I am so screwed.
Keeping his distance today had been torture, and, yeah, he’d broken. That kiss in the hall ranked as a moment of idiocy. But he’d had to touch her.
Keeping control—not possible. He’d never had control with her, and he doubted he ever would.
“Meet me tonight.” A man’s gruff demand.
Luke’s brows shot up, and he glanced over to see Vance stroking the arm of the blond waitress. “When you get off work, come meet me.”
She laughed and stood on tiptoe to whisper in his ear. From the looks of things, the lady had to be whispering a “yes” before she eased back and hurried behind the bar.
His brows rose. Seriously? That guy was scoring? Luke’s fingers closed around the cold neck of his beer as Vance sauntered toward him. Luke shook his head and said, “Didn’t take you for a Romeo, deputy—”
Romeo. Not likely. Not that sick, twisted sonofabitch killer who’d carved up his girls and marked them. Marked them.
An image of the bloody flower flashed through his mind.
Luke stilled, a memory from an old crime scene photo pushing through his thoughts. That flower. Romeo had marked his victims with a flower. He’d branded the mark onto their flesh within hours of taking the girls. A mark to last forever.
A mark on the back of their shoulders, a raised, rigid rose.
Oh, shit. The beer glass shattered beneath his fingers.
“Whoa, man!” Vance’s eyes bulged. “You all right?”
Hell, no. He threw a wad of bills onto the bar. Didn’t bother answering Vance. Red coated his vision. His body vibrated with fury.
Monica came toward him, slowly easing her way through the crowd.
He just shoved the drunks out of his way. I touched her body, every inch. Should have known.
Then she was there. “Luke, I wanted to—”
“Come with me.” He could barely get the words out as he locked his fingers around her wrist and pulled her back toward the front door. They had to talk, fast, and not here, with all the eyes and ears surrounding them.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
His fist slammed into the front door, and he thrust it open. Lee Pope jumped and spun around, a cigar dangling from his fingers. “What’s the—”
Luke glared at him and pulled Monica around the side of the building. No audience. Not for this. No damn way.
Voices were muted, drifting in the air and through the thin walls of the bar. He had to go farther, get her away and—
“Stop it, Luke!” Monica jerked her hand free. “Just—stop!”
He whirled on her, his body tight. “I can’t believe I didn’t f**king see it. All the signs were there, staring me right in the face!” He caged her between him and the wooden wall of the bar. “He knew, he knows everything.”
Her face seemed to pale in the moonlight. “What are you talking about? What did Hyde say?”
“That we can f**k, but I can’t lose control.” Control? Yeah, what was that? He slammed his fist into the building behind her. “Why didn’t you tell me?” Rage. Pain.
Christ, her. “Why?” he snarled.
Her eyes were so wide. So deep. They looked black in the moonlight, but they were blue. Such a beautiful blue. That’s right, because he’d had a type and Romeo liked—
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but you need to calm down.”
He kissed her. Crushed his mouth to hers and just took.
Because nothing was going to change between them. He still wanted her more than breath. It didn’t matter what had come before or what would come after him. He still wanted her.
At first, she seemed to freeze beneath his touch. No, no, just—
Then she kissed him back with a fury to match his. Her lips sucked his tongue. She tasted. She took. Her hips rocked against his. His c**k was up, swollen and ready, for her.
His hands closed over her shoulders. Squeezed. Held tight.
How many times had he seen her roll her shoulders? When she was working a case, when she was pressured at the Academy—
Her shirt had a long, V-necked collar, one that dipped to reveal sweet cle**age. His fingers slipped under the collar, found her soft skin.
His mouth hardened on hers. All these years.
His fingers curved around her right shoulder, pushed the fabric down, yanked it. Heard it rip.
Her mouth tore from his. “Luke, you can’t—”
He’d bared her shoulder. Creamy skin. Soft flesh. Choking back the lust, he spun her around and saw the mark on her right shoulder blade.
Just enough light to see. The raised skin. White. An old scar. In the rough shape of a rose.
The mark of the Romeo Killer. The same f**king rose that had been in that godforsaken cabin.
His hands were shaking. He was shaking, about to splinter apart. He touched the mark—no, not a mark, a brand—because Romeo had used a homemade brand on his girls. Burned their flesh as they screamed.
As she’d screamed.
“Baby…” His head fell toward her. His lips hovered over the mark. He’d touched the brand in the darkness before. Skimmed his fingers right over it and never realized.
She whirled around and shoved him back a good two feet. “Get your hands off me!” A voice he’d never heard from her. No control. Just fury.
He shook his head and stepped toward her, closing that distance. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Her chin came up fast. “Tell you what? That I have a scar on my back? Big deal, you’ve got—”
Oh, she wasn’t going to bullshit him. Not anymore. “That’s Romeo’s mark.” That bit hadn’t ever made it to the press. The cops and agents had held the detail about the branding out of the briefings to the media. They always held something back in a case like that, something to try and trip up the killer later.
Luke had learned about the brand at Quantico. A profiler, Dr. Mark Brown, had been doing a talk on serials for the Atlanta office.
He’d said some of those killers liked to collect souvenirs from their kills. They’d take out the tokens and relive the murders, over and over.
But some serials preferred to mark their prey. A way of forever claiming the victims.
“Romeo believed he owned his victims. Their bodies were his to do with what he wanted. He cut them, he carved them, but first, he marked them with a brand. A rose on their flesh, a gift from their lover.”
“Get away from me,” Monica told him, her voice shaking.
But he didn’t move back an inch. “That newspaper clipping—the one this freak left—it was about you, wasn’t it?” Sole survivor. Oh, Jesus, how had she survived? He knew what Romeo had done to his girls. The torture that would last for days. “I thought it was about the town, but it was about you.”