Together in Darkness

Chapter One

   The musty scent of out-of-season clothes pressed close; surrounded him with barely enough room to breathe, let alone move. He'd been inside the dark closet for hours while the party raged, venturing out once to grab a plate of food and a beer. Now he pressed his ear to the cool paneled door to hear what they were saying.

   He smirked.

   One tall, voluptuous brunette had come on to him at the food table. Smiling, he'd raised his left hand flashing the gold wedding band he used at times. "Married, baby," he'd said with a thick Cajun accent. It amused him to mingle with the unsuspecting. Still, his legs were cramping. Changes in the observation stage would have to be made next time to avoid the discomfort.

   Calculated. Precise. That's how his plans were laid out. It had taken time to learn, a lot of trial and error.

   "I know it's been rough lately and I've been working a lot, but you know I'm doing it for us. Twenty-four is a good age for new beginnings," he heard his target's boyfriend say.

   That's what he thinks.

   "I'll see you in the morning."

   "Okay."

   Moments ago the music had ceased. Laughter and birthday platitudes in a jumble of voices faded as partiers left. The door closing and silence indicated—he hoped—the last of the guests were gone. As the dead bolt slid home and the foyer light switched off, he blew a deep, anticipatory breath. It was almost time. She mounted the stairs above his head; the sound of running water assured he could safely leave his hiding place. Upstairs he watched her prepare for bed. She brushed her teeth, rinsed with mouthwash and wandered into the absurdly feminine bedroom, brushing her long hair. The curves of her body beckoned him.

   He moved quickly, a silent shadow. Grasping the young woman around the waist he slipped a hand over her mouth. He tumbled them onto the bed stretching across her prone body as she struggled. She was stronger than her slight build led him to believe. Her elbow slammed into his chest and it hurt. "Bitch!" He slapped her hard.

   He wrapped his fingers around her slender neck and squeezed. He wouldn't let her suffer long. Frantically, her fingers attempted to gain a hold, nails sliding over the backs of his hands, but to no avail. Bit by bit, he applied more pressure, until the fight drained out of her along with the oxygen. Her thrashing lost vigor, her body lost strength. Her fingers trailed from around his wrists. A familiar adrenaline rush crashed through him at the end when the prey gave up to the darkness.

   "Twenty-four won't be a good age after all," he whispered.

Pressing his lips to hers he inhaled the final gasp and stayed there a moment longer.

   The kiss of death.

   He stood and moved slowly down her body, his hands caressing her breasts and flat stomach, luxuriating in the softness. He straightened her legs and tugged the flowery nightshirt lower to cover the tops of her tanned thighs. The glowing red numbers on the bedside clock read 2:10 a.m.

He slipped out of his leather jacket, and folded it neatly over the vanity chair, brushed a non-existent speck from his clean white t-shirt, then headed back to the bed where she waited. Carefully, he pulled the shiny straight razor freshly sharpened for this occasion from his jean pocket and opened it with a click.

   He slit the garment down the center. Now that her bronzed skin was exposed, he paused, studying her, and moved the auburn hair out of her face. God, she was beautiful, probably as beautiful on the inside.

   The razor sliced easily through the skin and underlying tissue, but thick muscle took a moment to carve through. The flaps of skin formed a jagged 'x' across her abdomen and, when peeled back, made it easy for the organs to be removed. Coddling each piece protectively like a newborn infant, he laid them gently on her chest, pausing every time to inhale the sweet smell of blood coating his hands.

   He stood back to admire his work, a grin twitched at the corner of his mouth. So many times he'd read the stories about Jack the Ripper and how the cunning devil cut open harlots in White Chapel. It pleased him to repeat the procedure of such a famous mastermind.

   "Red Rover, Red Rover, send Jakey right over."

   He suppressed the laughter and dipped a forefinger into the pool of dark red blood settling in her abdominal cavity. On the bare wall above the headboard, he meticulously spelled out his message—To FBI Agent Jake Austin. One for the money.

   Satisfied, he walked into the bathroom to wash the blood from his skin. He smiled at his reflection. Picking up the razor from the side of the sink, he ran the blade under the sparkling flow several times, then dried it and his gloved hands on a fluffy pink towel before sliding it into his pocket. He noticed a red splotch on his jeans. "Dammit." Ruining his jeans hadn't been in the plan. He punched the mirror shattering it, leaving his reflection fractured. Leashing the rage, he exited the room. He'd have to burn the clothes.

In the big, airy kitchen, he snagged a piece of birthday cake from the box she'd left on the bar. "Yum. Chocolate, my favorite."

   He paused at the French doors to zip his jacket over the blood-stained t-shirt and left, humming as he moved across the lawn within the comforting shadows.

   In that instant, the fine hairs on the nape of his neck stood on end. He sensed a womanly presence, sweet and… familiar. He stopped at the gate and inhaled, trying to draw her closer, but she was gone. He looked at the house once more, and opened the gate. Without a doubt, his next destination would bring new, exciting developments.

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