He didn’t waste any time.
“You need a ride?” he asked through his open window, his car slowing to match her pace.
“It’s okay,” she answered, glancing up just long enough to acknowledge him. “I just live down the street.”
“I don’t mind at all. In fact, I’d feel better if you let me drive you.”
She slowed down a little but didn’t stop. He knew she was wavering, but not enough, so he added, “With everything that’s going on lately…you know, with the girls that have been found…” He left the sentence hanging, hoping to strike some fear in this one, but he must have misjudged her.
There was fear, all right, but not the kind he’d hoped for. He saw the alarm flash across her face, and he couldn’t help but wonder what she recognized in him that the others hadn’t.
Her pace quickened, and he could see her fumbling nervously for something in her pocket. He saw what it was the second she had it free. Her cell phone.
She wanted to call for help.
He couldn’t let her, but he’d have to act fast if he planned to stop her.
He slammed on his brakes and shoved the transmission into park. The girl started running before he was even out of his car.
The little bitch was fast!
He raced after her, his heavy boots falling loudly against the pavement. The advantage she’d gained in her head start was quickly lost to his superior agility.
Plus, it was always easier to be the predator than the prey. Prey panicked.
He hit her from behind, and he heard her squeal as the air was knocked from her lungs beneath his weight when he crushed her to the ground. The cell phone skittered across the street.
His hand shot out, before she could find her breath again, covering her mouth. It was bad enough she’d run; he didn’t need her screaming too.
He rolled swiftly onto his back, taking her with him so that she was lying on top of his chest as he surveyed the area for possible witnesses. This had the potential for true disaster; this could be the mistake he’d avoided making for so long.
But they were still alone. Just the two of them.
She fought him, thrashing violently against his grip, even though he knew she was aware of his strength as he restrained her. She was like a rag doll flopping helplessly in his arms. He tightened his grip on her anyway, struggling against an instinct to smother her with his hand.
In one rapid motion, he jumped to his feet, hauling her up with him. His car was still running, and was far too easy to spot with its headlights filling the darkened street.
He was angry with the girl. She shouldn’t have run. She wasn’t supposed to do that; they were never supposed to do that.
She had ruined the hunt for him…ruined the mood.
He reached inside the open car door and released the trunk. He didn’t take care with this one—this girl—she didn’t deserve his concern or his gentle reassurances.
When she saw where he was taking her, she kicked at him with her legs. He slammed her against the hard edge of the trunk’s opening, letting her head smack against the metal exterior of the car before throwing her inside. In the split second that her mouth was uncovered she tried to scream for help, but his fist found her jaw before the sound could gain any momentum. It came out in an injured whimper instead.
Some of his mood was restored.
He worked quickly, grabbing his tool bag, and ripping a piece of duct tape from the roll. She thrashed sideways, away from the silver adhesive, but he tangled his fingers into her hair and jerked her back, sealing her mouth shut once and for all.
The zip ties made her hands and feet useless, forcing her to be the kind of docile victim he preferred. He watched as he saw some of the fire fading from her eyes. She stared back at him pleadingly.
He felt much better.
In a moment of compassion, he tried to stroke her face comfortingly, but the instant he touched her, the panic returned, and she struggled all over again, straining against the plastic strips that bound her wrists and ankles.
Bitch, he silently cursed her. Stupid little bitch!
He slammed the trunk hard, glad to be done with her. He was tired of looking at her. He didn’t care if she was afraid or if she suffered.
He knew one thing for certain…the next time he saw her, she wouldn’t be fighting.
“OOH, I LIKE THOSE ONES,” CLAIRE EVERTON gushed as Violet lifted the hems of her jeans to show off another pair of shoes.
Chelsea rolled her eyes, her lush black lashes giving the gesture dramatic effect. “Claire, you’ve liked every single pair you’ve seen so far. Show me the ones you don’t like.”
Claire’s shoulder slumped as she pouted. “All I said was I liked them. I didn’t say she should get them.”
Chelsea shot Violet a frustrated look before turning back to Claire to take pity on the girl’s fragile ego. It seemed like a near-monumental act for Chelsea, who rarely checked what she said before saying it aloud.
For the most part, it was one of the things Violet liked about Chelsea, but sometimes, like now for example, Chelsea had to do a little damage control.
“I know, Claire-bear,” Chelsea cooed in a patronizing baby-talk voice. “I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
Claire didn’t seem to feel patronized at all and cheered up immediately. She turned away and plucked up another pair of shoes and gazed at them longingly, and they heard her saying, “I like these too…” as she wandered deeper into the Nordstrom shoe department.