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By Tracy Montoya
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHe was coming for her.
The now-familiar ache of dread crept through her body as Maggie Reyes traced her finger around the photo of the smiling girl's face - a photo that now graced the front page of the Monterey County Herald with the words victim and homicide buried in the caption. Four murders in four states in four months. And now he was only minutes away.
Why don't you run?
Maggie placed her palms flat on her desk and pushed herself up to a standing position. It was funny, even though her head was telling her to run and the fear in her heart robbed her of sleep every night, that odd sense of security she always felt in her cousin Esme's Monterey beach home was still there. Raising her eyes to the map of the United States above her, Maggie fished a red-tipped thumbtack out of the wooden caddy meticulously placed in the upper left corner of the desk. Little Rock. St. Louis. Denver. All three cities had red tacks plunged through the center of their black dots on the map. And they had fat, corresponding files in the metal cabinet to her left, filled with articles from the dozens of newspapers she subscribed to, printouts from database searches, posts from a few true-crime listservs and other odds and ends pertaining to the cases. In one swift motion, Maggie pushed the fourth tack through Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, releasing the breath she'd been holding as she did so.
Carmel, sister city to Monterey, which she now called home.
Do you wanna live forever, Maggie?
Ignoring the persistent whisper inside her head, she turned her back on the map and padded across the plush Berber rug to the window seat in what she had come to think of as "her" office, where she could watch the white-capped waves break against the jagged black rocks jutting up toward the sky like sentinels. Monterey, California, was a beautiful, sunny city, except for in a few areas along the water that had their own peculiar micro-climates. The house Maggie lived in lay smack in the middle of one of them and was always enveloped in fog and mist. Not that it really mattered.
Folding herself into the small nook, she leaned against a wooden support and dug her bare toes into the brocade seat cushion. Her gaze wandered farther down the beach, past the point where the black rocks and dark, foamy water abruptly ended and a few intrepid surfers were paddling toward the horizon in search of the next big wave. Thinking of the wet suit that hadn't seen action since the late '90s, she listened to the muffled roar of the ocean and watched the surfers for what felt like fifteen minutes. When at last she glanced at the glowing red numbers of the digital clock on her desk, she found it was three-thirty. It had been over two hours.
How time flies when you're stuck at home with no place to go.
Or when you're avoiding something. Maggie's fingers toyed with the slight fringe around the hole in the knee of her jeans. Gee, fringe. That could keep her busy for half a day if she let it.
And that was the thing. She couldn't let it anymore. Four killings in four months, and every single one of them weighing on her conscience like stone. And now he was coming for her.
And now there was no one to call, nowhere to run. Esme was safe in her other home in Seattle, and Maggie had left her family in New Orleans, safe in their complete ignorance of her whereabouts. She routed letters through Esme to her parents or risked the occasional phone call through her alias Mary Smythe's long-distance account, but that was all the communication she'd risk. Not the ideal arrangement, but there was no way she wanted anyone close to her in danger.
But now the impulse to bolt out the door and run for home as far and as fast as she could was almost overpowering. Almost. But once upon a time, she'd been a cop, not the silly caretaker of her rich cousin's beach house. And she would have laughed if anyone had told her she'd be hiding thousands of miles away from her Louisiana home - in California, of all places - with blond hair and an assumed name. Mary Smythe-with-a-Y. She snorted as she rose from the window seat. At least she could have had the where-withal to choose something more glamorous. She walked into the hallway and caught a glimpse of herself in the antique mirror hanging near the front door. Thank God she'd asked Adriana for a box of Revlon Rich Auburn-Black 22 when she'd made out this week's grocery list. The color suited her skin tone; she was never meant to be a blond.
Taking a deep breath, Maggie turned her head, gripped the brass handle of the ornate wooden door. With one push of her finger, one swing of her arm, she could be outside, just a mile away from sunshine and people walking their dogs, hand-dipped ice cream and a real bookstore. Only three miles away from the Monterey police station, ten from the gruesome murder she'd just read about in the papers.
Her hand started to shake, just a slight tremor, and she closed her eyes. One push, one swing. She had a job to do, and after a year and a half of insanity, she was going to do it. If anyone was going to stop the Surgeon's murdering spree, they were going to need her. It was time for Miss Mary Smythe to stop being the crazy woman on the beach, time for her to rejoin the living, time for her to be fearless Maggie Reyes again.
Maggie pushed, Maggie swung.
And a hurricane-grade wind lashed through the hall. It whipped around the mirror, toppled the coat tree, sent the car keys that hung unused on a small nail crashing to the floor.
"Oh, God!" Maggie gasped, and then she couldn't breathe, couldn't think. Something was wrapping itself around her neck, strangling her, and she clawed at her throat with frantic hands, trying to loosen whatever it was so she could breathe again. Tighter and tighter and tighter, until all she could see was black.
Her knees crashed to the hardwood floor, and she groped blindly outward until she felt the doorjamb beneath her fingers. Her other hand swung out and connected with the open door. The pressure on her windpipe eased a little, just enough for her to take one last gasp and use the tiny trickle of energy it gave her to heave the door closed.
She could still hear her own heartbeat, thundering in her ears while she took deep, gasping gulps of air. The invisible hands gently caressed her throat as they uncoiled, reminding her that they were still there. Waiting. And then they were gone.
Excerpted from Maximum Security by Tracy Montoya Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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