Authors: Blake Pierce
O N C E T A K E N
(A RILEY PAIGE MYSTERY—BOOK 2)
B L A K E P I E R C E
Blake Pierce is author of the bestselling RILEY PAGE mystery series, which include the mystery suspense thrillers ONCE GONE (book #1), ONCE TAKEN (book #2) and ONCE CRAVED (#3).
An avid reader and lifelong fan of the mystery and thriller genres, Blake loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit
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Copyright © 2016 by Blake Pierce. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Jacket image Copyright GongTo, used under license from Shutterstock.com.
BOOKS BY BLAKE PIERCE
RILEY PAIGE MYSTERY SERIES
ONCE GONE (Book #1)
ONCE TAKEN (Book #2)
ONCE CRAVED (Book #3)
Captain Jimmy Cole had just finished telling his passengers an old Hudson River ghost story. It was a good one, about an ax murderer in a long, dark coat, perfect for a foggy night like this. He sat back in his chair and rested his knees for a moment, too creaky from too many surgeries, and pondered, for the millionth time, his retirement. He’d seen nearly every hamlet the Hudson had to offer, and one of these days, even a small fishing boat like his, the
, would get the best of him.
Done for the night, he steered his ship for shore, and as it chugged steadily for the dock at Reedsport, one of his passengers called out, jarring him from his reverie.
“Hey, Cap’n—isn’t that your ghost right over there?”
Jimmy didn’t bother to look. All four of his passengers—two young vacationing couples—were pretty drunk. Doubtless one of the guys was just trying to scare the girls.
But then one of the women added: “I see it too. Isn’t it weird?”
Jimmy turned toward his passengers. Goddamn drunks. Last time he’d charter his boat this late at night.
The second man pointed.
“It’s over there,” he said.
His wife covered her eyes.
“Oh, I can’t look!” she said with a nervous and embarrassed laugh.
Jimmy, exasperated, realizing he wasn’t going to get any rest, finally turned and looked where the man was pointing.
In a gap between the shoreline trees, something did catch his eye. It glistened, he thought, and it had a vaguely human shape. Whatever it was, it seemed to float above the ground. But it was too far away to see clearly.
Before Jimmy could reach for his binoculars, the object disappeared behind the trees along the bank.
The truth was, Jimmy had had a few beers himself. That wasn’t a problem as far as he was concerned. He knew this river well. And he liked his job. He especially enjoyed being out on the Hudson at this time of night, when the water was so still and peaceful. Few things out here could shatter his sense of calm.
He slowed and steered the
carefully against the bumpers as he hit the dock. Proud of himself for a gentle landing, he stopped the engine and lashed the boat to the cleats.
The passengers tumbled off the boat giggling and laughing. They staggered down the dock to shore and headed toward their B&B. Jimmy was glad they’d paid in advance.
But he couldn’t stop thinking about that strange object he’d spotted. It was far back down the shoreline and impossible to see from here. Who or what might it be?
Annoyed by it, he knew he wouldn’t get any rest until he figured it out. That was just the way he was.
Jimmy sighed loudly, twice as annoyed, and set off on foot, trudging back along the riverbank, following the train tracks that bordered the water. Those tracks had been in use a hundred years ago when Reedsport was mostly bordellos and gambling houses. Now, they were just another relic to a bygone time.
Jimmy finally rounded a curve and approached an old warehouse near the tracks. A few security lamps on the building cast a dim light, and he saw it: a glistening human shape that seemed to be floating in mid-air. The shape was suspended from one of the crossbeams of a power pole.
As he neared and got a good look, a chill ran up his spine. The shape was truly human—yet it didn’t show any signs of life. The body faced away from him, bound in some kind of fabric and wrapped around and around with heavy chains that crisscrossed and connected far beyond any need to hold a prisoner. The chains glittered in the light.
Oh, God, not again.
Jimmy could not help but remember a gruesome murder that had rocked the whole area several years ago.
His knees weakening, Jimmy walked around to the other side of the body. He stepped close enough to see its face—and he almost fell to the tracks in shock. He recognized her. It was a local woman, a nurse, and a friend of many years. Her throat was slashed, and her dead mouth was gagged open with a chain that wrapped around her head.
Jimmy gasped in grief and horror.
The murderer was back.
Special Agent Riley Paige froze in place, staring in shock. The handful of pebbles on her bed shouldn’t have been there. Someone had broken into her home and placed them—someone who meant her harm.
She knew immediately the pebbles were a message, and that the message was from an old enemy. He was telling her that she had not killed him after all.
Peterson is alive.
She felt her body tremble at the thought.
She’d long suspected it, and now she was absolutely sure. Worse, he’d been inside her house. The thought made her want to throw up. Was he still here now?
Her breathing became short with fear. Riley knew that her physical resources were limited. Just that day she had survived a deadly encounter with a sadistic killer, and her head was still bandaged and her body bruised all over. Would she be ready to face him if he were inside her house?
Riley immediately drew her gun from its holster. Hands trembling, she went to her closet and opened it. Nobody was in there. She checked under her bed. Nobody there either.
Riley stood there and forced herself to think clearly. Had she been in the bedroom since she had gotten home? Yes, she had, because she had put her gun holster on top of the dresser next to the door. But she hadn’t turned on the light and hadn’t even looked into the room. She had simply stepped into the doorway and deposited her weapon on the dresser top, then left. She’d changed into her nightgown in the bathroom.
Could her nemesis have been in the house this whole time? After she and April got home, the two of them had talked and watched TV late into the night. Then April had gone to bed. In a tiny house like hers, staying hidden would require amazing stealth. But she couldn’t discount the possibility.
Then she was seized by a new fear.
Riley snatched the flashlight that she kept on the side table. With her gun in her right hand and the flashlight in her left, she stepped out of her bedroom and switched on the hall light. When she heard nothing awry, she quickly made her way to April’s bedroom and threw open the door. The room was pitch dark. Riley turned on the overhead light.
Her daughter was already in bed.
“What is it, Mom?” April asked, squinting with surprise.
Riley stepped into the bedroom.
“Don’t get out of bed,” she said. “Stay right where you are.”
“Mom, you’re scaring me,” April said, her voice trembling.
That was just fine as far as Riley was concerned. She was plenty scared herself, and her daughter had every reason to be as scared as she was. She went to April’s closet, shined her flashlight around inside, and saw that no one was there. No one was under April’s bed either.
What should she do next? She had to check every nook and corner in the rest of the house.
Riley knew what her one-time partner Bill Jeffreys would say.
Damn it, Riley, call for help.
Her longstanding tendency to go things alone had always infuriated Bill. But this time, she was going to heed his advice. With April in the house, Riley wasn’t going to take any chances.
“Put on a bathrobe and some shoes,” she said to her daughter. “But don’t leave this room—not yet.”
Riley went back into her bedroom and picked up her phone from the side table. She punched autodial for the Behavioral Analysis Unit. As soon as she heard a voice on the line, she hissed, “This is Special Agent Riley Paige. There’s been an intruder in my home. He might still be here. I need someone here fast.” She thought for a second, then added, “And send an evidence team.”
“We’ll get right on it,” came the reply.
Riley ended the phone call and stepped out into the hall again. Except for the two bedrooms and the hallway, the house was still dark. He could be anywhere, lurking, waiting to attack. This man had caught her off guard once before, and she had nearly died at his hands.
Switching lights on as she went and keeping her gun at the ready, Riley moved efficiently through the house. She aimed her flashlight into every closet and unlit corner.
Finally, she glanced up at the hallway ceiling. The door above her led to the attic, with a pull-down ladder tucked away inside. Did she dare climb up there for a look?
At that moment Riley heard police sirens. She breathed a huge sigh of relief at the sound. She realized that the agency had called in the local police, because BAU headquarters was more than half an hour away.
She went to her bedroom and pulled on a pair of shoes and her bathrobe, then returned to April’s room.
“Come with me,” she said. “Stay close.”
Still holding her gun, Riley wrapped her left arm around April’s shoulders. The poor girl was trembling with fear. Riley led April to the front door and opened it just as several uniformed police officers came dashing up the sidewalk.
The male officer in charge came into the house, his gun drawn.
“What’s the problem?” he asked.
“Someone was in the house,” Riley said. “He might still be here.”
The officer eyed the gun in her hand uneasily.
“I’m FBI,” Riley said. “BAU agents will be here soon. I’ve already searched the house, except the attic.” She pointed. “There’s a door in the ceiling over in the hall.”
The officer called out, “Bowers, Wright, get in here and check the attic. The rest of you search outside, back and front.”
Bowers and Wright went straight to the hallway and pulled down the ladder. Both drew their weapons. One waited at the bottom of the ladder while the other climbed upward and flashed a light around. In a few moments, the man disappeared into the attic.
Soon a voice called out, “No one here.”
Riley wanted to feel relieved. But the truth was, she more than half wished that Peterson had been up there. He could be arrested right here and now—or better yet, shot. She was all but sure that he wasn’t going to turn up in the front yard or the back.