By kmccabe08 All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Thriller

Chapter 16

Brandon was in the middle of a conversation with the Boone County Fire Marshal when he heard Katie’s shriek of rage. She turned and stomped off towards the car, unconsciously pushing people out of the way. She was nearly to the Jeep when he caught up with her.

“So, that’s why you brought me,” she hissed as he grabbed her shoulders. “Thought you would parade me around in front of your colleagues, see if I broke down and spilled all my secrets.”

Brandon just stared down at her. She looked murderous at that moment. “Katie, that’s not it at all.”

“Oh, I heard them talking about me, whispering in the hall, trying to guess my criminal activities.” She appeared not have heard a word he said. “Honestly Brandon, I’ve told you everything I know. You know all my secrets.” Her tone was seething. Her red face was due to a combination of anger and tears. “What else do I have to do to convince you I haven’t done anything wrong?”

Brandon pulled her towards him. She remained stiff in his arms. “Katie, I believe everything you’ve told me. I didn’t bring you here to cause you pain. I wanted to keep you safe. When Chief Holmes told me about the message I knew it wasn’t safe for you to be alone. I wanted you close so I could keep an eye on you.” He felt her body relax against his.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have yelled at you,” she whispered. “I should have told you why you were here sooner.” “Were you going to tell me about the message?”

“Yes. But I wanted it to be in private, without all the camera phones and media around.” Brandon felt Katie nod against his chest. “I’m done here. Let’s go back to the station, okay?”

“Okay,” she whispered.

The Killer watched as Detective Hughes guided Katie to his Jeep. She had to give a nod to Katie; her reaction to the message did not disappoint. The Killer had to hide her smile at Katie’s scream. She could see that Katie was slowly losing her grasp and it filled the Killer with a glowing satisfaction. Soon enough Katie would know who was dead. She would confess her cowardice then her reputation would be destroyed.

Oh yes, soon Katie would know what it felt like to lose everyone she loved; to lose her reputation. However, unlike her, Katie would not have a second chance at life. With a final sneer, the Killer turned and headed for her car. She had work to do.

Brandon pulled into the Columbia Police Department lot and guided Katie into the conference room. Grace brought them some coffee and a blanket for Katie.

“Could you get Chief Holmes please,” Brandon requested. “Of course,” Grace nodded then hurried out the doorway. “Are you warm enough, honey?” Brandon asked as he pulled the blanket tighter around Katie’s shoulders.

Katie did not respond.

“Here, Grace brought you some coffee. Drink some, it’ll make you feel better,” he urged.

Katie reached one of her trembling hands from underneath the blanket and carefully took a sip before she put the cup back on the table. A few minutes later Chief Holmes entered the conference room. She took one look at Katie and shook her head.

“She saw the message.” It was a statement, not a question. “Yes,” he replied.

“Has she said anything?”

“Not since we got in the car. She was angry when she first saw it. Now she’s just silent.”

“Katie,” Chief Holmes said, taking a seat right in front of her. “It’s Chief Holmes. You remember me, right?”

Katie nodded, but did not speak.

“Would you like to talk about what you saw? Do you have any questions?”

Katie gave a brief shake of her head.

“I’m going to call the paramedics,” Brandon whispered then left the room.

It only took him a moment to make the call. Once he was done he went back into the conference room. Katie was still motionless when he entered. He sat down next to her and wrapped one of her hands in his. Her hand was ice cold.

The three of them sat silently until the paramedics arrived. Brandon quickly explained what happened while the paramedics checked her vitals. Katie held tight to his hand throughout the examination.

“We’d like to take her to the hospital, just to monitor her for a few hours. Her heartbeat is erratic. It’s best to keep her there until she normalizes a bit.”

Brandon nodded. “Okay, but I’m coming with you.” His statement left no room for argument.


“Let me just grab my things then I’ll meet you at the ambulance,” he told the paramedic then kneeled in front of Katie. “I’ll be right back, honey. I’m just going to grab a couple of things from my desk.”

Katie gave an imperceptible nod then Brandon walked away.

The Killer crept into Brandon Hughes’ empty house. He was at the hospital with Katie right now. After she left the crime scene, she’d made a quick stop by the station, just to confirm that’s where they’d gone. She was relieved when she saw Brandon guide a stoic Katie into the station. She was even more relieved when she saw her loaded into an ambulance with Brandon following her close behind. She knew he would be there for quite a while. Still, the Killer wanted to finish this task as quickly as possible. With her goal in mind, the Killer opened her bag and got to work.

Thirty minutes later the house was home to half a dozen hidden cameras. Some were still image cameras while others were video; all were motion activated. The images could be digitally downloaded and their memory cards erased if need be. With her task done, the Killer snuck out the backdoor and headed down the block to her car.

Brandon was out the hallway speaking with Chief Holmes.

Katie had been sedated the moment they arrived at the hospital. Personally, he was scared. He’d never seen her so distraught and disoriented. But right now, since she was asleep, it was time to get some work done.

“As much as I hate to say this, I’m going to have to take you off the case,” Chief Holmes stated.

“Chief Holmes,” he started. “I can be objective. I’ve been objective ever since the first day.”

“I know Brandon, but this is different. Katie’s had a death threat made against her. Can you honestly tell me you won’t take things into your own hands?”

Brandon shook his head. How could his superior have so little faith in him? “Honestly Chief Holmes, the new threat against Katie has only strengthened my resolve to do this all by the book. We need whomever is doing this safely locked behind bars, otherwise he’ll only come after her again.” He argued. “Please, don’t take this away from me.”

Shirley was silent for a moment. She had a pensive look on her face. Finally, she sighed. “Let’s compromise then.”


“You stay on the case, but you work from home.” She stated then continued before he could argue. “We have plenty of evidence that you can sift through at home. In fact, you’ll probably be more useful at home than out in the field. This killer has worked in the shadows for a while now. It’s going to take a lot of deep digging to find him and you’re the best digger I have.”

As much as he wanted to argue, he couldn’t. All he could feel right now was relief. At least he wasn’t being taken off the case.

“Okay.” He finally agreed. “Who will you put in charge of the field investigation.”

“I’m going to oversee this myself.” She stated. “I already know all the facts of the case, so I won’t have to play catch up.”

Brandon nodded then turned to go back to Katie’s room, but Chief Holmes stopped him.

“I want you to investigate, but Brandon, right now your priority needs to be Katie. She’s the key to all this and we need her safe.”

“Yes ma’am,” he stated then went back to Katie’s room.

Katie woke up to the constant bleep-bleep of a heart monitor and the faint whisper of oxygen being pushed through a tube. Brandon was sitting in a chair next to the bed, staring intently at his computer screen.

“I’m thirsty,” she whispered.

“Hey.” He smiled. “How are you feeling?”

“Tired, thirsty. Is there any water?” Her throat was itchy and dry.

“Yeah. Give me just a sec,” he said.

A few moments later she was sipping on cold water through a straw. “Thank you.”

“No problem. Is there anything else you need? Are you hungry? You haven’t eaten all day.”

Katie made a funny face. “I don’t want hospital food.” “Okay.” Brandon smiled. “Well let me get the doctor and we’ll see about getting you out of here.” Brandon stood up and headed for the door.

“Brandon wait,” she called out. “Yes, love.”

“What happened?”

Brandon returned to his seat next to her bed. He threaded her fingers through his. “You were in shock; your heart rate erratic. They brought you here to monitor you.”

“Why am I so groggy?”

“The sedative they gave you is still working its way out of your system. Don’t worry about it. You’ll be fine.” He smiled.

“How long was I out?” “About three hours.”

Katie nodded. “Thanks for staying.”

“I’ll always stay.” He smiled. “Now, let me find that doctor.”

Thirty minutes later, they were headed back towards the house. One of the patrolmen had dropped Brandon’s Jeep off at the hospital while she was sleeping. They made a stop at the pharmacy on the way home—the ER doctor had written her a prescription for a mild sedative just in case she needed it. Once they got to the house, Katie changed into some sweats while Brandon ordered pizza from Emo’s.

“You still want the Hawaiian one, right?”

“Yeah,” she whispered and sat down on the couch. “Okay.” Brandon smiled.

Katie could tell he was putting a show on for her. She could see the concern and fear in his eyes despite his convincing attempt at being cheerful. Her heart ached for him. She certainly wasn’t making his life any easier, but she was grateful that he was around.

In all honesty, she didn’t know what she would do without him right now.

Twenty minutes later the pizza arrived. Brandon brought the two large boxes over to the couch along with a couple of paper towels and some sodas. The moment she opened the box to her pizza she became ravenously hungry. Emo’s Hawaiian pie had always been her favorite. She delved into the large, but thin pizza.

“Whoa, champ. Why don’t you take some time to breathe?” Brandon chuckled.

“Sorry. I don’t have very good manners today. It’s just that it tastes so good.”

“Well I’m glad. Just slow down a bit so it doesn’t come back up.”

Katie gave him a half smile then took a sip of her soda. “Thanks for staying with me today.”

“You’re welcome.”

They resumed eating until both boxes were empty. “Here, I’ll get rid of the boxes,” she said as she stood up from the couch. Apparently, Brandon had other ideas.

“I’ll take care of that later,” he whispered then pulled her down in his lap.

Brandon wrapped his arms tight around her and kissed her with unbridled passion. She threw herself into the kiss, meeting his fervor then pushing past it. Before she knew it, they were both naked. She couldn’t quite figure out when or how it happened, and, quite frankly, she didn’t really care.

Brandon leaned back on the couch and pulled her on top of him. He arched her chest towards his mouth while she sank down onto him. Her body shuddered with the contact. She began a slow and steady rhythm of rise and fall, making sure to take him as deep as possible. Apparently, she wasn’t fast enough. Brandon tightly grabbed her hips and increased the speed. Her tired body struggled to keep up, but somehow, she managed.

“We can go slow later,” he panted as he pushed hard inside her.

Katie merely nodded, since she was incapable of speaking at the moment. They moved fast and hard. Katie’s body throbbed for release. Brandon’s body pulsed hard inside hers. Finally, she felt the beginnings of her release. She grasped hard on his shoulders, holding tight so she wouldn’t tumble to the ground. His hips thrust wildly as her muscles clenched around him. Brandon pulled her head to his and kissed her while his body shook and pumped until, eventually, they both went still.

Katie sighed then rested her head against his shoulder. She closed her eyes, savoring the feel of his hot skin against hers. He held her tight while they caught their breath.

“I love you,” he whispered against her ear once his breathing returned to normal.

“I love you too.” She sighed.

She snuggled closer to him. She knew she should move, they did have work to do. But right now she just wanted to forget about everything that was happening.

“We need to get up,” she whispered and tried to push herself off of him. Brandon just tightened his grip around her.

“Brandon, as much as I would love to sit here with you, we have work to do.” She stated. “The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can go to bed.

“I know.” Brandon groaned then released her. She pushed herself up from the couch, which was a small feat in itself, then pulled on her clothes. Brandon did the same then picked up the pizza boxes and headed to the kitchen.

“Brandon, do you have my bag with my laptop in it?” “It’s over by the backdoor. Do you want it?”

“Yeah. I have something to show you.”

Brandon retrieved her bag then joined her on the couch. “So, what is it you want to show me?” he asked as her computer booted up.

“I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday about the case.

She’s a psychiatrist in New York that specializes in traumatic experiences. She helped with an article about mental health funding for veterans a couple of months ago. I figured having some sort psychological background on the killer would help us catch him.”

“Katie, this isn’t your investigation.” Brandon frowned. “Don’t worry, it’s off the record. No one’s going to infringe on your territory,” she returned.

“That’s not what I meant.” His frown deepened. “What I mean is there’s no point in the both of us travelling down the twisted rabbit hole of this man’s mind.”

“Well I appreciate your concern, but, as odd as this sounds, this is helping me. The more information I have the better I can cope. I feel as if I’m the master of my own fate. I need this.” She smiled.

“Well, okay. So, what can you tell me about this guy?” “Well first of all, we’re not dealing with a guy,” she commented.

“What?” Brandon was bewildered.

“Here, read this.” She handed him her laptop.

Several minutes later he looked up from the screen, a solemn expression on his face. “Katie, I…” he began but didn’t continue.

“I know. It’s a lot to take in. Believe me, I read it this morning and had about the same reaction you’re having now. But the information is helpful. This gives us a place to start.”

Brandon had a scowl on his face. “Why didn’t she contact me directly with this information? And why did you ask her to work up a profile Katie? I am completely capable of doing my job.”

“I know that,” she snapped. “And for the record I didn’t ask her to work up a profile. We talked yesterday for a bit, but that was it. You read the email. She said she couldn’t get our conversation out of her head. She did this on her own.”

Brandon sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “I wish you had spoken to me before you told the details of the case to an outsider Katie. While I am grateful for the information, this is something I had planned to do on my own.”

Katie grabbed his hand and intertwined her fingers with his. “I didn’t mean to imply that you were incompetent. I just needed information and facts. I’d go insane just sitting here and doing nothing. You know that.”

Brandon nodded. “Yes, I know. I just, well...”

“I know. It’s horrid enough as it is, but you’re thinking of me, not some stranger. Push that out of your mind. The best thing you can do for me now is to treat this like a normal case. Keep our personal ties out of it.”

Brandon gave a half smile. “You’re right.” “Aren’t I always?” She smiled.

Brandon shook his head. “You should really work on that ego of yours.” He chuckled.

Katie flashed him a grin. “Now let’s get started. You lost a lot of work time while you were at the hospital with me. I seem to be impeding your progress.” She frowned. “We need to find her so I can be safe.”

Brandon frowned. “Katie, I will make you safe, I promise. And as for work, I can still do my job while I look after you.” He stated. “Actually, from today on I’m going to be doing just that.”

“Oh.” Katie’s eyes widened. “How so?”

“Chief Holmes wants me to work from home. This way I can keep an eye on you.”

Katie looked at him. He sounded cheerful enough, but she could see the frustration in his eyes. She scooted over to him then crawled in his lap. “I’m sorry love. I seem to be hurting more than I’m helping. I should’ve gone back to New York.”

“Don’t be sorry.” He replied tenderly then wrapped his arms around her. “I’m glad you’re here. Besides, I would’ve been sidelined regardless if you were here or not.”

“Oh, why?”

“Because of the death threat.”

“But we knew my life was being threatened from the beginning.” She frowned.

“Yes, but this message was public. Yeah, it sucks, but it’s the right thing to do. If I were in Chief Holmes position I would have done the same thing.”

She nodded. It was the logical decision. Still, she hated that he was being pulled because of her. “So, who’s taking over?”

“Chief Holmes is personally overseeing this case.” “Okay.” She replied. “What can you tell me about today’s murder?”

“Not much.”

“Can you tell me who died?” Katie could see the denial on his face. “Please, I’m a part of this case now. If you tell me I might be able to help.”

Brandon sighed. He knew he would have to question her eventually. Maybe some of the details would trigger a memory, help her think of a detail that just might help them. “This morning’s victim’s identity is still unknown. Rebecca is going to check dental records for identification.”

“Wait, do you even know if it was a man or woman?”

Brandon sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Kate,” he paused then continued. “Let me put it this way: the ground wasn’t the only thing that was burned today.”

Katie swallowed. That explained the putrid smell in the air. “I see. What about the girl, Alaina? I know she looked like me and was a student here. Do we have anything else in common?”

“Not to my knowledge. She was a senior majoring in literature and had been accepted to grad school in New York.”

“Well, she has more in common with me than resembling me, that’s for sure.”

“What do you mean?”

“She majored in Literature and was moving to New York.”

Brandon was silent for a minute. “I thought Journalism was your major.”

“It was one of them. Don’t you remember? I double majored. I have a degree in Literature as well.”

Brandon sighed. “How could I have been so stupid,” he muttered to himself. “I’m sorry. I totally forgot about that. Hey, do you remember your professors’? We can check and see if she had a few of the same.”

“I can remember a few off the top of my head. There was Professor Harlington. He taught two of my Twentieth Century Lit classes. I liked him. He’s nice. Then there’s Professor Wells. She taught my Milton class. Oh, and Professor Armstrong. He was a real asshole. He taught my Southern Lit class.”

Brandon jotted down the names as Katie rattled them off. “This is a good place to start. Hopefully some of the Professors are still around,” he stated. “What about the others?”

“I can’t think off the top of my head, but I’m sure their names will be on my transcript. I have a copy on my laptop.” Katie grabbed the computer from Brandon, pulled up the transcript, then handed it back.

“Can I print this?”

“Of course. Make as many copies as you need.” “Thanks.” Brandon quickly networked her laptop with his printer then printed off a few copies of Katie’s undergraduate transcript. “3.99 GPA. I’m impressed.” He smiled.

“Yeah. It would’ve been a 4.0 but I got a B in College Algebra. That was another asshole professor. She took pleasure in making me miserable. Maybe you should check her out. Everyone used to say she lacked a soul,” Katie joked.

“I’ll put her right at the top of my list.” Brandon laughed.

Katie smiled back at him. “Hey, is my purse still in the car?”

“Yeah, want me to get it?”

“No. I’ve got it,” she said then went out to the garage. She grabbed her purse and pulled out her cell. She was shocked to see nearly a dozen missed calls as well as a voicemail from Nicole.

She quickly selected the message and listened.

“Hey Katie, long time no speak. Sorry it took me this long to get back to you. I’ve been up in Albany for the past few days. I just got back last night. Anyways, give me a call back when you get this. There’s something I need to tell you. I’ll be available whenever you call.”

The message ended. Nicole sounded flustered. It was probably just because she was busy. Katie quickly dialed Nicole’s number and was surprised when she answered on the first ring.

“Hey Katie! I’m glad you called. Where have you been?

I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all day.” “Sorry. I was in the hospital.”

“The hospital? What happened?” “Long story. You go first.” “Well, are you sitting down?”

Katie froze. This was something serious. She walked into the house and sat down at the kitchen table. “Yes.”

“Well, there’s no easy way to put this so I’ll just spit it out.” Nicole took a deep breath then spoke. “Your apartment building burned down Friday night. There’s nothing left.”

“What happened? Was it an accident? Did someone knock a candle over or something?”

“No, it wasn’t an accident. The police say it’s arson.” Katie gulped. “Where was the point of origin?” “Your apartment. Someone had turned on all the gas burners on the stove then tossed a match.”

“Why am I just finding out about this? Why are you telling me and not the police?” She seethed.

The line was quiet for a moment. When Nicole finally did speak, she sounded apologetic. “I told them it would go better if I informed you myself. You’re under enough stress as it is Katie.

You don’t need a stranger calling to tell you that you have no home.”

Katie sighed. “Thank you for your consideration Nicole. I appreciate it,” she said then changed the subject. “Did everyone get out okay?”

Nicole was quiet. “Nicole?”

“Katie, no one died,” Nicole whispered. “Why do I hear a ‘but’ coming?”

“Well, the point of origin was your apartment.”

“Yeah, you told me that.” Katie sighed. She was getting frustrated.

“It happened early in the morning and moved fast. The Osbourne’s were the first to be hit. They got out, but not before the fire reached Bella’s room.”

Katie was dumbstruck. Not Bella. “You said no one died.”

“She’s at New York Presbyterian, in their burn unit. I don’t know any more. You’ll have to call her parents.”

Katie nodded. “Thanks for the information.” She hung up the phone then quickly dialed Jane’s number.

“Hello?” Jane answered on the second ring.

“Jane, it’s Katie. I just heard about the fire. How’s Bella?”

Jane let out a small sob. “I’m sorry about the fire at your apartment.”

“Don’t worry about that. I’m more concerned about Bella.

How’s she doing?”

“Well, they’re keeping her sedated so the burns can heal.

They don’t want her feeling any pain.”

“How badly was she burned?” She asked, even though she was afraid to hear the answer.

“She has mostly third degree burns along her left leg and torso. Fortunately, the fire didn’t get to her face, otherwise the damage would have been much worse. Once she heals they’ll do skin grafts,” Jane sobbed. “Oh Katie, I don’t know how to deal with this. Andrew is virtually catatonic; he refuses to acknowledge that anything is wrong. I’m barely keeping it together. We’ve been here at the hospital ever since the fire. I’m exhausted but I don’t want to leave her alone.”

“Jane, I can come back if you need me to.”

“No, it’s okay. Stay where you are. I know that you were the one targeted.”

“God Jane, I’m sorry. If I had known about the stalker I would never have involved you. I just found out.”

“No, Katie, it’s okay. This isn’t your fault. Though I think it’ll be safer for all involved if you stayed away for now. Focus on finding the monster that did this.”

“I will. I promise.”

“Good. And Katie, make him pay for what he did to my little girl.”

Katie nodded. “I will, Jane. You have my word.”

“Thanks. I’ll call if anything changes. Goodbye.” Jane hung up.

For the second time that day Katie felt a murderous hatred so strong that she was convinced she could tear the psycho who was hunting her limb from limb. It was horrible enough to attack grown adults, people that had a reasonable chance to defend themselves, but to bring a child into the mix was unforgivable. At that moment she decided that she would personally be the one to send the maniacal bitch straight to hell where she belonged.

Without a thought as to what she was doing, Katie picked up a glass that had been left on the table and flung it across the room, watching with satisfaction as it shattered.

Brandon looked up as the glass hit the wall. He watched as Katie stood from the table and stalked towards the kitchen. “Katie, what the hell?” He stood from the couch then ducked just quick enough to see a frying pan sail over his head. It appeared that she had finally lost it.

He dashed to the kitchen and wrapped his arms around her, holding her wrists in his hands. “Calm down, sweetie.”

“Let go of me.” She struggled against him. “Not until you calm down,” he ordered.

“Let me put it this way then: I’m going to break something.

It can either be you or the dishes.”

Brandon’s voice remained calm and even. “I’m not letting you go until you calm down and tell me what happened.”

At that moment, Brandon felt all the fight leave her body and she slipped towards the floor. Brandon held tight and slowly lowered them both to the ground.

“I’m going to kill this bitch when we find her.” Katie’s tone was cold and clinical, completely devoid of emotion.

“Katie, she won’t get close enough for you to kill. We’ll catch her soon then life will be back to normal. We can go to New York, pack your things, then come here.”

“There’s no need to go back,” she whispered. “What do you mean? You need your things.” “They’re all gone.”


“She burned down my apartment. All my things are gone.”

Brandon nodded, even though he couldn’t understand her anger. She was not a materialistic person. There must be something else wrong. “I’m sorry, but they’re only things. They can be replaced. There’s no need to get mad over things.”

“No.” Katie shook her head. “I could care less about my stuff.”

“What’s wrong then?”

“The fire started in my apartment. It spread fast. It reached the Osbourne’s apartment in less than a minute. Bella was burned badly. She’s fighting for her life right now at New York Presby,” Katie growled. “Whomever did this is going to pay—with her life.”

Brandon held her tighter. He understood her anger now. “I’m sorry, honey.”

“That sick fuck harmed a sweet, innocent little girl because she wants me to confess to some imagined wrong that I have committed against her. I sure wish she would tell me what I’m supposed to confess to, because I’m at a loss. Adults are one thing. Adults have a chance. But to harm a small, defenseless girl. Well, she crossed the line and I will take great pleasure in ending her miserable life.”

Katie finished her speech. She did not cry or yell. Her claim was made without emotion. This was not the Katie he knew. This was a woman pushed beyond human limits, a woman with nothing to lose. It terrified him far more than the depraved murderer he sought.

“Katie, please, this isn’t you.” He had no idea what to say.

He had to pull her back from the brink or he would lose her for good this time.

“No, it’s just a side of me you’ve never seen,” she whispered.

“No,” he said then forced her to look at him. “This is not you. Yes, what she did was unforgivable, but you’re not like her. You’re not a cold, unfeeling psychopath. You’re Katie Quinn, a warm, intelligent, funny, and thoughtful woman that I love with all my being. Don’t go to that dark place. Please.”

Katie was silent for a moment. She did not react, only stared straight ahead of her. Finally, he watched as a single tear fell down her cheek. Then the damn burst. She cried long and hard.

Despite the tears, Brandon felt an inner spurt of joy. He hadn’t lost her. He had gotten through.

“I c-c-can’t do this anymore,” she sobbed. “I have nothing left. I have no strength left.”

“Then I’ll give you mine,” Brandon whispered. “Lord knows I’ve leaned on you enough. It’s my turn to give back.”

“I could always take it,” she whispered.

“No, I used you. I didn’t realize it at the time. But you were my crutch,” he whispered.

“I never felt used. I felt needed,” she declared. “It’s nice to feel needed. Being needed means you’re important to someone.

Being used means you’re convenient for someone. Believe me, I’ve felt both and I never felt used by you. Not once.”

Brandon clutched her close. “Well, let me feel needed now. I’ll give you all that I have. I love you so much. I’d give my life for yours.”

“I hate that saying,” Katie whispered. “Why?”

“Dying is easy. The true sign of love is loving someone enough to live for them.”

“Well, I love you enough to live for you. So please, I know things are hard right now and I understand the hatred you feel, but if you change, she wins. So please, don’t lose yourself in the hatred. If you do, you’ll be just like her.” Brandon gave her a soft kiss on her forehead.

“Okay, I’ll try not to. I may need some reminding from time to time.”

“I’ll always be there to remind you; to give you the strength you need. I promise.”

“Forever?” “Forever.”

Medical Examiner’s Office 8:47 P.M.

Rebecca sorted through the charred remains of the as yet unidentified victim from this morning. She could tell by the pelvis that the body was male. The fire had done a lot of damage, but, fortunately, it hadn’t completely destroyed the body. She could still gain some evidence from his skin and organs.

She was honestly surprised that this victim was a man. If it hadn’t been for the message left at the scene, she would have never associated it with Katie’s case. But it was obvious the two were connected, she just didn’t know why...yet.

She carefully pulled the charred clothes as well as plastic pieces that had been fused to his body and set them to the side. Once the body was clear of any foreign debris, she meticulously photographed first the remains and then the evidence. As she took a close-up photo of a melted piece of plastic she noticed something odd. Fused into the plastic was a broken strand of what appeared to be blonde hair. Had this man been blonde before he died? Or was it left behind the killer.

She put the item in an evidence jar and walked over to her phone, and dialed the head forensic investigator. He answered on the second ring.

“Hey Rebecca,” Harry answered. “What can I do for you?” “Harry, I think I found something down here.”

“Oh really? What?”

“A hair.” She stated. “Could you have someone come down and pick it up. I would like it analyzed as soon as possible.”

“Sure, I’ll be right down,” Harry replied then hung up the phone before she could answer.

Rebecca plopped down on a chair and closed her eyes for a minute. She was exhausted but determined. She needed to at least figure out who this man was. She’d taken X-rays of his teeth when she first got his body back to the morgue. Hopefully she would get a dental match soon. Once that was done, she could go home.

Harry didn’t take long to retrieve the canister, along with the rest of the evidence jars. Once he left, Rebecca grabbed a bottle of water, took a long sip, then got back to work.

Katie was curled up in bed, her head resting against Brandon’s thigh. After her breakdown she sent her letter of resignation, effective immediately, to her boss. Then he had given her one of the prescribed sedatives and brought her to bed. Right now he was sitting up, reading the secure email that Rebecca had sent him; she had found the identity of the latest victim. It was a name he’d heard before. It was a name Katie knew as well.

Hunter Green, 33 years old. He owned a small graphic design business in Columbia. His mom had reported him missing yesterday morning.

Rebecca’s report was clinical and matter of fact. He had been tortured for at least twelve hours before his death, which she determined to be of smoke inhalation. His body showed signs of sexual assault and electric shock. Rebecca said that most likely a cattle prod or some similar instrument was used. He also had small, mostly superficial stab wounds covering his body. As a final insult, the killer had chopped off his member. On top of this, Rebecca had found signs of a paralytic agent in his bloodstream. She declared his time of death to be between one and three in the morning, meaning that the man had most likely been aware he was burning to death.

Try as he might, Brandon could not feel sorry for the man. Every time he thought about him, he thought of what he had done to Katie. Granted, death was not a punishment for rape, but Hunter Green had wounded Katie—his Katie—and anyone that did that deserved what was coming to him.

After reading the report, Brandon also had a better guess as to what the killer wanted Katie to confess to. It had something to do with her rape. Considering the fact that she never reported it, it was doubtful that the killer wanted her to recant a false accusation. No, more than likely Hunter had raped another woman. That woman, somehow, had figured out that she wasn’t the first, and in her warped mind blamed Katie. Katie’s silence was her crime—at least in the mind of this twisted individual.

He dreaded telling Katie this. She was already laden with self-loathing. He knew she would take this personally. But she had to know. For one, she would have to respond to this somehow. Katie was their only link to the killer. Secondly, and most importantly, Brandon would hate to keep a secret from her.

Hunter’s name would eventually appear in the news somewhere and Katie would make the connection. Better that she hear it from him than a newspaper article.

But he would wait for a bit. Right now she needed her rest. They would talk when she woke up. That being said, he wanted to have a plan of action. So, reluctantly, he got out of bed and headed towards the living room, closing the bedroom door behind him.

Holding his phone in his hand, he sat at the kitchen table, dialed the number he wanted, and waited for an answer.

“Brandon, what can I do for you?” Chief Holmes’ sleepy voice answered.

“I know it’s late, but we need to talk. Have you seen Rebecca’s report yet?”

“No. Is it done?” “Yes. I just read it.”

“Did she identify the victim?” “Yes. It’s Hunter Green.”

The line was silent for a minute. “I see. Does Katie know?” “She’s sleeping right now. It’s been a rough night for her. I’ll

tell her when she wakes up.”

“Okay. How is she holding up?”

“Not well. She found out today that her apartment in New York had been burned down. The apartment next door was hit pretty quickly. Their daughter, who Katie knew, is in the hospital. Nearly half of her body is burned. Needless to say, she had quite a breakdown after she heard that news.”

“God Brandon. I’m sorry.”

“Me too.” He replied then changed the subject. “I have a theory as to what the killer wants her to confess.”

“Yeah. He wants her to share her rape.” “Actually, I think we’re looking for a woman.” “You’d better explain,” she said forcefully.

“Well, think of it from the killer’s perspective. Katie was raped but never told, so confessing to a false accusation is out of the question. However, her lack of a complaint could be seen as a failure to warn others of this person’s danger. Katie let him get away with it. My guess is he raped another girl. His second victim found out that she wasn’t the first, then focused her rage on Katie. Hell, she may have reported it and no one took it seriously. We should check the records for rape cold cases. I would say starting thirteen years back, just to be safe. My gut tells me it didn’t happen long after Katie’s rape.”

“Okay. That’s a good plan. How about you start with the online records? You can do that from home. I’ll start searching from this end.”

“Yes, Chief. I’ll start right now.”

“No. You get some rest first. Right now you sound like hell.

So, get some rest and start fresh in the morning.” “Okay. I will, ma’am. Goodnight.” “Goodnight.”

Brandon hung up the phone then went back to their room. He slid into bed and gathered Katie tight into his arms. She did not stir. Moments later, he fell into a deep sleep.

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