Oh, shit, he shouldn’t ask, he shouldn’t, but he had to know. “Did he rape you?” Romeo had raped the other girls. But Mary Jane—that part hadn’t been in the file he’d accessed.

Her breath caught. “He strapped me to his table. An operating table. Pulled my legs apart—”

Christ, no, he didn’t want to hear this. Why had he asked? Why?

“He tied rope around my wrists and ankles so tight I bled.” His fingers dug into her arms. Kill him.

“But then he found out I was a virgin.” She exhaled and he felt the soft shudder of air against his throat. “And he liked that. Said it made me more his.” A humorless laugh.

“You’re not his.” Never were. Never would be. That bastard should have gotten the death penalty for this twisted shit, and Louisiana usually wasn’t a state to hesitate. But Romeo had a way of working women, even women on juries.

“He didn’t break my hymen.” Said clinically, coldly, as if she were distancing herself again. “When he realized—he pulled back and he smiled at me. He told me I was his good girl. His sweetheart.”

Luke always knew what to say to the victims. Knew how to comfort them, how to help them step away from the darkness, but he didn’t know what to say to her. And he sure didn’t know how to channel the rage boiling his blood. Helpless. Not her, him.

“After that night, he didn’t try to rape me again. He kept me locked in a freaking two-by-three-foot room, like I was some kind of dog. No windows, no light. He took me out to screw with my head, to show me what he’d done to the others so he could watch my reaction. Then he’d put me back.” The words came fast, tumbling out. “Every time he put me in there, I felt like he was burying me.”

Luke swallowed the lump that rose in his throat.

“I survived. I played his game, and he kept me alive.”

“And the others?” Had he made her watch as they died? Watched as he carved up their bodies?

“When he brought them down, I-I heard them. He kept them chained in his playroom.” Her head moved in a slow shake. “I told them not to scream when he hurt them. I pounded on the door and I told them.”

Christ.

“I told them not to show fear because that was what he wanted.” She trembled a bit in his arms. “I told them but they couldn’t stop screaming. He’d slice them, and I could hear their screams for hours, and I couldn’t get out to help them. I couldn’t get out, not unless Romeo came for me.”

He kissed her. Kissed her with the tenderness he should have shown her before. Her breath slipped into his mouth, and he stole it, giving her back his own with a sigh. His lips lingered on hers. Tasted the salt of tears.

Slowly, his head lifted. Silence then, thick and heavy in the air. He didn’t think she’d say anymore, didn’t think—

“After a while, he started letting me out of the closet. When no one else was there, he’d let me out and allow me to stay in his playroom. That’s what he called it.”

Her voice came stronger now, with anger boiling beneath the words. “There was a metal door at the top of the stairs. I tried to break that door down so many times. I couldn’t. He’d leave me down there for days, and I couldn’t get out. I was trapped there, and I knew I’d die there, just like the others.”

No. “You got out.”

“He left a knife behind.” Her hair was drying. The light lavender scent deepening. “I think it was a test. He’d been getting angrier and angrier with me. Telling me he knew what was inside of me. ‘Time for it to come out.’ I found that knife, I kept it, and I knew that the next time he turned his back on me, I’d kill him.” A brittle laugh. “Maybe that was the test. I think it was what he really wanted. To show that I was just like him.”

“You’re nothing like him.”

“I tried to kill him. I would have killed him, if Hyde hadn’t stopped me.”

Yeah, and maybe Hyde should have been a little slower on that pullback. Because if anyone deserved a chance for payback, it was Monica. “The bastard deserved to die.”

“He wanted me to be a killer. Just like him. He was pushing me, always pushing me, because he wanted me to cross that edge and be like him.” Her hand pressed against his chest. “And I became one.”

“No! You were a kid! Tortured by a sick freak—”

“I stopped being a kid the minute the door of his Corvette closed behind me. And when I left those woods, I was a killer. Even Hyde knew it.”

Aw, f**k. Her skin seemed so cold now. He pressed a kiss to her shoulder and dragged her closer, trying to warm her with his own flesh.

“Everyone but Hyde wanted to throw me in a psych ward and toss away the key.”

Luke squeezed his eyes shut.

“He wouldn’t let them.”

So he owed Hyde. Big time.

“Because he looked at me, and he knew what I was. And he knew he could use me.” Her voice held a brittle edge.

Luke hesitated. “You sure about that?” Maybe there’d been more to the story. Hyde seemed to really care about her, as much as he could care about anyone.

“He only asked me one question in the ambulance. Everyone else was shouting constantly at me, but he just wanted to know one thing.”

Luke waited. She’d tell him, just like she’d told him everything else.

“ ‘How did you get him to keep you alive?’ ” she murmured.

It would have been the million-dollar question. “And what did you say?”

“ ‘I got in his head. I became what he wanted, and I lived’.”

The profiler who knew the killers. The whispers that had always followed her were so dead on.

“The state put me into a group home, but Hyde—he wouldn’t let me go. He made sure I saw a shrink he’d picked out for me. Hyde had me in therapy for a couple of years. He visited me almost every day, and then he gave me a reason to keep living.”

Because she’d needed one.

“Hyde gave me a new name. He told me if I could pass the classes, pass all the tests, I could hunt monsters. I needed that. I needed to take control. To stop the killers and not let them screw with my head. This time, I’d be screwing with their minds.”

Get into a monster’s mind like no other.

“I thought the psych tests would be harder,” she said. “But by then, I knew all the answers. Knew exactly what to say. I wasn’t different anymore. I’d trained myself to fit in and to be whatever I needed to be.”

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