In the community of Avalon on Catalina Island, a psychopath is kidnapping children and perfectly posing and painting the bodies of adult victims to resemble disabled artist, Robin Ingram.
Robin struggles with feelings of imperfection, and knowing some madman has a macabre agenda—which includes fixing her—is unsettling. She’s relieved when paramedic Sam Albrecht steps up to help.
Sam believes he knows the identity of the killer, and he wants nothing more than to prove it in order to keep Robin out of danger. Then Sam is arrested as a suspect for the crimes, and Robin’s life is thrown into a fresh whirlwind. She may not know who the real killer is, but she does know Sam is innocent…and she will find the proof to set him free, or she’ll die trying.
She was beautiful. He couldn’t see another thing he wanted to fix. Her hair, her eyes, her posture—all of it perfect.
He reached forward to readjust a curl but stepped back without touching her. No. She was absolutely perfect. She filled some essential part of him with a joy so sharp it could cut his heart.
He completed his work as the sun came up, bathing the scene in a rosy, sun-risen glow. Just as he finished, he heard the thud and scrape of running shoes, far off, but coming closer.
He gathered his supplies and slipped away as the jogger reached the boundaries of the park.
The young woman’s body told a thousand stories, offered up a thousand cryptic clues, and not the least were the wires, the padding, the propping. Her limbs stretched and posed like a dancer mid-plié, one graceful hand twisted and bent over her turned head. The worst was the glimpse her body gave into the warped mind of the monster who had killed her.
Sam Albrecht backed a little farther away, hiding his pulsating anger inside clenched fists. He had to wait to do his job, wait for the detectives to gather all those clues, wait for the photographer to take her pictures, wait for his rage to cool before he moved her.
The jogger who’d found her huddled far enough away that she couldn’t see the corpse any longer. Not that hiding from the body would save her from seeing it behind her eyelids forever, or in her nightmares. Sam turned so as to be able to watch the woman as well as the crime scene, his muscles at ease but ready to jump to help her if she needed it. She held a paper bag in case she hyperventilated again, and her brown hair escaped her ponytail and clung to the sides of her damp face.
This far up from Avalon’s harbor, nestled on the landward side of Catalina Island, the sound of the sea faded to background noise, like a hush of wind or the swish of tires on wet roads.
A car pulled up, not one of the few private vehicles allowed on the island, but one bearing official plates, and another officer got out.
Detective Jerry Macias surveyed the scene for a short minute before he turned his massive body toward Sam.
“You OK, buddy?”
Sam narrowed his eyes, not meeting Jerry’s gaze. The guy saw too much, understood too much, as it was. “Doing my job.”
“Yeah. It smothers something inside you, doesn’t it?” Macias nodded at the photographer and moved closer to the crime scene.
Sam went back to watching for the signal to load the body onto the gurney.
Seagulls wheeled overhead, curious, rapacious. Thank God the jogger found her before some of the more destructive animals got to her. At least her face hadn’t been touched by ravening animals.
Only by the animal who had killed her.
Turn off the anger. Turn off the compassion. Turn off the gratitude that he wasn’t the one who had to tell her family. Even more harrowing than seeing the glimpse into the killer’s mind was the thought of dealing with her family’s grief. What if it were his sister? One of his friends? Robin came to mind, her black hair swirling around her shoulders as she swung a bat, her blue eyes glinting with pride when she connected with the baseball, and he shuddered. Not Robin, please, God, not Robin. Don’t let this happen to Robin.
He wasn’t sure how he knew this wasn’t the last painted and posed body he would deal with.
He took a breath when Macias started talking to the team. “It’s Lehanie Haro. Her husband will have to identify her.”
Most of the response team had already given the woman her name. Even the jogger had called in to say she’d found Lehanie. Everyone on the island had heard about her when she went missing. Mostly they’d speculated on why she’d kidnapped the little girl she’d been babysitting. Now, they’d have to wonder what the guy who had taken them both was planning to do to Becca. Five years old, and in a pervert’s hands. Because a guy who could do this could do anything.
God, why do You let these things happen?
Sam glanced at the jogger, saw she held up for now, and looked back at the body.
Lehanie had flaming red hair. But now, it was a dull black, flat and dry. Sam wondered if the killer had made her dye it herself, or if he’d done it to her. He swallowed. The guy had tried to change the color of her eyes, as well, but at least all he’d done was paint blue irises on her eyelids.
The things he might be doing to the five-year-old made Sam wish he didn’t possess much of an imagination.
Macias must have been thinking the same. “The little kid she was babysitting was blonde, right?”
“She is blonde.” Sam wouldn’t kill Becca off with his words before he had to.
“Yeah.” Macias shrugged, obviously concentrating on only the immediate aspect of the case. “Rigor hasn’t set in. The lady who found her OK?”
“Somewhat.” Sam wasn’t going to lie, no matter how expected. He peered at the wires wound through the woman’s hair. He’d seen the telltale color at her roots, behind her ear. Her killer had posed her like a dancer and painted her like a stage performer.
He’d seen murders before, witnessed one himself not so long ago. But none of them sent his gut into cramps like this.
Sam’s coworker, Trevor Graham, gripped Sam’s shoulder. “Gotta move it. The photographer needs pics from this angle.”
As he backed away, he once again had to turn off the emotions, the ache for the girl, her family, the small island community. But mostly, the fear for the little girl who, he had to believe, for now, was still alive.