“Taste for blood? He’s…killed people?”

“Yes. I don’t have hard proof as to the latter claim, but considering the way his victims are left when he’s done with them, I find it hard to believe he’s never gone as far as killing someone, if only by accident.”

I swallow hard. “I don’t—I don’t understand. What is it he likes?”

“It starts innocently enough. Rough sex. A few slaps here and there, under the guise of spanking. But it grows worse as time goes on. It is much like the way a lobster is boiled, really. The water grows hotter and hotter, and the poor creature never even realizes what’s happening until it’s too late. The girls he chooses as prey grow fond of Steven, of his nice-guy act. They enjoy sex with him, initially. They don’t mind his propensity for a few rough moments. They tolerate the increasing violence of his attentions. And then he moves to bondage. Ties them up. Binds them to the bed. Has his way with them. Again, it seems innocent enough, if you like such things. He establishes a safe-word, follows all the correct protocols for those who engage in the world of rough sex. But eventually the safe-word has no effect. He won’t stop. His slaps turn to punches. His gentle whipping loses its gentility. His rough sex turns to violence. It becomes rape. Torture. Beatings that last for hours, leaving his victim bloody and helpless, and then he rapes them to his satisfaction, which is its own torture. I have firsthand reports from his victims for you to read.”

I feel myself shaking all over. “I—are you for real?”

“Yes, I am. As I said, I know you won’t trust my word, so when I take you to your room, you will have an opportunity to peruse the file I had Harris put together.”

“What did you do to Steven?”

“I merely had Harris convince him that it would be in his best interests to vanish from your life. Permanently.”

“You didn’t have him killed?”

“No. He hadn’t done anything to you, so I couldn’t justify it. I would have liked to, however. He is a filthy, vile creature. I did report him to the authorities, however, so hopefully he will be stopped before he hurts anyone else.”

I thought back to my time dating Steven. I wasn’t one to jump right into the sack with a guy I was dating, so we didn’t sleep together until we’d been dating for nearly two months. He’d never pushed, simply waited patiently until I indicated I was ready. He was unfailingly polite, always a gentleman, paying for meals and opening doors, buying me flowers, taking me on some of the most romantic dates I’d ever been on. When we finally did sleep together, it was…nice. Fairly plain, actually. Not spectacular, but not bad. Just average. He seemed to like missionary sex, at the beginning. And then, after a month of sleeping together, we started trying other positions. And…yes, he did spank me a few times. Not hard, but it startled me, coming out of nowhere. I hadn’t minded it, actually. I’d felt weird about not minding it, and had spent a drunken night talking with Layla and wondering if I was a freak and just didn’t know it. She’d assured me that not losing my shit over one little smack on the ass didn’t make me a freak. From then on, things with Steven heated up a bit. It had seemed at the time as if he was merely turning up the heat, as if we were discovering things together. That’s how it had felt to me.


But now, with what I was being told, I wasn’t so sure. Innocent, plain vanilla missionary sex…a little smack on the ass…and then the sex got rougher, more inventive…and I’d gone along with it all. Nothing untoward had happened. He’d never hit me on the face, never tried to choke me or tie me up, but I could easily see how that could have happened. If Steven had suggested tying my hands up, just to try it, I would have gone along. I knew that for a fact. And then I would have been totally at his mercy, because I’d started trusting him.

“You’re not lying, are you?” I asked, my voice shaky.

“I never lie. Never. And, furthermore, I have no reason to exaggerate or invent such things. I can see that you’re beginning to believe me.”

I shrugged. “It makes a scary kind of sense. The slow progression of things, it was exactly as you said.” I thought back to the way things had ended and that, too, fit with what I’d been told. “He just vanished. I was really hurt, actually. Between one date and the next, he just…vanished. No call, not even a text. Like, I thought he’d just…left, without even dumping me.”

“It was the safest thing, Kyrie. I’m sorry that his disappearance caused you pain, but it was that or allow you to suffer at his hands, and that was simply not an option. I will not allow you to come to harm, Kyrie. Not ever. I may not be able to prevent you from suffering emotional pain, but believe me when I say that I would if such was within my power.”

The sincerity in his voice surprised me. It sounded for all the world as if he really did care, as if he felt deep and powerful emotions toward me. But yet he wouldn’t even tell me his name, or let me see him. It didn’t make any sense, and it scared me. Was he unstable? There was no way to know, and I’d put myself right his hands.

“If you’re willing to believe me, I’d rather not let you see the file,” he said. “It’s…very graphic, and very disturbing.”

“I still want to see it,” I said.

“Are you sure?” He sounded closer, but I hadn’t heard or felt him move. “It’s not pretty, what he does to women. And the most awful part is that he gets away with it. If a girl were to report him, he’d just say it was consensual, because…it was. At the beginning. But by the time they realized what was happening, it was too late. But it becomes their word against his, and the girls are often too traumatized, too frightened of him to say anything.”

“I want to see it. I also want to see the information you have on me.”

“I’m not sure that’s wise. It wouldn’t do you any good. It’s nothing but basic information. Photographs of you going about your day. Financial information, medical information, university records.”

“Why do you need all that information on me?”

“Because I wish to know who you are.”

“And who am I?”

“Hmm…” He sighed, the sound of someone gathering his thoughts. “You are Kyrie Abigail St. Claire. Twenty-six years old. Daughter of Katharine Eileen Tilson St. Claire and Nicholas Calvin St. Claire. Your mother suffers from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and is currently residing at the Ravenwood Care Home in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Your father is deceased. You have one brother, Calvin Matthew St. Claire, who is currently attending Columbia College in Chicago. Your best friend is Layla Irene Campari. You have one living set of grandparents, maternal, living in Fort Lauderdale. No other immediate family. You have a bachelor’s degree in social work from Wayne State University, and are currently pursuing your master’s. You are five foot seven, and your weight fluctuates between one-thirty and one-forty. Blonde hair, blue eyes. No medical conditions. You had your appendix out when you were sixteen. You have been supporting your mother and brother on your own since your father’s passing seven years ago. Your favorite color is lavender. You have a slight addiction to black cherry Chobani yogurt, and you have a tendency to overindulge in alcohol when stressed. You have a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do, which you began pursuing at the age of eleven. You have had five sexual partners. No pregnancies, abortions, or miscarriages. You have been on birth control since you were eighteen. You hate broccoli, and your favorite dish is chicken Parmesan.” A pause, and then he cleared his throat. “What else? Oh, yes. You were arrested for shoplifting when you were fourteen, convicted, and served one hundred hours of community service. I believe that’s everything.”