Belle began to shake as she realized why the women looked familiar. The pictures were all cut out from newspapers. They were pictures of the four women who had been kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed last year. No…one of them had been killed years ago but she’d been linked to the other three killings if Belle remembered right. They’d been all over the headlines for months until one day the killings just stopped. She’d actually forgotten about it once the media coverage died down.
Panic burst inside her and she tried to sit up, but she couldn’t get her muscles to function. Looking down she realized she’d been strapped down on a metal table. Her ankles were secured with metal clamps, though there was a soft material in between the restraints and her skin. It struck her as odd but the terror splintering through her overrode almost all her rational thoughts.
Her wrists were strapped down parallel to her hips. They’d been secured in the same fashion as her ankles. For a moment she contemplated calling out for help but from her limited view it looked as if she was in a small workshop. No windows, only walls and a door. Something deep inside her told her that shouting would do no good. Whoever had taken her had left her alone and he hadn’t covered her mouth. Which meant he didn’t care if she screamed. Or maybe he planned on her doing just that to alert him she was awake.
She hoped her captor didn’t know she was awake yet. She needed to get free. Pulling and thrashing she tried to tug her wrists or ankles free. It was no use. The restraints were secure and all she accomplished was tiring herself out.
Tears welled up in her eyes. She tried to fight them, to keep her panic at bay but it was no use. They spilled down her cheeks and the sides of her face as she managed to bite back a sob. She was terrified of making a noise and alerting the man who’d taken her that she was awake.
When she heard the door handle rattling and then the sound of a lock sliding free she took in a deep breath and let out an ear-splitting scream the moment the door opened. If this place was sound-proofed—and if this guy had managed to torture and kill four women already she had to assume it was—she had to try to alert someone while the door was open.
The same tall man who’d been posing as a furniture delivery guy opened the door and slammed it with a snarl. “I see you’re awake.”
Even though she was still dressed, the way he looked at her made her feel naked and exposed. She fought a shudder but lost. She was terrified out of her mind. No sense denying it.
Keeping his dark gaze on hers, the man still wearing the simple uniformed collared-shirt from earlier slowly walked toward her like the predator he was. He stopped right next to her head, staring down at her with those dead-looking eyes.
He smiled as he stroked a finger down her cheek. Blanching, she jerked her head in the other direction but he just chuckled. “I see why Detective Caldwell fell for you,” he murmured, his voice soft despite the underlying deadly edge.
Grant? What did this guy know about him? Sensing he wanted her to respond, she kept her mouth shut.
“Nothing to say to that?” he snapped, clearly annoyed with her.
What the hell could she say? A light sheen of sweat covered her face and arms despite the chill of the room. She could practically taste the bitterness of her own fear in her mouth and it was disgusting. Darting her gaze around, she continued to look for any weakness in the room but the only opening was the now closed and locked door. Not to mention she was still tightly secured.
As if he read her mind, her captor chuckled. “There’s no escape for you. I soundproofed this shed myself. I do all my work right behind my house, close to where I live, eat and sleep. If only the neighbors knew what I did in here.” He laughed again, the sound reverberating off the small room and making her sick to her stomach.
Nausea roiled inside her and she was grateful she hadn’t had a chance to eat breakfast or even drink coffee. If she had, she’d be puking it up right now. Taking a deep breath she decided to talk. “You took me because of Grant?”
“She speaks,” he said as he picked up a long, gleaming knife that had clearly been sharpened recently.
God, maybe she would be sick. She swallowed hard, trying to keep the bile down. Tensing, her instinct was to start thrashing around. Somehow she managed to stay still, knowing it wouldn’t do any good. Her hands balled into fists and her toes curled as she locked all her muscles.
Grabbing the collar of her sea blue hospital uniform, he flicked the knife down the middle of it, splitting her shirt completely open. Belle tried to shrink away from his stare as if she could somehow make herself invisible or at least smaller, but there was nowhere for her to go.
Swallowing hard, she took another deep breath, ready to scream again when he just laughed and bent down until their faces were inches apart.
His breath was hot on her cheek. “Scream all you want. No one will hear you.” He continued laughing, the sound hollow as he turned back to the table.
He wanted her to scream. The realization slammed into her stomach with the intensity of a two by four. She’d hold off as long as she could if only to deny him satisfaction. But judging from the tools on the workbench and what little details the police had released to the media about the former victims, she knew she would end up screaming. As a nurse, she understood the body and mind could only take so much until they broke. But she’d be as strong as she could for as long as possible.
Her entire body turned icy as she tried to steel herself against what he’d do to her. Enough horrific images flashed in her mind—God, why did she have to be so morbid—that she began struggling to breathe when she noticed the door handle slowly turning.
Maybe it was her imagination, her mind seeing what it wanted to, but she blinked when she saw that it was definitely moving. A tiny gasp escaped and her captor looked over at her, his eyes narrowing.
“So why did you target Grant? Clearly this isn’t about me.” She was proud that her voice only shook a little when she spoke. She had to do everything she could to distract him even if it meant keeping his focus on her.
Turning his full attention on her, knife still in hand, he stepped closer to where she was stretched out. His dark eyes roved over her body and she wanted to disappear. As he brought the knife down toward her she flinched, expecting him to cut or stab her. Instead, he sliced the middle of her bra, letting it fall open. Vaguely she wondered why he’d even bothered leaving her clothes on but figured this was all part of his sick, twisted game. He liked to witness the terror on his victim’s faces as he stripped them. Realizing that, she tried to keep her face a mask but knew she was failing.
The room was freezing and her nipples hardened under the chilly air. The unstoppable reaction made her cringe especially when his gaze landed on her breasts. He rubbed his thumb over one nipple, watching her face as he did. She wanted to puke at the physical contact, but didn’t respond. Just tightened her jaw until it hurt so bad her head started to ache.
His hand dropped as he took a step down her body. “Detective Caldwell is intelligent. He discovered Ruth Bailey, my second victim in Miami. And he is the one who made the connection between her and Abigail Moore.”
Abigail Moore. Belle remembered part of the story, but she hadn’t followed the news that closely. Moore had been killed five years ago. An unsolved, grisly rape and murder. The other three murders had been spread out exactly one month apart. Out of the corner of Belle’s eye she could see the door slowly opening. Hope leaped in her chest. Keep him talking, she ordered herself. “I don’t really follow the news but you killed her years before the other three murders, right? Why did you wait so long in between? And why stop?” If she could get him to start talking about himself she hoped it would distract him even more.
He dragged the dull edge of the blade along her scar. The feel of the cold metal and her exposure to his lustful gaze made her flinch. She tried so hard to remain immobile, to compartmentalize what he was doing and ignore the fact that someone was opening that door behind him. Keeping her gaze on him was damn near impossible when all she wanted to do was look away.
As he reached the elastic band of her work pants, he lifted them a fraction with his hand. Then he grasped a section and slid his knife into it. He didn’t stop until he’d reached the hem by her ankle. He stared off into space as he spoke. “Abigail was…personal. After I finished with her, I left the country for a while. Work.”
“What do you do?” She inwardly cursed herself for interrupting him when his gaze snapped back to hers, full of anger. That’s when she saw Grant step into the room, gun in hand.
Her captor’s back was to the door, all his focus solely on her. He smiled, reminding her of a shark. “I’m a plastic surgeon. Occasionally I do follow up work at your hospital.” His voice was mildly taunting.
That shocked her, but she didn’t let her surprise show. She kept her face blank as Grant raised his gun, pointing it directly at the man’s head.
“Drop the knife or I put a bullet in your head,” Grant ordered softly, his voice a razor sharp edge that left no doubt he’d do exactly that.
The man froze, still holding the knife. Surprise and rage registered on his face as he stared at Belle. His expression immediately turned cold, calculating. “How did you find me?” he asked, his eyes never wavering from Belle’s and the knife hand never moving.
“You’re not as smart as you think. Drop. The. Knife.” Grant took a silent step toward the guy, his weapon firmly in his hands.
“I won’t go to jail.” He moved lightning fast, lunging at her as he raised the knife to plunge into her chest.
On instinct Belle closed her eyes and turned her face away, tensing for the cutting pain. Three loud bangs reverberated around the room. As something heavy fell on her she opened her eyes and let out a brief scream.
She heard Grant curse but could only stare at the man draped across her bare stomach. His body was heavy and unmoving. She sucked in a breath and wiggled, trying to somehow move the monster off her. Blood dripped all over her as Grant shoved the body off her and onto the floor.