Convinced that the Inquisitor killed his only sister, ex-army Ranger Sean Murphy has been hunting for him with one thing in mind: revenge. If his instincts are right, Jenna Kincaid will lead him to his prey.
But Jenna has gotten to Sean in a way that no one has in a very long time. And now he's desperate to keep her safebecause the madman is taking a terrifying pleasure in the game unfolding. And if the killer wins, it's Jenna who will pay the ultimate price .
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"One more question, Dr. Kincaid. If you don't mind."
The damp December air had seeped through the multiple layers of clothing Jenna had donned in preparation for this interview. The station had insisted the clip be filmed in front of the mall, so that its steady stream of Christmas shoppers would be visible behind them. Although Jenna acknowledged it was an appropriate backdrop for a segment on holiday depression, that didn't mean she was enjoying the setting.
As the largest mental health practice in the greater Birmingham area, Carlisle, Levitt and Connor was called on throughout the year to furnish speakers for a variety of informational workshops as well as for interviews on local news programs and talk shows. Those requests were unusually heavy this time of year, so the psychologists and psychiatrists on staff rotated the responsibility. Tonight had been her turn to be the public face of the practice.
Normally Jenna didn't mind her thirty seconds in the spotlight. The visibility brought in new clients, which was beneficial to everyone. Sometimes they asked for an appointment with whichever of the group they'd seen on television or heard on the radio. And at this particular time of the year, it was never a bad thing to have increased billing.
"Of course," she said, smiling at the young man who looked all of eighteen. She suspected he might be one of the station's interns. Either that or the passage of another year had made her more aware of her own age in comparison.
At thirty-four she'd accomplished most of the goals she'd set for herself. At least, she amended, the professional ones.
There was plenty of time for the rest. Something she'd been telling herself for the last five years.
"This afternoon the police department conceded that the murders of Sandra Reynolds, Margaret DeSpain and Callie Morgan were the work of one killer," the reporter said. "What can you tell us about the person who might have perpetrated those crimes?"
Jenna hadn't yet heard that the police had issued that statement. Of course, she'd been seeing patients up until she'd left the office. Even if she had known, she wouldn't have been prepared to comment publicly on those murders. This was outside the scope of the subject matter she'd agreed to, as well as outside any area of expertise she might claim.
She allowed the smile she'd been holding for the camera to fade, considering the topic that had just been introduced. She took a breath as she tried to decide the best way to handle the kid's question before settling on simply telling the truth.
"I'm really not in any position to answer that. Not only have the details of those crimes not been made public, I'm not a profiler. Forensic psychology is a very specialized field, one I have little training for."
The reporter's mouth had tightened as she talked. A dull flush climbed up his neck and into his cheeks. It was obvious he felt her answer was either deliberately nonresponsive or, worse, a slam at his interviewing skills. "I realize that," he said quickly. "I wasn't speaking in the particular. Just tell our viewers in general what makes a psychopath like this tick."
From his standpoint, the amended question was a good recovery. From hers, it left her as much under the gun as the previous one.
Other than the courses in abnormal psychology she'd taught as a grad assistant, Jenna hadn't had much occasion to think in depth about the kind of sociopath who enjoyed torturing and then killing women. And it was evident from the few details that had been released about the condition of the three bodies that this one found great pleasure in the suffering of his victims.
"From what I've read," she said, choosing her words carefully, "this killer doesn't appear to be psychotic. He's apparently very well organized, selecting his victims with care and carrying out the murders while leaving behind little forensic evidence that might help the police."
"He's killed three people, and you're saying he isn't crazy?" The reporter's tone was mocking, allowing his skepticism of that full rein.
"He's clearly a sociopath, but " Jenna hesitated, thinking how difficult it was to use appropriate terminology when the public had such clear, if erroneous, notions of what words like crazy, insane and psychotic meant. "The killer's obviously incapable of feeling compassion for his victims, no matter how much they suffer, but if you met him in a social or professional environment, you might not notice anything out of the ordinary. Other than possibly thinking how charming he is."
"Which would help him in getting his victims to trust him."
"Unfortunately. Although he's clearly manipulative, he may also be very personable and articulate."
"So what creates someone like our charming sociopath?"
"No one really knows. The current thinking is that biological factors may play a role, some genetic predisposition if you will. There's no doubt, however, that the majority of these people were also the victims of childhood abuse — either physical or emotional or a combination of the two. Some case studies done on serial killers reveal that mistreatment was both prolonged and severe. It isn't hard to understand how a child subjected to isolation, a lack of affection, physical and mental domination, or actual physical abuse might become an adult who lacks the ability to feel normal empathy for his fellow human beings."
"Surely you're not suggesting that every abused child grows up to be a Ted Bundy."
"Actually, a very small percentage do. However, it is a common background for those we've had the opportunity to study in depth. Unfortunately, we can never know which children will emerge from those situations to become socio-paths. Or more importantly, which of those sociopaths will go on to kill."
"Because they've been trained in inflicting pain early on?"
"Pain. Domination. They desperately need to be in charge, possibly because as children they had so little control over what was happening to them."
"You sound as if you have some sympathy for them, Dr. Kincaid."
"I have sympathy for any child who's abused. They're helpless to prevent what's being done to them, often by the very people who should be their protectors."
"I meant that you seem to feel sympathy for the sociopaths they eventually become."
As a psychologist who had read study after study detailing the horrors of the abuses she'd just spoken about, Jenna supposed that was true. Certainly in the abstract. In light of what had been made public about what had been done to the murdered women
"Not all sociopaths kill," she said again. "When they do, they must, of course, be subject to the laws that govern the rest of us. Once they've killed, it's unlikely they'll stop on their own. Before that can happen, they have to be apprehended. I hope the police find something to help them very soon, some piece of evidence that will lead them back to the murderer. Or that someone who knows something about those crimes will come forward with the information."
"So you're saying he's definitely going to kill again." And Merry Christmas to all, Jenna thought, realizing the trap she'd fallen into.
Still, there was very little that could be said in response to that question except the brutal reality. Despite the fact that hearing it was likely to inflame fears that had been rampant in the community even before today's announcement, she really had no choice.
This was something else the killer would feed off of. Not only would the murders themselves give him a sense of power, so would the media attention they'd attracted, such as this interview, and the terror it would create.
She should have cut this kid off without answering his original question. Since she hadn't, she could in good conscience now do nothing less than tell the truth.
"If he's not caught. It may not be here. Not if the police get too close to discovering who he is, but even if they do, he won't stop killing. Not until he's finally been taken into custody."
"Or until he's dead."
Sean Murphy had already put his finger over the off button on the remote, when something made him hesitate. The reporter was busy closing out the segment, probably reiterating what the female psychologist had said. Nothing of what he was babbling about registered.
Sean was focused instead on the woman standing beside the interviewer, her hand clutching the collar of her coat as if trying to keep out the cold. It was clearly a defensive gesture.
An unconscious one? Or was it possible she was aware of how closely she matched the profile of the killer's victims?
That was unlikely, he decided, since the local cops hadn't yet publicly connected the latest three to the others. Maybe he should warn Dr. Jenna Kincaid that she met almost every one of the criteria the task force had put together over the course of the past four years of their investigation.
Late twenties or early thirties, Sean assessed. Tall and slender, with dark hair and eyes. Even her clothing, professional rather than provocative, followed the pattern the bastard had established with his first murder, which they now believed had been more than seven years ago.
His gaze having followed the line of the long navy coat down to the low-heeled boots she wore, Sean raised his eyes once more to the psychologist's face. Her features were striking but not classically beautiful.
She wouldn't draw every masculine eye, he acknowledged, but she'd find her share of admirers. The bone structure underlying that clear olive skin was too anatomically perfect not to attract attention. The discriminating would recognize it would be just that perfect when she was eighty.
And you've always considered yourself discriminating. The image he'd been studying was suddenly replaced by an advertisement for a local car dealer. Sean punched the button, shutting off the television, before tossing the remote down on the bed.
He walked across his motel room toward its wall of glass, where he pushed aside the draperies to look out onto the interstate that paralleled the wide right-of-way just across the parking lot. The scene he encountered was depressingly winter-dreary, although the climate was generally mild.
The weather would make the killer's hunting easier. More people outdoors than in the northern cities. Not that the bastard ever seemed to have a problem finding victims.
Maybe what Dr. Kincaid said was right. Maybe he was so charming the women made it easy for him.
He would have had to be something special to charm Makaela. His sister had been nobody's fool. And unfortunately she'd had a lot of experience with phonies.
Apparently not enough to see through whatever ploy her murderer had used to persuade her to go with him.
Sean put his palm against the glass, using its coldness to fight the fury that flooded his brain whenever he thought of the things that had been done to his sister. They could still bring him wide awake, sweat pouring off his body, as he struggled against the nightmare images of what she'd suffered.
The press in Detroit were the ones who'd christened her murderer "the Inquisitor," a name horrifyingly appropriate. Too soon the people in this town would learn what the others had about the maniac in their midst.
Unless the bodies were too decomposed to make them obvious, as the first two here had been, most law enforcement agencies now recognized those signature mutilations. The special agent on the FBI's task force, the one who'd put Sean onto the Birmingham murders, had recognized them as soon as he'd read the description of the last victim.
Now that the locals had connected the three, they would be forced to take the next step and admit that these killings were part of a series, which, through the efforts of the Bureau, had been linked and credited to one man.
An unimaginably cruel and sadistic madman.
The cops here would add whatever information they had managed to uncover to the profile that was slowly, but relentlessly, being built. And when it was complete
Sean's hand closed into a fist that he slammed into the glass. The window shuddered in its frame, although the blow had not been particularly hard. It hadn't been done in anger. It had been measured. Like a gavel pounded against a judge's bench. Or a hammer driving a nail.
The last one in your coffin, you bastard. And as God is my witness, I'll be the one who'll put it there.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Overall a good story, easy to read and fast-paced. However, I found a few of the characters lacking in depth. We¿re told that the bad guy - ¿The Inquisitor¿ - does horrible things to his victims but this is only vaguely touched upon. We never learn much about him or what drives him. Jenna, one of the lead characters, seems to have had problems relating to men in her past, though we never learn why or if that is even true. The story seems to glide on the surface, without ever digging too deeply.A major distraction for me was the author¿s use of the word obvious (or obviously). At times it would appear twice on one page, for five or six pages at a time. It became so distracting that I found myself counting how many times the word appeared. The plot is interesting. Sean, the lead male character, is well developed. This is one of those light reads that doesn¿t require a lot of commitment for the reader.
I didn't like this book. I realize that I have started it previously and read about 50 pages and put it down. this time I read about 130 pages, then jumped to the last 70, and didn't feel compelled to go back and read how I got there. And I just didn't care enough about either Jenna the psychologist, or Sean, the tortured ranger who is out to avenge his sister. Neither of them felt particularly three dimensional to me, and the crime and villian wasn't anything special either. Gayle Wilson started out as a straight romance writer (I'm not familiar with her there either) but she shows the weakness that I feel a lot of romance writers do when they cross into thrillers - their mystery segment isn't strong enough but it does manage to dilute their romance component, so the whole thing feels half baked. At least that's how it felt to me. i won't be looking for more of her thrillers.
Overall a good story, easy to read and fast-paced. However, I found a few of the characters lacking in depth. We're told that the bad guy - "The Inquisitor" - does horrible things to his victims but this is only vaguely touched upon. We never learn much about him or what drives him. Jenna, one of the lead characters, seems to have had problems relating to men in her past, though we never learn why or if that is even true. The story seems to glide on the surface, without ever digging too deeply. A major distraction for me was the author's use of the word obvious (or obviously). At times it would appear twice on one page, for five or six pages at a time. It became so distracting that I found myself counting how many times the word appeared. The plot is interesting. Sean, the lead male character, is well developed. This is one of those light reads that doesn't require a lot of commitment for the reader.
The police from several jurisdictions, state bureaus of investigation and the FBI are totally baffled by the serial killed dubbed The Inquisitor. In Birmingham, three recently killed females are victims of The Inquisitor and the authorities fear is more will follow as his count is at least a dozen in several states with no clues as his calling card.-------------- On a Birmingham TV show, psychologist Dr. Jenna Kincaid of Carlisle, Levitt and Connor, the largest mental health provider in the area, provides general insight into the mind of a sociopath killer like the Inquisitor while explaining she is not a profiler. Watching the show is former Ranger Sean Murphy who tracks the cold murderer seeking vengeance for killing his sister. He realizes Jenna fits the Inquisitor¿s profile of victims. His gut says his adversary also watched her perform and has targeted her. Sean plans to use Jenna whether she likes it or not as bait though he will try to keep her alive, collateral damage occurs. He never expected to fall in love with his sacrifice.------------------- Though serial killers are the in crowd in romantic suspense, Gayle Wilson provides a brisk original tale because of Sean¿s plan to use and discard Jenna to catch and kill the culprit. The story line is filled with plenty of action, but driven by the changing relationship between the lead couple. Sub-genre fans will gain immense pleasure with Ms. Wilson¿s refreshing take on the serial kill romance.------------------ Harriet Klausner