Page 31 of A Sexy Time Of It

Neely called up the profile of the Ripper that her armchair detectives had created. Brilliance, arrogance and meticulous planning were his hallmarks. He didn’t take well to having someone spoil his plans, and considering the fury she’d felt in the London alley, he liked it even less when it was a woman who interfered.

Neely leaned back against her seat. “So are you enjoying the cross-dressing thing?”

The Ripper frowned. “I found it more convenient here in Manhattan to assume the guise of a woman. It allowed me to use Dr. Rhoades to my advantage. He likes women, and I was able to just join the crowd of his admirers. Attending his lectures and book signings brought me into contact with a certain kind of woman—single, intelligent and somewhat lonely. The rest was simple. As street-smart as New York women are, they rarely see another woman as a threat. When I called on them, they invited me right into their homes. Stupid.”

“Is that why you chose to kill coeds in 2128—to prove that they were stupid, also?”

His frown deepened. “Gale told you when I’m from?”

“2128. It’s true, isn’t it?”

He seemed to hesitate for a moment, then nodded.

“Aren’t you afraid of breaking the Prime Directive and changing the future?”

He smiled at her. “The women I’ve chosen aren’t important enough to make any significant change in the future.”

Thinking of Elena and Suzanna, Neely had to bite back a retort. Finally, she asked, “Where are we going?”

“I have a hotel suite here in Manhattan.”

Neely steeled her expression and tried to remain calm. Max would find a way to get to her.

“We’re going there so that I can take my time with you. You’ve caused me a great deal of trouble. I’m going to have to punish you for that.”

Neely ignored the chill that slithered through her veins. “You’re not going to get away with the murders. Max will find you.”

The Ripper sighed and refilled his glass. “He’s been an annoyance, too. I wanted to kill him, but I discovered I don’t have to. I can punish him by killing you.”

In a pig’s eye, Neely thought. She had her wits, she had a gun and Max would find her very soon.

Her captor smiled. “Fortunately, Gale poses no threat. Technically, I don’t carry the pair of genes required for psychic time travel, so I never had the tracer chip implanted at birth. I can hide away in any time I choose.”

The limo pulled to a stop. “We’re here.” He stepped out of the vehicle first, then banded his good hand around her arm, pulled her out and pressed the blade of the knife into her side. “Let’s go.”

They entered through a deserted lobby. The night clerk looked up briefly from his computer screen. Neely’s body blocked his view of the Ripper’s knife, so all the clerk saw were two women stepping into a waiting elevator. As the car shot upward, Neely tried desperately to plan her next move.

TERROR WAS a steady thrum in his blood as Max stepped out of the bathroom of Thomas Renquist’s empty apartment. “We just missed him,” he called out. “The steam from the shower hasn’t had time to fully evaporate. The clothes on the bed appear to be from 1888.”

When Max rejoined Lance and Deirdre in the living room, Lance was inspecting a bottle of pills and Deirdre was leafing through what appeared to be a bound notebook.

“Looks like he came home to lick his wounds and take some pain meds,” Lance said.

“He left a whole stack of personal diaries behind.” Deirdre pointed to a shelf. “I hate to admit that he was on the bottom of my suspect list, but there’s no doubt that he’s the Ripper. This one contains a detailed description of how he selected Lucy Brightstone to be his fifth victim in San Diego. Maybe he’ll be back for the diaries.”

“No,” Max said flatly. “He’s gone. He’ll disappear in a time we can’t trace him to.”

“I agree with Max,” Lance said. “Tom Renquist is one of the smartest men I’ve ever met. I’m sure he chose a place to escape to before he started his killing spree.”

“First he’ll go after Neely,” Max said.

“Yes,” Lance agreed, meeting Max’s gaze directly. “Tom’s ego is enormous. She almost succeeded in bringing him down. You go back to 2008. Deirdre and I will search this place to see if he left any indication of where he’s planning on hiding.”

Max needed no further encouragement. Closing his eyes, he imagined Neely’s bedroom and let himself be swept into the whirl of blackness.

SHE WASN’T in the house. Max knew it the instant he arrived in her bedroom. He cried out her name anyway.

“Isn’t she up there?” Sam shouted from below.

“No.” But for an instant, he sensed her in his mind. The connection was faint, but it had him racing to the window that looked out on the backyard. He spotted the white limo just as the door closed.

Max raced out of the bedroom and took the stairs three at a time. He nearly collided with Sam at the back door.

“The bastard created a diversion by setting fire to Mabel’s house.”

“White limo,” Max managed to say as he tore out the door and across the yard.

When he reached the alley, the taillights were still visible and he raced after them. He was gaining, and when the vehicle stopped at the end of the alley, he got close enough to see the plate. Then it turned into traffic and picked up speed. Max chased it for three blocks before it turned a corner and he lost it. He was bent over at the waist, his hands propped on his knees, breathing hard when Sam caught up with him.

Still staring at the point where the limo had disappeared, Max rattled off the numbers of the license plate and listened while Sam called it in to his friend at the precinct. Fear wound tight in his stomach. The Ripper had her, and it was going to take time to trace her through the license-plate number. Too much time.

Sam put a hand on his shoulder. “They’re running the plate. With any luck, we’ll have the name of the limo company shortly. In the meantime, there’s an APB on the vehicle itself. Any patrol car that spots it has orders to tail it. We’re going to get him.”

Max met Sam’s eyes. “We may be too late.”

“You have to have more faith in her. She’s smart, and she’s got a gun. I showed her how to use it.”

A gun. Would it be enough? Max wondered.

“If all else fails, she can probably stall him for a while with that locket.”

“The locket?”

Sam filled Max in on what his friend at Scotland Yard had discovered. “If the Ripper was posing as Sir Justin Rathbone and Elena was telling the truth, the Ripper might very well be Neely’s great-great-great-grandfather.”

Max was still trying to absorb that when Sam’s cell phone rang. A moment later, Sam said, “A limo just dropped two women off at the Leonardo uptown on the river.”

THE SUITE THE RIPPER ushered her into was large. Moonlight poured through the wall of windows. In the distance, Neely caught the gleam of starlight on the Hudson.

He shoved her into a large ladder-back chair. “Put your hands behind you.”

She saw that strips of duct tape hung neatly from the edge of the table. The man was a meticulous planner all right. And in spite of the fact that one of his wrists was broken he had her wrists taped together in record time. As he walked away, she saw that he no longer carried the knife. It had to be on the table behind her. She watched him open a cabinet, and with his left hand pour what she supposed was brandy into a snifter.

She’d had some time to think in the elevator. Not much. Just enough to question whether or not that brief connection she’d felt with Max just as the Ripper shoved her into the limo had been wishful thinking. Perhaps he wouldn’t be able to return in time to save her after all.

There was still a part of her that believed Max would find a way. But when the Ripper turned and she saw again the madness in his eyes, she decided that she might need to do more than just stall him until Max arrived. He hadn’t thought to pat her down, so she still had her gun. But in order to use it, she’d have to get her wrists free.

“This suite is very private. No one will hear you when you scream.”

Great, she thought. His voice, though still hoarse, had taken on a cordial tone, and when he smiled at her, she barely suppressed a shudder.

He sipped more brandy. “I’ve been so looking forward to this. You’ve caused me some concern and more than a little trouble. But I’ve made adjustments. I’m very good at improvising.”

He sipped again and, after setting down the glass, moved toward her. Neely said nothing as he retrieved the knife and laid it along her throat. For a moment, the terror inside her became so bright she couldn’t see.

“I suppose you’re very proud of yourself because you and Max Gale stopped me from killing that woman near Miller Court last night?”

Ordering her eyes to focus, Neely raised her chin. “Pride has nothing to do with it. I’m glad that I kept you from killing her.”

He shrugged. “No matter. I went back later and found someone else.”

He pressed the point of the knife to her throat and drew it very slowly across her skin. Every muscle in Neely’s stomach quivered.