Deadly Fear Page 16

They took the flashlights from the back of the SUV. Big, thick Mags that were like mini-spotlights, cutting through the darkness that surrounded them.

“The woods,” she said, jogging ahead and pretty much seeming to talk to herself. “Why these woods?” The woman always hurried ahead of him.

He pulled out his weapon. He wasn’t about to take any chances on a killer’s hunting grounds.

His light swept the perimeter and caught the glittering stare of a possum.

Luke kept close to Monica, his gun ready. Branches bit and tore at him. An owl hooted somewhere far in the distance, and crickets chirped from the cover of darkness.

And Luke couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a very, very bad idea.

Monica halted just outside of the secured yellow police tape. Stars glittered overhead, and the moon was out, thick and full, giving them more light. She circled the grave. Her flashlight flickered over the ground.

Piss poor idea. He should have told her that, but no, he’d been drawn along with her. Always had been. Like a f**king moth to the flame.

Her light rose to the trees. He smothered a sigh. “You’re not going to see anything.”

She didn’t seem to hear him. She crouched on her knees. The light swung some more.

“Monica?” The back of his neck was tingling. Time to get to the motel. There were too many places for someone to hide in the darkness. Being in the open like this didn’t sit well. Not a damn bit.

She turned off her light.

Oh, that was just brilliant. He inched closer to her. Someone had to watch her ass. That was what a partner was for, right?

Her head tipped back. “I think—I think I can see a window from the house.”

What? The trees were too thick. The pines too tall. No way could she see—

He cocked his head—well, damn. It looked like lightning had struck a pine about ten feet away, knocking down the top section of the tree.

And giving a dead-on view of what was left of the house’s second story. The attic maybe? Or was that a window glinting—

“Laura’s parents said she got locked in a closet playing hide and seek.” She rose to her feet and brushed off her knees. “I think you need to talk to them again… and find out just where that closet was.” Her light flashed on. “Give you ten-to-one odds that Laura knew Patricia Moffett, and that they were playing at the Moffetts’ when that closet got locked.”

Well, shit. “You’re good.”

One shoulder lifted. “Maybe I just know killers too well.”

Maybe. But knowing killers could help her save victims and that was what mattered.

“Let’s get the hell out of here.”

“Right.” She fell into step beside him. It was easier getting out, but Luke kept his weapon close just in case. The sooner they left this death house the better.

No, the sooner they caught the perp, the better.

Monica paused near the house and glanced up at it. “Probably was a happy place once.” She shook her head, then kept walking. “I’ll call Hyde. Let him know what we’ve found and adjust the profile. Maybe we can get a warrant for May’s place and find some of Kyle’s letters for a handwriting comparison. That’d be damn lucky if we could.”

Luke stilled. His eyes swept toward the SUV. Something was wrong. That tightening knot in his gut told him things were about to go to shit.

The scene was off. He couldn’t see how yet, but…“That’s wrong.” A few cautious steps forward then, “Sonofabitch.” The tires were slashed. All f**king four of them.

No wonder the SUV had looked odd; it was sitting too low to the ground.

“He’s out here,” a whisper of sound from his lips. But Monica didn’t need to be told. He knew she understood.

He’s watching us. Hiding in the dark and watching.

“Might not be him.” Monica’s voice. Unruffled. Soft. “This is a known drug area. It could be anyone.”

Glass glittered on the ground near the passenger window. He inched forward. Maybe she was right. Maybe he’d find the radio jacked or the GPS gone or…

An envelope lay on the driver’s seat.

And, yeah, the radio was still there. So was the GPS.

“It’s him.” That had damn well better not be one of his twisted little scare notes. Oh, hell, no. First the calls to Monica, now this—

She brushed past him.

“Wait—what are you…”

She had her gloves on. Luke kept his gun up while she opened the door and snagged the envelope. He closed the distance between them, letting his shoulder brush hers. The light from the SUV spilled out, and he saw the familiar black scrawl.

Bastard.

But the name on the envelope—it wasn’t Monica’s.

No, she wasn’t the killer’s next fear puppet. The name on the envelope was his.

Agent Luke Dante.

Sweat slid down his back. Bring it, bastard. Bring it. “Let’s play,” he whispered. But you don’t know, do you, freak? You don’t know what scares me. “Open it,” he demanded, and his eyes rose to sweep the area.

“We need to call for backup. He’s got us trapped here and—”

“Open the damn envelope.”

Paper tore beneath her fingers. Something fluttered to the ground. He bent but she was there before him. Luke twisted, keeping his back to the vehicle, trying to keep her covered, keep them safe.

“Does he think he can scare me?” he snarled.

Silence.

He shot a glance back at her. There wasn’t a handwritten note. No, her fingers were curled around some kind of old newspaper clipping. One that had been folded and creased. She’d just opened it, and he could see the big, black headline:

Romeo Killer Captured. One Victim Survives.

There was a photo under the block words. A grainy shot of a man—good-looking, grinning—as he was shoved into the back of a patrol car.

“What the hell?”

She shoved the clipping back into the envelope. “We can’t stay out here.” Her voice trembled and so did her hands. “Let’s get closer to the house, get better cover. With that bastard watching, we can’t take chances.”

And they were sitting ducks right then. Yeah, they needed cover, so they could spot him and attack.

But going for a long shot with a gun wasn’t really the guy’s style. He was more the up-close-and-personal type. A man who enjoyed getting his hands dirty or covered in blood.

The Romeo Killer? He shook his head. That didn’t make a damn bit of sense. What the hell did that bastard have to do with anything?

“Let’s go,” she said, and spun away. She ran through the darkness, her light extinguished now, and her steps nearly silent.

And he was right behind her.

Because he didn’t know what kind of sick message the killer was trying to send, but he wasn’t taking any chances. The guy wanted to play, that was certain, and the game could begin anytime.

Or maybe it already had. Because he’s watching us. Waiting.

Game on.

CHAPTER Nine

The Romeo Killer.

Bile rose in Monica’s throat. She rocked back on her heels as her stomach knotted.

How had he known? No one should know. Especially not some sick, twisted bastard who…

“Yeah, we’re out at the Moffett scene. Tires are slashed. He’s here, Sheriff. What, how do I know? Because the freak left us a message. No—just get us some transportation out here, got it?” Luke barked into his cell phone.

He didn’t understand the message because that clipping wasn’t meant for him. It was for her. Her nightmare, coming true.

Looked like the killer knew how to get to her. But how had he known?

Not Hyde. Hyde wouldn’t leak that information to anyone.

“What’s he doing, Monica?” Luke demanded.

She swung toward him. “I haven’t seen—”

“No—why’s he leaving me crap about Romeo? I remember that bastard. He got off on carving up girls.”

Yes, he had.

“What is it? Is he trying to tell us he’s another Romeo? Because as far as I can tell, this creep isn’t charming his victims; he’s attacking—cold, hard and quick.”

Charming? Yes, that had been Romeo’s style. At first. “I don’t—I don’t know what he meant with the clipping.” Lie. Lie. Sometimes, it was way too easy to lie.

She rolled her right shoulder. Caught herself.

“The sheriff’s coming,” Luke said, running a hand through his hair. “Fifteen minutes, maybe twenty with these back roads from Hell. He wants us to sit tight.”

“I don’t think he’s coming after us tonight.” No, he’d just wanted to leave his little message. Screw with her head, and let her know that he knew. And what would she do when Luke started putting the pieces together? Hell, was that what the killer wanted? For Luke to learn the truth about Romeo? “He’s just playing with us tonight.”

Building the fear. He wouldn’t kill them, not yet.

Luke crept past her, his gun in his hand. “Sitting back isn’t my style. Let’s see what we can—” His breath whistled out. “Sonofabitch. He’s coming.”

She crouched, bringing her gun up. No streetlights, but the moonlight trickled down, showing them.

“The bastard’s walking in the middle of the road. And he’s coming right for us.”

Her fingers tightened around the gun. She could see him. The thick bulk of a man stalking toward them. But that didn’t fit. The killer wouldn’t come right at them. Not his style.

She glanced at Luke. Too much darkness to see his face. “This is wrong.”

He was already heading for the steps, keeping his back close to the house. “Cover me.”

“Luke!”

He was gone. “FBI!” he yelled out. “Identify yourself!”

Sweat slickened her palms. She went after him, keeping cover, staying low. Her weapon was aimed and ready. But…

This isn’t right. It’s not his way.

The man didn’t stop walking. The shuffle of his feet traveled easily in the night.

“I said, identify yourself!” Luke’s order shook the porch.

But the guy didn’t speak. And he was getting closer.

Not right.

Then the guy’s hand lifted.

And Monica saw the glint of a gun. “Luke, he’s armed!”

Even as she screamed her warning, a bullet exploded, firing at the house, chipping wood just inches from Luke’s head.

“Sonofabitch.”

The man ran now, full-out ran, toward them. Yelling something as he fired, over and over.

Luke fired back.

So did she. Not aiming for the head. Or the heart. She should have, she knew, but…

Her bullet clipped him in the shoulder, and he staggered. Luke’s caught him in the chest. Blood burst from his wounds, spraying around him.

But still, somehow, he fired.

“Drop the gun!” Luke roared. “Drop it! Drop—”

“On… me!” The gunman screamed. “It’s on me!”

Monica’s finger froze on the trigger. Not our guy. “Luke, hold! Do you hear me? Hold—”

The guy fired again, and the bullet blasted right across her left arm. Oh, shit. Fire ripped the flesh away.

“Monica!” Luke shot again. The bullet thudded into flesh.

The gunman fell back.

“No.” She shook her head and raced across the overgrown grass.

“Monica! Stop, he’s not dead. It wasn’t a heart shot!”

The guy raised his head and somehow managed to lift his gun. Under the moonlight, she saw his eyes. So much fear there, and anger. Rage.

“B-bitch… not gonna… get me…” Blood dripped from his mouth.

“Drop your weapon,” she told him, never wavering with her own gun as she ignored the throb of fire racing up her arm. “Do it, just drop—”

But he shook his head. “N-not… like… him…”

She saw the tremble of his hand. Squeezing the trigger.

He wouldn’t miss her heart this close. Couldn’t miss. “Don’t make me shoot you,” she whispered.

“Monica! Get out of the f**king way! Give me the shot!” Luke’s furious shout.

The man, young, thin hair, thin face, tried to smile. “F-f**k y-you.” The gun shook. “F-f**k him.”

“Your last chance,” she told him and heard the distant wail of sirens. It had to be the sheriff, coming fast. “Just put down the—”

“M-my… way.” He jerked up the gun.

“Monica! Get out of the way, get out—”

The guy fired.

The red lights from the ambulance flew in a sickening blur, lighting then concealing the crime scene.

Another scene. Another body.

“Damn straight.” The sheriff slapped Luke on the back, hard enough to make him nearly stagger. “Bringing you two in was the right choice. You got him. Stopped that freak cold—”

Davis was sure the dead man, the bastard lying in his own blood just steps away, was the serial they’d been seeking.

Luke lifted his eyes to Monica. She sat in the back of the ambulance. Her shirt was torn, her left sleeve completely gone. A guy in an EMT uniform pressed a white bandage against her flesh. She didn’t move. Didn’t blink. Just kept her eyes locked on the body.

The guy had blown his brains out right in front of her.

“Guess some killers just can’t stand the thought of being taken in.” Another slap by Davis. The guy wore one big, face-splitting grin.

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