The Risk by S.T. Abby
Series: Mindfuck #1
Genre: dark romance
Release date: December 1st, 2016
I didn’t expect him. I didn’t want to fall in love.
But I can’t let him go.
Logan Bennett makes the world a safer place.
He’s brilliant. He’s a hero.
He locks away the sick and depraved.
But while he’s saving lives, I’m taking them.
Collecting debts that are owed to me.
Then years ago, they took from me.
They left me for dead, They should have made sure I stayed dead.
Now I’m taking from them, one name at a time.
I’ve trained for too long. I’ve been patient. I can’t stop now.
Revenge is best served cold. They never see me coming. Until I paint their walls red.
Logan doesn’t know how they hurt me.
He doesn’t know about the screams they ignored.
He doesn’t know how twisted that town really is.
He just knows people are dying.
He doesn’t know he’s in love with their killer.
No one suspects a dead girl.
And Logan doesn’t suspect the girl in his bed.
They’re looking for a monster.
Not a girl who loves red. Not a girl in love.
I’m a faceless nightmare.
They took too much. Left too little.
I had nothing to lose. Until him.
But in the end, will he choose them?
Or will we watch them burn together?
So many names left to go…
Einstein said, “The weak revenge. The strong forgive. The intelligent ignore.”
Fuck that. Einstein wasn’t always right.
Revenge is a dish best served cold… Now that I agree with. It means they forget you’re coming for them, and their screams sound so much prettier when the time finally comes.
I love humanity but I hate humans.
“You look like you’ve been stood up,” a guy says as I peer up from my phone, discreetly clicking the lock screen into place so he can’t see what I’m watching.
I arch an eyebrow as I study him. Good looking, mid-twenties, arrogant smile, dominant posture… He’s definitely barking up the wrong tree though.
“Actually, I enjoy eating alone,” I tell him with a fuck-off, sweet smile.
He doesn’t take the hint, because his eyes narrow with determination. Alphas prefer a challenge. I should have known better.
“I’m Craig. You’re…” He lets his words trail off as he rakes his eyes over me, but I say nothing before sipping my coffee. “If you don’t give me your name, I’ll just call you Beauty.”
His attempt at flattery is overtly untrained and certainly underdeveloped. He’s obviously used to getting his way without much of a fuss, which means he never puts forth any effort after catching his prize either. Considering his expensive suit and visible appeal, I’m not surprised.
Plenty of women will overlook his arrogance, confusing it for cockiness, possibly even find it charming.
But I’m the wrong girl.
“How about calling me Not Interested? Because that’s the most apt depiction of me at the moment,” I tell him, leaning back in my chair, relaxed and fully in control.
“Apparently you haven’t gotten a good look,” he proceeds, leaning back and pretty much posing in a stance that gives me nothing more to look at than an arrogant ass.
“I’ve seen more than enough. Still not interested.”
His look darkens as he takes a step back.
“Fine. Fuck it. I don’t need frostbite on my dick anyway,” he says before turning and walking toward a table where another guy is sitting.
The sun is not bright today, considering the overcast. We’re just a few of the people who opted for the patio instead of the inside of the coffee house, because it looks like it’s going to rain. Even though they’re several tables away, I can still see his friend laughing and shaking his head as Mr. Arrogant plops down to his seat, surly and dejected.
I resume watching the footage on my phone, until I feel eyes on me. Mr. Arrogant’s friend doesn’t look away when I look up and catch him studying me. He’s not leering or even acting interested. I’d say he’s trying to read me, just the way I do people.
He’s also nice looking, but his suit is not as expensive as the other guy’s. My observation would lead me to believe they’re work mates, but why is one dressed better than the other if they do the same job? He doesn’t seem submissive or weighted, the way he would if he was working for Mr. Arrogant. Which means they’re equals, but not paid the same? Or maybe Mr. Arrogant comes from money, and this guy doesn’t?
Unconcerned, I return my eyes to my phone, pretending I don’t notice his intense scrutiny. After finishing my coffee and my D-day screening, I ask the waitress for the bill.
“It’s already been paid,” she says with a soft smile and bright eyes. “And you’ve already left a tip as well,” she adds, winking. “A nice one.”
My eyebrows go up, and she motions back with her head as Mr. Arrogant’s friend walks off the patio. Mr. Arrogant is nowhere to be found.
“He said to thank you for the entertainment,” she proceeds to tell me while fanning herself and watching him walk toward a dark SUV.
“Thanks,” I tell her, standing up and heading toward the exit as well.
No flirting, no leering looks of longing, and no waiting around to see if I would come to him after he paid for my food. I don’t like it when people are nice for no reason. Saying I was his entertainment isn’t enough.
My eyes trail after the silent guy, watching him as he lingers by the SUV, speaking over the phone too quietly for me to hear his words from this distance. I also spot Mr. Arrogant, who is chatting up a pretty girl near the store down the sidewalk. She seems far more interested than I was.
Deciding to appease my curiosity, I head over to the silent guy just as he ends his call. His eyes snap up to mine as I approach, and his eyebrows raise as I pull out a twenty.
“I don’t let strange men pay for my food. My mother taught me better,” I tell him, waving the twenty in front of him to take.
A slow grin crawls across his full lips, completely transforming his face. His dark blonde hair is tousled just enough to be sexy without being bedhead messy. His strong, chiseled jaw is a stark contrast to his soft, blue eyes. He looks fierce and gentle in the same breath, confusing me all the more. I really can’t get a read on him.
“I couldn’t get a more entertaining show for so cheap. Trust me, it was worth the small bill,” he says with a shrug, pocketing his hands and phone, making a stance that he won’t take my money, without using the actual words.
But I’m persistent, and I wave the twenty again. “I still have my rules. Thanks, but no thanks.”
His grin only grows. “You always so defensive?” he muses. “Are you constantly worried about the intentions of others? Or is it an extreme feminist position that keeps you on edge about a man doing something as mediocre as paying for your coffee and muffin?”
He is reading me. I knew it.
The cheap suit suddenly makes sense, along with the dark SUV. “You’re FBI,” I note, taking in the fact Quantico isn’t too far away.
His grin broadens. “What makes you think that?”
“You’re profiling me, for one, which would likely put you to be somewhere in that field, given the ride and attire. Your friend has an expensive suit that he wears to impress, but yours is less flashy. Your posture around him and good-natured ribbing towards him leads me to believe you’re equals, despite the financial difference. So I’m assuming he comes from money, and you’ve earned your own way. The SUV isn’t a standardized version. The blacked out windows are too dark to be legally tinted, but I know the FBI are given certain leniencies due to security risks. So am I right?”
I really hate the way he continues to smile, as though he’s only more intrigued instead of freaked out. I wanted to freak him out.
“You’re not a paid profiler, not FBI, and not affiliated with any military unit,” he says, confusing me. “Your outfit is bohemian chic, meaning you’re less worried about your outward appearance and more concerned with comfort. You sit alone by choice, and dismiss any attention sent your way. At first glance, you’re too feminist for your own good. At second glance, you’re someone who is hard to get close to because trust isn’t something you share too often. It keeps you from being hurt by people, but it also keeps you from having anyone in your life. At night, when you close your eyes and allow yourself to be vulnerable…that’s the only time you dare to wonder what it’d be like to be with someone.”
I swallow down the knot in my throat. He’s too dead-on. I shouldn’t be so easily readable. I’ve trained against it for years.
“No pets, given the fact there’s not any pet hair on you, unless you have those who won’t shed. However, I don’t see you allowing yourself to become attached to an animal, when you know you’ll most likely outlive it and have to deal with the heartbreak of losing said animal. You’re detached by necessity, most likely a painful past that pushed you into this direction. A loss, perhaps. Maybe more than one loss. Maybe pushed into solitude by life and staying there by choice?”
When my heart thumps in my chest and I take a shaky step back, his eyes soften even more.
“Sorry. I went too far. I apologize,” he tells me just as Mr. Arrogant returns.
“Haven’t lost my edge. That chick was just—”
His words die when he sees me in an eye-lock with Mr. Profiler. I feel exposed, vulnerable, and out of my element. I’m not used to that. I’ve worked so freaking hard to be a fortress of impossible reads.
He just unraveled my confidence with one pull on the right thread.
“Grab a few bottles of water. Long ride,” he tells Mr. Arrogant without looking away from me.
I don’t know if he leaves or not, because I’m too busy staring right into those gentle blue eyes that really do seem remorseful.
“Life sucks,” he says randomly. “Then you die. Might as well live while you’re still alive,” he adds, sounding completely less insightful than earlier.
It’s enough to break the tension, and an unexpected smile slips free from me. He winks as he leans over. “If you ever want help feeling alive, call me. I could use some life as well.”
When he draws back, I feel something in my hand, though I never felt him placing anything there. He walks around to the other side of the SUV, and I watch with rapt attention as he gets in.
My eyes finally fall down to the card in my hand as Mr. Arrogant returns to take the passenger side.
His number is attached to his name, and sure enough, he’s FBI. When my gaze comes up again, he’s leaning on the steering wheel, watching me. Mr. Arrogant’s window is down, and he looks annoyed.
“Call me,” Logan says, grinning before pulling away from the curb.
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a persistent one. Albert Einstein said that. My father always quoted Einstein as a way of explaining life when we struggled to understand it. I remember him quoting me that when our lives fell apart. He was hurting the worst, and trying his best to soothe me.
Einstein isn’t helping me understand how easily I was just read. Or how vulnerable and exposed I feel in this moment.
My phone buzzes in my hand, and I look down, seeing the alert I set.
I have to be cold. I need to be cold. Anything less could fracture the shell in place that I need to execute the plan I’ve worked too hard on for too long.
Shaking off the residual weakness, I blow out a harsh breath and walk to my car. I drive fifteen miles, find the house I’m looking for, and drive on by. I wait until I’m parked in an abandoned barn before I put on my gloves, suit, and heavy men’s boots. I also strap on the backpacks weighted down with rocks… One on my back and one on my front.
Stealthily, I walk toward the house, slip open the door, and silently remove the backpacks, putting them down with careful ease to a chair.
My purse has everything I need in it, so I keep it on me. The heavy shoes come off next, and I silently place them on top of my backpack.
Movement upstairs draws my attention, and I slowly make my way to the staircase, careful to keep my steps light and silent. I’ve examined the floors for a month, finding every spot that creaks or groans.
I know his routine better than my own. Just like I know in five seconds, the water will come on.
Sure enough, the old pipes in the house clank as water shoots through them, and that’s when I make my way up the stairs, ignoring the way they creak, because he can’t hear a thing with that loud shower.
When I reach his room, my eyes dart to the bed. I know he’s single, but I always worry about stumbling across an unplanned woman. I watched the cameras from my phone, and they showed no woman here, but it’s still a thought that always plagues the back of my mind.
I breathe out in relief when I see no signs of an overnight guest. Just Ben and his usual messy home.
The shower cuts off, and I’m already in position, ready and waiting. Life would be simpler if I could use a Taser or sedatives. It really would.
Just as he walks through with a towel around his waist, my knife comes down, slicing hard against the Achilles heel. Screams pierce my ears, and I realize that moment of weakness with Mr. Profiler earlier doesn’t affect how pretty the screams sound.
I’ve worked too long, too hard, and too endlessly for this. I should have known one man couldn’t take away my edge.
Ben falls to the floor, crying out in agony, while clutching his foot. The towel flops off, exposing every naked inch of him to my eyes.
It makes my stomach roil.
But the terror in his eyes? That gets me high.
“What the fuck? Take whatever you want!” he shouts, sobbing as I approach, watching me with those wide, terrified eyes.
I get off on the terror. I want him to cry for much, much longer.
“What I want is for you to know my name,” I say quietly, eerily.
His eyes grow even wider, and he pales when I hold the bloody knife up and run my finger along the backside of it.
“Please don’t,” he begs, trying and failing to stand up.
He’ll hit me if he gets the chance. I’m not stupid enough to get that close just yet.
I pull the wire from my back pocket, and I watch him as he watches me.
“Don’t recognize me, Ben?” I ask mockingly, cocking my head. Ten surgeries ago, he might have recognized me immediately.
“No. No,” he cries. “I don’t know you. You have the wrong person!”
I squat down, noticing the way his gaze shifts. He’s preparing to attack me now that I’m in this position. He finds it a vulnerable mistake on my part.
If he only knew…
“I was a sixteen-year-old little girl the last time you saw me,” I say with a dark smile. “I’m all grown up now. Want to play?”
The last three words are what triggers recognition. I see it in the way his pupils dilate, his nostrils flare, and a sense of understanding washes over his features.
“You,” he whispers. “No. No. You look nothing like her. She died,” he adds in the same hushed tone.
“I survived,” I say back, watching as his fear slowly starts to fade, just as I knew it would.
Right now, he’s remembering just how weak I was as that horrified, terrified, sobbing little girl. He’s remembering how easily he overpowered me. His mind is playing tricks on him that he’s still the one in control, despite the precariously deadly situation.
“You took three turns,” I go on, staying poised and ready, but outwardly displaying a weakness I don’t truly have, allowing his mind to continue to revert back to that night ten years ago.
“That means three pounds of flesh over the next three days,” I go on.
I see it happening before he launches himself at me, screaming in pain as he tries to tackle me to the floor. My knife slams into his shoulder, and another bloodcurdling scream erupts through the air as I spin on my knees, sliding in behind him as his face plants into the floor.
My hand is still holding the knife, and I rip it away in less than a blink, almost simultaneously tossing the wire around his neck, winding it tightly. Then I choke him, reveling in the pained sounds, until he grows limp and unconscious, riding the line of life and death. With the blood loss, he’s too weak to fight back. It’d be so easy to kill him right now.
But death won’t come too soon.
I don’t believe in mercy.
Three pounds of flesh will be extracted while he’s awake.
He’ll beg and plead.
He’ll pray to pass out.
But he will feel it all.
Just like we did.