Lilly had started on the far left row so he swam straight between the middle and right columns.
He lifted his head at the sound of his name being shouted. Lilly was about fifteen feet away, waving wildly as she clutched onto one of the pillars. He couldn’t make out what she was saying, but she kept pointing, so he switched directions.
Behind him, he heard splashing. Vanessa stood on the shore, but Perry was making his way toward them.
The seconds seemed to drag on as he battled the current toward Lilly. It wasn’t particularly strong, but the waves under the pier were always the harshest. His arms and back burned as he swam.
“She’s here,” Lilly’s words were garbled as the ocean slammed her shoulder first against the pillar. “I can feel her, but I can’t keep my eyes open long enough to untie her.”
Adrenaline kicked in. They might be able to save one of the victims. He felt his back pocket and pulled out his pocketknife. “Did you see what she was tied with?”
“Some kind of plastic binding. It’s not thick, but it’s solid. I couldn’t get a good grip on it.” She coughed over the words.
He took a deep breath and dove under. Using the pillar as a guide, he trailed his hand against it as he descended. Everything was blurry but his heart leapt when he saw a woman. Her hands were bound behind her and around the pillar. She wore a dive suit and a mask. A regulator was in her mouth, and a dive tank was secured to the front of her body. Otherwise, she wasn’t moving.
He wanted to check her pulse, but didn’t waste the time. After cutting through the plastic ties, he hooked his arm under one of hers and kicked upward. Still, she didn’t move.
Braden sucked in air the moment they broke through the water. Thankfully Perry was already there. “Help me get her to shore,” he said to the detective. “You, swim now,” he ordered Lilly.
Her eyes were bright red and her skin was a pasty white, but she nodded and swam ahead of them.
He and Perry flipped the woman on her back and began swimming toward the shore with her in tow. Time seemed to stretch out in front of them as they paddled. As soon as they reached the sandy shore, Vanessa helped them drag the woman up onto dry land.
“The ambulance should be here in two minutes,” she said.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Lilly lie down in the sand, but she was alive so he couldn’t worry about her. He checked the other woman’s pulse. It was faint, but at least it was there.
With Perry’s help, they unhooked the tank and took the regulator out of her mouth. She breathed fine on her own, which was a good sign, but her pale skin had taken on a bluish hue.
He glanced up at Vanessa who hovered over them. “We need to get her warm. Grab a blanket out of my truck—” He stopped midsentence as two paramedics scrambled across the sand.
“Vanessa, stay with her in the ambulance. I’m going to follow with Lilly.”
“On it, boss.”
He hurried over to where Lilly lay on her back. “We need to get you to the hospital.”
“I’m fine.” Her chin and jaw tremored as she tried to keep her teeth from chattering.
“Come on.” She didn’t even protest as he pulled her to her feet.
She stumbled once and wrapped an arm around his waist. Her soaked top stuck to his chilled skin as she leaned closer into his embrace, but heat coursed through him at the contact. He had a hundred different questions, but didn’t want to push her now. Not until he’d gotten her to the hospital.
Everything Braden thought he’d figured out about this case had just drastically changed. The psycho they’d been hunting wasn’t content with killing anymore. Now he wanted to play games with them. And it was obvious he wasn’t going to stop until he got what he wanted.
Using the dunes and foliage as cover, he watched Lilly stumble against the sheriff. Even though he was far away, his binoculars let him see that her top was completely soaked through. As visions of her bare, perky nipples assaulted his mind, he shifted against the sand. If he played his cards right, he’d get to touch her soon enough.
Unwanted need coursed through him as he focused on her. That bitch was such a tease. In high school she’d flaunted her legs and hot body any chance she got. But no one other than the golden boy had been good enough for her. For that alone, he hated the sheriff too. Not as much, but watching him suffer this past year had been fun.
When the sheriff glanced in his direction, he tossed the binoculars behind him and scooted further down the dune. It was almost impossible that anyone could see him, but he wasn’t taking a chance. He’d come too far to be careless now.
From what he’d seen, it looked like his Page had been alive when they’d dragged her out of the water but she wouldn’t be able to give them anything on him. So far she’d been the easiest to kidnap. Completely unaware of her surroundings. She jogged with an MP3 player on a deserted stretch of beach four mornings a week. That alone made her dumb enough to die.
He wished he’d had time to enjoy Page, but that wasn’t what this had been about. Lilly was the real prize. Hell, he’d been patient this long. He could wait a little longer.
After a quick glance at his watch, he shimmied back up the dune and peered over it. With the exception of a deputy hanging around, everyone else seemed to be clearing out. Grinning to himself, he grabbed his backpack and stood up. Tomorrow was Debra Carmichael’s wake and he had a lot to do before then.
Lilly shoved the doctor’s black and silver stethoscope away from her chest. “For the last time, I’m fine.” Maybe the guy would take her more seriously if she wasn’t wearing a skimpy hospital gown and wrapped up in a blanket.
“Ms. Carmichael—” The door to her hospital room creaked open, cutting the doctor off.
When he turned, Lilly followed his gaze. Braden stood there holding a set of blue scrubs.
“Are those for me?” she demanded.
His lips twitched as he nodded. “Mind giving us a second alone, Doc?”
The doctor frowned. “Sheriff, she’s being unreasonable—”
“Mitch, she’s fine. I need a few minutes with her.” Braden’s commanding tone had the lanky doctor shaking his head and muttering something unintelligible as he left.
Braden handed her the clothes. “This is all I could find.”
“Thank you.” She clutched onto them as if they were a lifeline. As soon as they’d reached the hospital, the nurses had made her strip out of her clothes so they could bring her body temperature back to normal.
Braden stood there with his hands in his pockets, staring expectantly.
She still sat on the edge of the bed. “Can you turn around, please?”
“Oh, right,” he mumbled.
When his back was turned, she dropped the blanket and shrugged the gown over her head. Even though she wasn’t freezing anymore, chills raked over her exposed skin. “Where’d you find dry clothes? And why aren’t you in a room getting poked and prodded?”
His shoulders shook as he chuckled. “Perry had an extra pair of pants.” He started to move, and her heart skipped a beat.
“I’m not dressed yet!” Since everything she’d had on, including her underwear, was soaked, she was going completely commando. And now she was going to have to air out and clean her gun since it had gotten submerged. With her chilled fingers it took longer than normal to get dressed. Finally she managed to tighten the drawstring on the pants. “You can turn around now. And you didn’t answer my other question.”
His shoulders lifted as he turned. “You were turning blue and I wasn’t. Besides, I’m the sheriff.”
“So they have to listen to you, huh?”
A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “That’s right.”
“How’s the girl?”
“She’s going to make it, but she doesn’t remember anything. The insulated dive suit is the only thing that kept her alive.”
“So he didn’t want her to die?” It was impossible to get a handle on the killer’s thought process.
“I doubt he cared one way or the other. The girl’s name is Page Matheson. She doesn’t remember if she was physically assaulted, but they’re performing a rape test just the same. She said the last thing she remembers is jogging, struggling with someone as she jogged under the pier, then waking up underwater. Talk about a nightmare. Sounds like she passed out from shock, not the cold. She’s still disoriented, but I asked her about a connection with either of us and she says she knows you.”
Lilly’s lips pulled into a thin line. Page Matheson? Why did that name sound familiar? “Maybe I know her—I do, I used to babysit her when I was about fifteen.” She hadn’t gotten a good look at the girl’s face, but it had been almost thirteen years since she’d seen her. Lilly probably wouldn’t have recognized her anyway.
“You didn’t mention this girl in any of your therapy sessions, right?” Braden’s eyebrows furrowed.
“Uh, no.” Where was he going with this?
“This guy knows you. Knows us. Intimately. And this confirms it. This isn’t the kind of stuff he could have found online or from a high school yearbook. If he didn’t get this from your therapist…” His hands balled into fists at his sides.
She fiddled with the drawstring of her pants. “Do you think it’s Greg Murphy?”
“It’s looking more and more like it. After yesterday we know he’s been leaving for days at a time over the last year, but other than that you know as much as I do.”
“And his wife hasn’t seen him has she?”
He shrugged. “She said she’d call us if she heard from him.”
“Do you believe her?”
“What choice do I have?”
“So what are you going to do?’
He rubbed a hand over his stubble and sighed. “We’re already monitoring his credit cards and bank accounts and all the hotels have his picture. I don’t think we have a choice but to release his picture to the media…Listen Lilly, we need to talk—”