The First Selena Alvarez/Regan Pescoli Novel!
Nothing’s More Terrifying. . .
One by one, the victims are carefully captured, toyed with, then subjected to a slow and agonizing death. Piece by piece, his exquisite plan takes shape. The police can’t yet see the beauty in his work–but soon, very soon, they will. . .
Than Being Left Alone. . .
In the lonely woods around Grizzly Point, Montana, four bodies have been discovered. Detectives Selena Alvarez and Regan Pescoli have been hoping for a career-making case, but this is a nightmare. Even with the FBI involved, Selena and Regan have nothing to go on but a killer’s cryptic notes, and the unsettling knowledge that there is much worse to come. . .
To Die. . .
When Jillian Rivers opens her eyes, she’s trapped in a mangled car. Then a stranger, claiming to be a trail guide named Zane McGregor, pries her free. Though she’s grateful, something about him sets Jillian on edge. And if she knew what lay out there in the woods of Montana, she’d be truly terrified. Because someone is waiting. . .watching. . .poised to strike and make Jillian the next victim. . .
Praise for LEFT TO DIE
“Prolific bestseller Jackson introduces an intriguing pair of female detectives in this intense series opener. Deep in the winter wilderness of Montana, a serial killer sets up car accidents for women driving down secluded roads, rescues and seduces them and then ties them to trees and leaves them to die. As the bodies pile up, Det. Selena Alvarez and Det. Regan Pescoli search desperately for clues. Recemt divorcee Jillian Rivers, in Montana searching for her vanished first husband, looks likely to become the next corpse when her tires are shot out and mountain man Zane MacGregor rescues her. When MacGregor vanishes from the cabin where Rivers is recovering from her injuries, she starts to wonder what his real motives are. Alvarez, Pescoli, and Rivers separately edge closer to identifying the killer, but Jackson keeps them and the reader in suspense all the way to the cliffhanger end.”
“A new pair of detectives lead the hunt for a killer in mega-talented Jackson’s latest thriller, in which the ice-cold atmosphere echoes the chilling cruelty of the creepy killer. Jackson parcels out clues and red herrings and, in a twist, leaves this tale with a major cliff-hanger.”
~Romantic Times, (4 star review)
Bitterroot Mountains, Montana
He’s going to kill you.
Right here in the middle of this snow-covered God-forsaken valley, he’s going to kill you! Fight, Wendy, fight!
Wendy Ito struggled, battling with the ropes that cut into her bare flesh, feeling the sting of a fierce arctic wind as it howled through the mountain ridges that surrounded them.
She was alone. Aside from the psychopath who had captured her.
God, why had she trusted him?
How in the world had she thought that he was her rescuer? That his mission was to heal her until, after the blizzard, he could call for help or take her to the nearest hospital?
Had it been his sincere concern as he’d come upon her wrecked car? Had it been those blue, blue eyes? His smile? His soft words of assurance? Or had it been because she’d had no choice, without his aid she would surely die alone in a deep, forgotten ravine?
Whatever the reason she’d believed him, trusted him.
He’d proved himself to be her worst nightmare, an evil wolf in sheep’s clothing and now, oh, God, now she was paying the price.
Shivering, certain she would die, she was naked and lashed to a tree, the thick rope cutting into her bare arms and torso, a gag so tight over her lips that she could barely breathe.
And he was close. So close she could feel the warmth of his breath sifting around the trunk of the sturdy pine, hear him grunt as he put all his strength into securing her, see a flash of white neoprene ski pants and parka from the corner of her eye.
Another tug on the rope.
She gasped, her whole body jerked even tighter against the scaly bark of the tree. Pain shot through her and she set her jaw. She just needed him to get close enough that she could kick hard. Hit his shin. Or his nuts.
She couldn’t let him get away with this. Wouldn’t!
Her heart raced and she tried to come up with a way to save herself, to break free of her bonds and climb up the snow-covered deer trail he’d dragged her down. Oh, she’d fought him. Wriggling and fighting, flinging herself at him, trying someway to free herself, to avoid being brought down here to whatever fate he’d planned. She could still see the fresh tracks in the thick snow. His steady, evenly-placed big boot prints and her smaller, wild, erratic barefoot scrambles as she’d tried to get away, even though he’d prodded her with his damned knife and there were drips of blood in the white snow, proving that he’d cut her, that he’d meant business.
Dear God, help me, she silently prayed to the gun-metal gray heavens threatening more snow.
He laced the restraining ropes ever tighter.
“No!” Wendy tried to scream. “No! No! No!” But the foul gag covered her mouth and kept her cries muffled and weak while the panic surging through her blood caused her heart to thunder. Why? Oh, God, why me?
She blinked back tears but felt the salty drops fall from her eyes to stain and freeze upon her cheeks.
Don’t cry. Whatever you do, do not let him see that you fear him. Don’t give the son of a bitch the satisfaction. But don’t fight either, pretend to give up, fake it and act like you’ve accepted your fate. Maybe his guard will slip and you can somehow get hold of his damn knife.
Her stomach clenched even tighter and she tried to keep his weapon, a hunting knife used for the gutting of game, in her sights. Razor sharp, it could slice through the ropes easily. Just as easily as it could pierce and cut her flesh.
Oh, God . . .
Her knees went weak and it was all she could do not to bawl and beg, to mewl and plead, to offer to do anything he wanted if he would just not hurt her.
Go ahead, let him see that you’re resigned to your fate . . . but keep your eye on the knife with its menacing, deadly blade.
She was shivering harder now. Shaking so violently that slivers from the bark were digging into her skin. Was she trembling because of the bitter, Montana wind, gusts she was certain where blowing down from Canada and the arctic? Or was she quivering from the fear that tore at her insides?
Beneath the gag her teeth chattered and she felt the raw wind buffet her as he worked. She caught glimpses of his legs warmed by thick hunting socks and the white ski pants, his heavy, fur-lined parka protecting him from the very elements to which she was exposed.
This lying son of a bitch had no intention of saving you, of healing your wounds after the horrible car wreck. All along the sick bastard only kept you alive, citing the storm as a reason he couldn’t get help, only to kill you. In the time he wanted. In the manner he wanted. He was savoring the anticipation while you half fell in love with him.
Bile rose up her throat and she nearly wretched at the thought. He’d known it. She’d seen it in his eyes, that he’d read her utter dependency, her silly, stupid and pathetic desire to please him.
If she could, she’d kill him.
Right here. Right now.
She heard him grunt again, as if satisfied as he pulled the taut rope even tighter, forcing her buttocks into the sharp bark, her shoulders to be held fast. She could still kick, but he kept himself far from the damage she might inflict. Even with one leg still sore from the accident she thought she could wound, and wound badly, because of all her training in martial arts.
But he was careful to stay on the far side of the tree and keep away from her heels. And the cold was beginning to take its toll. She had trouble focusing, thinking of anything but the ice in her flesh, the sheer frigidity settling in her bones.
Blackness pulled at her vision.
Each breath she drew was labored and thin, her lungs on fire from lack of oxygen.
Maybe unconsciousness would be the way out. The blackness was soothing, taking the sting out of the wind.
But then she saw him move, so that he was in front of her, staring at her with his cruel, relentless gaze.
How had she ever thought him handsome? How had she ever fantasized about him, how had she ever considering making love to him?
Slowly he removed the knife from his belt. Its cruel metallic surface winked in the shifting gray light.
She was doomed.
She knew it.
Even before he slowly, inexorably raised the blade.
Naked, I stand at the window.
While sand slips oh, so slowly through the hour glass.
The coming night was near, shadows playing darkly. A hollow wind, keening and savage, cuts through the canyons with the promise of death upon its breath. I hear its plaintive cry from deep in the cabin.
It wants me, I thought. It wants her.
It’s as hungry as I am.
Feeling the ache, the low, insistent pulse, I peer through the window panes glazed in ice, frosted with blowing snow.
Naked branches of the lonely trees rattle and dance, like skeletal arms raised in supplication to the heavens.
As if God were interested.
I feel the urge to step outside, the tug of the cold tempting me to languish in the caress of frigid gusts upon my bare skin.
But it is too soon.
I’m not going to let myself fall victim to that easy enticement. The timing just isn’t right. Not yet.
I have to be patient.
Because she is coming.
Unfailingly and without any inkling as to her fate, she is drawing near. I feel it.
And everything has to be perfect.
“Come on,” I whisper quietly and feel that sensual twitch deep inside at the thought of her: lightly tanned skin, some freckles, wide hazel eyes and untamed hair a deep brown that shines red in the fire-light. “Come the fuck on.”
The knowledge that she will soon appear causes my blood to race, my mind to fire with images of what is to come. I can almost taste her, feel the texture of her skin as she quivers at my touch. In my mind’s eye I watch her pupils dilate until her eyes are nearly black with fear and a dark, unwelcome desire.
Oh, she will want me.
She will beg for more of me.
And I’ll give her what she wants: what she fears.
Her last conscious thoughts will be of me.
But not yet . . . I have to hold back.
Tamping down those vibrant, exhilarating fantasies, I decide to savor them later. When the timing is right.
With one last glance at the window, I walk to the table near the fire, sit in the smooth wooden chair and feel the varnish against my bare skin. When my body is unfettered by clothes my mind is sharper. Clearer.
I study my maps carefully. Using a magnifying glass, charting my course. The worn, marked pages are spread upon the plank table near the kerosene lantern glowing softly. Scattered upon the scarred planks are the astrological charts, birth certificates and recent clippings of the deaths that no one will ever trace to me. In the articles those beautiful releases of souls are described as brutal slayings, the work of a psychopath.
Reporters, like the police, are idiots.
I can’t help but smile at all their wasted efforts.
The authorities are morons.
Fools who are so easily toyed with.
Burning wood crackled in the grate, anxious flames devouring the mossy chunks of oak and pine, the scent of wood smoke heavy in my nostrils as I reread the stories about the “victims”, tales that have been carefully construed by the stupid cops to ensure that no details they want to keep from the public have slipped into the articles. They have worked diligently to make certain a few clues as to what really happened up on the ridge won’t be available to the general populace for fear a nutcase will claim to be the killer.
Then, the short-staffed Sheriff’s Department will have to sort it all out and spend valuable hours dealing with the fraud. Officers will have to expose him or her to be just some whack job trying to get his or her fifteen minutes of fame or infamy. The department will lose a lot of time uncovering the false murderer, a lunatic pretender who in no way can understand the divinity nor the complexity of the painstakingly executed sacrifices.
You’ll have to find some other killer to emulate.
“Killer.” The word tastes bitter. As did “criminal” or “psycho”. Because what I do isn’t a crime, not just a “killing”, not some psychotic whim, but a necessity . . . a calling. However those who are unenlightened will never understand. What I’ve done, what I will do again, is misunderstood.
So be it.
A window rattles against a gust of wind and I feel a sudden chill slithering down my spine. Glancing up from my work to the icy panes, I see fluttering flakes of snow in the steely day beyond.
Feeling the storm seeping through the cracks in the walls, the cold air kissing my skin, I envision her again.
Soon you will be mine.
God and the Fates are on my side.
I lick my lips as a thrill steals through my bloodstream. Turning back to the table, I see her picture. In black and white, the surroundings out of focus, her features clear and crisp.
In the glossy photograph, she appears happy, though, of course, her smile is a frail facade. She looks almost flirtatious.
As I stare deeply into her eyes, I detect a shadow, a small frisson of darkness that betrays her fear.
In that fragile moment when the camera captures her, she senses that her life is far from what it seems.
And yet she can’t possibly comprehend the truth. Little does she know what is about to happen; that her fate
has already been sealed, that she will soon join the others . . .
Carefully I read the charts once more. The stars are in the right position, the groundwork has been done and December with its cold, stinging kiss will soon be here.
As will she.
She will arrive before the turn of the calendar’s page.
Closing my eyes I imagine our meeting.
Her chilled flesh will press against mine. Her skin will have the salty taste of fear, her cheeks even more so with the tracks of tears.
A frisson of expectation sizzles through my blood.
I glance down at the photograph again.
“Soon,” I whisper, not saying her name aloud, not wanting to hear it echo through the rafters. “Very soon.”
My groin tightens in expectancy.
Winter and Death are about to meet.