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I felt sick then. “They…how—what stopped them?”

  Harris didn’t answer right away. When he did, his voice was arctic and dark. “Me. Once I realized their intentions, I…confronted them. ” He hesitated again.

  “By ‘confront’ I assume you mean you…fought them?” I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, but I couldn’t help asking.

  He answered. “Harris doesn’t ‘fight. ’”

  “Then what?” I asked.

  Harris cleared his throat. “They were scum. I do not take lives lightly, but I enjoyed ending those three. I did the human race a favor when I slit their filthy f**king throats. ”

  A wave of dizziness washed over me. “You—you killed them?”

  “Quickly, and easily. Don’t feel any guilt for their lives, Miss St. Claire. They intended to take turns raping you two for hours. They were evil, sadistic creatures with not even a speck of humanity in them. I showed them the mercy of quick deaths. ”

  “But you…you killed them. For me. ”

  “Yes. I did. And I would do so again. ”

  “Then there was also the matter of a potential mugger, just this past month,” he said. “Harris made sure the mugger never reached his intended point of ambush. That particular individual was merely…persuaded, shall we say, to give up a life of crime. ”

  “Indeed,” Harris said. “I can be rather persuasive. ”

  I had a hard time breathing suddenly. “What—what else did you do on my behalf?”

  He answered. “Only one other matter required intervention. The last gentleman you dated. Steven Higgins. ”

  “Steven? What did you do to Steven?”

  “The Steven you knew, and the real Steven…they were not the same person. ” He paused, and I heard the tone of his voice shift to address Harris. “You may go. Thank you. ”

  “Good night, sir. Miss. St. Claire. ” I heard Harris’s footsteps recede, and the front door close.

  “What do you mean?” I asked. “I dated Steven for six months. He was really great. ”

  “Steven Higgins is a vile, vulgar, abusive animal with disgusting predilections. ” His voice was thick with contempt.

  “Wh—what do you mean?”

  “He is a predator, and the worst kind of abuser. He hides his true self well, hides it until he’s sure his prey is too deeply ensnared and too weak to get away. ”

  “I—I don’t understand. Steven never laid a finger on me. Not—not that way, at least. He was never anything less than a perfect gentleman. ”

  “As I said, he is predator. A hunter. He spent six months with you, assessing you, drawing you in, making you think he was kind and innocent and…vanilla. He was a BDSM dominant, Kyrie. Although those who practice BDSM would take great offense to labeling a monster like Steven as a dom. What Steven enjoyed was not BDSM, but merely torture. I have photographic evidence, police reports. I’ve put the file in your bedroom for you to look over later, as I realize my word won’t be enough to convince you of the veracity of my claims. ” He sighed. “I couldn’t let Steven get his hands on you, Kyrie. He breaks women. Ruins them. Destroys them. I suspect he’s responsible for at least one death, and I further suspect his taste for blood and inflicting pain will only grow. ”

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  “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. ”