Ilona. Thank God.
“Ilona, help! Help me, please. He can’t hurt both of us at the same time. Run away and get help!”
Ilona just stood there.
And Tony started to laugh.
“I gotta tell you, it really helps to have a babe when you’re not an adorable seventeen-year-old with his arm in a sling anymore. And Ilona, well, she’s my babe, right, gorgeous?” he said, turning to Ilona.
“I’ll get the scarves,” Ilona said.
Christina stared at them disbelievingly. This couldn’t be happening. “You won’t make it this time,” she said harshly. “You’ve forgotten something.”
“What?” Tony asked.
“The naked woman wandering around outside,” Christina said.
There were cop cars in front of the house, and cops in the cop cars. But they weren’t doing anything. They were just waiting, unable to go bursting into Tony Lowell’s house without either probable cause or a warrant.
“No warrant yet?” Jed demanded, hopping from his vehicle.
A uniformed officer climbed out of his car, shaking his head.
Killer was there, Jed realized. The little Jack Russell was at the front door, going insane and throwing himself against it again and again. “Killer!” he shouted, and the dog paused, hearing his voice. He ran forward and picked up the little animal. By that time Genevieve had run over to him, so he thrust the dog into her arms. “Take him.”
“Get away from here,” he told her.
There were tears in Genevieve’s eyes. “They say they can’t break in.”
He wasn’t a cop. And he didn’t give a damn if anyone sued him from here to eternity. But before he could break in the door, he gasped.
A filthy naked woman was staggering around the side of the house toward him.
“There’s your probable fucking cause!” Jed shouted.
But he wasn’t waiting. The door was locked, so he rammed it with his shoulder, then swore. That was one solid door.
He rammed it again. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of the officers going to help Angie McDuff. At the moment he didn’t give a fig how she happened to be where she was. Alive…He only cared about getting inside and finding Christina.
He rammed the door one more time, and the wood finally shattered and gave. He burst into the house. The shadows within were almost smothering after the afternoon light outside. He moved forward, and nearly tripped over something lying on the floor.
He hunkered down.
He felt for a pulse. He found a face, a throat. An Adam’s apple.
As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, he began to see more clearly. It was Dan. With a knife sticking out of his rib cage.
The man could be dying, but Jed had to find out what he knew. Trying to watch out for a sudden attack, he leaned low and placed his ear against Dan’s lips as Dan tried to speak.
There was a sudden, shrill cry of fury, and someone came racing at him, brandishing a butcher knife and shrieking like a banshee.
Jed turned just in time and ducked, letting her fly right over him. Then he straddled her, reaching for the knife. As he fought to subdue her, he was stunned to hear a woman’s voice behind him.
Angie, with a policeman’s jacket over her shoulders, was shouting, “Get down to the basement! Tony has Christina down there.”
Jed leapt up, and with another shriek, Ilona started to rise.
She didn’t make it, because Angie kicked her. Hard.
Jed didn’t wait to see more. He was already searching for the stairs to the basement.
Tony screamed in rage and leapt, landing on her with all his weight. She struggled to move, but she was pinned by his body, although at least the mattress had helped cushion her when he landed.
He immediately reached for her throat, but she was able to bring up a knee and slam him hard. When she rolled to escape, though, he twisted his fingers into her hair again and stopped her, so she sent a fist flying backward and caught him in the nose.
She hoped she’d broken it.
But he was strong, and he knew how to use his weight to control her, all the while working to get his fingers around her neck. She desperately searched the mattress and as much of the floor as she could reach, seeking the garden shears she’d used to free Angie.
She found them at last, curled her fingers around them and lifted them to strike.
But he sensed her intention. He let go of her neck and grabbed for her hand, trying to wrest the shears from her. In a moment he had them, and he raised them over his head…
She screamed, shrinking as far back against the mattress as she could.
But he didn’t strike.
She saw something…someone…move in the shadows behind him.
Beau Kidd was behind him.
Before Tony had a chance to strike, Beau wrested the shears away. Tony let out a disbelieving roar of rage as they seemed to fly away from him on their own. If he had any sanity left, it wasn’t apparent as he snarled like an enraged cougar and attacked her again, fingers stretched and grasping, intent on her throat.
This time he was stopped by a very real and visible force.
Jed had arrived.
His face looked like thunder, and he hefted Tony off her as if Tony weighed no more than a two-week-old kitten, then slammed him against the brick wall of the basement.
With Tony out of commission, Jed dropped to her side, smoothing back her hair, looking at her anxiously. She smiled, unable to speak, and he stood, reaching for her hands, ready to help her to her feet.
There was thunder on the stairs as a trio of cops came down, two uniforms and, behind them, Jerry Dwyer.
“Where the hell is Lowell?” Jerry demanded.
“There,” Jed said, indicating the fallen man with a nod of his head.
“Bastard,” Jerry breathed. “He’d damn sure better not get off on some technicality.”
Later, Christina was unable to remember exactly what happened next, certainly no more accurately than anyone else.
Tony Lowell started to laugh and staggered to his feet.
No one else moved, no one drew a weapon, but the garden shears just picked themselves up and flew right across the basement, embedding themselves in Tony Lowell’s chest.
With a look of absolute shock, he fell back against the bricks, a massive bloodstain spreading across his chest.
Christina opened her eyes.
Everything was as it should be.
The small porcelain clock—Gran’s favorite, brought over from Ireland—sat on the mantel, the seconds ticking away softly.
It was dark. True dark. She’d actually forgotten to turn on the night-light before going to bed. Of course, she’d been just a bit involved when day gave way to night, and she hadn’t thought about a light. Quite frankly, she hadn’t thought about anything at all, other than the fact that she was alive, and not just alive, but alive and in the arms of the man she’d adored all her life, who seemed to feel the same way about her.
She frowned slightly when she realized she was alone in the bed. Where had he gone?
She sat up and saw that morning was coming. Already the darkness was growing diffuse, so she hugged her knees and watched the day arrive. And as the light filtered in, she saw the man she loved at last.
He was seated in the overstuffed chair, bare-chested but wearing jeans, and he was just watching her.
“Hey,” she said in greeting.
“Are you…all right?” she asked.
He nodded. “I…went out for a bit.”
He rose and walked over to the bed. “I was at the cemetery.”
“Oh?” she said again.
“I went to make my peace with Beau Kidd,” he told her.
It had been a week since the events next door had nearly cost her her life. It had been a mind-numbing experience for her, and she left it to better-trained minds than her own to make sense of everything that had happened. They’d already pieced together some of the story.
Tony had started killing young, apparently luring his victims by pretending that he was hurt and needed help. They’d discovered that he had done a lot of traveling after Beau Kidd had been killed for his crimes. The time he had spent in various places coincided with a number of unsolved murders with similar signatures.
Then he had found Ilona. Someone, according to Angie, who was sicker and even more excited by cruelty than he was himself. Ilona—who at times seemed entirely rational and at others as insane as any Jill the Ripper—had filled in some of the pieces they were missing. Tony had never been a cop or a criminologist. He’d learned to wear gloves and how to hide his tracks because he’d watched television.
He’d looked like a normal guy, not a monster, Christina thought.
The guy next door.
Ilona had tried claiming to be battered, terrified, suffering from every syndrome out there, but Angie had quickly put the lie to that angle.
Mike had commented to Christina a few days after the horrors had come to an end, when they’d all gathered at O’Reilly’s, that he had seen his ex-wife, and she’d been like a different person, grateful to be alive and certain that only Christina had saved her.
Dan, who had refused to stay in the hospital more than a night, had actually blushed when he’d explained to her why neither he nor Ana had opened the door. “We were…well, you know,” he said, gulping his Guinness.
“I don’t know,” she said, puzzled.
“Oh, good God, are you all blind?” Ana exclaimed. “We were doing it, okay? We’ve had a thing for each other for years, and…”
She trailed off, and everyone stared at her for a long moment, then burst into laughter.
But that wasn’t the only surprise that night. Apparently emboldened by Dan and Ana’s confession, Mike spoke up and said, “I suppose that I ought to confess I have a date scheduled with a certain redhead,” he told them.
“Who?” Dan demanded.