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Authors: Brandilyn Collins

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BOOK: Final Touch
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10

B
rittany checked her watch. Nine o’clock. Five hours had passed.

She was in the great room with Rayne and Gary, who alternately sat and paced. The waiting was beyond endurance. Rayne kept saying she should be out there, doing
something
to help bring Shaley home. Brittany felt the same. Any little task would be better than this. But Al Scarrow had made it clear: they had many professionals working on the case. Rayne and Gary’s job right now was to stay by their phones.

The cell phones sat on a nearby table, still silent and mocking. Brittany glared at Rayne’s, willing it to ring.

Where was Shaley? Was she
alive?

Brittany yanked that last thought from her head. Of course Shaley was alive. She had to be. Brittany could feel it. Her best friend was out there, somewhere. Brittany would know if Shaley were dead. Her heart would know. It would stop beating.

Everyone in the band had been questioned by detectives from the sheriff’s department. Right now Kim and Morrey and the rest were scattered here and there around the mansion. But Brittany wouldn’t leave Rayne’s side. Rayne needed her. They needed each other, or they’d never survive this. And Rayne wasn’t the only one that needed Brittany. A little while ago, she’d talked to Mick—for the third time—assuring him this wasn’t his fault. All three bodyguards, Mick and Wendell and Lee, felt terrible. Each one blamed himself.

Mick’s tanned face had looked ghostlike when Brittany and Rayne first talked to him together after Shaley’s disappearance. He could
hardly look Rayne in the eye. His own glazed with tears. Brittany had never seen him or any of Rayne’s bodyguards cry. They were all men of steel.

“I’m sorry. I’m so…sorry.” Mick’s voice caught.

“It’s not your fault,” Rayne said.

“It
is.
We—I was right there. Right out front. I
saw
that van go by toward the gate…”

“So did Wendell,” Rayne whispered. “And he’s already told me
he’s
to blame. Then Lee thinks
he
should somehow have known—and he was stationed in the house.” Rayne shook her head. “None of us could have known. If we had, any one of us would have given our lives to save her.”

Mick raised his eyes to hers. A tear stood in each corner. “I would have. I would.”

“I know.”

Now Brittany gazed at Rayne hunched in a chair and shuddered at the new revelation swirling in her head. An hour ago they’d received terrible news. Sheriff’s deputies had found blood in the van.

Brittany’s mind recited the fact again and again.
Blood in the van…blood in the van…

When Rayne heard the news an hour ago, she’d thrown up.

It had only been a few drops of blood. But enough to tell them the story. Brittany’s closest friend in the world had been hit. Hurt. Those drops on the driveway
had
been Shaley’s blood. She’d been thrown in the back of that van bleeding. The imaginings and pictures crammed into Brittany’s head until she thought her brain would burst open.

She couldn’t
stand
this. Every minute, every breath seemed like her last. Her body wanted to block everything out. Shut down.

But she couldn’t let herself fall apart. Shaley needed her. Somehow Brittany, Rayne, and Gary would bring Shaley home.

Agent Scarrow strode into the great room, carrying a sheet of paper, Ed Schering beside him. Ed was still in his tux, his silver-white hair no longer so perfectly combed. He’d been yelling at
anybody and everybody, trying to fix things. Agent Scarrow had tried to calm him down. This wasn’t a movie set. He wasn’t bossing around actors and cameramen.

Ed veered off toward the kitchen.

Rayne pushed to her feet and faced Agent Scarrow. Brittany stood close by, bracing herself for what might come next. Her nerves tingled, her heart thumping against her ribs. “What’s going on?” Gary pulled up beside Rayne.

Agent Scarrow handed Rayne the paper—a rough composite drawing of the kidnapper. “It’s not the greatest, unfortunately. The security guard didn’t get all that good a look at him.”

Brittany and Gary leaned in, all three staring at the drawing. The man had a mean, fat face with hanging jowls and small eyes half hidden under a blue baseball cap with
San Diego
written across the front. He looked disgusting. And terrifying. But at least now they had a picture, something to go on.

What was he doing to Shaley right now?

There was something familiar about him…

“Ever seen him before?” Agent Scarrow asked.

“I don’t think so,” Rayne said. “But…I don’t know.”

Gary shook his head. “I’ve never seen him.”

Brittany swallowed. “I think I have.”

“Where?” Rayne’s eyes rounded.

“I don’t know.” Brittany focused on the drawing and tried to remember. But the answer wouldn’t come. Was she wrong about this? “I just…I’m not sure. I’ll keep thinking.”

Agent Scarrow nodded. “You let me know if anything comes to you.”

“Can I keep the drawing?” Brittany could hardly stand to look at the man’s face again. But she had to. She had to figure out if she knew him from somewhere.

“Sure.”

Rayne shoved the piece of paper into Brittany’s hands as if she couldn’t stand to touch it anymore.

Agent Scarrow pulled up one of the white wooden chairs rented for the wedding and gestured to Rayne and Gary. “Want to sit down? I need to tell you what we’re doing with the van evidence.”

Rayne lowered herself into her chair, sitting on the edge. Gary did the same. Brittany folded up the drawing and slid it into her jeans pocket. She’d study it later. Now she pulled up a chair and sat as well. She wanted to hear anything and everything the FBI agent had to say. Agent Scarrow sat down, legs apart.

“What about that drawing?” Rayne asked the agent.

“It’s being disseminated. Law enforcement in all nearby states will be on the lookout. I wish it were a better picture. The hat keeps us from seeing his hair or the shape of his head. But it’s something.” Agent Scarrow leaned toward them, hands clasped and forearms on his legs. “The van is still being processed. Technicians are going through every square inch of it, searching for evidence. They’ve lifted fingerprints and taken samples of the blood. These samples can be sent to a local lab for a quick test to determine if the blood is human. If it is, the techs can then pretty quickly tell the blood type. Typing will give us a fair indication if it’s Shaley’s.”

Rayne nodded. Brittany couldn’t speak. She knew it was Shaley’s. She
knew.

Agent Scarrow gestured toward the upper level of the mansion. “You know a tech collected some hair from Shaley’s brush in the bathroom so we can check DNA. If the blood type matches Shaley’s, we’ll need to run DNA tests to be sure it’s hers. Those results take weeks. The other possibility, if the blood type
doesn’t
match Shaley’s, is that it might have come from the suspect. Maybe she scratched him and drew blood. If we get lucky and discover that we may have a sample of the suspect’s blood, we can run DNA tests on the samples, then run the results through CODIS, the national DNA databank. If our suspect has been convicted of a felony, he’ll be in the system. Or, if he’s even been so much as arrested for a felony in California since the beginning of 2009, he’ll be in the system. We’ve also extracted some hair samples from the driver’s seat. These could belong to our
suspect or to the original driver of the van. We obtained hair from the original driver. Technicians will examine the hairs to see if he can be excluded.”

“Shaley and I were fingerprinted in school a few years ago.” Brittany turned to Rayne. “Remember? It was voluntary. You signed her up.”

“That’s right, I did.”

“Good to hear that.” Agent Scarrow nodded. “We’ll be able to check them against prints in the van. We’ll also run any fingerprints lifted, especially those from the driver’s area, through the California database. If the suspect has been arrested within this state, he’ll be in there. If we don’t find a match there, we’ll widen our search to western states, then the whole country.”

Gary leaned forward and ran his hands up and down his face. Then heaved back in his chair. “All this is fine, but this is
evidence.
We don’t want evidence. We just want Shaley back.”

“I under—”

“No, you don’t understand!” Sudden anger seized his face. “You
can’t
understand! We just need her found. And now we don’t even know what car they’re in!”

Rayne squeezed Gary’s arm—hard. He was usually so calm, and Brittany knew Rayne needed him to stay that way. Right now everything he said and did seemed to flow into her.

Agent Scarrow looked down at the marble floor and cleared his throat. “Mr. Donovon, I do know what it’s like to have a child snatched away. It happened to my own daughter fourteen years ago. She was three.”

Rayne’s mouth sagged open. She and Gary both spoke at once.

“I’m so sorry—”

“We didn’t know—”

“It’s okay.” Agent Scarrow held up his palm. He had long fingers. “We’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to find your daughter. I just want you to know I’m going to do everything I can to find Shaley. I will give this case everything I’ve got.”

Rayne surveyed him, as if afraid to ask the same question that hung in Brittany’s mind. “What happened to your daughter?”

Agent Scarrow swiveled his head to look through the rear wall of glass out to the back gardens. Regret pinched his face. Brittany knew before he spoke what his answer would be.

“Her body was found four days later.”

“Oh.” Brittany closed her eyes. Grief and fear surged through her. Agent Scarrow’s daughter would now have been seventeen, her and Shaley’s age.

“I’m so sorry,” Rayne whispered.

Gary shook his head. “I’m doubly sorry. I should never have…”

For a moment silence hung in the air. Brittany stared at the huge bouquets of coral and white flowers near the wall of glass—where the wedding party would have stood for the ceremony. The FBI agent’s words chilled her to the bone. They would
not
find Shaley’s body four days from now. They wouldn’t. No way could they live without Shaley.

Agent Scarrow smiled grimly. “I shouldn’t have brought it up. Every case is different. I don’t want you to think this one has to end like that. But I do want to say that’s what got me into law enforcement. After that I wanted nothing more than to get bad guys off the streets.” He stood up. “For me—this case, bringing Shaley home? It’s personal.”

11

A
t the grungy pay phone, Monster Man crowded next to me. He smelled sweaty and his breath stank. The phone hung from the wall of the gas station. At least we weren’t in the tight quarters of a phone booth.

The man’s last words echoed in my head. “
You think I stole you for money?
” What did that mean? Why did he laugh?

“Keep your head down,” he ordered.

He still didn’t want me to get a good look at his face. Hope knocked around inside me. He didn’t want me to be able to identify him later. Which meant he planned to let me go.

“You’re going to call your mom.”

Yes!

But I showed no emotion. I didn’t dare let him see how much I wanted this—how much I
needed
to hear my mom’s voice. If he knew what it meant to me, he might change his mind.

“I’ll be listening. You’re going to tell her only what I tell you to say. Got it?”

“Yes.” My heart banged around in my chest.
Please, please.

He put his beefy hand on the phone. “You say anything I don’t tell you to say, I will make you very sorry.”

“Okay.”

“First, tell her you never wanted her to marry that lowlife.”

Shock ran through me. My chin came up.

“Don’t look at me!” He shoved me against the wall. My head
bounced off the brick. I gasped. Tucked my chin down low, trembling.

“Did you get that?” He squeezed my upper arm.

“Yes.” My voice croaked. How could I say such a horrible thing to Mom? It was so
not true.

“Then tell her this.” He continued to talk, pouring out vile words that turned my limbs to ice.

Mom would never believe me. Never. She’d know I was being coached.

That realization pushed determination through my veins.

Fine. Let him tell me crazy things to say. The crazier they were, the more Mom would know he was making me say them. At least she’d hear my voice, and I’d hear hers. At least she’d know I was okay.

He lifted the receiver. “Punch in her number.”

I raised my hand. Pressed the keys. Monster Man bent close and held the receiver between our heads.

Through the speaker “You Are My Always” started to play. One of my favorite Rayne songs. It was Mom’s default ringback tone. Tears sprang to my eyes. I closed them and listened to Mom sing.

The music cut off. “Hello?”

Mom’s voice pitched high, tight.
Mom, Mom!
I wanted to scream and cry. I wanted to be with her, fling myself into her arms.

For a drawn-out second, I couldn’t even speak.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Mom.”

“Shaley!” Her voice cracked. “Where are you, are you okay?”

Monster Man pinched the skin on the back of my arm. “Say it,” he snarled in my ear.

No.
I wanted to tell Mom how much I loved her and Gary. How I was going to get home to them, no matter what it took.


Say
it!”

My jaw hardened. “I…Mom, I never wanted you to marry Gary. He’s a lowlife.” My voice sounded like someone else’s. “For a long time,
I’ve been planning to run away just before the wedding. I don’t…” My hands fisted. I squeezed my eyes shut. “I don’t ever want to see you again. Don’t come looking for me because even if you found me, I would never come home.”

“Sha—”

Monster Man slapped down the metal hook and cut the call. I leaned against the wall, sick to my stomach.

He hung up the receiver. “There now. That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

I stared at the asphalt. His scuffed brown shoes. My rolled-up jeans bottoms and bare feet. I wanted to die.

“Let’s go.” He turned me around and pointed me toward the car.

From somewhere deep within me reason whispered. I raised my eyes, took in the color of the SUV, the make. An old blue Ford Explorer. License plate 2ZRY394. I stared at the plate, willing myself to remember it. After I got back home safe—somehow—those letters and numbers could lead the police to this man. I wanted him to
pay.

He opened the Explorer’s back door.
2ZRY
…What were the numbers? 9–4–6? No. 3–4–9. No.

They were gone from my head.

My whole body slumped. What did it matter? He was talking like I’d never go back home.

“Get in back where you were.” He pushed my shoulders.

My throat jerked in a swallow. “You didn’t ask my mom for a ransom.”

He laughed that same derisive chuckle. “I told you I don’t want money, Shaley.”

“Then what do you want?”

He laid his hand on the back of my neck. I cringed from his touch. “I’m taking you to a cabin in Montana. I’ve done you a favor, taking you away from your sinful lifestyle, Shaley. I’m going to teach you spiritual truth. We’ll start a community of people waiting for Christ’s return.”

Was this guy some crazed cult leader? I felt even sicker. People disappeared into cults and never came out. “What do I have to do with your ‘community’?”

He closed his fingers around my neck. “I’ve chosen
you
to be my wife.”

BOOK: Final Touch
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