She wasn’t sure how to react to him now. It definitely wasn’t a tender hug, but the close contact made her undisclosed desires stir all the same. She couldn’t help wondering if he felt even a fraction of what she did.
His arms were strong, and she felt safe in the circle of them. She’d never imagined that she could feel so comfortable and so uncomfortable at the same time. She waited within the space of his embrace to see where this was going.
“So, how is this going to work?” he demanded roughly against the top of her head.
She froze. “What do you mean?” she asked as her heartbeat sped up.
He released her, and she realized that he wasn’t talking about them—he was talking about her plan to find a killer. She tried to ignore the sharp stab of disappointment she felt.
But she recovered quickly. “I was thinking that we would start going out, you know, to places where our friends, and girls from other schools, might hang out. We can go after school and on weekends, for as long as it takes, until either the police catch him, or until I cross paths with him. Either way, he needs to be stopped, Jay.” She looked up at him again, this time feeling vulnerable for an entirely different reason. “I just don’t think I can sit by while more girls are abducted, or worse, found dead.” Her voice fractured on the last word, even though she was trying to stay composed. She hated feeling so helpless and weak, and she hated admitting that she needed help. But she did.
She needed Jay to go with her. Because despite her bold words about doing it by herself, it was all just a bluff. She really wasn’t sure if she could do it on her own.
“All right,” he finally agreed, flashing her the same stupid grin that always made her heart stutter, even though he still seemed uncertain. “How ’bout we start by going to the movies tonight? We can make sure the theater is safe.”
It took some doing to convince her parents to let her go out after the news of Hailey McDonald’s disappearance. If it hadn’t been for Jay’s promise not to let her out of his sight, they would never have agreed at all. They seemed to feel even better when Jay insisted on driving, since his mom’s car was infinitely more modern than her beater Honda.
After checking the movie times online, they decided on an action flick that had just opened and was playing at the nearest theater, in Bonney Lake, the city where Brooke Johnson had lived.
If someone had been searching for teenage girls to abduct, Saturday night at the multiplex would have been the perfect place to go. Clusters of kids, ranging from probably eleven or twelve all the way into young adulthood, moved in swarms around the freestanding building and drifted aimlessly around the crowded parking lot. Inside the lobby, they were like energetic herds as they moved into, and out of, the theaters.
Violet had never really stopped to watch the groupings before, and it was a bit like watching spastic monkeys at the zoo. But they weren’t really what she was interested in tonight.
She was there to find a killer. It was only a bonus that she was there with Jay.
They ran into a group of friends from school who were seeing the newest gross-out comedy release, and they stopped to chat for a few minutes. The girls in the group perked up the moment they realized that Jay Heaton was around, and Violet felt a twinge of satisfaction that he was her date tonight…even if it wasn’t really a date.
Once Jay was in her sights, Amanda Kaufman’s appreciative gaze never left him. “Hey, Jay,” she said, practically purring at him, ignoring everyone else around her—including her boyfriend, who wasn’t paying any attention. “You look great.” She reached out and rubbed his chest. “I like your jacket. It’s sooo soft,” she cooed.
Violet looked at it, wondering if she’d missed something special. She hadn’t. It was just a plain gray hoodie—pretty much like every other hoodie that every other boy in school wore every single day.
Violet looked at Jay and raised her eyebrows. She knew he noticed her glance, even though he was pretending to ignore her.
“Thanks,” he said to Amanda in a voice that was a little too congenial, and Violet realized that he liked the attention.
Amanda giggled, and Violet nearly laughed out loud at the high-pitched sound that came out of her mouth. Amanda’s boyfriend, Cameron, a senior football player, was too busy talking about next week’s game with his buddies to even notice that his girlfriend was flirting right under his nose.
Violet tried to pay attention to her surroundings, concentrating on sensing anything unusual.
She already knew that one of the imprints would be a glowing, oily sheen like that from the girl in the lake, and she would easily recognize it on the killer if she saw him. She just didn’t know what his other imprints would be.
But it didn’t take Violet long to realize that there was nothing out of the ordinary in the lobby, so instead she sipped her Coke and watched the girls fawn over Jay. She kept thinking that she should be jealous of all their attention, but she just couldn’t manage it because she was having too much fun watching them make fools of themselves. And that included Jay.
The other two girls in the group were encouraged by his reaction to Amanda. Yvette Siegel tried next, and her boyfriend was just as clueless as Amanda’s. “I bet you’ll look great in your tux,” she praised Jay.
“Did you already pick one out?” Alexandra Yates asked. She was the only one without a boyfriend, and she stepped forward, practically shoving the other two girls—her friends—out of her way to get closer to him.