Armed with little more than a theory as to who murdered Sydney, Jocelyn tries to lure a killer into the open. But unraveling the mystery means facing-off against a cunning psychopath whose ruthlessness knows no bounds. When more bodies start to pile up, Jocelyn has to decide just how far she's willing to go to catch a cold-blooded killer.
She’d gotten a late start. It was a quarter after seven as Sydney Adams jogged that evening along Boxer’s Trail, a path for runners that meandered through Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park east of the Schuylkill River and looped around the outside of the park’s athletic field. But it was May, and the sun still strained on the horizon, not willing to give up the fight, even at this late hour. Soon though, night would descend. She didn’t like to start so late, but her grandmother had made breaded pork chops, and Sydney had gorged herself until she felt bloated and lethargic. She’d almost skipped the run. Track and Field season was nearly over. What was one practice run?
But she needed to think. She needed to be alone.
Columns of sunlight filtered through the thick copse of trees on her left. The air had cooled since that afternoon but only slightly. It had been a nearly ninety-degree day, and she’d sweated it out gracelessly with the rest of her classmates at Franklin West High School. Now the humidity lingered, clinging to her bare thighs, condensing into a fine sheen of perspiration.
Sydney pushed herself, running faster than usual. She passed a couple jogging with their dogs—a greyhound and a husky—a bicyclist, and then a knot of teenage boys whose catcalls trailed after her. She picked up her pace, ears pricked to any sounds behind her that might suggest someone approaching. The tension in her body eased when she’d gone another quarter-mile without incident. The light was seeping away, the shadows around her lengthening. All she could hear now were the sounds of her raging heartbeat, her labored breath, and her sneakers pounding the trail.
None of it drowned out thoughts of him—of what had happened between them.
Mentally she calculated the days. It had been twenty-one days since he had kissed her, touched her, taken her. She had let him. There was no denying that. She could have stopped him at any time. She should have. He was older. He was married. And he was white.
And yet . . .
She willed her burning leg muscles to move faster, harder. Her entire body was slick with sweat. It ran in fat drops down her face and neck, pooling between her breasts, sliding down her spine and gathering at the cleft of her ass.
What would Lonnie think?
A lump formed in her throat, and she swallowed quickly. Her boyfriend would never know. No one would ever know. Only the two of them. It had happened one time because they both wanted it, and now it was in the past. She might be a teenager, but she was far from naïve. She knew exactly how scandalous the situation was, and she had no interest in continuing with it. She had a future. She had Lonnie and Georgetown and a grandmother she didn’t want to disappoint. A grandmother who had worked hard to raise her and her sister after her parents had died. A grandmother who had moved heaven and earth so Sydney could afford to go to college in the fall.
Their flirtation, or whatever it was, had to be over. Still, she thought of his hands gripping her hips, his breath hot and rapid on the back of her neck. His mouth—
She stumbled, crying out as her left foot tangled with a rogue tree root poking up through a crack in the concrete. Her hands shot out, prepared to break her fall, but her legs stuttered, almost of their own volition, finding purchase. She stopped, leaning against the offending tree. Her chest heaved. Sweat ran down her forehead and into her eyes, irritating them. Laughter erupted from her diaphragm. How many times had she run this path? Hundreds. Sprained ankle by way of tree root was a rookie move. This was exactly the problem. This distraction.
It sounded like a firecracker and registered as a searing, stabbing pain in the back of her right thigh. Like a hot poker. Before she could react, this one closer. Then two more. She suddenly tasted dirt in her mouth, and her temple was resting on that damn tree root before she could even begin to process what was happening to her. Her legs wouldn’t work. Panic, hot and frenzied, closed in on her. What was happening?
“Help,” she said, but her voice came out small and squeaky. She thought she heard footsteps approaching from behind. Sydney willed her legs to move, to stand, to scramble, to run. She reached forward with her right arm, feeling for the base of the tree. She had to get up. As her surroundings began to fade to an inky, charcoal blackness, she felt a tug on her lower body.
“Please,” she croaked.
Then the darkness swallowed her.
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