Page 21 of Secret Admirer

“This is fucking insane! On the news—the reporters were already saying she’d been targeted! That an FBI agent who looked like Alice had been killed!”

Randall didn’t speak.

Jonathan’s hand shook as he raked it through his hair. “Does Alice have a death wish?”

Randall might have wondered the same thing, at first. But then he’d realized—Alice just wanted the nightmare to end. “We believe the Secret Admirer has taken a victim, a woman named Tiffany Shaw. Alice wants to get that woman back.”

Jonathan’s eyes squeezed shut. “I heard that part on the freaking news, too.” After a tense moment of silence, his eyes opened. “And you know what? There’s no need to bullshit. If the Secret Admirer has that woman—if the real killer has her—she’s already dead. Alice won’t get anything back but a corpse.”

Randall had read all of the interview notes on Jonathan Collins. The guy had been singing the same song about Hugh Collins from day one—Jonathan believed his brother had been framed. “I’m Special Agent Randall Cane.” It was past time for an official introduction. “I’m working this case with Agent Todd. If you have any relevant information to provide to us—”

“My brother wasn’t a killer.”

Same song. “A woman’s body was in his vehicle. It’s pretty hard to overlook the evidence, don’t you think?”

“Not if he was framed.”

Some people just couldn’t see the truth.

“Someone could have dumped that woman’s body in Hugh’s SUV. Hugh wasn’t even routinely using that vehicle! It had sat in his garage for months because he preferred to use his motorcycle. The real killer could have known that, he could have—” But Jonathan broke off. “Why am I even wasting my breath? You have to see the truth now. The Secret Admirer is hunting again, and if we aren’t careful, he’s going to kill Alice.” Jonathan’s index finger stabbed into the air. “I’m not letting that happen. Not fucking letting it happen!” He hurried toward the station’s entrance, shoved open the glass doors, and rushed outside.

***

A swirl of faces stared back at Alice. Men and women. All shouting questions. She didn’t try to answer their questions. Instead, Alice eased out a quick breath as she stared straight ahead. She leaned toward the microphone. “Come after me.”

The questions stopped. She wasn’t there to speak to the reporters. She was there to speak to him.

“The victims have all been me. Haven’t they?” She didn’t need profilers to tell her that part. “My hair. My face shape. My eyes.” Her heart felt as if it were about to burst out of her chest. “Only they aren’t me. When you hurt them, you don’t hurt me.” A lie. Their pain hurt her. More guilt. More rage. “If I’m the one you want, if I’m the one you’ve always been after, then come after me.”

Questions fired at her.

Alice shook her head. She felt Zander slip closer to her. Another deep breath, and then… “You have a victim, don’t you? Someone else you took. Don’t hurt her. I’ll make the trade that you offered. Just call me. Tell me when. Tell me where. I will come. I will do whatever you want. It’s time, don’t you think? Time for us to get together. No one else. Just us.”

The reporters were screaming.

But Alice was done.

She turned toward Zander. “Get me out of here.”

He immediately nodded and took her arm. As they turned from the podium, she saw Jonathan rushing out of the station. The sun hit his close-cropped, dark hair, and for a moment, he looked so much like Hugh.

Hugh…with his laughing eyes. His quick smile.

Hugh…the killer. The liar.

Her chest hurt.

Zander didn’t take her back inside the station. That wasn’t part of the plan. Instead, he led her toward a black SUV that waited near the curb. Another agent held the rear door open for them. Alice jumped inside. “I need to talk with Jonathan. I saw him back there—I need to explain things!”

Zander climbed in with her and slammed the door shut. “We’ll contact him soon. Hell, I’ll get a team to bring him to the cabin, okay?” Zander looked toward the front seat. The driver was already in place. “Get us the hell out of here.”

The SUV shot away from the curb—and the crowd. Alice glanced back. The cameras were still rolling. Jonathan had moved onto the sidewalk, and he gazed after her with a tight, angry expression.

Alice fumbled and pulled her phone from her pocket. The FBI agents could track every call that she received. She just had to get the call when it came in. Then they could act. Then they could move. “The killer is going to call,” Alice whispered.

Zander’s fingers curled under her chin, and he turned her head toward him. She gazed at him, getting lost just for a moment in the darkness of his stare.

“I will be at your side,” Zander promised her. “Every second, you understand?”

She wasn’t going to argue with that. She wanted him close. “I think I’d like a gun.”

“Hell, yes, you’re getting a gun.”

She swallowed to ease the dryness in her throat. “Did I…do okay?”

Zander kissed her. A soft, tender kiss. “You did better than okay. You hit all the right buttons, covered it just the way the profilers predicted would draw the perp in.” Another kiss. “Baby, you are perfect.”

Perfect. A shiver slid over her. “No,” Alice told him with utter certainty. “That’s something I’m not.”

Chapter Eleven

“What in the hell are you doing, Alice?” Jonathan demanded.

Alice glanced up from her position on the couch. They were at Zander’s cabin. They’d been there since the press conference, and now, as the sun dipped beneath the horizon, she had to face-off with Jonathan. Randall had just brought Jonathan to the cabin. She’d asked for the meeting with him. She’d needed him to understand—

“I have to do this,” Alice told him. “A woman is missing—”

“She could already be dead.” Jonathan shook his head. “You know once he actually took them, the Secret Admirer immediately started to torture his victims.”

Because he attacked in a frenzy. A slow buildup of stalking, of thinking that his victim was perfect and then finding out…

She wasn’t.

Zander sat right beside Alice. “The profilers all said the original Secret Admirer went into a rage when the objects of his desire did something to upset him. That’s why the attacks were so brutal. But we aren’t dealing with the original—”

“Yes, you are!” Jonathan argued fiercely.

Randall’s lips thinned as he stood near the fireplace. “We don’t know what this perp is going to do. His MO is different. He shot Agent McCoy. So we have no fucking clue what he could be doing to Tiffany Shaw.”

“And until we have a body,” Zander rose, slowly uncurling his body, “then we work under the assumption that Tiffany is still alive. We have agents, deputies, and volunteers scouring the area for her. We know the killer is still close, so that means that Tiffany has to be close, too.”

“How do you know that?” Jonathan immediately demanded.

Zander’s stare lingered on Alice. “Because he doesn’t have what he wants yet.”

Me.

Jonathan’s chest rose and fell with his rapid breathing. “Alice,” Jonathan said her name roughly, pulling her attention to him. “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to do this?”

Why? Now Alice also rose. She’d been waiting all afternoon for a call that hadn’t come, and as more time passed, her nerves had been shot to hell. “We haven’t talked in months.”

“Alice, I—”

“Hugh was guilty, Jonathan. Guilty! There was no denying the evidence.” But Jonathan had been adamant, and she hadn’t been able to stay around him. Every time they’d spoken, he’d argued for Hugh’s innocence. He’d demanded that they hunt the real killer. “A body was in the back of the SUV.”

Jonathan’s lips parted, but he didn’t speak.

“I di

dn’t really know Hugh. You didn’t really know him. Hugh only showed us what he wanted us to see.” The perfect fiancé. The loving brother. The charmer. “I stopped talking to you because you still weren’t ready to see the truth, but it was a truth I had to see.” In order to stay sane. In order to get her life back. “Hugh is dead. This guy—whoever he is—he’s still out there. And he’s not going to get away. The FBI is helping me. We’re working together. They’ll keep me safe, and they’ll stop him.”

Jonathan’s gaze raked her. “With what? A wire? A GPS monitor? You think that will keep you safe?”

Before she could answer him, her phone rang. She jumped. So did Jonathan. Zander and Randall didn’t move.

The phone was on the coffee table. She’d put it there because she wanted it close. She’d pretty much been holding it for hours, and she’d only put it down when Jonathan arrived at the cabin. Now she leaned forward to see—

Unknown Caller. “It’s him.” It had to be. Didn’t it?

Zander’s hand closed around her shoulder. “Put him on speaker. The techs will do the rest.”

Right. Right. Okay. Sweat covered her as she swiped her finger over the screen. “Hello.”

“I saw you on the news,” blasted the robotic voice. The exact same voice she’d heard before. “You want to be with me.”

“I want you to let Tiffany go. I want to trade places with her.”

Robotic laughter. “Are you sure?” And then…

A woman’s scream.

Tiffany.

Still alive. Oh, thank God, still alive. “Don’t hurt her!” Alice cried out. “Just—just tell me where to meet you. I’ll come, I’ll be there, I’ll—”

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