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Authors: Melinda Leigh

She Can Scream (34 page)

BOOK: She Can Scream
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No.

She pulled at the binds, but her skin gave instead. Thin and inflexible, they dug into her wrists. Pain shot up her arms. She inhaled the stale air that surrounded her face. Her feet were free, but her muscles refused to obey her commands to move. Her legs flopped when she wanted them to bend.

Had he drugged her? She had no other explanation. She pressed her fists against her mouth to hold back her scream.

She wriggled her torso. There wasn’t much room to maneuver. She was wedged in a tight space. She tried to roll over, but her head smacked into an object. A wave of nausea rolled through her. She flexed her tingling fingers and encountered flat, coarse carpet.

A car.

Was she in the trunk? No. She moved her hands as far as her possible and encountered the smoothness of leather. She must be on the floor in the back, stuffed between the seats.

A cough startled her. The driver? Haley froze. Though she couldn’t see, she sensed a person close to her. The sound of his breathing confirmed his presence. The floor shifted as the car made a turn. The chips she’d eaten earlier roiled in her belly, flooding her chest and throat with a sour, acidic burn. And her body still floated…

What had happened?

She’d been in her room, flipping through an old issue of
Cosmo
, her eyes barely skimming over the flashy ads and thinking about how unfair her parents were acting.

And then…

Someone knocked at her bedroom door.

“Haley?” Dad called through the door.

“What?” Her tone was rude, and she didn’t care. Mom could cover for him all she wanted, but Haley knew it was her dad’s idea to drag her down here and ruin her life.

The door opened, and her dad stuck his head inside. “I have to run to the office. I won’t be long. Stay inside, OK?”

Holding nothing back, Haley scowled up at him. “Fine.”

She dropped her attention back to her biology book. His sad stare was hot on her face. She knew her rebuff hurt his feelings. She only saw him two weekends a month since the divorce. But whose fault was that? He was the one who’d left them and moved too far away to see them more often. Anger nudged the guilt aside.

None of this was her fault.

Did either of her parents know what this weekend meant to her? Had they cared that she was missing the most important night of her life?

No. They hadn’t. Her mom was being ridiculous and overprotective as usual. All she ever talked about was safety. Haley had had it with the lectures.

“Want me to bring you anything special for dinner?” Dad asked.

“I’m not hungry.” Which was actually a dumb thing to say because she was. But letting him do something nice for her would make him feel better. She didn’t want him to feel better. She wanted to share her misery.

He closed the door.

Haley gave up on her studying. She shoved her books aside and flopped onto the fluffy comforter. Her dad had fixed this room up for her in her favorite color: purple. But she wasn’t here enough for it to feel like “her” room. Her suitcase was opened on the dresser. She’d live out of it until she was allowed to go home on Monday. Dad wanted her to leave some things here, but Haley lugged everything back to Westbury twice a month. If she made herself at home in his apartment, he’d think what he did was OK. It wasn’t.

She glanced at the clock by the bed. All of her friends were getting ready to go to the Halloween dance. She thought of the beautiful costume at home in her closet and her first pair of heels that she wouldn’t be wearing tonight. And of Brandon, who’d asked her out on her first official date.

Would Brandon go without her tonight? Would he find another girl to dance with? Misery filled her until she choked on it. Her eyes overflowed. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She sniffed and wiped her cheeks with her hand. This was going to be the worst weekend ever.

Her phone buzzed. She checked the display. An instant message from Brandon. Flutters swam in her belly. She automatically
glanced toward the door, and then remembered her dad had left. That’s what he did best.

Brandon: M
EET ME DOWNSTAIRS
.

Haley: U
R HERE?

Brandon: Y
ES
.

The flurries graduated to blizzard. He drove all the way down here to see her.

Haley: W
HAT ABT THE DANCE?

Brandon: S
KIPPED IT
. W
ANTED TO C U
.

Delicious warmth flooded her, washing away the sadness. Brandon would rather see her than go to the biggest dance of the year except for prom.

Brandon: C
OME DOWN
.

Her thumbs hesitated. Dad said not to go outside. She picked at her fingernail. She wouldn’t go outside. She’d go to the lobby, let Brandon into the building, and bring him upstairs. They could hang out here. Dad couldn’t object to that.

Haley: K. W
HERE R U?

Brandon:
20TH
S
T
. W
HERE

S THE DOOR?

Haley thought. The Twentieth Street entrance was actually in a narrow alley. The main lobby of the building opened onto Rittenhouse Square. She didn’t want to go into the main lobby. That’s the way her dad would come in. Better for him not to know she was downstairs at all.

Haley: I
N THE ALLEY NEXT TO THE LUGGAGE STORE.
M
EET U AT THE DOOR.

Brandon: K.

The first floor of Dad’s building was mostly stores. But you had to walk outside to get to them. There was a Starbucks and a small restaurant too. The luggage store was on the end, near the back exit to Twentieth.

Haley grabbed her phone and purse. She tiptoed down the hall. Her brother was playing a video game in the living room. Digitized gunfire and explosions boomed in the small space. Chris didn’t notice as she slipped past him and out the apartment door. Down the hall, she smacked the elevator call button with a quick prayer that her dad wouldn’t be back for a while. In the mirrored wall of the elevator, she smoothed her hair and wiped a smudge of mascara from beneath her eye.

Ugh.
Why hadn’t she stopped in the bathroom to check her makeup?

The elevator binged and opened at the lobby floor. Haley hung a quick left, breezed past the security guard, and strode for the Twentieth Street exit. She squinted through the glass door, but she didn’t see him.

“Excuse me.”

She startled. A gray-haired man about her dad’s age stood behind her. He smiled and nodded toward the door. Haley stepped away from the door so he could exit. “Sorry.”

Cool air rushed in as he left. The door closed with the soft sucking sound of the rubber weather seal. Cupping her hand over her eyes against the brighter light inside, she squinted at the dark street. Where was Brandon? She opened the door a few inches and called his name through the crack.

Nothing.

She pushed the door wider and stepped through the opening. Guilt and her father’s words nagged at her. She’d only be outside for a minute. On the sidewalk, she shivered. It had been warm when she was out this afternoon. Now that the sun had disappeared, the air had turned cold.

She hugged her arms. “Brandon?”

The street was dark, the glow from streetlights obscured by trees and buildings and signs. She took a few more steps. “Brandon?” If he didn’t come out in two more seconds…

A figure in a hoodie stepped out from under a tree.

She beamed at him. “There you are.”

Her face froze. It wasn’t Brandon. A chill sprinted through her veins. He sprang toward her. Hoping to startle him, as she turned away she lifted her phone and pressed the camera button, but the flash had no effect. Her boots dug into the pavement. She lunged for the building. Too late. Pain burst through her head. Her phone clattered across the pavement, and the world went black.

Haley’s stomach heaved at the memory.

What had she done?

She breathed through her nose and willed her gut to settle. Vomit would not improve the air under her mask.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

It hadn’t been Brandon messaging her. It had been the man who was waiting for her in the dark, and she’d walked right to him.

Tears burned her eyes. Visions of her parents and the mean things she’d said to them over the past few days played out in her head, an endless loop of selfishness. Would her angry, hateful words be their last memory of her?

Fresh sickness swept over her. She was going to die.

She tried to remember her mom’s lectures. Keep calm. Think. Never give up. What would Mom do? Just because Haley was smaller and weaker didn’t mean she was completely helpless. But drugged and bound, she felt pretty defenseless.

The car stopped, and Haley held her breath.

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

Luke tamped down his spinning thoughts and focused on the computer screen. The best way for him to find Brooke was to figure out who had taken her. The only clues to her disappearance were her cell phone, the tire tracks by the garage, and the Internet trail of two teenagers. Mike was scrolling through Brooke’s phone, and two police officers were outside casting the tire tracks. That left the Internet for Luke.

Mike gestured with Brooke’s phone. “The call that Brooke received at 9:03 p.m. came from an unregistered cell phone.”

Luke ripped his attention from his laptop. “Unregistered meaning a disposable cell?”

“Yes.”

“So, you can’t trace the call.” Which was not a surprise.

“Right.” Mike set the phone down. “Do you have anything?”

“I’ve gone through dozens of profiles connected to both Natalie and Maddie. But this one raises the most suspicion. Jeremy Brent, age nineteen, graduated from Coopersfield High School last year.” Luke switched to his Internet browser, where he’d loaded the profile. “His account has all the earmarks of a fake profile. There’s only one photo of him, and zero mention of any family members. None of his online friends seem to know him. There are too many “Thanks for the friendship. Do I know you?” comments on his page. He doesn’t post updates, except for the
initial activity when he set up his page. He almost exclusively interacts with young women.”

“Any evidence of cyber-stalking?”

“No,” Luke admitted. “This is more cyber-lurking.”

Mike frowned. “Maddie didn’t receive any harassing e-mails or online requests for personal information. If this guy is following her through social media, he got her address somewhere else.”

Luke shrugged. “Frankly, both Maddie and Natalie gave out so much personal information, he wouldn’t have to dig very deep. They both publically listed their places of employment. Hell, Maddie “checked in” at dozens of locations all over town. Anyone could have found her. All a predator would need to do is read her posts. Until she was attacked, I could tell you exactly where she was at almost any given time.”

“Nothing illegal about reading public posts.”

“No.” Luke rubbed his forehead. “But I hacked into the Coopersfield High School alumni site.”

Mike’s mouth flattened to razor blade thin. “Officially, I didn’t hear that, but go on.”

“I can’t find any record of him ever attending the school. I found a number of Jeremy Brents via Google, but none are in this area. You might not want to
officially
hear the rest of this either.” Luke pointed at the screen. “The next site I hacked was one of his social media sites to obtain the IP, or Internet protocol, address his computer was using when he interacted with these girls.”

The chief pinched the bridge of his crooked nose. “But that won’t give us his actual physical address.”

“That’s right. The IP address is the numerical code that identifies a particular computer on the Internet. IP addresses are assigned
by the Internet Service Provider. For most people, that’s their cable or phone company.”

Mike slapped the table. The phone jumped. “Shit. Getting his physical address from them will take a court order.”

Luke went back to his keyboard. “You can wait for a court order. I’m going right to the source.”

“You can hack into it?” Mike leaned closer, his interest and gaze narrowing.

“Actually, that’s what I do for a living. I’m an ethical hacker. The first thing I do with every new client is hack their system and find out where they’re vulnerable. Then I figure out how to protect their system and sell them our company’s services. With fraud and identity theft so prevalent, client data security is a vital part of any business.”

“Illegally obtained evidence won’t be admissible in court.”

“Admissibility won’t mean much if we don’t find her fast. She’ll be dead.” Luke’s gut clenched as images of Sherry flashed through his mind. He couldn’t fail Brooke the way he’d failed his assistant. “By the time you get a court order, it’ll be too late for Brooke.”

Brooke’s phone buzzed. Mike looked at the display then at Luke. “Do you know who Ian is?”

“Her ex-husband.” Luke’s stomach steamrolled at the thought of telling Chris and Haley—and Wade—that Brooke was missing.

Mike answered the call and identified himself. His grim expression went grimmer. He took the phone into the dining room. Luke turned back to his computer. Mike came back into the room. His body leaned heavily into his crutches as if the news he’d received had taken a toll.

Luke’s fingers froze. “What is it?”

The chief’s jaw sawed. “Brooke’s daughter disappeared.”

“She’s two hours away from here. We took her to Ian’s to keep her safe.”

“The Philadelphia police haven’t confirmed any foul play yet. Brooke’s ex ran to his office. He left the kids in his apartment. When he came back, Haley was gone. His son was playing video games. Chris thought Haley was still in her room. Building security saw her walking through the lobby a few hours ago. She was headed toward a rear exit.” Mike started toward the door. “Philadelphia police have issued an alert for Haley, and we have every cop in the county looking for Brooke. Why don’t you come back to the station? Jack is fielding calls there now.”

BOOK: She Can Scream
12.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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