was chomping at the bit for something big to do. "Was there anything missing from the bedroom?"

"Possibly a computer," Ryland said. "The router and Ethernet cable are still there, but the desk is empty. There's a dust-free space the size of a laptop, so that one was stolen is a reasonable guess. The bedroom is in the same state as the rest of the apartment-photos, papers, books all over the place. It'll take us a while to get through it all, but we'll be as quick as we can."

"Okay. I need to find Connor and we'll get started. First thing we need to do is inform Navarro." Their lieutenant would take care of informing the hierarchy. She cast a glance at the speaker on the victim's living room wall. "At least I'll get away from the music."

"Why?" Alicia asked. "It's beautiful."

Yes, it was. It was also too damn sad. "I'll find out what CD he's listening to and if it was his norm," Kit said, evading Alicia's question because she didn't like to talk about things like feelings on the job. She suppressed a shudder at the thought.

"There's no CD player, Kit," Ryland said. "Just an old-fashioned stereo. I'm still looking for where the music is coming from."

Even more reason to get out of here. "Let me know when you find it. See you guys later."

Kit left the apartment, nodding to the officer guarding the door. "Do you know where the common room is?" Because that was where Connor had told her to meet him.

"Yes, Detective. Go down the elevator to the ground floor, turn left, and it's at the opposite side of the building from the lobby. Most of the residents on this floor are in the common room. They were asked to stay out of our way, so they gathered there."