Dean Taggert, a former street cop turned FBI agent, has accepted a transfer into a new CAT for one reason: he needs to remove the violence from his life in order to get his ex to give him more time with his son. Not easy to do when he’s been thrust into the darkest, most violent investigation of his career. A psychopath calling himself the Reaper is auctioning off murder at a deviant cyber club called Satan’s Playground, and Dean and his team are forced to helplessly witness the killer’s brutal crimes online.
Stacey Rhodes is happy in her quiet, sleepy little town of Hope Valley, Virginia, where she has taken over as Sheriff because of her father’s ill health. Nothing much seems to happen here, except for the mysterious disappearance of the town bad girl a year ago. So she is shocked when a sexy, brooding FBI agent intrudes on her world, bringing evidence that the missing local girl was the victim of a serial killer. Even more shocking, that serial killer might be someone she knows.
Maybe even someone she loves..
“All in all, Fade To Black is fabulous.” – Mrs. Giggles
“I was so pleasantly surprised, then, to discover a real gem in Fade to Black, and Leslie Parrish (aka Leslie Kelly) is an author I plan to follow. B+” – All About Romance
“Ms. Parrish delivers an exceptional crime drama from the first page to the last.” – The Romance Reader’s Connection
“Leslie Parrish sets the pace for this fast packed action thriller with the first word and she doesn’t let you go until the very end.” – Fallen Angels Reviews
In the final moments of her life Lisa Zimmerman realized she knew her killer.
With his black-cloaked form illuminated by moonlight, it took just one particular, whispered expression to send the truth flooding into her pain-numbed consciousness. Her slowing brain cells jolted back into awareness.
“You?” It hurt to push the whispered word across her swollen lips, which were caked with blood and dirt, and flecked with bits of dug-in gravel. Despite the pain, she added, “Can’t be.”
But it was true.
She knew who had tied her to this tree, her arms stretched painfully above her head, leaving her to dangle from wrenched shoulders and balance on the tips of her bare toes. Knew who had slashed the vicious blade across her abdomen, until she’d felt warm, sticky blood spill down her legs onto her own feet. Knew who watched her from behind the black hood, his dull eyes reflecting no emotion, as if her agony didn’t exist.
Until this moment, she’d been floating, dazed and nearly disappearing into a world she created in her own head, one in which this was happening to someone else, and she was merely an observer. Now, though, shock sent her blood-deprived, slowing heart back into overdrive, until it thudded in a hard, desperate rhythm. Her shallow breaths, each of which caused a strange whistling sound in her chest, grew more rapid.
Knowing made it worse. That he could do such a thing…
Knowing didn’t, however, ease the pain that had begun with the first sweep of the knife. She’d tried to escape it by giving in to the slow lethargy of blood loss. Now, the terror she’d felt when she’d realized she was being kidnapped came rushing back like a bullet hitting her dead center.
Feeling capable of moving again, she expended what little energy she had left in a vain effort to pull back and evade the next slow, deliberate stroke, meant to torment more than wound. He’d wounded her deeply the first time. Now he was just playing.
I’ve known you most of my life. How could you?
His identity offered no glimmer of salvation. Sent no ideas of how to escape through her half-dead brain, which seemed ready to shut down, with one final prayer that it would be over soon. It didn’t give her courage or make her want to put up a fight, as she had when he’d grabbed her as she’d stumbled out of Dick’s Tavern. That had been…days ago? Weeks? Centuries?
No. It might have seemed like an eternity, but it had probably been an hour or two since she’d left the crowded bar. She’d been so drunk she had at first thought some guy who’d bought her a drink was hoping for some payback in the dark shadows of the gravel parking lot. Or that the one real friend she had left in this town had come to drag her home, safe and sound, whether she liked it or not. Safe and sound…at home?
The merciless crunch of his powerful fist on her jaw had quickly killed those ideas. Her kidnapper had dragged her across the ground, half-conscious, unable to whimper much less call for help. Not that anybody else had been outside to hear.
He had thrown her into the back of a covered pickup and driven her out here into the middle of nowhere, where she’d assumed she was going to be raped. But every minute since, he’d made it clear he didn’t want to fuck her. He used to–God, why did you laugh at him–but now he only wanted one thing: to watch her die.
The pain, so sharp at first, had dulled into a deep burning. She begged for mercy knowing it wouldn’t come. “Please let me go. I won’t tell. I know how to keep secrets.”
“Just stay quiet,” he said. His words were a little choppy, as if, despite his still, calm demeanor, he was finally feeling some emotion about what he was doing to her.
As quickly as it had arisen, the hope that he might actually have some glimmer of humanity that could be appealed to disappeared. Because through swollen, half-closed eyes, she saw him reach down and rub his crotch.
Yeah. Definitely feeling some emotion. “You sick motherfucker,” she spat.
“Shut up, filthy slut!” He swung his arm back, but this time, instead of the blade, he used his fist to quiet her. He didn’t want this to end too quickly. There would be no goading him into making it quick. “You’re dirty and you deserve what you get.”
The blow flung her head back and she saw stars. Not the figurative kind, but a blanket of real ones filling the midnight blue sky above. So many they’d take a thousand nights to count, a lifetime to appreciate.
She had minutes, at most. Seconds if she was very lucky.
Trying to distance herself from it, she kept staring upward, focusing on the full moon, the heavens. “Daddy,” she whispered, pleading for something she’d lost long ago.
How could the world still be turning and life continuing everywhere else when she was being tortured to death? Beneath all that light, that immenseness, she was entirely and completely alone with the monster who wanted her dead.
“I’m sorry.” Tears oozed from the corners of her eyes to mingle with the blood and dirt on her cheeks. She didn’t know who she was talking to, some God she’d long since stopped believing in? Herself for getting caught in this trap?
Maybe she was trying to say the one thing she’d never said to the one person who truly deserved to hear it. This will break her heart.
The vision of her sad, weary mother, who’d been so loving, yet so impossibly blind, brought her head forward. She again focused on her attacker.
He was no demon. Just a vicious, awful human being.
“Why?” A weak whisper was all she could manage. She had to have lost a lot of blood. It no longer gushed, but still oozed slowly down her front. Its warmth against her bare skin contrasted sharply with the cold air of the March night. Not long now.
“Because you’re a whore and nobody will miss you,” he said with a shrug.
How had nobody ever noticed he was insane?
“Wait here” As if she had any other choice.
He glanced to his right, shook his head, then strode to the edge of the small clearing in which he’d imprisoned her.
That was when she saw the video camera.
Standing on a tripod, it was pointed directly at her. A small red light pierced the darkness, indicating the camera was on, recording this. He was capturing her pain, casting her final moments into a bloody sequence of two dimensional images.
“You’re gonna be famous,” he claimed as he adjusted the thing.
He tilted it down a little. A whirring noise told her he’d zoomed in closer.
“Sick pig,” she mumbled, though the words were so soft she barely even heard them. She wasn’t able to breathe well, barely had the air to make any audible sounds.
“We’re both gonna be famous.”
Both famous. Lisa’s eyes drifted closed. Her muscles unable to support her any longer, her legs slowly went limp. She hardly felt the agony of her shoulders pulling from their sockets under the full pressure of her nearly dead body weight.
The word zipped through her mind, making her suck in one last desperate breath of hope. Even as she heard the crunch of dried leaves beneath his feet as he returned to finish what he’d so brutally started, she couldn’t help feeling a tiny moment of triumph.
He was on that tape with her. Disguised yes, in a black cape and a hood. But she had recognized him. Somebody else would, too. Long after she was dead and gone, someone would see that video and catch him. Small comfort, but it was something.
The footsteps stopped. Lisa didn’t have to open her eyes to know he was again beside her. The warmth of his breaths emerging through the opening in his hood brushed her cheek. If she had any strength, she’d turn her head and sink her teeth into his throat. But strength had long abandoned her. As had dreams of escape. Justice, though, that fantasy hadn’t disappeared yet.
“Ready for your close up?” he whispered.
Close up of you, too, bastard.
He touched her cheek with one black gloved finger. “Don’t be sad. Lots of people will see this. They’ll love you and they’ll never know what a cheap whore you are.”
The arm swung. A kiss of steely fire. And a few random thoughts before oblivion.
Why was he making this video?
Who would see it?
Don’t let Mama see….