Dying to Please by Linda Howard

  When Sarah woke again, her head was still pounding, worse than it had been when she went to sleep. That awful foggy feeling was back, but this time she didn't have to wonder what was wrong. She knew; Densmore had drugged her again. Whatever it was had to have been in the soup.

  But why drug her again? He had her tied, and helpless.

  She lay very still, fighting the grogginess, willing herself to throw off the effects of the drug. She mustn't let this happen again.

  She couldn't afford to lose any more strength by refusing to eat or drink, but she couldn't escape if she was unconscious all the time, either.

  She was too cool, and she shifted uncomfortably but, with her hands tied, was unable to pull the covers up around her shoulders. She could feel air moving on her bare skin—

  Her mind seized, paralyzed by the awful realization. Densmore had removed her clothes. She was naked.


  “SURPRISE!” HIS VOICE WAS GAY, PRACTICALLY BUBBLING with good humor. “I know you're awake, I didn't give you nearly as much this time. Stop playing possum and open those pretty eyes.”

  Filled with a horror she could barely even begin to comprehend, Sarah opened her eyes and stared at him. Night pressed against the windows, telling her hours had passed, hours in which she'd been unconscious and totally at his mercy. All thoughts of placating him, of pretending to go along with him, had utterly vanished. “What have you done to me?” she asked hoarsely.

  He was sitting beside her on the bed, fully clothed. He blinked at her. “Done? Why, nothing. Why do you ask?”

  “My clothes—”

  “Oh, that. They were dirty. My goodness, this was the second day you'd worn them, plus you slept in them. Pulling them off . . . let's just say the logistics were complicated, so I cut them off. They were ruined, anyway.”

  She held her horror, her gut-wrenching fear, at bay and stared down the length of her naked body. The covers were all thrown back, exposing her. But her legs were still together, still tied so she couldn't move them. She hadn't thought she would ever be grateful she was restrained in such a manner, but in this case . . .

  She took several heaving breaths, fighting free of the nightmare that had begun sucking her down. “Ruined?” she managed to gasp.

  He made a face, and gestured toward her groin. “You know. You really should have told me you were in the flowers. I wouldn't have allowed myself to become so excited. It was a disappointment to have to wait, but I made do.”

  In the flowers . . . ? He must mean because she was menstruating. If that had put him off, she had never before been so grateful for her cycle. But that also meant he had looked at her, and she wanted to weep with humiliation. She didn't, she fought off the urge, fiercely reclaiming her control. Then she looked down at herself again; she saw the wet, sticky drops on her stomach, splashed across her thighs, and she almost vomited.

  She forgot about control, her mind going blank and her body arching, madly fighting the restraints in her need to get his unspeakable filth off her body. “Get it off!” she shrieked. “How dare you! How dare you!”

  He actually looked bewildered. “What's wrong? What is it?”

  “You jerked off on me, you miserable bastard!” She began to sob, futilely straining to break the nylon cords. “Wash . . . it . . .off!” She screamed the last word at him.

  “Don't take that tone with me, young lady,” he said sharply.

  “You touched me!” She was roaring in her fury, her utter outrage. “You looked at me! You had no right!”

  “Stop that. Stop it right now. I understand your modesty, but surely you realize your current state has only delayed the natural progression of our relationship. I knew the moment I saw you that you were meant for me. You belong here, with me. We'll be so happy, my dear. You'll see. I'll give you anything you want; I'll treat you like a queen. Look, I've already given you this ring. The stone needs to be reset, but the color and shape are perfect for you. I knew as soon as I saw it that this stone was too good for that tacky woman. I'll take it off in just a minute because I know you're allergic to jewelry, but I wanted you to see it first. When I have it reset, I'll have the band lined with something that's hypoallergenic, so you can wear it.” He lifted her left hand as far from the mattress as he could, given the bonds around her wrists. “See. Isn't it gorgeous?”

  She stared at the ring he'd slipped on her finger, at the huge yellow diamond surrounded by smaller white diamonds. She knew that ring. She had marveled at the size of the center stone every time she had seen it, on Merilyn Lankford's finger.

  The bottom dropped out of her stomach in a sickening rush, as she looked into the smiling face of a killer.

  Cahill checked his watch, scowling. It was getting late, almost time for the mall to close, and he was damn tired of showing these photographs to tired shoppers and shop employees. Something was nagging at him, something he couldn't quite place. He'd been without sleep more hours than he cared to count, reminding him of certain missions he'd been on in the Army, and all he wanted was a chance to sit down somewhere quiet and think. There was something Densmore had said that bothered him, but he'd gone over the conversation again and again in his mind, and nothing had clicked. Still, it was there. He knew it—whatever “it” was.

  Thursday was ticking to a close. Sarah had been at the Densmore estate only a little more than twenty-four hours—okay, closer to thirty hours, not that he was counting—but it felt as if days had passed since he'd talked to her, and the lack of contact was gnawing at him. Maybe that, rather than anything Densmore had actually said, was what bothered him. He was worried about her, he knew she was there, so he naturally associated his uneasiness with Densmore. Yeah, yeah, he knew the psychology. Too bad he didn't believe it.

  He stopped a well-preserved woman, probably in her sixties, with that put-together look that shouted “money.” “Excuse me, ma'am, but we're trying to locate this man. Do you recognize him?”

  He'd try calling Sarah one more time, he thought. If he didn't get to talk to her, he would present himself at the gate and demand to be let in. He could say he had a warrant for her arrest. Something.

  The woman took the photograph and briefly studied it, then handed it back to Cahill. “Why, yes, I do,” she said coolly. “I believe it's my banker.”

  “Thank you,” Cahill said automatically, biting back what he really wanted to say. Another William Teller fan. Ha-ha. He was too tired for this shit—“Wait a minute. What did you say?”

  Her eyebrows slightly lifted to suggest she was less than impressed with his attitude in particular and himself in general; she repeated, “I believe that's my banker. He has a certain distinction, a way of carrying himself. And of course there's the hair.”

  Cahill wasn't tired anymore. Adrenaline was surging through his system. “What's his name?”

  “Trevor Densmore. He owns—”

  Cahill didn't wait to hear what Trevor Densmore owned. He was running for the exit, his heart pounding in sheer terror as he dialed Wester. He burst into the night air and sprinted across the parking lot to the city Impala he was driving.

  “I've got an ID,” he barked into the phone when Wester answered. “Trevor Densmore. He's a banker. He has Sarah, God damn it. He has Sarah.” He unlocked the car and got in, starting the motor and putting the transmission in drive before he had the door closed. The tires squealed on the asphalt as the car rocketed across the lot toward the exit.

  “What do you mean, ‘he has Sarah'?” Wester snapped.

  “He hired her. She went to the estate yesterday afternoon, and I haven't been able to get in touch with her since. I'm on my way over there now.”

  “Doc, don't you go off half-cocked, God damn it! We have to do this right. I'll get a search warrant—”

  “I talked to him on the phone this afternoon,” Cahill snarled. “It's the same voice that's on the Lankford tape. I knew something was wrong, something bothered me about him, but I didn't fucking put it together.??
? When he reached Highway 31, the light was red. He turned on his lights and bulled through the intersection, turning left toward I-459. He hit the on-ramp topping sixty miles an hour.

  Wester was still talking when Cahill tossed the phone aside. If he got busted, he got busted. Nothing and no one was keeping him on the outside of that gray wall.

  It all made sense now, the why that had eluded them and kept all the pieces from falling into place. The killings hadn't been about business, or revenge, or money. They had been about Sarah. He remembered her calling him weeks ago, before the first killing, telling him she'd received an anonymous gift in the mail. That was the bastard's first contact, the first sign of his obsession. Cahill hadn't given it much thought since then because that had been the only contact; there hadn't been any letters or phone calls that would normally signal a stalker's escalating obsession.

  But Sarah had known, had sensed something was seriously wrong. She'd been trying to lure her unknown admirer into the open. When Judge Roberts was killed, her first thought was that her so-called stalker had done it.

  And she'd been right.

  First he'd tried to hire her away from the Judge. When that didn't work, he eliminated the obstacle and once more offered her a job. When she went to work for the Lankfords, he moved swiftly and took them out of the picture, making her once more available. This time there wouldn't be a small rush of job offers, the way there had been before; after all, who wanted to hire someone who appeared to be the kiss of death and was under suspicion herself for the murders? Trevor Densmore did, that's who. He wasn't worried about the murders. He had no reason to be.

  All he wanted was Sarah. When the media was running wild after the Lankfords had been killed, saying Sarah had been arrested, Densmore had solved that little problem by immediately going out and killing someone else to prove she couldn't possibly be the killer. As soon as she was released, he made his move, and this time it had worked.

  He had Sarah. Son of a bitch, he had Sarah.

  There was an expression on his face, in his eyes, that made her shudder. He looked at her naked body and reached out, his hand sliding over her breast. Sarah said jerkily, “I can't wear the ring. Please take it off. It's already itching.”

  He stopped, lifting his hand as he blinked at her. “Of course! I'm so sorry; I merely wanted you to see it. I should have realized how sensitive your skin is.” He slipped the ring off her finger and put it in his pocket. His eyes went dreamy again. “You're so perfect,” he crooned, reaching out to touch her breast again, and Sarah cringed.

  She had to stop him. She couldn't bear it if he kept touching her. She would rather he killed her than touch her.

  Stalkers did that, when the object of their obsession didn't measure up to the fantasy they had built up in their minds. The obsession turned to rage and they struck out, destroying the person who had so painfully failed them by not adhering to the fiction.

  She would drive him to that rage before she'd let him rape her. But he wasn't at that stage yet; because of her menses, she had a little time. She had no idea how long she could hold him off, but she would do it as long as possible. She knew Cahill; he would be knocking on the gate before long. It might be tomorrow morning, it might be tomorrow night, but he would be there. If she couldn't escape, then all she had to do was hold out, and keep Densmore at bay.

  “I don't like to be touched,” she said, shrinking away from his fingers as they tweaked her nipple. She made her voice innocent and distressed, the way he seemed to like.

  He did that blinking thing again, really fast several times in a row, as if he were connecting with reality. He looked confused. “But . . . it's all right when I touch you. We're supposed to be together.”

  “I don't like being touched,” she repeated. “It hurts. It hurts my skin.”

  He drew back, staring at her in consternation. “Oh, dear. I hadn't realized your skin is so sensitive. That's a problem I hadn't considered. But you aren't allergic to being touched; it's more of an acute sensitivity to being touched. Am I right? I'll be very gentle, my dear, and you'll gradually become accustomed to—”

  Oh, God. She clenched her teeth. “No,” she said, keeping her voice soft. “I'm sorry. It's a medical condition; it won't go away.”

  “A medical condition?” He had been reaching out to her again, but he paused, the dreaminess in his eyes morphing into something hard and ugly. “I've never heard of such a thing.”

  “You're right, it's an acute sensitivity. My nerve endings are permanently inflamed. I can tolerate clothing, if it's made from certain material, but I have to take pain medication even for that—” She was babbling and she didn't care if it made sense or not, so long as he believed it enough not to touch her again. “—and anti-inflammatories. I'm out of my anti-inflammatory medication. With everything that happened I was so upset I forgot to get my prescription refilled. Every time you touch me it feels as if you're burning me with a hot iron.”

  “Well, my word.” That seemed to have stymied him. If he'd had a firmer grip on reality, it would never have worked, but he was so caught up in his fantasy world that he couldn't concentrate on anything else. “I certainly don't want to do anything that causes you pain.” He smiled at her. “Unless you need to be punished, of course. But you'll never do anything to make me angry, will you? You'll iron my newspaper and prepare my breakfast for me, just the way you did for that old goat, Lowell Roberts.”

  “If you like,” she managed, hurting inside at the thought of the poor Judge, of the Lankfords, and that other man this lunatic had killed.

  “You'll take care of me,” he crooned. “And I'll take care of you.” He leaned down and pressed his mouth to her forehead.

  Sarah gagged, and her control broke. “Don't touch me!” she screamed.

  Like lightning his hand was on her throat, pressing hard, and he bent over so his face was close to hers. He was livid with rage. “Do not ever speak to me that way again,” he ground out.

  He was cutting off her air. She gagged again, choking, frantically trying to think what to do. She'd pushed him too far; she had to hold him off but keep him as calm as possible until Cahill could get here. Surely he would be here soon. She could make it to morning. “I'm . . . sorry!” she managed to gasp. “Hurts.”

  His face was still red as he released her throat and stood. Desperately she sucked in deep breaths, fighting the darkness that had begun to edge her vision.

  “You have to learn,” he hissed, dragging his belt from his pant loops. “You must be disciplined until you learn proper behavior. You . . . do . . . not . . . speak to me . . . that way.”

  Sarah choked back another scream and tried to roll away as the belt whistled down.

  Those fucking gates had to be twelve feet high; the wall was at least ten. He thought about ramming the gates with the car, but that would set off an alarm and warn the bastard he was coming. Cahill pulled the car as close to the wall as he could get it, then climbed on top of it. Standing on the roof of the car, he jumped and caught the top of the wall.

  Pain seared his hands. The top of the wall was embedded with glass, or barbed wire. Something. He dropped back, took off his jacket, and tossed it so it draped over the wall. He jumped again, hoping the jacket would snag and stay in place instead of sliding to the ground. It did. He braced his bleeding hands on the jacket and hoisted himself the rest of the way up and over, landing on the grass and rolling. He came to his feet with coiled balance, and took his pistol from its holster. Then he set out across the wide expanse of lawn, toward the gray stone mansion that loomed in the night like a hulking beast.

  A shrill beeping split the air. Densmore halted the belt in mid-swing, his head coming up. “I do believe we have company,” he said mildly. “I wonder who it could possibly be. Excuse me, my dear.”

  Sarah choked, sobbing, as the door closed behind him. He'd wielded the belt with savage fury, raising bloody, stinging welts all along her back and sides. She'd managed to roll over, to
protect her breasts and belly, but not before he'd hit her across the stomach at least twice. She was crying so hard she couldn't catch her breath, but as soon as the door closed she flipped onto her back.

  One of the restraints holding her hands had come loose. She would never have been able to roll over if it hadn't, but her panicked lunge had pulled it free from the bed frame where he'd secured it. In his rage, Densmore hadn't noticed.

  Her right hand was free, but the way the restraints were looped and crossed to restrict movement, she needed to reach under the bed to free her left hand—and with her legs bound she didn't have enough range of movement to do so. Ignoring the searing pain in her back, she jerked frantically against the nylon cord, hoping the one around her left hand would give, too.

  It didn't.

  There was a glass of water sitting on the bedside table. She grabbed the glass and slammed it against the edge of the table. Water splashed the bed, her bare flesh, and the fine crystal shattered, sending shards of glass flying. She was left clutching most of the base of the glass, her hand bleeding from a dozen tiny cuts. Frantically she began slicing at the nylon cords, not caring if she sliced skin, too. Her left hand jerked free, and she turned her attention to the cords binding her ankles.

  When she was free, she bounded to her feet; her knees promptly gave way and she sprawled on the carpet. Cursing, sobbing, she stood again, and staggered toward the door. By the time she reached the hall, she was running.

  That's when the first shot was fired. Then another.


  Cahill was beyond caring about his job, about his own possible stay behind bars; by the time he reached the house, his only thought was of getting to Sarah. He didn't politely ring the doorbell, he put two forty-caliber bullets in the dead-bolt lock, then kicked the door open. He went in low, rolling across the floor, but the bastard was waiting for him, hidden in the darkness of the hallway.

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