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Unable to resist the motion, she lifted her hand to tenderly stroke his cheek, feeling the faint tremor beneath clenched muscles. A question formed on Brad's face, but she slid her fingers down to gently still his lips.
They had been through all the questions hundreds of times. But there were no answers. Not for them. Gillian's glance fell on a framed picture of the two of them. They were both laughing. The photo had been taken shortly after they married, a magical time.
Then and later everyone thought she and Brad were the perfect couple - that their union would last forever. But no one else knew the truth ... or the secrets. So, now they stood on the edge of goodbye.
"Gillian, it doesn't have to be this way," Brad urged.
There was no solution for the tear in their marriage, no possibility that it could ever be made right. But that didn't stop the aching. "There's no other way," she replied quietly, picking up her suitcase. "Not for us."
"You're being stubborn," he insisted.
Her smile was sad, tinged with regret and irony. She wasn't the only stubborn one. But this wasn't a matter of an inability to compromise. If it were only that easy.
Gently she put her lips against his one final time. Pulling back she searched the face that was so dear to her. The breaking of her heart was a near physical wound. Silently she uttered the words that had once held them so fast. I will always love you, Brad Mitchell.
* * *
One year later
The night was dark. Ideal for his purpose.
As was the house. It had taken time to select both the perfect child and setting. He issued a silent, contemptuous laugh. Few would appreciate the extensive work he poured into each endeavor, the careful planning, the flawless execution.
But the end result always held the public's attention.
The low bedroom window was easy to reach. Once inside, he spread a drop cloth to catch any stray hair or flake of skin. His clothing, hat, gloves and face mask covered his flesh, but he was taking no chances.
As he'd known it would be, the room was lit by a night-light, making it easy to navigate around the few scattered toys. Nine-year-old Katie Johnson slept the untroubled sleep of the young. But he was too smart, too experienced to waste precious time savoring the sight.
Chloroform to her mouth and nose rendered the child unconscious before she could utter even the tiniest squeal of protest. Leaving as he'd entered, he placed Katie's body in a second cloth before retrieving the one from her room.
Taking great care, he made sure the window and screen were left as he found them. The springy grass of the well-tended lawn assured him there would be no detectable footprints.
It would be hours before Katie's parents discovered she was gone. And by the time the police were contacted, he and his newest doll would have disappeared.
Back in his van, he allowed himself a superior smile at the ease of it all. The police never understood that he was the hunter. Dragnets could never compare with the sheer brilliance of his work.
The dark van blended with the moonless night. Driving cautiously, he garnered no attention. But then, few were awake at 2:00 a.m. in a middle-class community. When the baffled neighbors were questioned, he was confident no one would report his presence.
The police would sermonize and threaten. But as always, the abduction would remain an open, unsolved case. He'd yet to find a cop that was his match. In the safety of his van, he laughed with true mirth. It was too bad the police were so stupid. Going head-to-head with them was a contest he would enjoy.
He glanced back at young Katie. Fortunately, there was much to enjoy already.
Excerpted from Vanished by Bonnie Winn Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.