Home > Hide and Seek (Criminal Profiler #1)

Hide and Seek (Criminal Profiler #1)
Author: Mary Burton

 PROLOGUE

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Deep Run, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley

Rhonda Burns was a small woman with dark hair and a laugh that could cut through the hum of conversation at the Cut & Curl Salon. She was popular with the customers because she was easygoing and could copy any hairstyle found in a magazine. Though she was only nineteen, she was ambitious and had her sights set on the manager job. She was ready and willing to work harder than anyone, anytime.

As he had tracked her, he had noticed the long hours took a toll. She flexed her hands as if they cramped, arched her back when she’d been on her feet too long, and bought more moonshine from the guy in the trailer down the street. He’d been watching Rhonda for weeks and now knew more about her than she did herself.

When she arrived home on Thursday night, clouds obscured the stars and moon, bathing everything in black. It had already been a fifty-hour workweek, and she was clearly dead tired. He’d bet good money she’d head straight to her refrigerator, grab the cold pizza and soda she’d stashed in there last night.

As she approached her mobile home, she paused when she came upon her overturned trash can. He watched as she grumbled about raccoons and scooped up the empty beer bottles, chicken bones, and paper plates strewed all over her front yard. As she bent over, he stared at her ass and imagined what it would be like to strip those tight pants off her.

He wondered if she’d connected the scattered trash to last week’s puncture in her tire or to the confusion she felt when she couldn’t find a favorite shoe or earring.

Rhonda might have chalked it up to a scattered mind and bad luck, and likely never imagined a dark shadow lingered close enough to consume her.

She picked up the debris, tossing it into the bin and cussing under her breath. A cat in the nearby woods hissed and spat as if it were under attack. She glanced toward the thick stand of trees as she scooped up the remnants of a fast-food wrapper. A breeze rustled through the leaves, and she shivered.

“Rhonda, you’re turning into a damn scaredy-cat,” she muttered.

He had been inside her trailer three times now. The first time, he’d been scared and nervous, terrified he’d be caught. The second time, he’d left a coil of red rope under her bed, knowing the restraint would be there for him when he wanted it. Last week, he’d sneaked in her house and lain on her bed. As he’d masturbated, he’d pictured binding her arms to the posts and then wrapping his hands around her neck. He’d come into a pair of her panties, which he’d pocketed.

The trash finally collected, Rhonda searched around, moving toward his hiding spot in the woods. He tensed, realizing she might have seen him. If she saw him, he’d have to go in for the kill quickly before she screamed.

She stepped closer to him and then stopped at the edge of the shadows. She hesitated only a moment or two before bending down and retrieving a large rock. She headed back toward her trash can and smacked the rock down hard on the metal lid with a loud clang. While making her way to her front door, she suddenly stopped and stared back at the woods. A little more light and a little less foliage, and she’d have seen him standing less than fifteen feet away.

She unlocked her front door and dropped her purse on a chair just inside before she closed the door again. He knew the lock was flimsy and could easily be popped with a switchblade.

He moved out of the shadows toward the trailer and walked around the back to the window that looked into her bedroom. He could see through the screened window that she had moved into the bathroom and stripped. He grew hard as she ran her hands over her round hips and stepped into the hot spray. She showered and dressed in her favorite sweats and T-shirt. She placed a few slices of the cold pizza into the microwave. When the timer dinged, she grabbed the pizza and a soda and climbed into bed. As the scent of pizza drifted out her open bedroom window, he stepped back toward the shadows as he watched her.

Rhonda clicked on the TV with the remote. It must have felt good to sit. She’d been on her feet for days. She had the next day off, though. It meant no one would even miss her until Saturday morning.

Popping the last bit of pizza into her mouth, she settled back onto propped pillows to watch television. It wasn’t long before she relaxed back against the pillows and closed her eyes.

He waited a full twenty minutes before he walked around to the front door and, using a switchblade, jimmied the front lock. He stepped inside her house, his erection pulsing as he pictured her stripped naked and tied to her bed.

He never knew what woke her up. He was careful, and he had planned carefully. But as he stepped past her worn sofa, he heard the rustle of sheets in her room. Next came bare feet hitting the floor and the click of metal punching down the hallway, as if she had chambered a round in a gun.

He knew she kept it in her nightstand. He had planned to press it to her temple as he told her about the girl he took last fall. Everyone had heard stories about Tobi Turner, and some had even heard whispers about other girls he had attacked in their beds.

The leaves rustled and branches snapped. He could still rush her. He could still overtake her. She was small, and he was strong. But the risk–reward ratio had now tipped in her favor, and he didn’t like battles he didn’t know he could win.

He backed silently out the front door, closing it behind him. As he receded deeper into the shadows and the seconds ticked by, his pulse slowed and the jolt of energy that had cut through him eased.

He watched as she slowly lowered her gun and pressed trembling fingers to her temple. She sat on the edge of her bed and replaced the gun in the nightstand. But she didn’t shut off her light, as if she felt Death stalking her.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t wait her out and return. He could. But for reasons even he didn’t really understand, he decided to pass her by.

CHAPTER ONE

Monday, November 11, 2019, 10:30 a.m.

Deep Run, Virginia

Dave Sherman was hungover. The days when he could drink any man under the table and then rise and shine the next day were long gone. He was forty-six, so every extra can of beer and shot of bourbon kicked his ass.

Clearing his throat, Sherman winced against the sunlight hitting his face as he looked up at the old red barn. Time and weather had stripped away most of its paint, leaving behind a dark-gray wood that a craftsman in Richmond had already agreed to purchase for a pretty penny.

Most of the reclaimed timbers were destined for a new log cabin in Winchester, and what wasn’t spoken for would be soon. This job was going to solve a lot of financial problems. As long as he kept putting one foot in front of the other, dismantled the beams, and loaded his bounty onto the one-hundred-dollars-an-hour flatbed, he would be set.

Sherman drained the last of his coffee. “Let’s get moving! Break’s over.”

The two men rose up off the tailgate, downed the last of their energy drinks, and headed inside the barn. Sunlight seeped through the holes in the tin roof and along the wooden slats dried out by time and weather.

“We’re taking down the hay chute next.” Nineteenth-century German settlers had crafted the shaft to move feed from the second-story loft to the livestock on the first floor. Protected from the elements, the wood was in near-perfect condition and would make a nice table if he and his men could dismantle it intact.

Sherman ran his hand over the rough grain of the square box, admiring the wooden pegs that had held it together for a couple hundred years. He hated to knock the pegs from their interlocking joints, but a man had to make a living.

The younger of his workers, Nate, a nineteen-year-old kid with scrub for a beard and long blond hair, scurried up a ladder to the loft. Nate moved with the speed and agility Sherman could only reminisce about.

The kid and he operated in concert, working their crowbars back and forth, prying the peg from its hole. However, two-hundred-year-old hewed and crafted wooden dowels did not surrender easily.

“It’s not budging,” Nate shouted. “Do you want me to force it?”

“You’ll crack the wood, and it won’t be of any use to me,” Sherman growled.

“I think it just needs a few hard blows,” the kid insisted.

“Easy, Nate.”

Normally, Sherman had patience when it came to this kind of work, but today his pounding head and the young man were getting on his last nerve.

“One solid yank, Mr. Sherman. That’ll do it.”

Maybe Nate was right for once. “Fine, let’s do it.”

They both yanked hard, and the joint cracked and looked as if it would break clean until it caught and split right up the center just as he’d feared. Seconds later the wood fell, and he jumped back. The large splinters dropped around him as decades of dust filled the air.

Quick on the heels of the grime, a big object barreled down the partially opened chute and struck him on the shoulder. Flinching as he turned, he prayed his rotator cuff hadn’t been retorn. What the hell had hit him?

Sherman wiped the fine coating of muck from his face. “Did you look down the damn chute?”

The kid shrugged. “Didn’t think there’d be anything after all this time.”

“Dumbass.” Sherman glared at what had damn near fractured his shoulder and discovered it was a faded red backpack. As he reached for the pack, his gaze was drawn to the objects that were strewed around. He picked up what looked like a stick and then quickly dropped it. He leaped back and released a string of curses.

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