- Pub. Date:
Instead of preparing for her high school graduation, Lucy Kincaid is facing a vicious execution. Lured by an online predator, she’s destined to die horribly–live on the Internet–while hundreds of heartless viewers watch and vote on the method of her slaughter. Her family’s only hope rests with Kate Donovan, an FBI agent who took on the same sadistic killer once before . . . and lost. Blamed for another girl’s gruesome murder, Kate’s been fighting to clear her name. But she agrees to join the hunt for Lucy–and reluctantly steps back into her worst nightmare.
With time running out before the bloody webcast airs, Kate teams up with forensic psychiatrist Dillon Kincaid to get inside the head of her twisted quarry, zero in on his chamber of horrors, and reach Lucy before grim history repeats itself and another innocent’s brutal death goes hideously live.
Face the fear. Speak its name. See its face.
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About the Author
Visit the author’s website at www.allisonbrennan.com.
Read an Excerpt
Lucy’s graduation ceremony was being held outside on the high school’s football field. On the cusp of adulthood, nine hundred eighteen-year-olds sat surprisingly still on the risers framing each side of the temporary stage. Dillon Kincaid shielded his eyes against San Diego’s morning sun, scanning the crowd for his family. He was late because of a last-minute psychiatric assessment of a prisoner who was being arraigned that afternoon.
The principal called the next graduate. “Monica Julian.” A tall, lithe blond walked up the steps to the platform and accepted her certificate.
Good. He hadn’t missed Lucy receiving her diploma. He’d keep an eye on the audience for the largest burst of applause, and that would be where the Kincaid clan had saved him a seat.
The principal went through fifteen more names before announcing, “Lucia Kincaid.”
Dillon smiled, anticipating his beautiful dark-haired baby sister walking up the stairs. She’d worked hard for her grades, and her acceptance to their father’ s alma mater of Georgetown was icing on the cake. He heard a loud raucous cheer in the middle of the right seating section, saw the tallest Kincaid, Connor, standing and hooting.
Circling the field and making his way to where his family cheered, Dillon watched the stage for his sister.
“Lucia Kincaid?” The principal repeated her name and Dillon stopped to scan the graduates. Where was Lucy? He reached the edge of his family’s row of seats as Carina emerged.
“Robert P. Kinney.” The principal went on to the next graduate.
“I’m going to look for Lucy,” Carina told Dillon when she spotted him. Her fiancé, Nick Thomas, was right behind her.
Dillon fell into step next to Nick while Carina made a beeline for the nearest girls’ restroom. She’d graduated from the same high school fourteen years before and knew the campus well. Wearing graduation robes, two girls came out, adjusting their hats. Carina asked, “Is Lucy Kincaid in there?”
“I don’t think so,” one responded.
Carina brushed past her and went into the girls’ room, calling Lucy’s name. “She’s not there,” she stated tersely when she came out.
“Is there another bathroom?” Nick asked.
“Way over on the other side of the field.”
“Let’s check it out.”
They crossed the field behind all the proud families.
“I can’t believe she ditched her own graduation!” Carina sounded both worried and angry.
“You don’t know that she did,” Dillon said. “There’s a logical explanation. Lucy could be sick.”
“And she didn’t come and tell us?” Carina frowned, picked up her pace. “No one’s seen her since eight o’clock this morning. She went to Becky’s house to get ready, saying she’d meet us here.”
“Carina,” Dillon said, “stop being a cop for a minute. Don’t assume the worst.”
“I can’t help it.”
Dillon had the same fears as his sister. Both siblings worked with violent predators every day—Carina as a homicide detective catching killers, Dillon as a forensic psychiatrist trying to understand them. The two had been sent down their career paths by the murder of their nephew. Justin Stanton would also have been graduating today had he not been murdered eleven years ago.
Carina took a deep breath as she walked under the bleachers and toward the restrooms. A group of male graduates was smoking cigarettes around the corner.
“They’re at the ‘N’s now. You’d better get back,” Carina told them.
“Whatever,” one of the kids dismissed her. Carina glared at him, and Dillon pulled her back, reminding her what was important. “Let’s find Lucy.”
The restroom was vacant except for a mother and daughter.
Standing outside the restroom, Carina said to no one, “Where is she?”
“You said she went to Becky Anderson’s this morning, right? The petite blond girl who was at her birthday dinner?”
Carina nodded. “She’s in the third row on the left.”
“Let me go talk to her. You and Nick check the campus.”
Carina looked like she was about to argue with
him—Dillon knew she wanted a crack at interrogating Becky—but he held firm and Nick guided Carina toward the parking lot.
Dillon walked over to the graduates’ seating. He spotted Becky halfway down the third row and waved to catch her attention.
A teacher approached. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave. You can speak to your daughter after the ceremony.”
Dillon cringed. He might technically be old enough to be Lucy’s father, but he knew Lucy was sensitive to being much younger than her six siblings.
“I just need to talk to Becky Anderson. It’s important.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
Dillon caught Becky’s eye and motioned her to come over. She started down the aisle, her face revealing that she knew exactly why Dillon was asking to speak with her.
“Sir—” the teacher began.
“This is about a missing girl. I have to speak with Becky.”
Without giving the teacher another word, Dillon took Becky by the arm and led her away from the crowd.
The petite eighteen-year-old had guilt written all over her face.
“Do you know why I want to talk to you?” Dillon asked, trying to maintain calm while his concern over Lucy continued to grow.
“I—” Becky bit her lip. “I don’t know why Lucy’s late.”
“An hour late?” Dillon asked.
“Well, I . . . she’ll be here,” Becky said lamely.
“What happened after Lucy arrived at your house this morning?”
“Um, she didn’t.”
“What?” Dillon exclaimed. “Where was she going?”
“Please, you don’t understand.”
“I need the truth, Becky. Now.”
“She went to meet someone.”
Dillon frowned. “That doesn’t sound like one of her boyfriends.” But he admitted to himself that he’d been too busy lately to keep up with Lucy’s love life.
“He’s in college.”
Dillon tensed. He didn’t like where this conversation was going. “Where did she meet him?”
“Starbucks. The one right around the corner,” she added as if that made it safe. “We always go there.”
“And you lied for her?”
“I didn’t really lie,” Becky said.
Dillon raised an eyebrow, but didn’t have to say anything.“ Lucy knew everyone would throw a fit if they found out she met someone on—” Becky shut her mouth.
“Online?” Dillon prodded.
Dillon pulled out his cell phone and dialed Lucy’s number.
“Hola! It’s Luce. I’m either talking or sleeping!
Leave a message. Adios.”
“Lucy, it’s Dillon. Call me as soon as you get this message. It’s important.”
He hung up.
“What do you know about Trevor Conrad?” Dillon asked Becky.
“He goes to Georgetown. He’s a freshman and from Los Angeles. Lucy met him through an online group at Georgetown. It’s all legitimate. You have to be a student to join. She’s not stupid.”
She doesn’t have to be stupid to be in danger.
Dillon was now as concerned as Carina had been earlier. Trevor Conrad may be a student at Georgetown and still a threat. Or he could be impersonating a student. Dillon needed to get to Starbucks as soon as possible and talk to the staff.
“When was Lucy supposed to meet this Trevor?”
“Nine,” she said.
“Is there anything else you’re not telling me, Becky?”
She bit her lip, tears rolling over her lashes. “She promised to meet me here fifteen minutes before graduation started. I don’t know what happened. Lucy should be here by now. I’m so sorry.”
Lucy regained consciousness when a reverberating motor changed pitch. Her eyelids wouldn’t open, her limbs were numb, and she was bone cold. She shifted and discovered she’d been tied to a metal pipe.
She was sitting in a low puddle of ocean water, its distinctive salty aroma permeating her senses, waking her fully. The low rumble of a motor and the rise and fall of the floor told her she was on a boat. It wasn’t a big boat, she could tell, but it was big enough to have a couple of rooms beneath the deck.
Her new suede jacket—the one Carina had given her for high school graduation—was torn. Lucy felt a flap of material hanging from her elbow. That angered her for a split second, before she realized that something else was very, very wrong.
Someone was in the hold with her.
“So you’re finally awake.”
She jumped at the unfamiliar male voice.
“Who are you?” Lucy tried but failed to keep the panic out of her voice.
No answer. Though it hurt her head, she forced her eyelids open. Faint, orange emergency lights glowed dimly. It was indeed the hold of a boat, a small room with pipes and storage bins. The engine was behind her, its sound vibrating off the metal walls, making it seem like it was coming from everywhere. She swallowed thickly, coughed.
A big man with blond hair sat on a chair by the door, staring at her with dark eyes. In his right hand was a gun.
She swallowed again, feeling nauseous. “Who are you?” she repeated, fear bubbling in her gut. How did she get here? What had happened? Everything seemed fuzzy, her head felt thick. Had someone hit her over the head? She couldn’t remember. No, her head didn’t hurt like that. Just tired.
Had she been drugged?
The stranger stood, then knocked on the room’s closed metal door. A moment later, it opened. “She’s awake,” he said to someone Lucy couldn’t see.
“I’ll get him,” another voice replied, and Lucy heard someone walking up metal stairs.
“What’s going on?” Lucy tried to sound brave, but she was terrified.
The last thing she remembered was leaving the house to meet Trevor. They’d spent the past year talking online and more recently on the phone. She’d never even made it into Starbucks. What had happened? She honestly couldn’t remember.
It had been crowded, nine o’clock on a Thursday morning. She’d had two hours to get to the school, more than enough time. Parking at the far end of the lot, Lucy had been nervous. What if Trevor didn’t like her? What if he thought she was too young or immature?
She had opened her car door—
Then nothing. Lucy couldn’t remember anything after that.
The metal door of the hold reopened and another man walked in. He dismissed the hulking figure with the gun as he said, “Circle the island until all is clear, then let me know before you dock.”
Island? Lucy shivered. This man wasn’t as old as the big lug with the gun, but Lucy wasn’t sure exactly how old. Maybe thirty-five, maybe forty. He was also blond, but with windswept hair. Handsome, too, until Lucy looked in his eyes.
Cold, hard, blue. Even in the dim light, she saw how icy pale they were.
“Who are you? Why am I tied up?”
He put on an expression of mock surprise. “I’m shocked you don’t know who I am.”
She shook her head. “I’ve never met you.”
He smiled, but it didn’t make her feel any safer. “I recall you told me once, ‘We’re soul mates. I can feel it. I’d know you anywhere.’ ”
Lucy dry heaved, her words coming back to her. The words she’d typed to Trevor Conrad. Her online boyfriend. But Trevor was a freshman at Georgetown, where she would be starting college in the fall. They’d met in a Georgetown student chat room. He was nineteen. He wasn’t this man who was older than her brothers.
He laughed and touched her face. Lucy recoiled as if burned and he scowled, bringing his hardened face an inch from hers. Fear Lucy had never known before gripped her and she began shaking uncontrollably.
“You should have listened to your family and not met with someone you didn’t know.”
“Why?” Her voice came out a squeak. She hated being afraid. “Why are you doing this?”
“You’re going to be a star, Lucy.”
“I want to go home. My family has some money. Call them. They’ll come.”
He laughed, stood, and walked back to the hatch door. “Lucy, do you think everything is about money? You don’t understand now, but you will. Very, very soon. Your family might try to find you, but you’ll never see them again.”
He opened the door.
“What are you going to do?”
Trevor looked over his shoulder. “Trust me, sweetheart, you don’t want to know.”