Hunching her shoulders against the January wind, the girl walked on slowly, her destination unclear. She had to run away. He had done it again; hit her while her weak mother watched, sobbing in a corner. Her mother swore she would divorce him, that it would be for the best, but all he had to do was write her a check for another thousand and all thoughts of divorce were gone. Of course he never hit her mother, only her. He said that her mother was too beautiful to harm. But for her, the beating was deserved, as he preached when he took the horsewhip to her back. This time, the only damage he had done was busted her lip and scarred her back even more, but it been humiliating. It was always humiliating.

She kicked at a rock so it clattered against the road. Now, ten miles from home on a deserted road with uneven gravel, she started to cry. Where was she to go? What was she supposed to do? All she had was two pairs of clothes and the little money she could scrounge up without him noticing. And ten dollars in this world would not get you anywhere. But at least she wouldn't have to suffer the humiliation or pain anymore. No one would even care that she was gone. She had no friends at school and no one noticed her. It was as if she were invisible. Hell, it was what she preferred. No one questioned the bruises and cuts she sustained while attending Jump City Private School. Even the counselor, who she had gone to tell that her stepfather beat her, said that she was just a spoiled brat begging for attention.

It was because her stepfather was mayor of the city. Mayor Raymond Jones had a lot of money and a lot of power, and if someone turned up missing that the mayor disliked, nothing was done. Not even the police force messed with the mayor. She was the only one who stood up to him, but paid for it dearly. She lived in a huge mansion on the outskirts of the city with six cars littering the long, white driveway. She had the life of luxury in other people's eyes: Tons of money, gorgeous clothes, getting to share an estate with Ethan Matthews, the 17 years old senior with looks that made girls swoon. No one wanted to believe that his or her beloved mayor beat his stepdaughter. Life was so much easier that way.

She knew that Ethan knew. Hell, he had caught his uncle doing it countless times. He had come home from a date one night to find hid beloved uncle whipping her while she had her head bowed. She made sure never to cry. Crying only made the beating worse. Sure, Ethan would tell him to stop, that she was not worth his uncle's time and he was getting blood on the carpet, and the mayor would stop, agreeing with his nephew…until he was out of sight. Then the beating would get worse.

She hated the way pity shined in Ethan's eyes when he saw her after one of her beatings. It made her sick.

It was not even five o'clock in the morning when she saw the headlights. Who in the world would drive out at this time of morning? The girl hunched her shoulders again, lowering her head so maybe the person would not see her face and keep driving. She didn't want to get in a car with a stranger. Though she was stupid enough to run away, she wasn't stupid enough to get in a car with someone she knew nothing about. Maybe they would just ignore her and keep trucking forward.

But she could tell it was slowing down beside her. She pushed down the fear that threatened to clog her throat and picked up her pace. Maybe she could go to a church in Gothem City. They would certainly take her in and not judge her because she was the stepdaughter of the Jump City mayor.

The car slowed down to her pace and the driver rolled down the passenger window.

"Need a lift?" It was a man's voice. He sounded young, between the ages of 19 and 30.

"No, I'm fine, thanks." She never glanced over at the car, but from the corner of her eyes, she could tell it was a red, beat up pickup.

"Come on, honey. It's cold and there's a chance of snow."

"Well, then, I guess I best find shelter soon."

"You're a stubborn little thing, aren't you?"

"No. I'm just thinking clearly and logically. There's nothing stubborn about being smart."

"Afraid of me?" The tone in his voice made her pick up speed. This guy was really creepy and she could feel his eyes caress her body.

"Come on. I just want to help you."

"If you really want to help me, then leave me alone. You don't know me and I don't want you to know me."

"I don't think I want to leave you."

She glanced around franticly, trying to find a place to run. She heard the door open and took off running as fast as her long legs would carry her. She thanked God she had joined the track team in middle school and the beginning of high school. She could hear him running after her, calling out sick things, things he wished to do to her. She ran harder, though her muscles ached and she tripped over her worn tennis shoes. There was no forest or grassy shelter in which she could hide, only miles of gravel and red dirt.

She screamed when he grabbed her from behind roughly, pressing a long dagger against her white throat. She sobbed as he pressed the metal harder against her skin.

"I would have never had to do this if you would have just gotten in the truck."

She swallowed hard, tears streaming down her face. She was only 15 years old! She had a long life ahead of her! She didn't want to die! Oh if only she had just stayed at home, burrowed in her silk sheets and obeyed like a good little girl!

The man dug in his pocket for something and pulled out a syringe. She fought against him, the metal nicking her skin. A thin stream of blood ran down her collarbone and stained her white sweater. Her brain was cloudy with fear, but she remembered self-defense. She stepped on his booted foot, rammed an elbow into his mind section, and then slammed her elbow into his nose. The knife dropped from his hand as he bent over, hitting his knees and she managed to run away. If she had been thinking clearly, she would have run to his truck and took off, but she was so scared that she ran the opposite direction of the truck. She heard him curse and scramble to his feet. He caught up to her and slammed her back against him. She cried out when the dagger dug deep into her stomach.

"I can already tell you'll be a fun one." She cried harder. There were so many things she had wanted to do before she died, like tell Ethan how much she loved him, and telling her mother that she was weak. But she would never get a chance. He was going to kill her, probably rape her, then dump her dead body in a ditch for the world to find.

And no one would miss her. He thrust the long, sharp needle into her side, and the girl cried out in pain. This was it.

Hot liquid burned through her vein and her vision blurred. She couldn't move. Her body burned, and then went completely numb as she collapsed in a heap at his feet, blackness taking over her senses.

He grinned down at the girl, who was no more than 16, and knelt beside her to smooth her long golden hair away from her innocent face. She was such a pretty little thing, yet she was walking along County road 186 with an old backpack and worn shoes. She was a runaway, his favorite type. Though his last victim had been taken at a grocery store, a beautiful little dark-haired girl who was only 13, runaways still manage to give him more of a thrill.

Oh, how he loved little girls. He preferred them in the ripe ages, like from twelve to seventeen. Most of his victims had been virgins, some which had never even been kissed. He loved the innocents. Most men wanted experience, women with practice in the bedroom, but not him. He wanted his women fresh, inexperienced. But then again, most men didn't have to rape a woman.

He picked the girl up, bridal style, and carefully made his way to his truck. He glanced down at her pretty face and noticed her busted lip. Jealous boyfriend, maybe? Hard home life? She was used to being beat. His mood perked up immediately. She was going to be fun. Though it was too bad he would have to kill her when he was through.

He laid her down in the backseat carefully, as if she were a fragile glass, easily shattered. He touched her hair again, loving the way it slid softly against his skin. As he climbed into his truck and switched gears, he wondered how long it would be before the police found his last victim.

X x X