Forbidden pleasure, p.15
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       Forbidden Pleasure, p.15

         Part #8 of Bound Hearts series by Lora Leigh
 
Page 15

 

  Max narrowed her eyes in promised retaliation. “Don’t even consider it, girlfriend. I’d hate to have to hurt you bad. ”

  Keiley snickered. “I could always tell Delia about your toy chest. ”

  Max’s eyes widened as mock horror swept over her face. “She would have a stroke. And Joey would certainly have a meltdown. He can barely say the word vibrator. ”

  “Knows how to use it, though, doesn’t he?” Kei snickered as she linked her arm with her friend’s and headed to the house. “That’s all that matters. Right?”

  “Oh hell, yeah,” Max sighed in remembered bliss. “Who cares if he can say the word as long as that bad boy can do the deed?”

  They were laughing as they entered the sunroom, but inside Keiley could feel the worry beginning to build. She didn’t believe in coincidence. Coincidence didn’t account for the rumor that Mac and his friend were now sharing her bed. Somehow, someone knew something.

  Perhaps one of the farmhands? Keiley wondered. Had someone overheard something?

  They couldn’t have. The farmhands lived off the farm, they came in the morning and left in the evening. They couldn’t have seen or overheard anything.

  But what else?

  She was aware of the interested looks she received through the meeting as well as a general air of speculation. She hated it. But even as she hated it, feared it, it began to piss her off. She wasn’t a child anymore. And by God, these people had no control over her life now.

  Jethro had been at the house one night. One damned night. They had no right to begin gossiping so soon. To want to see her ostracized so easily.

  These women whom she had laughed with for the past three years, whom she had helped at various times. She had babysat for several of them. She had helped out in Lissa Ryker’s store when she had been sick last year. She had helped Beulah Paddington the month before in her florist shop. At one time or the other, Keiley had lent a hand to each of these women, and yet they were whispering about her.

  Max was one of the few whom Keiley doubted was joining in the gossipfest. Max generally waved gossip to the side and treated it like an amusing little joke.

  By the time the meeting came to an end and Keiley had received her receipt for the booth she had rented in the charity’s name, she was more than ready to head home. Paranoia was beginning to get the best of her. She was feeling so paranoid that as she headed for the doors she came to an abrupt stop, certain she had heard something she couldn’t have heard.

  Ménages. The insidiously muttered word had her freezing before she whirled around, searching the small group of women behind her.

  They appeared innocent, chatting among themselves, though she couldn’t hear what they were saying.

  Shaking her head, Keiley moved quickly from the house and to her car, certain that her own imagination at this point was making her hear things that hadn’t been said.

  Grimacing at her own overactive imagination, she strode quickly to her car, unlocked the door, and moved into the stifling interior before turning the key and lowering the windows.

  As she drove from the Staten mansion, she was pensive. The ringing of the cell phone at her side dragged her out of her thoughts as she flipped it open and brought it to her ear.

  “Hello?”

  “Kei, let’s take lunch in town. ” Max’s cheerful voice came over the connection. “Joey’s mother has the kids and I can bum around all day if I want to. ”

  Keiley grinned. “I’m game. Where do you want to meet?”

  “I’m sick of the Goody Two-shoes,” Max snorted. “Let’s hit Casey’s outside of town. We can enjoy a beer in peace rather than having to pretend enjoy that sucky wine we’ll have to stick to in town. ”

  “Your roots are showing, Max,” Keiley teased her. “Better be careful or Delia will learn your daddy worked the dockyards before he came to Scotland Neck with all that money. ”

  “I could only get so lucky,” Max retorted dryly. “Just think of all the bullshit I could get out of that way. Old Victoria Staten wouldn’t harass my husband whenever I didn’t sign up for her little pet orgs anymore. ”

  The charity “orgs,” or organizations. Keiley laughed in genuine amusement.

  “I’ll meet you there,” she promised her. “If you get there first, order my beer. I’m going to need it. ”

  “No kidding,” Max agreed with her. “The place was like a school of sharks moving in for the kill. Maybe I need two beers. I’ll see you in a few. ”

  “In a few. ” Keiley hung up, frowning at the edge in Max’s voice. Just what the hell had gotten into those damned women on the charity committee? At this rate, she wouldn’t have to worry about working a booth at the festival because she would be blacklisted before she bought the supplies.

  She sighed wearily. Maybe the planets or something were just out of phase. What else could explain it?

  8

  “Okay, what do you have?” Mac sat down at his desk and powered up his laptop as Jethro opened his own at the side of the desk.

  “Dell hasn’t been able to track down anything on our playboy,” Jethro said. “That boy just doesn’t have what it takes to investigate sex crimes. He doesn’t have a clue. ”

  “Neither did I,” Mac grunted.

  “Only because you left too soon,” Jethro grunted as Mac opened the P2P port between the two computers to access the information Jethro had brought with him.

  “You think it’s a sex crime, then?” Mac asked. That had been Mac’s specialty.

  “Our boy is working himself up to it. ”

  “What makes you think I left too soon, then?” Mac asked.

  “This. ” Jethro pulled up the information on his laptop. “What we have is a stalker that likes to play games. His female victims are the pawns, but what he’s after are the knights. ”

  “You’re screwing your chess up, Jeth,” Mac growled. “Women are queens, the men are the kings. Stalkers are always after the queens. ”

  “Not in this case,” Jethro said. “Were you aware that the first victim’s husband was in law enforcement?”

  Mac nodded. “That’s how I got the case. ”

  “Did you also know that each of the victims’ husbands were or had been involved in investigations involving stalkers or sexual predator cases with a high rate of success?”

  Mac leaned back in his chair and stared back at Jethro with narrowed eyes.

  “I questioned her husband rather than her first. The stalking began during the period of time that her husband was involved in a similar case. She was active online. A well-respected accountant with several influential clients. We think she was targeted here. ” An open chat forum popped up on the computer screen. “This is the Advanced Electronics open business forum. They hire various professionals to come in to give advice to whoever pops in. Registration is minimal. Our other two victims were hit here. ” Another forum popped up, similar in design and intent. “And here. ” Yet another forum window pulled up. “From what I’ve been able to figure out, the three victims were the only ones who reported the stalking at the time. We had four others who didn’t report it because it eventually went away. ”

  “Were the four victims’ husbands involved in similar cases?” Mac asked.

  “Two of them were married. One was divorced; one was single. All with spouses, exes, or lovers in investigative fields. He played with those, though not to the same extent. Missing or moved personal articles during a span of two to four months on the unreported four as well as those reported. Then a farewell e-mail that clued them in to the fact that they were being played with. Scared the hell out of them, but when it never occurred again, they went on with their lives. ”

  “He went further with the three who reported the stalking,” Mac mused.

  “Began the same, though,” Jethro pointed out. “Missing and moved items. These are organized professional women. They don
’t just move or lose items. But suddenly they can’t find a tube of lipstick, a favorite shirt, or car keys. He’s found easy access into their homes, despite the fact that they were married. He finds a way to watch them or listen in. These women, three pictures popped up, were also in the process of becoming involved in relationships with investigators. These three he began e-mailing, harassing online, and embarrassing them during their online forums. ”

  Mac shook his head. “Embarrassing them how?”

  “Personal or Professional Secrets. Intimate details of their lives and so on,” Jethro reported.

  Narrowing his eyes, Mac stared at the screens on the computer, flipping between the statements, pictures, and vitals of the victims and their spouses. “Each husband or boyfriend was involved in the security field. A private investigator, two cops, a security analyst, two bodyguards, and a former investigator. ”

  “He fixated on the men’s career fields,” Jethro pointed out.

  Mac stared at the screen thoughtfully. “The three women he fixated on strongest were the private investigator’s and the two cops’ wives. Men he would consider better able to protect their women. Is it a sex crime? Or is he trying to prove to himself and to these men that he’s the better man? It’s a power trip that goes beyond sex. He’s striking at the men and punishing the women for what he considers their incompetence. ” Mac leaned forward as he typed in the commands that would pull up more information on the seven women. “The three who had no spouses had boyfriends, and they were the earliest occurrences. He was just stepping in here. ”

  Mac wished he had had this information when he first started on the case three years ago. He had only started the investigation with the first victim who had been violently attacked.

  “The last, fourth one he attacked just before I resigned. Her husband was a private investigator. It went on longer than the others, escalated in stages. First the missing items, then online attacks. Then the physical attack. Then he just drops out until the past six months. That’s two and a half years of silence. Why?”

  “Where the hell did you get this program?” Jethro was leaning over his shoulder as Mac typed in commands. “This isn’t the standard one we’re using at the Bureau. ”

  Mac’s smile was smug. “Keiley fiddled with it a time or two. I normally use it for the farm, but it’s applicable in damned near any field. All I have to do is give it the commands and search criteria and it pulls from the files I command. Or—” He hit another key. “We search the Internet with the same criteria that’s already been loaded in. That takes awhile, though. ”

  Mac leaned back in his chair, frowning as Jethro moved back to the side of the desk and pulled a chair close. He could feel something niggling at the back of his mind, but couldn’t bring it into focus.

  His gaze went over the files pulled up at present as he minimized the program to work in the background.

  “Why haven’t there been any attacks from when I gave the case to Dell up until the last six months?” he questioned absently. “It’s been three years. ”

  “Maybe he moved. The attacks could have gone on elsewhere without our being aware of it. ”

  “Possibly,” he murmured. But it didn’t feel right. That was the problem with this investigation to begin with. Too many things just didn’t feel right once he began the investigation.

  “Have you had another profile worked up on him?”

  Jethro shook his head. “We only had the three instances to work on until I found the other four recently. The director wanted more information before we went back to the profiler. ”

  “This isn’t a sex crime, Jethro. ” Mac could feel it. It was something else, something more dangerous. “And he wouldn’t just stop. He would go on, and the attacks would get worse. He wants to prove something. ”
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