“When was she taken?” Jordan asks as she runs into the apartment, Matt right behind her, and I’m shocked to see my brother bring up the rear.
“Less than thirty minutes,” I reply. “Thanks for coming, Mike.”
“I heard the call come in. I wasn’t far away. What do we know?”
“Jack shit,” I reply with frustration and pace the room. “We know he took her.”
“Do we know that for sure?” Jordan asks.
“She wouldn’t just leave. Yes, he took her.”
My phone rings in my pocket, and I pray it’s Lila, but it’s Kate’s office number, Lila’s best friend. I send it to voice mail and shove my fingers through my hair.
“Uniforms are pulling in,” Mike says as he looks outside.
“Send them out on foot patrol,” I instruct him. “I want this entire neighborhood canvassed.”
“He might have taken her in a car.”
I frown, fighting to think clearly. “I doubt it. Nic would have seen Lila being dragged to a car in the parking lot. Lila would have screamed.”
“Not if he took her out the back,” Matt replies grimly. “They could be anywhere by now.”
My phone rings again. Kate. This time I accept the call. “Kate, I don’t have time to talk.”
“Lila’s on my cell phone.” Her voice is scared. “I can’t hear everything that’s happening, but she keeps saying Colin. She sounds scared. What is happening?”
“Colin?” I ask and search wildly for Jordan. “Is she still on the line?”
“Do not hang up, do you hear me?” I put Kate on speaker. “Put it on speaker and hold it up to your phone.”
“Okay, but you can’t hear much. What’s happening, Asher?”
“Lila’s in trouble, and you’re going to help me find her, sweetheart.”
“I’m calling in to get a trace on Lila’s cell,” Jordan says, her phone already to her ear.
“Please, Colin, you don’t have to do this.”
My gut seizes at Lila’s scared voice, but I’m so relieved to hear that she’s still alive.
“Kate, put your cell on mute. I don’t want any noises to go through Lila’s phone. I don’t want Colin to hear us.”
“I already did that,” Kate says. “I did it as soon as I realized Lila was in trouble.”
“Good girl,” Matt says. “And who the fuck is Colin?”
“It has to be Colin Forester, from her history class,” Jordan says then speaks back into her phone. “Yes, I need a trace on 504-555-3297, now. There’s a live call on it right now.”
“Talk to me about Colin,” Matt says.
I rack my brain, trying to picture the boy. “He’s in her class and the study group. Roughly five foot six, bald. He had solid alibis for every murder.”
“He escorted Cheyenne home the night she was killed,” Jordan adds.
“And had an alibi ten minutes later,” I remind her.
“His roommate said she heard him come home. But could she be covering for him?” Jordan speaks into her phone again, barking instructions for the trace on Lila’s phone.
“Bald?” Matt asks with a frown. “Like, he might have a full head of hair if he let it grow?”
“Yes.” My eyes narrow. “Son of a bitch. He shaves so he doesn’t leave evidence. Where is that trace?”
“They’re working on it,” Jordan says.
“No, please don’t,” Lila says through my phone.
“Asher, he’s going to hurt her,” Kate says urgently. “He just said something about her fingers.”
Jordan and I lock gazes. “He has a thing for cutting off his victims fingers.”
“Motherfucker,” Mike mutters.
“Get an address for Colin,” I tell my brother.
“No need, we have a trace,” Jordan says, her eyes confused.
“Where is she?”
“Asher, she’s here.”
“Clearly she’s not,” I reply angrily. “What the fuck?”
“The address is here.”
“She’s in another apartment,” Matt says.
“Fan out,” I order and head for the door. “Break down every fucking door in this complex.”
“Wake up, Lila.”
My head is screaming.
“Come on, I didn’t hit you that hard. Don’t be a pussy or this won’t be any fun.”
“I need to throw up.”
“Fine. There’s a bucket next to you.” He sighs, as if he’s horribly disappointed in me. “I really thought you’d be a better sport than this.”
I reach for it and lose my lunch, then open my eyes and take in my surroundings. I’m on a couch in an apartment that looks very much like mine. Colin from my class is sitting in a chair across the room from me.
“I’m not tied up?” I ask inanely. Jesus, I’ve been kidnapped, and all I can think to say is I’m not tied up?
“If you try to run, I’ll simply kill you,” he replies calmly. His face, his body, everything about him is perfectly steady, as though he does this every day. “Tying you up would take some of the fun out of what I have planned.”
He stands and begins to pace the room. I glance over to the front door to see that it’s locked with a padlock. No escaping that way.
Colin is rattling around in the kitchen, and I take this opportunity to pat my pockets, praying for my phone, and find it. I have time to dial the last number I called, lock it, and stuff it back in my pocket before he comes back in the room.
Please, Kate, pick up.
“Now that you’re awake, I’ll start setting up.” He smiles happily, even joyfully, and begins laying syringes and different medical instruments on the coffee table. “We can chat while I work.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Well, it’s easier to have these things on hand so I don’t have to go back and forth to the kitchen.” He laughs at his own joke, having a great time, and I just feel like I have to throw up again.
God, how am I going to get out of this?
“Colin, I like you.”
“Do you?” He smiles, then all expression leaves his face. “Is that why you flunked me out of your class last semester?”
“You failing the class had nothing to do with whether I like you.”
“I didn’t fail!” he yells angrily. “You flunked me!”
I swallow hard as I watch him reign in his temper.
“I’ve never failed a class before, you know.” He begins laying tools out again, perfectly calm. “I am in pre-med. I don’t fail classes. I had to pay for that fucking class twice.”
“Really? All of this because you failed a class?”
“I DON’T FAIL CLASSES!”
“Why did you hurt those girls?” I ask, trying to distract him by changing the subject.
“Because I was trying to scare you.” He smiles smugly. “And it worked. Eventually. At first you didn’t seem very scared, so I just made more of a mess and got your attention.”
“You tortured them?”
“Of course.” He shrugs, like it’s no big deal. “Well, I didn’t torment the first one the way I wanted to. I was nervous with her. So, I fucked her, then I beat her until she died.”
I swallow hard, wanting to throw up again. Jesus, what those girls went through, all because of me.
“But, hey, live and learn, you know?” He winks. “It was so easy to fool all of you. Did you seriously think I was gay?”
“I didn’t really pay attention.”
“Sure you did.” He sits back on his heels and tips his head to the side. “I told you I had a date with a boy.”
“Now you’re just trying to hurt my feelings. I know you’ve been paying attention to me.” He shakes his finger at me. “You’re a naughty girl.”
“Colin, you don’t have to do this.”
“I begged you not to fail me.”
“I asked you to come to study group so I could help you,” I remind him, stalling for time.
“Your study group is a fucking joke,” he replies. “But, I found some fun playmates that way. That last one? Cheyenne? What a cock tease.”
“She was your friend.” And sweet, and young.
“She led me on,” he replies sharply. “She wanted me.”
I take a deep breath, praying that Kate has heard this and called Asher. Where is Asher? What if this maniac kills me and I never get to tell Asher that I love him?
What about Casey?
Tears fill my eyes, making Colin laugh. “Tears don’t work on me, Lila. All of the others cried too.”
“Are you going to rape me, Colin?”
“Of course.” He shakes his head like I’m an idiot. “Did you get my notes? I’m surprised you didn’t know this was coming. I sent notes for you.”
“With the victims.”
He simply raises a brow.
“I saw the last one.”
“See, that’s where I fucked up.” He sighs dejectedly. “I should have sent them to you directly and not left them with the girls. But, I thought it was more dramatic that way. It didn’t occur to me that the cops wouldn’t show them to you.”