She exhaled on a hard breath. “I’m not talking to you here, I’m not—”
“You’ve never f**king talked to me!” Too loud, he knew it, but he couldn’t help it. “This bastard out there knew. He’s been using this against you all this time.” What scares you? The bastard had been tormenting her. “Monica, he’s coming for you! You needed to tell me. Shit, this is your life!”
Her lips seemed to tremble. “You’re wrong, this mark isn’t what you think.”
“You’ve got his brand.” And he remembered Romeo’s type: Young girls between fifteen and seventeen, dark hair, blue eyes.
Monica. Years ago, she would have been Romeo’s perfect prey. “You were the girl who got away from Romeo.” The girl he’d kept with him for months. While he slaughtered the others.
A tear slid down her cheek.
Fuck. Luke yanked her into his arms, ignoring the push of her hands, and held her close.
But her tears were wetting his shirt, and her body shuddered against him. The unbreakable, broken.
She froze against him. Not fighting now, but not holding him. “I didn’t want you to know,” she whispered. “Not you.”
He raised his head. She wasn’t looking at him. He caught her chin and forced her head back so she had to see him. “You should have told me years ago.”
“Told you what?” Her lips twisted, but it wasn’t a pretty sight. Too sad. “That I’m so good at my job because I’m just like them? Exactly like the killers we hunt?”
What? No, she wasn’t—
She shook her head. “Luke, how do you think I got him to keep me alive?”
His heart stopped, then started drumming way too fast. “You didn’t—”
“I learned something from Romeo. No, I learned a hell of a lot from him.” A deep breath. “The first lesson… people will do anything to stay alive.”
How long had she been with Romeo? He couldn’t remember, but he’d find out. He’d find out everything. But there was one thing she needed to know, now. “It doesn’t matter, baby. Whatever happened, doesn’t matter.” What mattered was that he had her in his arms, he could feel her flesh and—
“Yes, it does. He turned me into a monster, but you can’t see that, can you?” Anger began to boil in her voice. “You look at me, and you can’t see it!”
No, he couldn’t. He just saw her. The woman he’d always wanted and needed far too much.
She shook her head again, then broke free of his arms.
She shoved past him.
“Monica, shit, wait!” His hands balled into fists. Monica wasn’t waiting. She was running now.
“She’s not for you.…” The whisper came from behind him. A man’s voice. Luke whirled back around—
Something slammed into the side of his head. Something heavy and strong and Luke went down, fast, with the taste of blood on his tongue and Monica’s name on his lips.
The last thing he heard was that whisper. Grating in his ears, saying, “I see the monster in her, even if you don’t.…”
She left him. Monica jumped in the SUV and floored the gas and she didn’t look back. Luke had his own car now, courtesy of Hyde. It wasn’t like she was leaving him stranded, she was just—
Running. Yeah, that was what she was doing. So what? She couldn’t handle him right then. Couldn’t deal with his questions.
Because she didn’t want to face her past.
Her trembling fingers tightened around the steering wheel. All the years of keeping her dirty little secret, and the killer out there knew about her past.
What did she fear?
The truth coming out.
But he’d taken care of that for her.
So what else was the bastard going to do?
She drove to the hospital, skating fast through yellow lights and coming to a screeching stop near the back entrance.
What does he think of me? If Luke knew what she’d done, what she’d seen…
What Romeo had done to her.
That f**king brand! She should have gotten the thing removed years before. But she hadn’t wanted anyone else cutting her. She’d had enough of that with Romeo.
Her eyes squeezed shut. She’d been fifteen. Fifteen freaking years old, and she’d missed her bus that morning. Just missed the damn bus…
It was gone. She jerked to a stop at the corner, a stitch in her side, and stared at the disappearing back of that yellow bus.
Her mom would kill her. If she had to call her home from the hospital so that she could get a ride to school…
No, she’d just walk it. It wasn’t that far, not really. So she’d miss first period. Big deal. Mr. Matthew sucked as a science teacher. She’d make second. She had to make it; she had her English exam today—
A sleek black Corvette eased to the curve beside her. She glanced over, saw the tinted windows. Too dark to see inside. Her hand tightened around the strap of her backpack.
A soft whir of sound and the passenger side window began to ease down. She walked faster.
“Aren’t you… Mary Jane?” A man’s voice. Strong, sure, friendly.
She shot him a glance from the corner of her eye. The Corvette crept down the road, keeping perfect pace with her. No one else was around. Gone to work. Taking the kids to school.
She swallowed when she saw his face, startled. Hot. Seriously hot. Twinkling blue eyes, hard jaw, full lips, and dimples! Dimples… because he was smiling at her. His hair was dark, thick, just brushing the collar of his black leather jacket.
He couldn’t have been more than a few years older than her. Probably in college or something and—
And he knew her name.
She stumbled to a stop. “H-How do you—”
That smile widened. “You don’t know me, do you?”
No. Like she would have forgotten him. She shook her head, hard.
“I’m Ryan’s older brother.”
Ryan? Ryan who? There was a Ryan Thompson in her grade, real class-A jerk who tried to look up her skirt all the time. And then there was Ryan Jennings, but he talked to no one and—
The guy laughed. “I remember seeing you at some of the ball games. Mary Jane, you sure have grown up.”
She hunched her shoulders a bit at that, all too aware that parts of her were still, um, growing.
“You missed the bus, didn’t you?” Knowing.