She cleared her throat. “Have there been any witnesses?”


Braden shook his head, before he once again focused on her face. “None that we’re aware of.”


She contemplated telling him about the masked face she’d seen by the window the night before but couldn’t force the words to come. If someone wanted to hurt her, they wouldn’t show themselves to her then run away. She just needed to face the reality that she was seeing things that weren’t there. The last thing she wanted to do was sound crazy in front of Braden. Especially now. She wanted to deal with her aunt’s funeral, and maybe get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. “I’ll be careful. I promise.”


He nodded but the grooves around his eyes deepened. Wordlessly they stared at each other and it was all she could do not to fall over. A woman could lose herself in those dark eyes. And she had once.


She was the first to break contact. Somehow she found the words she didn’t want to ask. “I’ve got to go to the coroner’s to sign off on everything. I’d planned to go alone, but was wondering if maybe you’d go with me before we go to the rental place? Only if you have the time…” She hated the almost pleading note in her voice, but she didn’t want to handle this on her own. Even after years away from Braden, just being around him somehow grounded her.


He paused so long she wondered if she’d made a mistake in asking him. Finally he spoke, but his words were unsteady. “I’ll go with you. How long are you here anyway?”


“A couple weeks, at least.” After the funeral she planned to do nothing but relax and maybe get her head screwed on straight.


“Oh.”


“Don’t sound too excited,” she murmured.


“I didn’t mean it that way.”


His dry tone said otherwise but she didn’t comment. The only sound in the bright kitchen was the cold wind whipping at the window and the soft tick of the nautical clock hanging on the wall. Lilly should have expected this awkwardness, but as she’d prepared to leave D.C., she’d ignored the fact that she’d inevitably run into Braden. However, she’d expected to see him at the funeral, not her first day back.


He was the first to break the silence. “How’s work?”


By the tenseness in his voice, she guessed that he knew what had happened to her. Hell, thanks to the media, most of the world did. Of course, the world thought she’d been part of a group of analysts checking out the volatility of the region. They’d never know she’d been working undercover with a black ops team hunting a well-known terrorist. When half her team had been kidnapped by Islamic terrorists based in the horn of Africa, it had been splashed all over the news for weeks. So, the leaders of the NSA and CIA combined task force had decided to make a preemptive strike and leak the “story” to the media first.


The extremists had killed most of her teammates and tortured the rest. For a while, she’d wished she’d died with her friends. She couldn’t very well tell him that. And unfortunately, she couldn’t tell him what she actually did for a living. “It’s been a rough year, but work’s the only thing keeping me sane.”


Jaw tight, he nodded and pushed his chair back. “I didn’t mean to intrude…I thought I’d be able to get home before picking you up this morning. Do you mind if I grab a shower before we head to the coroner’s office? I’ve got an overnight bag I keep in my truck for emergencies.”


“Sure. Use the downstairs bathroom. You remember where everything is right?” At his nod she continued. “I’ll meet you down here in half an hour or so. If you get hungry, I don’t know what’s here but help yourself.”


“Listen, Lilly, what happened between us is water under the bridge.” His abrupt words sliced through the air with the subtly of a machete.


Wrapping her arms around herself, she met his intense gaze, unsure she’d heard right but really hoping she had. “You mean that?”


“Yes. I don’t want us to walk on eggshells around each other. We were little more than kids when we broke up and it’s in the past.”


She let her arms drop as the vise around her chest loosened. “Thanks…It really is good to see you, Braden.”


Before she realized what he intended, he reached out and cupped her cheek. Her lungs squeezed painfully as his palm caressed her face. The gentle touch was so familiar, but the raw, primal energy she could feel rolling off him wasn’t. What happened between them might be water under the bridge but her attraction to him definitely wasn’t in the past.


And neither was his. His eyes flashed an even darker shade of brown as their gazes locked. Conflicting emotions warred inside him. She could see it as plain as if the words were written in front of her. He wanted her, but he didn’t want to.


Not that she blamed him.


“Braden…”


As soon as the word fell from her lips, his hand dropped as if she’d burned him.


Without pause, he exited the room, effectively sucking all the warmth out with him. As she cleaned up she was vaguely aware of the front door opening and shutting a couple times.


“I locked the front door.” Braden’s voice trailed down the hall.


“Thanks,” she called out. A lot of things might have changed in the past decade but one thing definitely hadn’t.


Braden Donnelly still had the power to turn her on like no one else. Over the years she’d wondered if things would have turned out differently if she’d told him the real reason she’d left. Seeing him again brought back all those old feelings and insecurities. Back then she’d been so sure she’d made the right choice by making a clean break and keeping him in the dark, but now she wondered if—no, it didn’t matter. The past was the past.


As she placed the mugs in the sink, a flash of movement caught her eye. She swiveled toward the window.


The face was back. It was still semi-dark outside, but the masked face was at her kitchen window again.


Staring.


Waiting.


Smiling.


You’re not real. You’re a figment of my imagination. She tried to say the words out loud like her therapist had taught her, but her throat tightened in terror.


The man’s dark eyes pulled to slits as his grin grew wider. Evil. It was the only word to describe what she was looking at. Slowly, he held up a wicked looking knife and made slashing movements at his neck. How could this be happening? Was he real? Her brain screamed at her to do something. Anything.


It was as if hundred pound weights had settled around her ankles again. She tried to take a step back, but movement was impossible. Her throat was too tight to scream. She rubbed her eyes, and when she opened them, the face was gone.


“Lilly?” Braden’s voice broke through the silence.


“Yeah?” she called out as she jerked her head toward his voice.


“Where are the towels…never mind, found ’em.” His deep voice faded down the hall.


When she turned back to the window again, there was still nothing there. Pressing a hand to her stomach, she hurried over and yanked the lace curtains into place. Her lungs seemed to shrink as she bounded up the stairs. Never in a million years would she have imagined she’d be experiencing something like this. That she might actually be losing her freaking mind. For a brief moment she wondered if she wasn’t seeing things and this was the killer targeting women in town. Just as quickly she shoved the thought away. Braden hadn’t said anything about anyone taunting the women before they’d been killed and this was the kind of thing the murdered women would have reported beforehand.


An ice cold shower was exactly what she needed to bring herself back to reality. Despite the fact that her therapist had told her she might experience waking flashes, she felt like she was barely holding on to her sanity. Not being able to tell what was real and what wasn’t was a nightmare come true.


He hurried away from Debra Carmichael’s house, careful to blend with the shadows as he headed toward the beach. When he was sure he was out of sight, he sheathed his knife and tugged off the mask before tucking it into his back pocket. Soon the wind would cover his sandy footprints making it impossible to track him.


The raw terror he’d witnessed on Lilly’s face made him hard. He’d been jacking off to visions of killing her for years. Now he was sure that the reality was going to be so much better than his fantasies.


The high that came from killing his victims rarely lasted, but this time it would be different. She was different. After he sliced up her soft skin, he’d make her beg for her life. Maybe even make her suck him off. If she was even able to by the time he finished with her. One thing he was sure of. She would beg, scream and plead with him.


He rubbed a hand over his crotch as he jogged down the beach but stopped himself. He had more control than that. And there would be time enough for that later. First he needed to get the hell out of here. Preparations needed to be made. Before he took Lilly, he had another bitch he was going to take care of.


The sun peeked up over the horizon as he neared the pier parking lot. He couldn’t risk parking too close to Lilly’s place. Everyone on that stretch of beach knew everyone.


Which was why getting into Debra Carmichael’s house in the middle of the day to kill her had been difficult. Not impossible though.


Right before he killed Lilly, he’d tell her the truth. That he’d struck her aunt so hard she’d tumbled down the stairs. It had been a bonus when she’d broken her neck on her own. Everything looked like an accident, guaranteeing Lilly would never question why she’d ended up back in Hudson Bay after all these years. Hell, it was the only way he could get to her. Over the years he’d been trying to find a way to take her, but it was damn near impossible with her schedule.


Not now. Now she was home and back on his turf.


Maybe he’d kill the sheriff too. Or maybe he’d just let him live with the knowledge that he hadn’t been able to save Lilly Carmichael.


Braden slipped his leather bomber jacket on over his sweater before shoving his worn uniform into his bag. Lilly had surprised him when she’d asked him to go to the coroner’s office with her. After the way she’d left him all those years ago, compounded with years of silence, he’d assumed she’d be polite when they saw each other but wouldn’t want anything to do with him.

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