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The inside of her car was too quiet. She left the door open a few inches, hoping to hear her backup coming at any moment. She froze. Was that laughter?

Huge fir trees rose behind and to the right of the house. She stood and looked over the roof of her car, her gaze trained in that direction.

More laughter. Some screams. But happy screams.

The woods lit up with an orange glow a split second before the sounds of the explosions reached her ears.

She dialed 911 and raced toward the burning woods, her phone at her ear.

His energy was gone, but Mason fought back.

One look at the gallows told him what Scott had in mind.

No fucking way would he dance at the end of a noose.

Scott would have to kill him, haul him up the steps, and then hang his dead body.

Maybe that’s acceptable in Scott’s book.

It wasn’t in Mason’s.

He thrashed and broke out of Scott’s grip on his arm. He took three reeling steps away from the gallows and Scott grabbed the collar of his coat. His head jerked backward as Scott yanked him to a stop. Twice Mason lurched his body weight forward to break the grip, but it was no use. Seeing no other option, Mason dropped to the ground and curled up in a ball the best he could with his hands still tied behind his back. He waited for more kicks to his broken ribs.

Lightning flashed behind his eyes as Scott pressed the stun gun into his flesh. His legs shot out in spasms.

“Don’t fuck with me again,” Scott said. “I can drag your ass just fine.”

He grabbed Mason’s shoulders and dragged him the last twenty feet to the gallows.

Four days ago Scott had attached a pulley to the top of the gallows. It’d seemed easier than rigging a ramp. He’d known no victim would willingly move up the ladder to the gallows. Even with a gun in his back. He’d recognized he would need to use his stun gun and pulley. Again.

He’d stashed a small harness underneath, accepting that it wouldn’t be easy to haul a body up to the platform. Once the body was on the platform, the rest would be simple. There was no trapdoor. The guilty would be pushed off the platform and the fall would be enough to break his neck. If he didn’t die from the jerk of the rope, then he would slowly strangle to death.

He’d wanted to repeat Vince Weldon’s death. To get it right this time. It’d been the most satisfying killing, standing and watching the man slowly die, even though there’d been little fanfare afterward. He’d been too cautious, too smooth, too good at setting the stage. He’d researched the marks his stun gun would leave on a body. If he was careful, at the most two small bruises might show up hours after death. He’d set aside his stun gun for the more visible baseball bat head blows for the other three men. No doubt that had caught the attention of the police and medical examiner.

How long will it take for someone to spot the real body among the fakes?

Mason flopped onto the platform and Scott wiped his forehead. Even with the pulley and harness, it’d been a bitch to get the man to the top. Most of the stun gun’s effects had worn off, and he was starting to fight again. He’d lost his gag in the struggle up the ladder, but Scott was glad he’d tied his feet again before using the pulley to haul him up the gallows. He had to get this done and get back home. If he moved Mason’s car to the farm among all the other cars, they couldn’t connect him to the man’s death.

His goal would be achieved.

“This place is going to be crawling with cops any minute,” Mason croaked.

“Yes, it will be. But not for the reason you think. They have no idea it’s me.” Scott knelt on the man’s back and roughly looped the noose around his neck. Mason froze at the yank of the rope and then thrashed again, knocking Scott off his back. The cop scooted toward the edge of the platform, searching for a way down.

“Go ahead and jump off. You’ll speed up my process,” Scott said in amusement. Mason’s eyes grew wide as he judged the distance to the ground. “Having second thoughts?”

Scott checked the time. He still had ten minutes before his distractions were set in motion. But the hayride should be along soon. He sat back, leaning against a pole on the gallows, taking a moment to relish the man’s fear.

Mason met his gaze. “Why me?”

Scott frowned. “You don’t remember?”

“I remember you. I put it together once I stood on your porch. I’d been assigned as your mentor but had to cut it short.”

“You abandoned my mother. You made all sorts of promises to her. You were going to leave your wife and help us start a new life. But once you got what you needed from her, you ran.” Scott sneered. “Was the sex worth it, Callahan? Was it worth destroying our lives?”

Mason stared at him. “I didn’t make any promises to your mother. I was married.”

“I know. But you led her to believe your marriage meant nothing to you.”

“Bullshit! I never said anything of the sort and I never fucked your mother. She came on so strong at our first meeting I knew I couldn’t stay in that situation. That’s why I left. She fucking threw herself at me.”

“She did not!” Fury raged through him. How dare he impugn my mother that way.

“She did! Is that why you targeted those other cops? Because your mother sent them scrambling? After she lied to you and told you they were the answer to your prayers?”

“They had it coming! They all used her. Every single man led her on and made her promises and then abandoned us!” I have every right to do this!