He could only see the faint outline of her body when she came to him. The carpet swallowed the sound of her slow footsteps.
Then she was at the edge of the bed. After the briefest hesitation, she slid in next to him. Warm flesh, smelling sweet and clean. Wet hair. Mouth—
Kissing his neck.
His greedy c**k jerked.
“Thank you, Luke. You gave me just what I needed,” she whispered.
He turned toward her. He caught her hand and held it tight over his heart. She had to feel the hard thunder. “And what did you need?” Sex? Anyone could have given her that, and he wasn’t going to be anyone to her.
Not when she was everything.
“You treated me like I was a woman. Someone you wanted—” Like hell on fire.
“—not some victim, not some freak—”
His jaw clenched. “Who the f**k said that?”
The echo of pain was in her voice, and he didn’t know what to do. How was he supposed to make things better for her?
“I’m sorry I left you in that alley.” So quiet.
“You don’t have to apologize to me, baby.” She was tearing his heart out.
“You scared me.” Stark. “You knew too much about me.”
And he’d felt like he knew nothing.
“I didn’t want you to know what I was—”
“A victim?” She had to know that nothing was her fault. Whatever that freak had done to her, she was just a victim. Someone to be cared for, protected.
A part of him had always wanted to protect her. He still wanted to protect her, wanted to make sure no one hurt her.
“If only it were that simple.” So much sadness. “You and I, we’ve always been so different.” Her soft fingers pressed lightly against his chest. “At the Academy, you’d go for the victims first. You wanted to hear their sides, to help them get justice.”
And she’d gone for the killers. Hunting into their pasts, tearing apart their crime scenes.
“I know you look at crimes and you see victims, but—but with me,” the soft click of her swallow seemed too loud, “after a while, I wasn’t Romeo’s victim. After so much blood and so much death, I was just—just like him.”
“No.” Did she really believe that bullshit?
Her breath whispered out on a sigh. “I shouldn’t have left you,” she said again. “My fear almost got you killed.”
“No, some crazy ass**le attacked me. You didn’t do anything.” He’d be damned if he let her blame herself.
“I’m not going to be afraid of my past anymore. I want to tell you everything. I want you to know the truth about me. After everything we’ve been through, I owe you the truth.”
He’d wanted to know her secrets for so long, but he’d never wanted to cause her pain. Luke knew that right then she hurt, and he just wanted to make her pain stop. If he could, he’d take away all her pain. But there, in the darkness, with Monica in his arms, he just felt… helpless. And it f**king pissed him off. She shouldn’t have suffered. If he had Romeo in front of him then—he’d rip the bastard apart.
A small tremble shook her body, and she said, “When my mom found out that the Romeo killer had taken me, she killed herself.” Flat, brittle.
His fingers tightened around hers. “I-I know.” He remembered that part. The nurse. The single mom who’d blamed herself when her daughter never came home. After a month, when the cops had given up, when the news had continued running the stories about Romeo’s kills, Jennifer Hill had taken a bottle of pills and never woke up.
“I never knew my dad. He—he took off right before my mom had me. Said he couldn’t handle things. Well, that’s what she told me. And mom never lied to me.”
She was talking to him about her past, and he wouldn’t have moved right then even if Hyde had burst into the room. Nothing would have moved him.
“I got away, and I had no one to go home to.”
Shit, he hadn’t thought—
“I spent all those days fighting to stay alive, but there was no one waiting for me.” A brittle laugh. “There wasn’t even anyone looking for me. Do you know, when Hyde found me—”
Hyde? Oh, Christ, that’s right. His name had been in the Romeo file.
“He thought I was one of the other girls, Katherine Daniels. Katherine.” His eyes had adjusted again to the dark, and he saw the sad shake of her head against the pillow. “But Katherine never lived past her second day.”
What happened? He bit the words back because he wasn’t going to push her. Not now. He’d pushed enough.
“He was breaking by then. He’d always been breaking. The rage was too much. He couldn’t hurt them fast enough, when they screamed—it just made him angrier.”
So quiet. No emotion there.
“Romeo wanted his girls to love him. He wanted them to need him.”
Them, not me. “What did he want from you?”
Shouldn’t have pushed. Why did I—
“The first thing he did, the thing he always did…” Her hand tugged free of his and rubbed behind her right shoulder. “He marked us. He shoved the iron against my skin—”
My now, not them. Because she wasn’t talking as Agent Davenport anymore. She was talking as the girl she’d been.
Mary Jane. He’d learned that name in his search.
“He said, ‘You’re mine.’ That’s all he said, and I could smell my flesh burning. But I didn’t scream, and I didn’t cry. Not then.” A swallow that he could hear in the darkness. “And I saw that he liked that. In his eyes, he-he was excited.”
Because he’d found someone strong enough to play his games.
“If you broke too soon, he killed you. I learned that, fast. He liked to hurt his girls. He said he was testing us. That we had to be worthy of him. Able to stand the pain.”
Luke kept his fingers light as they skimmed down her bare arm. Light, when he wanted to grab her and hold tight. But if he held too tight…
“I’d always been pretty good at reading people,” she told him. “Just one of those things. I’d pick up on body language, voice—don’t know how or why really—I just always did. And I-I started reading him.”
More than that. She’d gotten into his head.
“The first night I was there, he cut away my clothes. Branded me.” She took a ragged breath. “Then he beat me. Not with his fists—he didn’t like to touch us, not directly anyway. He had a pipe he liked to use.” Silence. “He broke my right arm with his first hit. After that…” A shudder. “Doesn’t really matter.”