Taker of Lives
by Leslie Wolfe
Genre: Thriller, Suspense
How can you outrun a killer you won’t see coming?
They are the most violent, blood-thirsty, and vicious of criminals. While hunting for them, FBI profilers call these monsters UNSUBS, short for unknown subjects of ongoing investigations. At any given time, in the United States there are more than fifty serial killers at large, preying on vulnerable, unsuspecting victims.
Until yesterday, no one knew Florida had another serial killer on the loose. Special Agent Tess Winnettcalls this particularly elusive one the Taker of Lives.
The crimes: bewildering
After a well-known model commits suicide, Tess refuses to accept the findings and pushes for an investigation into the reasons behind the beautiful young woman’s decision to end her life. What she finds surpasses her wildest fears.
The evidence: disturbing
Each new crime scene brings more questions than answers. While secrets are revealed, even those meant to be kept forever in the dark, Tess can draw only one conclusion: she’s not the one in charge; the Taker of Lives controls the game, the players, even the course of the investigation.
The race: intense
With little information and even less evidence, Tess must connect the dots of a deadly scenario with a large number of potential victims. If she fails, another beautiful, young girl will die tonight, and the blood will be on her hands.
The Taker of Lives might be closer than you think. Who’s watching you sleep tonight?
She woke with a start, her heart instantly racing when the raw memory of strange, gloved hands on her body invaded her consciousness. She could still feel the cold latex on her skin, touching her, stripping her naked, manipulating her limbs, sending shivers of fear and aversion through her veins. She remembered feeling paralyzed, wanting to scream but staring powerlessly at the face of a monster hiding behind a mask, laughing in quiet, raspy gurgles that only she could hear, glaring at her with merciless, hateful eyes.
She rubbed her forehead with frozen, trembling fingers and forced herself to breathe, gasping in deep, long breaths of air to wash away the memory of the troublesome nightmare. Must’ve been a nightmare… she was in her own bed, wearing her favorite silk jammies, and she could hear her mother’s rushed footfalls as she was getting ready for work. Nothing was out of place.
Just a night terror, that’s all it was. The worst she could remember, a vivid one she won’t be forgetting any time soon, still, just a nightmare. Her eyes fell on Pat’s photo, framed on her night table, and she focused on his loving smile for a moment, imagining his strong arms wrapped around her body, making her feel safe again.
She stood, feeling a little weak at the knees, but pushed herself to walk out of the bedroom, heading toward the kitchen. Her throat was parched dry, as if she hadn’t had a drink of water in ages. She filled a glass at the sink and gulped it down avidly, then breathed again.
“Good morning, sweetie,” her mother greeted her, then grazed her cheek with a warm hand. “Feeling better?”
She frowned, a bit confused. What was her mother talking about?
Her mother stopped her morning get-ready rush and gave her a head-to-toe scrutiny, then a tiny smile stretched her lips. “You were a little dizzy last night, and your blood pressure was lower than what I like to see.”
“Ah,” she reacted, still frowning, realizing she didn’t remember much of the night before.
“Christina, we discussed this,” her mother said in her clinical voice, the tone she reserved for her most disobedient patients. “You don’t eat much, these photo shoots are a resource drain, so you have to pace yourself. You’ll burn out. Vogue won’t go bankrupt if you take a day off every once in a while.”
It was the eternal conflict between the two of them. Her mother meant well but failed to realize a model’s career span only lasted a few short years, and she couldn’t afford to waste a single day. She was twenty-four years old, already on her way to becoming old news. Soon, the agencies would start sending her templated emails, saying stuff like, “After careful consideration, yadda, yadda, we have decided to proceed with a different candidate who suits our needs better at this time.” Free translation? “You’re too old for this game, sorry. We’ve got someone younger; find something else to do with yourself.”
But that day hadn’t arrived yet; she was still one of the most sought-after models in the industry, and her photo shoots took her around the globe, adorning her in designer clothing that she got to keep after showing on coveted catwalks under the incessant flicker of thousands of flashlights. Dizzy or not, she had a schedule, and she intended to keep it. Her pickup limo was due at nine, and she wasn’t going to be ready in time.
She toughed it out and pushed her mother’s concerns aside with a beaming smile and a hand gesture.
“I’ll be fine, Mom, don’t worry. I’ll even do some blood tests if you’d like, but not today. Any coffee left for me?”
Her mother gestured toward the Keurig machine. “Got you some vanilla pods, the ones you like.”
“Hazelnut too, sweetie,” she smiled, then placed a smooch on her cheek and rushed out of the house, jingling the car keys in her hand. “Have a safe flight! And get some rest.”
“I will,” Christina replied to the empty house, suddenly as cold and quiet and scary as her nightmare had been.
Still shivering, she threw the coffee maker a regretful glance as soon as she realized it was a quarter to nine. Not nearly enough time to put on makeup and get dressed. She forced herself to move quickly, although it felt like she moved in slow motion, the air thick as if it were water, opposing too much resistance for her weakened body to overcome.
She entered the bathroom and turned on the vanity lights, then gave her face a critical overview. Dark circles under her eyes that would require concealer, a pallor that asked for more blush than usual and maybe a darker foundation tone. Hollow, haunted eyes that needed a touch of eyeshadow to bring their faded color forward.
She turned on the shower and began undoing her buttons, still examining her face, but her fingers hesitated; she looked in the mirror and her breath caught. Her pajama top was buttoned wrong, the lowest button fastened through the second lowest buttonhole. Trivial.
Then why did she feel her blood turn to ice when she looked at the uneven hems?
She felt a new wave of dizziness wash over her and took a step back. A strangled whimper came out of her mouth as faint memories invaded her mind.
Cold, latex-gloved hands touching her, stripping her naked, manipulating her body. A piercing, evil stare from behind a mask, and a raspy, terrifying laugh, a stranger’s snicker, yet eerily familiar. The sound of a camera shutter, over and over, in a familiar rhythm of rapid bursts. Her own skin, turning to goose bumps when those strange hands invaded her. The same hands dressing her, putting on her pajama top, grazing against her breasts while doing the buttons.
She wrapped her arms around her body and took faltering steps back until she ran into the wall, her eyes riveted on the mirror, on the image of her unevenly done buttons.
“Oh, God, please…” she whimpered, as tears rolled down her pale cheeks. “Please don’t let it be true.”
The nightmare was real.
Leslie Wolfe is a bestselling author whose novels break the mold of traditional thrillers. She creates unforgettable, brilliant, strong women heroes who deliver fast-paced, satisfying suspense, backed up by extensive background research in technology and psychology.
Leslie released the first novel, Executive, in October 2011. It was very well received, including inquiries from Hollywood. Since then, Leslie published numerous novels and enjoyed growing success and recognition in the marketplace. Among Leslie’s most notable works, The Watson Girl(2017) was recognized for offering a unique insight into the mind of a serial killer and a rarely seen first person account of his actions, in a dramatic and intense procedural thriller.
A complete list of Leslie’s titles is available at http://wolfenovels.com/order.
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