Primal Obsession

By: Susan Vaughan

Prologue

Maine Woods

The Hunter was not a monster. People who called him that were ignorant. They didn’t understand his cleverness. They didn’t perceive the scope of his genius. He stabbed the spade into the forest floor’s natural mulch. When he finished, pine needles and dead leaves would cover all.

“Leave no trace. Isn’t that what the environmentalists say?” He tossed the scooped soil onto the black tarp beside him.

“You gave me a good chase,” he said to his almost-silent companion, “but now you’re pathetic.”

Fear emanated in palpable waves from the bound and gagged victim. Bloodshot eyes streamed with tears.

“You were a necessity, not my choice for an exhilarating hunt. Not an adrenaline rush like the bitches. And it was her fault. You’re on her head, not the Hunter’s.”

The Hunter.

She had named him that. He held up his head with pride at the title. She’d searched through missing-persons reports and unexplained deaths and uncovered his game. “Game. Yes. The Hunter and his Game.” He laughed.

Another shovel of dirt. Okay, now the hole had enough depth and length. He drew his hunting knife from its sheath. His captive thrashed and choked against the bindings. To no avail.

Moments later the woods lay silent.

Again the Hunter’s laugh rang out as he rolled his latest prey into the shallow grave.

“I enjoy the hunt, but it’s not a question of need. I’m in total control.” He began to cover the body. “A hunter has to be careful. I am never careless.” He’d gradually expanded the pleasures of tracking, cornering and...enjoying his prey. Waiting might be painful, but delay made the rush even better. “I’m strong. I can wait. And I sure as hell waited lots of times while the fucking cops and reporters chased their tails.” Even that gave him a rush.

He liked seeing the Hunter in the headlines. And knowing what the dumb cops said about him. So far no one had seen him, but hikers and loggers had stumbled upon some of the graves.

“This time I’ve taken extra care.” He’d kept this prisoner until he had all the information he needed. No one would find the grave. No one would know this victim was missing. “Until I’ve done what I have to do.”

He used the spade to scrape leaves across the new grave. “It’s all that bitch reporter’s fault. She abandoned me. Left my story to others to tell—to others less competent, less perceptive. She shouldn’t have done that.”

He would have to punish her. With her intelligence and drive, she would provide the ultimate challenge, the ultimate pleasure.

He would toy with her first. Play his little jokes.

On them all.

Then she would be the Hunter’s last prey before he disappeared...





ONE

Wednesday

Greenville, Maine

Annie Wylde clutched the small duffel containing Emma’s ashes. She stepped only on the sturdiest looking boards of the Moosewoods Resort & Safaris dock until she reached its end. Blinking away tears, she sucked in the clean July air.

Powerboats and a few sailboats scored the northern Maine lake’s surface. The longest one in the Northeast, Moosehead’s waters stretched blue and cool to the verdant wilderness.

Beside a float at the end of the dock, a white airplane with pontoons as large as rowboats rocked on a powerboat’s wake. Annie counted five side windows—a large enough puddle-jumper to transport her expedition to the woods.

“Not here, Emma,” she whispered. Emma’s mother had shared a few ounces of her daughter’s ashes for her to scatter in the outdoors Emma had loved so. “It’s too busy, too civilized for your taste. I’ll wait for the wilderness lake.”

They’d scheduled the canoe trip nearly a year ago, to help Annie overcome what her friend had called her nature phobia. Emma would have been in her glory. Six days canoeing and camping in the Maine wilderness. Campfires and hikes, sleeping in a tent. Bears and moose?

With a shudder, Annie turned away. She’d promised Emma, and here she was. True, nature usually had it in for her. Like the time she’d gone hiking with a bunch of college friends. Everyone made it across a hillside of loose shale—except her. When it was her turn, the underpinnings gave way and she slid all the way down the hill on her butt.

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