“Perfect. Now turn that way, toward my assistant, and smile for me.”
Kaycee Alcott turned toward Murphy and smiled softly. Murphy grinned back, almost making her giggle with the goofy-looking faces he kept shooting her way. This was her fifth photo shoot with Jean Claude, and she knew what he wanted as far as a smile.
As a top photographer in the modeling world, he photographed huge names, but for this project, he’d specifically asked for her, which made her all the more determined to do her best. The last thing she wanted to do was disappoint Jean Claude.
“Let me see a little more of that gorgeous thigh, Kaycee,” he said, and she used her hand to slide the split in the skirt further to the side. “Perfect.”
The camera kept clicking, the sound barely heard over Jean Claude’s orders about lighting and wind position. She was thankful for the fan as it blew a soft breeze in her face, cooling the flesh the lights warmed up. A photography studio could be as much as twenty degrees hotter than anywhere else because of all the equipment.
Jean Claude stopped and spread his arms wide, smiling from ear to ear. “Beautiful as always, Kaycee,” he purred in a soft French accent. “We’re all done.”
“Already?” she asked in surprise, then glanced down at the pink sundress she’d worn for the shoot. “I couldn’t by any chance sneak this out, could I?” She glanced at him through her lashes.
“I did not see a thing,” he said, fiddling with his camera. “She wore her coat when she left. How was I to know what was under it?”
Kaycee laughed and ran over to place a quick kiss on his cheek. “You’re a riot, Jean Claude. Thank you,” she added in a soft whisper.
He smiled, his green eyes crinkling at the corners and showing his advanced age. “You did an amazing job, as always. As far as I’m concerned, you deserve the dress.”
Giving him her best grin, she turned and headed to the dressing area to gather her things. It wasn’t unusual for models to take things from shoots. Some designers even expected it. At the makeup counter, she sat in the chair and reached for a moist cloth to clean her face. She’d sent her assistant home over an hour ago, since the shoot had taken place so late. No sense in both of them being bleary-eyed for the runway rehearsal tomorrow morning.
With a tired sigh, Kaycee wiped away the mascara and dark lipstick, then brushed out her dark brown curls, securing them on top of her head with a scrunchie. Now that the shoot was over, fatigue began to sink in. Her bed was what she needed. That and about fifteen hours of uninterrupted sleep.
She’d never thought about being a model until an agent from Sloan Modeling approached her at a coffee shop just off the NYU campus. She’d been nineteen and skeptical.
At first, the shoots had been a way to pay for her college tuition, but then assignments began to come in so fast, she hadn’t been able to keep up with her classes and had to drop out her senior year. She had enough money invested now, she could quit modeling and go back to school if she wanted. The only problem was, she didn’t know what she wanted to do anymore.
“No doubt about it,” she murmured, giving herself one final look in the mirror to make sure she’d gotten all the makeup. “I’m definitely in a funk.”
Standing, she slid her arms into her coat and prepared to go out into the cold parking garage. Her fingers brushed over her scarf, and a sad smile tugged at her lips. The scarf had been her father’s -- the only thing she had left of him -- and she never went anywhere cold without it.
With a tired sigh, she wrapped the scarf round her neck. There’s no point in thinking about the past and what should have been. She was on her own now, except for her best friend and assistant, and she needed to accept it.
She grabbed her overnight bag, stuffed with her clothes from earlier, her makeup, and her hair rollers, and headed out of the studio. “Good night, guys,” she called as she walked past Jean Claude and his assistants.
“Do you want me to walk out with you?” Jean Claude asked.
She shook her head. “No. I’ll be fine.”
“All right,” he said and waved. “Good night, then. I’ll send you a set of the proofs.”
“Thanks, Jean Claude,” she replied with a smile. “You’re the best.”
“Of course, I am,” he teased. “That’s why I get the best girls.”
He winked and she laughed as she pushed the door open with her hip. A cold blast of air hit her as she walked across the parking lot toward her car, a sunburnt orange Chevy HHR. She’d tried to be smart about her money, investing most of it for when modeling was no longer an option. She didn’t need the flashy car or the huge house. Security was more her thing -- financial security for her future.
The cold night sky was clear, the stars sparkling above her like twinkling lights. Stopping at her car, she took a moment to breathe in the fresh winter air and admire the horizon.
A sharp pain in her thigh made her gasp, and she turned to see a man looming over her. Fear tightened her chest as he held up a needle, his eyes shining in triumphant glee. She raised her hand to shove him away, but her limbs felt heavy and her hand tangled in the wool of her scarf. In confusion, she tugged, making it fall to the concrete.
Her heart should have been hammering, but it seemed to slow, along with her thoughts. Fatigue deepened as the warmth of the drug spread through her body. No. She couldn’t let this happen. She couldn’t let him do this.
Taking a step forward, she latched on to his black coat as her legs wobbled beneath her. He just stood there, watching her with dark eyes full of hatred and loathing. Why would he hate her? She squinted, narrowing her gaze on the wool covering his face. She tried to lift her other hand as her vision blurred even more. Time moved in slow motion as her body took on the consistency of concrete, unmovable and cold. Her heavy lids closed and she fell into a deep darkness, too numb to even be afraid.
He watched as Kaycee slowly slid to the ground, her fingers still clutching at his jacket. He’d waited months for this opportunity. She was a hard person to catch alone.
His cock twitched in his pants as he imagined all the things he’d do to her. All the other women had just been for fun, honing his skills, curbing his hunger until he caught his one true target.
Kaycee Alcott would pay for turning her back on him, for leading him on, then running like a scared rabbit the first time he tried to kiss her. His lip curled. He’d kiss her this time and a hell of a lot more.
“I’m glad the two of you could make it.”
Sam and Tyler Warren both turned to Agent Barreck as he stepped into the small room and dropped a scarf on the table. Barreck had called them at four this morning, wanting their psychic input on a missing person’s case. Sam and his identical twin, Tyler, had worked for the FBI as registered psychics for almost twenty years now, since they were twelve, and were responsible for solving over two hundred missing person’s cases. According to Barreck, however, this was more than just a missing person. He believed this woman had been taken by their most elusive serial killer. A man they’d dubbed “the phantom”.
Tyler and Sam had spent most of the last several months working a profile for this case. The phantom could get in, get a woman, and get out without being seen by anyone. He left no clues, no evidence. Even the bodies he’d left behind all over the eastern United States had been clean. He could pick a girl up in Myrtle Beach, and they would find her dead body in Kentucky. There was no pattern, no reason. The only thing the murders had in common were the girls’ looks.
They were stumped, but Barreck believed they may have caught a break. The kidnapper had left behind a scarf.
“How do you know it’s him?” Tyler asked as he turned to study a haggard-looking Barreck.
Barreck sighed and dropped into one of the leather conference chairs. “I don’t. Truthfully, I’m just guessing. That’s why I wanted you to take a look” -- he waved his hand -- “or whatever it is you do and see if it’s his.”
“Who reported her missing?” Sam asked.
“Her assistant.” Barreck flipped through the file. “A Jordan Smith, when Kaycee didn’t show up for runway rehearsal this morning. The photographer found her car right where she’d left it the night before.”
“She’s a model?” Tyler asked.
“Yes. Quite popular, from what I understand.”
He pulled a photo from the file and passed it to Tyler. His gaze wandered over her china doll features and expressive emerald green eyes. She was definitely a beauty. Raising his eyebrow, he passed the photo to his brother, who whistled softly.
“She certainly fits the image of the others he’s taken. But isn’t she a little too high profile for him?” Sam asked with a frown.
“She could be who he’s been after all along,” Tyler offered with a shrug, then stood to pour himself more coffee from the pot at the far side of the room.
“Well,” Barreck said with a sigh. “You’ve always thought he had a particular girl in mind.”
“They were too much alike. They either look like someone from his past or someone he wants.”
Sam nodded and handed Tyler his cup to fill as well. “My guess would be it’s someone he wants. He’s strayed from the norm by taking someone as high profile as Kaycee.”
“I agree,” Tyler said.
Barreck leaned forward and wiggled the scarf still lying on the table. “We don’t have a lot of time, guys. See if you can link up” -- he waved his hand again -- “or whatever it is you do to connect with the killer.”
Sam snorted, then reached out to finger the wool. “High dollar,” he murmured as he studied the worn scarf. “And old. Worn.”
Tyler sat back down slowly, hesitant to touch it and actually see into the killer’s mind. They’d connected with victims many times but with a serial killer only once, and the experience had left Tyler with a bad taste in his mouth. He didn’t like what he’d seen, what he’d felt -- the darker side of human nature. Insanity was frightening, but even more frightening was just how coldly calculating the killer had been -- how cruel and angry.
Rubbing at his lips, Tyler sighed then met his brother’s questioning gaze. He was sure Sam knew what fears held him in their grip. The two of them were like one person. They felt each other’s fears, each other’s conflicts. They even fell in love with the same women. If one loved a woman, then so did the other. It made dating difficult and the idea of marriage even more so.
“Tyler,” Sam said softly. “You don’t have to do this.”
“No,” Tyler replied, shaking his head. “We need to so we can find her.”
Sam nodded and waited patiently for Tyler to touch the scarf as well. The link only worked if they were both touching it, but Tyler’s connection went deeper than Sam’s. Sam saw through the victims’ eyes. Tyler could, as well, but he also felt what they felt. If they hurt, then so did Tyler.
Reaching out, Tyler placed his hand on the wool, bracing himself. But what he sensed surprised him. It wasn’t anger. It was confusion. Fear.
“It’s not his,” Tyler whispered.
“What do you mean?” Barreck asked. “What are you seeing?”
Tyler closed his eyes, trying to focus. He felt sleepy and disoriented. She’d been drugged and was having difficulty waking up. “It’s hers and she’s still alive.”