Playing Dirty (J.J. Graves Mystery #10) by Liliana Hart


Prologue





Brett Jorgenson didn’t start his day by thinking about death.

He woke before dawn, as he did every morning, leaving his wife snoring softly in their bed. He’d never tell her, but the further along she got in her pregnancy, the more her snoring kept him awake. Earplugs had become his lifesaver.

The house creaked and groaned around him as he padded his way around the room, gathering his clothes he’d laid out the night before, and then headed to the bathroom. He loved the stillness of the morning, the gentle hush of his surroundings as nature, animal, and human all slept.

It was why they’d moved to King George County—the simple life. They wanted their children to enjoy swing sets instead of subways. And moving from the city had been the right decision for all of them. It had saved his family, and he’d do it again if given the choice. The decisions he’d made in his life hadn’t always been good or right, but this one was.

Life was as perfect as it could get. There were no phone calls or emails or business meetings. Those would come later. But this time was for himself and the open road to freedom. If there was a God—and he had to think there must be—then Brett imagined he had a little slice of heaven right here on earth.

His blood sang with anticipation. Every morning brought new opportunities—new possibilities—and he went to bed each night eager for the morning. Once he’d brushed his teeth and washed the sleep from his eyes, he put on his cycling bib and leg warmers, and then he strapped on his heart monitor and pulled on his jersey. He left it unzipped as he made his way to the kitchen.

He wasn’t one of those people who was controlled by caffeine. He didn’t use anything to stimulate his mind or his body. Not anymore. He’d been living clean for eight years, six months, and two days.

He turned off the alarm and headed to the garage where his carbon fiber Trek hung on the wall. He’d filled up his water bottles after his ride with the team the previous night, and they were already in the cages attached to his bike. He loved the routine of cycling.

There was the softest hint of gray in the sky—a pearly incandescent sheen that brought a chill on this November morning. He only had a matter of weeks to ride before the weather would keep him off the roads. But for now—for now it was glorious.

His clip-in shoes sat on the rack against the wall and he slipped them on quickly, securing the Velcro as his flesh pebbled with cold. Even the way he put his shoes on was routine, and he enjoyed the monotony of it as he rolled the bike out of the garage, his shoes clacking against the concrete, and then closed the door behind him. He zipped his jersey, secured his phone in the front pouch, and strapped on his helmet securely before straddling the bike.

The cold wouldn’t dissipate as his blood heated and sweat covered his skin—it would only get colder as the wind whipped across his face and body as he increased his speed. He pulled a neoprene mask from his saddlebag and covered his face, and then he clipped his shoes into the pedals.

There was nothing quite like that first stroke, and then the next, as muscles started to loosen and air burned the lungs. He pedaled down the long driveway and then turned onto the country road, careful to watch for signs of headlights. There was risk in riding at this time of day, but it was worth it to see the sun crest and touch the fields with golden light.

His wife and co-workers didn’t understand his obsession, but how could they know unless they felt their pulse race beneath their skin or the wind battering against man and machine? It was freedom and speed. It was as close to flying as he could imagine. A smile stretched across his face as he pedaled harder and faster.

The endless stretch of road rose and fell, and a light sheen of sweat covered his body as his breathing fell into a steady rhythm. He drank greedily from his water bottle to replenish fluids, and then pushed harder as he made his way up the hill, praying his timing was just right.

He crested the hill just as the sun exploded into a cacophony of light and color across the land, and just as he did most mornings, he stopped to watch the wonder of the earth waking up. He laughed and drank the rest of his first bottle of water. Pure joy radiated through his every being, and he raised his arms to the sky as if he was conducting the most magnificent symphony in the universe.

And when the moment passed—at least until he could experience it again the following morning—he hunkered down over the bike and let out a whoop as he rocketed down the hill. This was his favorite part of the ride, a series of rolling hills for miles. He pushed himself hard to climb the next hill, noting the fog that had started to creep in with the morning. It wasn’t unusual, but he needed to be more aware of his surroundings. There were blind spots, and the drivers of cars were rarely as attentive as they should be.