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Praise for GAYLE WILSON
“Gayle Wilson will go far in romantic suspense. Her books have that special ‘edge’ that lifts them out of the ordinary. They’re always tautly written, a treasure trove of action, suspense and richly drawn characters.”
–New York Times bestselling author Linda Howard
“An exhilarating continual action thriller that never slows down.”
–TheBestReviews.com on Double Blind
“Wilson gives her readers just what they want: more thrilling adventure and heart-wrenching suspense…. Inspiring. Wilson is destined to become one of the suspense genre’s brightest stars.”
–Romantic Times BOOKclub, 4 ? stars, on Wednesday’s Child
“Gayle Wilson pulls out all the stops to give her readers a thrilling chilling read that will give you goose bumps in the night.”
–ReadertoReader.com on In Plain Sight
“Writing like this is a rare treat.”
“Rich historical detail, intriguing mystery, romance that touches the heart and lingers in the mind. These are elements that keep me waiting impatiently for Gayle Wilson’s next book.”
–USA TODAY bestselling author BJ James
Also by GAYLE WILSON
IN PLAIN SIGHT
To Dianne, Mary, Charlotte, Joy, Katsy, Becki and my mom for sticking with me throughout this incredible journey and for reading them all.
I love you!
She had been a gift.Something that had fallen into his lap without any effort on his part. Surprisingly, she’d proven to be more satisfying than most of the others, all of whom had been carefully selected after weeks of study.
It hadn’t been time to begin thinking about the next one. By now he was conscious of the smallest sign of that, even those he had once thought bore no relationship to his needs.
A sense of anxiety that increased day by day until it became an urgency he could no longer ignore. The sensation that something wasn’t right in the pleasant world he inhabited. Those were inevitably followed by an indefinable feeling that things were slipping out of control. Then finally came the rage that still shocked him with its intensity.
None of that had occurred. Not this time.
Yet when he’d seen her standing on the street corner in the rain, strands of dark hair plastered against those alabaster cheeks, the compulsion to take her and make her his had been overwhelming. Irresistible.
This wasn’t the way things were supposed to be done. Not his normal attention to detail. But in this instance, he had no regrets that he had given in. His impulsive decision seemed to have worked out. And apparently no one was even looking for her.
Which meant there was no need to hurry, he thought with a degree of anticipation beyond any he could remember. He literally had all the time in the world.
Time for him. And for her.
A gift, he thought again, brushing a stray tendril of hair off her cheek.
When it was dry, her hair had demonstrated an unexpected tendency to curl. Something he would never have guessed from the way it had appeared that afternoon.
He smiled at the memory. She had looked like a bedraggled puppy, lost in the storm. Her face had lit up when he’d stopped the car, opened the passenger-side window, and leaned across the seat.
Do you need any help?
There had been no hesitation on her part. No fear. She had immediately stuck her head and shoulders inside the vehicle in response.
By then, despite what his intellect screamed at him, it had been far too late to provide those and drive away. He’d seen her smile. He’d seen those big, brown eyes and under them the mascara she’d applied to her lower lashes smudged from the rain.
He’d taken care of that imperfection, of course. As soon as he’d gotten her to a safe place, he had painstakingly cleaned off her makeup, leaving her skin smooth and bare as a baby’s.
Except she wasn’t. None of them were. No matter what they said, none of them were free from the stain. None were pure. Especially not the ones who pretended to be once they understood.
She hadn’t pretended. She’d been defiant. Angry. Profane.
He had found he liked her that way. It had broken the monotony of fear and pleading.
In contrast to the others she’d been…Sassy, as his grandmother would have said.
Sassy. He liked the word, too, now that he’d remembered it. He tasted the syllables in his mouth as he whispered them against her ear.
The perfect word. Perfect for her. And she, in turn, was perfect for him. His lovely, defiant unexpected gift.
“Time to wake up.”
Although he hated it, he had to keep her drugged on the chance that she might, by some miracle, free herself and get away. That had never happened before—and it never would. Not as careful as he was.
That was his nightmare, however. That one of them might escape and tell everyone about the things he’d done.
Those were only for the two of them. For them to share. As they would share this.
Her lashes fluttered, telling him she was almost awake. He had timed it to the minute. All he had to do was to wait while the drug wore off. And when it had…
Although he had not been conscious of his needs when he’d taken her, he knew them now. They surged through his body with an inexorable force, driving the ebb and flow of his emotions.
He touched her face, again relishing its smoothness. Devoid of the foundation she’d been wearing, her skin was that of a child. Even to the faint sweep of color that now overlay those perfect cheekbones. Another sign, if he had needed one, that she was conscious.
“I know you’re awake,” he said, bending close again to whisper the words into her ear.
Her hair moved against his lips, its softness stirred by his breath. Without raising his head, he turned, so that her face was in profile, as he watched the slow, sleepy lift of her lashes.
With the drug, she would be confused. They always were, no matter how many times he’d come to them.
He had watched the sequence of that confusion perhaps a hundred times and never tired of it. First, she would try to think where she was. To separate dream from reality. Nightmare from truth.
Then, in one fell swoop, it would happen. She would remember. She would remember everything.
And she would know.
The knowledge would suddenly be there in those wide, dark eyes. If he weren’t careful, he would miss it.
He straightened to smile down on her. Her eyes, slightly glazed, appeared to be focused on the ceiling above her head. She had probably memorized its every crack and imperfection. They, too, would help clear her disorientation. And in a few seconds—
She turned, her head rolling on the hard mattress until she was at last looking at him. Although he was smiling, it didn’t reassure her. But of course, they were too far along for her to have any delusions left.
Not his sweet, sassy drowning puppy.
She knew. She knew exactly what he was. And she knew what was going to happen to her. It was all there in the beautiful dark orbs locked on his face.
Her eyes widened, even as they stared up into his. They were no longer defiant, however. He had seen to that.
The only thing in them now were the questions neither of them yet had answers for.
When will this be over?
When will you let me go?
When, dear God, will you finally let me die?
“One more question, Dr. Kincaid. If you don’t mind.”
The damp December air had seeped through the multiple layers of clothing Jenna had donned in preparation for this interview. The station had insisted the clip be filmed in front of the mall, so that its steady stream of Christmas shoppers would be visible behind them. Although Jenna acknowledged it was an appropriate backdrop for a segment on holiday depression, that didn’t mean she was enjoying the setting.
As the largest mental health practice in the greater Birmingham area, Carlisle, Levitt and Connor was called on throughout the year to furnish speakers for a variety of informational workshops as well as for interviews on local news programs and talk shows. Those requests were unusually heavy this time of year, so the psychologists and psychiatrists on staff rotated the responsibility. Tonight had been her turn to be the public face of the practice.
Normally Jenna didn’t mind her thirty seconds in the spotlight. The visibility brought in new clients, which was beneficial to everyone. Sometimes they asked for an appointment with whichever of the group they’d seen on television or heard on the radio. And at this particular time of the year, it was never a bad thing to have increased billing.
“Of course,” she said, smiling at the young man who looked all of eighteen. She suspected he might be one of the station’s interns. Either that or the passage of another year had made her more aware of her own age in comparison.
At thirty-four she’d accomplished most of the goals she’d set for herself. At least, she amended, the professional ones.
There was plenty of time for the rest. Something she’d been telling herself for the last five years.
“This afternoon the police department conceded that the murders of Sandra Reynolds, Margaret DeSpain and Callie Morgan were the work of one killer,” the reporter said. “What can you tell us about the person who might have perpetrated those crimes?”
Jenna hadn’t yet heard that the police had issued that statement. Of course, she’d been seeing patients up until she’d left the office. Even if she had known, she wouldn’t have been prepared to comment publicly on those murders. This was outside the scope of the subject matter she’d agreed to, as well as outside any area of expertise she might claim.
She allowed the smile she’d been holding for the camera to fade, considering the topic that had just been introduced. She took a breath as she tried to decide the best way to handle the kid’s question before settling on simply telling the truth.
“I’m really not in any position to answer that. Not only have the details of those crimes not been made public, I’m not a profiler. Forensic psychology is a very specialized field, one I have little training for.”
The reporter’s mouth had tightened as she talked. A dull flush climbed up his neck and into his cheeks. It was obvious he felt her answer was either deliberately nonresponsive or, worse, a slam at his interviewing skills.
“I realize that,” he said quickly. “I wasn’t speaking in the particular. Just tell our viewers in general what makes a psychopath like this tick.”
From his standpoint, the amended question was a good recovery. From hers, it left her as much under the gun as the previous one.
Other than the courses in abnormal psychology she’d taught as a grad assistant, Jenna hadn’t had much occasion to think in depth about the kind of sociopath who enjoyed torturing and then killing women. And it was evident from the few details that had been released about the condition of the three bodies that this one found great pleasure in the suffering of his victims.
“From what I’ve read,” she said, choosing her words carefully, “this killer doesn’t appear to be psychotic. He’s apparently very well organized, selecting his victims with care and carrying out the murders while leaving behind little forensic evidence that might help the police.”
“He’s killed three people, and you’re saying he isn’t crazy?” The reporter’s tone was mocking, allowing his skepticism of that full rein.
“He’s clearly a sociopath, but…” Jenna hesitated, thinking how difficult it was to use appropriate terminology when the public had such clear, if erroneous, notions of what words like crazy, insane and psychotic meant. “The killer’s obviously incapable of feeling compassion for his victims, no matter how much they suffer, but if you met him in a social or professional environment, you might not notice anything out of the ordinary. Other than possibly thinking how charming he is.”
“Which would help him in getting his victims to trust him.”
“Unfortunately. Although he’s clearly manipulative, he may also be very personable and articulate.”
“So what creates someone like our charming sociopath?”
“No one really knows. The current thinking is that biological factors may play a role, some genetic predisposition if you will. There’s no doubt, however, that the majority of these people were also the victims of childhood abuse—either physical or emotional or a combination of the two. Some case studies done on serial killers reveal that mistreatment was both prolonged and severe. It isn’t hard to understand how a child subjected to isolation, a lack of affection, physical and mental domination, or actual physical abuse might become an adult who lacks the ability to feel normal empathy for his fellow human beings.”
“Surely you’re not suggesting that every abused child grows up to be a Ted Bundy.”
“Actually, a very small percentage do. However, it is a common background for those we’ve had the opportunity to study in depth. Unfortunately, we can never know which children will emerge from those situations to become sociopaths. Or more importantly, which of those sociopaths will go on to kill.”
“Because they’ve been trained in inflicting pain early on?”
“Pain. Domination. They desperately need to be in charge, possibly because as children they had so little control over what was happening to them.”
“You sound as if you have some sympathy for them, Dr. Kincaid.”
“I have sympathy for any child who’s abused. They’re helpless to prevent what’s being done to them, often by the very people who should be their protectors.”
“I meant that you seem to feel sympathy for the sociopaths they eventually become.”
As a psychologist who had read study after study detailing the horrors of the abuses she’d just spoken about, Jenna supposed that was true. Certainly in the abstract. In light of what had been made public about what had been done to the murdered women…
“Not all sociopaths kill,” she said again. “When they do, they must, of course, be subject to the laws that govern the rest of us. Once they’ve killed, it’s unlikely they’ll stop on their own. Before that can happen, they have to be apprehended. I hope the police find something to help them very soon, some piece of evidence that will lead them back to the murderer. Or that someone who knows something about those crimes will come forward with the information.”
“So…you’re saying he’s definitely going to kill again.”
And Merry Christmas to all, Jenna thought, realizing the trap she’d fallen into.
Still, there was very little that could be said in response to that question except the brutal reality. Despite the fact that hearing it was likely to inflame fears that had been rampant in the community even before today’s announcement, she really had no choice.
This was something else the killer would feed off of. Not only would the murders themselves give him a sense of power, so would the media attention they’d attracted, such as this interview, and the terror it would create.
She should have cut this kid off without answering his original question. Since she hadn’t, she could in good conscience now do nothing less than tell the truth.
“If he’s not caught. It may not be here. Not if the police get too close to discovering who he is, but…even if they do, he won’t stop killing. Not until he’s finally been taken into custody.”
“Or until he’s dead.”
Sean Murphy had already put his finger over the off button on the remote, when something made him hesitate. The reporter was busy closing out the segment, probably reiterating what the female psychologist had said. Nothing of what he was babbling about registered.
Sean was focused instead on the woman standing beside the interviewer, her hand clutching the collar of her coat as if trying to keep out the cold. It was clearly a defensive gesture.
An unconscious one? Or was it possible she was aware of how closely she matched the profile of the killer’s victims?
That was unlikely, he decided, since the local cops hadn’t yet publicly connected the latest three to the others. Maybe he should warn Dr. Jenna Kincaid that she met almost every one of the criteria the task force had put together over the course of the past four years of their investigation.
Late twenties or early thirties, Sean assessed. Tall and slender, with dark hair and eyes. Even her clothing, professional rather than provocative, followed the pattern the bastard had established with his first murder, which they now believed had been more than seven years ago.
His gaze having followed the line of the long navy coat down to the low-heeled boots she wore, Sean raised his eyes once more to the psychologist’s face. Her features were striking but not classically beautiful.
She wouldn’t draw every masculine eye, he acknowledged, but she’d find her share of admirers. The bone structure underlying that clear olive skin was too anatomically perfect not to attract attention. The discriminating would recognize it would be just that perfect when she was eighty.
And you’ve always considered yourself discriminating.
The image he’d been studying was suddenly replaced by an advertisement for a local car dealer. Sean punched the button, shutting off the television, before tossing the remote down on the bed.
He walked across his motel room toward its wall of glass, where he pushed aside the draperies to look out onto the interstate that paralleled the wide right-of-way just across the parking lot. The scene he encountered was depressingly winter-dreary, although the climate was generally mild.
The weather would make the killer’s hunting easier. More people outdoors than in the northern cities. Not that the bastard ever seemed to have a problem finding victims.
Maybe what Dr. Kincaid said was right. Maybe he was so charming the women made it easy for him.
He would have had to be something special to charm Makaela. His sister had been nobody’s fool. And unfortunately she’d had a lot of experience with phonies.
Apparently not enough to see through whatever ploy her murderer had used to persuade her to go with him.
Sean put his palm against the glass, using its coldness to fight the fury that flooded his brain whenever he thought of the things that had been done to his sister. They could still bring him wide awake, sweat pouring off his body, as he struggled against the nightmare images of what she’d suffered.
The press in Detroit were the ones who’d christened her murderer “the Inquisitor,” a name horrifyingly appropriate. Too soon the people in this town would learn what the others had about the maniac in their midst.
Unless the bodies were too decomposed to make them obvious, as the first two here had been, most law enforcement agencies now recognized those signature mutilations. The special agent on the FBI’s task force, the one who’d put Sean onto the Birmingham murders, had recognized them as soon as he’d read the description of the last victim.
Now that the locals had connected the three, they would be forced to take the next step and admit that these killings were part of a series, which, through the efforts of the Bureau, had been linked and credited to one man.
An unimaginably cruel and sadistic madman.
The cops here would add whatever information they had managed to uncover to the profile that was slowly, but relentlessly, being built. And when it was complete…
Sean’s hand closed into a fist that he slammed into the glass. The window shuddered in its frame, although the blow had not been particularly hard. It hadn’t been done in anger. It had been measured. Like a gavel pounded against a judge’s bench. Or a hammer driving a nail.
The last one in your coffin, you bastard. And as God is my witness, I’ll be the one who’ll put it there.
Long after the television screen had gone dark, he couldn’t get the psychologist out of his mind. After a while, he stopped trying, allowing her image to fill his head.
She’d been so perfect he had wondered—briefly—if the cops had put her up to that interview. After mentally reviewing the clip, something he was able to do with almost complete fidelity, as if he were watching a replay, he decided that what he’d seen hadn’t been a performance.
Her slight hesitancy and the care with which she’d worded her opinions made him believe she had really been speaking off the cuff. The expression on her face, although quickly controlled, had made it obvious that the reporter’s question about the murders had caught her off guard.
That’s what you get for trusting the media, my dear.
He smiled as he raised the wine he’d bought on his way home in a semitoast before he brought the glass to his lips. He grimaced slightly at the taste before setting it back on the coffee table.
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