First published in 2011 by Harlequin/MIRA, The Heart of a Killer by Jaci Burton appears to be a standalone from a very prolific award winning romance author with over sixty books who has done a number of series.
The Heart of a Killer by Jaci Burton
I fell into this story at the prologue, which sets up everything that occurs twelve years later when the story starts.
A group of Italian teenagers in St. Louis were best friends. Anna Pallino, daughter of a cop, worked in the ice-cream store. She was in love with Dante Renaldi, the handsomest of a quartet of boys who lived in foster care with George and Ellen Clemons. For Dante, Gabe, Roman, and Jeff, it was the only normal, happy home life they'd ever had. One night, when the guys were in for some free ice cream after hours, Anna was attacked taking the trash out to the dumpster in the dark alley behind the shop. She is nearly raped before Dante and the rest come to her rescue. Dante loses control and attacks the pervert, but not before the baddie has carved a heart in Anna's chest. After severely beating the guy, the teens see to Anna, carry her into the shop and discuss whether or not to call the cops. Since they all have juvie records, they decide not to. But when they return to the alley, they find the attacker dead. Now they are definitely not calling the cops.
Twelve years later, Dante, who disappeared abruptly after that incident, returns at the invitation of the Clemons, to celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. He has a feeling he shouldn't return, and, sure enough, trouble dogs him as soon as he hits town. George is missing and the guys go searching. Dante finds his body behind the same Dumpster where Anna's attack took place. George also has a heart carved into his chest.
The five former friends are now grown up, but those who thought they knew each others' every thought find they don't know each other any more. And they sure can't trust each other. Burton take us to hot summer nights in St. Louis, through a steamy love story, to discover how a dead man who carves hearts in his victims, someone who was killed twelve years ago, is again--impossibly--haunting the five.
Reviewed by Kaye George, Author of Choke, for Suspense Magazine