As the seconds ticked by, Barbara tried to keep herself from hyperventilating. She’d heard the door open and close minutes ago, but was afraid to open her eyes.
She hurt everywhere. Indescribable pain emanated from her insides all the way out. Still, she didn’t want to die.
Her tormenter said awful things to her. He would tell her what he was going to do to her. Then he’d do it. And the pain that followed each time he raped her was unbearable.
He’d ordered her to beg to for death. But she couldn’t.
No matter what promises she made him, it wouldn’t matter. He planned to kill her. She could see it in his dead eyes.
She’d always thought she’d rather die than be raped, but she wanted to live. Even after everything that had happened to her. She couldn’t let this asshole’s face be the last face she saw. She just couldn’t.
Taking a chance, she opened her eyes fully expecting to see him hovering over her. Leering, smirking and laughing.
But he wasn’t.
Her breath quickened as she looked around the dark cabin, but he wasn’t there. For all she knew this was some sick joke he was playing on her, but she didn’t care.
Words and phrases echoed in her mind as she wiggled her right hand. During his last assault, she’d felt the fastening around her right wrist loosen. It had taken all the control she possessed not to show her excitement.
If she had, he’d have known. So instead, she’d pretended to pass out from the pain. He still hadn’t believed her. He’d cut her again. More than once. She lost count after the fifth time.
Somehow she’d managed to keep still until he’d left her alone.
She continued wiggling her wrist until it slipped free. Biting her lip so hard she drew blood, she refrained from shouting out. With her hand free, she was able to pull the wire back on her other wrist and get that one free.
The voice in her head screamed as she fumbled around. It was impossible to remove the binding on her ankles. It was too tight and she was too weak to break it apart.
Glancing around, she spotted a pocket knife on the small table next to the couch. It wasn’t the knife he’d used to hurt her, but it would work.
Using a reserve of strength she didn’t know she had left, she bent and twisted until her fingers clasped the edge of it.
Shooting pains shot down her arms, legs, between her legs and places she didn’t want to think about, but she was going to survive.
After forcing herself into a sitting position, she cut the wires free. Blood immediately rushed to her feet, making them ache and tingle.
She stood and stumbled, but caught herself. She grabbed the blanket from the back of the couch and a knife from the kitchen and opened the front door an inch. When she didn’t see anyone lying in wait, she clicked the lock on the door into place, stepped outside then pulled it shut behind her.
It was a small thing, but if he knew it was unlocked, he’d know she had escaped. And she’d take even a few precious seconds to delay him.
Her movements were jerky as she staggered across the patio and down the small set of stairs. Everything around her was surreal. She felt as if she was watching someone else. As if what had just happened in that cabin had been to someone else.
But it hadn’t happened to someone else. It had happened to her. And she planned to make sure it didn’t happen to another woman again.
A burst of adrenaline flared through her as she hurried toward the woods. If it was the last thing she did, she was going to tell someone who had done this to her and she was going to make him pay.
Braden glanced at his watch and frowned. It didn’t take ten minutes to get coffee. Easing the hospital door open, he checked on Greg Murphy. Even if the man woke up, both his arms and one leg were cuffed to the bed. He wasn’t going anywhere. But Braden couldn’t leave him without someone here to watch him.
He let the door shut behind him then started to reach for his phone. Immediately he cursed. He’d given it to Lilly and now he couldn’t call her. He pulled out his radio and buzzed Vanessa.
“What’s the status on the room?” he asked.
“Lot of evidence, boss. Black gloves, black mask, pictures of Lilly, anything we need to convict this guy. It’s just…” Static rustled and he thought he’d lost her until she came back on the line. “It seems almost set up.”
“I thought the same thing. And we still don’t know where Barbara is.”
“You think someone’s setting him up?”
“Maybe. Or maybe he’s working with a partner. Either way I’m pretty sure he killed his wife. Or at least he knows who did.” He sure as hell didn’t seem sorry about her death.
“What should we do?”
“Treat the scene like any other one. Collect all the evidence and bring it back to the lab. When you’re done buzz me on the radio. Lilly’s got my cell.”
As they disconnected, he heard a jangling sound from inside Murphy’s room. He opened the door to find their number one suspect thrashing around and cursing.
“Where the hell am I? What did you do to me?”
“I didn’t do anything to you. What kind of moron mixes heroin and fentanyl?” He needed to get under Murphy’s skin, and fast. Catching him off guard was the only way he might get information out of him.
Murphy futilely yanked both his wrists against the metal bars so Braden grabbed one of the cushioned chairs and scooted it next to his bedside. After a few moments, Murphy gave up and glared at Braden. “Where am I?”
“The hospital. You almost overdosed,” Braden said as two nurses rushed into the room.
He stood and pushed his chair out of the way while they checked Murphy’s blood pressure, temperature and whatever else they needed to make sure he was alive and functioning.
Once they’d finished prodding Murphy, Braden pulled his chair back to the edge of the bed. “When did you start killing women, Greg?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” he grumbled as he shifted against the stark white sheets.
“Why’d you kill Abby and where the hell is Barbara Allbright?” Braden asked.
Murphy looked away from Braden and stared at a spot on the wall. “I didn’t kill anyone and I don’t know who the hell Barbara is.”
Braden snorted and scooted his chair closer. “When I asked you about your wife, you said, and I quote, ‘the bitch had it coming.’”
His head jerked to face him. “She did! Abby’d been cheating on me for over a year…I didn’t kill her though.” The last part came out as a strangled whisper.
“So how’d you know she died?”
Murphy’s eyes flared with guilt and a trace of grief. Tears gathered at the corners of his eyes but he cleared his throat and continued. “I came by the house early Thursday morning and found her in the middle of the living room.”
Braden wanted to throttle him. He’d beaten his wife for years and had no doubt killed her and now he was showing signs of remorse? Before Braden could respond his radio buzzed. Standing, he unhooked it from his belt and walked out into the hall.
“You alone?” Vanessa asked.
“Perry’s on his way to see you. We’ve got something you need to see.”
He didn’t have time for twenty questions. “What is it?”
“Vegas P.D. tracked down that woman who was attacked by our guy. She’s not a prostitute anymore like they thought and she was more than willing to help. Even though it’s been a while she sat down with an artist and gave a description of the guy.”
“Is it Murphy?”
“Not even close. I don’t recognize the face in the drawing, but Perry seems to think you need to see it right away.”
“Who is it?” A heavy weight congealed in his stomach.
“He wouldn’t say, but he’s bringing you the picture.”
“All right. Hey, have you heard from Lilly?” He glanced at his watch again, then down the hallway.
“No, why? I thought she was with you.”
He ignored the last statement. “Try my cell phone. She’s got it on her. Find out where she is.”
After they disconnected, he grasped the door handle, but paused when Perry rounded the corner. “What’s going on?” he asked.
Perry stopped a foot from him then glanced around. “Wherever Lilly is, she’s probably going to want to see this too.”
He wished he knew where Lilly was too. “She’s not here.”
They’d known each other a long time and the dark look on his friend’s face made Braden pause. Perry clutched a piece of paper in his hand and wordlessly held it out.
Braden grabbed it, not sure what to expect. When he saw a similar image to that of his dead brother’s face, all the air left his lungs. The sketch was black and white, but he knew what he was looking at. Even if it was impossible. The rescue team and the forest rangers had said surviving those mountainous elements would have been almost impossible for even a trained survivalist. Something James definitely wasn’t.
Bile burned the back of his throat. Survivalist or not, his brother was a fucking monster. If any of this was true it meant his brother had been stalking Lilly and killing people in both their lives. But to what end? Why would he hate either of them so much? His entire body felt clammy, but the feeling was quickly replaced by a fast-moving numbness. Braden swallowed hard and folded the paper in half. He couldn’t stand to look at that face. His heart pounded wildly. He needed to find Lilly.
Forcing himself to keep a level head, he looked at Perry. “Murphy’s awake now. I wouldn’t be surprised if he demands a lawyer soon so read him his rights and see what you can get. He denies knowing Barbara, but if anyone can get her location, it’s you. Find out if he’s working with…” He glanced down at the picture. He couldn’t say his brother’s name. “Find out if Murphy has a partner. I’ve got to find Lilly. Radio me if you need me.”