Becca is strong willed, and—as I mentioned above—not one to share her feelings. She’s an FBI agent dealing with some very evil cyber criminals so she has to be tough and someone who won’t let her feelings take over. I chose Maggie Grace as the woman who represents Becca. Can you see her in that role?
If you’ve read the first two books in the Agents Under Fire series, is this the way you saw Becca and Connor? I hope so.
Web of Secrets
A nightmare come true . . .
Years ago, a fifteen-year-old girl was abducted by a monster. Although she managed to escape, her tormenter was never caught. So the girl was given a new home, a new name . . . and the determination to save other foster kids from suffering similar horrors.
FBI Agent Becca Lange is in the middle of a credit card fraud investigation when she’s faced with her worst nightmare: a serial killer, van Gogh–given the name because he removed his victims’ ears–has resurfaced. Back in the nineties, van Gogh tortured, then killed several young foster girls. Becca was almost one of them.
Over the years, Becca’s been keeping her own investigation going. So when the police come to her for help, she’s more than ready to do what it takes to put van Gogh behind bars–even if it means working with Connor Warren, the easy-going cop whose attentions she’s been avoiding. Connor is too charming, too good-looking, too . . . tempting. He makes Becca want things she can never have. And might never have . . .
Because van Gogh isn’t finished with Becca yet. He’s been searching for her all these years. And now that he’s found her, he’s got a plan to keep her . . . forever.
I hope you’ll check out this series on my website and here’s a sneak peek from the pages of Web of Secrets.
She was going to die today.
He’d all but promised that. Now it was time, and he was coming for her, moving quickly above. His heavy footsteps headed for the cellar door, the solid footfalls confident, but uneven.
He’d developed a limp. Funny. She hadn’t noticed that until now.
Death, just over the horizon, sharpened her senses, she supposed.
Or was it the dark, the complete pitch black of the windowless space? Her mind was shrouded in pain and despair, her senses hyper-alert, the smells and sounds crisp and vivid. The musty scent of the basement. An old oil furnace in the corner emitting a metallic smell. His footsteps in the distance, growing closer as he headed for the cellar door.
Painful desperation swallowed everything around her.
Please, please, please don’t let him do this.
She heard each groan of the house. Each creak of the floor. Heard him reach the cellar door.
Her heart kicked hard, sounding a loud echo in her chest.
A key slipped into the deadbolt at the top of the stairs with a firm snick. She could picture the shiny new lock he’d dragged her past the first night. Remembered her hands clutching at anything to stay above ground, her nails breaking as they scratched to take purchase. Raw and ragged now.
Then the descent. Down the rickety wooden steps. Kicking. Fighting. The fist to her jaw. Seeing stars before her vision cleared. The light burning bright, revealing metal castings stacked on old rotting shelves. The shackles she now bore around her wrists lying limp on the scarred linoleum floor, waiting for her.
The jars. No, stop. She didn’t want to think about them.
She’d thought of little else since she escaped from this madman who, in the late nineties, had pretended online to be Adam Smith, a man in his early twenties who’d developed a crush on her though she was only fifteen. She should have known better than to believe him, even when he’d given her a photo that showed how handsome he was. But as a foster kid, she’d craved love desperately, and he seemed to want to give it.
So she’d gone to meet him, but it turned out the picture he’d sent her had been retouched. His face was grotesquely scarred, and he soon had her handcuffed. Her foster sister, Lauren, had figured he was bad news so she’d followed, and he’d abducted the two of them. But they’d both eventually escaped.
The rusty hinges on the door groaned open like those on an old coffin. Only a stairway separated them.
Bile rose up her parched throat, gagging her. She swallowed hard and strained against the coarse rope digging into the oozing sores circling her wrists. Days of struggling had left them open. Maybe festering. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was the door groaning open. The air around her stirring, dragging a putrid current into the vortex. She retched at the smell of her own body. The stench of her own fear nearly overpowered everything. She hadn’t showered in four days or had access to a bathroom for as long.
She was disgusting.
She’d die like this. Be found like this. Would her family have to see her this way? Identify her?
God, please, no, she begged. Spare them.
A shadow of light filtered through the open doorway. His foot hit the top tread with a thud. Then the next, each step an earthshaking roll of thunder in her ears. His flashlight bobbed on the stairs. Quick circles of light moved down like a slinky before jerking back up. She saw his foot now in an arc of light. A big work boot. Size twelve or larger. Heavy lug soles, worn and scarred. His jeaned leg came next. Then a flannel work shirt. Red she thought, but the light suddenly danced ahead.
He reached the bottom. His boot struck the linoleum with a solid thump. Not a word came from his mouth, but his flashlight spoke for him. Sliding across the space. Searching.
She recoiled. Dug her heels into the floor. Scooted back and tried to cover her nakedness by drawing her knees into her chest.
Nowhere to go.
She needn’t worry about her family seeing her. No one would find her here. He’d chosen the perfect location, an abandoned metal fabrication plant with rows and rows of buildings. Some were in use, others had fallen into decay like this one.
He snapped the dangling string overhead. Light from a bare bulb flooded the area.
“Hello, Molly,” he said, as if they were meeting at a social event. But this wasn’t social—he was coming to kill her.
Her eyes ached from the sudden brightness. She blinked. Thought to keep her eyes closed and void seeing her killer’s face one more time.
Hadn’t she seen him enough in her dreams since she’d escaped his capture two decades ago? In nightmares replaying the torture of long ago. Now she was his captive once again, facing him for the last four days, his torment a blur of pain.
Yet, she couldn’t look away. She didn’t have the nerve to ignore her own death. She had to see him. To see the end of her life in his eyes.
She blinked hard until she could focus. His face was a mirror of the one in her dreams, except the passing years had etched wrinkles like a road map across his skin. The dark, dead eyes hadn’t changed. Hadn’t dulled. His chin was angular and covered in graying whiskers. Scars puckered his cheeks, and his nose was nothing more than a red knob, as if an afterthought.
Memories of their first meeting sixteen years ago came flooding back. The same revulsion curdled her stomach. It wasn’t the scars, the stub of a nose. She could handle the deformities from severe burns. It was the sneer of his lips and vile hatred in his gaze. The steady stare that never wavered.
Like now. His gaze sought her out, a hunter looking for prey. He smiled. Wide, toothy, a hint of contempt keeping his lips tight. “I hope you’ve had enough time to think and give me what I want.”
She couldn’t abide his stare, and dragged her gaze away. It landed on the shelf. Nine mason jars were lined up, a set of human ears in all but two of them, preserved in clear liquid. The jars were labeled with the numbers one through nine. Detectives had dubbed this madman Van Gogh for his penchant for removing his victims’ ears. There had been only five jars the last time he’d captured her. Now there were four more. The jars marked four and five were empty. Waiting. She wasn’t surprised to see those jars. Not when she and Lauren had both escaped. She’d figured he’d come after them again, even though they’d both done their best to disappear.
“Well, Molly. Where is Lauren?” he asked, his tone insistent and threatening.
Lauren. Shortly after Molly had overpowered him to escape, she’d seen a news report indicating that Lauren had died in a car crash. But Molly didn’t buy the story. At first, it seemed real, but the police slipped up on one little detail that only Molly would know, proving the detectives had faked Lauren’s death and given her a new identity.
Rebecca Lange. The regal name fit the current-day Lauren, a woman who had become a defender of foster children and a top-notch FBI agent. It was the name she’d always dreamt of having.
“Where’s Lauren?” Van Gogh asked again, this time removing Molly’s gag.
She gathered what little moisture she had in her mouth and spit at him.
He lurched back, anger darkening eyes she didn’t think could get any blacker. He looked up at the ceiling. Took a few breaths. “Don’t worry, Mother. I know she’s gone off the deep end. She will be cleansed today. Her funeral will draw Lauren out. I can cleanse both of them, and my collection will finally be complete.”
He often talked to his mother who was never present, so this wasn’t new. But Molly had never been successful in getting him to explain the cleansing ritual.
“Mother says it’s time to get you dressed.” He opened a box sitting on the shelf and lifted out a virginal white nightgown. “You remember this, don’t you my pet? You will be cleansed and free. Too bad you won’t help me find Lauren so she can know the joy of cleansing sooner.”
He leaned close, an ugly smile parting his lips. The whisper of his breath, the acrid smell of his unwashed body, made her stomach roil. She couldn’t speak. And she wouldn’t, even if she did know where Lauren lived. She’d never betray the trust of her foster sister.
If she did, he’d go after Lauren and kill her. Molly wouldn’t let that happen.
“Let’s get you cleaned up.” He went to the corner and ran a bucket of water, then put it on a table near the sink. He shoved a knife with sharp teeth lining the edge into a sheath on his belt. The knife that had once carved into her body, leaving the number four andinto other girls, including Lauren, who bore the number five.
Humming, he crossed the room to stare at Molly while snapping on a pair of latex gloves. “You really are a mess, aren’t you?”
She thought to try to cover herself, to maintain her dignity. But after the last few days, what dignity did she have left?
He unlocked the shackles, moved her out of her filth and toward the table. She fought, kicked, but after five days without food and little water, she was too weak to make a difference. He bathed her, each touch of the cloth making her want to vomit. Once in the demure nightgown, she lay back, defeated, on the table—his altar stained with blood—where he bound her to cold shackles mounted on the corners.
“It’s time, Molly. Tell me or . . .” His evil smile took his words and buried them in the recesses of the room. He lifted his knife. High. Advanced. His eyes burned with the intensity of fire. He slid his fingers over her ear—gently, almost tenderly, then suddenly backed away.
Was he going to let her live another day? Hope fluttered in her chest.
He crossed the room. Lifted jar number four, the liquid sloshing as he returned to her. He blew the dust from the rusted lid. Fine particles lingered in the beam of light before dissipating in the stale air. He held the knife between his teeth, his eyes gleaming.
He started unscrewing the lid, slowly, each twist feeling like a nail in Molly’s coffin. He set the open jar on the floor, a pungent odor smelling like pickles floated up to her nose. Fear coursed through her body.
Lauren. Remember Lauren.
He slipped his hand into his pocket and two pearl earrings emerged. She fixed her gaze on the burn scars crawling over his hands, not on the earring. He inserted the first one into her left ear. The piercing stud ripped her skin, making her feel as if she were being nailed to a cross. To her death.
This was it, for sure. The end.
She held her breath. He placed the second earring and stood back, his eyes now vacant and his mind somewhere else. Somewhere his earring ritual had taken him.
His breathing grew rapid and shallow, his chest barely moving. Eyes glazed over, he raised the knife. His smile, teeth rotted and yellowing, was the last thing she saw as he bent closer.
“Tell me or not, my pet, it doesn’t matter. The news coverage of my return will be legendary, and your death will bring Lauren to me. She won’t miss your funeral.”
The knife pricked her skin. Her heart seized and refused to beat. She ignored it. Ignored everything, her resolve still in place.
She’d die before letting this butcher near someone she loved.
And, as he’d promised . . . it would be today.
Thank you so much, Susan, for sharing with us "How a Character is Born" and thanks for giving us a peek at "Web of Secrets".
Susan's newest book "Web of Secrets came out yesterday. You can find this book and the first two books in the Agents Under Fire Series at the following places: