Just like before.
And the stares… those were like before, too. The wide eyes when they saw her. The mouths that parted in surprise.
Luke’s fingers tightened around hers.
Not alone. Saved someone this time.
The EMTs shoved Luke into the ambulance. His fingers broke free from hers.
She glanced back.
That place—so like the prison she’d known.
But it was just an old cabin. So small, really.
Hyde stepped outside and watched her with his hands on his hips.
There would be questions. There always were. The scene had to be secured. Reports needed to be written.
And the news crews—the vultures would be swarming soon.
“Monica?” Luke’s voice.
She nodded to Hyde, then climbed into the ambulance.
“Ma’am, you should lay down. We need to check your head, your pupil response is—”
She ignored the EMT and ran her fingers down the side of Luke’s face. “You sure you can handle me?” Because she knew the darkness inside her would never go away. She’d been marked too young. She’d carry that mark to the grave.
But Luke was different. Trying to save the world. Because of his mother. It made sense now.
She hadn’t been the only one to keep secrets.
Maybe that had been part of her attraction. Luke was a hero, wanting to help, to protect.
Had he sensed what she was inside? Lost and alone.
His lips curved. “I’m sure.”
And so was she.
“You’re not getting rid of me,” he told her. “Not again.”
Good. Because if she lost Luke, it would tear her world apart.
The driver slammed the back doors of the ambulance. One, then the other. She leaned in close to him, remembered the smell of death and the demons from the past.
No, no more fear.
“I love you, Luke Dante,” she whispered, and the sirens wailed as the ambulance lurched forward.
Hyde watched the ambulance pull away. Another EMT crew was busy hauling out Lee Pope. The deputy was coming around again, talking fast, slurring as he said, “V-Vance hit me.… H-he… came at me… I-I don’t…”
No, he wouldn’t.
“It’s okay, Lee. Everything’s going to be fine.” A female deputy, a small woman with tears trickling down her cheeks, hurried by his stretcher.
“Mel… what—wh-why?” The deputy’s voice seemed lost.
Hyde would have to talk with Monica. He’d get her full report and find out just what the hell had gone down here.
But right now, the facts were simple. Their killer was dead. Monica had said Vance Monroe was the serial, and he believed her.
The whys—he’d deal with all of them later.
Right now, he had a scene to secure.
Sheriff Davis came out shaking his head, rubbing his eyes. Hyde’s mouth tightened. “It’s over, Hank.”
Hank blinked and raised his chin. “H-he was the one… who told me to contact you….”
Hyde’s gaze narrowed.
“After… after the second body… he said he’d read about a department in the FBI… hunted killers.” He swallowed. “He mentioned your name, I—it clicked for me.… I called you.”
The guy had probably been tracking his team for months. Studying them all and digging into their pasts. No wonder he’d been so prepared for Sam. He’d probably known what she feared long before the team came down South.
Going head to head with his agents must have been the ultimate challenge for the Watchman.
One he’d lost.
“It’s over,” he told Hank again. “Tell your people that their county’s safe again.” It would be a hard sell. Folks would feel betrayed, afraid, especially when they found out a deputy had been doing the killing.
But they’d heal. The thing about people—they always healed.
Maybe not perfectly. The scars stayed, sometimes deep inside, where you couldn’t see them, but the wounds healed.
Monica had taught him that.
He strode inside the cabin. Crime scene techs were already there, snapping pictures of the body. Dusting for prints. Searching for DNA and every scrap of evidence they could find.
In death, Vance Monroe aka Kyle West didn’t look so fierce. But then, he’d never looked particularly fierce to Hyde. Sometimes, killers could hide behind the simplest of disguises.
Like a smiling face.
Or a badge.
“Hyde, did you see this?” Kenton demanded.
Hyde glanced over his shoulder. The agent stood next to an open door. A closet. Barely big enough for a person to stand in.
“The inside of the door knob was removed, but it—it looks like someone punched through the wood that was put there.”
Monica’s knuckles had been bloody. Hyde smiled. “He made a mistake.”
The scene had been set so well. An almost perfect match for Monica’s nightmares.
A whistle from his right. “Stab wound straight to the heart,” Gerry the tech said. “Someone wasn’t playing around.”
No, Monica didn’t play, and that had been the killer’s mistake. He’d thought Monica would play his way.
But the minute he’d taken Monica, it hadn’t been Kyle’s game any longer.
It had been hers.
Monica kept her voice calm and steady as she finished recounting her version of the events that had culminated in the death of serial killer Kyle West. “After Lee Pope distracted the perpetrator,” and got his head smashed in for his efforts, “I managed to free Agent Dante. There wasn’t much time.” She turned her head, barely feeling the ache in her jaw now.
It had been twenty-four hours since she’d walked out of that little cabin in the woods, but she could still see Kyle’s eyes, wide open, staring at Hell. “Agent Dante punched West when he attacked again and managed to get the cuff keys away from him.” A fast move that still impressed her.
“I unlocked my cuffs, managed to get the knife West had dropped, and when he came at me I had no choice but to use deadly force to defend myself and to secure the scene.”
Monica shoved the taunting voice to the back of her mind. “West planned to kill Agent Dante in front of me. I would have become his next victim, and then—”
Hyde stared at her with unblinking black eyes. “And then?”
“He would have staged the scene to make it look like Deputy Lee Pope had killed us, then eaten his own gun. I suspect West would have ‘discovered’ the scene the next day and taken credit for wrapping up the case.”