“I prefer to have a plan, but sometimes things work out even better when they happen spur of the moment. She lived right on Miller Court—so convenient. And she was friendly. She even invited me up to her room.” He drew the point of the knife slowly across her throat again. This time she felt a trickle of blood run down her neck. “I was able to take a long time with her.”
Mary Jane Kelly, Neely thought. She and Max had saved Elena, but not Mary Jane.
“It was the first time with my new knife.” This time he drew the point down her throat and chest, letting it come to rest right over her heart. “My other knife wasn’t there when I returned to the alley. You and Max shouldn’t have taken it. Because of you, I can never return to 2128. You’ll both have to pay for that.” He increased the pressure of the knife and she felt it prick her skin. “I pretended the woman at 13 Miller Court was you when I slit her throat. Each time I removed one of her organs, I imagined it was yours. The pleasure was indescribable, but it will fade into insignificance after tonight.”
His face was close now—so close that she could feel his breath on her skin and smell the liquor he’d been drinking. She could see the color of his eyes—an odd mix of gray and blue so like her grandmother’s and her own. She fought off a wave of nausea at the thought that she might be related to this madman.
He pricked her throat again.
Ignoring the fear that was icing her veins, Neely struggled to focus her thoughts. She had to distract him somehow. Stall him. “You went by the name of Sir Justin Rathbone in London, didn’t you?”
Something flickered in his eyes, and he drew the knife away from her throat. “How do you know that?”
“Elena told me. She loved you.”
His mouth thinned to a grim line and he dropped the arm holding the knife to his side. “She only loved Sir Justin Rathbone and what he could give her.”
“You were involved in a relationship with her, weren’t you?”
“Yes,” he said, his voice almost a whisper.
“Most of the Ripper criminologists maintain that he never became personally involved with any of his victims.”
“She wasn’t supposed to be a victim.”
“You had feelings for her then?” She saw something flicker in his eyes. Regret?
“In the beginning. Becoming involved with her was a misjudgment on my part. She distracted me from my work. When her aunt began pressing me to marry her, I had to eliminate Elena. I killed her aunt, too, and left the body in the carriage.”
“What about Suzanna Gale? Was she one of your selected victims or another mistake in judgment?”
His eyes went cold and flat. Rage iced his tone. “She betrayed me. I thought we were two of a kind—neither having the power to travel through time. I was born without the proper pairing of genes. She’d had her ability to time travel neutralized when her brother arrested her. I believed she felt the same way I did toward the government, so I told her about the operation I’d had. Then everything changed. I saw suspicion in her eyes. Of course, she tried to hide it, but I couldn’t risk the possibility that she might tell her brother. People always disappoint you.”
“Killing her was a mistake. Max will never stop hunting you.”
His lips curved in a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “That will be his punishment. He’ll spend his life hunting someone he’ll never find. Now, before you and I get down to business, I think I’ll slip into something more comfortable.”
It wasn’t until he’d disappeared into an adjacent room that Neely began to shake. Fear had become a steady buzz in her ears, but she couldn’t afford to give in to it. She heard him turn on the shower. So she had some time. She had to think. The chair was oversize, and her arms were wrapped around the back. Struggling against the weight, she angled it around, looking for something, anything, she could use to cut the duct tape securing her wrists. Spotting the glassware on top of the liquor cabinet, she began to inch her chair toward it. She hadn’t moved more than a foot or two when she felt something under her shoe—a scrape and then a crunch.
Glancing down, she spotted shards of crystal embedded in the plush carpeting. Good enough, she thought as she threw all her weight and strength into making the chair pivot around. Then she inched it back toward the table. She needed to land just right if she wanted to get her hands on one of those shards. Sweating now and breathing hard, she peered over her shoulder to gauge the distance, then put all her might into tipping the chair backward. Pain sang up her arms when she landed, and she felt the gun pressing into the small of her back. She bit down on her lower lip to keep from crying out and prayed that the thick carpet had muffled most of the sound.
For one moment, she focused on catching her breath. Because she was lying on them, her hands didn’t have much mobility. So she began to rock the chair to the left and then the right. On the third rock, her fingers finally closed around a piece of glass. Keeping a firm grip on it, she continued to rock until she had enough momentum to roll the chair onto its side. Then she closed her eyes and visualized what she was doing as she began to work the glass back and forth over the duct tape. It was slow going, and at one point she dropped the shard. Fighting panic, she twisted her body around and strained against the duct tape until her shaking fingers once more closed around the sliver of glass.
“My, my, my, you’ve been a busy girl.”
Neely immediately palmed the shard of glass and opened her eyes. The Ripper strode toward her wearing black slacks and a black shirt, similar to the outfit Max had worn the first day she’d seen him in her shop. He had his blond hair pulled back into a neat ponytail. When he reached her, he uprighted her chair. Then, wincing, he set the knife on the table so that he could nurse his broken wrist.
Keeping her eyes fixed on him, she began to move the glass over the duct tape again.
“Let’s get on with this, shall we?”
He was reaching for the knife when they both heard it—the sound of the lock disengaging on the double doors of the suite.
Max. Neely knew it was him. She could feel him so clearly in her mind. But the Ripper also knew it was Max. She saw his left hand close around the knife handle an instant before he faded into thin air.
“Max, he’s invisible and he’s got a knife.”
The slap across her cheek packed enough force to rock the chair. Blinking back tears, Neely focused on keeping upright and holding on to the glass. If she could keep the Ripper’s attention fixed on her, Max would have more time to make his move.
“He’s got a knife—in his left hand. His right wrist is broken.” She tensed waiting for another slap or a slice of the blade. Neither came.
The doors to the suite swung open. She had one instant to feel relief that Max, too, had become invisible before she heard the whoosh and saw the knife arc through the air. There was a grunt of pain.
THE PAIN IN HIS ARM was fierce. Max could see neither Renquist nor the knife. But Neely was alive, she was here, and Max owed her his life. If she hadn’t warned him, he would have burst through the door fully visible. The bastard might have plunged his knife right into Max’s heart instead of merely into his upper arm.In his peripheral vision, Max caught a sudden flash of steel. He pivoted, whirled, and kicked out with his foot. It hit nothing but air. Max kept moving, circling like a wrestler in the ring—watching and listening for another sign of Renquist’s position. The blood had soaked through his shirtsleeve and was running down his arm. When it dripped to the carpet, Renquist was going to have a good idea where he was. So Max had to keep weaving this way and that while he watched for the knife to become visible again, but the man was cleverly hiding it, probably blocking it with some part of his clothing.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Neely was tied to a chair. Then he caught another glimpse of the knife in the air above her. There was only one thought in his mind as he launched himself toward it—Neely.
“Move,” he shouted. This time he connected with Renquist and got his hand around the man’s wrist before his momentum sent them both crashing into a table and toppling to the floor. They rolled across it, first one on top and then the other. Max’s hands were slippery with blood making it hard for him to keep a hold of Renquist’s arm. A sharp blow to the chin weakened his grip even further.
“You’re a dead man, Gale.” The knife plunged into the carpet less than an inch away from Max’s face. Using all his strength, Max scissored his legs, trapping Renquist’s between his, and rolled. They left the knife behind.
They were both breathing hard now. Sweat and the smell of blood filled the air. As they focused their full attention on the fight, they gradually became visible. Max saw his arms, his hands closing around Renquist’s throat. And he could see blood, too much blood dripping from his arm onto the carpet. A sudden wave of dizziness gripped Max, allowing the other man to reverse their positions.
“I was going…to let…you watch me…kill her,” Renquist gasped out. “But I’ll finish this now.”
Max couldn’t breathe. The hands on his throat tightened. The world around him dimmed.