Prologue

He rubbed his gloved hand over his crotch as that familiar urgency hummed through him. It happened whenever he thought of her. Lately, it seemed that was much too often. Crouching behind a cluster of bushes, he breathed out a sigh of relief when he saw the woman’s kitchen light finally turn off. The icy wind whipping up over the ocean bit through his coat with no mercy, but tonight was the night he’d been waiting for.

The old lady’s boyfriend didn’t come over on Thursdays and this might be his only chance. After so many years of waiting, everything was finally falling into place. Stupid woman rarely ever set her house alarm and he knew tonight would be no different.

He propped his bat against the side of the house and slid the key into the back door. The sound of the door opening and closing wasn’t audible above the crashing of the waves nearby.

Overhead, he could hear water running. No doubt the old woman was getting ready for bed. Smiling, he took off his jacket and draped it across the kitchen table. Taking his time, he crossed the tile floor and walked up the stairs. The carpet runner muted his movements.

Soon, he’d see horror etched on her wrinkly face. Right before he struck her, she’d scream. Maybe beg for her life. If he let her live that long.

No. He inwardly cursed himself. This had to be clean. Look like an accident. Killing this bitch was the only way to ensure he got what he wanted. That she would return to Hudson Bay. And he wanted her guard down when she got here. At least at first. Then the game playing would begin.

The floor creaked underneath him as he reached the top stair. As he did, the old woman’s door opened and light flooded the hallway. Moving quickly, he ducked into the closest guestroom.

His heart pounded wildly against his ribcage as her footsteps moved closer, but his hands were steady. This was it. Gripping the bat tighter in his hands, he readied himself. If he fucked this up, he might not get another chance.

When her shadow passed by the door, he stepped out. “Hello, Debra. So nice to see you again.” Even to himself he sounded feral. Inhuman.

She swiveled toward him. Her emerald green eyes—so similar to Lilly’s—widened with recognition and fear. He drank in her terror. She opened her mouth to scream but he wouldn’t give her the chance.

Without pause, he swung his bat.

Hard.

The cracking of her skull reverberated off the walls of the quiet beach cottage. A second, louder thud shook him straight to his bones as her head hit the railing. Her old, frail body tumbled until it sprawled at the bottom of the stairs. Surprisingly, the blood was minimal. A small, cherry-red rivulet snaked around her head. His gut tightened as the fresh air turned it into a dark crimson. The familiar rush of power nearly overwhelmed him.

The fear of getting caught told him to leave, but he couldn’t help himself. Need burned low in his belly. His erection pressed painfully against the zipper of his pants. All the windows were drawn and he was upstairs. No one could see him.

He quickly unzipped his pants, but kept his leather gloves on as he fisted himself. Staring at Debra’s lifeless eyes, he stroked himself.

Lilly’s face swam before him. The feel of the smooth leather was pleasurable, but he was counting down the minutes until he buried himself in Lilly. He’d been waiting too long to get her beneath him and the time was finally right.

The bitch would be nice and tight, tighter than his fist was now. Just the thought sent him over the edge. He let out a harsh groan, hating that her image brought him pleasure, but it was unavoidable.

His entire body convulsed as he found release. Breathing hard, he glanced down in disgust at the mess he’d made. After cleaning himself, he wiped up the small splatters of blood on the wall and carefully stepped over Debra’s fallen body.

He slipped out the way he’d come, then put Debra’s key back in her hiding spot. He could have made a copy but there was no point. When he kidnapped Lilly, it wouldn’t be at her aunt’s house. No, he had something special planned for her.

He was going to take her where no one but him could hear her screams.

Chapter 1

Four Days Later

Braden Donnelly leaned back against the headrest of his squad car. Almost thirty-six hours without sleep and he was ready to pass out. Even a few minutes of rest would be welcome. Unfortunately, as sheriff in a small town, there was no such thing as a sick day. Shaking his head, he forced his eyes open and started the car.

Only a short drive and he’d be home, sleeping in his own bed. Before he could pull out of his parking spot, his phone buzzed across the dash. He frowned when he saw Detective Vanessa Isaacs’s number. She was off tonight and there wasn’t much chance this was a personal call. As much as he wanted to ignore it, he couldn’t.

Dread surged through him as he answered. “Yeah?”

Her sigh was long and tired. Before she spoke, instinct told him what she was going to say. It had been about three months. The timing was right for another murder. “We’ve got another one, boss.”

“You’re sure?” The question was automatic. So far there were three victims—now four—and they’d all been killed the same way. Viciously.

“Of course I’m sure. Officer Jordan found her outside the Boudreau mansion after receiving an anonymous tip. From the sound of it, I think the caller is our guy. The body sure as hell isn’t visible from the road.”

Huge hedges and a wrought iron gate surrounded the mansion. It was almost impossible to see the front of the house on a clear day much less in the middle of the night. “Where’s the body?”

“In the backyard, by the pool.”

“I’ll be there in five.”

Not bothering with the siren, he flipped his lights on and floored it. At this time of night, not many people would be out. The Boudreau mansion was only used one month out of the year by a wealthy family from the north, but it was kept up. Something only a local would be privy to.

He slowed as he neared the entrance and steered through the open gate. The county coroner, Hailey Banks, was already there. So was Vanessa. He parked behind their cars on the long circular driveway.

As he got out of his car, he scanned the perimeter. Lately he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched. It might be paranoia because of the recent murders, but he’d been in the crosshairs of a sniper before and it was a sensation he hadn’t experienced in years.

Until recently.

After locking his vehicle, he followed the sound of voices around the corner of the house. Yellow crime scene tape sectioned off most of the stone patio. As he neared the area, Officer Derrick Jordan held it up for him to duck under.

“You received the call about the victim?” he asked.

The blond man nodded. “Yes, sir, but it was a private number. I contacted the gardener to let me in. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a prank before contacting you.”

“What did the caller say?” Braden asked, as they walked toward the detectives and coroner.

The officer’s face paled. “He told me where the body was, then…then he said to tell you that this was only the beginning.”

Braden frowned. “Me, specifically?”

The officer nodded and shifted from foot to foot. “Yes, sir.”

“Did he say anything else?”

“No.”

“All right. Watch the perimeter.” Unless the killer himself alerted the media, there weren’t going to be any leaks within his department, but he wanted to do everything by the book. And that meant keeping an unspoiled crime scene.

As he neared the scene, Vanessa looked up from her notepad and wordlessly nodded at him as she stepped aside. When she moved, he got a clear shot of the body. An unexpected flash of cold snaked through him when he realized who it was. Just as quickly a slow burning rage for whoever had done this heated his veins.

Hailey, Hudson Bay’s county coroner and crime scene tech combined into one, stood over the female body with her video recorder. Her words were spoken softly but it didn’t lessen their brutal reality.

“Deep ligature marks around the neck indicate strangulation as a possible cause of death. Ligature marks around the wrists and ankles indicate victim was restrained during the attack. Bruising around the jaw combined with no visible defensive wounds possibly indicate victim was knocked unconscious before being restrained…” She paused, then stopped her video recording to glance at Braden. “She’s not a local this time and she doesn’t have any identification.”

“I know who she is.” Braden pushed down the bile in his throat as he stared at the ripped open and broken body in front of him. As he said the words, it was as if someone else was talking. He could feel the eyes of Hailey and Vanessa on him, but all he could do was stare at the lifeless woman.

The scene was the same as all the others. Naked and positioned spread eagle on the cold stone pavement, a once beautiful woman stared lifelessly into the night. Her dark hair was matted with blood and dozens of shallow cuts nicked her entire body. If the killer was keeping to his pattern, there would be sixty-six slashes total, plus odd burn marks on her back and buttocks and she would have been sodomized with a foreign object.

“Who is she?” Hailey asked.

He opened his mouth to answer but his throat seized. Looking at her like this—nausea swirled inside him. It was almost too much to digest. He cleared his throat, thankful he found his voice this time. “Her name is Macy Turner. She’s twenty-eight and teaches—taught—kindergarten in Charlotte.” His voice slightly broke on the last word. Braden hadn’t seen her in over six months. They’d gone on two dates and things had never gotten physical. But he’d genuinely liked her.

Before he hadn’t been sure if the killings were personal, but now he had no doubt. He shared a connection with the previous victims, but so did a lot of people in town. This was some kind of message for him. It had to be. His hands balled into fists as he looked at Macy. No one deserved this. The feel of his nails digging into his palms was a welcome pain. Whoever had done this was going to pay. He’d make sure of it.

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