The move had the intended effect. By using the shock tactic, he had her frightened and confused.
“Ah.” Her gasp was barely audible.
Before she could move, he fisted her ponytail and forced her face up with a sharp jerk. Then he struck her across the jaw.
Instead of collapsing, like he expected, she struggled against him. She struck out at him with her leg. He deflected the blow, but then she kneed him in the groin. It wasn’t as hard as she intended, he was sure, but it still hurt like hell.
He was so pumped up on adrenaline, he didn’t double-over. Yanking her ponytail back even harder, he forced her to her knees. “You’re going to pay for that, bitch,” he snarled before kicking her in the stomach.
That blow knocked the wind out of her. She moaned as he shoved her face to the ground. Once he had her down, securing her was easy enough. After tightening flex-cuffs around her wrists and ankles, then hogtying them together, he hauled her to the car and dumped her in the trunk.
She was still trying to struggle and thrash around, but she wasn’t going to get far. He was surprised by how pleased he felt that she’d fought. It had been a while since he had a woman with any spirit. They usually panicked when they saw his knife. Then they practically offered to sell their souls when he started cutting them. Offered to do all sorts of dirty things.
By the time he got around to the cattle prod, they’d usually passed out from the pain or they were in such a state of shock, they couldn’t speak. It wouldn’t matter with Barbie of course. He was taking her where no one could hear her screams.
His erection pressed against his zipper as he imagined her stretched out on his table. He’d planned to bring Lilly to his cabin first, but he couldn’t wait another day without release.
When he finally caught Lilly, he’d keep her around a lot longer than the others. She was special. If it was the last thing he did, he’d make her pay for being such a tease. He’d make her scream until she begged him to kill her.
The walls were closing in on her. The stifling cell grew smaller with each second that ticked by. A second closer to death. Screams and moans echoed around her. All day and all night they screamed. Their captors never took a break.
Her entire body tensed as her cell door groaned open. Now it was her turn to scream. She shifted against the dirty floor to get a look at her tormenter—
Lilly’s eyes flew open. She stared at the ceiling of her room. Everything was quiet and safe. The steady sound of Braden’s breathing filled the air. Her heart thumped wildly, but she wasn’t sweating buckets and that sick feeling of dread she always awoke with wasn’t hanging over her head. Frowning, she placed a hand over her stomach. Despite the short nightmare, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept so soundly.
She glanced at the clock. It was almost seven. Time to get up and make sure the house was in order before the masses of people arrived. Quietly, she sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed.
Before she could move any further, Braden snaked a hand around her waist and tugged her so that she was flat on her back. “Where do you think you’re going?” he growled in her ear.
She grinned at him. “Apparently nowhere.”
“Good answer,” he murmured before nipping her bottom lip.
As his hand strayed between her legs, the sound of his phone vibrating across the nightstand caused them both to groan.
Braden rolled over and grabbed it. “What?” he growled. “Oh, sorry Hailey. Hold on. Let me put you on speaker. Okay, you’re on with Lilly and me.”
“Oh, right…I got a hit on the strands of hair we found. I don’t know if this will be good or bad news.”
Lilly’s chest squeezed. How could it not be good news?
“What did you find?” Braden asked.
“The DNA is connected to a sealed juvenile file.”
“Damn it. Send the information to the office. I’ll file a petition with the judge right away.”
“Can you email me the information also?” Lilly held a finger to her mouth when Braden frowned at her.
“Uh, boss?” Hailey asked.
He paused for a moment, but conceded. “Go ahead and send it.”
As soon as they disconnected, she answered his unspoken question. “Do you forget who I work for? It’ll take a little time, but I can get the name on those records. It won’t hold up in court so you’ll still need to file a petition, but it’ll give us a head start on tracking this guy. Do you know if Greg Murphy has a juvenile record?”
Braden nodded, his expression grim. “He does.”
His phone buzzed again. “It’s the station,” he sighed. “Yeah…when did she disappear…no, file a missing person’s report…I’ll be down there as soon as I can.”
“What’s going on?” Lilly asked the second he hung up.
“Barbara Allbright, a young woman who works at her family’s drycleaners has gone missing. She never came home last night and her parents are worried.”
“What do you think?”
“I know her and she wouldn’t just not come home without calling her parents. She dropped out of college when her mom got sick. Family is important to this girl.”
“Then go. People will be showing up soon. I’ll be fine here.”
“Not until I get someone down here. I don’t want to leave you alone.”
“Braden, I…” She wanted to tell him what she really did for a living, but she just couldn’t. Before she could think of a way to finish her sentence, her phone rang. After yesterday she’d taken her phone off vibrate and turned the ringer on loud. Rolling over, she grabbed it from the nightstand. “It’s private,” she said as it rang again.
“Answer it.” He started punching numbers into his phone.
She knew Braden was going to call the station to see if they could trace the call, but her hand shook as she answered. “Hello?”
“Did you have fun last night?” The mechanical voice grated against her ear.
She could feel the color drain from her face. Instinctively she pulled the sheet higher up around her body. There was no way he could know that she and Braden had slept together. Unless he was watching them. “What are you talking about?” Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Braden speaking into his phone.
“I don’t think you need me to spell it out for you. You were always such a tease with everyone except the good sheriff. I see some things never change.”
Lilly tried to think this time instead of letting her fear overtake her good sense. “Did I used to tease you?”
For a moment there was silence and she wasn’t sure he would respond. “You teased everyone.”
She frowned, trying to figure out who this could be. If this was Greg Murphy, she’d never teased him. Hell, she’d never teased anyone. “Oh really?”
“Always flaunting yourself around school. No one else was ever good enough for you, were they?”
“I had a boyfriend.” She doubted any sort of reasoning would work, but she wanted to understand where this psycho was coming from.
“That’s right, the hotshot sheriff. Did you enjoy screwing him last night?”
She flinched at his words. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Ask him about Abby. Braden mouthed the words next to her.
Before the man on the other end could respond, she continued. “Why did you kill Abby?”
“That bitch had it coming.” It was impossible, but it sounded like the mechanical voice almost snarled.
“Didn’t she mean anything to you?” Lilly bit out.
“She was pathetic. She’s lucky I didn’t kill her sooner.”
Braden motioned with his hand for her to keep him on the line so she blurted the next thing that came to mind. “What about Barbara Allbright? Why’d you take her?” She wasn’t sure he had, but she hoped he wouldn’t call her bluff.
“You already know about her. Impressive.”
“Where is she?” Lilly pressed.
“No games this time. I’m keeping her for myself.”
“Is she still alive?”
The terrifying laugh rang in her ears. “Yes, but not for long.”
“Is there a point to this call?”
“You better watch your tone with me. I called to give my condolences about your aunt. She was another one who had it coming. She’s the easiest one I’ve killed so far.” The voice laughed maniacally, the harsh sound intensified over the phone.
It took a second for his words to sink in. “What did you just say?”
“One crack to the head and down she crumpled.”
Lilly dropped the phone and clutched the sheet against her body. A lead weight settled inside her. He’d killed her aunt. To get to her.
Braden frowned and picked up her fallen cell. “Hello…hello…damn it, he hung up.” He shifted against the bed to face her. “What did he say?”
“He killed Aunt Debra.” Somehow she managed to whisper the words, though they tasted foul and bitter.
“What? You’re sure?”
“He admitted it.” She wrapped her arms around herself to fight off a chill. Even though Hailey had told her it was a homicide, hearing him admit to killing her aunt made Lilly sick. “Are they tracking the number?”
“Yeah. Perry and Vanessa are ready to trail him, but if I have to go, you’ve got a weapon and people will be showing up for the wake in a few hours. You’ll be safe.”
Safe. The word was a joke. Pushing off the bed, she let the sheet drop. “I’m going to take a shower.”
Lilly fought nausea as she turned the shower on. Her aunt was dead because some maniac had set his sights on her. And Braden was out there right now trying to find this guy. She knew he had backup but the thought of anything happening to him…she couldn’t fight the terror that splintered through her. After last night she knew she pretty much still loved him. Things might have ended between them but her feelings had only dulled. And that was only because of time. Even if they didn’t have a future together, her chest ached even thinking about him hurt or worse.