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She begged for her life, her voicing breaking on the final "please." He only laughed and shook his head, pulled the noose tighter. How he loved to watch the life slip from their eyes as the whites dulled and the pupils dilated. The vibrancy in her mesmerizing green eyes dimmed as she struggled against him. She was no match for his strength, for his supremacy.
Intelligence always beat its opponent into the ground. Like he'd done before. Like he'd do again. No one could stop him, and he dared anyone to try and catch him.
Slowly her hands released their grip, her fingers slipping off his gloves one by one. Even in the dark he could see the blue ring around her lips, the deep, black circles outline her eyes. She would never lure a man into her bed again. Nor would she ever be lured by another. He was her last, and it would forever remain so. Just the way he liked it.
From his pocket, he retrieved the police-issue handcuffs. Snapping one around the wrist of his latest triumph, he lifted her body over his shoulder and walked to the edge of the pier. The water would be cold at this time of night, even in balmy March. But it was the only way for her to go, the only way he'd ever get his message across. With that in mind, he stepped off the edge of the wooden pier and dropped beneath the cold water.
Liam surged forward, the blankets twisted at his feet but soaked through. His lungs heaved, his heart hammered. Swinging to his left, he found the alarm clock.
He groaned and scrubbed his hands over his weary face. It felt so real, like he'd actually been there. The sweat coating his skin reminded himof the dreary, cold bay, the woman, the murder.
He scrambled to his feet, cussing under his breath as he headed for the shower. These nightmares had to stop. Each one dragged him further down, none ever revealing the killer's identity. Of course not, he scowled, flipping on the water. I am the killer. At least, in the dream. But it never felt like him. Rather, like he'd crawled into the head of some delusional bastard and went for a sick ride.
The only difference was that the murders didn't stay in his dreams. They became real, very damned real. Give it a day or two, and there'd be another story on the news. Some poor model killed by the same raving lunatic. If he could recall her name or her face, he'd go to the cops. But nothing of the sort ever happened.
He woke every time feeling sick to the stomach that, indirectly, he'd killed another. And then when it became reality, he had to live with the knowledge he could've done something to prevent it. But going to the police with nothing more than psychic dreams seemed like suicide. He had no proof, other than the murdered bodies that turned up, and if he could predict the murder but do nothing to prevent it, what stopped the police from pinning him as the murderer? That assumed he was actually psychic and not whacked out in the head thinking he possessed the skill of premonition.
Stepping under the water, Liam closed his eyes and tried not to feel like he was losing his mind.
Chaos engulfed backstage. Models stripped bare the second they cleared the curtain, sliding effortlessly into their next fashion style as if they were covered in oil. Liam Knox watched his old flame, Destiny, pour her slinky frame into a maroon glamour gown and remembered back to the night she'd allowed him complete access. He grinned devilishly, as his cock twitched at the memory.
His eyes traveled to the woman helping her into the gown, and for a nanosecond, Liam's heart stopped, and the world fell silent. "She's hot enough to be a model," he whispered, more to himself than anyone else, but the brawny black-haired dude beside him, Rich, turned to see who he was referring to.
"She is," he agreed with two pumps of his head. His long fringe flopped onto his forehead, at which an hair artiste rushed forward, tut-tutted his chastisement and then fixed the foppish lock back into place. "Oh, yeah," Rich hummed, his deep baritone rumbling through Liam's veins. "She's one hot mama. I would love a piece of that."
Liam heard the call, waited until Rich was on stage and then trained his eyes back on the tight five-nine body with the wicked ass. Yeah, he'd like a piece of her, too. A little over three months ago, she'd burst into their fashion world and took the bull by the horns. The woman was dynamite. Explosive.
He let his eyes greedily devour her high, perky tits, wash over her flat belly and down her dangerously curved thighs. Easy Ellie they called her. In three months, Ellie Bradshaw had dated half the male models and earned herself a sweet little rep. They bragged, she feverishly denied, and Liam found the entire circus utterly entertaining.
It was a game. But he had to wonder who was using whom, because no matter how much she refuted the stories, she kept dating them. Ploughing through all the flavors of the rainbow until she found what she was looking for. He recognised the deliberateness of her moves, saw the cunning glint in her eyes and understood she wasn't a victim of happenstance.
Perhaps it was simple, like she just wanted eye candy. Liam doubted it. Not that he'd blame her for wanting a gorgeous man on her arm. She had to make her mark somehow. But whatever she was up to, it was totally intentional. He tamped down a grin and considered why she hadn't dated him yet. She acted pompously prim and proper in his presence and piqued his curiosity no end. He didn't have to think twice about why she'd avoided him.
He'd rock her world.
And she knew it.
Liam raked his eyes back up over her sweet curves--Lord, he loved figure-hugging denim--and settled his gaze on her long trails of shiny black curls. What he'd give to sink his hands into that hair, fill his palms with it, feel it graze over his chest.
Her petite hands and slender little fingers worked feverishly to force the dress Destiny wore into submission. Liam tried not to imagine those fingers wrapped around him. He failed, and his pants grew uncomfortably cramped. Bad idea to go out on the runway with a hard-on. Especially when the cargos he wore already showed way too much. Everyone would know. And if there wasn't a picture of his excitement in tomorrow's tabloids, he'd be amazed.
Deep breaths, he instructed. Deep, deep breaths. It would probably help to take his eyes off her. It would definitely help if he could get his mind back on the job. Ellie wasn't his designer tonight, so she wouldn't be dressing him.
Reminding his lusty brain didn't stop Liam wishing he was showing for the other camp tonight, so she could dress him. Or, rather, undress him.
A tap on the shoulder got him moving, and finally, praise the high heavens, he could take his eyes off her. Liam skipped up onto stage, silently willing his dick to settle. He felt the cramped pants ease off, sighed, smiled, strutted. Down to the end of the catwalk, halt, turn, pout for the cameras, make eye contact with the pretty little reporter in the front row, turn and swagger back to the blue curtain. He gave one more crowd-pleasing eyebrow waggle and then disappeared from the show.
Mayhem greeted him as he met Mike, stripped down to his briefs with all the finesse of a dung-beetle and got dressing. Setting his weight onto his left leg, he stuck his butt backwards and connected. He heard a gasp, then felt an almighty slap on his cheek.
Snapping straight, Liam wheeled around, ready to give as good as he got. But it was Easy Ellie who glared back at him. Fire and brimstone leapt from her emerald eyes, and he had to fight the urge to check if he'd been singed. "Watch it," she barked, sassy and bold. Just the way Liam liked his women.
To her obvious dismay, he grinned and winked. Turning, he resumed his position and stuck his butt back a little further. Connected again. She was right there and neither gave an inch. Oh, he liked that. Liked it a lot. She'd be damn hot, wouldn't let him push her around.
A challenge. Liam hummed to himself. Competitive in nature, he loved winning, and no challenge had ever been too big. She was done for. Now he had his sights set on her, she'd get his complete attention. Her game wouldn't remain a secret for much longer.
"Come on," Mike yapped, thrusting out a striped pink shirt at him. Ugh, pink. Of all the colours of the rainbow. Liam pulled a face, but took the shirt.
Shoving his arms into the sleeves, he turned, prepared to head back to the stage entrance. There she was again, right under his feet, fixing up someone else's wayward attire. Her shoulder bumped his bare chest, he growled, and so did she. Neither gave the other room. The curve of her ass rammed against his crotch, momentarily winding him.
Obviously, Ellie liked to play dirty. Liam could, too. So he grabbed her by the hips, and he moved her aside. She pouted, but he only laughed and walked on. He didn't doubt for a second she threw daggers with her eyes, but the fashion show had only begun. They could pick up where they left off when he returned.
Out on the catwalk again, Liam worked the crowd. There were reporters he knew by name, photographers he'd worked with over the last six years. Six years. He could hardly believe it'd been that long already. Who knew the country bumpkin would attract so much attention? He'd never intended taking up modeling full time. He'd needed money, and the jobs paid well, but by the time he finished his degree, Liam had enough of study, of math and science and building codes. He noticed Elle McPherson in the crowd, the queen of Australian modeling, and the woman who had spotted him in the first place. When he winked, she returned the gesture, puckering her lips in a kiss.
Nodding to a couple of local actors in the crowd, Liam turned at the end of the runway and strutted back, making sure to clench his butt cheeks and make them look good. Not that they didn't usually, but, hey, a little extra help went a long way in this business. He knew how to make his body look great, understood the right way to wear the clothes and was paid handsomely to do it.
It couldn't be easier to make bucketloads of money if he tried. For the most part, he enjoyed not needing to use his brain. Aside from industry politics, all Liam needed to do was follow the rules. Get to gigs on time. Don't argue with the designer--the designer is always right. Play up to the crowd, especially the reporters and investors. And don't screw with anyone's head.
With his IQ, Liam had trouble with that one.
To him, models were fair game, especially those who played for power. He couldn't help it if he possessed extraordinary intelligence, could he? Nor could he help himself when it came to being utterly bored by fashion. He didn't actually care for it, which made him sound crazy, considering the benefits he enjoyed without remorse. So many wannabes would kill to be in his shoes.
He understood how that made him sound. Arrogant. Selfish. Conceited. But he'd stopped caring long ago.
Behind the scenes again, he stripped. They were up to the latest in beach fashions. Without a second thought, he dropped his underpants. There was no room for shyness during these shows, no place for anyone who didn't have complete confidence in his body. Usually he didn't care who looked, but tonight, with his arousal so piqued by a certain fashion designer, it took him a moment to register he was still semi-hard.
Of course, everyone stared. And smirked. A few even laughed. He should've been embarrassed. Hell, five years ago, he would've crawled under the nearest chair. But years spent slipping in and out of clothes in public peeled away his country boy inhibitions. They only saw his body, and while he prided himself on keeping trim and taut, Liam kept it all in perspective in his head.
A fantastic body and a devilishly handsome face would only ever get him so far in life. For now, he was where he needed to be. He'd built a persona for this life, and while the limitations imposed on him frustrated the hell out of him, he knew it was only temporary.
Little embarrassed him nowadays, so Liam held his head high, puffed his chest out and stepped into the latest male swimwear.
Fat lot of good it did to hide his ... er ... state. The fitted shorts bulged suggestively and elicited a groan from Mike. "Of all the nights, Liam!" he wailed melodramatically.
"Just gimme a towel and shuddup."
When he spun around, determined to keep up his bravado, he saw his way was blocked. On one side, Ellie bent forward, adjusting a bathing suit. On the other, a male model fiddled with the tie of his shorts. A tiny gap behind Ellie's sweet ass was his only way through. No two guesses as to which way he'd point his front. As he did, he made sure to rub her in just the right place, his hands on her hips pulling her round booty against him momentarily.
She straightened so fast she nearly head-butted his face. He reared back just in time, but there was no mistaking the silky feel of her hair cascading down his face and chest. It sent a shudder through him and gave his cock another jolt. He could've sworn she wiggled her hips for him.
"Hands off, buddy," she snapped.
Liam laughed and stayed right where he was. "You sure about that, hon?"
When she tried to step forward, he held her a fraction longer. It gave him enough time to compare her slender shoulders against his broad chest, to feel the dip of her waist and the roundness of her hips. Hips he wanted to explore.
Liam let her go, and she shot forward like a spring-loaded cat. Whirling around, he saw the excitement in her eyes compete with the disdain. She saw him as a playboy, a man who could take a woman to bed and not think twice before leaving.
He wasn't the one with the "easy" moniker. Every one of her dates gloated about how simple it was to get her into bed, to get her to put out. Not even he, Liam Knox, had that kind of a reputation. He'd prove to her who was in charge. Sooner or later.
He left, stretched out his time on the catwalk as long as he dared and tried not to think of the way her hot fanny felt against him. Instead, he focused on avoiding embarrassment. He draped the towel over his forearm, angled the arrangement so it covered his crotch and the now-full erection. Shit, if Mike didn't kill him, the press would.
Get a grip, Liam.
Trouble with that order was the image it brought to his mind of exactly what, or rather who, he was gripping. How could she drive him to distraction like this? He was better than that. No woman could unravel him. Not after the last woman he'd trusted hung him out to dry.
He had half a mind to ignore her and turn his attention to someone else. Except ignoring her meant not indulging in the fantasy in his head.
The one where she was naked and spread out on his bed purely for his pleasure. It was the same fantasy he'd had since he clapped eyes on her. No amount of contempt in her green eyes would dissuade him. The heat of her admonishment served only to drive him to play their little game harder. He'd make her accept his advance. One way or another, he would have Ellie Bradshaw in his bed.
Or his car.
It really didn't matter.
When he slipped back into the dressing area, he half expected her to confront him. Rather, he found she'd moved to the other side. About as far away from him as was physically possible in this cramped space. In reality, that wasn't very far.
Liam chuckled softly to himself and stepped behind Mike to change into his next outfit. At least these were board shorts, a little roomier and adorned in some crazy print that actually reduced the appearance of his arousal.
He spared a glance over at Ellie. You can run, baby, but you can't hide. Her head lifted, and as if sensing his attention, her eyes locked with his. Liam shook his head playfully and mustered every ounce of lust he could find.
She dragged in a ragged breath, her nostrils flaring. Her pulse pounded in the base of her throat and arousal dripped from her gaze. He liked the way her cheeks flushed crimson and wondered what other parts of her body had heated. Admit it, he dared with his eyes. You want me to rip your clothes off and screw your brains out. Sure as hell, he wanted it, too.
Before his eyes, she reined in her body's response. A picture of cool and calm, she wiggled her eyebrows and then shook a finger at him. Yeah, he'd seen her do that before, and it intrigued him to no end. The control it must take to shut down her natural instincts with such finality amazed him. He wanted to know how she did it, so he could push her boundaries and see just what it took to break her.
Her eyes said it all. She thought he was a typical model, brainless, clueless and totally aimless. It irked him, but he kept the animalistic need in his heated gaze and winked. Curiosity might be driving him to expose her game for all to see, but Liam wouldn't give up on her. She fascinated him, both with her drive to succeed and the single-minded determination with which she went about getting ahead. She'd soon see they were cut from the same cloth.
One way or another, she would learn Liam Knox was much more than a pretty face.
Ellie tried to get away the instant the show was over. Really, she tried. But Destiny wouldn't let her go. Instead, the rake-thin model insisted she stay for the celebratory drinks. The whole team stayed on as well, including the designers from her fashion house and the models who'd shown their clothes.
It was bad enough Destiny insisted on making her go out onto the runway and bow to the applause of the crowd. Now she wanted them to not only party into the night, but stand up in front of everyone and give a toast. A toast, for crying out loud. Like Ellie actually deserved it. She didn't, because their success didn't matter, but as designer Ellie Bradshaw, she had to keep up appearances.
It wasn't like she was planning on sticking around on the fashion circuit. After all, she had a job to do and a home and friends to go back to. As soon as everything here in Melbourne was set, and as soon as she'd fulfilled her duties, she was going home.
Who knew when that would be? She'd been here three months and still she was no closer to solving the riddle eluding them all. But she hadn't come all this way to let Kathryn's killer go free. She had a job to do, and, by God, she'd do it.
Despite the police force taking on more female recruits every year, the old boy's club hadn't changed much. Fighting against the tide of history fed Ellie's internal struggle. It didn't matter that she'd already caught one serial killer, nor did it matter the meticulous planning it had taken to do so. She still couldn't break through the damned glass ceiling hanging over her head. Sure, she'd made detective, but she'd had to put in the hardest yards of all. Longer hours, more shifts, solving more cases and playing the hard-assed bitch, there'd been no other way to prove her worth.
And yet there continued to be times when she wondered whether it was worth it.
Playing nice with the models and the other designers took a lot of effort. Normally, she wasn't part of this crowd, so fitting in had taken time. She wasn't the kind of girl who did what she was told, didn't like to play nice with others just because it was expected. No, Ellie was definitely an individual. She didn't care what anyone thought of her, but in the fashion world, that kind of attitude was liable to land her in hot water.
Drawing unnecessary attention to herself would make her job harder. She needed to fit in, just this once. This time, her career or her power-climbing up the ladder didn't matter. As much as she hated to admit it, this time it boiled down something more fundamental than that.
She might not like the fashion industry, the treatment of models or the power-hungry fashion moguls, but Ellie did care that people's lives were at stake. For just this once, she'd find a way to become a part of this world. For Kathryn. And the other four victims. If she didn't, the bodies would pile up.
So she partied. Drank one glass of champagne. Ate enough chocolate to sink a ship. Danced with models on stage. Of course, with the warehouse empty again and only her crew around, letting loose came easily. Now that he was gone, she could drop her guard a little.
Liam "Knockers" Knox. The man who'd haunted her dreams from the minute she saw him. The one who grew bolder every time their paths crossed. Like tonight. She shuddered at the remembered feel of him against her. The man was outrageously overt, and clearly didn't care who he offended.
She sure knew how to pick them. Or was it the other way around, and she sure knew how to attract them? After dating so many male airheads these last few months, she'd lost track of who did the attracting and who did the picking. If she never dated another male model, she'd be sinfully happy.
They talked fashion. They talked sex. That was it. None of the men she'd gone out with had enough functioning brain cells to orchestrate one murder, let alone a series of them. Together, they could perhaps discuss the weather. Anything more than that was a hardship no one should have to endure.
She stared at Dan and Steven, two of those she'd suffered through dinner with. Nice enough fellas. Not quite smart enough to notice she only drank water throughout the entire date yet acted tipsy, and definitely clueless to her subtle interrogation technique. They'd talked benign chatter, mind-numbing idleness that left Ellie wanting to sock them in the nose. They needed to get a spine.
Naturally, they found their backbones after she left them at their doorsteps. Without her present, they wove sordid tales of the nights they'd supposedly spent together. They weren't alone. Every guy she'd dated did the same thing. No one made a move on her during the night, but when she wasn't around to rebut their fabrications, they talked up the supposed sex. Scandalous, really, that she should earn the stupid reputation of being easy just because she went to dinner or had a drink with a range of men.
A man did it, and he was a stud.
A woman did it, and she was a whore.
Still, she suffered the title of "Easy Ellie" for the greater good. She needed to catch a killer. Something those airheads just wouldn't understand.
She feigned the need for sleep when the clock struck two, and snuck out the back door. The balmy autumn night welcomed her, and by the time she'd stripped for bed, she managed to shake off most of the false façade she donned for the fashion industry.
Two hours later, the phone rang. With barely a wink's sleep, Ellie grabbed the rotten thing and answered with a grumpy, "What do you want?"
Senior Detective PJ Kroger's voice rumbled down the line. "We've got another one."
Number six. Cold water couldn't have woken her faster. "Where are you?"
Spending her days undercover as a fashion designer kept Ellie out of the loop on a lot of police business. Perhaps morbidly, she missed the police station, the buzz of being enmeshed in the centre of it all. She missed her home station back in Sydney even more, but she wouldn't tell her Melbourne counterparts. Feeling locationally challenged most of the time and totally out of sync with her surroundings was downright uncomfortable, and she did not need to add to it.
"At the docks. I'll send a car."
"No, no," she groaned, dragging herself out of bed. "I can find my way there."
A squad car rolling up to her apartment block in the dead of night was the last thing she needed. Besides, the beachside suburb of St. Kilda--where she rented a stylish apartment--wasn't too far from the docks. She knew how to get there, even if she didn't know her way around the maze of warehouses once she arrived.
Dressing in the dark, she grabbed her purse and keys and slipped as quietly as she could down the stairs. She drove the short distance quickly, slotted her car in amongst the squad cars painted blue and white and jogged the remaining distance down to the pier.
Things weren't looking too great. This wasn't the place to find many clues to a murder. A fleeting glimpse of bluish skin and nausea burbled deep inside Ellie. Her thoughts on the case stilled momentarily as she stared down into the water at the floating corpse.
Ellie turned away, her belly growling and gnawing. Bending, she put her hands on her knees and tried to stay focused. No matter how many times she did this, it didn't get easier. The taking of a life made her mad, while the finding of the body made her sick. Thankfully, she didn't have enough in her gut to puke. Though what remained of the champagne and chocolate churned violently.
Ellie took a deep breath, the salty harbor air filling her lungs. Thank goodness it didn't reek of death. Like the scene. "Destiny." She straightened to look Kroger in the eye. He nodded. "I saw her two hours ago."
His big hand on her shoulder squeezed gently. "I know. This guy works fast. She's still warm."
Ellie shook her head. "Are you sure it's him? He doesn't usually dump the body in water."
The frown on Kroger's face relayed his doubt. "We'll know soon enough."
Ellie stood back as forensic divers did a preliminary on the semi-submerged body. Her mind turned over the details with a fine-tooth comb. This was so unlike the killer they'd come to know. He'd washed away the minute traces of evidence with what Ellie saw as the intent to frustrate their investigation. He'd succeeded, too, if the scowl on Kroger's weather-beaten face was anything to go by.
She hated this part. The waiting. Forensics would need to do their thing before she could do hers. Finding Destiny in the water put severe limits on any evidence they might find. Which, in reality, was likely to be very little even if she'd been found dry and on the dock.
Their killer possessed a sharp mind. Each murder appeared meticulously planned. He clearly had an understanding of evidence and forensic science. So much so, there was nothing to physically connect the killer and the victim. It was as if he systematically deconstructed the evidence so the police had little, or nothing, to go on.
The original lead homicide detective, Kathryn Ogilvy, had prepared detailed notes on the first two murders. They outlined the method of the brutal murders. The first had been relatively tame. Rape and strangulation. Crimes of passion and hate. Kathryn concluded the kill had been his first. Over and done with. Probably spontaneous and unplanned. But enough forethought occurred to clear the body of evidence.
The second murder, however, involved clear indications of torture. Ligature marks around the wrists and ankles, burns and cuts to the abdomen. The sexual assault exceptionally violent and extended. According to the coroner, strangulation was the cause of death, but there had been repeated attempts. It suggested the killer strangled the vic, then revived her for more brutal torture.
Remembering Kathryn's notes made her shudder. Ellie could see in her mind the handwritten chicken scratch Kathryn had left behind. It was all that was left of her now, a colleague taken out in the line of duty. By this sadistic bastard, no less.
She was the third victim, most likely killed because she was a cop. Ellie would give anything to know how the killer knew that. Kathryn would never have slipped up; she was too professional, her skills honed by years of murder investigation. The same skills she taught Ellie.
Just like the first two, she'd been found with a photo. A glamour photo of Kathryn dressed and posed, like a model for her portfolio. Victims four and five also had their glamour shots on them when found.
Where was Destiny's photo?
A splash dragged Ellie out of her thoughts. She looked up to see Destiny's body laid out in a body bag. Some days, she hated this job.
"You left before she did, right?"
Ellie nodded. "Yep. And there are dozens of people you'll need to take statements from." Shaking her head, she turned her gaze up to Kroger.
In his fifties, he wasn't new to serial murders, but he didn't want to run with the case on his own. That much he told her the minute she stepped off the plane. Along with the line that her reputation preceded her, and they were relying on her to find the son-of-a-bitch.
"You let me handle that, Ellie. Was there anyone at the party you didn't recognize?"
A sarcastic laugh erupted from her. Immediately she slapped a hand over her mouth and swallowed. Of course, there were people she didn't recognize. This was the fashion industry they were talking about. New faces, no names and superficial gloss.
"Call Max," she instructed. "She'll have a guest list, and if she doesn't, she'll get one."
"Already on it," he nodded, his lips pulled into a thin, grim line. "My men are interviewing as we speak. You're sure no one suspects you?"
Ellie nodded confidently, certain of it. Everyone was so busy gushing over the fashion and the designs that they hardly paid her attention. And what attention they afforded her didn't extend to her team of designers, which included Maxine Heart and an assortment of other detectives from Sydney.
"I know so. We're good on this."
Kroger frowned, although the expression seemed to be permanently etched on his weathered face. "That's what Kathryn thought, too."
Ellie straightened her shoulders. "I'm not Kathryn, and I have done this before."
"Posed as a fashion designer?"
"Smart-ass," she grumbled softly, walking towards Destiny's lifeless body.
At the very least, she needed to appear to identify the body. It was the reason she'd come, to be the one who knew the victim and could positively identify her. In a way, that was true. And she'd recount this grisly night to anyone who asked in exactly that manner.
Squatting beside Destiny, Ellie ran her eyes over the young woman's face. A lock of black hair curled on her forehead. Deep, dark circles ringed her eyes. Part of it was smudged make-up. Most of it, not. An aggressive red wound circled her throat.
Ellie silently calculated the killer wouldn't have had the time to truly torture Destiny. For that, she was grateful. Part of Destiny's hair, at the top of her head, wasn't completely soaked. She'd been face down, her hair partially dried by the warm night air. Her lips were blue. She still wore the same white cheesecloth jersey shirt and ripped denim jeans.
Ellie said a silent prayer for Destiny's soul, thanked God she couldn't see Destiny's lifeless green eyes and then glanced over at the coroner.
"Why was she floating?"
He squinted at Ellie and then nodded. "They said you were good."
"Come on, everyone knows a body sinks first. It isn't until bacterial infection that it floats. And that takes hours. Now tell me."
Rather than say anything, he held up Destiny's left arm. Around her wrist hung a pair of handcuffs. Ellie felt her eyes go wide and her stomach lurch. "I think," she said to Kroger, "the serial numbers will say they belong to Kathryn. Anything else important?"
The graying coroner handed her an item in a plastic forensics Ziploc bag. The photo. Wet, but intact. Destiny looking exactly like the glamour model she was. "I won't know more until I get her to the lab."
Ellie winced as she stared at the image. Destiny would no doubt always be remembered for her party-girl attitude, and Ellie couldn't help but feel sad at the loss of such vitality. So she'd known the woman for less than a month; it didn't matter. Actually, it surprised Ellie how close they'd grown in the short time. Employed by Glamour Puss Fashion Designs for this latest collection, Destiny somehow spread her unique brand of magic throughout their offices. Ellie would miss that. More than she cared to admit.
She straightened, tucking away the memory of Destiny. Shoving the feeling of anger back down into a dark corner took a lot of effort. "Well, we know what we won't find."
Fingerprints, semen and hairs. As for the things they could find, like dust and fibers, she feared the water had washed most of it away.
"Don't fret, Ellie," Kroger said, raising her by her elbow. "Destiny wasn't in the water for very long. The skin on her fingers isn't even wrinkled. I think we'll get lucky."
Ellie groaned. Getting lucky on a murder case wasn't going to be enough. They needed evidence. Cold, hard, indisputable facts. The kind that led them to a suspect and an arrest. The sort that held up in court.
Of course, they had suspects. Dozens of them. All male models. So far, she'd eliminated half of them through her dating disasters. But there was one she'd deliberately ignored so far. Excluding Kathryn, he'd dated every one of the victims. In fact, Ellie saw him and Destiny together just recently. Destiny claimed it was a one-night stand, but Ellie saw the way he'd ogled her during the fashion show tonight.
Maybe he wanted more, and Destiny wouldn't budge. There were times when Ellie thought she understood the criminal mind. And then there were times like this, when she felt completely out of her depth. Kathryn hadn't taught her how to deal with that.
Beside her, Kroger's phone buzzed. She tried not to listen in on his call. Failed. One of his lackeys with another description of the last man seen with Destiny.
Six feet tall. Black, spiky hair. Wide shoulders.
Ellie sighed quietly. Damn it. So far, every victim, including Kathryn, had been last seen, or leaving with, a man fitting the insufferable Liam Knox's description. At best, the evidence was flimsy, circumstantial, but it fit his character profile so far. Maybe it was time Ellie stopped ignoring him and found out once and for all if he was their guy.
Now this was an interesting twist. Black Beauty. He grinned at the woman, his blood heating nicely. His skin came alive. She was stunning. Much more beautiful than any model. He'd seen her at the shows lately. A new designer, though she could just as easily hold her own on the runway. He'd love to see her in one of the gowns she designed.
Her long, black hair shone in the moonlight, slick and silken as it caressed her back. What he'd give to touch the silky strands, tangle his fingers in her curls.
Her body was the kind he wanted to run his hands over, taste and smell. Just the thought of what they could do together made him hard. He indulged, pictured what it would be like to be buried deep inside her slick, wet heat. Her soft body yielding under his hardness. Yes, oh, yes.
His body went rigid as the fantasy exploded in his mind. She would be so good, so perfect. He had to have her. She'd be the one who "gets" him, who understood his needs, who saw the genius in his art. What a gift she would be. Just for him. All for him.
She had to be here to identify the body. He grinned. They could identify the women all they liked because they'd never catch him. He was too smart for the Keystone Cops. He'd killed one of their own, and they still didn't have the faintest idea who he was. No way would they risk sending in another undercover lackey. If they did, he'd just kill again and remind them of his power.
Reveling in his victory, he watched the little bitty police try to find clues. A fruitless endeavor. He never left clues. He glanced once more at his prize, then left.