Special Agent Liam Conners is the only witness to his neighbor’s abduction: the Chloroform Killer has struck again.
But when his neighbor, Andrea James, returns from a business trip, they realize the killer’s mistake—her sister has been abducted in her place.
Now the killer is coming for Andrea, and Liam and his partner are the only ones standing in the way.
Can they catch the killer and protect the target?
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THE SWEAT ON Special Agent Liam Conners’ forehead froze. A tan colored van was parked between two street lamps, out front of his neighbor’s apartment across from the clubhouse. The door to the gym clicked shut behind him and his breath puffed out as a cloud.
The rear of the van was wide open. A five-eleven man in a heavy overcoat, dark pants and black boots stepped off the curb with a bundle over one shoulder. On the man’s head was a knit cap, but Liam couldn’t see what shade it was, just that the color was bright.
Liam stepped out. It was probably nothing. Why did he tense up at the slightest thing? No wonder he couldn’t sleep. He grasped the damp towel around his neck and the door to the gym at his apartment complex clicked behind him, shutting out the light from inside. It was two a.m., but the sweat-session hadn’t done anything to settle his nerves. After a long day, the last thing he needed was an equally long night of sleeplessness. And yet here he was.
The van man shifted his weight and dumped what was over his shoulder inside the vehicle. Liam’s foot hit the pavement before he even registered that what had been on the man’s shoulder was a body.
His neighbor was being abducted.
Liam ran. He might not know her name, but he knew her.
For some reason, in a complex of a hundred or so apartments, she seemed to be there anytime he was coming or going. The woman had dark red hair that would have been called carrot top in elementary school, and a slender body. She probably had an amazing smile, but he’d never caught it. She was kind of serious—as in, all the time. In fact, Liam had never even seen her look happy, or anything other than completely neutral.
The back doors of the van slammed shut. Liam’s towel went flying as he sprinted across the grass hill in the center island of the complex’s main street.
The shorts and t-shirt he wore to work out weren’t much protection against the frigid air of February in Colorado, but he barely felt it. Instead his mind washed with the things he’d seen at work, hunting down degenerates and crazies.
Denver wasn’t better or worse than any of the cities he’d lived in. Not even D.C., where he’d grown up. And no one, least of all a woman who desperately needed to laugh, should be at the mercy of any of the criminals he’d ever met.
He jumped the curb onto pavement and the man opened the driver’s door.
Still running, Liam reached for his weapon, which was back in his apartment, along with his badge…and his cell phone. His nighttime workouts were the one thing he didn’t let work intrude on. Why did he do that?
Nothing deterred the abductor from his task. Not even when a hundred-ninety pounds of frustrated FBI agent bore down on him. He didn’t even turn Liam’s way; he just climbed in the van.
The door slammed shut, the engine fired and the van sped away. Liam got there in time to grasp the back corner with his fingertips.
Then he was alone in the street outside her apartment, sucking in ice-cold air.
The van had no license plate. It turned the corner without slowing down, tilting so it almost went up on two wheels. A Ford; older model with rust on the edges of the doors.
The front door to her apartment was ajar, so Liam went in and called 9-1-1 from there.
When the cop cars pulled up outside and Sergeant Tucker got out of the first one, Liam’s shoulder blades loosened. His partner kidded him that one of these days he would wind up permanently shrugging from all the tension. But what did she know? Caisey had more issues than the main character in a Kristine McCord novel.
“Evening, Special Agent Conners.” Sergeant Tucker was a late-fifties African- American career cop he’d met before. The other officer behind him headed over to the clubhouse, probably to rouse the management.
Liam held out his hand. “You can just call me Liam, since I’m in my shorts.”
“Good deal.” Sergeant Tucker smiled. “Now let’s get started.”
He turned to the front door, but stopped and looked at the cop. “Swing shift or night shift?”
“You’re not keeping me from my bed, Conners.”
“Good.” He should probably explain why he was asking. “It’s not that I think you’d do a less-than job if you were at the end of a long shift, but—”
“You have a thing for this girl?”
“What? No.” Liam cleared his throat. “No, I don’t.”
One of the sergeant’s eyebrows rose. “Sure?”
“She’s my neighbor, but I’ve never even spoken to her.”
Liam ignored the sergeant’s measured stare and ran down what had happened. In the end what he had to say didn’t amount to much, and so he led the cops inside and they walked through the apartment.
The living room would have been immaculate had there not been a pizza box on the table with two cold slices left uneaten and a bunch of empty beer bottles. The lamps looked expensive and the coffee table was cherry wood and shined, except for the ring where someone had set a cup down without a coaster. The carpet and walls were standard for all the apartments, but her couch was a deep burgundy and as soft to the touch as it looked. The decorations were simple and elegant, much like the woman herself.
He didn’t like not knowing her name, so he searched in the kitchen and the second bedroom she used as an office—same as he did—until he found an envelope with her name on it.
It was a simple name for a classy woman, but he liked it.
Liam flicked further down the stack of mail and found a brown envelope with nothing marked on the front. He turned it over and a photo of Andrea clutching a briefcase, walking outside somewhere, and talking on her cell phone slid onto the mail stack.
Sergeant Tucker stuck his head in the room. “Got something?”
“Surveillance photo. Could be the killer sent it to her.”
Liam stared at it and the urge to be certain this whole situation wasn’t ten times worse than he thought took over. He strode past the sergeant.
“What is it?”
Liam stopped in the bedroom doorway. On the pillow was a white square of material, and the room still held the faint odor that was the modus operandi of a serial killer. The same killer Liam and his partner and the rest of the task force had been chasing for months.
He turned to the sergeant. “I need your phone.”
Caisey Lyons slammed the dash of her stupid car on the off-chance reasonable force might jog the heater into pumping out something vaguely warm. But she was already pulling into the apartment complex where Liam lived. She parked and lifted her scarf at the front, so it covered her mouth and nose.
What was it about being woken from a deep sleep that made her freezing every single time? It wasn’t even that cold out, just a tad bit chilly, as Grams would say. Caisey’s grandma was British, so she came out with all kinds of phrases that made no sense at all, but she insisted on using them anyway—to the point that Caisey had adopted some of them, too.
She used her key to enter Liam’s apartment and grabbed his cell phone and the wallet that held his badge from the entry table. Seriously. The man had an entry table, for goodness sake. He probably had smoked salmon in his fridge, while hers was full of important things, like chocolate milk and leftover nachos. He probably ate the salmon while he read the girlie- looking paperback that sat next to where he kept his keys.
When she pulled up outside the apartment number he’d given her, Caisey stared for a moment. Not at the cop cars, or the SUV that their boss, Special Agent Burkot, drove. No, she was staring because it was this apartment—the one Liam always glanced at when she picked him up.
Caisey showed her badge and gave her name to the officer. Liam was in the second bedroom, where an agent from IT sat at the desk, working on the computer. The officer who’d been questioning Liam closed his notebook and passed her on the way out, giving her a nod.
Her partner perched on the edge of a neatly organized bookcase that came up to his hip, his legs stretched out in front of him. His blue, sweat-wicking t-shirt was damp and he had bleached-white shorts on. His sneakers looked brand new.
By the looks of things, if the apartment resident was here, she’d probably tell her partner to kindly remove his rear from the furniture. Caisey decided the missing woman and Liam might just be soul mates.
Liam ran a hand down his face. He looked seriously worried about this mystery woman he had a crush on.
Caisey opted to defuse the tension. “Only you could manage to have a tan in February. Do not tell me you fake bake.”
He looked up. “What?”
“Tanning beds? Ring a bell?”
It worked. The corner of Liam’s mouth twitched. “No.”
Liam knew what his partner was doing, and he was grateful for it, even if he would never give her the satisfaction of telling her that. Tanning beds? Her blonde hair was pulled back in a pony-tail like always, and she wore jeans and a Colorado University sweatshirt under her FBI jacket and the black cowboy boots her dad had given her.
“So where are we at?”
Liam held her gaze, thankful for the switch to business talk. “Local police are checking traffic cameras to see if we can find out where he took her. But with no license plate, there’s little chance we’re going to find her in the city.”
He had to face the fact there wasn’t much hope of finding the missing woman alive. Instead the likelihood was they’d find her the same way each of the Chloroform Killer’s other victims had been found.
Don’t think about them.
Liam and Caisey had been on the task force working this case for six months now, although the killer had been active more like eighteen months. After the daughter of Senator Paulson was killed it seemed like everyone was re-tasked.
“Okay. That’s good.” Caisey turned away.
Liam followed after her, mostly just for something to do. If he stayed, just him and the silent office, he’d think about the other women.
Caisey entered the bedroom, which was as immaculate as the rest of the apartment except for the rumpled comforter and the crime scene techs. A black book lay on the floor beside the nightstand, as though it had been knocked off and landed in disarray.
Caisey motioned to the tech closest to her. “May I?”
She slipped on the glove she was handed and picked it up—a Bible. Andrea read the Bible? Caisey set the book back on the nightstand and they trailed back through to where their boss and two other agents were talking in the kitchen.
Caisey’s boot heels clipped the linoleum. “Anything?”
Liam stopped beside her.
Special Agent Burkot, their boss, shook his head. “Must have been something, seeing him take her like that. You okay, Conners?”
Liam gritted his teeth. “I’m fine.” So long as he didn’t keep thinking on it, at least. Who wanted to drown in the fact that they had failed? Again.
“And the Chloroform Killer to boot? I’d have loved to have been there. With my gun.”
The reprimand was there, but no one answered it. Caisey stiffened. Liam didn’t need her to defend him, but he knew she wanted to.
“We’ll get him.” Liam’s words were calm and measured, but his body was wound tight.
Burkot zipped up his jacket and looked at Caisey. “I want everyone in the office first thing so we can see where we’re at. You’ll stay and work with the locals?”
Caisey nodded. The two agents Burkot had been talking with trailed behind him like a Secret Service detail. She turned to Liam. “You want to run home and get changed?”
Liam needed something to keep his thoughts from what was happening to Andrea, and it might as well be getting dressed to work, to chase down the few leads they had and maybe…just maybe have a shot at getting Andrea back.
Despite the odds.
Despite the fact no other victim of the Chloroform Killer had yet survived.
There might not be a whole lot of rational hope, but he wasn’t going to look at another dead body of someone he cared about.
A police radio murmured and he wondered for the billionth time how they even understood what was being said.
Sergeant Tucker stuck his head in. “One of our patrol officers found the van.”