She couldn’t overpower him or shoot him in time. If she tried to do that, he’d kill her out of self-preservation. That much she knew. She might be able to outrun him though. She took another step back. Smaller this time.


His gaze narrowed at her. It flicked to her gun, then back to her face. He realized she had no intention of giving up her weapon. When he stepped toward her, she didn’t think. She simply reacted. Spinning around, she ran blindly toward the forest.


Loud shouts and curses trailed behind her but his words were meaningless.


Her boots crunched and stomped over leaves and branches. She could hear him behind her but she couldn’t look. It would slow her down.


Blood and adrenaline pounded in her ears as she jumped over a log. A huge branch smacked her face but she kept barreling onward. When she spotted the clearing for the dirt road her heart leapt. If she could make it to her truck, maybe she could get out of here alive.


Her legs burned with the unexpected strain, but she pushed forward. Just as she was about to burst through the trees something slammed into her back. The sudden force jolted her forward and onto her face.


A bright kaleidoscope of colors flashed in front of her as pain ricocheted through her head. Clenching her fist, she realized she’d lost the gun. She attempted to push up but her hands sank into dirt and damp foliage when something pressed down on her back. Everything was fuzzy as she tried to make sense of what had happened. He must have thrown the rifle at her. When she tried to twist over, something slammed against her head, engulfing her in blackness.


Braden slowed the cruiser and dimmed his lights as they neared the turn.


“What are you doing?” Although they were in the safety of her car, Vanessa’s voice was barely above a whisper.


“The turn is right up here. If you don’t know where you’re going it’s easy to miss.” The car bounced over a few holes as he made the sharp right.


He’d tried calling Lilly over twenty times but each time it went straight to voicemail. As he glanced at the digital clock again, his heart rate increased. Every second that ticked by was one second she might be dying.


With the exception of the hum of the car heater, the three of them were completely silent as they headed down the bumpy road.


“Isn’t that your truck?” Jordan asked from the back.


Shit. “Yeah.” He slowed down next to the empty vehicle and put the car into gear. As he cut the engine, he unbuckled his seatbelt and shifted to look at Vanessa and Jordan. “The cabin is only a few minutes from here. We’re going to stick to this path. When we reach the clearing, we’re going to surround the cabin. Vanessa, you take the front, I’ll take the back, and Jordan, you’re going to be static. The east side of the cabin has more windows so stick to that side.”


“What if…what if he’s got Lilly?” Vanessa asked.


“There’s no guarantee either one of them is here, but if they are, use as much force as necessary to bring him down. If James tries to use her as a hostage, don’t be afraid to take a kill shot.” Even saying his brother’s name left a bitter taste in his mouth. They’d never been particularly close, but to learn his own flesh and blood was a monster left a foreign sickness inside him. He knew he needed to stay focused to save Lilly but the images of what his brother had done to all those women flashed in his mind. The pictures seemed more vivid now that he had a face to the man who’d actually killed them all. How could they even be related? Braden remembered his brother as a competitive jock who sometimes lost his temper but he never could have imagined he’d be capable of all this.


Braden didn’t know that he could ever forgive himself if something happened to Lilly. Especially after she’d tried to warn him about James.


They half jogged, half ran down the deserted stretch of road. Time seemed to tick by at a snail’s pace. Horrible scenarios raced through his mind. Rape and torture. It’s what James had done to all those women. What if Lilly was dead—No! He grasped onto a tiny ray of hope and increased his pace. God wouldn’t be so cruel as to bring her back into his life only to rip her away again. He just couldn’t.


As they neared the clearing the three of them slowed their pace. His breath caught when he spotted the cabin. The lights were on.


He glanced at Vanessa and Jordan. They both nodded and the three of them crept toward the cabin. The yellow light streaming from a few of the cabin windows gave them decent navigation. Using as much of the forest as he could to stay camouflaged, he rounded the house until he was near the edge of the back porch.


Jordan was in position and since he couldn’t see Vanessa, Braden knew she had to be on the other side of the house. He started to motion to Jordan when a piercing scream sliced the quiet night.


Lilly!


Chapter 18


Lilly stared at her captor through narrowed eyes but she wasn’t really focusing on him. Not when she wore only her underwear and was on her back tied spread eagle to a coffee table at the mercy of a monster. She couldn’t bear to look directly at his face. His shirt was off and his jeans were unbuttoned at the top. A sick reminder of what he planned to do to her. And looking at his face only made things worse. She thought she’d gotten over what happened in high school but seeing him again increased her terror. She hated that he looked like he should be on the cover of GQ. Serial killing rapists weren’t supposed to be attractive or good looking. They were supposed to be scary and ugly.


As she tried to move, splinters of pain dotted the back of her head, back and ribs. She didn’t remember him dragging her back to the cabin but he obviously hadn’t been very gentle.


“I’ve been waiting a long time to get you in this position.” James’s high pitch laugh resonated off the walls of the small cabin eerily.


From her position on the coffee table she watched as he stalked across the room and pulled out a half-empty bottle of what looked like whiskey. Trying not to make any sudden movements, she attempted to shift her arms to see if she could loosen the ties. They didn’t budge.


As he calmly poured himself a drink, a feeling of utter helplessness overwhelmed her. She wished he’d just shot her out in the woods. Her arms were already numbing from the lack of circulation and a cold sweat had descended over her entire body.


She vowed to stay as strong as she could. This sick freak craved her fear and the thought of giving him what he wanted made her nauseous. For some reason he’d stripped her when she’d been passed out but had left her panties on. Maybe this was some stupid psychological game he liked to play.


“Why’d you kill all those women connected to me and your brother?”


“Why not?” he said the question so calmly.


Keep him talking. “Why’d you drag your brother into this? He never did anything to you.”


“Because fuck the golden boy! Everyone thought he was so fucking perfect, even you.”


Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw a flash of movement by one of the windows but knew she must have imagined it. No one was coming for her. She was all alone and she was going to die at the hands of a madman. And nobody would ever know who had killed her because she’d been stupid enough to come out here on her own.


Her right arm throbbed from where he’d cut her when she’d been passed out. She wanted to ignore the pain but it was damn near impossible. “Why are you doing this? After all these years, why come after me?” Talking was the only thing keeping her focused. She knew she couldn’t talk James out of anything, but she wanted answers before she died. And maybe it would give Braden enough time to find her. Even though she hated clinging onto that tiny hope, it was all she had.


“The time wasn’t right.” He took a swig straight from the bottle and slammed it down.


She wasn’t looking directly at him, but in the next instant he turned his full attention on her. She could feel his penetrating, empty gaze on her as he continued. “Now the time is most definitely right. No one to hear you scream and no one to interrupt me. I’m going to finish what I started ten years ago.”


Lilly’s stomach twisted and rolled as he withdrew the knife from his belt holster. Instinctively she squeezed her eyes shut as if that could somehow block out the terror and pain.


Just as quickly she opened them. Not knowing what was coming would be worse. He slowly walked toward her, the knife glinting off the dull lights of the cabin.


Lilly squirmed against the unforgiving restraints. The harder she struggled, the worse the bindings cut into her skin. Her throat seized up as he tipped his glass and sloshed the amber liquid over her stomach and breasts.


Though the fluid was warm, it chilled her straight to her core. Goosebumps rose all over her skin and her nipples hardened. She glanced away in shame, hating James with every bone in her body.


“Watch or I’ll slice you open right now.” James’s words didn’t cause her to turn, but when she felt the edge of his knife over her hipbone, she bit back her humiliation and forced herself to meet his gaze.


His dark eyes stared back at her, hollow and soulless. With a smirk, he ran the flat edge of his knife along her hip until he hooked underneath the strap of her underwear. Flicking it over toward the blade side, he quickly sliced upward. The material made a soft snicking sound as it snapped apart. As cool air rushed over her most private area, she fought the bile rising in her throat.


“I spent sixty-six days in that military school because of you. I’ve been waiting a long time to do this.” Digging the knife into her lower abdomen, he made a shallow cut across her stomach to the bottom of one of her breasts.


She bit down on her tongue so hard she tasted blood.


“That’s okay. You’ll scream soon enough.” He grabbed one of her breasts and pinched her nipple.


She tried to twist away from him, from his vile touch.


“Nowhere to go, slut.” His words were angry and hard this time.


Make him talk. Make him lose focus. “Why did you try to frame Greg? Or was he your partner?” Tears rolled down her face as she asked the question but she forced back a cry of pain when he squeezed her harder. The feel of his hand on her was enough to make her vomit. Bile rose in her throat but she swallowed it back down.

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