Prologue 


    Once the urge struck nothing could dissuade him. Maybe a woman’s dark glossy hair triggered the impulse. Or perhaps her long shapely legs tormented his brain until he found a way to become close. Of course, not every sighting demanded action. He was, after all, a specialist, fussy, you might say. No scattershot approach for him. His interest only peaked when the instinctual pull in his gut was so strong he could no longer ignore the rage it triggered. 
 
   He hadn’t killed a woman in almost two months. Thanks to Little Miss Nobody he’d missed his best opportunity. Who’d have guessed she carried pepper spray in her purse and had the clear head and stealth to pump the trigger? Didn’t that describe women today, ramping up their defenses by practicing killer karate moves or taking aim with debilitating aerosol sprays? With the other subjects he’d chosen, once they realized they’d never wake to another dawn, their eyes filled with terror, and they pleaded for their lives. Some struggled. That always heightened his exhilaration.
 
   Miss Nobody’s eyes also grew wide with a terrible knowledge. But instead of using her hands in a futile effort to fend him off, she dug into her handbag and pulled out the big surprise. The spray stung like hell and nearly blinded him in one eye. It would have inflicted more serious damage if her aim hadn’t been somewhat shaky. That gave him a heads-up. Still, what was he supposed to do from then on, check every woman’s purse before he got down to business?
 

   Business. He’d take care of that today after weeks of feeling like a mangy dog chained to a pole on a short lead. Oftentimes, he chose a part of the city thick with bars that drew the young, hip crowd, decompressing after a day yoked to the corporate beast. Amazing, in this day and age, how many attractive women were still trolling for a good-looking, well-dressed stranger offering to spring for a drink. Perhaps the future Mr. Right occupied the next bar stool. No, with him, the present Mr. Wrong had caught their attention, but by the time they figured it out, it was too late. 

 

   As per his usual method, he headed for a section of Seattle where he had yet to

score. Today, he’d chosen a well-worn jogging path that meandered high above an arm of Puget Sound and was bordered on either side by thigh-high shrubs and pockets of pine and leaf-bearing trees. He once had an apartment nearby, so he remembered the six mile stretch attracted the stay-in-shape-at-any-cost crowd: the kind who’d let neither wind nor rain keep them from punishing their bodies. 

 

   As so rarely happened, winter had taken a much-welcome detour, which allowed three consecutive days of pale sunlight to poke through the high, wispy clouds. Gray skies had given way to pale blue.  Because of the infrequency, he’d considered relocating south to warmer climes where sunshine was the norm and not an aberration. Someplace where the weather drew women outside instead of encouraging them to huddle in gloomy apartments. However, his work here was not yet finished. He had some catching up to do.

 

Taking advantage of today’s fine weather, he’d used the balmy air to guide his latest selection. To ensure success, he’d arrived early that afternoon in order to scope out the jogging run. A fair amount of foot traffic had pounded by. Mostly jocks, but, occasionally, his eyes feasted on a loose string of women. So far, none had either the hair or body type he demanded to spark any interest. Two or three smiled at him. One even tossed off a breathless greeting. Some women were so friendly, so trusting. Didn’t they read the newspapers or watch the tube? Oh, well, their turning a blind eye to the evils of the world worked to his

advantage.

 

   He supposed today would be the last chance to score before the weather closed in and forced him to accept defeat. Meanwhile, he sat and observed from a wood-slatted bench, the dark churning water of the Sound to his back. He still had a couple of hours to…kill. At the pun, he chuckled deep in his throat.

 

   The sun warmed his legs and arms, seeped through his running shorts and T-shirt. The visored cap, pulled low, and sunglasses fostered anonymity. Shrieking birds glided high overhead on the air currents. The muted bellow of a ship’s horn intruded upon the serenity. Usually, he welcomed the familiar sounds but, today, like on those other special occasions, he found them annoying. 

 

   A time check warned of evening’s approach and that he had less than an hour to make a connection. While he waited, he took advantage of the waning sun, tipping his face upward while his eyes remained vigilant beneath partially lowered lids. 

 

   A breeze kicked up, and he began to grow restless. Then just when he was about to abort the operation, she entered his field of vision. In no time she flashed by, her arms bent at her sides, her long nicely shaped legs pumping, dark ponytail swinging like a pendulum beneath her shoulders. A twofer. iPod buds nestled in her ears. 

 

   A shock of excitement whiplashed through his body. He checked for foot traffic, saw that no one approached and uncrossed his legs and leapt to his feet. As he set off, he patted his back pocket, checking first the short length of nylon cord then the small heart-shape he’d precisely cut from white tag board. Would this woman be his Forever Mine? He expected to find out soon.

 

   The path wove through an area where wild shrubs grew in abundance. Well canopied trees threw amoeba-shaped puddles of shade onto the path. At least a hundred paces separated the woman from the jock who’d conveniently just rounded a curve up ahead. 

 

   A burst of speed shot him forward. When he was almost neck to neck with her he made his move. Her arms flailed as he dragged her off the path and into the bushes. One ear bud popped from its nesting place, and the dim strains of “You’re A Loser” escaped from the tiny mechanism. He never liked that tune. Until now.