Is the girl still alive?” The question came from Special Agent Jonas McKall.
The guy had been with the unit for just over two years, tracking killers for a hell of a lot longer—and the man really should have known better.
Keith Hyde grunted and reached for his weapon. “It’s day four. You know the perp’s MO. Two days of fun and games.” Sick, twisted f**k.
Would the girl still be alive? Doubtful. Five other bodies had already been found. Young girls, in their teens, slaughtered.
Katherine Daniels had disappeared from her bus stop on Monday. They’d finally tracked the killer to his hole today, but the knot in Hyde’s gut told him they were too late.
Always too late.
“Go in slow,” he ordered, aware of the sweat trickling down his back. His team was trained for this shit, but he gave the warning anyway. The guy inside that cabin—he was smart. He’d had the cops and the Bureau chasing shadows for the last year.
While he sliced his girls apart.
“If Katherine’s alive, we can’t take the chance of spooking him.” Or of giving him the opportunity to finish her off.
The three agents around him gave quick nods.
“Sir, but what about—” Quiet, nasally, the voice grated in Hyde’s ears.
But he halted and turned to face the profiler.
“What about Mary Jane Hill?”
The third girl who’d gone missing.
The profiler’s gaze darted to the wooden cabin. “Her body wasn’t found.…”
Hyde’s back teeth locked. “Because the bastard dumped her in the woods, and the animals got to her first.” They’d found the other bodies, ravaged and torn, just before the beasts had.
But not Mary Jane.
Hyde figured they’d never find that poor girl.
“But what if—”
“She’s been gone for over three months, Brown. She’s dead.” The freak never broke his two-day rule.
The profiler should know that.
But, Brown, with his perfectly pressed suit and too-thick glasses, was a replacement. He’d signed on with the team just days before they’d gotten one lucky-ass lead.
The last profiler, Jasper Peters, had bailed on the case. Jasper had come to him with red cheeks and shaking hands. I can’t do this shit anymore. Can’t stop the monsters—they’ll never be stopped.
“Just stay back,” Hyde growled. Crickets chirped in the distance and a faint light glowed from within the cabin. “Stay back.”
He lifted his hand. Motioned to the team.
And prepared to enter Hell.
Hyde picked the lock on the door—snuck in as softly as a whisper. As soon as he stepped inside, the stench slapped him in the face. Blood and decay. Rancid and thick in the air.
The girl wouldn’t be found alive.
He swallowed the bile that rose in his throat and held his weapon steady. Somewhere in this pit, the killer hid.
They’d mapped the area. Even managed to find the builder who’d erected the cabin over twenty years before. There was a basement. A small, perfect-for-killing room down below.
That was where the man who’d been dubbed “Romeo” waited.
Hyde’s heart slammed against his chest when he saw the metal door. Thick, with a padlock dangling loosely from a chain.
Keeps them locked in when he’s gone. No way to escape.
But the lock was open now because the bastard was having his playtime below.
Hyde reached for the door, yanked back the handle.
The hard squeak of the metal grated in his ears like a scream.
Hyde flew through the doorway.
Doubtful. But maybe, maybe…
His boots pounded down the steps. Lights flickered overhead. Fluorescent bulbs that revealed, then concealed.
He tripped on the last step, but caught himself and shouted, “FBI! You need to—”
Laughter. Rich and dark. Shadows moved, and a man stepped forward. Young, in his mid-twenties, good-looking.
The profiler had been right about that.
He doesn’t force them to come with him. He seduces them. Offers them a temptation they can’t resist.
Romeo, tempting the girls to walk on the wild side.
“Put your hands up, ass**le! Let me see ’em!” The other agents pounded down the stairs, then fanned the room.
Romeo just smiled, flashing a dimple. His hands were behind his back. A long white apron, stained red, covered his chest and legs. “Too late,” he whispered.
And he stepped forward.
Hyde shook his head. “I will f**king put a bullet in your heart.”
Another step. “Then you’ll never find my sweet Kat.…”
Like they hadn’t found Mary Jane.
Hyde’s finger tensed around the trigger. “And you’ll never slice another girl. I’ll be a happy man.”
The smile faded as the lights flickered once more. “Playing the tough guy, Hyde?”
So the killer knew his name. Seeing as how his face had been splashed across the news for the last few months, that wasn’t a real big surprise.
“Clear.” From Jonas. “She’s not here.”
For just a moment, Hyde looked away from Romeo. His gaze flickered to the chains on the walls. The tray of surgical instruments.
Twisted ass playroom. But no girl.
“Cuff him.” A snarl, barely human, because he wanted to fire. Wanted an excuse. Time to put the rabid animal out of his misery.
Jonas reached for his cuffs.
Romeo launched forward, his arms flying from behind his back as he pulled out a gun, one the perp had hidden under the back of his shirt.
My perfect excuse. A split-second thought that filled Hyde’s mind as he squeezed the trigger—
“No!” A woman’s scream, loud and wrenching.
He wavered. For one reckless moment, his attention diverted, and he searched for the victim.
Romeo laughed and fired just as a woman—no, a girl—slammed her body into the killer, and they crashed onto the floor.
A flash of a knife.
The blade sank deep into flesh.
Hyde shook his head and surged forward. He grabbed the girl, hauling her back while his agents swarmed. She fought him, twisting, the knife shaking in her small fist.
Where the hell had she come from?
“It’s all right,” he murmured, trying to be soothing when he wasn’t the soothing sort. “He’s not going to hurt you anymore.”
Romeo threw back his head. Two officers were on him. “I’ve never hurt her. I love her. She’s mine!”