Home > Paint It All Red (Mindf*ck #5)(2)

Paint It All Red (Mindf*ck #5)(2)
Author: S.T. Abby

Jacob Denver is sitting on a couch like he’s been waiting for me.

I cock my head, my eyes narrowing, and he sits comfortably, completely relaxed.

My eyes dart around, seeing the empty cabin and bare walls. He speaks as I clutch the gun with both hands, ready to aim it at him if he gives me a reason.

“I knew you were coming,” he drawls, leaning up. “So put your gun away. If I was a threat, you’d already be dead. Fortunately for you, I happen to enjoy breathing, and I’m not sure Lana would be okay with me retaining oxygen if I laid a hand on you.”

I cut my gaze toward him, releasing the gun with one hand, while holding it with the other.

“Where is she?”

He snorts derisively. “You came alone, which means you haven’t told your team yet. Well, other than the Leonard guy whose cabin you charged into then ran out a little while later.”

“You’re watching us. Big surprise. I already knew this. Where is Victoria?”

His eyes widen marginally. “Oh, so you’ve figured out the truth now instead of slamming her with accusations and silencing her. Little late, don’t you think?”

There’s a harsh bitterness to his tone, like he hates me and has been waiting to be proven right.

“Her name is Lana. Victoria Evans was killed by this town. She can’t be Victoria Evans. She had to reinvent herself just to find the will to go on. You called her sick, but you have no idea what you’re up against. You have no fucking idea what she survived.”

His words grow angrier with each new sentence, and he slowly stands.

I grip the gun tighter with one hand, watching him warily.

“Looks like your legs work just fine,” I quip, eyeing the man who has played the world.

He taps his legs. “They work better than your mind.”

“I thought she was Kennedy Carlyle, and had developed an unhealthy obsession with the Evans family due to the two coincidental times their paths crossed with death. And—”

“Kennedy Carlyle was a self-absorbed drug addict, who, quite frankly, was a motherfucking menace to society. It was only a matter of time before she got as high as her parents got drunk and killed someone. As fate would have it, she only killed a tree the night she also killed herself. Seemed like a waste of a perfectly good identity and funds for someone who needed to survive.”

“I assumed it was you,” I say calmly. “The one who changed her world.”

“Falsifying hospital records is actually easy, as long as you know where to start,” he says, once again tapping the sides of his legs that he fooled the world into believing were useless. “She needed a legitimate identity; she needed money; she needed a chance. If they’d found out she survived, they would have come. And back then? They would have killed her with almost no effort.”

He blows out a breath, trying to calm his anger. I continue staring, letting him speak, trying to figure all this out as he does.

“When she told me she was screwing around with a FBI agent, I almost had a fucking brain aneurism,” he says, looking away while laughing humorlessly. “I’d killed myself trying to make sure no one ever figured out who she was.”

His eyes meet mine again.

“Then we talked face-to-face, and she fucking smiled when she said your name. She smiled like there was hope.” He swallows a knot. “I forced her to separate the kills by a month, telling her it was more cautious, when really—”

“You worried when this was all over, she’d no longer have a purpose to stay alive.”

His eyes glisten, and he clears his throat, nodding stoically.

“I was stalling,” he says quietly. “But after she met you? I saw so much fucking hope. As of today, I saw an empty shell. I wanted to be wrong about you, SSA Bennett. I went along with all her changes to our plans. Do you know why she refused to let you hear the story from Lindy?”

I tilt my head before putting my gun in the back of my pants.

“She wanted us to hear the story when we got here. She wanted it to have maximum impact.”

He stares me hard in the eyes. “She wanted it to have the maximum impact on you. To hell with all the others. She may still want revenge, but everything else has been centered around you. She practically prayed the Boogeyman would come after her, just so she could kill him and end the threat he posed to your life. And you treat her like a monster. Why? Because she kills? Do you treat your military like monsters? Do you stare at your own reflection with such disdain? Because I’ve seen your file. You’ve shot and killed thirteen serial killers since your career began. Those were real monsters, just like all the men Lana has dispatched.”

I stagger on my feet, struggling with that thin line between madness and sanity.

“But she’s supposed to what? Just move on and forget it happened?” he goes on. “Because the law says it’s wrong to exact revenge on monsters unless you have a badge or a government decree?” He takes a step toward me, holding his finger in my direction. “This is a girl who spent years training, learning control to keep her mind sound. Something our military or law enforcement doesn’t even require. These men? They destroyed her entire family. They destroyed her. Two fucking kids!” His voice breaks, and he turns around, putting his back to me when his emotions get the better of him.

I don’t even know what to say. Anything but agreement would result in a possible violent outburst from him, and for some reason, I can’t bring myself to fully agree aloud either.

I’ve always been on one side of the law, working tirelessly for justice through all the proper channels.

But Lana tried. Jake tried. They were denied.

“I loved him,” he says as he turns back around, unshed tears battling to drop from his eyes. “I loved him and treated him like my dirty little secret in public, while loving him with all I had behind closed doors. Marcus accepted the scraps I offered, because he loved me so much he couldn’t let me go, even though he deserved better.”

Tears fall from his eyes, and he bats them away angrily.

“There wasn’t a time in all these years that I questioned what I’d do for him since failing him so terribly when he was still alive. I took him for granted. I took what we had for granted. I never realized how very fucking rare it all was or how quickly it could all be gone.”

He slowly drops to the couch again, his knees seeming to give out.

“Lana… I never thought she’d love anyone the way I loved Marcus. I thought they’d broken her. I thought they’d stolen every last shred of her heart. The only thing keeping her alive was the fire inside her that burned with pure, unadulterated hatred.”

He looks up, meeting my gaze once again. “She loved you. She had two visions of how this would all go. One ended with you loving her as much as she loves you, and you’d stand by her no matter what, feel her pain as if it was your own. Unfortunately, you chose option number two, proving me right, even though I desperately wanted you to prove me wrong.”

I still can’t find the right words, and he continues to have tears drop occasionally as he glares at me with nothing less than contempt.

“Real love? The kind Lana gave you? It’s the kind of love that looks beyond one’s offenses against others and only calls to the soul. Lana saved a child. Lana risked everything to save you. Lana saved countless women by killing Plemmons. Yet you still view her as a monster by not meeting your generalized populous version of morality. In your eyes, it’s better to forever be the victim than to ever feel peace again, because a real monster might die at the hands of someone who won’t show mercy.”

“Where’s Lana?” I ask softly, trying not to agitate him farther.

“If Lana wants to be found, she’ll let you find her. Knowing her identity won’t stop her. In his life as a selfless, loving, incredible person, Marcus only ever made one selfish request. I’ll go to the grave before I deny him that request, and so will Lana. Revenge, that’s all he wanted he wanted from her. And revenge he’ll have.”

“Where is she?” I ask again.

“She let the story fall into place, guiding you to the truth slowly, letting it sink in…all the torture she endured. All the pain her family faced. She changed absolutely everything to accommodate her hopes for you. Way to fuck it all up.”

“Where is she, Jacob?” I growl.

He eyes me, and a smirk crosses his lips. “I prefer Jake,” he quips. “And you’ve already lost. Lana and I worked tirelessly for a long time to profile this entire town, deciding each and every possible path the key players would take. We’ve prepared for every outcome, and we stay ten steps ahead. Knowing our identity won’t help you. In fact, tell them it’s Victoria back from the grave with my help? The entire town will erupt in panic.”

My jaw tics as I stare him down.

“Where. Is. She?”

“That’s no longer your concern,” he says dismissively. “I only came here to make sure her words were spoken, since you did the worst thing you could possibly do. You silenced her. You refused to listen. Now I have to pray I’m enough of a reason for her to want to live.”

I lift my gun, aiming it at him, even though I have no intention of actually pulling the trigger.

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