Shh…don’t make a sound.

I’m not afraid of evil in the world. I’m afraid of them. 

Creaking floorboards. Muffled screams. Once night falls I can’t remember why I came back to Davenport manor.

What I do remember is why I wanted out of here so badly in the first place. 

They aren’t men. They’re predators.

They don’t love. They hunt.

Now that I’m back I’m no longer their stepsister. I’m their prey.

 

They’re awake all hours of the night, creeping around upstairs above my bedroom, doing things with their two buddies I don’t want to know… until I do. 

Unable to block out the sounds anymore. I waited until they left…and went up there—to their bedroom. 

Now I’ll never be the same again. 

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat…I’m pretty sure they did. 

And now that I know the truth, I’m next. 

Family or not…they’ll never let me go.

 

Chapter One

Kate

Thump.

They’re at it again. The noise. The walking. The muffled goddamn voices above my room. I thought by now they’d be better at hiding what they do. They don’t care. Of course they don’t care. I mean, why would they? It’s not like they give a shit about me, laying underneath their bedroom.

If the Davenport brothers have proven anything, it’s that they don’t give a shit about me. 

I shift and turn, the house humid from the afternoon storm, hating the way my top sticks to my skin.

God, I didn’t want to be back here, in this house… in this family. Four years away at school and it’s like nothing has changed. A family of strangers, except for mom. Mom, who always does whatever Montie, my stepfather, wants. 

Thump.

I flinch at the sound. I can’t sleep, not with them on the floor above or the from damn southern sweltering heat. Bang. The shutter smacks against the window, making me flinch. Jesus, this house. I never know what’s causing the creaks and groans.

Is it the hundred-and-fifty-year-old rafters or the ancient oak tree out front, draped in ghostly Spanish moss? The house has been in Monte’s family for generations and no matter how clean my mother or the housekeepers keep it, the scent of musty air clings to everything that resides inside. 

I forgot how sticky the night breeze feels, nothing like the cooler weather up north. There, the heat of summer is still a few weeks away. Lightning flashes in the distance, the soft white lighting up my bedroom before it flickers and fades away. Thunder follows with a low creeping rumble.

No, not thunder. My senses sharpen at the sound. I lift my head from the pillow, listening. A car. Their car. The deep sound of the engine echoing off the trees. I rise from the bed, sliding my feet from under the sheets. The sounds are followed by the slam of a car door. One, two… only two tonight. For now, at least. They tend to roam in a pack, or at least they used to.

At the window, I adjust the curtain and lift my gaze, searching for the lick of cool air as headlights flare on the street far below my window.

I skim my hand against my breast. My fingers brushing my nipples, tight, puckered, aching with my impending period. The flimsy negligee is more lace than satin. Pink with matching panties. It’s all I can stand to wear at night in this heat. The family is rich, filthy rich, so why the hell don’t they have AC?

“It would detract from the historical preservation of Davenport Manor if we added air conditioning,” I can hear Monte explain. God forbid we offend the preservation society for a little bit of comfort and sanity. 

Down on the driveway, the car pulls out, headlights lighting the way until they are gone.

I breathe a sigh of relief knowing they’re gone. I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for the interview at the Gazette in the morning. I should’ve known better than to get a degree in a dying field–print journalism. But it’s my passion. To my dismay, Monte pulled a few strings and got me the interview with one of his friends. Nepotism isn’t the way I want to make it in the business–but my mother never would’ve let me live it down if I’d declined such a kind gesture from my stepfather. So here I am, back in Davenport Manor, sticky with sweat and listening to my stepbrothers bang around upstairs all night.

Some things never change.

I hate being here while they’re home, especially when mom and Monte are gone. They’d already scheduled their trip when I announced I was coming back home to look for a job. I got home two days ago and have managed to avoid the boys the whole time.

Boys.

They’re men, now. Twenty-five and twenty-four. 

Thump.

I flinch and look at the ceiling. Lightning flickers again, this time brighter, bolder, carrying with it the faint scent of ozone on the thick air. I swallow more than suck, taking in that bitter scent and licking my lips, tasting salt and sweat.

Thump.

It’s followed by another sound this time. Low and deep. A groan.

My heart thumps, muffling the sound as I swallow and glance at the window, searching the place where the car was parked. Still gone. Still empty… but that sound.

Moan…

“What the fuck?” I whisper, again staring at the ceiling. 

The sounds were always the same; the thud of footsteps. The creak of the old hardwood floors. They did it on purpose; I was sure of it, just to piss me off. They were always the same, my stepbrothers. Moody. Brooding. Secretive.

Oliver and Jack Davenport.

Stay the fuck out of our way.

The words resound in my head. It was the first interaction we ever had. Sure made a lasting impression. The only one that counted, really. After that was a long succession of doors being slammed in my face and hostile glares from Jack, mostly. He’s the oldest–the scariest. The main asshole who didn’t care about getting a new little sister when our parents married. Oliver wasn’t much better, although, sometimes, when we were alone, he’d talk to me, making me feel special. But then, just as fast, Jack would appear and whatever kindness he showed me would vanish quick as a whisper.

Mom would say they were just dealing with their own emotions about losing their mother. They were just hormonal teenage boys. Well, I was fourteen, with raging hormones of my own. 

“Help…”

The voice is louder, stronger, and I stumble back, slamming my hand against my chest. I wait a beat, then walk to the door, cracking it open. Listening, certain I’d heard wrong, I—

Help… someone help me…”

I yank the door shut; the latch echoing in the quiet house, and press my back against the wood.

Fuck. This is my fault. I’d always had nightmares here. Always had the wildest imagination.

“Please…”

The word hit me like ice in my veins. I stop, panic roaring inside me as I muster up the courage to open the door again. “I heard wrong. I heard wrong. I heard—” I tell myself, but I know that I didn’t hear anything wrong. I’m not crazy, I promise myself as I push the door open wider, glancing along the balustrade to the stairs. I step into the dark hallway. Dark and silent and old. My bare feet creak on the hardwoods as I near the stairs. “Mom?”

Silence answers, wind whistles through the cracks in the downstairs windows. I step out further, gripping the banister and move to the first step. “Mont?”

There was nothing. Nothing. My mind was playing tricks. I knew I shouldn’t have had that last glass of wine—

“Anyone… please…”

I jerk, wrenching my gaze up to the stairs. The voice came from the third floor.

The one place I was forbidden to go in the house. A place where bad things happen. But that was years ago, and before I heard someone crying for help. I move without thinking, rounding the landing, and climb.

Stay the fuck out of our way.

“Stay the fuck out,” I repeat, climbing the first stair and then the next. The house is hulking and mammoth. Character, that’s what mom called it. The damn thing just creeped me out.

When mom and I moved into this house, it was my fourteenth birthday. Even then I was scared, weirded out by the size and musty smell. But all mom saw was a future. One where we weren’t poor, and she was no longer a widow and single mother.

I try not to think about that as I climb the stairs. The third floor was off limits to everyone, including the housekeeper. I ignore the rules put in place all those years ago. I’m no longer a scrawny teenager intimidated by my stepbrothers and their friends.

“Help…”

Christ, the voice is louder the higher I go. “Hello?” I call out, inching to the top of the stairs. I scan the landing and squint, searching for the murky outline of the bedroom doors. My heart pounds remembering the only time I came this far into their territory. I’d paid for the violation. I clear my throat. “Jack? Oliver?” 

My voice trails into a whisper as I quietly make my way to the first door. 

Creak. 

My pulse jumps with sound. Heart hammers, I jerk my gaze over my shoulder. But there’s no one there. Just this house. “This creepy fucking house. I swear I’m gonna die of a goddamn heart attack in this place.” I say it out loud, like I can force myself to reason. I turn back, moving to the doorway and grip the handle. 

My nightie sticks against my thighs, pulling taut as I turn and ease open the door, inch-by-inch. “If this is some kind of twisted joke, I swear I’ll scream so loud the entire neighborhood will hear.” My voice betrays me. It’s nothing but a croak. 

I can’t hear a thing over the booming of my heart. Still, I force myself to move, stepping inside the bedroom. The scent of something dark and sultry hit me. I recognize the scent, the man it belongs to, and inhale deep…

Only that’s a mistake. Under the seductive scent of something erotic and manly, a sickening, copper smell hits my nostrils… blood. 

I reach out, my fingers smacking against the doorframe, before I reach along the wall, searching. Click. I hit the switch, and the room floods with a dull, yellow light, leaving me to turn my head. I freeze. 

“Help me.” The voice comes from a man and for a second I don’t understand what I’m seeing…

No. 

God…

It doesn’t just smell like blood, it’s there. Everywhere. The guy lies on his side on the ground. His hands tied behind his back, curled up, with his ankles strapped together by tape. A chair turned over behind him. There’s blood everywhere, weeping from his head, dripping into his eyes. He looks up at me. 

“Jesus.” I glance around, trying to absorb what has become of Jack’s bedroom. There’s a bench along the wall. Spread across the surface are dozens of knives. Several coated in the sticky residue of blood. “What is this? Who are you?”

“Untie me.” The guy pleads and closes his eyes. “Please, just untie me and let me go.” 

“I’m c-calling the cops,” I stutter, moving back to the safety of the hallway. 

“No.” He shakes his head, his voice slurring. “Just let me go. I promise not to say anything. I promise you’ll never hear from me again. I just need to get out of here before they come back.”

I step forward, glancing at those knives once more, and then kneel down. But I don’t touch him. He’s filthy, muddy, and God, bloody. I glance at the tape wrapped tight around his jeans and then drift my gaze up to his arms cinched around his back. 

“The key.” He urges, holding my eye. “You need to find the key.” 

“Key?”

“For the handcuffs.” 

Oh, shit. I nod. “Okay. Okay, I can do this,” I say, more to myself than him. I rise and scan the bedroom, trying to figure out where they’d put the key. I spot a messy desk, although it was more than that, more like one of those investigation rooms the cops use on Murderers Most Wanted. A large map hangs over the desk, string zig-zags between photographs and hand-written notes. “Oh fuck, oh fuck,” I chant to myself. This is bad. So fucking bad.

I search the desk, fumbling through drawers and under stacks of paper, but there’s no key. I turn, spotting a duffle bag splayed open on his bed. I stumble forward and hesitate, not wanting to touch the damn thing.

“Hurry,” the guy bleeding out on my stepbrother’s bedroom floor whispers. His anxiety is contagious.     

“I’m trying,” I snap, then take a deep breath. It’s just a normal day, right? Just a goddamn normal day in this hellhole. 

I yank open the bag and rifle through the contents. Black masks. Black tape. Two rolls of it, because of course, I mean why wouldn’t you have plenty, right? I yank through the stuff, touching cold steel before tearing my hand away. 

I can’t do this. 

I can’t

Get your shit together, Katie! He’s right. They’ll be back soon.

Desperation kicks hard. I step forward, grabbing the handle of the bag and upend the contents on the bed. Metal glints underneath the mess. I shove rolls of plastic bags aside and grab the set of two tiny keys. 

“Yes! That’s it!” the guy shouts, as I turn and hurry toward him.

“I’m going to get you out of here.” I kneel, filled with purpose, and reach for his hands. “And then we’ll call the police.”

He rolls onto me, his breath warm against my thigh. I should be more aware of how high my nightie rides, and how exposed I am, but I push that aside. This isn’t the time to be self-conscious. Not when I’m saving someone’s life.  

My fingers tremble as I shove the key into the lock. 

Creak. 

The house shifts, only this time I don’t care. I can’t care. The lock gives a click, and the cuffs release, allowing his hands to fall. He rips the tape off from around his ankles, and I exhale in relief. 

“I left my phone in my room, just let me go—” my words are cut short when I feel the tight grip of his fingers around my throat.

“Stupid bitch.” He snarls, squeezing tighter. He isn’t the helpless victim anymore. The glint in his eye, the curl of his lip, it says everything. He’s not the prey, he’s a predator. 

Panic roars, and a scream is trapped by his fingers as he grips tight. 

“Aren’t you a doll?” he laughs. “Coming up here to save me like a good little bitch. It’s going to be fun to cut you up.” His breath is rancid and hot. “Right after I rip that pretty nightie off and stuff it in your mouth so no one will hear your screams while I fuck your last breath out of you.”

His anger and rage are palpable. It tremors through his blood slicked fingertips. I see a flash of my future, my stepbrothers returning to find me exactly how he described. Would they laugh at stupid Kate for getting herself into such a mess?

His gaze jerks over my shoulder, and he stills. 

The flash of silver glints beside me as a knife carves through the air and buries into the center of his throat. Then, with one savage jerk, his throat tears open. Blood shoots out, splashing my chest just like the warm, sultry night air. A scream rips free, shrill, terrifying, before something clamps across my mouth, cutting off the sound. 

Warm leather flattens against my lips. A heavy breath near my ear. I’m hauled to my feet, pushed backwards and slammed against the wall. My head cracks with the impact, detonating white stars behind my eyes as I stare into the chilling eyes of a murderer.

“Shouldn’t have come up here, little sister.” Jack sucks in a hard breath and glances over his shoulder. The man chokes and sputters. His hands flap wildly against the floor as he bleeds out. Then my stepbrother turns that depraved glare my way. “Should’ve stayed the hell out of our way, like I told you to.” 

My heart booms. Terror screaming inside me as he lowers his gaze to the blood that drips down my breasts, adhering the thin fabric of my top against my chest. “The question is, Katie. What the fuck do we do with you now?”

Chapter Two

Kate

 

“I know you’ve been gone for a while, sweet Katie, but surely you remember the first rule of living in Davenport Manor?” Jack says, his eyes dragging from my chest to meet mine. I only hold them for a moment, intimidated by the darkness lurking inside. I know they’re gray, but in the shadowy light, they look black and soulless.

“Stay out of your way?” I say, inevitably looking over at the lifeless body on the floor. Moments before I’d untied him, tried to save him, then he turned on me. Right? Isn’t that what happened? I’m no longer sure.

“So you do remember.” His gloved fingers graze down my cheek to pinch my chin. “Too bad you didn’t listen.” He lifts an eyebrow. “Again.”

“I-I heard him calling out. He was begging for help.” I suck in air. “I thought it may be one of you.”

“Nice try,” he says. “He should’ve been dead, right, Ollie?”

My other stepbrother, Oliver, emerges from the corner. I’m not sure how long he’s been standing there, watching us. Like his brother, bigger than the last time I saw him. His shoulders are broader and his features more defined. He’s the yang to his brother’s darker yin, but even with the lighter hair and eyes, it’s clear they’re related.

“He didn’t have a pulse when we left,” Oliver says, treating me as if I’m invisible. I wish his brother did the same, but his eyes haven’t looked away from me since he pinned me to the wall. “Must’ve just been weak.”

“Yeah well, that little mistake made things really fucking complicated.” Sweat beads on Jack’s forehead and he lifts his hand to wipe it off. It’s then that I see he’s still holding onto the knife, blood dripping off the end. A drop lands on my chest, still warm as it slides between my breasts. “Jesus, you’re filthy.”

“That’s what you’re worried about?” I ask. “Me being filthy?”

“I’m worried about evidence getting dragged all over the house,” he replies. “Strip.”

“What? You’re deranged! I’m not–”

My argument falters when he tips the blade of the knife against my skin. Slowly, he drags it upward. The sting is faint but effective. He could plunge it into my throat so easily and be done with me in a heartbeat.

Just like he slaughtered the man on the floor.

My chest rises and falls, the point of the blade pressing into me with every breath. He carves it under my collarbone, slipping the tip beneath the thin strap of my nightie, and jerks upward, slicing it in two.

“That makes it twice you haven’t followed my rules tonight, little sister. Want to go for three?” His grin is wicked. Daring. I slam my hand out, knocking the knife from his hand. He starts, eyes widening in surprise, but before either of us can react, Oliver charges over, lunging for the knife and pointing it at the two of us.

“You,” he says to Jack. “Now isn’t the time for games. We have a fucking mess to clean up.” He swings to me. “And you?” He narrows that gaze to mine and my heart twists in my chest. His eyes hold mine for the first time. His voice grows stony and cold. “Follow directions for once in your fucking life, especially if you want to keep it. I haven’t decided what the hell we’re doing with you, but if you think I won’t toss you in the landfill next to this asshole just because your mother fucks our father, you’re wrong.”

He would. I know he would. There’s no bluffing with the men I’m supposed to call family.

I learned that lesson the hard way.

Jack straightens, annoyance flickering across his features, but he doesn’t argue. He holds out his hand. “Nightie.”

I push off the remaining strap and let it fall to the floor. Covering my breasts with one arm, I bend and pick up the soiled lace and hand it over.

“Panties, too,” he adds, looking down at the thin satin covering my crotch.

“They’re not–”

He gives me a hard, calculated look and I remember Oliver’s threat. I’d always suspected these guys were up to no good, but before tonight I had no idea they were actual… well, what are they? Kidnappers? Murderers? Serial killers? I had no freaking clue what I was dealing with here, but if I wanted to survive the night, I was going to have to adapt. Dropping my arm, I hook my thumbs in my panties and drag them over my hips.

“I see you like the natural look,” Jack says, staring between my legs. “Nice.”

Oliver snorts and adds. “Just means she isn’t getting laid at that fancy college Dad paid for.”

I wince. Jesus.

I’ve lived with all female roommates for years and barely had one boyfriend during that time. Grooming… down there just wasn’t a necessity. Oliver looks over and takes me in and the warm, familiar, heat of humiliation trembles over my body. I pick up the panties and hand them over. They’re wet. I know that and it only heightens the lick of desire slowly sliding between my legs when he rubs his thumb over the damp crotch.

“Good girl.” He jerks his head to a door across the room. “Go stand in the shower and wait.”

I shiver in the balmy night air and do as he says, hating how they make me feel. Why the hell did I have to come up here? Why couldn’t I just stay away?

I skirt the edge of the room, making sure not to step in any of the dead man’s blood. It’s a relief when I push open the door and flip on the light, revealing the large bathroom.

I take a breath of clean, bloodless, air. It’s as dark as the other room, but it’s been fully renovated, walls and floors covered in a rich slate gray tile. The counter is made of black marble and the accents in brushed gold. Across the space is a second door, slightly open, and I see the second bedroom. Oliver’s.

A tremor runs up my spine. I refuse to slip into the memory of what happened in there.

Bang. I flinch at the sound from the other room and jump into the shower, standing on the cool tiles.

Jack enters the room a minute later, stripped down to a pair of black boxer briefs.

Jesus Christ.

He was in good shape when I left, constantly working out, jogging, and lifting weights. He’s transformed into something different—manly. Deadly. His abdomen ripples with lean, hard muscle. His chest smooth other than dark curls of hair scattered between his pecs. Tattoos circle his biceps, as well as across his ribs. I haven’t seen him undressed before, not totally anyway, and I consume it all. Heat licks at the base of my neck as I sweep my eyes over the fine trail of hair beneath his navel, and between the hard lines of his hips. My mouth dries, and my nipples tighten. I avoid looking low, at the weapon I know he packs under those black briefs. I glance away as memories rise. Memories I don’t want to relive.

Not here.

If he’s aware of my struggle, he doesn’t reveal it. He doesn’t speak as he steps into the shower, spinning the faucet handle. The water gurgles then shoots out in a hard spray. I step out of the way, yelping at the cold water. He grabs the nozzle and lifts it off the hook, pointing it in the direction of my belly and chest.

“Grab the soap,” he directs me, nodding at the bar on the shelf. I pick it up and catch that scent from earlier. Masculine and musky, and it hits me between my thighs. God. How can someone so evil smell so good? “Scrub down, head to toe. You need to get every speck of blood off your body.” Our eyes meet and he winks. “Happy to help out in those hard-to-reach places if you need it.”

I run my hands under the water and lather up, turning away from my stepbrother’s imposing stare. The water turns hot and scalding, but I accept it. Anything to burn off the blood and grime. Pity it can’t burn away the disgrace. I close my eyes and soap up my hair, feeling Jack step closer to hold the stream over my head. I let the heat roll over me. Under the stream of water, I gather the courage to ask, “Who was that man?”

Instead of an answer, I hear the squeak of the knob turn, the water ceasing. I open my eyes, and he’s standing in front of me, droplets of water running down his defined chest. My long hair snakes down my neck, thick with water. “Why did you kill him?”

“It’s what we do, little sister.” He meets my stare. “We’re hunters.”

Hunters. Stupid images of rifles and forests rise in my head. That isn’t what he means and I know it. My first thought is of mom and Montie. Do they know?

Of course, they don’t know.

My mom may be under the spell of her husband but she’s not the kind to aid and abed murderers. And in an instant, it hits me. All the creaks and the groans from above my bedroom. That’s what they’d been doing all this time.

Hunting.

I rock forward, thrusting my hand out to brace against the tiles. “I’m going to be sick.”

“Over the drain, so I can wash it down.”

A bark of laughter breaks free from my throat. He doesn’t miss a beat. Doesn’t even flinch. So calm. So controlled.

But not always.

I try to steady my breaths, attempting to keep from passing out. No, he wasn’t always so controlled. But I’m not going to think about that night, remember? I’m going to pretend that didn’t happen. Mom and Montie are gone. No specific date of when they’re coming back. It’s one of the reasons mom wants me here. To keep an eye on things.

‘The boys are hardly here. You won’t even see them.” Her words sprout like the lies.

“Sure I won’t,” I whisper, realizing with chilling clarity my stepbrothers can do whatever they want to me and no one would know.

“Won’t what?” Jack steps away, grabbing a towel and tossing it to me. His gaze lingers a little too long on my body, on my taut nipples and fluttering stomach. For a second, I think he’s going to touch me.

But he just turns away and leaves the room. 

***

“Forget everything you saw tonight. Everything you heard. It never happened. Understand?”

Those were the last words Jack said to me before sending me back to my room wrapped in a towel. I’d spent the rest of the night staring at the ceiling, listening for the sounds of my stepbrothers as they cleaned up and disposed of the evidence of what they’d done.

No, what we’d done?

Am I part of this?

No. That man was supposed to be dead before I went upstairs.

I toss and turn, running through the whole event repeatedly. The cry for help. The scent of blood. The realization he was going to kill me. The sound of the blade ripping through his throat. The feel of Jack pressing the tip of the knife against my chest.

Oh God.

As dawn breaks, the sound of footsteps, heavy and loud on the stairs, propels me up and out of my bed. I rush to the door and press my ear against the wood. Their footsteps pause, hovering on the landing. I almost wish they’d killed me last night–finished me off so I didn’t have to wait.

Because they will kill me.

Time stands still as they linger in the hall. I swallow back the bitter bile rising in the back of my throat and clamp a hand over my mouth. I’m so focused on not puking, that I barely register the sound of their feet as they continue to the first floor. I’m still standing there when the car doors open and close outside, echoing against the early morning.

I exhale, breathing out the tension of the night. But I can’t hide here forever and now I can’t take back what I know.

All I can do is try to take control of my life until they decide to snatch it away with the savage jerk of their knife anyway.

I have an interview today down at the Gazette. If I get the job, I’ll earn a paycheck, and then I can get out of here. Away from this house. Away from them. I can put what they did behind me. Just pretend like nothing happened. I’ve done it before…so I can do it again. Right?

 

Chapter Three

 Jack

“Get the bleach,” Ollie mutters as he drops his shoulder.

Thud.

The wrapped body hits the floor of the trunk. I’m going to have to scrub harder, make sure I get every fiber out of the lining. I’ve told him before about placing it, not just dropping it like that. How many times do I have to explain myself?

My mind races, tracing every touch, every drop of blood from the moment we took him. There was no way they’d track this scumbag back to us. Although, you can never be too careful.

Especially when you had bodies in the backyard. Literally.

Ollie doesn’t bother to look my way, just yanks the asshole’s feet around and stuffs him in, knees up in the space. I work on autopilot, so used to the movements. Track, hunt, capture, kill. Then dig a nice big hole and come back to clean.

It’s here where most killers come undone. They don’t take the time. They rush it. They don’t plan. They aren’t organized. I place the three bottles of cleaner into the gaps between his feet, tucking one under his arm in a sickening embrace and straighten.

“Nice.” Ollie casts me a look.

I smile and that makes him stiffen, then shake his head.

“What?” I ask.

My little brother doesn’t answer, peeling his gloves free and turning them inside out before tossing them on top of the body. He walks around the car and climbs into the passenger’s seat. I follow, sliding in behind the wheel of the Audi A8 and start the engine.

I drive, taking the quiet residential streets nice and slow until I make my way to the freeway, then we travel the hour to the turn off to Glenwood Forest. We have a cabin out there, it’s isolated and quiet, and a nice big barn equipped with barrels of sulphuric acid. Enough to get rid of a body…or five.

Adrenaline courses through me as I press the gas a little harder than I should, earning a side-ways glance from my brother. But he bites back a remark. I know it’s not my driving he wants to talk about it’s her.

Our little stepsister.

It was a shock seeing her back in the house, her scent, and quiet movements. Dad mentioned her returning home as they were leaving the house for their trip. I didn’t pay much attention. I never do, focused on my mission and nothing else. But now that she’s back things feel strangely… right. Like finding a missing piece of a puzzle. She’d left so abruptly. We’d never been able to finalize what’d happened that night. No reconciliation. But now… now we can finish this for good.

So yeah, Oliver wants to talk about her. I don’t. I just want to think about her standing there drenched in blood. How I wanted to fuck her, right there in the mess. Or when she was lathered and wet in the shower. I should’ve pressed her against the dark tile, spreading her thighs and made her scream. I lick my lips and glance in the rearview mirror, spotting a pair of headlights half a mile back. She shouldn’t have come upstairs. It was her own stupid fault. Whatever happened now—that was on her.

Would she betray us again? My pulse speeds. Balls ache. Fingers twitch to touch her pale, slender neck.

We spend the remainder of the drive in silence. But instead of comfort it’s strained. There was no music to muffle the thoughts in my head, just the hum of the Audi’s tires on the road. Until…

“She shouldn’t have come back.”

That’s all he said. Just that…she shouldn’t have come back.

He’s right. She shouldn’t have returned to Davenport Manor–to the Davenport men. Not after the last time. Maybe our little Katie had forgotten the lesson we taught her? Maybe it was time to remind her exactly the kind of brothers we were? My cock twitches, growing harder as I finally catch sight of our turnoff. I hit the turn signal and tap the brakes.

Red lights flare at the rear of the sedan. I watch the mirror, the other car turned off at the last exit. We turn around the sweeping bend, leaving the freeway behind, making sure no one followed. We’d left her alive. She could have called the police.

Nothing but darkness surrounds us. I slow when rocks kick up, peppering the underbelly of the car, taking the terrain a little slower. We drive until the familiar turn-off. I nose the Audi onto the dirt drive, making my way to the small cabin, and around to the large empty stables. I pull up, waiting as Ollie climbs out and opens the gate, leaving me to drive through as he hits the lights.

We work quietly, removing the bleach and other items the asshole had with him when we interrupted his plans. The cheap black bag hits the concrete floor with a thud. I stare at the thing, fighting the urge to look at his other instruments. But there’s no time for that. Instead, I move to the door at the end of the stables and press my finger to the scanner, waiting for the locks to release.

The room is padded. Silent. The saw sits at the end, gleaming and waiting. We haul the body out of the car and slam the padded room closed. The whirring screech is muffled outside. We’d tested things a hundred times. Sounds, smells, and everything else we use. Making sure nothing can be traced back to us. Then we start work dismembering the body on the cloth tarp, starting with the fingers. We spread across the body, using a wrench to remove the teeth before grinding them to dust, then to the eyes, on to the skin.

By the time we load the parts in containers and cart them to the forest, I’ve worked up a sweat. Ollie hasn’t said anything after his remark in the car. I busy myself doing my fair share of the digging. We prepare for this too, working out in the basement of the house, lifting weights and adding cardio. We have to be in top shape to pull off every step of this. My muscles strain until they burn. Whack. Slop. Whack. Slop. Over and over and I’m lost in the movements… thinking about the reason we do this.

What bad men do to innocent females.

We bury the bins, then return to the cabin, lighting the fire in the barrel just outside the backdoor. Ollie works the buttons of his shirt, peeling it free before dropping it into the fire, standing there naked as I do the same. A few minutes and the clothes are nothing more than embers.

“We need to let Davis know,” Ollie says, staring at the flames before meeting my gaze. “And Paul. If we decide to remove her from the equation, they’ll need to be on board.”

I nod carefully. “I agree.”

“This is a goddamn mess,” he mutters.

He’s right, but it’s also more than that. This is a problem. Not one that can be sawed into tiny pieces and destroyed.

As I stare at the embers and the glistening plastic button as it burns, I realize one important factor. “She doesn’t tick the boxes.”

Ollie flinches with the words. Anger burns in his eyes. Anger for me and for her. But mostly anger for himself. It was his fault the asshole was still alive. It was his fault she went up there in the first place. His fault we’re having this conversation at all. But no matter how much blame I want to shovel onto my brother it always comes back to the same argument. It might’ve been his actions that caused this. But the blame for all of this rested on one man. A faceless man we hunt in our dreams.

He’s the reason why we hardly sleep. Why are hands are bloody, and why we can’t let Katie fuck things up.

Ollie turns and makes for the cabin, and I follow. Inside he heads to the kitchen while go to the bathroom. I twist the taps, listening to the squeal of the old pipes and step under the cold spray. Remnants of blood wash away as I grab the soap and scrub.

Katie…

I close my eyes and slide the soap over my chest before moving lower.

All that blood.

All that mess.

Those innocent brown eyes wide with fear. Jesus. I reach down and grab myself. I’m already hardening, even with the cold spray. I fist my length and close my eyes, imaging her hand wrapped around my cock. Soft, small, firm.

Jack…please don’t do this.

Her voice resurrects as I slide my hand back, hitting the hilt, and then pump all the way to the thick head. That rush moves through me. “Goddamn, Katie.” Her name on my lips is pure poison. She hates it when I call her by the nickname. Her nose wrinkles every time. A correction lingers on those plump pink lips. Fucking with her, is an addiction I haven’t tasted in many years, but now that she’s back, it’s a bitter taste I can’t seem to deny.

The vein along my length pulses. My balls twitch and my lower body seizes. I come hard. Slick, creamy, spurting on my fingers. I open my eyes and look at my cum and the memories return. Memories before she ran, before the little bitch betrayed us.

I open my hand, watching as the remnant of desire washes away before I turn and twist the taps, ending the spray. If I was hoping for relief, it doesn’t come. I dry and dress before gathering our things and turning to the car. We’re back in the car within the next hour, the car scrubbed and cleaned, removing every spec the two-bit rapist left behind.

Headlights splash against the asphalt as we take the freeway back to the city. But we don’t go home. Not yet. They say murderers always go back to the scene of the crime, and that’s mostly true. For us, it’s more than reliving that rush.

We live in the scene of the crime. From the first one to the very last. That way we don’t forget.

I drive past the seedy nightclubs and closing bars. It was morning and in a few hours, the sun will rise, shedding new light on the mess we’d found ourselves in. But it’s not darkened alleyways and depraved brothels where we find ourselves.

We drive past the quiet low-income residential streets pulling up outside a small, bare, plain house. The windows were darkened, the occupants fast asleep… and safe. Tonight could’ve ended very differently, indeed.

The cheap ass go-bag was still in my boot, the tape, and the ties along with the knives. The scumbag even thought to add a box of condoms, you know, to cover his tracks.

A twenty-four pack too… he was expecting to stay for a while.

Too bad his time was cut short, cut by my goddamn knife.

“He deserved it,” Ollie says. His words draw me away from the memory of how I was the one waiting for him when the sick asshole broke into her house, planning on waiting for when she came home.

“He ticked our boxes,” I answer.

“Yes, brother. That he did.”

I turn my head to look at him, but it isn’t the hard planes and the careful, stony eyes of the man I see. At this moment it’s the wide, terrified eyes of my little brother. The one I held, huddled close together, with my hand across his mouth to smother his screams.

Run, Jack! Mom’s desperate whisper came back to me. Take your brother and hide.

We did run and hide that night when violence came for our mom. The same kind of violence that almost came for the woman who lived inside the house in front of us. The same kind of violence we protected her from.

We may not be able to escape our nightmare, but we make sure we take out as many sick bastards we can while we’re living it.

Chapter Four

Kate

The Gazette office is tucked in the middle of a long row of ancient buildings on Main Street, the words Established in 1874 embellished in gold over the front door. The offices are on the top floor, and after climbing three flights of stairs, I find myself sitting across from the editor, Henry Parks, as he flips through my portfolio. I majored in journalism–my primary interest in investigative reporting. From the crease on his forehead, I get the sense he knows what sparked my interest.

I spent four years living in the house with a ghost and the victims of her unsolved death left behind. So, you could say, yeah, I have a personal investment.

“Your stepfather and I go way back.” Henry’s hair is bushy, standing on end and his eyes redder than my own. I glance at the almost empty bottle of whiskey on the shelf behind him, then shift my focus back. “He says you had excellent grades and graduated top of your class.”

“Yes, sir, I did.”

He looks down at my resume and raises a hairy eyebrow. “You wrote a six-part series about the Cross Bridge murders for the school paper?”

“For my senior project, yes.” The Cross Bridge murders are one of the most well-known unsolved cases in the state. Real-life crime has always fascinated me, but maybe not so much now. “As you know, no one could figure out who killed those two women. I didn’t either, but my investigation renewed my interest and dug up a few promising new leads. Many of the locals were reluctant to talk to me about it, but I had a feeling there were secrets to uncover.” I lean forward, nodding my head to the folder in his hand. “The case was reopened by the police because of my hard work.”

“So you’re determined.”

“Yes, sir. Very.

He nods. “You’ve got grit. I like that.”

I thought I did too, but after what I witnessed last night, my enthusiasm for digging into the underbelly of unsolved crimes has dampened. I swallow hard, driving away the stench of hot blood that still clings to my nose.

It’s one thing to investigate a crime. But it’s another to be that up close to it. Even if I was an unwilling participant and the murderers live a floor above me. I was a witness. A risk. The fear that overwhelmed me last night? I can’t it wash off.

Not that Jack didn’t try.

Just leaving my bedroom had taken a feat of strength that morning. I had to push past every single fear I had as I stood outside my bedroom, head craned, listening for movement. I made sure that Jack and Oliver had truly left the house and there weren’t any other victims lurking around every dark corner of the house.

That house…

That creepy, godforsaken nightmare of a house.

The strong scent of bleach wafted down the stairs, following me until I stepped outside. But, now that I’m here, I try my best to pretend none of that happened. Henry is my only option. The only job interview I’d managed to secure and that’s only because of his connection to my stepfather. If I can just get this job, save a little money, and build my resume, I can get the hell out of this town and away from Jack and Oliver for good.

He chews on the tip of his pencil; I suspect trying to decide how to reject me in a way that doesn’t destroy his relationship with my stepfather. I glance around, looking for anything to further the conversation. The desk is a mess. Stacks of coffee cups from the diner, a jar of broken pencils, old newspapers. I catch sight of the top one and my heart skips a beat.

I lean forward and point at the black and white photo. “Who is that?”

He frowns down at it. “Just a missing person.” He looks up at me, then back down at the paper, then back at me again. I can see the wheels turning. “There’s a series of them. White males, primarily ages forty to sixty. One day they’re living normal lives, the next they vanish.”

I quell the tremble in my voice. “Sounds like they got antsy and took off. That’s not unusual.”

“That’s what the police say too, but… I don’t know,” he scratches his head, “something about it bugs me.” He holds up the paper, giving me a better look at the image. The copper scent of blood tickles my nostrils. “This guy, Charles Miller, has a family, a wife and two kids, coached soccer, has a steady job, no girlfriend or mistress that anyone has heard of. No financial issues. He left his job one evening and hasn’t been seen for three days.”

And he’ll be missing forever, I want to say, but don’t. Can’t.

He drops the paper in the pile. “I could use someone to run this down. Shake the weeds a little and see if there’s anything there. The families, they’re getting frustrated with the police. There’s no urgency to find these men.”

My heart thuds in warning, telling me to stay away from anything to do with these men, but I find myself nodding, shaking his hand, and accepting the position when he offers it.

“It won’t be easy,” he says, directing me to the secretary for paperwork, “but maybe you can make progress like you did the Cross Bridge case.”

I thank him and don’t I don’t truly exhale until I’m back in the shadowy stairwell.

Jesus Christ, what have I done?

There’s no doubt the missing man in the paper is the same man that tried to rape and kill me at Davenport Manor last night. The eyes and ugly set of his jaw are the same. It’s the same man Jack murdered before he got the chance. And I just agreed to look further into the story?

I blame trauma and the lack of sleep for such a stupid decision. Taking another deep breath, I steady my hand on the railing as a new, sane, plan formulates. I’ll go home, call Henry, and tell him that this isn’t going to work. I’ll just explain that while I was at the interview, I received a job in another town, and I’ll just get the fuck out of here while I still can.

“I don’t remember your tits being so big.” A low whistle follows and my heart jumps into my throat. “I shouldn’t be surprised. You always were a sexy little thing.”

I turn and see a figure emerge from the darkened corner. One minute he’s shrouded, the next he’s in the light, blocking me the staircase. The man is tall and imposing and once my heart dislodges from my throat, I get a better look at his profile. Underneath the sharp cheekbones and thick layer of stubble, I recognize a vaguely familiar face. The memory strikes hard and fast; the four of them standing over me, their jaws tight, eyes mean.

Fuck.

Davis Higgins, best friend to my vile stepbrothers was there that night. I should be shocked, but it tracks. Honestly, I’m surprised it took him this long to find me. My eyes flick down to the badge attached to his belt. Detective Davis Higgins, Wilmington PD.

“It’s been a long time, Kate.” His eyes travel up and down my body. “How have you been?”

“What do you want?” I ask because Davis is the kind of man that wants, or takes. He never asks for anything. He’s handsome, he always has been. There’s a twinkle in his hazel eye, one that implies mischievousness, while his smile is lazy and disarming. In one weekend he’d score the winning touchdown for the Wilmington football team and talk as many girls out of their virginity as he could. He’s the kind of devil that you don’t realize is there until it’s too late. Until you’ve already let him in.

And he’s got me cornered.

“I heard someone saw little Kate back in town, and I needed to see it with my own eyes.”

There’s no doubt that someone is Jackson Davenport–Davis’ best friend and co-conspirator.  “Well, here I am. You’ve seen it for yourself.” I gesture for him to move. “Are we done?”

“Unfortunately,” he says, grimacing and rubbing his chin, “no. Now that I’ve confirmed it for myself, I’ve got to make a decision.”

“W-what kind of decision?” I hate the stammer in my voice.

His hand reaches out, fingers grazing along my cheek. “If it’s better for me to make you ‘disappear’ or keep you around.” The pads of his fingertips linger near my mouth. I fight the shudder running down my spine. “Do we use you, or dispose of you?”

A million terrifying scenarios run through my mind. What sticks out is that he knows about last night. Knows what I’ve seen and how I can expose my brothers. “You’re just as crazy as they are,” I force out. “You’re all monsters.”

“I happen to know that you have a thing for us ‘monsters’.” The grin he gives me is the kind of nightmares and I push past him, but only because he lets me. I stumble down the steps, wrenching my ankle in the process. Forcing myself not to look over my shoulder.

I make it to the bottom floor, pushing open the door to the outside, warm heat slapping me in the face. I limp to the car, locking the door once I’m inside, and the rush of tears I’ve been holding back all night finally releases.

I let it all out while I’m alone, knowing that I can’t make decisions while I’m emotional like this–that I can’t let them see me cry. I know for a fact any sign of weakness only makes them meaner.

I crank the car and roam the streets of Wilmington. It’s been years since I’ve been back here, but it all looks the same. The weathered sign is still up at high school and further down the road is the county library where I spent most of my afternoons, nose deep in a book, so I didn’t have to go home.

There’s the public swimming pool and the diner, but there are new things too. Upscale apartments overlooking the river. New subdivisions and an outdoor shopping mall. I loop around the streets, settling my nerves. I stop at the stoplight in front of the police station and feel the hairs rise on the back of my neck. I get the sense I’m being followed–watched–and turn toward the station.

Sitting in the parking lot, in a black and white Wilmington Police marked SUV is Davis Higgins. Our eyes meet and I sense more than see the smile on his face. I want to run and hide. I want to tell the world who this man, this protector, really is.

But look how well that turned out for me last time? Idiot. Why the hell did you agree to come back here in the first place?

Because you wanted to see them.

Shame fills me, burning a hole right through my soul.

I could drive around for hours, wasting gas, or I can accept it and go back to Davenport Manor. Make them see they don’t scare me. Force them to acknowledge that it’s my home too, right? Except, I never had control there and never felt safe. Delusion is such a snarky bitch.

I grind my jaw and turn the car back to the rambling house. There’s no use running, they’ll just follow me. We’re hunters, Jack’s words fill my mind. My mind shifts to the stack of newspapers and the list of missing men.

Hunters.

That chill creeps along my spine. I know what they are now. What they truly are.

There’s no reason to hide–they’ll find me. My stepbrother’s cars are gone when I get back to the house, but I’m still quiet as I walk in the kitchen door. I only stop to grab a knife from the butcher block on the counter, before tiptoeing up the stairs and locking myself in my room.

I look up at the ceiling, waiting, listening, planning.

It’s obvious to me now that the only thing I can do is try to try to take them down. That’s the real opportunity Henry is giving me at the Gazette: Access.

And I plan on using it.

 

Chapter Five

Oliver

I cross my legs and lift a hand, motioning to the waitress to the back corner of the bar. Unfortunately, she’s not the only one that notices, and Sophie Pressler thinks I’m waving to her. I give her a tight grin, hoping it’ll appease her, but she slides from her seat among the pack of women she’s sitting with, leaning forward and whispering something that prompts six nearly identical heads to turn toward me.

Whatever she’s saying, I really don’t want to know.

Fuck, I think, watching her make a beeline for me. I scan the entrance for any sight of my brother. He’s not here.

“Ollie!” Sophie calls in her high-pitched whine.

I fight the twitch at the corner of my lips, feigning a smile instead. “Sophie. How have you been?”

“Still waiting for your call,” she says with a wink while sliding into the seat opposite of mine.

I open my mouth to tell her now’s not a good time, but that would just be speaking to the wind. She doesn’t ask if I want company. Women like Sophie never do. Never have. She’s been following me around since tenth grade, and it’s never clicked that this isn’t going to happen. I guess that’s part of being the kind of woman that gets what she wants when she wants it. She’s made it very clear over the years that what she wants is me.

The problem is that she doesn’t know me and if she did? Well, she’d go running.

They don’t even try with Jack. He’s got his mysterious, alpha thing going on, but women sense the darkness in him. A few have tried to penetrate it but come out licking their wounds.

Me? I’m more accessible. Less psychopath, more friendly. I don’t do what I do because of a twisted need to hurt and maim. That’s my brother. He’s broken, deep down, all the way to the core. With him, there’s no coming back.

That’s not me. I do this because it’s the right thing. The moral thing. I never want another woman, another family, to go through what ours did.

Sophie brushes her fingers against mine. The move is gentle, quick. She has no idea what these hands have done, how much blood they’ve been covered in. It would repulse her. But women like her never want to dig under the surface. It’s almost an insistence, a fantasy really, of pretending that I’m a worthy catch. All they see is my handsome face, the fit body, and the money. God, they definitely see the Davenport money.

I glance over to the table across the bar. It’s obvious the group of women believe that I’m one flirty conversation away from finding the love of my life Sophie.  

“I’ve been so busy,” she starts, fussing with the stack of gold bracelets on her arm, “with the charity ball I’m organizing. It takes up so much of my time. You just have no idea the kind of work that’s involved.”

“I can imagine,” I mutter, looking toward the door for any sign of Jack.

“But I love it. It gives me purpose. I can feel that sense of pride by giving back to the community.” She tugs at the straps of her sundress, lifting her tits casually, in an attempt to draw my attention. And all I can think of is Jack slicing the straps on Kate’s blood-drenched nightie the night before.

Seeing her in the middle of it all was like a wet dream. One I’d gladly sit here and replay over and over if Sophie would just shut the fuck up. All her presence is doing is making me feel something else, like giving her a nice short stab wound between the ribs.

But that won’t happen.

Because she doesn’t tick any of the boxes.

It’s our rule.

“Anyway, how have you been?” she asks regarding me with a coy smile while resting her hand on my forearm. Trust me, Sophie, you don’t want to know.

“Just working a lot,” I say, “like you, trying to make the community better–”

“I heard your sister’s back in town,” she interrupts. “Bless her heart, I know she had a hard go of it last time she lived here.” She regards her nails. “Bridget said she saw her going in the Gazette. Is she interviewing?”

She pauses for a beat, clearly wanting me to answer. “I don’t keep track of my stepsister’s appointments.” I flash her an apologetic grin. “Sorry.”

“It always happens, you know. People run off to bigger and better places, but they still end up back here.” She gives me a tight smile. “It’s a small paper, but it’ll probably be a good fit for someone without experience.”

The longer she talks about Kate the colder I get. The sensation plunges deep inside me at the mere mention of her name. The mask of pretense slides from my face. My smile falters, and I plunge headfirst into those icy waters of rage. I think about reaching across the table between us and taking her by the throat, feeling her pulse beneath my fingertips as it wanes. The urge is so strong, so intense, that my nails dig painfully into my palm.

“Sophie.”

My eyes flick up to the indifferent tone. Once again, my brother saves me from getting into trouble.

He strides forward, then stares down at her in that intimidating way Jack Davenport is known for. The mere presence of Jack is enough to make people like Sophie Pressler scurry back to the shadows, like a cockroach, and run away. Far, far away. “You’re in my seat.”

“Jack,” she says, eyes wide. What little color she has under inch-thick makeup vanishes. I see that tremor of fear in her eyes. See it bloom like the blowback of a syringe. She rises from the seat in a hurry but instead of stepping toward him the way she inserted herself in my presence, she backs away. “Of course, I was just leaving.”

They react differently to my brother. Always have. It’s like, on some level, they know exactly what he is, what he’s capable of.

He’s what you call a natural born killer.

Cold. Unreadable. Those dark eyes pinning his victim in place.

I watched the reaction with just a hint of amusement. It was like plucking the wings of a fly watching her flail and stumble, casting a pathetic fake smile my way as though she was almost embarrassed. “I’ll catch you later, Ollie.”

“Sure,” I answer, fighting that tight curl in the corner of my lips.

Jack takes his seat and adjusts his jacket, regarding me with a rising brow. “Can’t leave you alone for an hour, can I? Always attracting flies like honey.”

“Then you shouldn’t be late,” I state, watching Sophie flutter her hands my way as she nears her rumor-mongering bunch of bitches. I stare at them, cataloging every face. “They’re already talking about Kate.”

My brother stiffens. I glance at his cock. Quite literally. It’s the only topic of conversation that does.

He thinks I don’t see the way she affects him, but I do. The way he reacted last night. Pinning our little sister against the wall… the bloody blade sliding along her skin. He’s affected by her. Christ, aren’t we all?

I lick my lips as that heavy thump in my chest hits harder.

“That’s a problem,” Jack says carefully.

I stare at my brother, uneasy about the whole thing. Kate finding Charles Miller tied up and in our rooms wasn’t in the plans. Neither was the bloody mess. The whole thing went off the rails and I don’t sense that it’ll straighten any time soon. Not as long as she’s here.

“We can’t react rashly,” I tell him, spotting another figure walking in the front door. “We’ll figure something out.”

My brother grunts and I watch Davis walk in, all smiles and nods. He’s a typical public servant. He worked his way up from a rookie beat cop, through the ranks until he made detective. The people of Wilmington town trust him. They know he carries a badge and is out there doing ‘good work.’ It never crosses their minds that something more nefarious could be happening under the surface.

He waves at Rich, the bartender, then heads over to a table where a group of older men congregates every afternoon. He stops and shakes the hand of every person at the table.

I watch him with the same regard as I watch my brother. Two very different men… two very different killers. Davis works the room. Shaking. Smiling. He’s the man everyone loves. The hardworking detective keeps everyone safe.

From everyone but us.

He chuckles, slaps one of the men on the shoulder, and tears himself away, making a slow beeline for us. He takes a seat next to my brother, glancing away as the waitress nears carrying four glasses of neat scotch and places them on the pub table in front of us.

“Thanks, sweetheart,” Davis says, giving her an easy smile. She blushes in return, flattered by his charm. When she turns, the mask he wears slips away, along with the false smile.

“I saw our girl,” Davis says, keeping his tone casual. “You didn’t tell me how much she’s grown.”

Jack and I glance at one another. Katie was a cute girl when she left. Now she’s drop-dead gorgeous. Her hair is longer now, although still blonde. Her eyes are the same vibrant blue. Somehow her lips are plumper—and I definitely noticed that her tits are round and full. After Jack cut off her nightie, my gaze had lingered over the curve of her hips, meatier now, and the valley between her thighs.

Shit. The crotch of my pants grows tight just thinking about her, and I shift, seeking a more comfortable position.

“I can see why you didn’t kill her last night,” he adds, smirking at my brother. “You want to play with her first.

“And you don’t?” Jack snaps. “Because I don’t see any blood on your hands.”

Davis shoots us both a dark look. “Which is exactly why we have a problem. She needs to be taken care of, immediately.”

“We were saying that exact thing,” I say.

“Gentlemen.” The voice comes from behind, and our friend, our fourth, Paul Sanders takes the last empty seat and the glass the waitress left for him. He sniffs the liquor before taking a small, measured sip.

“Doc,” Davis says, cutting him a glance. “We were just talking about the complication Jack and Oliver ran into last night.“

“Katherine.” He says her name with reverence. “How did seeing her make you feel? I’m sure it brought up a range of emotions.

Jack grunts and swallows his drink. I shake my head. “We didn’t feel anything, Doc. She almost fucked the whole thing up and got herself killed in the process. She’s a liability, like always.”

“That’s it? You only view her as a liability?” He’s skeptical. “No emotion or other feelings associated with seeing her again?”

Jack slams down this glass. “You know how I feel when you do this! We’re not your patients, Paul. We’re here to solve a problem, not analyze our goddamn feelings.”

Davis glances around, grimacing at the noise. “You two save the therapy for later.” He lowers his voice further. “You said she saw the prey in your house? Watched you kill him?”

“She tried to save him,” I say. “Good thing we showed up when we did.”

“There’s no way she can keep that to herself,” Davis says, “call it a cop’s instinct.”

“Then it’s simple, isn’t it?” Jack says. “She has to go.”

Just like that. No weighing up the options. No finding another way. Everything in my brother’s world exists in black and white.

“You’re talking about family,” Paul says, watching us carefully. Being with Paul is like being trapped under a microscope. “Eliminating her brings about a host of other problems. Montie will have questions. Her mother will be devastated.”

“We’ll say she left,” Davis says. “It wouldn’t be the first time Kate ran from Wilmington.”

“Last time it was with their help,” Paul says, adding, “after she squealed. Like it or not, she relies on them. It’s why she came back here. Vanishing without a trace will always lead back here, to Davenport House.”

There’s an unspoken statement hovering between us. Kate didn’t tell on all of us. She told on me.

Even so. “She doesn’t tick the boxes,” I say. “We set rules for a reason.”

Paul nods. More than anyone he understands the importance of boundaries and rules. It’s what allows him to sleep at night–to continue practicing psychiatry despite his dark hobby.

“Then maybe it’s time we add another?” Davis says. “Just a small one, one we can bury six feet deep, in a little Kate-sized box.”

Jesus…

I glance at Jack to see his reaction. But there isn’t one. Just a whole lot of nothing. But I know better. His silence speaks louder than words.

“Fuck,” Davis says realizing it too.

Ready to change the subject, I nod to Davis and ask, “Do you have any new information on the Binder?”

The goddamn raping murderer we’d been hunting for the last two years and hadn’t been able to catch. This piece of shit is different from the others. Sneaky, clever. Smart. His movements and actions are calculated and controlled. His weakness? Black hair. Pretty. Vulnerable.

He takes them at knifepoint. Snatching them after a late night at the bar. He binds them with zip ties and duct tape, then uses them, over and over, until there are only shards of the woman left behind. For years he operated like clockwork, and then, suddenly, he hasn’t committed a single act of violence in over two months.

He’s toying with us.

“No,” Davis says. “The police are at as much of a dead-end as we are.”

“He’s not finished,” my brother snarls. “He could strike any moment. He will strike any moment; he’s just waiting for the perfect victim to cross his path.”

Jack would know.

It takes a monster to know one.

And Jack is a monster to his core.

Davis shifts in his seat. Paul swirls the liquor in his glass. The moments are subtle, but I can tell. We’re all getting antsy. Add our sister showing back up and fucking with our system and this feels like a ticking time bomb. I glance at Sophie Pressler, catching her looking my way.

They’re already talking.

Already gossiping.

How the hell can we get rid of her now? And how the hell can we find the asshole defiling the women in this town when he’s in hiding?

I drink as the urgency hums in my veins. Silence ebbs between us. But it’s not an awkward silence. It’s a scheming silence. A moment where we all weigh up the pros and the cons. The waitress nears carefully, and I shake my head and drain my glass.

“She has to go,” Davis presses, unwilling to let it go.

“Then she has to go,” Jack acknowledges. “It’s as simple as that.”

“You’ll take care of it?” Paul asks.

Jack holds each of our eyes. “Consider it done.”   

 

 

Chapter Six

 Kate

 

Get on your knees, Katie.

Crying won’t make us go easier on you.

Open your pretty mouth, that’s it. Wide enough for all of it.

That’s it, swallow it up.

I jolt awake, the hyper-realism of the nightmare shocking me from sleep. My breath comes in shudders, my T-shirt soaked through with sweat. That dream–nightmare–God, I haven’t had it in years. I shouldn’t be surprised it came back now that I’m here, back where it all happened.

Where they happened.

My pulse pounds with the sound of anxiety. But that’s not the only place I feel that consuming throb. I swallow hard and close my eyes. Torment wells between my legs. The want. The ache.

Revulsion follows. I hated what they did to me that night, but I hate how it changed me even more. I’d never been so scared, the kind of terror that lingers. That night changed me, taught me to crave something dark and desperate. Like a drug I haven’t been able to kick.

I slide my hand down the front of my panties. I feel the slick heat and press the warm pad of my finger against my clit. I shudder and exhale, still thick in the feelings of my dream. Still, I can’t help myself, it always makes me feel like this, so horny—so fucking hungry.

Dropping my legs to the side, I keep my eyes closed, conjuring up the wisps of the memory. They’d stood over me, leering and evil. Each one taking a turn, drowning me.

Open your mouth, Katie.

Even now my mouth opens on command.

Now swallow.

My breath is a hard lump in the back of my throat.

I loathe how these men make me feel. Lost and desperate. When I left Wilmington, I tried to live a normal life. Meet normal men and make normal friends, but the four years I lived in this house left me scarred. Normal men couldn’t give me what I wanted. What my new friends needed from me, a close confidant, I couldn’t give them.

How could I explain to people what it was like living in this house–with these boys? All the secrets and lies. The terror and how traumatic… and utterly addictive.

My breath catches and outside my periphery, I hear a rustle. Jesus. This fucking house, with its creaks and tremors. My brain understands this, but my heart doesn’t, and it rattles against my ribcage. My hand stills and I open my eyes, blinking as they adjust to the gloom. Slowly a shape appears, just as I feel something hard and sharp, dragging up my belly. It carves an arc between my breasts to my throat.

“Hello, Katie.” Jack’s voice cuts through the night. “Don’t stop touching yourself on my account.”

“Jack,” I whisper, easing my hand out from between my legs.

“You were whimpering. Nightmare?”

I swallow, but it just pushes the knifepoint into my skin. “Just a dream.”

There’s a long moment of silence between us, one where he looks down at me, seemingly able to recognize that I’m trying to get my heart and throbbing want under control.

“I’ve spent the day trying to decide what to do with you.” His cheekbones catch the light, hard and cut from marble. He’s devastatingly handsome even as he guides the knife back down to my breasts, circling them methodically. I barely breathe, terrified of moving too quickly. “Davis thinks we should get rid of you–quick and simple–toss you in with the bastard from last night.”

Toss me in where? A pit? A fire? The marsh? The alligators would dispose of me in hours.

He shifts the blade to my nipples, tracing them carefully, eliciting a spine-rattling shiver. He smiles when they peak and harden, pressing against the thin cotton of the shirt I found in the dresser. “So sensitive,” he murmurs, then tweaks one, pinching hard. It sends a shock of pain through my body. “Paul is overanalyzing this whole thing. You know how he is.”

Paul Sanders. My mother had proudly told me that he’s now a doctor. A psychiatrist. Quite the catch. The thought that he has any kind of influence is terrifying.

“Oliver is,” he pauses, “predictably, unsure. He’s always had a soft spot for you, Katie. Ever since that night. It makes sense. You are the one that made him a man, after all.”

Heat flares between my legs with the words. Even here with the curled edge of the blade pressing against my flesh, he knows exactly what to say to make me wet.

My heart pounds as he speaks, tormenting me with the knife and his little speech. He wants me to think there’s a way out of this, but I know better. This is just part of the game for him. I have no choice but to play.

“What about you?” I ask, knowing he wants me to. “What do you think you should do about me?”

He sits suddenly, the bed creaking under his weight. I feel his hip pressed into my outer thigh. His legs are spread enough that I see the hard bulge tenting the front of his pants. He tilts his head and looks down at me, carving the blade down my belly. He could gut me right here. Take my life before I inhale another breath. Both of us know that. The pale light spills in from the open window, catching the hard muscle in the back of his jaw tic before it’s consumed by the dark pits of nothingness as he stares at me. I can see now that he was never planning on letting me leave. Not alive, or without consequences.

“I know what I should do,” he says in that dead-lost voice. “We’ve been so careful for so long, diligently working our way through the list, and then you show up. Always sneaking around. Going places you shouldn’t. Disrupting things. You’re a liability, sweet Katie. A risk we definitely can’t afford. You know too much.”

“I don’t know anything,” I promise. “I was exhausted from traveling and never left my room.”

His smile resembles a wolf, gleaming in the dark. “Nice try.”

“Then just let me go,” I whisper. “I’ll pack up and go. Drive away and never come back. You never have to see me again.”

His expression shifts into something harder, indiscernible. But for a second… a split, terrifying second I see something else. Something akin to regret. But that is a lie, a monster like my stepbrother regrets nothing, especially when it comes to me.

“That won’t do,” he says carefully. “Because you went traipsing around town today, applying for the job at the Gazette. It’ll be suspicious if you don’t show up as planned. Mr. Parks will call my father, who will start asking me questions.” He drags the knife down the front of my panties, stopping to press the flat edge against my clit beneath the fabric. I gasp at the rush of unwanted desire spreading through me. “Questions, I don’t want to answer.”

I don’t move an inch as he toys with my body, igniting a dangerous fire deep in my belly. It’s foreign yet familiar. Disturbing yet delicious. There’s a long beat between us as he considers the situation until his eyes flick to mine and back down to the knife. His next movement is so quick. A sharp yank on the blade. It slices through the thin fabric of my panties and his fingers push roughly between my legs.

The invasion is merciless and perverted.

“Jesus, your pussy is wet.” He laughs darkly. “Fucking drenched.”

“Stop.” I protest, squirming away, but in his other hand, he brandishes the knife. Steel catches the moonlight; fear pins me in place. “Jack, please.”

“Please what, stepsister?” he asks, licking his lips, sliding deep inside, stroking, igniting. “You want more?”

No.

Yes…

I open my mouth to tell him, no, but he slides a second thick finger inside me, pushing them in deep. The sensation shocks me to finally speak. “No! I don’t want–” His fingers fuck in and out, his thumb rubbing my clit. I bite down on a groan.

He drops the knife and climbs over me, straddling me with knees on both sides. With his free hand, he unbuttons his pants and pulls out his cock. It’s large and thick and he strokes downward, the lean muscle in his forearm taut. “Tell me to stop,” he says, continuing to violate me with his fingers. “Tell me you don’t want it.”

“I d-d-don’t wa-a…” but the words are lost as the heat spreads from my core across my body. I’m on the tip of a very different knife, the blade of want and desire. Both hurtling toward one another after years of dissatisfaction.

He isn’t kind.

He isn’t gentle.

He’s rough, angry, and filled with deep rage.

He’s also the man I can’t stop dreaming of, thinking about.

I cry out when the orgasm hits me, every muscle inside me clenched tight. Jack positions himself over me and says, “Do you remember what I told you would happen if you came back to Wilmington?” I can barely nod, body loose from release. He withdraws his fingers and slowly slips them into his mouth. His lips part, his tongue darts out, sliding between his fingers. He takes my juices into his mouth, sucking hard, before gripping my face with the same hand. Forcing me to look at his dark, wicked face, he says, “Do you?”

“Yes.”

“What did I tell you?”

I hear the words ringing in my ears. I’ve heard them every day since I left. And every minute on my drive back to Wilmington, the bells of self-preservation rang in my ears. “If you come back here, Katie, I will fill every hole in your body with so much cum, you’ll explode.”

I repeat it to him now. And in those endless dark pits where no soul lingers, I see excitement. He drags his teeth over lower lip, and I’ve never wanted to kiss someone so badly in my life. To feel them consume me. He lowers his hand, sliding between us. I don’t have to look down to know what he’s doing… I’ve seen this all before.

He strokes himself, short, sharp. It doesn’t take him long, and he lurches forward, ejaculating all over my lower belly. The muscles in his neck strain as he milks his cock, draining every drop of his seed into a thick, sticky pool. He stares at it for a second, as though he’s taking it all in. Him, me… before he slides his finger through the mess, then lifts his fingers to my lips. Bitter saltiness hits my tongue as he pushes in. I have no choice but to open.

I know what he wants.

That’s it, swallow it up.

He watches me carefully as I slide my tongue out, consuming every drop, and swallow. The salty taste of him lingers in my mouth. It’s a taste I both loathe and crave.

“Are you going to kill me now,” I whisper, watching him tuck himself back in his pants. The blade of the knife glints beside me on the bed, but I’m still pinned in by his body.

“I should,” he admits, bending over and wrapping his hands around my throat. “I should choke the life out of you and get it over with right now.” Jekyll and Hyde have nothing on Jackson Davenport. He’s everyone’s worst nightmare and my own personal hell. “But I have a better idea.”

The way he says it is chilling, how he looks down at me with a depraved shimmer in his eye. It’s not his conscious, or even his sexual depravity. No. It’s darker and more evil than that.

“The boys and I have hit a dead end. We’ve been running in circles for months.” He rises and picks up the knife, tucking it safely in his boot. “But I see now that there may be a way for you to redeem yourself.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I ask, confused.

“We’re trying to catch a monster,” he says, looking me up and down, “And you’re going to be the bait.”

 

Chapter Seven

Kate

 

Bait?

What did he mean, bait?

Jack straightens, towering over me like some debased God, and looks down at the filth he made on my stomach. “Get up.”

My heart hammers. “Why? To use me as bait? What does that mean?”

“Get up because I told you to.” He presses the steel blade against my arm, in warning. “For once in your goddamn life, Katie, just follow directions.”

I wait for the slice of pain, for him to finally snap. Fear propels me from the bed to keep him from hurting me. My shirt falls until it catches on the sticky remnant on my belly. I wipe it with the fabric.

“What are you going to make me do?” I ask, watching him unlock the door and push it open. I don’t know how he got in here, but the invasion of my privacy is nothing compared to what he did to my body.

My bare feet slap against the hardwoods as he drags me at knifepoint down the hall. All of a sudden it hits me. He’s taking me upstairs.

I know one truth: Bad things happen upstairs.

“No.” Fear kicks inside me. I yank my arm, not caring if the knife cuts me. “I’m not going up there.”

I’ll take the cut. I’ll give the blood. I’ll hedge my bets at surviving, anything, as long as I’m not taken to their rooms. I know what they can do, what they will do with the wall of knives and tools. He clenches his cruel grip around my wrist and forces me up the stairs.

I buck and dig my feet in until they slip and squeal, but I’m no match for his strength. Adrenaline, fight or flight, surges through me and I heave my head toward his, slamming the hard bone of our foreheads together. Pain rattles me, but he grunts, “Son of a bitch.”

The reaction is swift and furious, his hand whipping out and slapping me hard against the face. My neck snaps to the side, ears ringing. He stares at me for a moment, like he’s waiting for me to respond but I just blink away the tears.

He’s too big, too strong and he easily drags me toward their room. He kicks the door with a loud bang. “Open up.”

The door swings open and I sense the darkness waiting for me inside. Darkness in the outline of powerful, dangerous men.

“Took you long enough,” Davis growls, eyes narrowed in suspicion. He’s standing in front of the ‘murder board.’ Tacked up newspaper articles, shadowy photographs, post-it notes, and string interconnecting them all. When I’d been up here the night before, things were too chaotic for me to get a good look, but this time I try to absorb what I can.

It isn’t random, all information seems to be methodically curated. There are dozens of men’s faces, most connected with the missing men Henry Parks wants me to investigate. Other words jump out at me: Rape, Murder, Bound, Gagged.

Through the fear and panic in my brain, some of this starts to click together like pieces of a puzzle.

“We’re hunters.”

They’re vigilantes, looking for a specific kind of killer. One like the man that stole Jack and Oliver’s mother away from them. A man that has never been caught.

A throat clears, drawing my attention from the board to where Paul sits in a chair, legs crossed, eyes quietly observing. The scrutiny makes me feel anxious. Inconsequential.

Jack tosses me inside, and I land hard on the floor. I scramble to my knees. In an instant, I’m back to that night when all four of them cornered me. A mixture of emotions war in my blood. Fear, terror, repulsion, want.

This is the room where I was transformed from one person to another.

Click. The door shuts behind me and locks.

“Kate, Kate, Kate…” Davis clucks, his arms crossed over his chest. His eyes travel down to where the hem of my shirt barely covers my bare pussy and ass. I tug it down, grabbing the wet sticky spot that hangs just below my belly.

“Just let me go,” I beg, my voice barely a whisper. “I won’t tell anyone about what you guys are doing.”

Jack stands at the door, barring any escape. “I already told you, Katie, we have a job for you.”

“Otherwise, you’re worthless,” Davis adds, but then adds darkly, grabbing the front of his pants. “Well, maybe not entirely worthless.”

That emotionless tone hits me hard. They view me as nothing but an object–a vehicle to abuse and use at their whim. Coming back to Wilmington, to this house, was a terrible, stupid, mistake. More than ever, I realize that the only thing I can do now is try to stay alive.

“Oliver,” Jack calls, eyes focused across the room.

I jerk my gaze to the bathroom door. Oliver leans against the doorjamb, apparently lurking there the whole time.

“Don’t be scared,” Paul says, offering me his hand. I stare at it for a moment–at this small kindness–but I know better and refuse to take it.

“You and Oliver get her ready. Make sure she understands the assignment.”

“It’ll be easier for all of us, Katherine, if you don’t fight,” Paul says. My full name rolls off his tongue, gentle but firm. He jerks his chin toward, Jack and Davis, in some silent command. The two leave the room. “Hopefully that’ll make you feel better. Those two can be impulsive. Rash.”

“And you want me to believe you two aren’t?” I look at Oliver. “I watched you slit a man’s throat! You’re just as bad as your brother.”

“Jack isn’t bad,” he says. “He’s determined. Focused, and unfortunately, you came up here last night and stepped right into trouble.” Oliver walks toward me, taller and with much broader shoulders than when I saw him last. His features are less harsh than his brother’s, his eyebrows eased and his lips soft. I try not to flinch when he brushes a strand of hair from my face, but it’s instinctive. When our eyes meet, the dark glint is terrifying. “You know too much now, little sister. Too much to let you go, but if you’re smart, you’ll do what you’re told.”

“Or what?” I ask.

“We won’t have to figure out where to hide your body.”

Images flash through my mind; I’m on the ground, blood gushing from my neck, the four of them standing over me for the last time.

I have no doubt it’s a premonition if I don’t do exactly what they want.

“What if I don’t want to be used? What if I’d rather you kill me?”

Oliver looks down, eyes dilating as they fix on the spot where my T-shirt barely covers my exposed bottom. “When did it ever matter what you wanted?”

Paul clears his throat. “I think we should get started on the… uh, transformation.” He nods at my shirt. “Take it off.”

I push down at the hem, my words a lump in the back of my throat. “Paul, please don’t do this. You’re a doctor. A psychiatrist. You have to know this is crazy.”

“What I know, Katherine, is that you’re testing my patience.” He grabs the hem of my shirt and yanks it upwards, exposing my pussy. “Either you take it off, or I do… the choice is yours.”

My knuckles ache as I clench my fists and glance at the bright lights of the bathroom. Oliver’s bedroom is darkened, but there’s a door there and for a second, I think about taking my chances. Until reality slaps me hard.

I’d never make it.

Not even out of the bathroom.

They’d be on top of me in an instant.

Menacing and predatory.

Then there’d be no stopping them.

I turn my head, holding Oliver’s gaze. He jerks his chin. “You heard, Doc. Take it off.”

I swallow hard and grasp the shirt from where Paul still has it in his grip and drag it over my head. My nipples pucker, and I know it has nothing to do with the gentle caress of air and everything to do with their stares.

“Good girl,” Paul says with a small, smug grin. “See? That wasn’t so hard. Now we can see what we’re working with.”

He pushes me in front of the long mirror, and the harsh light against the black tile makes me feel even more exposed. I fight the instinct to cover myself, waiting as Paul and Oliver scrutinize my body like a specimen under a microscope. Oliver runs a washcloth under the faucet and bends, wiping the remains of Jack’s semen off my lower belly.

“Her tits are perfect,” Paul says, standing behind me. He reaches around and cups my breasts in his hands. “Big, but not too big. Natural.” He teases a nipple, forcing it to harden. “No need for a bra.”

Oliver nods in agreement, while Paul’s hands ghost over my ribs, fingers splaying across my hips. His thumbs rub tiny circles into my skin. “She’s slim but not too thin. He likes a little flesh on his girls.” He palms my ass, fingers grazing the divide between my cheeks. “Yes, this is good. Perfect, actually. I can’t believe we didn’t think of it before.”

“Obviously we have to change her hair,” Oliver says, opening the vanity drawer and pulling out two boxes of hair dye and setting them on the white, porcelain sink.

“What the fuck is happening?” I ask, unnerved at them discussing me as if I’m not standing right here.

“He prefers brunettes,” Paul says with causal authority. “Eight out of his nine known victims have had dark brown to black hair. The other woman’s hair was wet at the time of the abduction, making it a shade darker.”

All I can think is that this is actually happening. They are truly going to use me as bait for one of the men taped to their wall.

I jerk my gaze to the box of dye and whisper, “You’re insane.”

Behind me, Oliver steps close and lifts his hand, picking up a strand. “We’re hunting men the police can’t catch. No one can stop these men. No one has what it takes to do what we will to rid Wilmington of the worthless pieces of shit that terrorize our community.”

That terrorized his mother, is what I want to say because it’s clear that is what all of this is truly about. Vengeance for their mother. One rapist and murderer at a time.

“Plus,” he adds, coiling the hair around his finger and giving it a sharp tug. “I always wanted to fuck a raven-haired beauty.”

My stomach clenches at the admission.

“You’ll need to remove all your body hair,” Paul adds. “Arms, legs, pussy. It’s clear that he has a fetish. If you don’t do it, he’ll do it for you.”

Bile rises to the back of my throat, unbelievably, this man sounds more terrifying than they do.

“Don’t forget to dye your eyebrows.” Oliver opens the box of dye. When I don’t move, he adds, “Get started.”

My hand trembles as I grab the box, pulling out the bottle and instructions.

Oliver takes one of my hands and inspects my nails. “These are in bad shape, but there’s no time for a manicure. Just keep your hands low. Maybe he won’t notice.”

“He’ll notice. Make sure you wear the gloves.” He gestures to the gloves that come with the dye. “We don’t want to stain those pretty fingers of yours.” 

I remove the gloves out of the packet and slip them on. I go through the motions, checking and rechecking the directions. My eyes meet Paul’s in the mirror and he nods encouragingly as I pour a glob into my hand and rub it into my hair. Having always liked my hair, it’s the first time I’ve done this, and it hurts to think about my honey blonde hair smothered under the blue-black dye. It feels like they’re smothering me, making me into nothing more than a plaything.

Or worse. Unrecognizable bait.

They’re stripping away the old Kate and replacing her with someone new or someone unidentifiable. If one of these men kill me would anyone even know it’s me? My hands shake and the dye slips down my forehead like a sin-stained tear.

Once I’ve used one bottle, Oliver opens the next box.

Paul clears his throat. “I want you to pay close attention to what I’m about to tell you. The man we’re looking for is single, a loner. He’s not going to approach you, not directly, but he’s going to give you cues that he’s interested. Innocently bumping into you, standing beside you to order a drink.”

I wipe an inky stain dripping down my forehead with a wad of paper.

Paul glares. “Are you listening to me?”

“Yes.” I swallow. “Who is this man? Who are you trying to catch?”

The guys exchange a look and Paul says, “The Binder.”

Oliver hands me the next bottle. I take it, but my heart punches against my chest at the sound of the name… the name that’s been plastered across the headlines of every paper in the region. Cold plunges through me.

“No,” I whisper and shake my head, stumbling backward. “No. No fucking way.”

“Yes, fucking way,” Oliver says, pushing me back toward the counter. There’s something terrifying and gleeful in his tone. “We need something to lure this guy out, to draw him right into our trap. We needed bait, little sister, and The Binder is our elusive fish.”

“You won’t be alone,” Paul says in a reassuring voice. “We’ll be there, making sure that you’re safe. Our goal isn’t for you to get hurt, it’s to finally catch him.”

But I know they don’t care if I do get hurt, that’s the truth of the matter. These men care about nothing and no one but one another and their perverse mission.

“Tick, tock.” Oliver points to his watch, then motions to the other box of dye. I grab it and open the contents. Again I make sure all the strands are covered before I peel the gloves from my hands, and drop them into the sink.

“While that sets, we can deal with the rest of your body. There’s a razor and gel in the shower.” Paul nods to the large, tiled shower. “Do you need assistance?”

I snap my gaze to his, but there’s only a sinister smirk on his lips.

“No.” Shame fills me when I slowly step toward the shower. They make no move toward me, just watch as I turn the unfamiliar taps and step into my stepbrother’s shower.

“Make sure you’re thorough. I want you smooth.”

I make sure to keep my hair out of the spray and pick up the razor. Soap lathers against my skin and I run the blade along my legs, then underarms before I stop, knowing where they want me to go next.

“Get good and soapy,” Oliver says with his arms crossed, eyes skimming my body. “You don’t want to get a rash.”

There’s no reason for me to shave between my legs. There was no way in hell I was planning on letting it get that far with The Binder. I narrow my eyes at the two men. “The only reason you want me to shave is for your own sick pleasure,” I say, lifting my gaze, daring the two of them to deny it.

Paul studies me for a moment, and then says to Oliver, “Will you go lay out the outfit I selected for tonight?”

“Sure.” Oliver gives me one last look before leaving us alone.

I shiver even though the water is still warm.

“It’s not about what we want, Katherine,” Paul says, eyes riveted to my pussy. “It’s about stepping into this role, understanding who and what you’re up against. You have to become the kind of woman he wants to hurt. Otherwise, all of this is for nothing.”

Still wearing his shoes, he turns off the water and steps into the shower. He motions for me to sit on the teak wood bench in the corner. He bends until we’re eye level. “I know this is difficult for you. It’s scary and overwhelming. We’re asking a lot from you and, well, your brothers didn’t get us off to a good start. Watching a man bleed to death is a jarring experience. Although, I think we can both agree that the alternative–him raping and killing you, would have been worse.” His tone is kind. Calm, and he gives me a small smile. It makes it hard to find my balance. To know what’s real or not. “I know you don’t want any more women harmed, do you?”

I shake my head and give the only answer I can. “No.”

“Then help us take down The Binder for good.”

He says it like I have a choice, but he picks up the bottle of shower gel and pours a thick, creamy dollop into his hand. Rubbing his hands together he builds up a soapy lather and looks between my legs, raising his eyebrow. “Spread apart like a good girl, Katherine.”

I feel like crying. I’m overwhelmed like he said, confused by his words. My legs fall to the side, and he hums happily, reaching out for the thatch of hair covering my pussy and coating it with the thick, foamy lather. Despite my fear, his movements feel good, relaxing, so much kinder than the forceful way Jack had fingered me before. I lean back against the wall and allow him to take the razor from me. He makes a long stroke over my mound, removing tufts of hair with skill and precision. Deep down I know that with every swipe, with every piece that gets swept into the drain, I’m losing a part of myself.

“Lift your leg,” he murmurs. “We want to make sure we get everything.”

We.

The way he says it implies comradery. Cooperation.

I clench my jaw not even caring that the dye runs black over my shoulders. Hard breaths consume me before I lift my leg for him. My slit is exposed and his gaze drops, taking me in. “Such a pretty pussy. That’s why they keep coming back for more, you know that, right?” I shiver when his fingers spread soap over my clit, sending a flare of heat to my core. It takes every ounce of willpower not to succumb to the urge to rock into his touch.

“That’s it,” he says when he gets every last piece. He rocks back on his heels and eyes his work. “Beautiful and sexy.”

Embarrassed at the way my body reacted to his attention, at the way my heart pounds in my chest, I hurry. Turn back to the shower, I massage my scalp, rinsing my hair until the water runs clear, and then step out.

Paul waits for me, holding up a fresh towel wide. I snatch it from him, wrapping it around my body as if he didn’t just study and touch my most intimate parts.

“You need to be very careful, Katherine.” He steps closer and rubs another towel over my wet hair. “This man is not to be played with, and you’re every bit his type.”

“Thanks to you and your little makeover.”

Always stoic, always calm, the doctor ignores the bite in my tone. “There’s something else I need to tell you about The Binder.”

I raise an eyebrow, clenching the towel tighter around my body.

“He may have a disfigurement of some kind, a scar or an old injury. Something that will make him appear vulnerable. Perhaps inferior.” He catches a droplet of water from my neck with his finger. “But that couldn’t be further from the truth. As you know, sometimes the most dangerous men are the most unexpected.”

“Are you talking about The Binder or yourself?”

He shrugs, but the grin playing on his lips says everything.

“So, I’m just supposed to trust a bunch of murdering psychopaths to protect me from a rapist serial killer?”

“Sweet Katherine,” he says, holding my eye, “if there’s any confusion at this point, let me make it perfectly clear; you don’t have any other choice.”

 

Chapter Seven

Kate

 

Bait?

What did he mean, bait?

Jack straightens, towering over me like some debased God, and looks down at the filth he made on my stomach. “Get up.”

My heart hammers. “Why? To use me as bait? What does that mean?”

“Get up because I told you to.” He presses the steel blade against my arm, in warning. “For once in your goddamn life, Katie, just follow directions.”

I wait for the slice of pain, for him to finally snap. Fear propels me from the bed to keep him from hurting me. My shirt falls until it catches on the sticky remnant on my belly. I wipe it with the fabric.

“What are you going to make me do?” I ask, watching him unlock the door and push it open. I don’t know how he got in here, but the invasion of my privacy is nothing compared to what he did to my body.

My bare feet slap against the hardwoods as he drags me at knifepoint down the hall. All of a sudden it hits me. He’s taking me upstairs.

I know one truth: Bad things happen upstairs.

“No.” Fear kicks inside me. I yank my arm, not caring if the knife cuts me. “I’m not going up there.”

I’ll take the cut. I’ll give the blood. I’ll hedge my bets at surviving, anything, as long as I’m not taken to their rooms. I know what they can do, what they will do with the wall of knives and tools. He clenches his cruel grip around my wrist and forces me up the stairs.

I buck and dig my feet in until they slip and squeal, but I’m no match for his strength. Adrenaline, fight or flight, surges through me and I heave my head toward his, slamming the hard bone of our foreheads together. Pain rattles me, but he grunts, “Son of a bitch.”

The reaction is swift and furious, his hand whipping out and slapping me hard against the face. My neck snaps to the side, ears ringing. He stares at me for a moment, like he’s waiting for me to respond but I just blink away the tears.

He’s too big, too strong and he easily drags me toward their room. He kicks the door with a loud bang. “Open up.”

The door swings open and I sense the darkness waiting for me inside. Darkness in the outline of powerful, dangerous men.

“Took you long enough,” Davis growls, eyes narrowed in suspicion. He’s standing in front of the ‘murder board.’ Tacked up newspaper articles, shadowy photographs, post-it notes, and string interconnecting them all. When I’d been up here the night before, things were too chaotic for me to get a good look, but this time I try to absorb what I can.

It isn’t random, all information seems to be methodically curated. There are dozens of men’s faces, most connected with the missing men Henry Parks wants me to investigate. Other words jump out at me: Rape, Murder, Bound, Gagged.

Through the fear and panic in my brain, some of this starts to click together like pieces of a puzzle.

“We’re hunters.”

They’re vigilantes, looking for a specific kind of killer. One like the man that stole Jack and Oliver’s mother away from them. A man that has never been caught.

A throat clears, drawing my attention from the board to where Paul sits in a chair, legs crossed, eyes quietly observing. The scrutiny makes me feel anxious. Inconsequential.

Jack tosses me inside, and I land hard on the floor. I scramble to my knees. In an instant, I’m back to that night when all four of them cornered me. A mixture of emotions war in my blood. Fear, terror, repulsion, want.

This is the room where I was transformed from one person to another.

Click. The door shuts behind me and locks.

“Kate, Kate, Kate…” Davis clucks, his arms crossed over his chest. His eyes travel down to where the hem of my shirt barely covers my bare pussy and ass. I tug it down, grabbing the wet sticky spot that hangs just below my belly.

“Just let me go,” I beg, my voice barely a whisper. “I won’t tell anyone about what you guys are doing.”

Jack stands at the door, barring any escape. “I already told you, Katie, we have a job for you.”

“Otherwise, you’re worthless,” Davis adds, but then adds darkly, grabbing the front of his pants. “Well, maybe not entirely worthless.”

That emotionless tone hits me hard. They view me as nothing but an object–a vehicle to abuse and use at their whim. Coming back to Wilmington, to this house, was a terrible, stupid, mistake. More than ever, I realize that the only thing I can do now is try to stay alive.

“Oliver,” Jack calls, eyes focused across the room.

I jerk my gaze to the bathroom door. Oliver leans against the doorjamb, apparently lurking there the whole time.

“Don’t be scared,” Paul says, offering me his hand. I stare at it for a moment–at this small kindness–but I know better and refuse to take it.

“You and Oliver get her ready. Make sure she understands the assignment.”

“It’ll be easier for all of us, Katherine, if you don’t fight,” Paul says. My full name rolls off his tongue, gentle but firm. He jerks his chin toward, Jack and Davis, in some silent command. The two leave the room. “Hopefully that’ll make you feel better. Those two can be impulsive. Rash.”

“And you want me to believe you two aren’t?” I look at Oliver. “I watched you slit a man’s throat! You’re just as bad as your brother.”

“Jack isn’t bad,” he says. “He’s determined. Focused, and unfortunately, you came up here last night and stepped right into trouble.” Oliver walks toward me, taller and with much broader shoulders than when I saw him last. His features are less harsh than his brother’s, his eyebrows eased and his lips soft. I try not to flinch when he brushes a strand of hair from my face, but it’s instinctive. When our eyes meet, the dark glint is terrifying. “You know too much now, little sister. Too much to let you go, but if you’re smart, you’ll do what you’re told.”

“Or what?” I ask.

“We won’t have to figure out where to hide your body.”

Images flash through my mind; I’m on the ground, blood gushing from my neck, the four of them standing over me for the last time.

I have no doubt it’s a premonition if I don’t do exactly what they want.

“What if I don’t want to be used? What if I’d rather you kill me?”

Oliver looks down, eyes dilating as they fix on the spot where my T-shirt barely covers my exposed bottom. “When did it ever matter what you wanted?”

Paul clears his throat. “I think we should get started on the… uh, transformation.” He nods at my shirt. “Take it off.”

I push down at the hem, my words a lump in the back of my throat. “Paul, please don’t do this. You’re a doctor. A psychiatrist. You have to know this is crazy.”

“What I know, Katherine, is that you’re testing my patience.” He grabs the hem of my shirt and yanks it upwards, exposing my pussy. “Either you take it off, or I do… the choice is yours.”

My knuckles ache as I clench my fists and glance at the bright lights of the bathroom. Oliver’s bedroom is darkened, but there’s a door there and for a second, I think about taking my chances. Until reality slaps me hard.

I’d never make it.

Not even out of the bathroom.

They’d be on top of me in an instant.

Menacing and predatory.

Then there’d be no stopping them.

I turn my head, holding Oliver’s gaze. He jerks his chin. “You heard, Doc. Take it off.”

I swallow hard and grasp the shirt from where Paul still has it in his grip and drag it over my head. My nipples pucker, and I know it has nothing to do with the gentle caress of air and everything to do with their stares.

“Good girl,” Paul says with a small, smug grin. “See? That wasn’t so hard. Now we can see what we’re working with.”

He pushes me in front of the long mirror, and the harsh light against the black tile makes me feel even more exposed. I fight the instinct to cover myself, waiting as Paul and Oliver scrutinize my body like a specimen under a microscope. Oliver runs a washcloth under the faucet and bends, wiping the remains of Jack’s semen off my lower belly.

“Her tits are perfect,” Paul says, standing behind me. He reaches around and cups my breasts in his hands. “Big, but not too big. Natural.” He teases a nipple, forcing it to harden. “No need for a bra.”

Oliver nods in agreement, while Paul’s hands ghost over my ribs, fingers splaying across my hips. His thumbs rub tiny circles into my skin. “She’s slim but not too thin. He likes a little flesh on his girls.” He palms my ass, fingers grazing the divide between my cheeks. “Yes, this is good. Perfect, actually. I can’t believe we didn’t think of it before.”

“Obviously we have to change her hair,” Oliver says, opening the vanity drawer and pulling out two boxes of hair dye and setting them on the white, porcelain sink.

“What the fuck is happening?” I ask, unnerved at them discussing me as if I’m not standing right here.

“He prefers brunettes,” Paul says with causal authority. “Eight out of his nine known victims have had dark brown to black hair. The other woman’s hair was wet at the time of the abduction, making it a shade darker.”

All I can think is that this is actually happening. They are truly going to use me as bait for one of the men taped to their wall.

I jerk my gaze to the box of dye and whisper, “You’re insane.”

Behind me, Oliver steps close and lifts his hand, picking up a strand. “We’re hunting men the police can’t catch. No one can stop these men. No one has what it takes to do what we will to rid Wilmington of the worthless pieces of shit that terrorize our community.”

That terrorized his mother, is what I want to say because it’s clear that is what all of this is truly about. Vengeance for their mother. One rapist and murderer at a time.

“Plus,” he adds, coiling the hair around his finger and giving it a sharp tug. “I always wanted to fuck a raven-haired beauty.”

My stomach clenches at the admission.

“You’ll need to remove all your body hair,” Paul adds. “Arms, legs, pussy. It’s clear that he has a fetish. If you don’t do it, he’ll do it for you.”

Bile rises to the back of my throat, unbelievably, this man sounds more terrifying than they do.

“Don’t forget to dye your eyebrows.” Oliver opens the box of dye. When I don’t move, he adds, “Get started.”

My hand trembles as I grab the box, pulling out the bottle and instructions.

Oliver takes one of my hands and inspects my nails. “These are in bad shape, but there’s no time for a manicure. Just keep your hands low. Maybe he won’t notice.”

“He’ll notice. Make sure you wear the gloves.” He gestures to the gloves that come with the dye. “We don’t want to stain those pretty fingers of yours.” 

I remove the gloves out of the packet and slip them on. I go through the motions, checking and rechecking the directions. My eyes meet Paul’s in the mirror and he nods encouragingly as I pour a glob into my hand and rub it into my hair. Having always liked my hair, it’s the first time I’ve done this, and it hurts to think about my honey blonde hair smothered under the blue-black dye. It feels like they’re smothering me, making me into nothing more than a plaything.

Or worse. Unrecognizable bait.

They’re stripping away the old Kate and replacing her with someone new or someone unidentifiable. If one of these men kill me would anyone even know it’s me? My hands shake and the dye slips down my forehead like a sin-stained tear.

Once I’ve used one bottle, Oliver opens the next box.

Paul clears his throat. “I want you to pay close attention to what I’m about to tell you. The man we’re looking for is single, a loner. He’s not going to approach you, not directly, but he’s going to give you cues that he’s interested. Innocently bumping into you, standing beside you to order a drink.”

I wipe an inky stain dripping down my forehead with a wad of paper.

Paul glares. “Are you listening to me?”

“Yes.” I swallow. “Who is this man? Who are you trying to catch?”

The guys exchange a look and Paul says, “The Binder.”

Oliver hands me the next bottle. I take it, but my heart punches against my chest at the sound of the name… the name that’s been plastered across the headlines of every paper in the region. Cold plunges through me.

“No,” I whisper and shake my head, stumbling backward. “No. No fucking way.”

“Yes, fucking way,” Oliver says, pushing me back toward the counter. There’s something terrifying and gleeful in his tone. “We need something to lure this guy out, to draw him right into our trap. We needed bait, little sister, and The Binder is our elusive fish.”

“You won’t be alone,” Paul says in a reassuring voice. “We’ll be there, making sure that you’re safe. Our goal isn’t for you to get hurt, it’s to finally catch him.”

But I know they don’t care if I do get hurt, that’s the truth of the matter. These men care about nothing and no one but one another and their perverse mission.

“Tick, tock.” Oliver points to his watch, then motions to the other box of dye. I grab it and open the contents. Again I make sure all the strands are covered before I peel the gloves from my hands, and drop them into the sink.

“While that sets, we can deal with the rest of your body. There’s a razor and gel in the shower.” Paul nods to the large, tiled shower. “Do you need assistance?”

I snap my gaze to his, but there’s only a sinister smirk on his lips.

“No.” Shame fills me when I slowly step toward the shower. They make no move toward me, just watch as I turn the unfamiliar taps and step into my stepbrother’s shower.

“Make sure you’re thorough. I want you smooth.”

I make sure to keep my hair out of the spray and pick up the razor. Soap lathers against my skin and I run the blade along my legs, then underarms before I stop, knowing where they want me to go next.

“Get good and soapy,” Oliver says with his arms crossed, eyes skimming my body. “You don’t want to get a rash.”

There’s no reason for me to shave between my legs. There was no way in hell I was planning on letting it get that far with The Binder. I narrow my eyes at the two men. “The only reason you want me to shave is for your own sick pleasure,” I say, lifting my gaze, daring the two of them to deny it.

Paul studies me for a moment, and then says to Oliver, “Will you go lay out the outfit I selected for tonight?”

“Sure.” Oliver gives me one last look before leaving us alone.

I shiver even though the water is still warm.

“It’s not about what we want, Katherine,” Paul says, eyes riveted to my pussy. “It’s about stepping into this role, understanding who and what you’re up against. You have to become the kind of woman he wants to hurt. Otherwise, all of this is for nothing.”

Still wearing his shoes, he turns off the water and steps into the shower. He motions for me to sit on the teak wood bench in the corner. He bends until we’re eye level. “I know this is difficult for you. It’s scary and overwhelming. We’re asking a lot from you and, well, your brothers didn’t get us off to a good start. Watching a man bleed to death is a jarring experience. Although, I think we can both agree that the alternative–him raping and killing you, would have been worse.” His tone is kind. Calm, and he gives me a small smile. It makes it hard to find my balance. To know what’s real or not. “I know you don’t want any more women harmed, do you?”

I shake my head and give the only answer I can. “No.”

“Then help us take down The Binder for good.”

He says it like I have a choice, but he picks up the bottle of shower gel and pours a thick, creamy dollop into his hand. Rubbing his hands together he builds up a soapy lather and looks between my legs, raising his eyebrow. “Spread apart like a good girl, Katherine.”

I feel like crying. I’m overwhelmed like he said, confused by his words. My legs fall to the side, and he hums happily, reaching out for the thatch of hair covering my pussy and coating it with the thick, foamy lather. Despite my fear, his movements feel good, relaxing, so much kinder than the forceful way Jack had fingered me before. I lean back against the wall and allow him to take the razor from me. He makes a long stroke over my mound, removing tufts of hair with skill and precision. Deep down I know that with every swipe, with every piece that gets swept into the drain, I’m losing a part of myself.

“Lift your leg,” he murmurs. “We want to make sure we get everything.”

We.

The way he says it implies comradery. Cooperation.

I clench my jaw not even caring that the dye runs black over my shoulders. Hard breaths consume me before I lift my leg for him. My slit is exposed and his gaze drops, taking me in. “Such a pretty pussy. That’s why they keep coming back for more, you know that, right?” I shiver when his fingers spread soap over my clit, sending a flare of heat to my core. It takes every ounce of willpower not to succumb to the urge to rock into his touch.

“That’s it,” he says when he gets every last piece. He rocks back on his heels and eyes his work. “Beautiful and sexy.”

Embarrassed at the way my body reacted to his attention, at the way my heart pounds in my chest, I hurry. Turn back to the shower, I massage my scalp, rinsing my hair until the water runs clear, and then step out.

Paul waits for me, holding up a fresh towel wide. I snatch it from him, wrapping it around my body as if he didn’t just study and touch my most intimate parts.

“You need to be very careful, Katherine.” He steps closer and rubs another towel over my wet hair. “This man is not to be played with, and you’re every bit his type.”

“Thanks to you and your little makeover.”

Always stoic, always calm, the doctor ignores the bite in my tone. “There’s something else I need to tell you about The Binder.”

I raise an eyebrow, clenching the towel tighter around my body.

“He may have a disfigurement of some kind, a scar or an old injury. Something that will make him appear vulnerable. Perhaps inferior.” He catches a droplet of water from my neck with his finger. “But that couldn’t be further from the truth. As you know, sometimes the most dangerous men are the most unexpected.”

“Are you talking about The Binder or yourself?”

He shrugs, but the grin playing on his lips says everything.

“So, I’m just supposed to trust a bunch of murdering psychopaths to protect me from a rapist serial killer?”

“Sweet Katherine,” he says, holding my eye, “if there’s any confusion at this point, let me make it perfectly clear; you don’t have any other choice.”

 

Chapter Eight

Kate

 

I step out of my car, contemplating climbing back in and just hauling ass out of this town for good. I don’t have to return to the house for my things. Don’t have any real obligations, other than getting myself as far away from the raving murderers I found myself living with. I glance back at my car, the urge to flee overwhelming.

Drive, you idiot. Just drive. A tiny whisper follows. Help them. Help his next victim and then you can run.

It’s pointless anyway. They’d allowed me to drive to the bar alone, only to keep up the facade that I’m a single woman looking for fun. But I’m not alone, following close behind me the whole way was the familiar throbbing growl of a four-wheel drive. Now that I’m here, neon white headlights blind me against the deep black of the underlit parking lot. A predator’s playground.

Paul exits his Range Rover, never glancing my way, just waking directly to the front door of the rowdy bar. It’s late, almost midnight. All I want is to be back home in bed, and not smoothing down this absurdly tight dress that barely covers the black lace thong and my freshly shorn pussy.

I take a deep sigh and head into the seven levels of hell.

Thud. A car door slams behind me, followed by heavy footsteps. I know that slow, lazy gait anywhere. Jack.

I hate walking in front of him, knowing he could pounce at any moment. I know he’s judging me, assessing the outfit Paul had laid out on Oliver’s bed. Short, tight, and low cut. No bra. Scraps of lace for a thong. The shoes are new–expensive–all of it purchased from a boutique downtown. Paul stood beside me while I dressed, explaining every piece, and how it was specifically picked out with The Binder in mind. He has a type and I’ve been dyed, plucked, and dressed to fit it.

“Damn.” His voice is low, impatient, barely audible over the loud music drifting from the bar. I wince at the implication and catch my reflection in the front window. The woman in the glass is a stranger. The black dress isn’t my style, asymmetrical and hangs low off one shoulder. The dark hair makes me look older–more mature. Foreign.

This isn’t me. That’s all I think about as I step inside. I’m a shell of my former self. A woman who witnessed a murder. A woman whose stepbrother violated her hours before. A woman who has been molded into a prey.

Unexpectedly, Jack doesn’t follow me inside, instead, parking himself near the door. I don’t know if that makes me feel better or worse.

Heads turn toward me as I walk through the room. Why wouldn’t they? I’m shiny and new, dressed to seek attention. I ignore the other customers and head deeper into the moody bar. The corners are dark, filled with black steel and the warm amber tones of lacquered wood. It’s masculine and powerful. The kind of bar I normally wouldn’t be caught dead in, but apparently the perfect hunting ground for The Binder.

I don’t party or really drink apart from the occasional glass of red wine to relax. But, God, I need a drink now—maybe two. I work my way through the crowd to the bar, stepping around a guy who slides out of his seat and directly into my path.

He hits me, jerking his gaze to mine. Brown eyes shine as he smiles. “Oh shit, sorry about that.”

I smile. “No problem,” and we play that little game where we dart back and forth, blocking each other’s way. It’s not until I pass that I realize that it could be him. Any of these men could be The Binder. I glance back, searching for a scar or disfigurement, but only catch sight of the back of his head as he walks away.

“Good job, Kate,” I mutter and face the bar. They can dress me up as bait, but I’m not sure how successful I’ll be. I look back again, and this time my pulse thunders as I catch the guy staring at me. The vibe isn’t creepy or rapey. More like he’s disappointed in himself for fucking up his chance at talking to me.

I’ve had limited experience in dealing with guys approaching me. Coming from an all-girls’ school, the only thing I had to guard was my collection of bobby pins. But I’m not worried about that. I’m more concerned that I just screwed up an opportunity at catching him, and exactly how angry Jack will be when he realizes I screwed it up.

I force myself to keep going, turning sideways to squeeze between the guys sitting at the bar and the ones who spill out into the gap between the stools and the tables.

Spying someone vacating a stool further along the bar, I head toward it, passing Paul as he sits at the bar nursing a drink. His eyes meet mine and I’m so panicked that I’m going to fuck this up again, that they’re going to decide I’m useless, that I stumble over someone’s shoe, that the stool is taken by the time I get there.

Jesus. I am so fucking bad at this.

“Excuse me,” I say to the man occupying the stool. “I was just about to sit on that.”

“Were you?” he replies, dismissively. I push my hair over my shoulder, and he gives me a second look. He pats his knee.

“You saw me walking toward it.”

“Sorry about that, Princess, I didn’t see anything past the way your tits look in that dress.” His eyes glue to my chest. “But I’m happy to share. There’s more than enough room for the two of us.”

Heat races to my cheeks as I scowl. “You’re disgusting.”

“And you’re wasting my time.” He waves to the bartender. “You can sit on my lap, sweetheart or you can go find your own damn seat.”

“Here.” A guy slides off his two stools away. “You can take mine.”

He shoots the asshole a disappointed stare, then pushes his glasses up his nose with a finger.

“Gonna eyeball me, mutherfucker?” The seat-stealing swine chimes up, his voice rising over the music. “Come on, I’m right here.”

A hand lands on the asshole’s shoulder, and I see Paul’s head tilted toward his.

“Let me buy you a drink,” Paul says, drawing the man’s attention. “That girl’s not worth your attention. Dressed like that? She’ll obviously fuck anything with a cock between their legs.”

The man grunts and a moment later they click their glasses together.

My savior seems relieved that the asshole is distracted and motions with his hand to the seat. I look him over. Geeky in a cute, take him home to me momma kind of way. I don’t forget my mission and check him over for scars. None there. A safe spot to get my bearings.

“That’s so sweet of you, thank you. Nice to know gentlemen still exist in this godforsaken town.”

He just gave a slow shake of his head and a low chuckle. “It’s my pleasure, you’re actually saving me, this is definitely not my scene.”

I laugh. “Me either.”

“You can’t tell,” he says, eyes dropping down to my outfit. “You fit right in.”

“Well, every girl has that little black dress in the closet for the right occasion.” I reach out and pick a piece of lint off his V-neck sweater. “I think you look nice.”

“Can I get you a drink?”

“House red,” I say, thankful for some liquid courage. Neither of us speaks while the bartender fills my glass. Once I’ve had three sips, I spin my stool toward his and say, “I’m Kate, by the way.”

“Ryan.” I get a better look at his eyes. One is bluer than the other. “I’d ask you if you come here often, but we’ve already done that.”

“I actually just moved back to town,” I say, feeling more comfortable. “Just trying to get my bearings again.”

“Oh, did you grow up here?”

“Sort of. We moved to Wilmington when I was fourteen and then I moved out a few years later for college.”

Ryan and I talk while the buzz of the bar surrounds us. I keep my eyes on him, ignoring the feel of the eyes I know are tracking my every move. I learn he’s a computer programmer, lives down by the bay, and has cats.

“I need to get out of here soon,” he says as he drains his glass. “One sad, lonely drink is more than enough. The cats will think I’ve abandoned them.”

Something in my chest gave a flutter. “How many are there?”

He holds up four fingers. “They turn into fluffy but terrifying monsters if they’ve not had their eighteenth meal for the day and I’m afraid, I’m only up to seventeen.”

I give a chuckle, forgetting the reason I’m here. For a second this almost feels… nice. Until he breaks the spell, smiles awkwardly once more, and says, “Good night, Kate. It was really nice to meet you.”

“Wait,” I start to call out, but my voice is drowned out by the jukebox kicking in. My gaze meet’s Paul’s, where he’s sitting down the bar, and I remember my mission. Ryan clearly isn’t The Binder. I mean, he has four cats and nerd glasses. I return to my still-warm seat.

I want to do this even less than I wanted to a second before. The sweet cat-guy makes me yearn for something real, something honest. Something I could convince myself I need. Not this. Not the nightmare I’m currently living in.

“Another drink?” the bartender asks, leaning close.

“God yes.” I push the empty glass back over.

He opens the bottle and the dark red splashes against the curve of the glass and the pinprick of hairs rise off the back of my neck. Blood. All I can see is blood. Blood hitting my chest. Blood sliding between my breasts. The way Jack looked sitting on the edge of my bed. The way he came all over my belly.

A tiny pulse throbs between my legs. I hate it. Hate how they control me, how they turn me into… Jesus. Like they’re the locks and I’m the key, designed to fit in their darkness.

I spin away from the red liquid and watch Mr. Nice, seat-giving guy walk away, without asking for my number or even my last name. Before I can decide what to do next, I hear the sound of a scuffle starting down the bar.

Not a scuffle. A fight.

“Hey!” the bartender barks, jumping over the bar. A glass smashes against the floor and a woman screams as a shard punctures her leg. The chaos only grows in intensity, and at the sight of real blood, something inside me snaps.

Get out of here…get the fuck out of here now.

It’s that image of the lock inside my head that drives me from the seat. I’m not their key… and they aren’t my fucking locks. They’re my tormentors–they have been for years–and I’ve allowed myself to get caught back up in their insanity.

As the sound of fists smashing into one another consumes the bar, I slide out of my seat and look for the exit. I duck through the crowd as two others joined in the fight. A bar stool crashes over the bar, slamming into bottles of liquor. The sound of glass rains down on the floor.

I do what I do best—run.

The hallway that leads to the back exit is only a few feet away. I exhale when I reach it, taking one last look back over my shoulder to make sure Paul hasn’t noticed my escape.

“Hey baby, where you running off to?” The asshole who stole my seat cuts off my path. “You scared? Want a big guy like me to protect you?”

“Not if you were the last ugly fucker on earth.”

“Jesus you’re a mouthy bitch.” His eyes widen, looking at something over my head, I turn just in time to see another stool hurtling through the air. I duck in time, but the asshole doesn’t, getting slammed in the face.

For once in my damned life, it feels like someone, or something is looking out for me. I step over him, spying the back door. I rush forward, using the screams and chaos behind me to hide my escape. Hopefully, Jack’s also distracted by the fight. I have to move fast.

I hurry, my heels clattering on the tile floor as I rush along the hall, passing the women’s bathroom, and then the men’s. A howl of triumph roars in my head as I catch the crisp night as it wafts from the cracked open door at the rear of the building.

I can’t go back to my car. Maybe if I’m quick enough, I can catch Mr. Four Hungry Cats and beg him for a ride. I grind my jaw and yank open the door. Getting out of here and away from them is the only thing driving me. I enter the alley and hurry around to the side of the bar.

In the distance, I catch sight of Mr. Nice Guy as he steps down from the sidewalk and crosses the mouth of the alley.

My heart hammers in my chest, and I barrel forward, lifting my hand to call out, Hey! But the words lodge in the back of my throat, caught when a shadow steps behind me.

A hand clamps around my mouth, stifling my scream, and a strong arm wraps around my middle. In the panic blur of fear, I watch Mr. Nice Guy as he, and my hope for escaping strides away. I’m torn backwards into the dark of the alley, away from hope and escape.

The voice against my ear is a hot whisper, “Gotcha.”

Chapter Nine

Davis

She fights. She always fights. Even when it’s futile. It’s one of the reasons I never stopped thinking about her, even after she left. The fire in her eyes. The way she draws back her shoulders defiantly, pushing her tits out. She’s feisty, and there’s nothing I want more than to break her apart.

That fight in her is definitely the reason my cock is rock hard and growing bigger with every squirm of ass.

“I should kill you,” I say, wedging one forearm under her throat while the other wraps around her waist, pulling her against me. “Just blow your fucking brains out and save us the hassle.”

I sense the moment she recognizes my voice, by the way her body stiffens. Yeah, this bitch would rather be in the hands of The Binder than Davis Higgins. Katie is impulsively foolish sometimes, but she’s not dumb.

“The fight in the bar got crazy. People were throwing things,” she says, chest rising and falling. “I got scared.”

“You don’t get the opportunity to be scared, you stupid little cunt.” I spin her around, releasing her and simultaneously shoving her against the brick wall. I yank the gun out of my waistband and press it against her temple. “This isn’t a game. It’s a mission. One that, somehow, your step-brothers have decided to make you part of.”

“Fuck you, Davis,” she says. “Either use that gun or shove it up your ass.”

Hot rage explodes in my veins. “What did you say, slut?”

“You heard me. I did exactly what I was told to do. I let Paul and Oliver dye my hair and groom me. I let them dress me up and bait me on the hook. I sat at the bar, flirted with a few guys.” The glint in her eye is a dare–like she wants me to pull the trigger and put her out of her misery. It’s tempting but no. Not yet. “So yeah, I tried to run, because you four are a bunch of fucking serial killer hunting psychos.”

It’s the fight that makes her say things like that. Any other female would’ve fucking given up already, gone to the cops, killed themselves, or broken down in a whimpering mess. But there’s something in her that’s unquenchable. I know the feeling, the darkness twisting around my soul. It propels me, motivates me.

“Oh, Kate, you dumb little whore.” I run the nose of the gun down her cheek. “Your mouth is so pretty, but you say such stupid things. I’d get off cramming this in your mouth and pulling the trigger.” I laugh. “But then you wouldn’t be able to suck cock anymore and that’s one of your best features.” Her jaw opens to say something back–something smart I’m sure–but self-preservation kicks in and she clamps it shut.

“Good slut,” I tell her. “You’re learning.” I drag the tip of the gun down her throat, pressing it hard against her chest, over her heart. Her breathing stills, the first real sign of fear she’s shown since coming out here. I laugh, and run it over the swell of her tit, watching the nipple pebble on contact. “Fear makes you horny, doesn’t it?”

“You wish,” she replies, but it’s barely a whisper, “you psychotic asshole.

I don’t let her insult stop me, continuing to move the gun lower, down her belly to the hem of her skirt. I nudge the fabric up, until the barrel of the gun is between her legs. “It’s like you want me to hurt you.”

“If you’re going to kill me, then kill me,” she says. “Just get it the fuck over with.”

“Sweetheart, if I could do that you’d already be in the ground, but your brothers can’t stop thinking with their cocks and their cocks are focused on you.” The instant the tip of the gun hits the crux of her body, she shudders in actual fear. “But to be honest, I kind of understand the appeal of keeping you around. It’s fun yanking your strings like a sexy little puppet. Pushing you to your edge.”

With my free hand I reach under her skirt and twist my fingers in the thin scrap of lace covering her pussy. I raise my eyebrows at the wet heat and laugh. “I knew you liked it rough. Do you always get wet when someone shoves a weapon up your cunt?”

“No.” Her tone is defiant, but there’s no mistaking the juices flowing between her legs. “You repulse me. Just being near you makes me sick.”

“Oh, if that were only true.” I grin. “But here we are, alone in this alley, your pussy gushing, and you need to be taught a lesson.”

“Y-y-you’re,” she stutters as I run my finger over her clit, “deranged.”

“We know that already, Katie, yet you keep pushing me.” I lean in and lick the lobe of her ear. “Spread your legs, it’ll go easier that way. I’d hate for the gun to go off by accident.”

She doesn’t–always fighting–so I nudge her knees apart roughly with my own. I spread her folds with my fingers and place the nozzle at her core. There’s resistance, but not as much as there should be, and I inch the gun inside. Her knees tremble, and I circle my hand around her hip, holding her up against the wall.

“Don’t do this,” she says, wincing as I push the gun in a little further. “I won’t disobey again.”

I don’t stop, fucking the gun in and out of her pussy. She takes it, knowing that one false move could end her life. A bead of sweat trickles down her neck and I bend, darting my tongue out to lick it. She tastes like salt, smells like fear. My cock is so hard, like the gun, locked and loaded, ready to explode. I swallow back the burning desire. This isn’t about me. It’s about making her understand her place.

“Say you want this,” I tell her. She shakes her head and I push the gun in further. “Say it.”

She swallows, eyes brimming with angry tears. “I want it.”

“Say you’re a filthy whore.” I brush my thumb against her clit and her whole body quivers.

She cries out. “I’m a f-f-ilthy whore.”

Her sob is interrupted by the sound of footsteps crunching on the gravel, echoing off the brick walls. I slap my hand over her mouth. Fucking hell. The last thing I need is to get caught back here by some goody-goody citizen. I spend a lot of time managing my public persona with the community so that no one suspects a thing about my true mission.

“Shhh.” I still my hand, the gun lodged deep in her pussy, and look whisper, “Don’t make a fucking sound.”

Looking back over my shoulder all I see is the outline of a figure at the mouth of the alley. Huddle close to Kate, blocking her with my body. No one can see me with her.

“Over here,” he calls, and two more shadowy figures emerge. The tallest one walks forward. As they get closer my shoulders relax. It’s just the guys.

“This one tried to escape.” I pull away from her, giving them a glimpse of Kate’s face. “You caught me in the middle of administering punishment.”

The guys huddle around, and Jack reaches out, lifting her skirt to reveal where I’ve got the gun. I pull it out a little and she emits a soft cry.

Her eyes dart from one guy to the next, looking for sympathy. “Please make him stop. I promise I won’t try to run again.”

Jack grins, eyes flicking to Kate’s. He runs a finger down her cheek. “You like it, don’t you?”

“No,” she grinds out, breath hitching. The next words she says come as a desperate plea. “Please.” But she sinks back down on her own, filling herself with the barrel. Her hand reaches out to grip Jack’s bicep, steadying herself.

“Jesus Christ,” Oliver says. “She’s begging for it.”

I grin. “Such a dirty, dirty, little slut.”

Feeling bolder with the guys backing me up, I focus on fucking the woman in front of me. Jack tucks his arm around her waist, holding her up, while Oliver lifts her skirt and Paul shines the flashlight of his phone between her legs so we can all watch. I glide the gun in and out, fucking her with the barrel. Slick pussy juice coats the steel. With each push and pull she cries out, begging for more, for me to go deeper, for me to give her what she wants.

There’s a point, when her head drops to Jack’s shoulder and her shoulders tremble that I’m not sure what Katie wants more, death or an orgasm.

The only thing I can give her right now is the climax, and when it comes, it rushes over her like a tidal wave. Her pussy clenches, I feel the resistance as her muscles grip the black metal.

“Fuck me,” one of the guys mutters, my heart is pounding too hard for me to discern who. They’re horny as fuck, we’re horny as fuck, but now isn’t the time or place. This is about her understanding her place. Understanding that we own her, body, and soul. Life to death.

I pull out the gun and wipe the sticky residue from her pussy off with the hem of my shirt. I nod at Oliver. “Go check the parking lot and see if the fight cleared out or if I need to go handle things.”

He walks back down the alley and I take a deep breath, needing a minute to get my body under control. I glance over at Kate, watching as Jack holds onto her shaky frame. Big brother’s got a hold on her.

Paul pulls out a handkerchief and wipes between her legs, adjusting her panties over her swollen pussy. “We’ll ice that back home,” he says, lowering her skirt. It should bother me that he wants to dote on her like this, but it’s his way. How we react to this female, how we treat her, use her, has always been different.

Down the alley, Oliver waves to me.

“Get her home,” I say. “Even if The Binder is still here, she’s not in the condition to deal with him.”

“Got it,” Jack says, getting her to her feet. He and Paul start the other way, circling around the building to get to the car. I wait until they’re out of sight to meet up with Oliver.

We all have different roles. Mine is to maintain order and control. And although it may seem like I lost control back there, I didn’t. I gave Katie exactly what she needed.

Jack and Paul will make sure she gets home and is taken care of, because we didn’t catch The Binder tonight, and we’re going to need to use her again.

 

Chapter Ten

Katie

 

I can’t move. Even an inch and my pussy throbs, raw and tender. The ache reminds me of exactly what happened last night. I lift my gaze to the rear-view mirror and catch sight of the stranger looking back at me—as if I’d forget.

He fucked me… with a gun.

My pulse speeds at the memory. Disgust. Terror… and heat rolls through me. I hadn’t come that hard in a long time. My body still clenches with the memory, desperate to feel the steel. Paul took me home, carried me upstairs, and tucked me into bed with an ice pack between my legs. I moaned when he inspected my body, his fingers sliding in where the gun had been. No trauma, he said. Just a bruise. You’ll be better in a day or two.

I woke terrified, listening for creaks in the rooms upstairs. It took me thirty minutes to gather the courage to use the bathroom. But the moment I stepped outside my room the house felt too still. I showered, pressed my towel against my swollen pussy, and then dressed, applying makeup before I grabbed my things and left.

I pull out of the driveway and see the Audi on the street. Jack sits inside, waiting, watching. Paranoia makes me check the rear-view mirror as I make my way into the city, but if he’s there I don’t see him. I know that doesn’t mean anything. There are four sets of eyes on me at all times. Last night taught me that.

I go through the motions, finding a parking place. Gathering my things. I take a final look in the mirror, before focusing on the building in front of me. The Gazette is one place I need to be, and yet right now I’m terrified of walking to the door.

Thoughts of me running are cast aside as fast as they come. If I run now, I’m as good as dead. Davis made sure I understood that I’m a trigger pull away from disappearing for good. My only hope to survive is to be useful, more useful than last night.

My body aches with every movement, but I finally get out of the car and quickly walk to the Gazette. I force a smile as I step through the doors and cross the foyer, taking the elevator this time to my new office.

“Kate,” Henry barks when I walk in, barely lifting his gaze from a stack of folders spread out on the desk in front of him.

I hurry into his office, the words sorry I’m late on the top of my tongue, but he’s already giving orders.

“I need you on this.” He rises from his desk, gathers the files, and motions me to follow him. He stops abruptly, and turns, assessing me. I catch concern, then a flicker of annoyance. “Your hair. It’s different.”

My pulse skips. Heat races to my cheeks. “New job, new hair,” I say, forcing a laugh.

“Hmmph.” He turns and continues toward the wall of missing men. “I want you looking into these guys, picking them apart. The police haven’t found a connection yet, and I want us to be the one who finds it first. This is everything we have so far. It’s not a lot, plenty of blank spaces for you to fill in.”

“Sure.” I take the files. None are particularly thick. I sense a lot of work ahead.

“Your desk is in the corner. The computer password is on a sticky note on the screen.” I try not to laugh at the old-school setup of the office. It’s like stepping back twenty years. “If you need anything else, Delores can help you.”

I glance over at the secretary across the room. She’s made no effort to greet or speak to me. “I think I should be fine.”

I step up to the board and look at the men, taking care to avoid the one I’d watched get brutally murdered in the top floor of my house. Did my stepbrothers and their friends really hunt and kill all these men? And if they made it on their list, why? What had they done to get on their radar, because, although I’m not here to make justifications for their psychopathic ways, there does seem to be a method to their madness?

If my experience with the man I’d watched Jack kill in his bedroom was telling, they hunt, and kill, bad men.

But it’s not just the missing men on my radar now. I scan the walls, not finding the information I’m looking for. “The Binder. Who’s on that case?”

“Me.” Henry settles those critical eyes on me. “Why?”

I give a careful shrug. “Just wanted to see if you needed another set of eyes.”

He shakes his head. “I wouldn’t bother, there hasn’t been any new activity on that in weeks. You’ll have your hands full anyway.” He moves toward his office. “I expect good things from you, Kate. Don’t let me down.”

“I won’t, Sir.”

He pauses. “Oh, and by the way. The new kid does the grunt work. We get lunch from Stevie’s down the street at one. Don’t be late. You don’t want to work with us when we’re hangry.”

“Got it.”

My desk is ancient, with scratches on the top, the chair squealing on the hardwood floors. I wince at the sound and sit tenderly. Before anything, I down two painkillers and get to work, punching in the log-in details.

Thankfully, the system is modern, similar to the kind we used in my journalism program. I open a new folder and a giddy feeling blooms in my chest. There’s nothing more exhilarating than a blank document. Like I can fill it with anything I want. I can craft a story from a few facts and a lot of digging. This job really came down to how much work you were prepared to put in, with some elbow grease and hard work, and I know I can unearth the darkest secrets about those around me.

This is what I came back to Wilmington for.

Gotcha.

Davis’ voice fills my mind, shocking me back to reality. I open the top folder and splay out the documents before I get to work transferring details into my own format. Name, address, date of birth and employment history come up easily, but I know there’s more. Something connects these men other than my brothers.

Hours pass, a true distraction for the first time in weeks, and when I finally look at the time, I see that it’s close to one. Lunch. My fingers ache, but it’s a good ache, a comforting ache. This ache I understand. This ache will get me the things I need.

The Binder slips into my mind as I stride out of the building and cross the street. Running last night was stupid, for more than the obvious reason of pissing Davis off. The reporter in me wants to find him, to feel that rush of coming face to face with a man like that. I can be the one to lure him out, to call the cops on his ass and watch as he’s handcuffed and taken to jail.

Solving The Binder can be the thing that gets me out of this hellhole for good.

I walk down the street, moving slower than I’d like, but the soreness between my legs won’t allow me to go further. Thankfully, Stevie’s Diner is nearby. A small, blackboard sign sits outside a cobblestone courtyard.

It’s quiet inside. A few people sit in booths toward the door where there is light from the windows, and a mix of guys in business suits and work uniforms sit at the counter.

“Help you?”

I turn at the voice, catching the barman wiping his hands on a cloth, heading my way.

“I’m here to pick up the lunch for the Gazette?”

“Oh, yeah, you’re the new girl.” He smiles, giving me the once over. “Henry and the crew have a standing order. You want to add something to that?”

“What’s your special?”

“Crab and coleslaw baguette, with a side order of fries.”

“Sure. I’ll take that.”

He nods, giving me a wink that seems friendly, but after the last few days everything creeps me out. I move to the other side of the bar and crash into something hard.

Something that gives a grunt.

“Oh shit!” Panic surges through me but it eases when I jerk my gaze to the guy I just walked into. For once, it’s not one of my stepbrothers or their friends. “Sorry!”

“No.” The guy lifts his head and gives me a soft smile. “That’s totally my fault. Too busy on my phone.”

I stare at him. “Wait… I know you.”

A slow grin tugs at his mouth as he tilts his head. “Right. From the bar from last night, right?”

“Mr. Nice Guy,” I reply, and instantly regret it.

He laughs. “Wow, I’ve been called a lot of things but that’s a first.”

“Sorry, sometimes I speak before I think.”

“It’s fine. I can think of worse nicknames.” He looks me over. “I see you made it out of the bar unscathed.”

For a second, I think he knows what happened in the alley, and the burn in my cheeks returns. “I, uh,” I stumble over my words. “Barely.”

“That fight started right after I left,” he says, unaware that I’m struggling. “I tried to get back inside to make sure you were okay, but they’d blocked the doors.”

“Yeah, that was crazy. I ran out the backdoor.” And straight into trouble.

“Good idea.” He grins. “So, you work around here?”  

I jerk my head toward the door. “Just started today at the Gazette.”

“The Gazette?” His brow rises. “Well done, small paper, but a good reputation.” He glances over my shoulder, and I follow his eyes to a table of a woman and two other men. “Well, I should go finish my lunch. Breaks almost over.”

“Oh, sure.” A flicker of disappointment moves through me. It’s refreshing to talk to someone normal. “Sorry again.”

“Hey, no worries. It was good walking into you again.”

I give a chuckle, lifting my hand in a wave, but he’s already squeezed back in the booth, talking to his coworkers. I wander to the back of the diner and slide into an empty booth. I’ve settled in when there’s movement in the corner of my eye.

“Got room for your big brother?”

The movement is so fast and seamless I’m stunned for a second, then that panic rushes to the surface. “Oliver.”

He turns his head and levels me with a stare. “Just checking to see how your first day of work is going.”

“I thought stalking me was Jack’s job.”

He shrugs. “He had business to attend to, but don’t worry, one of us is always watching”.

I swallowed hard, forcing the flutter in my chest back down. Hoping to get this over with, I say, “Work is fine.”

He shifts his body toward me, his eyes moving down my body until they stop between my thighs. His palm lands on my upper thigh. “Good. I’m glad to see you were feeling well enough to go in today. I’d hate for you to make a bad impression so early.”

I shift, clamping my things together. “I’m sore, but you and I both know that if I didn’t show up Henry would call Montie and we’d all be screwed.”

“That’s why I’ve always liked you, Katie. You’re smart.” He looks across the diner where Mr. Nice Guy is paying for his lunch. “Except when it comes to men. You have terrible taste.”

There’s a hard glint in his eye and fear surges up my throat. “Don’t hurt him. He’s just a normal guy. He’s got four cats, for god’s sake.”

“You don’t get to play with normal guys, Katie. You have us.” He licks his lips, his eyes glinting. “And only us.”

“I know,” I answer quietly. “He’s nothing to me and therefore should be nothing to you.”

“It’s not that easy. Our mission is dangerous. We can’t have any loose ends.” He reaches out and tucks a piece of hair over my ear as if making a point. “Remember that if you get the urge to make new friends with ‘normal’ people. It won’t end well for anyone.” The threat isn’t lost. Talk to anyone else about their disturbing secrets and I’m dead. They’re dead. Silence and cooperation are the only way to stay alive.

“I understand,” I whisper.

“Good.” He shifts next to me and drapes his arm over my shoulder. “Now, I’d love nothing more than to finger you under the table, while Mr. Nice Guy over there watches, but even I understand your pussy needs a break.”

I look over at Mr. Nice Guy—Ryan. He’s laughing at something one of his co-workers said. What would I do if he came back over here? I blink away, not wanting to make eye contact and find out.

Oliver’s hand grabs mine and he places it on his belt. Our eyes meet and he nods. “Undo my belt.”

Shock hits me. “What? Here?”

“Undo. My. Belt, Katie.” He searches my eyes, drinking in every flicker of humiliation. “I’ve had a raging boner since last night and since we’ve got a little time,” he flattens my fingers over his hard bulge, “why not?”

My breath races as I try to think. But he’s boxing me in, forcing me to… Jesus.

“Can’t we go somewhere else? The bathroom?”

He shakes his head, a small smile twitching on his lips. “Sorry, sweetheart, you know how I like it.”

The flash of that night comes roaring back. What he did to me. How they watched. I glance at Ryan, then back at Oliver. Even though there’s no one directly around us, we’re very exposed. “I need to get back to work.”

“Then you better fucking get started.”

And that’s that. He never once looks away as I slide my hand along the slick leather and tug, sliding the buckle free.

“The button.”

I swallow hard, fingers move to the button.

“Keep going.”

His voice is so slow and hypnotic that I find myself doing exactly what he wants, sliding the zipper low.

“Your hand, Kate.”

I do as I’m told, sliding my hands under the fabric and wrapping my fingers around his cock. He’s thick and hard. I can’t stop my body from responding, growing warmer, softer, clenching as my fingers curl around him. My pulse races when the sounds from the kitchen invade.

“Concentrate,” he commands, his arm sliding along the top of the seat, pulling me closer.

The way he’s sitting obscures the view of what I’m doing. But we’re out here, exposed.

“Jack’s had a taste, so has Davis. But you don’t come to me. You don’t come for me.” His voice sinks into my mind and in this second, I know that this is the most dangerous thing that they can do to me.

My body will heal.

My innocence is already in tatters.

But my mind. God, my mind will forever replay this moment. My mind will forever replay the intoxicating thrill of playing these dangerous games.

“Look down.”

My head lowers with barely more than a push of his desire. My fingers curl around his shaft. The thick veins pulse under my fingers. My mouth waters at the sight and I know that this is wrong. This is so very fucking wrong, but all I can see is that night. Him, me… all of them.

He reaches over, slides his thumb along my lips as I work his cock, sliding all the way up, and then down, fisting him.

He doesn’t say a word, but I can feel him hot under my hand, that thick head blushing bright as I fist him harder. He doesn’t growl, barely breathes, even when I feel him come close.

“Napkin,” he finally grunts, jaw tight, cheeks red.

I use my free hand to snatch one from the middle of the table and then discretely continue stroking his cock. I’m fixed on the movement, where the tiny slit beads with a tiny clear drop. My fist tightens, gripping him hard as his body kicks.

I’m fast with the napkin, catching the cum as it shoots, then slides down the hot skin. I wipe him, tending to him.

I’m wet and aching. Sore or not, I’d let him fuck me just to soothe the desire, and the shame of that hits hard. I don’t know why I’m gentle when I slide him back inside his pants. But he takes over, tugging up his zipper and buttoning his pants.

“Kate!” A voice rings out across the diner. I look up and see the guy behind the counter holding up my order.

I nod, body shaking, and call out, “Coming.”

“Well, one of us did,” Oliver says, slipping his belt back in place. “I’m glad you understand this arrangement.” He eases out of the booth, shoulders ease, demeanor calm like I didn’t just jerk him off in a restaurant full of customers. I feel small with him standing over me but alive as my body is consumed by fire. “I’ll make sure to let the others know. I hope you enjoy your first day at your new job. Oh,” he reaches out and touches my chin, “don’t forget, Katie, someone is always watching.”

I don’t move until he’s exited the diner, and I pretend my hands aren’t shaking as I grab the order off the counter. I keep my eyes forward on the street. I don’t need to look for them to know they’re there.

Up in the office, I hand out the food, stopping last at Henry’s desk. He takes the stack with one hand and gestures for me to wait with the other.

“I’d set up a meeting with an expert before you started,” he says, opening his carton of food. Inside is a greasy hamburger and fries. “If anyone understands the psyche of who is behind the mystery of these missing men it’ll be him.” With greasy fingers, he hands me a post-it note. “Here’s the name and address.”

I look down and what little appetite I had instantly vanishes. Yeah, Henry’s right. This guy definitely knows the ins and outs of this case.

Dr. Paul Sanders

3 PM

Fuck.

 

 

Chapter Eleven

Paul

“And how long have you been feeling this way?” I ask, posing my pen over the paper while looking at my client expectantly.

“Since childhood, if I’m honest with myself.”

“Mmhm. And these urges. They’re frequent?”

The man sitting on the black leather chair picks imaginary lint off his pants. It’s a tell. He does this whenever he’s considering his answer, if he’s going to tell the truth or fudge a little. “Once or twice a week,” he finally answers, keeping his eyes down.

“Do you abstain or give in?”

His wedding band gleams on his left hand, vanishing as he rakes it through his dark hair. “I try to fight it off, but when it gets too much, I lock myself in my office and get on the forums or online groups.”

“But that’s all. Nothing in person? No sex workers? No meet-ups?”

He shakes his head. “No. My wife… I love her. I love my family. I don’t want to screw this up.”

“You just want to fulfill your cravings.”

His eyes meet mine. They’re filled with urgency. Desperation. “Yes, and I can meet that on the video calls.”

My client is a submissive. He wants to be controlled and dominated. Unfortunately, his wife of fifteen years is a sweet little thing who works in a preschool and volunteers down at the nursing home once a week. In the bed, these two are an uneven match. I tap my pen on the notebook.

“What do you think would happen if she walked in on you like that? Or stumbled onto the bills.”

A bead of sweat appears on his temple. “She’ll leave me. My life will be over.”

“Do you think the lies would hurt worse or the truth?

He considers. “The lies.”

I nod. “Then maybe we need to consider bringing her into this conversation. She may be more open minded than you think, but at the same time, you’re risking everything by keeping secrets.”

“I don’t know if I’m ready,” he admits.

“I understand, and I’m not here to pressure you. I just want us to talk over all of the options available to you.” I make a show of checking my watch and then giving him a small smile. “Our time is up, but I think we made great progress this week.” We both stand and I rest a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “We’ll get through this complicated situation. I promise.”

He pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket and wipes his wide brow. “Thank you, doc.”

“Of course, that’s what I’m here for.”

He exits and I sit at my desk, scribbling a few notes. Mitchell Wasserman had initially been a person of interest, but the more he reveals himself, I realize he doesn’t fit the profile at all. I cross him off the list for good and slide his file into the cabinet, then press the intercom button on my phone and say, “Paige, you can send her in.”

My pulse quickens when Katherine walks through the door. She looks gorgeous–even though I miss her natural hair color. The dark tone does highlight the pink of her plump lips, sending a zing of electricity through me. Her skin is flushed–she’s anxious–although she keeps her shoulders pushed back, in an attempt to look controlled and professional. Underneath the bravado, I see the hesitancy in her gate. Her core aches from Davis’ brutality. I wondered if she’d actually show today, but I know not to underestimate this woman. She’s stronger than she looks.

“Close the door,” I direct. It clicks shut, sealing us in. “And take a seat.”

My office is located in a converted carriage house back behind my home, a bungalow nestled in the heart of the historic district. I wanted a place my clients can feel safe, but more, a place I can control. The walls are soundproof, the furniture comfortable–pricy but unassuming. The whole office is carefully curated to create a sense of assurance while also establishing my authority as a professional.

“How are you feeling?” I ask as she gingerly lowers herself down on the loveseat. “Do you need any pain medication before we start? I have prescription samples in the cabinet.”

“I’m fine,” she says, smoothing out her skirt. I spot a stain on the gray fabric. Spill? She notices my attention to it and covers it with her hand. Hmm… guilt. “Since I’m here for the Gazette, I’d like to keep our conversation focused.”

“Of course, I’m at your service.”

Her eyes narrow, but she flips open the cover of a notebook. “Let’s start with your qualifications.”

I smile. “I have a MD in psychiatry, did my residency at Emory University, and have taken several courses at the FBI with the behavioral unit, that allows me to establish myself as an expert in human behavior.”

Katherine writes all this down in loopy girlish letters. I allow my gaze to linger over her long legs and the red toes peeking from the cutout in her shoes.

“That’s all very impressive,” she says. “I’d always known you were smart, but that’s quite a resume for someone your age.”

“I was very motivated.” I rest my hands on the arms of my chair. “As you are aware, I was rocked by the sudden and violent death of a person I was close to. It influenced the direction of my studies and ultimately my career.”

I’m speaking of Jack and Oliver’s mother, of course. She’d been raped and tortured, then brutally murdered with they were young. When they’d finally come out of hiding, Jack found her lifeless body in the kitchen, laid out on the butcher block countertop like a hunk of discarded meat. Even now, I can still hear Jack’s screams. We all changed that day–watching her body being carried out the back door in a zipped-up black bag. We’d made a pact that very day. Find who killed their mother and serve justice.

Katherine thinks she knows us, but she has no idea what we are truly capable of. We are methodical–Davis and I working in careers that keep us close to our mission, allowing us to cover up details, finding the men to hunt. Jack and Oliver provide the means and the opportunity to fulfill our promise. The house, the tools, the brutal strength.

From her seat, she watches me closely, like she’d peel me apart like an onion if she could. Too bad she can’t. I won’t allow that. “The Gazette is digging into the series of missing men from the Wilmington area. There is a lot of speculation, that they ran off, possibly with a mistress, or that they have financial troubles. Others swear they wouldn’t leave their families, that there is no evidence of affairs or debts.” She leans forwards slightly, giving me a view into the V of her blouse. “What do you think happened to these men?”

“It could be any of the things you mentioned. Some people are very good at keeping secrets from the people in their lives.”

“But so many? Nearly a dozen men have gone missing in a similar way, and we’re supposed to believe that’s a coincidence?”

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” I admit. “It’s possible something bigger is at play here. They got mixed up in the wrong things.” I raise an eyebrow. “You see nothing connective in their pasts?”

“Nothing anyone has noticed.”

“What do you notice, Katherine?”

She holds my eye for a long moment before reaching into her bag and pulling out a thick folder. She flips it open, finger skimming down the reports. Her luscious lips move as she reads quietly to herself, and I feel her energy change when she finds it.

“They’ve all been charged with a domestic incident,” she says, looking back up at me with wide eyes. “Some are old–years, but they’re all in the file. Assault, battery, terroristic threats.” She closes the folder. “All directed at women.”

I grin. “See? Not everyone is as shiny and clean as they look on paper. You should know that.”

“There’s something else,” she says, shifting slightly in her seat. Nose wrinkling at the pain. “They were all assigned to court-mandated counseling.”

There it is. The connection. These men went through the system, landed on Davis’ caseload, he testified in court, encouraged the judge to consider an alternative to jail time. Two weeks later their probation office makes an appointment with the best therapist in town.

Me.

“This is how you find them,” she says, voice barely a whisper. “The men you hunt.”

“To be fair, they put themselves in our path.”

Her skin turns pale, her hands shake. We are now at a crossroads, and she knows it. I lean back in my seat. “You’re a smart girl, Katherine. I’m not surprised you figured it out, but what you need to remember is that you’re part of this now. Your hands are bloody.”

“You want me to bury it.”

“I want you to use your influence, just like I use mine, to make Wilmington a better, safer place.” I stand and cross the short distance, sitting next to her on the loveseat. “These are bad men. The things they revealed to me in this very room–you’d be horrified and repulsed.”

“There are better ways,” she says quietly. “Legal ways.”

“Are there? Is that how you’d feel if it was you they assaulted, or a friend, or child or mother?”

I rest my hand on her thigh, pushing the hem of the skirt up. “What are you doing?” she asks.

“While you decide how you want to handle this assignment, I’m going to check how you’re healing.”

She tugs at her skirt. “It’s fine. Just a little sore.”

I give her a sympathetic smile. “You don’t have to act brave for me, Katherine. I know you’re in pain. I see it on your face every time you move. Lie back, let me check you out.” Her fingers loosen their grip on the fabric, but I see her eyes dart to the door. “No one can come in. The door is locked. We have absolute privacy.”

She exhales and adjusts her body, leaning against the arm of the love seat. Carefully, I remove her shoes, then push her skirt up, revealing the soft pink of her panties. I ease them down her thighs, over her knees and feet. There’s a spot of something dried on the fabric and I lift it to my nose. It smells of sex. My cock swells.

“Did you get horny today?” I ask. “Who?”

Her cheeks turn pink. “Oliver visited me at lunch.”

“Ah,” I say, well aware of Oliver’s exhibitionist predilection. “He left you wanting.”

It’s not a question, but she bites down on her bottom lip and nods.

“For a full examination, I’m going to need you to spread your legs,” I tell her, allowing one leg to drop to the floor, while the other rests against the back of the sofa. My cock strains between my legs, making it difficult for me to sit, but I ignore it, focusing on Katherine and her sweet, precious, pussy.

I reach for her folds, spreading them gently apart. Still, she hisses. “Too much?” I ask, continuing to probe a finger along her entrance. “I see the bruising.” I sigh. “Davis can be such a sadist.”

“He hates me,” she says, looking at the ceiling. “He’d kill me if he could.”

I chuckle. “True. Brutality is his first reaction, but once he sees how resilient you are–how useful–he’ll settle down.” I brush my finger over her clit and watch as her body trembles. “Does that feel good?”

“No,” she lies, still looking anywhere but at me. “Can I go?”

“Not until I’m sure that everything down here is in working order.” I press my thumb against the hot little nub and the muscles in her thighs tense. A bead of wet heat builds at her entrance, and I spread it around. “Not many women could have taken Davis’ abuse last night and carried on today like nothing happened.”

“I didn’t have much of a choice, did I?”

“Understanding the reality of your situation isn’t a flaw, Katherine.” I push my finger into her pussy. “Relax. Breathe. Let me examine you.”

Her hand clenches on her belly, tightening and releasing as she struggles to breathe. Her nose wrinkles when I get to the bruise, I feel the heat of the inflammation against my knuckle. Keeping my thumb on her clit, I continue to toy with the nub, watching it swell under my ministrations.

I remove my finger from her pussy. “You still need time to heal properly, but you’re wet and craving. Do you want me to meet those needs?”

Her body squirms, hips rising to force the thumb still on her clit to press harder. “This is wrong.” She starts to push down her skirt again. I capture her hand in mine, forcing her to stop.

“My office is an area of sacred trust and confidence.” A shudder rolls through her. “Anything that happens in here, is said in here, will never leave these walls.” Her eyes meet mine, they’re glazed with want and desire, but I need to hear her say it. “People come here to tell me their secrets, their wants, urges, and desires. Tell me what you need, sweetheart.”

She takes two short breaths and I think she’s going to refuse my assistance, but then the final exhalation comes out ragged. “I need to c-come.”

I smile, pleased that she’s being truthful. “Good girl. Tell me how.”

Her hand runs down her pubic bone, fingers connecting with mine. “Touch my tits.”

“Of course.” I reach for her blouse, unbuttoning the pearl buttons and exposing the pale pink bra that matches the panties. Her nipples are hard, peaked, pushing at the lace. I push the fabric aside and pinch the hard pebble between my fingers.

She cries out. “God yes.”

“What else, Katherine?” I dip my head and lick the peak, sucking until she mewls. I look up at her. “Tell me what else you need.” This time, the words are caught in her throat, her cheeks red with embarrassment. This is a woman that is feisty and determined but no one has ever asked her what she wants. It’s common with the women that come into my office. A skill to learn. “How about I explore, and you let me know if it suits your desires.”

I kiss down her belly, feeling the muscles tense and tighten under my attention. I lick her skin, and suck on the flesh just above her smooth mound. She doesn’t stop me, so I continue, traveling to the slit between her legs, licking the swollen, pulsing clitoris. Her legs tense, clamping around my head. I hear her shudder an exhale. She tastes delicious–sweet–as delightful as I’d hoped. I flick my tongue over the bruised area near her entrance and she moans.

“Too much?” I ask, licking her juice off my bottom lip.

“N-no.” Her hips rise to meet my mouth. “God no. The pain…”

“What about it?” I perk up.

“It hurts but… it also feels really good.”

That little revelation is worth its weight in gold. I bend back down and dart my tongue in and out of her pussy, only stopping to ask, “Is this what you need?”

Her fingers curl into my hair, pulling my face forward. I laugh, breathing hot air on her sensitive nerves. I guess so.

Her body falls into a steady rhythm, and I do my best to keep up. She’s desperately horny, the boys have been greedy little bastards. Oliver and Jack worried more about their needs than anyone else’s. And Davis… well, I watched her get off with his gun buried in her pussy, but that was about him, not her. Katherine has been a good girl the past few days. She deserves to be taken care of.

Her body tenses before she comes, her thighs, her belly, her fingers in my hair. My cock engorges and I will it down–this is about Katherine and not me. For now, at least. There’s nothing more that I enjoy than laying the seeds, tending the garden, and then reaping the fruit. When I finally have my way with this precious thing, it’ll be worth the patience. She can fear the others, but one of us, she needs to trust.

“Oh god,” she moans, hips rising and falling frantically. “I’m c-coming.”

I lick her through her orgasm, letting her ride my face as she falls into oblivion. I don’t stop until her fingers loosen, and her thighs fall to the side. I lift my face, slick with her, and meet her eye. “Do you feel better?”

“I do.” Her cheeks start to burn again. “That was… um,” she sits up and tugs down her skirt, “I should go.”

“Of course.” I stand, pulling a handkerchief out of my pocket and wiping my mouth. “There’s a bathroom just outside the door if you need to freshen up before going back to the office.”

“Right.” She slips on her shoes, holding onto the arm of the loveseat for balance. Her knees are wobbly. “Thank you for… speaking to me today.”

“Any time, Katherine,” I say, moving to sit behind the desk. My boner is painful and in need of relief. I’ll tend to it the instant she’s gone. “Remember, you need to decide where you fit in with all of this because revealing the truth about what happened to those men isn’t an option.” I give her a tight smile. “Not if you want to stay alive.”

She nods, brain still rattled by the orgasm, but I’m sure the message was delivered. She leaves without another word, the door snapping shut behind her. I sigh, leaning back and unzipping my pants, releasing the monster trapped inside.

When I first heard Katherine was back in town, I agreed with Davis. She should be taken care of quickly and efficiently, but now I understand the reasons to keep her close. There are so many different ways to use her for our purposes, I think, closing my eyes and fisting my cock, while I think of her wet, slick pussy. And there’s no way she’s getting out of here until we’ve all left our mark.

 

 

Chapter Twelve

Kate

The house in front of me is in complete darkness. I sit in my car and try to slow the pounding of my heart. I don’t want to be home this late, but after meeting with Paul, Henry had me running down a dozen other leads for the Gazette. I don’t want to climb out of this car and enter the lion’s den. But of course, what I want and what I have to do are very different things.

It’s not like there isn’t a damn serial rapist loose in the city. I lift my gaze to the darkened windows of my stepbrother’s rooms. A rapist isn’t the only monster I have to worry about. Getting home late means less time for me to lock myself in my room before they return.

I inhale, gather my nerves and exit the car. With any hope, I can be showered, in my pajamas, and barricaded in my room before my stepbrothers get home.

I grip my keys between my fingers like a weapon and race for the porch. Locks and cupboards barricaded against my bedroom door didn’t seem to protect me before, so how did I think anything else short of my own demise would now?

Nothing stops them from coming after me. Not even being exposed to others during the day.

Still I have to try.

I insert my key into the lock and turn. I’m inside in a heartbeat, making my way through the house in darkness.

“You’re late.”

I freeze at the chilling tone and a quick movement comes from my right. I spin, my heart slamming against my chest as out of the darkness, evil lurks. Jack’s dark eyes glint like shards of broken glass as he strides toward me.

I spin and stumble backward, hitting the hard banister of the stairs. “I… had to work late. Henry made me–”

“I don’t give a shit what Henry made you do.”

A scream echoes down the staircase. Or I think it’s a scream, I barely hear it… still, the hair rising on the back of my neck confirms that it’s real. I know because that’s the entire reason Jack is here, grabbing my arm and yanking me against his hard body. I look down as I slam against him, terrified there’s a weapon in his hand. But there isn’t. There’s just him. His muscular, intimidating, body. His scent… dark and tormenting, fetid and raw, with undertones of woodsy pine.

“We’ve been waiting.”

“Waiting?” I barely force a whisper.

“Yes, Katie… waiting.” He looks up the stairs. “Since you were late, Oliver had to draw it out.”

He drags me up the stairs, and I cry out at the sudden movement. My core still aches from Davis’ assault. I grab the railing, not just to stop myself from falling but because I realize what’s happening.

“No.” I jerk my arm, trying desperately to escape from his cruel hold. “I’m not going in there.”

His fingers dig in, bruising as he pulls me after him. He’s so much stronger and I have no choice but to stumble after him. Otherwise, I’m sure he’d have no problem dragging me to the top. When we get to the landing, I think he’s going to drag me into his bedroom. But he doesn’t. Instead, he goes to Oliver’s.

Another groan spills out once more, sending chills up my spine. “Stop,” I hiss. “Don’t make me go in there… don’t—”

Jack spins, striking like a serpent to cover my mouth with his hand. My back presses against his chest, my shirt sticky from sweat.

“You’re the one digging around, desperate to know what we’re doing.” His words are a hot growl against my ear. “Isn’t that right, little sister?”

He’s right. I did, but now that we’re here, I don’t want to know. Not anymore.

“I’ll show you exactly what happens up here to the men we hunt.”

He drags me into Oliver’s room and closes the door behind us. The room is dark, the only light spills from under the connecting door to the bathroom.

“Shh,” Jack whispers as he steers me into the adjoining bathroom. “Don’t say a fucking word.”

We’re both silent as he forces me across the dark gray tile. From here, I can hear the murmur of voices on the other side. I don’t want to do this. Like, I really don’t want to. I’d rather walk barefoot across broken glass.

“What happened to Sara when you took her home from the bar?” Oliver’s voice spills under the door connecting to Jack’s room.

I shove my hand out, grabbing the cold hand basin as Jack’s hand clamps over my mouth again. “You want to know, then fucking know.”

Oliver continues, “What? Cat got your tongue? Well, maybe I can fill it in for you.” A loud slam echoes through the room and I jump against Jack’s body. “You took her home from the bar, then the next day she files a police report saying you not only drugged her, but you raped her… violently.”

The laughter that follows stops me cold. I no longer fight against Jack’s hold against the basin. I still, listening to the man’s sick amusement and stare at the door that stands between me and this bastard my brothers caught in their snare.

I twist until I can see the shadowy outline of Jack’s face. “Is that The Binder?”

His reply is low, barely a whisper. “The Binder doesn’t leave witnesses, Katie. You know that.”

“Drugged her?” the guy in the adjacent room blurts, then laughs again. “She fucking wanted it.”

“And yet toxicology came back with GHB in her system,” Oliver says, voice eerily calm. “You want to try again?”

“I’m telling you the truth!” he shouts. “That bitch was all over my cock at the bar. She wanted every inch of it when I shoved it inside.”

“So she’s a liar, then.” I hear the pace of footsteps on the hardwoods until Oliver’s voice is just on the other side of the door. “She just made up the fact that she woke up with a killer headache, no memory, tied to your bed, and your cum stuck between her legs? Is she the liar, or are you?”

I flinch at the roar in Oliver’s voice and despite myself, curl against Jack. My pulse is nothing more than a rush in my ears. I know Jack is a monster, but in this moment the heat of his hold is comforting and unlike the man being interrogated in the other room, he’s the monster I know.

“You got the wrong idea.” That sick piece of shit argues in the next room. “I love women, man. Like really, fucking love them. I don’t need to drug them to be with me. You know bitches are. One minute they’re all into it, the next they’re crying rape. It’s bullshit.

In a blur, Jack reaches around me, twists the door handle, and propels me forward. I stumble wildly into my brother’s room, jerking my gaze to the man sitting bound on the chair in front of me.

The room is dark, lit only by a small lamp, but it’s enough to reveal the cuffed man’s blood-soaked shirt. The knees of his jeans are torn and his tongue darts out to lick the puffy split in his lip. I’d call him the victim, but that’s not true.

There were no victims in this room—except for me.

“How’s it going, baby brother?” Jack asks, stepping over a smear of blood.

“Just showing Michael here how we’re kindred spirits,” Oliver says. His knuckles are red and raw. “I see you brought us something to play with.”

“Yep, pretty little thing, right?” Jack says, drawing a knife out from behind his back. He tilts his head toward me while speaking to the man, Michael, in the chair. “I mean, considering how much we all fucking love women.”

“Jack.” I stumble back, jerking my gaze to Oliver and then to the man on the seat. “Whatever the fuck game you’re playing, I want out.”

The man’s eyes are wide, that same sick excitement he probably gets when he assaults women. Jack lunges, grabbing me around the throat, hard enough to consume me with panic, but not hard enough to cut off my air.

“We want to show Michael how much fun we can have together. After all, we’re the same, right?” Jack clenches his hold, moving me backwards, throwing me on the bed. He’s on top of me in an instant, cinching his fingers tighter around my throat, straddling me. Those thick, muscular, thighs clamp tight, trapping me in place. He lifts the knife in his hand. “We just want to know what you did to her. How you did it. I’m impressed, honestly.”

“Yeah?” Michael says, eyebrows lifting.

“Sure. Tell us what you did to her, Michael. Tell us and we’ll let you go.” He cocks his head toward the man and grins. “And you can have her.”

All I see is that blade. The tip pointing down at me.

“I…” Michael starts, licking his bottom lip. “I didn’t rape that girl.”

Jack’s lips curl. My stepbrother lets out a savage snarl and plunges the knife down, driving it into the mattress. The blade stings, grazing my ear. I scream, but his hand comes down over my mouth, smothering it.

“The thing is,” Jack says coldly above me. He never shifts his focus, those inhuman eyes fixed on mine. “I don’t think you love women at all, do you?”

“I told you–

“You lie in wait, dosing them with GHB when they’re not looking, drugging them into oblivion. Then you take them home, tie them down, and fuck them until you’ve had your fill.”

I jerk my gaze to the asshole and shake my head. If he admits what he did they’ll give me to him. Knowing my brothers, they’ll just sit back and watch, just to torture me, then kill him.

But he says nothing, that sick desire making him smile. Jack pulls the knife free and rises from my body, grabbing my arm as he moves. With one powerful yank, he turns me over, shoving my face into the bedding.

“Tell us,” Jack demands as steel touches my lower back.

I freeze with sensation, my shirt ripping. Cold air kisses my skin as my clothes are destroyed. The blade nicks my shoulder. I whimper with the sting and close my eyes. This is it. This is the moment they kill me for their own demented enjoyment.

I ready myself for the end, for this torment to be over.

There is no more fighting now, no more pleading. It never did any good anyway.

Not with them.

“I did it.”

Jack stills above me.

“I did it, okay?” 

Jack’s warm hand lands on my side. I tremble at the contact.

“I met her at the bar and offered to buy her a drink. She said no. She laughed in my face. So yeah, I fucking drugged her and took her home. She was so fucking out of it, didn’t even scream when I took what I wanted.”

The sting on my shoulder trickles. I know its blood, sliding down the curve of my shoulder blade. But there’s nothing I can do, just lay there shivering while this fucking monster strapped to the chair talks, telling us he destroyed a woman’s life in a single night.

He gloats… entitled prick.

“So there. I told you what you wanted to know. Untie me,” he says. “Untie me and we can have a little fun tonight.” He grins at me. “I’ll show you some of my favorite tricks.”

My insides clench tight. He’s imagining doing all those things to me, to my body and my mind.

“Yes,” Oliver says, “it’s definitely time to have a little fun. Brother?”

The weight of Jack’s body lifts from my body and the mattress rises as he leaves me. My fingers clench, fisting the comforter. I can’t help but open my eyes and turn my head as my stepbrother’s stalk toward him.

But the way they move—I just know this is going to be bad. It’s predatory, ruthless.

“Jack,” Oliver says, giving his brother the go-ahead.

My stepbrother is an animal, a beast, as he lunges, driving that knife down and into the rapist’s throat. Steel carves through flesh. Part of my mind knows this is what they wanted all along. That part screams in triumph as does my brother. Jack unleashes a roar, yanking the knife free to plunge again.

Over and over and over.

Blood arcs, cascading over the room. Part of me is wielding the knife with him and I know I’m fracturing. Tiny splinters of my mind are breaking away, leaving the terrified and sickened side of me behind. I’m two different versions of myself.

One who screams for justice.

And one who cries for vengeance.

When my stepbrother is finished, he straightens. Blood drips from the knife in his hand as he turns to me. “Now do you see, Kate? Now do you really see what we do?

I don’t want to.

So help me God, I don’t.

But it’s all there, painted red.

And I admit the truth, “Yes.”  

 

Chapter Thirteen

Kate

“Are you any good?”

I turn to the smooth voice and point to myself. “Are you talking to me?”

“Yeah,” the good-looking guy laughs. His hair is blond, eyes a bright green. He gestures to the pool table. “You’ve been watching that game for a while now; thought maybe you were interested in a match.”

“Ah,” I reply in understanding, cheeks heating up at getting caught. He’s right I’d been watching the pool table intently. Embarrassingly. I flip the tables. “If you noticed all that, you must’ve been watching me.”

Crack!

The balls smack together, drawing my eyes back to the table, to the man behind the cue. My eyes skim the way his broad shoulders pull the black cotton of his T-shirt taut and the confident way he holds the stick. His free hand casually touches the woman’s lower back, and he can’t keep his eyes off her cleavage as she bends over to take her shot.

“Busted,” the man next to me says, grinning wide. “The truth is that while I was looking for someone to play a game of pool with me, I noticed the most beautiful woman sitting all alone.” He offers his hand. “I’m Christopher.”

“Kate.” I clasp his hand and note that his grip is firm, but not harsh. After the last few days, any sort of tenderness feels alien.

“So, Kate,” his eyes drop to my lips and back up again, “are you up for a game?”

Again, I look over at the pool table and the man sinking the final ball into a corner pocket. His partner pouts, having lost, but she’s not really upset. She throws her arms around him in congratulations and then presses her tits against his side. He draws his gaze away from the table and our eyes meet, causing every hair on my body to stand on end.

Jack.

It’s been two days since I watched him murder a man on the third floor of the house. Shockingly, for the most part, since then they’d left me alone. I’d gone to work, waiting for the news to come across my desk at the Gazette that there was another missing man. It didn’t arrive until this afternoon. Michael Holland. Age thirty-six. Divorced. Left work, hasn’t been seen since. Unfortunately, when I got home, ready for a meal, a long shower and bed, I’d been told to change into the black dress and get to the bar.

“Kate?”

I blink at the man next to me. “Sure, yes. That sounds fun, but fair warning. I’ve never played.”

“Don’t worry. I can show you.” Christopher leads us to the pool table where Jack collects the balls, dropping them into the triangle. “Up for a game?” he asks Jack. “Two on two?”

“Yes!” The girl smiles. “We’re going to kick your asses!”

My stepbrother doesn’t acknowledge me, just jerks his chin in agreement. Christopher grabs two sticks off the rack and hands one to me while he introduces himself to Jack and then Christopher looks over at me.

“I’m Kate,” I add, gripping the pool stick like a support.

“Brandi,” the girl says, waving at the two of us with jewel tipped nails. Up close I realize how young she is. Probably barely out of high school. Her lips are painted a bright red, her eyes heavily made up. Her fingers catch a loose strand of hair, and she tucks it behind her ear. It’s a shade lighter than my dye job but pulled up in a tight ponytail. Through the thin, pale-yellow fabric of her top it’s obvious she’s not wearing a bra. The round areolas of her nipples distractingly visible through the fabric. She’s young, but she doesn’t seem immature, carrying herself with a confidence I can’t even pretend to have–especially around Jack. I mean, who wouldn’t with tits like that?

“Nice to meet you, Brandi,” Christopher says, giving her a warm grin and somehow managing not to look at her chest. This guy oozes charm the way Jack simmers with rage; low and under the surface.

“Flip for it?” Jack says, pulling out a quarter.

“Heads,” Christopher claims as he tosses the coin in the air. Jack lets it land on the table spinning around the green felt. It falls to one side.

Jack grins and winks at me. “Getting tail always brings me luck.” He rolls the balls to the center of the table and removes the triangle holding them in place. He bends, giving a nice view of his ass. Jack and Oliver have a workout room in the basement of Davenport Manor. It’s obvious to everyone in the bar that he works out.

Little do they know; he needs the muscle mass to carry dead bodies out of the house in one trip.

Crack! The white ball slams into the triangle, snapping my gaze away from his ass. I tuck my hair behind my ear as the guys figure out how many balls went into the pockets and who gets solids or stripes.

“Oh, stripes!” Brandi cheers, pushing up on her tip-toes to kiss Jack on the cheek. “Good job, baby.”

My eyebrow raises at the term of affection. Is this girl more to him than just a simple mark? Sure, she fits The Binder’s profile, but is there something else going on?

“Katie, your turn.”

I lift my eyes to Jack’s, who smirks at me as he takes a pull from his beer. A warm hand rests on my shoulder. “Her name is Kate, right?”

I nod, feeling grateful to be heard for once. “Right.”

My stepbrother’s eyes crease at the sides, the slightest hint of annoyance. “Ah, right. Kate, it’s your turn.”

I step forward, flustered by his intimidating presence, stressed that one of them is going to catch on that we know one another. I find an angle and line the white ball up with the solid green ball across the table.

“You got it?” Christopher asks, easing up next to me.

“I think so.” I focus on the angle I need to make the shot. Across the table, in my peripheral vision I see Jack’s hand wind around Brand’s hip, thumb dipping under her low-rise jeans.

The stick wobbles and I feel movement behind me. “Here, let me help.” Christopher’s body swoops in behind me, his knee sliding between my legs and nudging them apart. “You’ve got to keep your knees and shoulders even,” he says, “Then while bending over, take a step forward,” he accentuates this by tapping my hip with his fingers. “And make sure you keep your chest level with the ground.”

With the weight of him behind me, I feel calmer, more in control. Just knowing there’s someone between me and Jack makes me feel better. I pull the stick back, aiming at the white ball and smack! I make contact, sending the white ball into green and ultimately into the corner pocket.

“I did it!” I jump up. “I got one in!”

“You sure did,” Christopher says, smiling. “You get to go again.”

He doesn’t help me this time, well, not as much. When I bend over, making sure to keep my chest level, he rests his hand on my lower back, sending a warm heat up my spine. I think I have the shot lined up, when he brushes my backside with his hips, jolting me forward in surprise. I scratch, the cue hitting the felt. I feel Jack’s hard gaze on me, and when I look up, he’s not looking at my face but down the front of my dress.

“Shit,” I say to myself, covering up.

“Fucking hell,” Jack mutters, pushing his fingers through his thick hair. “Anyone else need a drink, or just me?”

“Let me get it,” Christopher says, already walking toward the bar. He points at Jack and Brandi. “Two beers?” Then to me. “Another martini?”

“Yes, please.”

“Sweetheart,” Jack says, slapping Brandi on the ass, “why don’t you go help him with the drinks.”

“Good idea,” she says, tapping him on his nose. “Don’t miss me too much.”

He grunts, eyes glued to her ass as she sashays off. He waits until they’re both at the bar to ask, “What the fuck are you doing?”

My eyes snap to his. “What you told me to do. Come to the bar, get a drink, flirt with a few suspects.”

He snorts. “That guy doesn’t meet the criteria.”

“And Brandi does?”

“She’s a brunette, sexy, young–she fits the profile as much as you do, unlike Prince Charming over there.” He licks his bottom lip. “I’m here on a mission. You’re basically letting him dry hump you against the table.”

I blink. “You did not just say that.”

“If you’d bent over a little bit more, he could shove his cock right up your pussy.”

Rage licks my spine. “Shut up,” I tell him. “I’m only here because I’m forced to be here by you and your deranged friends.”

His lip curls into a snarl. “Look at you, acting all ballsy out in public,” he steps close, “when two nights ago you were begging for mercy. Do you think he’d want you if he knew who you really are? How you get wet when I run a blade down your soft skin and how much you want your stepbrother’s cock buried inside of you?”

I drag my eyes up from his mouth and whisper, “I doubt your little girlfriend would stick around long if she knew that you’re a psychotic murderer with delusions of grandeur. You do realize that not every woman thinks you’re God’s gift, right?”

“I don’t know, Katie,” he accentuates the nickname, “I’m pretty sure every woman I’ve been with would admit that my cock is pretty fucking grand. I’m sure, if I gave her the chance, Brandi would agree.”

My heart thunders, pounding wildly against my ribcage. Jack isn’t just a murderer, he’s a narcissistic asshole. He does the things he does because he thinks he’s owed it, entitled to it. I know that it fucking kills him that he can’t catch The Binder because it makes him look weak. I also know that if I’m not careful he’ll take all that rage and sadism out on me.

“Sorry that took so long,” Christopher says, drawing me away from Jack’s cold blue eyes. “A martini for the beautiful Kate.”

I swallow and give him a small smile, taking the drink and then immediately resting it on the edge of the pool table. “I, um, I think I need to use the restroom. I’ll be right back.”

I hurry away from the pool table, pushing through the crowd of people toward the back hall. A woman steps out of the bathroom, and I step in, breathing in the cooler air away from the bar.

My hands shake as I turn on the water, splashing a little on my face. Pushing Jack like that… it was stupid. So fucking stupid.

A woman steps out of the stall and moves to the sink. I catalog her: red hair, freckled skin, green eyes. Not The Binder’s type. Lucky girl.

She catches my eye in the mirror. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Just got a little hot out there, you know?”

“It’s packed.” She grins. “But it’s ladies’ night. The wolves are on the prowl.”

“That’s the truth.” I turn back to the mirror and hear the door swing open. In the reflection I see a wall of black: T-shirt, hair, jeans.

Jack.

“Get out,” he tells the redhead.

Her eyebrows raise and she opens her mouth to speak. I shake my head. “It’s fine.”

She exits and he slams the door behind her, flipping the lock.

“What do you want, big brother?” I ask, playing calm, but my nerves start buzzing the second that door is locked. “Brandi not holding you attention?”

“I want you to shut your mouth for five goddam seconds, Katie.” He steps forward, hips pressing against my backside, pinning me against the counter. His cock is already hard and demanding. “I want you to remember who you’re talking to. Who I am, and what I can do if you’re not careful.” His hand splays across my stomach and our eyes meet in the reflection. “But the thing is, I think you do know, and I think you like testing me.”

Do I? I wonder. Because I can’t seem to stop myself even though I know every interaction with him will end the same, with me in pain, begging for mercy. Yet here I am, anyway.

His hand drops down to the hem of my skirt. He lifts it, revealing my backside. He palms my ass. “I’ve been thinking about your ass for two days,” he says quietly. “Ever since I flipped you over on that bed.” He rocks against me, the denim rough against my bare skin. “I should’ve taken you right there, made that pervert watch as I defiled you, but,” his fingers twist in the black lace thong, tearing it off, “he didn’t deserve to watch.” He nudges my legs apart. “This is between me and you.”

The hand on my belly wanders, sliding up my torso until he reaches the low V in my neckline.

“You were out there teasing me with these,” he says, pupils dilating. He yanks aside the dress, revealing my tits. No bra for me either, Paul made it clear I should go without. My nipples peak at the rush of air and his hand cups underneath, kneading roughly. “Teasing and taunting me all the time.”

He pinches my nipple and I drop my head back, crying at the pain. His teeth graze the side of my neck, nipping and biting at the flesh. Each pinpoint of pain jolts through me, electrifying my body, the currents zinging down my body until it pools into something hot and molten at my core.

He bends me forward, both our faces level in the mirror. His fingers sweep between my legs. He grunts. “Fucking slippery wet.”

I squirm against the friction, wanting more. He wastes no more time, unbuckling his belt and pulling out his cock. I can see it in the mirror, skin blistering red and taut with engorgement. My knees quiver, because this time there’s something different passing between us, something raw and feral. There’s no out this time. I can see it on his face. It’s the face of a hunter that’s finally cornered his prey.

“I’ve waited a long time for this,” he says, pressing the tip of his cock against my entrance. “I’ve wanted to fuck you since the day my daddy brought your mama into our house. I dream about you. Watch you. Fantasized about you while you were away, but now that you’re back, I’m not letting the opportunity pass by again, and,” his eyes narrow, “I’m not letting another man’s cock inside of you before I get a chance.”

With that he punches in, driving in the length of his erection. He isn’t slow, or tentative, no, he goes in hard, and before I have the chance to adjust to the size of him, he pulls back and slams in again. My breath knocks out of me, lost in the relentlessness. His hand grips my hip, fingers digging into my flesh as he holds on tight. My eyes flutter shut as he fucks me, the sound of our skin slapping a harsh echo in the tiled room, but tight fingers on my chin force them back open.

“Watch me as I claim you, Katie. I need you to see it.”

He pins our gaze together, and I ignore everything else. The way the edge of the counter digs into my lower belly. The sound of our ragged breathing. The shouts from the bar outside and the loud banging on the door as someone tries to come in. I push all of that aside, consumed with the fact Jack Davenport–my stepbrother–has me bent over the counter in a shitty bar bathroom and is fucking what little bit of sense I had, right out of me.

I watch him in the mirror, cheeks red, jaw clenched, the picture of perfect restraint. But I feel him inside of me, feel the thickening of his cock pressing against my walls. He’s close, seconds away from shattering inside of me. He may be asserting his claim over me, but one thing is clear, my pussy lives rent-free in my stepbrother’s pretty head.

“You going to come for me,” he commands, bending so his mouth is close to my ear. “You’re going to clench those walls around me and milk me until I have nothing left.”

I want to say no, but the weight of him behind me, the hard way he plucks at my nipples and bites my flesh, builds my own unrelenting desire. My skin grows hot. My knees buckle. The first sparks of an orgasm lick at my spine and suddenly there’s no will anymore, there’s just want–just release–and the waves crash over me, shudder through me, spinning me out of control.

“There it is,” Jack grunts, continuing to pound into me. “Milk me. Suck me dry.” He comes in an eruption, deep and guttural. His cock pulsing against my walls. We push and pull against one another until there’s nothing left but the sweat and breath between us.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” he says, holding me up with an arm around the waist. “That was eight fucking years in the making.”

Eight years. That’s how long he’s been wanting to get inside of me.

He pulls out, taking his heat and weight with him, and lean my elbows on the counter, feeling his cum drip down my leg. He bends, dragging his finger through the sticky mess, and pushes it back inside. “Don’t you fucking dare clean up,” he says, tucking himself back in his pants. “I want you sitting in that–me–for the rest of the night. If Prince Charming wants in your pants, he’s going to have to wade through my cum to get there.”

Realizing I’m not going to get a moment of privacy, I swallow and stand, taking a minute to straighten my panties and dress. My hair is a mess and I have a red welt on my neck from where he sucked a hickey into my skin. I do what I can, but anyone out in that bar will know I just got fucked good and hard in the bathroom. Which, according to the smirk on Jack Davenport’s face, is exactly the point.

We exit the bathroom, accosted by the sound of music and loud talking. For the first time, I wonder what Christopher thinks of me disappearing for so long and Jack vanishing with me. The pool table is now occupied by two new players. My drink is long gone. I skim the room for Brandi or Christopher, but I don’t see a sign of them anywhere. How long were we back there?

Jack shifts next to me, and I hear the deep vibration of his phone. He pulls it out and looks at the screen, jaw tensing as he reads.

“What?” I ask.

“It’s Davis,” he says, shoulders straightening. “Someone saw a woman forced into a car outside the bar thirty minutes ago. They reported it to the police. He caught the call.”

“Here? Who?” I ask, looking around the room, trying to place all the people I’d seen before we went in the bathroom, but all I can think about is Jack and the way he looked minutes before when he was pumping me full of his cum.

“Here,” he repeats, walking toward the door. He catches my hand and pulls me with him. “We’ve got to go.”

“Where?” I ask, stumbling behind him.

His dark eyes meet mine. “The girl forced in the car? She matches Brandi’s description.”

 

The house in front of me is in complete darkness. I sit in my car and try to slow the pounding of my heart. I don’t want to be home this late, but after meeting with Paul, Henry had me running down a dozen other leads for the Gazette. I don’t want to climb out of this car and enter the lion’s den. But of course, what I want and what I have to do are very different things.

It’s not like there isn’t a damn serial rapist loose in the city. I lift my gaze to the darkened windows of my stepbrother’s rooms. A rapist isn’t the only monster I have to worry about. Getting home late means less time for me to lock myself in my room before they return.

I inhale, gather my nerves and exit the car. With any hope, I can be showered, in my pajamas, and barricaded in my room before my stepbrothers get home.

I grip my keys between my fingers like a weapon and race for the porch. Locks and cupboards barricaded against my bedroom door didn’t seem to protect me before, so how did I think anything else short of my own demise would now?

Nothing stops them from coming after me. Not even being exposed to others during the day.

Still I have to try.

I insert my key into the lock and turn. I’m inside in a heartbeat, making my way through the house in darkness.

“You’re late.”

I freeze at the chilling tone and a quick movement comes from my right. I spin, my heart slamming against my chest as out of the darkness, evil lurks. Jack’s dark eyes glint like shards of broken glass as he strides toward me.

I spin and stumble backward, hitting the hard banister of the stairs. “I… had to work late. Henry made me–”

“I don’t give a shit what Henry made you do.”

A scream echoes down the staircase. Or I think it’s a scream, I barely hear it… still, the hair rising on the back of my neck confirms that it’s real. I know because that’s the entire reason Jack is here, grabbing my arm and yanking me against his hard body. I look down as I slam against him, terrified there’s a weapon in his hand. But there isn’t. There’s just him. His muscular, intimidating, body. His scent… dark and tormenting, fetid and raw, with undertones of woodsy pine.

“We’ve been waiting.”

“Waiting?” I barely force a whisper.

“Yes, Katie… waiting.” He looks up the stairs. “Since you were late, Oliver had to draw it out.”

He drags me up the stairs, and I cry out at the sudden movement. My core still aches from Davis’ assault. I grab the railing, not just to stop myself from falling but because I realize what’s happening.

“No.” I jerk my arm, trying desperately to escape from his cruel hold. “I’m not going in there.”

His fingers dig in, bruising as he pulls me after him. He’s so much stronger and I have no choice but to stumble after him. Otherwise, I’m sure he’d have no problem dragging me to the top. When we get to the landing, I think he’s going to drag me into his bedroom. But he doesn’t. Instead, he goes to Oliver’s.

Another groan spills out once more, sending chills up my spine. “Stop,” I hiss. “Don’t make me go in there… don’t—”

Jack spins, striking like a serpent to cover my mouth with his hand. My back presses against his chest, my shirt sticky from sweat.

“You’re the one digging around, desperate to know what we’re doing.” His words are a hot growl against my ear. “Isn’t that right, little sister?”

He’s right. I did, but now that we’re here, I don’t want to know. Not anymore.

“I’ll show you exactly what happens up here to the men we hunt.”

He drags me into Oliver’s room and closes the door behind us. The room is dark, the only light spills from under the connecting door to the bathroom.

“Shh,” Jack whispers as he steers me into the adjoining bathroom. “Don’t say a fucking word.”

We’re both silent as he forces me across the dark gray tile. From here, I can hear the murmur of voices on the other side. I don’t want to do this. Like, I really don’t want to. I’d rather walk barefoot across broken glass.

“What happened to Sara when you took her home from the bar?” Oliver’s voice spills under the door connecting to Jack’s room.

I shove my hand out, grabbing the cold hand basin as Jack’s hand clamps over my mouth again. “You want to know, then fucking know.”

Oliver continues, “What? Cat got your tongue? Well, maybe I can fill it in for you.” A loud slam echoes through the room and I jump against Jack’s body. “You took her home from the bar, then the next day she files a police report saying you not only drugged her, but you raped her… violently.”

The laughter that follows stops me cold. I no longer fight against Jack’s hold against the basin. I still, listening to the man’s sick amusement and stare at the door that stands between me and this bastard my brothers caught in their snare.

I twist until I can see the shadowy outline of Jack’s face. “Is that The Binder?”

His reply is low, barely a whisper. “The Binder doesn’t leave witnesses, Katie. You know that.”

“Drugged her?” the guy in the adjacent room blurts, then laughs again. “She fucking wanted it.”

“And yet toxicology came back with GHB in her system,” Oliver says, voice eerily calm. “You want to try again?”

“I’m telling you the truth!” he shouts. “That bitch was all over my cock at the bar. She wanted every inch of it when I shoved it inside.”

“So she’s a liar, then.” I hear the pace of footsteps on the hardwoods until Oliver’s voice is just on the other side of the door. “She just made up the fact that she woke up with a killer headache, no memory, tied to your bed, and your cum stuck between her legs? Is she the liar, or are you?”

I flinch at the roar in Oliver’s voice and despite myself, curl against Jack. My pulse is nothing more than a rush in my ears. I know Jack is a monster, but in this moment the heat of his hold is comforting and unlike the man being interrogated in the other room, he’s the monster I know.

“You got the wrong idea.” That sick piece of shit argues in the next room. “I love women, man. Like really, fucking love them. I don’t need to drug them to be with me. You know bitches are. One minute they’re all into it, the next they’re crying rape. It’s bullshit.

In a blur, Jack reaches around me, twists the door handle, and propels me forward. I stumble wildly into my brother’s room, jerking my gaze to the man sitting bound on the chair in front of me.

The room is dark, lit only by a small lamp, but it’s enough to reveal the cuffed man’s blood-soaked shirt. The knees of his jeans are torn and his tongue darts out to lick the puffy split in his lip. I’d call him the victim, but that’s not true.

There were no victims in this room—except for me.

“How’s it going, baby brother?” Jack asks, stepping over a smear of blood.

“Just showing Michael here how we’re kindred spirits,” Oliver says. His knuckles are red and raw. “I see you brought us something to play with.”

“Yep, pretty little thing, right?” Jack says, drawing a knife out from behind his back. He tilts his head toward me while speaking to the man, Michael, in the chair. “I mean, considering how much we all fucking love women.”

“Jack.” I stumble back, jerking my gaze to Oliver and then to the man on the seat. “Whatever the fuck game you’re playing, I want out.”

The man’s eyes are wide, that same sick excitement he probably gets when he assaults women. Jack lunges, grabbing me around the throat, hard enough to consume me with panic, but not hard enough to cut off my air.

“We want to show Michael how much fun we can have together. After all, we’re the same, right?” Jack clenches his hold, moving me backwards, throwing me on the bed. He’s on top of me in an instant, cinching his fingers tighter around my throat, straddling me. Those thick, muscular, thighs clamp tight, trapping me in place. He lifts the knife in his hand. “We just want to know what you did to her. How you did it. I’m impressed, honestly.”

“Yeah?” Michael says, eyebrows lifting.

“Sure. Tell us what you did to her, Michael. Tell us and we’ll let you go.” He cocks his head toward the man and grins. “And you can have her.”

All I see is that blade. The tip pointing down at me.

“I…” Michael starts, licking his bottom lip. “I didn’t rape that girl.”

Jack’s lips curl. My stepbrother lets out a savage snarl and plunges the knife down, driving it into the mattress. The blade stings, grazing my ear. I scream, but his hand comes down over my mouth, smothering it.

“The thing is,” Jack says coldly above me. He never shifts his focus, those inhuman eyes fixed on mine. “I don’t think you love women at all, do you?”

“I told you–

“You lie in wait, dosing them with GHB when they’re not looking, drugging them into oblivion. Then you take them home, tie them down, and fuck them until you’ve had your fill.”

I jerk my gaze to the asshole and shake my head. If he admits what he did they’ll give me to him. Knowing my brothers, they’ll just sit back and watch, just to torture me, then kill him.

But he says nothing, that sick desire making him smile. Jack pulls the knife free and rises from my body, grabbing my arm as he moves. With one powerful yank, he turns me over, shoving my face into the bedding.

“Tell us,” Jack demands as steel touches my lower back.

I freeze with sensation, my shirt ripping. Cold air kisses my skin as my clothes are destroyed. The blade nicks my shoulder. I whimper with the sting and close my eyes. This is it. This is the moment they kill me for their own demented enjoyment.

I ready myself for the end, for this torment to be over.

There is no more fighting now, no more pleading. It never did any good anyway.

Not with them.

“I did it.”

Jack stills above me.

“I did it, okay?” 

Jack’s warm hand lands on my side. I tremble at the contact.

“I met her at the bar and offered to buy her a drink. She said no. She laughed in my face. So yeah, I fucking drugged her and took her home. She was so fucking out of it, didn’t even scream when I took what I wanted.”

The sting on my shoulder trickles. I know its blood, sliding down the curve of my shoulder blade. But there’s nothing I can do, just lay there shivering while this fucking monster strapped to the chair talks, telling us he destroyed a woman’s life in a single night.

He gloats… entitled prick.

“So there. I told you what you wanted to know. Untie me,” he says. “Untie me and we can have a little fun tonight.” He grins at me. “I’ll show you some of my favorite tricks.”

My insides clench tight. He’s imagining doing all those things to me, to my body and my mind.

“Yes,” Oliver says, “it’s definitely time to have a little fun. Brother?”

The weight of Jack’s body lifts from my body and the mattress rises as he leaves me. My fingers clench, fisting the comforter. I can’t help but open my eyes and turn my head as my stepbrother’s stalk toward him.

But the way they move—I just know this is going to be bad. It’s predatory, ruthless.

“Jack,” Oliver says, giving his brother the go-ahead.

My stepbrother is an animal, a beast, as he lunges, driving that knife down and into the rapist’s throat. Steel carves through flesh. Part of my mind knows this is what they wanted all along. That part screams in triumph as does my brother. Jack unleashes a roar, yanking the knife free to plunge again.

Over and over and over.

Blood arcs, cascading over the room. Part of me is wielding the knife with him and I know I’m fracturing. Tiny splinters of my mind are breaking away, leaving the terrified and sickened side of me behind. I’m two different versions of myself.

One who screams for justice.

And one who cries for vengeance.

When my stepbrother is finished, he straightens. Blood drips from the knife in his hand as he turns to me. “Now do you see, Kate? Now do you really see what we do?

I don’t want to.

So help me God, I don’t.

But it’s all there, painted red.

And I admit the truth, “Yes.”  

 

Chapter Fourteen

Jack

Red and blue lights flash as I grip Katie’s arm and lead her out of the bar.

“I’m just so shocked.” A bystander whimpers, her arms wrapped tight around her middle as she talks to the two officers. “It happened so fast. One minute she was screaming with his hand over her mouth, then the next they were driving off.”

I keep my gaze on Kate’s car parked at the edge of the lot, catching movement as one of the cops turns to watch me. Don’t be a punk, I mentally warn him… keep your fucking focus on her. He shifts his attention back to the woman who starts sobbing. I expect a little sense of relief, but there is none.

The bastard was right here… right fucking here, and I just let him get away.

“Jack?”

I snap my gaze to Kate as she stumbles in her heels. I’m moving fast now, hunting for him. “What?”

She flinches with the tone, but steadies herself like a good girl and tries again. “The description of the guy,” she whispers. “Did Davis give you one?”

The marks on her throat are darker in the wash of cop lights. Marks I left behind when I took her in the bathroom and my pulse ignites. She’d felt so good under me, around me. Rage moves through me, seething, writhing, moving deeper than it’s ever been before. I don’t want to think about the reason why—not yet. “He’s sending it now.”

Beep.

I stop in the middle of the parking lot, scan the message. Six foot, sandy blond hair, wearing jeans and a blue button down. I hold out the phone. “Look like someone familiar.”

“Oh my god,” she says, brushing my arm as she leans in and reads the message.

“Yep. Sounds like your Prince Charming to me.”

This woman barges into my world, daring me with every fucking smile she gives to someone else. Tonight, I reached the tipping point and it cost us.

I rake my fingers through my hair in frustration, as she whispers, “There has to be a mistake.”

“There’s no mistake,” I snap at her, then swallow my rage.

“He doesn’t fit. None of this fits.”

“Jesus Christ, Katie. What the fuck are you talking about?”

She flinches at my tone, then takes a step backward, but it’s not my anger that has her stumbling away from me. It’s excitement. Her dark eyes glint as she turns toward the bar. “If he paid by credit card, they’ll have his name.” I want to tell her to wait, to get in her goddamn car and get far away from here. But she’s fucking quick, shifting gears from being railed in the seedy bathroom one minute to an investigator the next. “Wait for me.” She lifts her hand, risking a glance to the cops. “Just wait for one minute.”

She runs and I track her, fighting the fear of letting her out of my sight, that need to hunt.

My cell vibrates and it’s my brother. “Ollie.” On the other end of the phone is silent. He knows my mood in an instant. Even he is careful when he speaks, which says volumes. “Are you okay?”

“Do I sound okay? He was right there, and I fucking missed him!”

“No. Is Kate…” Is Kate what? I want to snap, but my tone would be criminal. Dead? Does he think I killed her? “Is Kate, what, brother?”

“The report said it was a brunette…”

It clicks. He’s asking if Katie is the one in the report.

“It wasn’t her,” I say, both relieved and angry. Why am I relieved? This was the plan, to use her as the bait and lure out The Binder. It worked too; except I was too busy fucking her in the bathroom. “We were, uh, distracted and he snatched the bitch right out from under our noses.”

I glance to the window. Inside the empty bar, she leans against the countertop talking to the bartender. That sexy black dress rises up the backs of her thighs, legs probably still slick from my cum. My cock twitches in my pants. Eight fucking years and I had to be balls deep inside her when The Binder decided to make his move.

“Jesus, Jack. How the fuck did you go off mission? It’s not like you to get distracted.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I tell him. “At least he’s out in the open again. We can start to track him.”

Of course that doesn’t help Brandi who will be lucky if he makes it quick. I hang up. One second longer and he’ll sniff out the truth. That I lost control tonight. I fucked up majorly, all because I wanted to get my dick wet. A figure moves in the doorway of the bar, I know the instant she steps out that she has no information. I could’ve—tried—to tell her. We’re not just dealing with any two-bit fucking idiot here. He’s smart, calculated, a worthy adversary. Until I catch him anyway.

“You need to go home.” I jerk my head to her car. I try to keep my words in check and meet her gaze. “Now. Oliver’s waiting on you.”

She shakes her head and takes a step closer. I force myself not to watch how her body moves under her dress. A body I was eight inches deep inside of minutes ago—and I already want again. I clench my jaw as she touches my arm. “He wanted me,” she says, guilt spreading across her features. “We can lure him again.”

My gut clenches with the words and not in a good way. Something alien shifts under my skin, and I’m torn with the need to cut it out or fucking kiss her. Instead, I look down to where her hand rests on my arm, then lift my gaze. “Get in the fucking car, Katie, and go home.”

My words are ice, and she flinches, yanking her hand away, nails scratching my forearm.

I move fast, taking a long stride forward. Her heels catch as she stumbles backward into the dark where the cop’s lights no longer reach. “You fucking touch me again, sister, and I’ll make you regret it.”

Her breath catches and her eyes widen, and we’re back on this collision course once more. Where she’s scared of me and all I want is to hurt her.

This time I’m the one who grabs her. I want her throat, but I keep myself in check and clench my fingers around her arm instead, feeling her tremble. “You’re the reason he got away tonight. You’re the reason I let him escape. You and your—” I lower my gaze to her body and suck in the cold night air. “You’re lucky I don’t drag you someplace no one will ever find you and leave you there. Get the fuck in the car, Katie, and get your ass home before I do something I’ll regret.”

She knows me well enough to know that I’m not joking. Her hands shake as she stabs the button on her keys, yanks open the door and slips behind the wheel of the piece of crap. The thud of the car door is like a gunshot in the night. I know the cops will be watching as she starts her engine and shifts in reverse.

Brake lights flare red as she leaves, hitting the asphalt before driving away. I keep my eyes down and make for my car across the lot. I was barely out of my car when I drew Brandi’s gaze earlier tonight. She’d been waving off a group of friends as I strode past. She looked at me like I was her ticket to somewhere, and I recognized her like she was the exact kind of sexy bait The Binder craves.

Only it wasn’t the goddamn Binder I captured. It was this fucking festering thing inside my chest. I glance along the street, knowing Katie would be running with her tail between her legs all the way home. But that isn’t what I want between her legs. I hate knowing that. I yank open my door and slide inside the Audi before starting the engine and pulling away from the bar.

Beep.

I glance at my cell, keeping under the speed limit as another cop car races past.

Davis’ message is short and clear: No further information. He’s gone. I’ll be at the house soon.

He’s gone. Slipped through my fingers.

Those words don’t sit well with me, nothing about this whole night sits well with me. Did I really miss the signs that Christopher was The Binder or was I too focused on Katie to care? The way she flirted with him drove me insane and I snapped, wanting to mark and claim her. Instead, I fucked everything up.

I prowl through the streets, taking the long way home. For some reason, I don’t want to go back there right now. I don’t want to know she’s in the room underneath mine or see the disappointed look in my brother’s eyes.

Prostitutes stand on the corner, watching me in earnest. But that dead thing in my chest shrinks with the thought. On a normal night, I’d be up to the distraction, but nothing about tonight is normal. Nothing has been normal since she came back to town.

I should find someone else. Someone different. Someone to fuck and fuck and fuck until I get my stepsister out of my system. Until my thoughts stop automatically drifting to her over and over again.

I need a lot of things. But none of those are what I want.

I want her… and that scares the fuck out of me.

My headlights splash against familiar houses and familiar streets.

I lift my gaze finding her car in the driveway. I give her time to scurry up the stairs and barricade her door. Not that it would enough to save her. I have my ways in and out of every room in that house.

I pull up behind Ollie’s Mercedes and kill the engine. The lights are on inside the house, and the smell of cooking, butter, bacon and chocolate assaults me the second I enter the kitchen.

“I can do that, Ollie,” Katie says. I force myself not to react to the sound of her voice. “All you need to do is sit.”

Adrenaline courses through me as I make my way through the foyer and turn to the kitchen. She’s there, standing over the stove with my brother right behind her.

“I have a special method,” Ollie tells her. He presses her against the stainless steel edge, his cock nestled at her ass. “You let them get good and crispy on one side, then you flip it.” He curls his fingers and then drags along her arm. “Just like that.”

She doesn’t notice me in the doorway, but my brother does. Grinning as he turns his head. He gets a thrill out of me watching as he slides his finger under the strap of her dress and tugs it aside and kisses the smooth skin. I knew he visited her today at lunch. I watched from my car. He looked satisfied when he left, but that desire is always bubbling under the surface for all of us. We’re hunters, it’s never enough.

I place my phone and keys on the counter, watching as my brother fondles her as she cooks pancakes on the griddle. Late night food, the kind you get after a night at the bar. Although not exactly the kind of food you make when you hear that a serial killer has struck again. Or maybe it is? Maybe that’s why this woman is so hard to resist.

“That’s the way,” he says, Her hand shakes, the spatula tapping against the bottom of the skillet as he reaches around to cup her from behind. The door opens and Paul steps in. His eyebrows raise as he sees the two of them at the kitchen counter. We watch my brother as he slides his hand to her hips and draws her dress higher.

“This is a change of attitude,” I say, interrupting the scene. “Going domestic?”

She jolts when she hears my voice, ears turning red. She smooths down her skirt and faces me. “I thought you may be hungry after everything that happened tonight.” She glances at the griddle. “I’m making pancakes.”

“Pancakes,” I repeat, trying to follow the scene. I shrug. “I can eat.”

“Good. You guys take a seat at the table. I’ll bring everything out.”

I enter the dining room. It’s a formal room, all china and crystal gleaming behind glass cabinet doors. I take the chair at the head of the table. My father’s seat. Oliver sits at the other end, frown on his face.

“What’s your problem?” I ask.

“You just had to interrupt. I was about to–”

“Fuck her?”

Our eyes swing to the door when Paul enters. He looks tired, probably spent the last hour talking to the police. “Is that what we’re doing now?”

“Jack fucked her at the bar,” my brother says, calling me out, “getting so distracted that he let the Binder get away!”

Paul turns and glances my way.

I was the first to crack.

The first to come inside her.

The first to taste what we all wanted.

“Did she tell you that?” I ask, temper rising.

“She didn’t have to, big brother. Even if I hadn’t heard it in your voice on the phone it was obvious the instant she walked in the door.” He leans across the table and hisses, “You’re getting sloppy.”

“Fuck you. I am not.”

“You’re distracted and obsessed,” Oliver says.

Paul looks me over. “When was the last time you slept?”

“Jesus Christ,” I run my fingers through my hair. “This guy, this Christopher guy, he didn’t match the description. Handsome, charming, no scars, no social unawareness. He didn’t check a single box.” I glare at Paul. “Your profile is shit.”

Paul’s lips twist into a frown and his eyes narrow. “Impossible.”

“I talked to him. Played pool with him and Katie flirted with him. He didn’t tick.”

Paul taps his fingers on the table, eyes glazing deep in thought. “He must have changed something? He took that time off, went underground, maybe he changed his appearance? Pushed through his social awkwardness?”

Oliver sits up. “What do you mean Katie flirted with him?”

I roll my eyes. “I was there the whole time. I had it under control.”

They both snort.

Fair enough.

The sound of heels click on the floors, and Katie emerges like a domestic goddess carrying a big plate of pancakes and a pitcher of syrup. “Luckily mom had a new bottle,” she says, playing the pitcher on the table. She exits the room, all three of our eyes following her ass as it vanishes back in the kitchen. The scent of pancakes fills the air and my stomach rolls over with hunger. She returns, this time with a platter of crispy bacon and a bowl of cut fruit. “Grab those plates off the buffet and we can eat.”

Oliver grabs the plates passing them around. I’ve lifted the plate of pancakes in the air when Davis enters the kitchen.

“Jesus it smells amazing in here,” he says, following the scent. He observes the four of us, all seated at the formal table with a wary eye. “What’s going on?”

“I made breakfast,” Katie says, giving him a small smile. “Grab a plate and a stack.”

He glances at me, but I’m focused on the food, already piling six pancakes on my plate. He shrugs off his jacket and takes a seat across from Paul. We may be monsters, but we still have to eat.

Once the food has been passed around and everyone is mid-feast, Katie exhales. “I have a plan.” Eight eyes lift to stare at her. Davis doesn’t stop chewing. “Tonight was a mistake. Jack and I were on the mission, we were focused and then… well, we got distracted. I feel awful about it. Brandi may not have been the sharpest tool, but she doesn’t deserve whatever is happening to her right now.”

Oliver snaps a piece of bacon in half.

“What’s your point, Katherine?” Paul asks.

“If you guys will fill me in on what’s really going on here, I think I can use my job to help find this bastard. It’s not my case but I have access to the database and all of the files–”

“So do Davis and Paul.”

She nods. “True, but it feels like you’re missing something. Maybe I can take a look. A fresh eye.”

“No,” I say, going back to my food. “You don’t need to be nosing around in our stuff.”

“It’s none of your business,” Oliver adds, stabbing his fork into a piece of pancake. “We agreed to use you for bait. That’s it.”

“But it is my business. Literally. I investigate crimes exactly like this. You have me out there, flirting with these guys, acting like a piece of meat.” She looks at each of us. “I can do that, but god forbid I use my brain?”

“We didn’t keep you around for your brain, sweetheart.” Davis laughs and leans back in his chair. “You stick to the bedroom and kitchen. We’ll do the rest.”

She frowns, but I see that same spark of determination in her eye now that she had at the bar when she went back looking for clues. She feels guilty. Enough to make this worthwhile?

“Maybe she has a point,” I say. “She has access down at the Gazette. Maybe we’re giving her access to the murder board upstairs and see if we’re missing something?”

Davis glares at me over the implication that maybe he missed something. But we did. Christopher didn’t fit the profile.

Oliver’s eyes meet mine across the table and I raise an eyebrow. We’ve sat in these same positions a million times before, the two of us plotting. Scheming. Tonight is no different.

He nods and licks his fingertips getting off the syrup. “I’m okay with it as long as… well, you give us something in return.”

“What?” she asks. “I don’t have much. My car. A few hundred dollars in the bank.” She takes a deep breath. “But I get paid next week…”

Oliver lifts his chin. “That’s not enough.”

Her forehead creases. “Oh, I um…”

“We don’t need your shitty car or your pathetic bank account,” Paul says, catching on. “What else do you have to give us, Katherine? Something of value.”

Realization spreads slowly across her features, first in her eyes and then the wrinkle of her nose. Finally, she says, “You want me.”

“We do,” Paul says. “At our whim. No fighting.”

“Well,” Davis laughs, “maybe a little fighting.”

She considers it. She doesn’t run. She doesn’t yell. She considers it. “I do this, and you’ll give me full access?” She looks at me when she asks. “Everything about the case.”

“Yes.”

“Okay. I’ll do it. Whatever you want. I don’t want another girl to get hurt.”

So instead, she’ll sacrifice herself.

“Good girl,” Paul says, giving her a warm, encouraging smile.

She smiles back, half-hearted, but it vanishes just as quickly when Oliver pushes his plate aside and says, “Let’s get started.”

“Now?”

“Get on the table,” he replies, patting the surface in front of him. “Now.”

She doesn’t look at any of us for help, which is good because it’s not going to come. Standing, she squeezes between Oliver’s knees and the table. He runs his hands under her skirt, cupping her ass, and lifting her on the table.

Paul stills beside me. It’s been years since it’s been like this–me, Oliver, Paul and Davis… all of us surrounding Katie, all of us hard and horny.

My brother doesn’t waste any time, lifting the dress over her head and tossing it on the floor. She’s naked, other than the bare slip of lace covering her pussy. The light from the chandelier catches the red mark around her throat from my fingertips.

“Here,” Davis says, grabbing a knife off the table and holding it up to the light. A heartbeat later, he stops in front of her. She shudders, nipples pebbling as he presses the knife against her hip. He cuts the thin lace of her panties off her hips, letting it fall away. He looks at Oliver. “That better?”

“So much.” He takes the knife and presses the flat edge of the blade against the inside of her thigh. “Open for me.”

She has no alternative but to do what he wants. I see it in her eyes, that spark I saw in the parking lot still burning bright. So fucking eager. She wants in by any means necessary, and so do we. All the fucking way.

She spreads her legs apart, her cheeks blushing red as Ollie parts her pussy. He wants us to watch as he plays with her, taunts her. She reaches out, grabs the edge of the table as he bends down and sniffs.

Her brows furrow, nipples tighten, she’s a picture of tormented restraint as he slides in deeper and murmurs, “You smell like my brother.” His eyes flick to mine. “How did he take you?”

“F-from behind.” She pants, her knuckles buckling as he dips two fingers into her cunt. She comes so easy with us, like a good little whore. “We shouldn’t have done it.” I see it clearly. She blames herself. She should. She’s the one that flirted with that asshole to make me jealous. She’s the one that flaunted her tits, her lips, her everything.

Next to me Paul shifts, hand running down the erection in his pants. My cock is hard, throbbing beneath the denim. It’s barely been two hours since I fucked her, and I want it again.

“Was he good?” Oliver asks. “Did he make it good for you or did he just fuck you hard and dump his cum inside?”

Her eyes dart to mine seeking approval to discuss what transpired between us. There are no secrets between me and my brothers. I nod. “I c-came for him,” she says, stuttering when Oliver drops down and licks her clit.

His movements, his actions, they’re like talons inside my chest, tearing me apart.

She shudders, falling back on the table, splayed out like the best kind of dessert. Paul stands, cock in his fist, and reaches out to pluck at her nipple. She yelps, but it’s followed by a low hum. Davis takes the knife and runs the tip up and down her body, spreading a chill across her overheated skin.

Me? I watch them enjoy her. Torment her. Terrorize her. And I watch as she takes it because she negotiated this. She wants the information we have about The Binder more than anything–her self-worth, her safety, even her life. Her long dark hair spills across the table, shiny and soft looking in the overhead light.

“Come for us, Katie,” Ollie demands, thrusting his fingers in deeper, harder. “Or would you rather come on my cock?”

Before she can answer I push back my chair, the legs scraping on the hardwoods. Katie’s eyes meet mine as I stand. This girl… she’s given up everything for information and I can’t help but wonder exactly what kind of deal we’ve made.

“Joining in?” Oliver asks, grinning up at me.

“Not tonight,” I say, exiting the room. “I already got mine, you guys have fun.”

I take the steps two at a time until I reach the top of the stairs and head to my room. Before I reach the door, the sound of her orgasm carries up the stairs, a deep all-consuming moan that hits me straight in the balls.

Fuck!

FUCK!

I enter my room and go straight to the bathroom, the door flying backward as it slams against the wall. I lean my palms on the countertop and look into the mirror. Feral dark eyes reflect back. I was reckless with her tonight. Too fucking reckless. In the bar. Downstairs. And I know she’s only going to want to do more.

I’m in dangerous territory now, I know that. No, she’s in dangerous territory. Because for the first time in my life, I have no idea what I’ll do if I lose control.

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

Kate

“Cream? Sugar?” I ask. 

“Black is fine.”

Last night I made pancakes.

Then I got fingerbanged on the dining room table by my stepbrother. 

This morning I made coffee and now I’m sitting across from another man, a doctor for God’s sake, who jerked off while I had that soul shattering orgasm in the next room over.

My life is fucked up. It’s surreal. And I’m fully entrenched.

“Has there been any word about Brandi?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “Davis says she didn’t return home last night. Neither did Christopher. Both are missing.”

“Maybe that means she’s still alive,” I say hopefully. 

He gives me a sympathetic smile. “It’s always good to stay positive, Katherine, but The Binder doesn’t keep his victims alive for more than twelve hours. He tends to play with them hard before growing tired and disposing of them.”

He’s so aloof about it–the torture, rape and murder of an innocent young woman. How did he get this way? When did he lose any softness toward others? 

“Maybe this time it’ll be different,” I say, because I can’t accept that Brandi is gone. “Maybe we can make a difference.”

“You mean by telling you what you want to know about The Binder?”

“Yes, exactly. The more I know, the more I can try to help find him.”

With his eyes never leaving mine, Paul takes a sip of his coffee. “What makes you think you can provide fresh eyes to this? Davis is a detective, after all?”

“Because I’m not mired by the traps of working for the government. I’m a journalist, trained to see things through a different lens, just like you are.” I add in a bit more cream and stir it in. “Besides, one important difference is, I’m a woman. I know how a woman thinks, I know how to get them to open up. People will talk to me in a way they may not talk to the police. It’s already well known the community thinks they’ve screwed up this case and are upset about the lack of progress with the missing men. But I can get in and out of places with less notice and if The Binder does notice… well, it’s a good thing I’m his type.”

“And this access to our insight and notes, it’s worth being at the whim of the four of us?”

My pulse picks up pace and I panic that sweat pools under my arms. That’s the real question–the real reason Paul is here. To suss me out. To profile me. 

“I wouldn’t be the first journalist to compromise for the sake of a story. Is it any different than going undercover? Immersing yourself in a world to reach the very truth?”

“You sound very noble for someone that got fucked by her stepbrother in a bar bathroom last night while another woman was snatched off the streets.”

My cheeks burn. “That was a mistake.”

“That, was years of pent up sexual frustration finally coming to a head.” He watches me closely, “The question is; was it his frustration or yours?”

Both, I almost say but swallow it back. Not that Paul hasn’t figured it out. “How did it feel being surrounded by the four of us again? Did it bring back memories?”

“No.” I lie. I felt the shame and humiliation, although this time it was different. I have a goal now. A purpose. I knew what I was getting into. Not like then, when I was young, innocent and pure. 

Paul’s expression is infuriatingly impassive. “I would’ve thought it may trigger some latent emotions you may have buried.”

“Is that why you took the opportunity to jerk off while I was on the table?” I snap, my calm slipping. “Were you trying to trigger me?”

He shrugs. “Seeing you like that… I admit it. I lost a little bit of control. That was a failure on my part.” He pushes his blond hair off his forehead. “You’re a beautiful woman, Katherine. You always have been. Seeing you flat on your back, knees bent, while Oliver fingered your wet and quivering pussy to orgasm. Absolutely breathtaking. Your strength and sensuality is exhilarating.” He smiles gently. “I did clean you up afterwards, didn’t I? Make sure you were okay?”

He’d done exactly that. Wiping up the cum he’d spent all over my mother’s dining room table. Inspecting my vagina for further bruising. He’d given me a cold compress and sent me to my room with instructions on how to clean and prepare myself.

He shifts in his seat, aroused again and I steady my breathing. Paul always speaks like this–little compliments, mixed with soul-crushing belittlement. He wants me to react, to get embarrassed and humiliated. I know it, but still, when he looks at me with those aquamarine eyes, I lose a little grip on reality.

“I felt nothing but release,” I tell him, unwilling to admit anything else. “It’s just another part of the compromise I’m willing to make to help find this bastard.” I swallow. “The situation with Jack at the bar. Nothing like that will happen again. I won’t allow myself to get distracted again.”

“It’s less about your distraction, Katherine, and more about how very good The Binder is. He’s always out there, always watching, and now that you’re part of this, there’s an expectation you’ll do both your job and be available to the needs of the men in this house.” He tilts his head. “Are you truly prepared for this?”

For depravity and desperation? For pain and orgasms? For humiliation and ecstacy? 

I do my best to keep the tremor out of my hand as I answer, “Yes. I’m ready.”

***

The car smells of leather soap and the strong scent of spicy cologne. The dash is filled with electronics–a small computer, radio system, GPS. It’s a muscle car–a Mustang–royal blue. Davis Higgins sits behind the wheel in tight black jeans and a black button down. My eyes keep going back to the gun holstered on his hip. It’s the same one he raped me with days before and the memory of the the fear I had while the weapon was inside of me licks the back of my spine.

I’m with a man sworn to protect and serve and I’ve never felt less safe.

“From a police perspective, can you tell me a little more about why The Binder has been so elusive?”

He drives with one hand, cruising down a suburban street. His other hand is on his thigh, inches from the gun. “Once the girls are in his vehicle he’s gone. Just vanishes. Like the other night with Brandi. Someone saw him put the girl in the car. Called the police, but then he just disappeared. Totally off the grid. He has some kind of holding area we haven’t been able to locate.”

“And Jack and Oliver… they haven’t found it either?”

His eyes cut to me. “No.”

“What about the guy from the bar? Christopher?” I think about his handsome face and easy smile. Jack kept calling him Prince Charming. It fit. 

“That’s where we’re going again. To check his house.” He flips on his blinker and turns into a nice neighborhood. “I finally got an ID on him. Christopher Watkins. Thirty-two, single, accountant with a firm downtown.”

“Does he tick the boxes?” I ask, using the words I’ve heard him and the guys toss around. 

“Not all of them. Not yet, at least.” 

He pulls up to a modest home. It’s a newer build, unlike the historic area that Davenport Manor is located. Not inexpensive though. A cop stands at the front door, acting as a guard. “Is he waiting for you?”

“Yeah, they cleared the house, but since I’m lead detective, I get the first run though.”

I grab my bag and follow him out of the car. The cop gives me a wary look, but Davis nods him off. It’s a testament of his authority. No one questions him. Well, except me.

“What are the boxes?” I ask as we enter Christopher Watkin’s home. “The criteria?”

His eyes scan the living room, cataloging each photograph, knick knack, book and piece of electronics. “Male, obviously. Over the age of thirty. Long term resident of Wilmington.” He enters the kitchen and picks up a few pieces of mail, flipping through them. “He’ll present as a functional member of the community. He’ll have a good job, although possibly a problem with absences. He’ll volunteer.” He opens a pantry door. The inside is bare other than protein bars and a loaf of bread. “His record with women will be spotty. No real long term relationships, obsessive behavior. On the outside he’ll look like a catch but on the inside,” he nods to the empty pantry, “he’s barely holding it together.”

I follow him out of the kitchen and down the hall. The first room is a small bathroom. I catch the scent of Christopher’s cologne from the night at the bar. The next room is his bedroom. It’s neat, but depersonalized. I walk over to a dresser and open the top drawer. Inside are socks. I push them aside and see a piece of paper flat against the bottom. It’s a photograph of two boys standing next to a stream, their skinny arms wrapped around one another’s shoulders. On the back someone wrote, ‘Clearwater Creek.’ 

I look up and around the room, realizing that there aren’t any other photographs in the house. On an instinct, I tuck the photo into my bag while Davis investigates the closet. 

“Find anything?” I ask, shutting the drawer. 

“Nope. Guy lives pretty basic.”

“That’s weird in and of itself, right?”

“Maybe,” he says, pushing past me. We look around the rest of the house but nothing stands out. Davis walks out the front door and stops by the cop. “Fingerprint the whole place and send me the report.”

“Yes, sir,” the cop says, tipping his hat at me as I follow Davis back to the Mustang.

A few minutes later we’re back on the road. The photograph burns an imaginary hole against my leg, taunting. Where is Clearwater Creek? Who are the two boys? If I find the other one will it lead me back to Christopher? I’m mulling all of this over when the car shifts into a higher gear and Davis speeds down a long stretch of road. 

“Where are we going?” I ask, trying to catch a landmark. 

“I thought we’d take a ride out to his office building, do a little stakeout,” he says, giving me a wink, before grabbing my hand and pressing it against his cock. “If I take the long way it’ll take ten minutes to get there. Can you work that fast?”

I know the only answer is yes. This is what I asked for. Inside information in exchange for whatever they want. 

“Here?” I look out the windows and see the trees flash by.

“Two birds, one stone, Katie. Why waste a good car ride when you can suck my cock on the way.” He touches my chin. “Don’t pretend to be a shy little slut. After that little scene on the dining room table last night, I know exactly how far you’re willing to go.”

He’s right. He’s also carrying a gun that I know he’s willing to use. I shift in my seat, getting closer, and unbuckle his pants. He leans back, giving me space, and I pull him out. He’s long and thick–hard–the skin soft as velvet. I run my thumb over the tip, spreading the perfect drop of precum around.

“That’s right,” he says with a shudder. He lifts his hips. “Use that dirty little mouth for something more useful than asking questions.”

I bend, positioning myself between his body and the steering wheel. The engine thunders, traveling fast down the road. I take a tentative lick, tasting the salty tip. His hand lands on top of my head and presses down, pushing his cock deep into my throat. I gag, and his fingers wrap around throat, massaging. “Don’t you dare fucking gag. You hear me?”

I brace myself, willing the reflex aside. It passes and I grip the base, stroking him up and down. “Show me your tits,” he says, and I pause, rising to unbutton my blouse and expose my black bra. It’s lacy and see-through. “That’s a good girl. Pull ‘em out. Let me see those nipples.”

I tug down my bra and my breasts spill out. He reaches out and tweaks one, sending a jolt down my body that settles in my core. Satisfied, he nods back at his cock and I lower my head like the dirty slut he wants and resume sucking him off.

“God yes,” he says, applying pressure to my head. I take him in deep, then pull out again, spending time on the tip, flattening my tongue until I suck enough to feel that throbbing pulse in my mouth. “You do that good. As good a goddam pro.”

With each pass his foot presses harder on the gas, the hum of the Mustang getting louder on the road. His hips rock to meet me, his cock plunging in and out of my mouth. The harder he gets the more heat builds between my legs, soaking my panties. 

“Son of a…” he mutters, breathing erratic and and twice his foot slips off the gas, lurching us back before he regains control. “Come on, sweetheart,” he says, hand leaving my head and returning to the wheel. The speed, his breath, the punch of his hips. He’s close and I find myself falling into a rhythm, drawing that ragged breath out of him, making his fingers curl on the steering wheel as he tries to stay the course. I like it. A little too much. This tiny flicker of power makes me so very wet.

“You better be ready to swallow.” It’s all the warning I get before he groans, car swerving on the road. Fear and adrenaline pump through me, both hot and horny, fearful and exhilarated. I grip the base of his cock with one hand and his thigh with the other. He comes hard, hot spurts of cum shoots in the back of my throat. I swallow it down, more eager than I’d like to admit. I like the way he tastes, how he makes me feel, dirty and sexy at the same time.  

I pull myself up, wiping my mouth. His thumb touches my lip, swiping at a drop of cum and pushes it back on my tongue. “Greedy little bitch,” he says, chuckling. “God you love cum, don’t you?”

“If I do,” I say, straightening my bra and shirt, “it’s because you taught me to.”

He hesitates, and I blink, shocked that I said it. I never mention that night–especially to them. I don’t want them to know how it affected me. Paul asked all those questions about triggers, and fuck yes, I’m triggered, just being in that house, being near them, feeling their hands on me, and especially now, tasting Davis cum in the back of my throat, a reminder of what they did.

A reminder of how much I’ve spent every day since, craving it.

He drives the rest of the way back to town, chest rising and falling as he catches his breath. His gaze moving to the puckered peaks of my nipples. I shift in my seat, the wet heat sticky between my legs.

“Horny, huh?” he asks, glancing over. 

“I’m fine.”

“Don’t tell me you didn’t get fucking dripping doing that. I know sucking cock makes you hot.” He snorts. “I know tasting cock makes you even hotter.”

“I should get back to the office. Henry likes me to pick up lunch at one.”

He glances the clock. It’s twelve-forty-five. A dark grin twists on his mouth. “You get yourself off in the next ten minutes I’ll drop you off at the diner. If not, I’ll drop you off here and you can walk.”

I’ve fallen right into Davis’ trap. Get in trouble at work for not being on time, humiliate myself, again, for his pleasure. If the throb between my legs wasn’t so bad, and the taste of him wasn’t still on my lips, I’d probably tell him to fuck off. But he’s got me this car, the smell of sex still in the air. I slide my hand down the front my skirt and reach underneath.

“All the way, Katie. I want to see your pussy.”

I hike it up and push my panties aside. I think he’s going to keep cruising around but he pulls up to a stoplight at the edge of town. “You’re kidding,” I say, fingers pausing. “Someone will see.”

“Not if you’re quick.” He holds my eye. As much as I want to fight back, my fingers move on their own finding the slick heat and I rub my swollen clit. “That’s right. Spread it around.”

“This is ridiculous,” I say, cheeks burning.

“Show me more.”

I place a foot on the dash and lift my hips, tilting myself  into a better position. He licks his bottom lip and presses the gas continuing to drive through Wilmington. He  moves at an unnervingly slow speed. 

“Fuck yourself, Katie,” he directs. I push in a finger, then another. His eyes dilate and I stifle a moan. “How do you like it? Hard? Fast? Slow? Deliberate?”

“A-all of those,” I say, truthfully. I know these men well enough that they each have their own way. It’s what I think about at night in my bed. Being dominated by Jack. Humiliated by Davis. Exposed by Oliver and doted on my Paul. They’d each push me to my limit, making me beg for more even when I know it’s depraved and wrong. I continue to finger myself, feeling the first flickers of an orgasm. My eyes dart to the clock. I don’t have time to draw this out if I’m going to get back to the office on time.

Davis watches me, moving his hand to my inner thigh, spreading me further so he can see. “God, how I want to ruin that pussy,” he whispers. “Just fill you up with my cock, pound you so hard you won’t be able to walk for a week.” He stops at another stop sign. His fingers stretch out to brush against my clit. I shudder against the shock it sends up my body, drawing me one step closer to my release. I need him inside me, his calloused fingers, his hard, harsh, degrading fucking tongue. His cock…God I need his cock. I bite my lip at the thought and I watch as his gaze is fixed on that. Teeth. Lips. I slide my tongue over the tender flesh, the taste of him still salty in my mouth. 

He continues to drive and I work myself to the edge, sparks shooting through my limbs, the walls of my pussy quivering around my fingers. I refuse to look outside the window, at the people walking the street. I focus on myself. On chasing that orgasm, on the sound of my breath and the secent of sex filling the car.

“Jesus Christ,” he mutters as I thrust my hips, little cries falling off my tongue. “You’re the filthiest little bitch I’ve ever seen.” His eyes narrow. “Say it, Katie. Tell me you’re a filthy bitch and come for me.”

“I-I’m a f-filthy bitch,” I grind out, body buckling as the rush of release washes over me. Warmth coats my fingers, slippery and sweet. “God, I’m disgusting. I can’t help it. I can’t stop.” I buck against my hand, body clenching with wracking waves. “I can’t stop.” 

“Then don’t.”

My eyes meet his, and there’s something familiar and dark in the way he looks at me.

“Why can’t I stop?” I ask, struggling for breath. “I came out with you today to get information for work. I sucked you off and I just… oh my god. What’s wrong with me?”

“The same thing that’s always been wrong with you, Katie.” He reaches out and tucks a piece of hair behind my ear. “You’re one of us.”

Chapter Sixteen

Kate

I make it back to the office catching a scowl from Henry as I stumble into the office and dump the lunch order on the nearest desk.

“You’re late,” he mutters as I near his office with his food in my hands.

“Sorry, I got caught up doing research.”

He looks me up and down. “You look a damn mess, what did you do, wrestle a damn tiger?”

I place his sandwich down on the desk, my hand skimming over the flyaway strands, still feeling Davis’ hand on the back of my head. But Henry doesn’t wait for an answer, just grabs his food, casting me a sideways glance that says, beat it.

I hurry out, grab my own meatball on rye and make for my desk. The photograph crinkles as I sit, making me scan the office before I carefully reach in and pull the image out. My pulse races at the sight. It was more than lifting evidence in a crime scene. No, that rush was exhilaration. I was doing it. I was the one who’d found the information I needed to uncover the Binder. I’d deliver him to the cops—the real cops, along with my psychotic stepbrothers and their deranged best friends.

I only hoped Brandi was still alive. I grab half of my sandwich, take a bite, and turn the photograph over. Clearwater Creek. I punch the details into the search bar and stare at the pretty creek that ran through what looked to be a campground just outside the city.

I search for any other details I could find, but there are none.

It could be nothing… I glance at the photograph—the only personal memento I found in Christopher’s place—or it could be something. I take another bite, tearing into the sandwich as I start to rise and log out of the computer.

“Got something?” Henry calls out as I gather my things from the desk—sandwich included.

I give him a shrug. I’m getting better at hiding things now. Maybe too good. “Not sure yet. It’s probably nothing.” Even as the words slipped free, I know they’re a lie.

There’s a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach. Instinct, I guess. Whatever it is, I can’t ignore it. I hurry down the stairs of the Gazette and head to my car, tossing my stuff on the passenger seat, and enter the location on my phone. I take the roads east out of the city toward Clearwater Creek. I feel a smile of satisfaction tug at the corners of my mouth, at least until my cell rings.

Jack.

The name flashes across my screen, sending my pulse fluttering. Why the hell is he calling? My body clenches. At their beck and call, remember? I hit the button sending it to voicemail, then glance back to the road, the fleeting feeling of success slipping away.

He has to ruin my moment, doesn’t he?

I focus on the road, that nagging feeling in my stomach now heavy like dread. It isn’t the drive that has me clenching my hands around the wheel, it’s him… my fucking stepbrother. Always there to remind me that I shouldn’t have come back here.

Should’ve told mom I was heading somewhere else to start my life. I wanted to. I had plans.

Liar.

I swallow hard, knowing that it’s always going to come down to this—them, and me. This… clash that’s been brewing since the night all those years ago, like a storm in the making. I can feel the electricity in the air, the impending thunder and lightning. But maybe if I can solve The Binder case, I can get out of here for good.

I glance down at the photograph edging out of my bag. Clearwater Creek must mean something to Christopher, or he wouldn’t have kept the picture. Guys like this, serial killers, they tend to cling to nostalgia, things that bring back a sense of safety and belonging. If my hunch is right, it may be the answer to all of this.

Excitement burns as I thought about what Davis said, on the outside, he’ll look like a catch but on the inside…

“On the inside he’ll be rotten to the core. A rapist and murderer, won’t he?” I whisper. Soulless. Depraved. A quick look at the moving red dot on my GPS tells me I’m close.

The sign is old and faded, but the name is still clear: Clearwater Creek Campgrounds.

I hit the turn signal, slowing the car.

My stomach churns as I take in the setting. Trees close in, tall and thick. There’s not a car in sight as I drive down the rocky road. A sign for the campgrounds, urging me to turn with the point of an arrow. But I don’t. That adrenaline is silent until I pass the sign, then it comes to life like burning vengeance.

It’s close… I’m close. I can feel it. Movement in the rear-view mirror draws my eyes behind me. For a terrifying moment, I think it must be him, Christopher, waiting, watching. It’s just the wind in the trees, but then… I blink, almost missing it. I turn completely not trusting what I see in the mirror but it’s there. It’s real.

A rusted, old mailbox, that points to a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, a peeling faded name on the side, Watkins.

The scream in my stomach punches a fist in the air. I got him!

Holy shit. I’ve got him.

My hands are so slippery I can barely turn the wheel. But I manage, letting the tires skid until they hit a rut. Rocks kick up, peppering the underbelly of the car. I slow as the road narrows, branches reaching out, clawing the sides of the vehicle as I wedge myself in the drive. My skin itches and my brain screams at me to go back, call the police, call Henry, Jesus, call Jack. But maybe all of this is just my imagination gone wild again. Too many days in that house, too many nights being toyed with and tortured by my stepbrothers and their bastard friends.

I’m trying to figure out how to get out of here, to turn back, when I catch sight of a small cabin at the end of the drive.

I scan the grounds, searching for a car, my pulse frantic. This is it. I know it. But when I pull up, I don’t get out. Not yet.

I wait for that tiny voice inside my head to tell me again how stupid this is, but it’s strangely silent. Leaving me to look around one more time, then kill the engine and climb out of the car. Birds chirp in the trees above. The place is quiet and serene. It’s a perfect hideout, especially if you’ve got something to hide.

Jack, Oliver, Davis, and Paul burrow into my mind as I close the door carefully behind me. They’d be furious if they knew I got here first, ruining their deranged little game of cat and mouse. I don’t give a shit about them. I’m here for Brandi, for all the other women this asshole tortured and killed. That’s what propels me past my fear and toward the cabin.

The windows are dark and filthy. The grime is so thick I can hardly see anything inside. I cup my hand against the glass and search for movement, but there’s none. Maybe this was a dead end and a total waste of my time?

Instinct tells me otherwise.

I head for the corner of the square building, scanning the trees, and then carefully walk to the front of the cabin. Between the sharp, piercing calls of Jaybirds, the bubbling rush of water fills the air. The creek must be just through those trees. If I go down there, I bet I’d find the exact spot where the photo was taken.

But the moment I turn the corner to the front of the cabin, I stop. The front door is ajar, almost like someone was expecting me. From this distance, all I can see is shadowy darkness waiting for me inside.

A surge of adrenaline courses through me as I jerk my gaze over my shoulder and search the trees. Hard breaths drive through my chest as I turn back to the doorway and take a step onto the porch landing. Floorboards creak under my weight, old and worn.

Part of me doesn’t want to get close. Part of me doesn’t want to step inside. But there’s a bigger part that pushes to the surface and takes control. That part of me forces me to keep moving. I ignore the way my hand shakes when I reach out and grab the dented round handle, pushing the door wider.

Hello? The word surfaces in my head, but I bite the insides of my mouth, scan the darkness and then step inside. There’s a faint scent that catches my attention, faint, flowery… and very, very feminine for such a dusty room.

The cabin is no more than a room. The walls are slats of wood, the floor cement. Rusty bunk beds are lined up against one wall. A small bathroom is attached to the back. There’s an old metal table in the middle of the room, piled with supplies. A lantern, rope, chains, tape, and a variety of sharp instruments–weapons. My gaze skips over these to the shackles screwed into the wall. Four. One for each wrist and ankle. A square gray tarp is taped to the floor underneath. My pulse screams at the drops of red on the tarp, I don’t need to get any closer to know it’s blood. Under the flowery scent is the coppery tang of blood–a smell I’ve become all too familiar with lately.

I turn back to the bunk beds and see something yellow shoved back in the corner. I step closer. It’s cotton—pale yellow. I move deeper, that terror a siren as I stop, and even though I shouldn’t–it’s evidence–I pick it up.

It’s a shirt.

Her shirt

Memories of what she was wearing that night at the bar rushes back to me. Low-rise jeans, figure-hugging yellow shirt, nipples pressed into the thin fabric. I can still see Jack’s hands all over her. I lift the shirt to my nose and inhale the lingering scent of her perfume.

Brandi had been here. How long ago? Where is she now? The barest sound of a creak on the porch floorboards carries across the room. The hairs on the back of my neck rise and I realize how fucking foolish I’d been coming here alone.

“You really are testing me, little sister, aren’t you?”

My heart lunges into my throat when I hear him, and I spin.

Jack stands there, just inside the door, bathed in shadows pressing the point of his blade into his gloved finger. In the faint light, his cheekbones appear cut from marble, his eyes dark and haunted. “Davis said you were asking questions, being… how did he put it? ‘A more nosy bitch than normal.’”

He strides forward, gripping the handle of the knife. Not once does he look at the shirt in my hand, or the shackles embedded in the wall.

Those dark eyes glint like the edge of a blade, focused on me.

I stumble backward until I hit the wall. “Jacbackwardt a lead,” I tell him. “I wanted to be sure before I got you guys involved.”

“You shouldn’t be here, Katie, but of course, you couldn’t just leave well enough alone.”

“This is his place,” I say, gesturing to the shirt. “This is Brandi’s. We’re close. Maybe we can still save her.”

He shakes his head. “You and I both know it’s too late for that.” He speaks so definitively. “What it’s not too late for, is for me to do what I should have the day you came back to Wilmington.” He lifts his hand, and swings, burying the blade into the wall near my head as he snarls. “I’m going to teach you a goddamn lesson.”

I duck, pushing away from him. Agony flares as I catch my leg on the steel screw of the shackle. I swallow the pain, well aware that all the bargains and agreements and negotiations we’d come to were now null. I’d betrayed him. Kept secrets. And now, he’s pissed.

I lunge for the door, terror driving me to escape into the woods. Behind me, I can hear the brutal thud of his footsteps as he follows me down the porch.

Jack is no longer hunting The Binder.

He’s hunting me.

 

Chapter Seventeen

Jack

I give her a head start

After all, the thrill is in the hunt.

I knew something was going on with her–the turnaround was too quick, too seamless. One minute I was fucking her in the bar, forcing my way inside of her, the next she was making pancakes and spread across the dining room table letting the vultures get a taste.

But it was the story Davis told me about her sucking his cock in the car and getting off afterwards that sealed it for me. Katie didn’t want to help. She wanted access. She gave my brother and my friends exactly what they wanted so they’d leave her to her investigation. She’s looking to make a career off this story–a ticket out of town–while we’re focused on one thing; revenge.

There’s no fucking way I’m letting her take that sweet victory away from us after so much hard work. And there’s no way in hell she’s turning us in after the years we’ve spent cleaning up the garbage in this town.

“Little sister,” I call, letting my voice carry through the woods. “Run, run, as fast as you can…” 

I can’t see her, but I can hear her, stomping through the dense woods. The creek is close, the water bubbling and gurgling nearby. I follow her tracks, knowing they’ll end up by the water. Good, all the easier to clean up the blood.

“I knew you were up to something, Katie,” I say, spotting a bent branch. “You were too compliant. Too willing to do whatever we wanted. That’s not how you operate.” I catch sight of her dark hair vanishing behind a tree. The sound of a stick snapping. Her frantic footsteps. “There are a few things I know about you. Things I know for sure. You’re a fighter. You don’t follow rules, especially our rules. You’re looking for a way out of Wilmington, but most of all you hate looking vulnerable in front of us. Sucking Davis’ cock in the car is one thing, but fingering yourself while he watched… that’s something my little sister would never do.” I climb up on a felled tree. “Unless you were trying to throw him off course.”

Other than the sound of my voice echoing off the trees, the forest has grown still. She’s out there, silent, waiting, listening. Most likely, trying to get a sense of direction. It’s hopeless. I know these woods, spent time at this camp myself as a kid. Soon she’ll be lost, walking in circles, falling right into my trap.

“Not that he minded,” I say, side stepping a thick root, “Davis is a sucker for road head. Do you know how many women he’s forced to do that when he pulled them over for speeding?” I laugh. “All those greedy, desperate mouths. But I have no doubt yours was the best he’d had.”

I keep my eyes alert, looking for footprints, broken branches, disturbed foliage.. I find all of these, pausing to use the tip of my knife to a pink thread from her blouse where she snagged it on tree bark. I continue in the direction of the creek, aware of the setting sun. Soon it’ll get dark. She’ll be cold, and I’ll strike.

“I’m not going to lie,” I continue, not sure if she can hear me or not, “I didn’t expect you to ever come back home. Seeing you in the house like that after all those years… it brought back memories.” Some good, some bad, all formative. “I remember the day my father brought you and your mother home. You had a rainbow on your shirt, tiny white shorts. No bra, but your tits were just starting to form. So innocent and pure. A lamb walking into a den of lions.”

Snap!

I still, eyes darting down a small incline. I take a step, my boots sinking into the soft dirt. “Did you know that we agreed to leave you alone as long as you stayed in your place? As long as you didn’t get in our way? That was the deal. You were too close to home, too much potential for trouble. That’s why we made it crystal clear you weren’t to come upstairs.” I look down and see the imprint of a shoe. I keep going. “But did you listen? No, you just had to go put your goddamn nose in our business. You made that happen, Katie. You forced us to do that to you that night, just like you’re forcing me to do this to you now.”

A massive tree stands at the edge of the creek. Hundreds of years old. The perfect hiding spot. I can’t see her but I can hear her short, quick, breaths punching through the trees. I inhale, drawing in her scent. Carefully, I pick up a rock and toss it to one side of the tree, while circling around to the other. The ruse works, flushing her in my direction. She darts out from her hiding spot, right into my arms. 

Her body slams into mine. I spin, pinning her against the tree, my hand around her throat. I feel the hum of her flesh, the live beating under my palm. One little twist is all it would take. Her fight is nothing compared to my strength. I grin down as she runs out of steam. Those wide, terrified eyes stare at me. 

Here is the real Katie. The one who seethed and plotted under the surface. The one who’d do anything but willingly give in to us

“Gotcha, little sister,” I say, pushing a piece of hair off her cheek with the point of my knife. “There’s no escape this time. It’s just me and you out here.” I push against her, whispering. “When I’m done with you, I’m walking out of here alone.”

“Jack,” she says, breath hitching in a way that makes her tits rise and fall, “ it doesn’t have to be this way.”

I laugh. “Yeah, Katie, I think it does.”

“So what? You’ll just kill me here? Dump me in the creek? Hope no one will ever find me?” Always fighting. Always bargaining. “They’ll know it’s you.”

“Actually,” I say, running the blade down her throat. “I have a better idea.”

She swallows. “What’s that?”

“I’m going to pin this one on The Binder.”

***

It’s dark when I get her back to the cabin, the sound of nightfall coming from the forest. Everything looks the same as when we left, the door ajar, the table filled with instruments–the shackles on the wall. I turn on the camping lantern hanging by the door, filling the space with light. 

“Strip,” I tell her, sitting on the single, metal chair by the table. 

“Jack seriously. This is insane, even for you.”

I point the knife at her. “The Binder’s victims are all found naked.”

“They’re also found…” she can’t bring herself to say it. Bound. Tortured. Raped brutally. “You’re really doing this?”

“You gave me no choice.” I lean back and drop my hand to my cock, massaging the already erect muscle.“We’re on a mission, Katie, one that isn’t going to get derailed by your convenient sense of morality and desire to win a Pulitzer.” 

“Look,” she says, taking a small step forward, “I know this is about what happened to your mother and all the trauma you experienced. I unde–”

My hand stills, my erection thick under my palm. I stand, chair falling behind me from the force. I reach out and grab her. “Don’t you fucking dare tell me you ‘understand’ my trauma. My best friend is a shrink. I don’t need your psychobabble.”

Her eyes widen, filled with terror and pain. Good. Feel it. “You want revenge,” she continues, “I don’t blame you, but this isn’t how you get it.”

“He started this you know,” I say, her face so close I can feel her breath on my mouth. “Paul tumbled down the rabbit hole of psychology, looking for a way for me and Oliver to soothe our rage to feel ‘in control.’” My hands grip her upper arms tighter. “We tried a dozen outlets. Working out, jogging, boxing… and yeah, I did all of that. It made me fast, lean, powerful. One night, I watched a guy at the gym hassle a woman. He followed her out to her car. Force her inside at knifepoint. Something in my brain snapped. It just fucking snapped. I followed him. He drove to a park, raped her in the backset of the car. Tossed her ass out when he was finished. Rage consumed me. The next time I saw him at the gym, I followed him home–alone this time. I hunted him, dragged him back to Davenport Manor, strapped him to the chair upstairs and, well,” I blink away that memory, “I took care of him. At the first drop of blood, I felt a sense of peace in my chest for the first time in years.”

“You were just a little kid,” she says, eyes filling with pity. “What you saw–”

“Shut up!” I release her and push her back. She slams against the wall. I rip off her blouse and pull down her skirt. Grabbing one arm and then the other, I chain her to the wall, tightening the shackles around her wrists. She stands before me, tits rising and falling with every heavy breath, her pussy barely covered by the thin strip of lace. My cock is harder than it’s ever been in my goddamn life and I’d bet the last fragments of my soul that if I touch her between her legs she’s sloppy wet, dying to be fucked.

“You’re talking to me about misguided revenge?” I hiss. “About the psychology behind behavior? What about you, little sister? You think I don’t know what this is all about? Why you let me touch you? Why you play these little games? You want to take me down for what happened all those years ago even though we both know you fucking loved every second of it.”

“No!” she shouts, face turning red. “I hated it! I hated you for putting me in that position. I hated myself for fucking testing you and your goddamn rules!” Her eyes water, hot with rage and when she speaks again it’s lower, quieter. “I hate the fact that ever since that night, I don’t know how to be in a normal relationship, want normal things, because you’re right, it changed me, what I want. What I need.” 

I close the gap between us, forcing us eye to eye. A grin spreads across my face. “Tell me what you need, Katie,” I say, hand palming her tit, the hard nipple pressing into my hand. “Tell me how much you want it.”

She moans, and I’m caught up in it all, caught up in the heat of it. The fear in her eyes sparks harder as they dart to something over my shoulder. But I’m trapped by her and I miss the movement that comes at the corner of my eye. When I do?

 By then it’s too late.

***

My head throbs, a sharp ache spiraling from the back of my head around to my temples. I try to move but can’t. Try to open my eyes but they won’t. In the distance, through the groggy haze, there are voices, two, one familiar one not.

“Please don’t do this.” 

Katie. I’d had her shackled to the wall when–I wince–trying to remember. I force my eyes open.

I see her first, still chained to the wall. A man paces in front of her. I catch a hint of his profile. It’s not the guy from the bar. Not Prince Charming… Christopher Watkins. 

Then who the fuck is it?

My ears ring, and I struggle to keep my eyes open. My body still won’t move, but I’m aware enough to know I’m upright. Bound to something. Hands and feet imobile. Through the fog, I’m pretty sure I hear him say, “Tell me about that night.”

“What night?” she asks, her voice full of false bravado. Always the fighter. Again, I force my eyes open to get a look at her.

“The one he was talking about?” He turns toward me and I let my eyes flutter shut. “The night you’ve been fighting about since you were in the woods.”

“I don’t want to talk about that night, Ryan.”

Ryan. The name rings a bell or maybe that’s just the concussion. Jesus.

“I don’t think you have a choice,” he says. “Tell me what happened–what’s the dirty little secret.”

“There were rules,” she says. “And I broke them.”

“What kind of rules?” I hear the scratch on the cement floor. The sound of him sitting. 

“I’m not–wasn’t allowed upstairs. To the third floor where the boys’ rooms were. They made it clear they were off-limits.”

“But you went up there anyway?” he prompts, the knife glinting in his hand.

“Yes.”

“What were they doing? 

I crack my eyes open again, watching as she tells the story. Her face is pale, body trembling from having her arms extended for so long. She’s cold, naked. Exposed. 

“I went into Oliver’s room first. He was the nicest to me, but they weren’t there. I snuck through the adjoining bathroom and peeked at them. They were watching porn.” 

“That’s all?” he asks. “There’s nothing too extreme about about a bunch of boys watching porn.”

“It was… violent. Women being held down and being raped.” She swallows. “Over and over–a gang bang.” 

“Ah. I understand the appeal.” He chuckles. “And then what?”

“They were jerking off. All of them. It was the first time I’d seen one–a penis like that, all hard and…big. It was shocking to see them so exposed. Red faced, stroking themselves. Even though what they were watching was terrible, seeing them like that made me feel funny. Excited.”

“You got horny.”

“I stayed too long wanting to see what it looked like. I knew about orgasms, how a man’s body worked, but I was stupid.”

“You wanted to see for yourself.”

She looks away, shame written on her face. 

Fuck that’d make me hard if my skull wasn’t stamped with whatever he knocked me out with. Still she’s a good little victim, keeping him talking like that. Never underestimate her.

As she speaks I remember that day–the things she’s leaving out. How Davis and Paul stroked one another, exploring one another’s cocks. How hard I got watching that woman on the screen get gang raped by a dozen guys. How Oliver’s red cheeks were from humiliation, how he felt awkward and pressured to be there.

“I stayed too long,” she repeats, her voice taking on a faraway sound. “One of them noticed me in the bathroom doorway. Davis maybe, but Jack was the one that caught me halfway down the stairs.”

“What did they do?”

I can feel her fighting against me as I dragged her down the hall, her skinny body sliding across the hardwood floors. I dumped her on the floor, right in front of the TV screen where the video had been playing.

“I told you to stay out of our way. Not to come up here, you stupid bitch.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You’re pathetic,” I shout at her, knowing no one else is at home. 

“Jack,” Davis says, “chill out.”

“I’m not going to chill out! She had one rule to follow and we’d leave her alone, but she had to break it.”

“Then punish her,” Paul says. “We could fuck her.” His cock is still in his hand. He looks at me for permission, knowing I’m the one that’ll make the call. I glance at Oliver next to him and his face is pale. Worried. I realize then that Paul is right. We have to punish Katie for coming up here–but we also need to make sure that what she saw never leaves this house. It’ll ruin all of us.

“We’re not fucking her,” I say. A flicker of relief crosses her face but I jerk my chin at her. “Get on your knees.”

“Why?” she asks, a fat tear escaping down her cheek. “I won’t tell anyone what I saw. Let me go back to my room and–”

“Get on your fucking knees.” I grab her by the arm and jerk her into position. I reach into my pants, pulling out my cock. It’s still hard and stiff, harder than it’s been in my whole life. I grip the back of her head and force her face up. “Ever tasted cum, little sister?”

Her eyes widen, horrified. “N-no.”

“Well, you’re about to get four flavors.” I gesture for the boys to come over. “Open wide.”

“Oh my god,” she cries, a huge sob coming from her throat. “Please don’t do this.”

“Sorry, Katherine, but you were warned,” Paul says, working his hand up and down his cock. “It’s almost like you wanted this to happen.”

Another sob shudders down her spine, but then something shifts. That fighter returns, the defiance that brought her up here in the first place. Her shoulders square and she lifts her chin. 

“God you’re a little fucking slut, aren’t you?” Davis says, followed by a deep grunt. He’s the one that brought the movie. Evidence actually, something his father, a cop, brought home from work. Part of the thrill was knowing the video was real, that this had really happened. It made my balls ache with unquenchable hunger. Davis reaches out and rubs his thumb over her bottom lip. “Gonna fill you so much you’ll choke.”

Paul groans, thumb rolling over the tip of his cock. He hums and looks at Katie with half closed eyes. “You’re beautiful, you know that? But you’ll be prettier with my cum dripping down your lips.”

The guys talk, but I keep silent, afraid of the rage building deep inside. The urge to flip her over. To bury myself inside of her–to fuck my stepsister out of my system, until she begs for mercy, is overwhelming. So much so that I don’t notice Oliver hasn’t joined in until Davis’ palms his cock, fisting it in three hard pumps and emits a deep groan. White fluid spurts from the tip, his hand gripping her jaw, forcing her mouth open. Cum lands right onto Katie’s waiting tongue.

“Swallow it,” he tells her, hand wrapped around her neck. “Swallow every last goddamn drop.”

She gives it a solid try. It’s clear she’s never had a cock near her mouth before. Maybe never even seen one. She chokes it down, only gagging once. Her eyes water, but then Paul approaches her. He fists her hair and pushes her head into his pelvis. Her eyes watch him closely but her tongue darts out and flattens as he presses the tip against the pink flesh. He groans, coming in jerky spurts, some hitting her upper lip and dripping back down.

Paul’s right. She’s fucking beautiful like this.

She swallows again, gags again, but takes it like a champ. I almost come just watching her force it down.

“You ready to take one more?” I ask her, lifting up her chin. I see the fear in her eyes. Not just because of what’s happening, but because it’s me. I see it over the kitchen table. Passing her in the hall. When we watch TV in the den. This girl is terrified of me, and it’s fucking intoxicating. “Tell me you’re ready, Katie.”

“Does it matter?” she says, voice hard. “You’ll do it anyway.”

She’s right… I will. I’ll do whatever I want with her and she has no choice but to take it. 

I stand over her, cock right in her face. I stroke painfully slow, letting it swell and thicken. She watches closely, like she knows not to take her eyes off it for a second. She’s right. It’s not just a cock. It’s a weapon. One I’ve learned to wield by watching the monsters all around me.

She must sense that I’m close because her jaw loosens and her mouth opens, tongue sticking out. My balls tighten and the pit in my lower belly twists like a coil. I cinch my fingers around her chin and say. “Close it.” Confusion flickers through her eyes but she snaps her mouth shut. I come in an instant, hot cum spraying all over her face. Thick ropey semen marking, not just her mouth, but her whole goddamn face. It drips down her eyelashes. Arcs over the curve in her nose. Lingering in the divot of her upper lip. 

Pleased, I look back at my brother, nodding at him to go next but he shakes his head and exits the room.

Shit.

I’m going to have to do damage control on that one.

We stare down at her, cum dripping from her mouth, coating her chin and sliding down her throat.

“Jesus,” Davis says, zipping up his pants. “I’m starving.”

“Same,” Paul says. “Is there any pizza left downstairs?”

“Yeah, I think so.” I tuck myself back in my sweatpants and look down at her. “Go clean yourself up.” She wobbles on her knees and I grab her arm, helping her to her feet. “Clean yourself up,” I repeat. “And don’t you fucking dare tell anyone what happened up here. Not one word or your punishment will be a hundred times worse. Understand?”

“Yes,” she whispers, stumbling toward the bathroom.

Katie stops, and I wait, wondering if she’ll continue, tell the rest of the story, but after a beat it’s clear she’s not going to. 

“So they performed a bukkake on you?” 

“A what?”

“It comes from Japanese culture–anime really. When a group of men masturbate and come all over a woman. It’s degrading and demeaning. Although,” he pauses. “Some women find it very arousing.”

She doesn’t take the bait, but he’s right. Some women do, and Katie is one of those women.

“So that man over there–your stepbrother–he’s been tracking me for months, trying to catch me in the act, but you’re the one that found me.” I peel open my eyes and watch as he touches her cheek. Hot rage boils under my skin and when I get loose, I know I’ll cut those fingers off, one by one. “Sexy and smart. I like that.”

He turns and walks back to the table, picking up one instrument after the other, inspecting them closely. 

“The difference between me and your brothers,” he says, “is that I kill my victims and put them out of their misery. They made you live with the shame and humiliation, the dark truth. But that’s okay sweetheart. I’m here now. We’ll get you cleaned up, have a little fun, and best of all,” he turns, eye catching mine, like he’s been aware of me listening this whole time, “I’m going to make him watch.”

   

 

Chapter Eighteen

Kate

Here, you can take mine. The words ring in my head. Memories of him filter through of him standing in that bar graciously giving me his seat. My mind refuses to make the connection. This isn’t the same man, not the one who acted like a gentleman, and the one who bumped into me at the diner near work. But it is him, the same kind eyes… the same careful, shy smile. 

Awkward. 

That’s what Davis told me to look for. An awkward guy. I flick my gaze to Jack who’s chest steadily rises and falls, then I turn back to Mr. Nice Guy. Only he’s not so nice is he… not when he has me bound and shackled… not when he’s about to do what he does to women. 

My insides clench. 

I need to find a way out of this. I glance at Mr. Psychotic Killer as he strides to the filthy window of the cabin and reaches out, touching a carved marking in the wood. “He was supposed to take you, you realize that?”

I jerk back to reality, trying hard to catch up to what he was saying. “He?”

Ryan turns to face me. “My brother.” 

Brother? 

 My mind races to make the connection and when it does, it’s like lightning in my veins. “The photo… that’s you in the picture. With Christopher.” 

The murderer at the window smiles. “Yes.” 

“Brothers,” I repeat, wrapping my head around the information. 

He nods and drags his finger across the marking etched into the wood. I see it now, see the initials. Naughts and crosses. A child’s game… one you played together. 

“He sent me a message that night he met you at the bar. He was so damn excited, smart and beautiful, he said.”

I recoil inside, forcing the words. “I feel flattered.” 

The Binder, Ryan, turns to me, ignoring Jack unconscious behind him. “You should. It’s not often he finds a female that makes him question whether he wants to kill her or keep her.” 

Keep her…the idea of that was sickening. Almost as sickening as my current situation. I force myself to not look at Jack. If I wasn’t chained I’d walk over there and kick the bastard until he woke up.

“But you disappeared, so he had to make alternative arrangements.”

I wince at the words and glance at the yellow shirt on the ground. Brandi. He took Brandi because of me. I close my eyes.“It’s all my fault.” 

“She knew it too,” he whispers in front of me. “He told her she was his second choice.”

Something cold and sharp drags down the swell of my breast. I open my eyes and shiver, knowing that one tiny flinch and the blade would cut deep.

“You’re filthy,” he murmurs, eyes skimming down my body. “I don’t like filthy. I like my girls clean. Sweet. A little sexy.” The chain links gnash as I move on reflex, trying to escape.. My pulse speeds as he glances at the shackles. “Make a sound and I’ll gut you right here, do you understand?”

Self-preservation roars inside me and I nod.

“Do you understand?” His voice rises, echoing off the cement floor.

“Yes. I understand.” 

He leans forward and then bends down, his back to Jack. I stare at my stepbrother’s eyes, searching for movement. Come on, I urge. Come on now! But there is no flicker behind his lids, and no change to the steady, rhythmic rise and fall of his chest as Ryan unlocks the shackles from the wall and rises. 

The metal clasps are around my wrists, the chains hanging free as he turns and motions. “Bathroom.” 

I glance at the doorway and the tiny room and there’s something inside me that knows once I step in there, I won’t come out. “We can talk about this.” I start as he grab the chain and yanks. “Talk to me… I can be a really good listener.” 

“Move.” He growls, turning from Mr. Nice Guy to someone terrifying in an instant. My feet slide against the filthy cabin floor, desperate to drive myself away from that door. But it’s no use. With a snarl he steps close, pressing the blade to my neck. “You either get in that bathroom standing or in pieces, it’s up to you.” 

The blade presses harder against my neck, giving me no alternative. I cross the room to the bathroom. It’s tiny, barely big enough for one person, let alone two.

“In,” he commands. I look at the cracked filthy floor and then step inside. He reaches in around the plastic curtains and turns the tap.

The pipes howl before freezing water shoots from the jets, hitting my chest. I cry out from the shock and yank my hands high. The chain rattles as he hands me a cake of soap. 

“Wash.” 

I stare at it, did he make Brandi wash like this before he raped and killed her? 

“Do it yourself or I’ll do it for you, Katie. Don’t make this difficult.”

I take the soap and slowly run it along my arm, shivering under the icy spray. 

“Make sure you get your pussy.” 

I nod carefully, warmth sliding from my eyes. I hate that I cry. Hate that after everything I’m still here, under the brutal force of yet another man. I wash, taking my time, bending over to scrub between my legs. He watches my every movement.  Still, I take the opportunity to search the tiny bathroom for anything I can use as a weapon. 

But there’s nothing. I straighten and lift my face into the icy spay. The water is freezing and I shiver uncontrollably. He looks me up and down, then turns off the water with a squeak of the faucet.

I glance at the basin and the tiny mirror above it. It’s clean and I reach out, using the glass to help steady myself. In truth, I  press my fingers to the mirror, hoping to leave my mark anywhere I can. Even in death I’m determined to help catch these sick bastards. 

He yanks the chain, dragging me like a dog. I’m naked, wet, freezing. I follow him back out. He points to the chair. “Sit.”

Fear and the cold makes me tremble. I clench my fists, making the chains rattle. The metal set of the chair shocks my bare skin when I sit. I hear him behind me and then feel a sharp yank in my hair.

“Hold still now,” he murmurs, “I don’t want to snag any strands.” 

I want to scream when he touches me. I want to scream from all of this, but he slowly drag the bristles through my wet hair, his fingers combing through the strands. “So beautiful. I wasn’t sure if you were right when we first met, but then when I saw you at the diner, I knew it was fate. Serendipity. You were chosen for me.” 

Shivering, I hear him move around the room again, returning with a white cotton nightie. “You’re going to look so beautiful, Kate.” He steps closer, holding out that fucking thing like I should feel honoured. I don’t understand what sick fulfillment he gets from this but he unfolds the garment, lifting it over my head until it drops. 

“Arms.” 

I lift one, and then the other, still shackled. He feeds the chains through the arm holes like this is the most natural thing in the world. When the dress falls, covering my body he steps back admiring his handy work. 

“Now for the final touch.” He grabs the rope and unravels the end, wrapping them around one wrist before he works the shackle free and drops it to the floor with a bang! I flinch, fighting the desperate need to look at Jack. 

But it’s all too late. 

He winds the chain around my wrist and yanks, pulling my arm behind me. Tears come again, only this time there’s no icy water to hide their trail. A sob tears free. “Please,” I whisper. “You don’t have to do this.” 

But he doesn’t answer. With a sharp jerk he moves me back to the wall, shackling me back to the wall. Tendons yank taught, screaming with the pressure. I’m bound and utterly helpless. 

He stands back and admires me. “Perfection.” 

He turns to the table of instruments; the knives and sharp tools. There’s a swaw and a hammer. Screwdrivers and a variety of blades. He fusses over them, trying to determine which one to use–or rather–which one to start with. He selects one and a chill runs down my spine, forcing my knees to tremble and buckle as he steps closer. I look away but his fingers graze my cheek.

“Come now. I have you all ready.” The blade of the knife slides under my chin and presses upwards, forcing my gaze to his. “You may as well look at me as I make love to you.”

It’s those words that stop the sob in the back of my throat. Jesus Christ he’s crazy.I hold his gaze for a second before I rear back and spit in his face. “Fuck you, Ryan. Fuck you and your cats.”

His hand whips out, slapping me across the face. “Don’t you fucking dare slander my cats.”

He moves fast, stepping close to me, something in him quickly unraveling. His hand shake as he lowers his zipper, pulling out his cock. It’s small. Disfigured and something clicks in my brain.

“He’ll have a scar, or some kind of deformity,” Paul said. He sure as fuck does, it’s just not anywhere visible.

“Say a word about my dick and I’ll cut your tongue out,” he says, holding up the knife. “Say a word about how I’m not truly a man, that I do this because I can’t satisfy a woman, that I’m pathetic,” he lunges for the table and grabs the hammer, “I will fuck you with this and yank out your insides until they’re nothing but a pile on the floor.”

 His rage is unparalleled, different than Jack or Davis’. It’s deep seated inferiority. There’s no mission here but pain. He flips that hammer over in his hand, shoving the wooden handle between my legs. I cry out at the pressure. At the same time I feel a pinch in my side, one that doesn’t release. It’s when I look down, to find him holding a knife against my side.

“It always comes to this,” he says, face inches from mine, “what do I want more? To kill or fuck? The urge to both is strong, but every time killing wins.”

His eyes are cold, and inhuman and I realize this is it. There’s no after. No getting out of this one.

“Kill me,” I beg, wanting it over sooner than later. Unable to bear any more pain.

His lip curls and his eyes widen–too wide, I realize as his neck snaps back. Pale yellow fabric wraps around his throat, twisting and cutting off his air. 

A scream of rage rips through the air as Jack, alive and vengeful, chokes the life out of The Binder. “Get your fucking hands off of my sister!” he screams, slamming Ryans body to the ground. “You don’t get to touch her. To be near her, to defile her with your filth. She’s mine!” 

He climbs on top of him, knee in his back. He twists the shirt, Brandi’s shirt, until Ryan’s eyes bulge and his face turns blue. WIth one final squeeze, something snaps and his body slumps to the ground.

Jack releases him and falls back on the floor, breath coming in jagged heaves. My body shivers despite the trickle of blood dripping down my side. I want nothing more than to vanish, than to evaporate out of here. But that’s impossible. I’m still chained. I’m still captive. And even though one murderer is dead, another one isn’t, and now that The Binder is dead, Jackson Davenport can take his time and do whatever he wants to me.

 

   

 

Chapter Nineteen

Jack

 

I drag myself off the ground, stepping over The Binder’s dead body. My head throbs from the concussion and my arms ache from the exertion. Strangling a man isn’t easy.

I lunge toward Katie, taking in the pool of blood dripping off her ankle. 

“How?” she asks, clearly in shock. “I thought you were dead.”

“He had me tied to the leg that bunk,” I say, voice raw. “I was able to lift it up and get free.”

It’d taken nearly all my strength, but watching him touch her, dress her… when he threatened her with that hammer and stuck the blade in her side, Jesus, I’ve never been so angry, so fucking scared for someone in my life. Well, once. That day when I hid in the secret passage off the kitchen with Oliver. 

It wasn’t going to happen again.

She watches me, eyes tired and wary. I deserve that. The things I was going to do to her before he knocked me unconscious. It wasn’t pretty.

But now I know.

No one is taking Katie away from me.

She’s mine.

“Jack, I know you’re angry,” she starts, watching as I pick the key up off the table of instruments. “But whatever you’re thinking about me, The Binder is dead. I can tell the cops you caught him, how you saved me, no one needs to know what happened before he got here.”

I approach her, knowing I can do whatever I want to her. I can fuck her. Make her scream. Make her beg. But the first thing I do is reach for the hem of the white dress. My fingers graze her thigh as I lift it, and I see the slick of blood running down her hip. 

“How bad is it?” she asks. I press my fingers against her skin, inspecting the wound. She hisses, body jerking from the pain.

 “It’s not that deep.” I drop the dress and start unlocking the shackles, one by one. Her arms drop, limp and useless. I grunt toward the bathroom. “Go wash it off.”

She hesitates, like she’s wondering if this is another game, a different trap. I thrust my hand in my hair. “Clean the wound, Katie.”

Without another word, she jerkily walks to the bathroom, legs stiff from being chained to the wall. I stare at her until she shuts the door and I hear the water running. I just needed a minute without her in my face, so I can just figure out what to do. She’d betrayed me, lied to me and my brothers, snuck around and almost got herself fucking killed. 

But she’s also…

Goddamnit.

I step over Ryan Watkins once again and go outside, sucking in the humid night air. Rain is coming. I walk to my car and open the trunk, grabbing my black bag. When I step back into the cabin, Katie is in the bathroom doorway, shivering in that wet, bloody dress. Her eyes dart to the table of weapons and then back again.

Always a fighter.

“Come here,” I tell her, nodding to the bunk. When she hesitates, I add, “I’m not going to hurt you.”

The sentence feels like a goddamn lie, but it’s true. Pain isn’t on my mind right now. She does as she’s told, sitting on the saggy mattress, and I unzip the bag, removing a First-Aid kit and a clean black sweatshirt. 

“Take off your dress,” I tell her, sorting through the supplies. I’ve got disinfectant wipes, ointment, different bandages and a stitching kit if I need it.

“You carry that around with you?” she says, hair falling to her shoulders after she pulls off the dress. She clutches the ball of cotton protectively in her chest, covering her tits. “A First-Aid kit?”

“Not every hunt goes smoothly,” I tell her, opening the wipes. “Oliver almost had his finger sawed off once. Paul got stabbed. One guy had snakes and Davis got bit. Hunting rapists and killers is a dangerous job,” I look over at the dead body on the floor, “as you can tell.”

I clean the wound. She got enough of the blood off in the bathroom that I can get a better look. As I suspected it’s not deep and didn’t nick anything important. I get the rest of the blood off and unscrew the cap on the ointment. 

“I shouldn’t have come out here alone,” she says quietly.

I dab the ointment on the cut, making her shiver. “No. You shouldn’t have.” 

“Trying to get the jump on this… it was stupid. I spent the last week trying to get the fuck away from you all. You scare me. But I had nowhere to go and even though you think this is all about you, I grew up in that house too. Catching bad men is branded in my soul, just like yours. I just do it differently. My instincts are good, Jack, but the people I’m investigating are scary.” She touches my hand, stopping my care. “The Binder was way out of my league and when I found that clue, I should have just shown it to Davis, or to you. But most of all, I shouldn’t have betrayed you.” 

It’s a last ditch plea. Katie knows she fucked up. Out of the frying pan into the fire. The difference is that I’m not the same man I was an hour ago.

I place a bandage over the wound, and hand her the sweatshirt. She stands and tugs it over her head, giving me a full view of her body. She’s skinny. Bruised. Bandaged, but she’s still fucking gorgeous. Energy courses through my veins, adrenaline from killing a man. It’s savage. Feral. I feel like I’m barely holding on by a thread. 

My eyes are glued to the hem of the shirt, my shirt, how it skims the top of her thighs, barely covering her pussy. My dick swells, pushing against the inside of my pants and all I want to do is–

“You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?” she asks. My eyes snap to hers. “Fucking me.”

“Katie.”

Now isn’t the time to push me.

But she does. Always. “I know because you get a certain look in your eye. My body reacts to it. I don’t want it to, I never have. Not that night, not tonight, but I have these cravings, ones that only you and the others know how to meet.”

I step forward and push my fingers between her legs. She’s slippery with heat. “Jesus,” I groan. “I just killed a man. I’m…” I swallow back the urge to shove my fingers in her tight little pussy. I yank my hand away. “You don’t want to taunt me now. I’m not in a good place.”

“You can talk to me,” she says. “Use me.”

I stare down at her, at those big eyes and puffy lips.  

Her fingers fist in my shirt, pulling me down, mouth hot and needy against mine. “Fuck me,” she whispers, looking down at the floor. At the body. Something flickers in my mind. She’s got something wild running through her blood too. “Fuck me in front of him. Pour everything into me.”

I hold out for one moment longer, one, and then grip the back of her head with my hand and crash my mouth to hers. Her lips are hot, tongue greedy. Again, I dip my fingers between her legs and feel the rush of heat, the slippery want and I groan on her tongue. 

“Davis is right,” I tell her, pushing up the shirt she’d just put on to get to her tits, “you are filthy.”

But it’s more than that, I know it. It’s the crackle of near death between us. The bonding over shared trauma. Teetering on the fine pinpoint between life and death. I want to pound that into her, bite and bruise. I want to claim and consume.

Make her mine.

I release her, moving to the bunk and yanking the mattress to the floor. I unbuckle my jeans, dropping them to the ground and kicking them off. Her eyes are glued to my cock, the way it bobs against my belly, thick and long. I pull her to me, kissing her, licking her sinful mouth, and drag her down on top of me, aware of the wound in her side. 

I watch as she lifts the shirt, exposing herself. I rise up, latching my mouth to her nipple, sucking and licking until she squeals. Her hips rock against me, gathering friction. It takes everything in me not to lift her up and impale myself in her, but I’m not rushing this. Not this time.

She bends, pressing those tits against my chest, capturing my ear with her teeth. She bites down, tugging at the skin. The spread of pain ripples through me. In my ear she whispers, “How many men have you killed?”

“Ten,” I reply, lifting my hips, sliding my cock between her legs. Then I glance to the side. “Well, eleven.”

“And they all deserved it?” she asks.

I lick the seam between her lips. “Monsters,” I say against her tongue. “Every last one of them.”

She nods, still processing, still reconciling. It’s more than I could ask for. She’s one of us. She understands. Finally I’ve had enough. I grab her by the hips and lift her over me, slotting my tip at her entrance. Her eyes hold mine and she bites her bottom lip, fingernails puncturing my bicep. 

“Fuck me,” she begs. “Please don’t make me ask you again.”

I give her what she wants, sheathing myself with her tight, warm pussy. I slam her down as hard as I can, filling her with my cock. She cries out, still for a moment as she absorbs me, but then drops her head back and rocks her hips.

She’s goddamn fucking glorious.

It takes everything in me not to flip her over and punch my way inside, but I keep her like this, sitting over me, tits bouncing with every thrust. She consumes me the same way I want to consume her. Her nails leaving marks in my skin, her pussy clenching around me, holding me tight. 

The animal in me roars and I grab onto her hips, fucking her like a beast. These are the hands of a killer, a monster, but this woman, she both fears and wants me. Ever since that first day. I helped mold her into the woman bouncing on my dick. I helped create the woman not afraid to take a bad man’s life.

Her breath grows ragged, soft little cries tremble on her lips. 

“Come for me, Katie,” I say, brushing my thumb over her clit. She shudders, back arching, a long guttural moan rumbling in the back of her throat. All the fear, the anger, the terror of the night, releasing in an epic, soul crushing orgasm.

It takes everything in me not to come when her pussy clenches around my cock. But I don’t, saying, “I’m going to roll you over,” and I follow through. I’m gentle on her wound, but I can’t take it anymore. I need to pound into her. Stake my claim.

I push her knees back and bury myself inside. She looks up at me, eyes glaze, still riding her orgasm. I feel it in her pussy. In the way her body has loosened, the hate and anger leaving her eyes, as they flutter shut. My balls ache, seizing, and sending a jolt up my spine. My groan comes out more like a roar, the orgasm hard and fast, cum pumping into her. 

“Jesus,” I mutter, hips rising and falling. “Goddamn, Kate.”

Her eyes flicker open and her hand reaches for my cheek. We hold one another’s eyes, absorbing the aftershocks of the orgasm, the night, the dead man beside us. The everything

I pull out and roll over, cradling her against my side. I’ve fucked women after I’ve hunted someone. Two or three in one night, just to get the smell of pussy on my hands instead of blood, but it’s been nothing like this. Nothing so concrete and real. Nothing that makes my racing heart slow and a sense of peace spread through my limbs. 

She hits close to home and I know it. Still I can’t stop that hunger inside me. I can’t stop feeling things I shouldn’t…dangerous things. Dangerous for her and me.

The adrenaline fades, and the woman next to me rests her head on my shoulder. I stare at her until she falls asleep, her chest rising and falling with even breaths, realizing with startling clarity that we caught him. Finally. The Binder has been eliminated, and that means we can focus on our true mission, finding my mother’s killer.

*

I jolt awake, eyes blinking into the early morning light. Sitting up, I feel the space next to me–where Katie had been all night. She isn’t there.

“Hey,” she says, drawing my attention across the room. She’s still wearing my sweatshirt, long legs bare underneath. I woke up hard, but this is different, a tickle deep in my belly. 

“Morning,” I say, searching for something else to say. How do you articulate what happened last night? We killed a serial rapist and killer, then we fucked next to his corpse on the floor. I wrinkle my nose. That doesn’t seem right. I glance over at the body. “We’re going to have to figure that out. I’ll call Davis–”

That’s when I notice the phone in her hand. My phone. And I sense how quiet it is outside. Not a bird singing.  My eyes narrow and I push myself off the mattress. “Katie, what’s going on–”

I never get out the rest of the sentence, the door kicks open, splintering against the wall. A cloud of gas fills the room, followed by dozens of men in black uniforms, long rifles clutched in their hands. I have zero time to react, no ability to brace for the impact as I’m slammed to the floor. 

I do know the last thing I see before I’m flipped over and handcuffed. Her. My stepsister, her eyes pinned to mine as she’s being dragged out of the cabin door by one of the men, mouthing the word, “I’m sorry.” 

 

 

Chapter Twenty

Kate

 

I’m whisked out of the fray, pulled to the side as they haul Jack out of the cabin. The scene is chaos, men in uniform swarming the tiny building. Even though he’s handcuffed, he bucks and snarls, trying to tear away from their hold. 

“Get your fucking hands off of me!” he shouts, using his massive strength to break free of one of the officers. Two others jump on top of him and they scramble in the dirt. His eyes meet mine. “Katie! I’m going to fucking kill you!”

 People hover, pulling me one way, then another. I can’t drag my gaze away from Jack as the lies fall from my lips. “It’s him! The Binder. He’s a killer.” 

Someone, an EMT, encourages me to sit on the ledge of the ambulance and throws a blanket over my shoulders. They inspect me next, flashing a light in my eyes, taking pictures of the sores on my ankles and wrists from the shackles. Then swipe under my nails for evidence.

“Did he assault you?” a woman asks. She’s an EMT. Her eyes are kind and that’s what makes me feel bad for lying. But not enough to stop.

“Yes.” I know his semen is still in me. Proof. “He chained me up and stabbed me. Then he raped me.”

“You’ll have to go to the hospital for an exam.”

I nod, wanting them to collect the sample. Wanting to prove to the world who Jack Davenport really is.

“This cut seems cleaned,” she says, looking at the injury to my side.

“He let me patch it up,” I tell her, scrambling for something–anything. “He said he was going to keep me for a while. To keep… hurting. I guess he didn’t want me bleeding all over.”

She touches my arm and gives it a gentle squeeze. “You’re very brave.”

“Are you the person who made the call?” a different voice asks. I look up and see a dark blue jacket. A patch on the chest says, ‘FBI.’

Across the driveway, officers drag Jack to the back of a car, his eyes meeting mine. For a long beat we stare at one another, until he’s jerked away.

“Yes. I called.” The FBI not the police. Davis would have intercepted that alert and things would have turned out differently. I take a deep breath, the sob in me not entirely fake. “I escaped when he fell asleep and I was able to get to my phone. He’s the one that r-raped and killed those women. The one they call The Binder.” 

Beyond the other vehicles I see a Mustang pull up, tires kicking up gravel. Davis.  His gaze turns savage as he looks at his best friend handcuffed.

“Can you tell us what happened?” the agent asks, jerking his chin at the EMT to give us privacy. 

“He kidnapped me and my date.” My pulse starts to race as I turn to the officer at my side. The lies start to gather momentum now. I don’t think I could stop it, even if I wanted to. “My stepbrother… he’s always been off,” I whisper. “Mean. Abusive. But I had no idea he was capable of,” I swallow and glance back at the cabin where investigators go in and out of the screen door, “that.”

“Did something set him off?” he asks. “Has he been violent with you before?”

I bite back a laugh. “I think he just snapped. He saw me with Ryan and just… it was like a switch flipped. He strangled Ryan and told me to go run in the woods–that he wanted to hunt me.” They’d find our footprints, more proof. The pieces are lining up. “He chased me for what seemed like hours. I thought I’d found a hiding spot but he found me and brought me back here to… you know.”

He nods in understanding. “Did he say where the last victim is? Where he left her body or what he did with her?” 

I shake my head, hot tears building in the corner of my eyes. “He strangled Ryan with a yellow shirt. A woman’s shirt. Maybe that’s a clue?”

The agent grunts and nods, writing all of this down on a little pad, before waving another officer over. They whisper to one another, but I pick up on words, ‘hunt,’ and ‘woods’ and ‘yellow shirt.’  I watch as the agent connects the dots, as all the pieces click into place. Jack Davenport looks every bit the killer–because that’s what he is. A murdering, raping, sadistic killer. 

Even if he’s also something else.

The man that saved me.

I once thought I was the key and they were the locks. But maybe that’s not true at all. Maybe they’re  just sick, deranged men who like to taunt, torture and play with their victims. I thought I was the one who got away. I didn’t, but I am the one that will stop them.

“Anyone want to explain why the FBI is here and no one called the local PD?” Davis asks, flashing his badge. “This is our jurisdiction. This is my case.”

The agent gives him a withering look. “Not that I have to explain it to you, but the FBI got a tip about the whereabouts of a violent, deadly, killer. We followed procedure.” Davis steps closer, his gaze moving from me to the agent. I can see him scrambling to find a way out of this, a way to get back in control.

“Can you at least tell me why you’ve arrested him?”

“They found a body inside, recently strangled. Shackles and chains on the wall. A table full of torture devices and a black bag with Davenport’s belongings.” The agent’s eyes sweep to me. “And we have a survivor. An eyewitness that can tell us everything that happened.” 

I sense the moment Davis realizes the truth. Jack is going down. Not just for killing the Ryan Watkins, but for kidnapping me and a dozen other murders. There’s no silencing the evidence.

There’s no silencing me. For once I’m the one in control and from the hard set of his jaw and the dark flash in his eyes, I know he realizes it.

And Jesus, he’s pissed.

It takes everything in me not to shout in his face, “I’m free!” From one of them anyway.

I pull the blanket tighter around my shoulders, using it like a shield. It’s useless, even with all the law enforcement around me, I don’t feel safe. After today, I doubt I ever will. Two men tried to kill me. Two different sides of a similar coin. 

The cop’s walkie-talkie crackles on his hip. The agent responds, walking across the driveway, leaving me sitting on the back of the ambulance. Davis and I are alone in a sea of uniforms. It’s a relief to drop the pretenses.

Can he tell that my body is still slick with Jack’s cum, my nipples still tender from his mouth? Does he know what truly happened between me and his best friend? Does he care? 

All I know is my soul is screaming, clawing for redemption.

“You think you’re real smart going to the feds, don’t you, Katie?” he hisses. “Going over my head?”

“I did what I had to do.”

“Selling out your brother?” he asks. “Ruining our mission?”

“Your mission is bullshit. It’s an excuse to hunt and murder,” I whisper, “because you’re cold-blooded killers.” 

“You need to watch your fucking mouth.” His fingers ball into a fist. “This was the dumbest move you could ever make.”

“I may not be able to take you all down,” I say, lifting my chin, “at least not yet, but I’m starting with him.”

“So this is revenge?” he asks, hand on his hip. I think about how rough they feel when he handles me. How he tastes in my mouth. I think about how how he raped me with his gun and they all watched. “You think you can pick us off, one by one? You think you can get the upper hand on us?”

“I think you’re psychopaths. Garbage. Abusers.” I stand, tossing the blanket. His eyes slide down my body–Jack’s sweatshirt, my bare legs underneath. “And yeah, I plan on taking you down one by one and revealing to the world what kind of monsters you really are.”

He grabs my arm, fingers digging into the soft skin. “It’s going to be hard doing that if you’re cut into a dozen pieces and tossed in the landfill.”

“Miss,” the agent says, waving me over. “It’s time to go.”

Davis releases me, but I know his grip will add to the bruises I’ve acquired today. Pretending he doesn’t scare the fuck out of me, I push past him, and follow the agent over to his vehicle. We pass Jack as they hold him face down against the back of the car.

“You think this is it? That you’re going to get rid of me, little sister?” His soft snarl carries over to me. “You forget the weight that the Davenport name carries. How much power comes with money. I’ll be out before you scurry into whatever hidey-hole you think will keep you from me.” He grunts as the agent roughly shoves him in the back of the car. Before the door slams shut he shouts, “You better be ready, Katherine, because I’m coming to get you.” 

My pulse races with his words, at the way he says my name.

Katie is what he calls me when he wants to torment me.

Kate is reserved for moments of sincerity. Few and far between.

But Katherine? I don’t think he’s ever called me that and the way he says it? It’s not just a threat, it’s a promise.

“Keep moving.” I feel the pinch of a hand on my elbow. Davis has appeared at my side. He opens the rear door of the vehicle I’m riding in. His mask is firmly in place, and he’s back to being the protective good guy. He jerks open the door and I get inside. Davis leans down, his gaze seething. “You may have gotten rid of one of us, but there’s still three watching your every move.” 

The engine of the car in front starts before the agent assigned to me gives Davis a glare, then comes closer. “Detective. Ms. Stevenson is officially a witness in federal protective custody. If you want to speak to her, you’ll need to follow procedure.”

Davis’ jaw tics and I think for a moment he may snap. He’s not used to being told no, to having to answer to someone with more power. Quickly though, he recovers and says, “Just ensuring our witness knows that she’s in good hands.” He turns that glare my way, eyes narrowing. “I don’t care what they tell you, we’ll never be far away, Kate. Despite what happens to Jack; Paul, Oliver and I will always be here, always watching and waiting to strike. You can rest assured of that.”

Then with a hard shove, the car door slams shut. I jump at the sound. My heart punches against my chest, booming. I’m glad to be away from him, but it’s not enough. I need to get far, far, away from these crazy bastards.

“You okay?” The agent glances into the rear view mirror as he slides in behind the wheel. 

I nod even as I feel the warmth drain from my face. “Yes. No. God, who the fuck knows.” I was hunted, tortured, almost raped and killed, and then… well I don’t know how to describe what happened between me and Jack. The way we were together–it was more than part of the game. I can admit that. The way he made me feel, the emotions that passed between us. 

It doesn’t matter anymore. He’s going to jail and I’m…

“What happens to me next?” I ask, leaning forward. “I can’t go home. His family–my family–is very powerful. Wealthy and connected.”

“The house is off limits. Agents are already there processing evidence.” My mind races. How much evidence will point to me? Oliver? The others? “After you give your full statement and are examined for evidence, you’ll be required to testify in the trial. The prosecutor will want you safe and we’ll do everything we can to protect you, which most likely means witness protection for at least a few months.”

“So I’m not going back?”

His eyes meet mine. “No. Not until this is resolved.”

I exhale, feeling the weight slowly lift off my shoulders. They can’t get me. Not Davis or Paul or Oliver. Not Christopher Watkins who is out there somewhere lying in wait. 

I stare out the window, watching the thick forest fades and the town of Wilmington passes by the window. I loathe this city, the hot sticky air and god, that nightmare of a house. It seems too surreal to process yet, but this is what I wanted all along–an escape. I just didn’t know it’d be like this, from the backseat of a cop car. 

 

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