Author's Note - Hey guys, I'm so sorry that this chapter is so long in coming. I've had a busy few months with it being my final year at university and all. My updates for all stories should be a lot quicker from now. Thanks to everyone for reading, for those who have left reviews and messages.
Special thanks to mam711 for her beta-work on the story.
Song lyrics - Running up the Hill by Kate Bush. The flashback included within the chapter is in present-tense.
Chapter 5 – Running up that Hill
Is evil born into the world, left to flourish in the darkness? Is it an unyielding force, left to seek us out and prey upon us?
Ian stared around the empty living room. He clenched his fists at his sides and tried to control the anger boiling inside him. This had been the perfect set-up for so many months and now he was going to have to leave.
Peyton was gone, rescued by the police. He'd seen her being driven away in an ambulance, surrounded by the local police and the FBI. They would be coming for him. They were coming to catch him.
He had to focus. He stood still, his eyes fixed upon old family portraits. Looking at the pictures he could almost see better times.
He stared at her smiling face. His arm was around her as they posed and grinned at the camera. Her eyes shone back at him, bright as emeralds and frozen in time. He ran an index finger across the glass; she still spoke to him sometimes.
The sound of animals howling in the depths of the woods stirred him back to the present. They were coming for him, with their guns and their judgments. He was about to set the photograph back in its original place on the mantel; back amongst the rest of the hollow memories, but he thought better of it. He tucked the picture into the pocket of his jacket.
He still couldn't let her go. After all this time she still had that hold over him.
He shook that thought away. He had to move fast. He picked up the heavy can of lighter fluid and doused the furniture and the wooden floorboards thickly. Once he'd emptied the container, he tossed it aside with a thud. He threw one last glance around the house.
He idly remembered that as a child some things had been so hard for him to give up; his first teddy bear, an old and worn comfort blanket, the bike he'd gotten for his seventh birthday. He'd been so unnecessarily sentimental. But then he'd learned cruelly and bitterly that nothing lasted forever. That no matter how much people clung and sought after forever and happiness it slipped through their fingers like sand. People changed, they grew up, and they grew apart and out of the things they had once loved.
His blue eyes fixed upon the memories as they burned and faded.
It doesn't hurt me.
He storms past the crowd of giggling girls in their taffeta dresses and the football players who now have another reason to humiliate him on a daily basis. He makes it off the dance floor and tries to ignore the taunts from the quarterback. He rounds the corner, making it out of the gym and into the quiet corridor. He's so eager to get away that he crashes into Mrs. Winters, his math teacher and a chaperone at the prom.
She knows he's upset; she's been one of the only people who had ever seemed to care about him. He lifts up his palm and waves off her concern. She mutters something, most likely words of comfort but he isn't listening. He makes it to the double doors and outside into the dark. He smacks his hand at a bunch of golden and blue balloons tied next to the school's exit.
He should never have gone to prom.
Once outside the cool night's air tickles against his clammy, flushed cheeks and helps to brush away maybe a little of his shame. He stands, needing a moment of quiet calm, but he hears the hurried steps coming up behind him. He didn't find the peace he craved, but he just knew she'd follow after him.
"Can we talk about this?" Jessie chases him out of the crowded high school gym. Her heels clack against the parking lot's asphalt. She stumbles unsurely; she's barely used to walking and dancing in the footwear let alone racing after her angry and fleeting boyfriend.
She looks so lovely in the flowing white gown with the hand-stitched beaded bodice. Her normally frizzy, messy hair is styled into waves of flowing golden silk. With the tiara placed on her head she looks every bit the princess he'd thought he had found.
It hurts him to look at her. It hurts to look at the image of beauty and see only her betrayal shining back at him. He turns his head back towards the parking lot and marches away in search of his car.
"Don't walk away." She lifts the long skirt and hurries after him. There is more to the story; if she could get him to listen to her then she could make it better. "Please, will you just talk to me?"
You wanna feel how it feels?
"Just let me explain," she begs.
He doesn't want to talk about it. He's furious. The perfect image of the perfect prom night has been shattered.
"Just listen to me. Please," her footsteps click as she follows him at an uncertain pace. "There's more to the story."
He shakes his head, still striding forward. He really is past caring. He doesn't want to know, he doesn't want to hear it. She's a liar and a disappointment.
He reaches the blue Cadillac and he reaches into his tux jacket's pocket for the key. His hand is shaking and he curses under his breath as he struggles to open the car door. He accidentally makes a small scratch on the paintwork. It's his father's car; it's on loan for the best night of a high school senior's life.
"I'm so sorry." She sobs behind him once he's finally managed to open the door.
"Please." She's still following right behind him; she won't take the hint.
He slams the door shut as he settles into the driver's seat. He fires up the ignition and she's climbing into the passenger's side.
You wanna know; know that it doesn't hurt me?
"Please come back inside," Jessie requests quietly. He's so angry right now that she doesn't think it's safe or sensible for him to be driving along the dark country lanes. "We can talk about it. Just let me explain."
He doesn't speak. He doesn't bother looking at her. He buckles up and he starts to reverse out of the parking spot.
"Fine," Jessie folds her arms to her chest. Her face is set and resolved and she stares out of the windshield and she focuses now on the night sky. She's letting him know that if he's leaving then she's coming along with him. She's always been stubborn and she'll make him talk to her eventually.
But see how deep the bullet lies.
He navigates out of the school's lot and onto the quiet neighborhood streets. Without her crying and begging all he can do is think about what he's just grips the steering wheel so hard that his knuckles turn white. He clenches his jaw.
"How could you?"
It's the first sentence out of his mouth. It's the first time he turns to look at her. She's still wearing the sparkling tiara on top of her perfectly-styled blonde curls.
Jessie doesn't answer immediately. She only sniffles and that makes him even more furious.
Unaware that I'm tearing you asunder.
"How could you?" he questions in a low, brittle whisper.
"It was.…" she turns to face him with new tears streaming down her cheeks. "It was a…." Her speech is cut off as she only cries harder. She hates to argue and to fight. It's all Jessie's parents ever do; she hates it. He and Jessie don't fight; she always tells him what he wants to hear.
He knows what will eventually spill from her lips, and it only serves to push him further into his tirade.
"Don't tell me it was a mistake," he roars.
That's not what he wants to hear. She hurt him. And it wasn't a mistake. Cheating is never a mistake.
There's a thunder in our hearts, baby.
Jessie flinches, the sobs catch up in her throat. Her crying all but ceases. She tells him so often that she hates it when he gets like this. It scares her when he gets this mad.
He normally feels guilty at seeing that fear and terror leaking out from her lovely eyes. This time however he feels a warm buzz of satisfaction.
So much hate for the ones we love?
He continues to drive, turning sharply onto the twisty lanes as they leave the white-picket-fenced neighborhood behind them and travel down into the town's outskirts.
It's in the dimmer lights that Jessie finds her voice again.
"You weren't supposed to find out like this."
He shakes his head and stifles a bitter laugh; she's trying to offer some sort of commiseration. Like there was any better way for him to find out.
"Don't you mean I wasn't supposed to find out at all?" He turns his icy stare back onto her, challenging her to tell him different. But she doesn't.
"I'm sorry," she sniffs.
"Was it a joke?"
"Was it a joke? Did you have a real good laugh at my expense?"
"No," she shakes her head decisively.
"Did you think about me at all?" he questions.
It's the first time he lets the hurt take him. He hates it and he hates the pitying look in her shining eyes as she whispers a 'no' and reaches her hand to touch at his arm.
"I didn't think so," he utters in bitter sadness. He shrugs off her soft touch.
Tell me, we both matter, don't we?
He leans forward and turns on the radio. He's done talking and he's done listening to her. He switches onto some heavy metal station he'd normally never listen to. He turns the dial to full and leans back into the driver's seat.
Jessie's crying harder now, and she begs him to talk to her but he won't listen to her. Her body is sagged in defeat.
Her tears and her pathetic whining only serve to annoy him.
He presses his foot down harder on the accelerator. He starts to turn the corners and the bends a little sharper.
She sits up straighter then and she turns to face him. Her face is a mask of alarm. The winding lanes are treacherous without him driving at such a high speed.
He doesn't listen. He gives into the screaming radio and the racing speed of the car.
C'mon, baby, c'mon, c'mon, darling,
"Slow down!" she shrieks.
"Woo!" He laughs and he throws his head back like a mad man. He puts on a show. He wants to scare her. He wants to punish her.
He turns to face her, sees the fear reflecting in her eyes, and he only chuckles.
"It's only a game, Jessie. My turn to have a little fun."
He turns the wheel sharply and abruptly.
Let me steal this moment from you now.
He loses control.
"Look out!" Jessie screams from beside him. She's folding in on herself and he tightens his hands on the stirring wheel, trying to regain control.
He watches helplessly. The car hurtles toward the tree. He hears metal scrunching and wood snapping in his ears. The sound's so unpleasant; his eyesight flickers between blackness and then the shining glare of the orange street lamps.
He feels the unwelcoming flames of pain in the back of his skull. He's bleeding; he can taste it in his mouth.
He groans as he moves, he tries to ignore the agony caused by every single movement.
He turns his head slowly, biting down on his lip as more pain follows from the simple motion. She isn't sitting in the seat next to him. She wasn't wearing a seat belt. She never does, no matter how many times he asked her to.
The windshield is smashed and broken. The night air brushes against his skin. He's afraid to turn his head back towards the road.
C'mon, angel, c'mon, c'mon, darling,
The word screams in warning from somewhere in the very back of his dazed and dizzied mind.
He sees her; she's laying face down and spread-eagled in the middle of the road. She isn't moving.
He climbs out of the car; his whole body is heavy and unsteady. But he stumbles forward. His loafers crunch against splinters of shattered glass.
And if only I could,
He staggers towards her on the leg he thinks is broken. Every step is awkward and sends pain erupting from his toes to his hip. But he ignores it and continues his unnatural, jerking movements.
He reaches her and he falls down to his knees. There's so much blood, the sight of it almost makes him sick. The redness gleams and stains against her pure white dress.
He turns her over, slowly and carefully. He cradles her gently in his arms and he brushes thick, damp curls from her sticky brow. Her green eyes are wide and fixed in a hollow mask of terror.
"Jessie." He finds his voice from somewhere deep and dark within him.
Her body is limp and she isn't breathing.
Make a deal with God,
And get him to swap our places,
He hears the sirens echoing from further down the road. He sees the flashes of red and blue lights and he turns his head towards the on-coming police cruisers and ambulances.
He holds her until the EMTs arrive and pry them apart. He watches as the black bag conceals her and she's taken away from him.
He cries and he reaches out into the darkness. He wishes that there were something more that he could do.
If only I could be running up that hill,
She was gone….
If only I could
That's what the sad-faced female EMT told him, and she sets a gentle hand on top of his shoulder. She steers him towards the ambulance, so they can assess his injuries and drive him to the hospital. His eyes stare into the darkness where Jessie had been.
Lucas moved along the twisting dirt paths in the depths of the forest. He followed closely along with the rest of the SWAT team. He hunched his shoulders forward slightly; he kept his eyes and mind as clear and focused as he could.
The morning's bright sun filtered down through the dense canopy of leaves. The wooded area was so quiet aside from the bird calls and the occasional rustle of moving woodland animals. With the redwood and fir trees, the North Carolina area looked both idyllic and threatening all at the same time. As a child, Lucas had loved to go camping with his uncle back in Virginia. There was something special and untouched about this land and if it wasn't for the thought that a murderer could be lurking beyond the shadows Lucas would have probably found time to appreciate the natural beauty of the forest.
But instead Lucas's footsteps were careful and purposeful while they continued on in their search. He kept a close eye on Gary Rice-Jones, the SWAT team commander, for instruction.
A quick check into the surrounding area had confirmed that the house was the only one for several miles. The house was situated in the middle of the harsher woodland terrain, and no one was around to notice anything out of the ordinary. No one would have been anywhere near to hear the screams and the struggle of Peyton Sawyer or any other victim. It was the ideal hideaway for the kidnapper, Lucas thought bleakly. And he needed to put an end to it now.
With a look down at the crunching leaves beneath his feet, he saw that he had discovered someone's tracks. The footsteps were small and the trail was patchy and broken; like someone was running for their lives. Lucas knew they had to be Peyton's tracks. He raised his hand along with a sideways glance to Captain Rice-Jones to indicate the imprinted route. The team followed along the way, stalking forward carefully.
Lucas's hand grazed at the gun holstered at his waist. With every step they took forward, he knew they were getting closer, to him. He froze in mid-step as he heard the wind chimes against the rustling breeze. The wind seemed to have picked up and chimes sounded particularly ominous given the circumstances. Lucas shivered involuntarily as he followed after the SWAT team's captain.
He saw the smoke first; the thick gray smog rose high into the cloudless skies.
"Mitch," he murmured in a low voice, his fingers indicating for the detective to follow his line of sight. They had found the house. They could see it through a clearing, white fronted and alight with flame.
"Oh, Jesus," Mitch muttered under his breath before he reached for the police radio; they needed to call in the fire department. They needed to contain the fire before it spread into the forest.
Lucas clenched his jaw tightly. It took all his will not to rush down to the building. They maintained a safe distance, watching as the fire licked its way up the building's structure.
Once again this man had escaped them. He'd left quickly, again one step ahead and this time he'd seen to it that he eradicated all evidence.
Peyton slowly opened her eyes and blinked her eyelids furiously against the unwelcomingly-bright light. She knew she was in the hospital; the nurse had told her she'd been taken to Johnston Memorial Hospital in Fayetteville. She could recognize that clinically-clean smell anywhere. The smell of disinfectant tingled at her nostrils and she moaned.
She hated hospitals; they only held memories for her that she'd much rather forget. She'd spent far too much time inside their walls. She'd tried so hard to block out being eight years old and sleeping at her mother's bedside. She hadn't set foot inside a medical facility until she'd rushed from her university campus to be at her father's bedside after getting the phone call that her father had been in an accident. Both times she had felt so scared and helpless.
Her lashes fluttered shut, attempting to block out fluorescent lights and the haunting memories. The next thing that occurred to her was that she hurt and ached all over. Her throat felt swollen and tender; it hurt every time she took a breath. She gingerly reached her hand up to her neck, remembering the way he'd held and crushed at her windpipe. The way his crystal eyes stared down at her, unfeeling and cruel.
The very thought of him made her entire body shudder. The whimper escaped her lips and tingled in her ears.
She'd stayed awake during the ambulance ride to the hospital. She'd been jittery as the kind-faced female EMT tried to talk to her and calm her down. She hadn't been able to calm down; Peyton's only thoughts had been of Lucas Scott and the police searching the woods and going after Ian. It had only been once she'd reached the hospital and she'd been asked to lie down, while the doctors and nurses tended to her, that she'd given into her pain and exhaustion.
"Peyton? Are you awake?"
She'd recognize that voice anywhere. She felt the glimmer of a smile tickle at her face. Her father's warm, calloused hand came to rest on top of her own. Larry's hands had always been rough because he'd spent so many years working on boats.
"Daddy," her voice came out as some sort of hollow rasp. She turned her head to see his concerned eyes and unshaven face.
"Shh, I'm here sweetheart." He squeezed her hand and tried not to let his gaze linger too long over the marks the kidnapper had left all over her pale skin. "I'm here."
"It hurts," she grumbled. Every movement she made caused a sensation of nausea to creep up her spine; the slightest of motions sent dizzying waves of pain through her skull. She squeezed her eyes shut, breathing deeply until the burning need to throw up slowly wore off.
"Do you need a doctor, baby?" Larry's first instinct as a parent was wanting to take his child's pain away.
Peyton heard the clicking sound of the wheelchair's brakes. She pushed her eyelids open again to see him beginning to pull away from her bedside.
"I can call one of the nurses?"
"No, Daddy," Peyton's fingers reached out to catch her father's hand. She tightened her grip to stop his fussing. He always fussed. "Just stay with me. Please."
"Of course, baby." He lifted her small hand with his larger one. He pressed a kiss to her sore, bruised knuckles. He hated the damned chair he was stuck in even more in that very moment. All he wanted to do was hold his little girl in his arms, to let her know she was safe, but he couldn't stand up to do it. "I'm not going anywhere, I promise."
"Okay," she whispered softly. She rested her head back against the pillow and she squeezed his hand tightly. She wanted to cry; she wanted to release the tears of terror and relief that she'd been holding onto since she'd escaped the woods.
"I love you, kiddo," Larry told her while his rough hand smoothed back her hair. Peyton let her eyelids press shut and she fell to sleep.
The hospital corridors were blanketed in a state of semi-darkness as the sun set, marking the end of a very long day for Lucas. As visiting hours came to a close the wards became eerily quiet. They could be ominous, almost frightening at night, Lucas thought, remembering the only time he had spent any considerable time in one. A car accident with his uncle during his junior year of high school had left Lucas comatose and an operation meant he'd stayed in the hospital for the best part of two weeks. He hadn't been able to sleep at night; he'd stared into darkened corridors as the nurses patrolled every so often and he'd tossed and turned on paper-like sheets.
Lucas pushed the memory to the back of his mind, smiling at the officer stationed outside Peyton's room. For tonight, Agent Dan Matthews was on sentry duty. They couldn't afford to take any chances. The killer had escaped the woods but with his ritual stopped so abruptly Lucas hadn't put it past him to come back for Peyton. The invaluable witness had been the only one to see him and survive and the FBI had decided to put Peyton Sawyer under special protection.
Lucas murmured a 'good evening' to Dan who sat on the chair just outside of the patient's room. Dan Matthews was a good guy, one of the agents Lucas had worked closely alongside back in Los Angeles for many years. Dan was someone Lucas felt he could count on and trust.
"I'm going to grab another coffee," the man said, setting aside a motorcycle magazine before rising up stiffly from his chair. He dropped the two empty polystyrene cups into a nearby trash can. "You want one?"
"Sure," Lucas agreed quickly. It was going to be a long night back in his small motel room. He still had paperwork and a report to fill out before the morning. But he'd wanted to check on Peyton Sawyer before he did.
Dan shuffled off down the hall and Lucas turned his attentions toward the corner room. The doctors had placed her in the most secure room they could find, under the FBI's instruction. Peyton sat wide-awake and propped up by pillows. She sketched quietly; the room was silent, and the only sound came from the scratches of pencil against paper. Her eyes focused down on the shapes her deft hand crafted.
Lucas tapped lightly on the door-frame of Peyton's hospital room to get her attention. He watched as the girl's head jerked up at the sound of his voice. "Hey. Your dad said it was okay to visit with you, if you're up to it? Can I come in?"
"Sure, I guess." Peyton set her pencil down on the sketch pad and attempted a brave smile. She'd spent the day being examined by doctors and questioned by the police. It had been too many people she hadn't really wanted to speak too. She hadn't really wanted to see anyone other than her father, or this man. Lucas, the man with the kind blue eyes, had come to her rescue. He'd saved her life. She didn't think she would have made it out of the woods without him.
"Your dad went to get some dinner," he said gently, pulling one of the plastic chairs closer to the bed and sitting down.
"I'm sure he's gone to get a burger. Even though he's supposed to be watching his cholesterol," she joked lightly. Larry Sawyer hated hospital food about as much as she did herself. "But then my dad's never followed doctor's orders."
Lucas smiled; under the current circumstances fast food and ignoring diet plans sounded tempting. "How are you feeling?"
"Better." She'd slept for most of the day though she had woken up in fits and starts. She brought her hand to her temple. "My head's still a little sore. I'm still kinda out of it. He gave me something..."
Lucas nodded; he had read the medical report her doctors had supplied to the police. He'd given her a small shot of temazepam. The powerful sedative had some unpleasant side effects.
"Temazepam," he informed her. "It's pretty strong. You may feel a little out of sorts for a couple of days."
"The doctor said that." From what the doctors had told her, the tranquilizer Ian had given her might blur some of her memories of that day. But right now she didn't think that that was such a bad thing.
Peyton's fingers curled around the pencil again, her attentions falling back down to the pad. Lucas sat for a moment, watching her. Her pencil scratched while she lightly and absently shaded in the details of her portrait's eye. He didn't need to study the picture to know who she was drawing. The way her lips were curved and her eyes clouded over told him that.
"You like to draw?" he inquired, his index pointed towards the pad lying in her lap.
"Yeah, it helps me to think. To get things straight…."
Lucas offered a gentle smile.
"Did you catch him? Ian?" She was too tired and too afraid not to ask the burning question.
After spending so long trying to catch this faceless man it was both satisfying and strange for Lucas to finally have a name for him.
"No. We didn't." Lucas shook his head and watched all hope disappear from her green eyes. Peyton's gaze fell immediately onto her sketch pad, her curls falling in front of her face.
She wanted her nightmare to end and go away. The thought that he was still out there was something she didn't want to think about. This couldn't happen to anyone else, she thought and she lifted her head back up to look at Lucas.
"But you found the house, right?" She knew that the house was at least somewhere to start. Sherrie O'Neil had been kept there, maybe the other women too. If the police had found and secured the house it meant that Ian couldn't bring any more girls back there.
"He destroyed it," he told her regretfully.
"What?" Peyton pushed the single word out of her lips. "I don't…."
"He set fire to the house. By the time we got there he'd burned it down. Forensics are examining what's left…." Lucas explained and tried to sound proactive and positive. He was hoping there was something, some remaining clue or crucial piece of evidence that their man had left behind.
"The house is owned by someone named Mrs. Alice Richmond," Lucas continued on. "We're looking to find her right now. She may be a relation."
Peyton gripped her pencil so hard that it snapped in half. She couldn't believe it. She couldn't believe that Ian had escaped. Nor could she fathom that he had destroyed any hope of catching him.
"I'm sorry." He watched as Peyton's strength quickly faded away; she looked like she might cry.
"No, I'm sorry," she brought a hand up to dab at the corners of her eyes, to wipe away the threatening tears. "I just want this to be over."
"I know," he whispered. He watched as she straightened up in the bed. She struggled to regain her composure.
"It's okay to cry," Lucas said gently. He reached his hand to touch at her shoulder in a light, non-threatening gesture.
"No, I can't." She shook her head firmly. She'd tried so hard not to cry while Ian had her locked away in that room; she hadn't wanted to give him the satisfaction of breaking her.
"After what happened to you, it's really okay to cry."
Peyton really looked at him then. It was the compassion in his voice that struck a chord within her. Lucas didn't look or act like the police officers from around here. He didn't act like the police officials that he arrived on her doorstep following her mother's car accident.
"You're not a cop?"
His voice still held the traces of a deep Southern accent; it was deeper than her own. He'd either been away from this part of the country for a long while or he was trying to hide the drawl but she could pick it out when he said certain words. She'd gotten pretty good at it while working at Eddy's with all the customers the diner pulled in.
Her blurred mind did remember the FBI jacket; everything about the day seemed jumbled in her thoughts.
"I work with the FBI as a criminal profiler," Lucas explained. "I'm a behavioral analyst."
"Like a shrink?"
"No, not exactly," he said with a slight smile. People didn't always care to know that his career was to analyze every aspect of their behavior. In fact the very mention of behavioral analysis made some people very uncomfortable.
And it didn't take much guessing that, given her history, Peyton was more than a little wary of psychologists and therapists.
"I study human behavior; my job is to work up profiles on the people, the bad guys that we are chasing. We study their behavioral patterns and it helps us catch them."
"Does that work?" She couldn't keep the cynicism from her betraying voice.
"Yes, it does. We do catch them." Most of the time, he thought solemnly but he smiled as reassuringly as he could. He needed this young woman's faith and trust in order to catch this bad guy.
"I hope that's true," Peyton uttered quietly. With his kind, blue eyes and gentle tone of voice, she wanted to believe in him, even if she did not care for his science.
"Is that him?" Lucas indicated a finger to the sketch resting on her lap.
"Sure." With a quick rustle of pages she thrust the drawing into his outstretched hand.
Lucas stared down at the picture. The drawing was life-like, harrowingly so. If it wasn't for the menace that Peyton had managed to capture behind the man's eyes and his smile he would have simply been blown away by her talent.
"Take it." She didn't give him time to finish his sentence. She didn't want to think about Ian anymore. She sketched to get over the pain she felt; she always had, and right now she was sketching to get the thoughts of darkness and demons out of her head.
"Thank you," Lucas told her honestly. They'd had a sketch artist sit with her during the latter part of the morning, but given that she was the only one of his victims to see him and escape, there was something invaluable about looking at Ian through the eyes of the victim.
"I don't want to think about him," she murmured quietly as she stared down at the now-blank pages of her book. She wished it was all just a nightmare that she'd never have to think about ever again. "I just want to forget it all, you know."
Lucas nodded lightly; he could understand that. If he'd been through what Peyton had, he would want to forget too.
"I should go, let you get some sleep." Lucas rose up from his seat and tucked the sketch into the file he carried.
"Ian knew all these things about me," Peyton said darkly, stopping him in his tracks. "The detectives earlier told me that Ian had probably watched me for weeks."
"We can do this later," Lucas reassured. Peyton looked far too fragile right now and he'd promised Larry that he wouldn't push her with any more questions that day. "You should get some rest, okay?"
"No," she chose to ignore his request. She didn't think that Ian would stop. He was still out there. "You said that you can catch him by studying his behavior?"
She met his eyes with a fixed and resolved glance. "Then I need to help. I don't want him to hurt anyone else."
"All right," Lucas said with a nod and a soft smile. "But if you need to stop, you say so, okay?"
"Okay." Peyton settled back against the hospital pillows and Lucas moved back to the plastic seat at her bedside.
"When he first came to Eddy's, he told me he liked art." She remembered how she had liked him. "I studied art back when I was back at college. It was nice, you know, having someone to talk to about art. I sketch behind the counter and he carried this book around with him. He said he drew. He seemed nice…."
Lucas's brow furrowed as he took in and absorbed the details. From the working profile he'd put together he knew that Ian would most likely get to know the women before he abducted them. Peyton had confirmed that; Ian had engaged in her interests, and he'd preyed upon her loneliness. He had tried to gain her trust before he struck.
She described how he'd followed her on her day off. How his behavior had changed dramatically toward her after she rejected him in the middle of the woods. She told him how Ian had known her favorite coffee drink. She skipped over the details of the attack in the diner and Lucas didn't say a word. He guessed it was too soon for her to relive the attack.
"He, um, he kept us in this room," her voice became all the more fragile. She kept her gaze focused on her hands. "It was in the basement. It was always dark in there and cold. It was like a prison cell, just a bed, a table, a toilet and a sink. He knew what beauty products I like."
"Wait a minute," Lucas sat bolt upright in the plastic chair. He wasn't sure if he'd heard that right. "Us?"
"What?" Peyton's eyes locked with his.
"You said us? Was someone else in the room with you?"
"No, I … I found a note." Peyton's gaze dropped back to her hands.
"What note?" Lucas wasn't altogether sure that he wanted to know her answer to his question; certainly not by judging the sadness and fear lingering in Peyton's voice.
"It was written by Sherrie O'Neil. He kept her in the room before me." She shivered at the memory of finding the letter hidden in the wall.
Lucas was quiet for a moment. It was as though all air had escaped his lungs after learning that Ian had kept Sherrie and then Peyton in the same cell. He wondered for a cold moment if Josie Turner and Alex Stevens had also been held in that room.
"Do you still have it?" he managed to choke out a moment later. "The note?"
Peyton nodded her head just once. She'd kept it. She was trying so hard to forget everything about the last six days. It had, quite literally, been the week from hell but she couldn't forget Sherrie or her words. She reached forward to the bedside drawer and pulled out the little plastic bag the nurse had given her.
"She wrote it for her husband," Peyton said in an uneven tone. "It was like a goodbye…."
Lucas reached forward to take the transparent package from her. His fingers traced the hospital's bag and his gaze lay fixed upon the sadly-acquired new evidence.
"What?" Peyton uttered in a frail whisper and Lucas's fingers tightened over the letter. The sadly-compassionate expression stretching across Lucas's face provoked those threatening tears back behind her eyes. She knew even before he'd answered her that she really wouldn't like the response. "Lucas? What is it?"
Lucas straightened up in his seat again and met her glance. He kept his expression fixed and solemn as he delivered the news. "Peyton, Sherrie O'Neil's body was found just outside Fayetteville. Ian drowned her."
"No." Peyton brought her hand up to cover her mouth. She had known it; of course she'd known it. From the minute she'd found the note, she had known Sherrie hadn't survived. She had known it in the depths of her soul as she read the words back at the house. And yet now the tears fell. Thick and fast.
"Peyton." He reached forward and tried to calm her.
"I can't..." Her voice broke while her body shook, and more tears came.
"Okay." He let his hand rest on top of hers. He tried to comfort her as best he could. "It's okay."
Peyton took a couple of moments, taking long, deep breaths to calm herself. It was all too much.
"Can we stop now?" Her voice was unsure and almost pleading.
"Yeah, of course," he said gently, keeping to his word. "We can stop. Get some sleep; we can do this tomorrow."
"Okay," Peyton lay back down. She hugged the paper-thin pillow in her hands in a desperate attempt for comfort. She really just wanted to sleep and forget now.
Five days after leaving Fayetteville, Ian sat patiently inside his new rental car in the center of Chapel Hill. Back at the scene of the crime, he joked. The college campus was one of his favored hunting grounds.
Campus security now patrolled the grounds. A procedure of extra vigilance had been incorporated into the lives of the students, professors and college personnel.
But it didn't seem to be enough. All it had taken was a change in vehicle and a new hair dye and it seemed like he could drive around like a new man.
He watched the large spots of water blot against the windshield creating a streaming pattern against the glass. The orange lamps illuminated the dark parking lot and the heavy rain splattered on the metal roof. The announcers on a local radio station talked on in the background about the weekend's latest events but he wasn't really listening.
He sipped at the cooling, sour-tasting coffee from a white paper cup. He was hunting, planning and calculating his next move. He always joked that this part was just like a police stakeout, only he was the smarter in the game. They were chasing him. Even though the police had the added assistance of the FBI they still hadn't been able to catch him. He'd slipped away between the cracks in Fayetteville.
But, he reasoned while he took a drag of his cigarette, he couldn't afford to be complacent. With his sketch now circulating the news he had to be extra vigilant. He was always careful; he watched and waited. He bided his time. He craved order, and with the police and FBI on his trail, he really couldn't afford any mistakes.
His ears prickled as the radio reeled off the very latest headlines and Ian felt the excitement buzzing in his body. He'd made the news again and that made him smile. That quelled his disappointment over losing Peyton. He'd lost her again, and he still missed Peyton, but being talked about and feared by these small little communities eased his irritation over the pesky Wilmington girl.
When the chirpy radio announcer turned to the sports section of the broadcast Ian turned his attentions to the newspapers lying on the passenger's seat. With the cigarette cradled tightly between his lips his hand retrieved the Chapel Hill News. He wore the ghost of a smile on his face while he worked quickly to cut out the morning's headlines. He turned the snippet upside down and rubbed the glue onto the back.
He pasted the article into his red scrapbook and ran a finger over the color picture that occupied the headline. It really wasn't her best photograph, he thought regretfully. He preferred her hair wild and curly, not scraped back like she wore it in the picture. And the dark circles and her haunted eyes told him she wasn't happy. He traced the tip of his index finger along her jawline. He missed his Peyton. He hadn't gotten over Peyton. Things had not gone according to his plan. She'd escaped him and he wasn't sure whether he felt anger or elation. He'd misjudged her; she'd been willful, clever and she'd gotten the better of him. That excited him. The thrill of the chase always did.
The echo of laughter and the stir of voices brought his eyes back to the rain-blotted windshield. He closed the book firmly shut and carefully placed it into the glove compartment.
He'd be back for Peyton Sawyer, he silently promised her that.
But right now he needed to focus on what was right in front of him. He took a long drag of his cigarette, blowing smoke into the car as he watched the group of girls walking down the university hospital steps. His eyes were intent upon the woman who broke away from the pack and wandered off towards the library.
He felt that flicker of anticipation; the games were beginning all over again.
On a Friday night, the medical student should have been partying and celebrating her youth. But Maxine Freeman, the sensible, dependable red-head with her low-rise jeans and confident stride, made straight for a tall building in the center of the campus. She was off to pull an all-nighter in the quiet, deserted library just like she did every weekend. He'd been visiting her long enough to know these details.
He'd watched and learned that she lived alone in a little run-down apartment block just off campus. He'd discovered that she worked weekends to put herself through medical school. She'd been orphaned at age five after her parents died in a house fire. He knew that the girl who asked her patients to call her 'Dr. Max' on her hospital rounds wanted one day to become a leading neurosurgeon.
Ian fired up the engine and rolled down the window. He flicked the cigarette butt onto the soggy ground before driving slowly forward.
"Excuse me." He pulled his car alongside the unsuspecting woman. Dr. Max turned around. One look into her deep hazel eyes and Ian didn't miss Peyton Sawyer quite as much.
"Yes?" she asked, her forehead crumpling in curiosity.
"I was wondering if you could tell me how to get to the interstate?"
"Sure," the student doctor said. Maxine had always tried to be polite and helpful. She adjusted her backpack as she moved toward his car and bent forwards to speak to the driver.
She saw his eyes first; they were dark and gleaming. One look at the man behind the wheel and she froze. She knew who he was. She'd read about him and heard the headlines every morning.
Ian didn't say a thing. He didn't wait a second. He lunged forward and grabbed her by the lapels of her denim jacket. She did struggle, she screamed and she clawed wildly at him while he dragged her off the street. He heard the thud as her head smacked against the car's door frame. She sagged for a moment, dazed and shocked, and he used the opportunity to pull her completely inside.
He turned his attentions back to the lot. He'd gotten lucky and Dr. Max hadn't attracted anyone with the disturbance. But he still needed to get out of here quickly. The campus had tightened up its security and he didn't want to be here any longer than necessary. He reached back to the glove compartment for his little medical kit.
"Don't," she murmured; her eyes were still unfocused from the blow to her head. She needed to move and act but dizziness and nausea seemed to govern her body. She watched in horror as he readied a syringe.
"You don't look too well, doc," Ian said, pulling the sleeves of her jacket and shirt up and exposing the vulnerable, pale skin of her arm.
"No, please," Maxine tried to recoil her arm away from him. Every movement she made seemed labored and sluggish even though she knew urgency was very much essential in her bid to get away.
"Shh, you just need to rest," he whispered. He held her tightly and he pumped the sedative into the limb. "Everything always looks so much better after a good night's rest."
Ian watched as the light went off behind her big hazel eyes. She slumped back in the passenger's seat.
"That's better." Ian lit up another cigarette and inhaled with a satisfied grin. He fired up the engine again and chanced a glance out at the college grounds. He wondered for a moment of brazen alarm if the struggle had caused any unwanted attention. It hadn't. The parking lot remained rain-splattered and empty.
He eased the car back along the roads and cranked on the stereo. He had one last visit to make that night.
The very next morning, Peyton dozed softly in and out of her dream-world. She was vaguely aware of the morning's pink rays filtering in through the blinds. She felt the warm, velvety fur of Dusky's coat beneath her fingertips as her precious dog lay slumbering beside her. She hadn't been sleeping well ever since her rescue six days ago; her dreams always gave way to him, even now that she was back in her own hometown and her own bed. She'd wake up to murmured screams and cold sweats before lying restlessly and staring alertly at the darkened window.
Peyton nuzzled into her pillow, her head still bleary and half way between sleep and consciousness. Her lids were heavy and begging for more rest. She didn't try to fight it. She pressed them shut, drifting back into the haziness of her dreams. She saw his pale, mottled face and his gleaming eyes staring at her. Ian was looking in at her through the window this time. His face curved into a murderous grin.
She opened her eyes fully, catching a strangled scream in the palm of her hand. She sat up so abruptly that Dusky stirred and moved up onto her haunches.
Peyton turned her head quickly to take in her surroundings. Nothing had changed. Her windows were shut and locked tight. The deadbolt was still locked on her bedroom door to stop anyone from coming in. There was no dark figure looming beside her closet. She was completely safe and alone in her childhood room.
A fragile breath passed between her lips. There was no one there; no Ian hiding and waiting in the closet, biding his time before he struck again. She blinked her damp lashes and hugged the comforter to her chest. She lived through quick, snapping moments of irrational, overwhelming panic to chastising herself for being paranoid and jumpy. She hated it; she'd survived something terrible and wanted to go back to normal, but safe and normal felt so far away and so very unobtainable right now.
"Morning, girl," Peyton turned her attentions onto the faithful animal nuzzling at her hand and she ruffled the golden fur on the top of Dusky's head. The German Shepherd's gentle whines prompted Peyton to begin her day, a day full of routine and the attempt to make it from one moment to the next.
"You hungry, huh?" She threw off the covers and reached for the fluffy white robe hanging at the back of her door. She shrugged the garment over her arms and tried to ignore the urge to look over her shoulder before she left the room.
"Come on, let's get you some breakfast," she said in a sleepily-hoarse voice and patted her dog lightly on the hind leg.
Dusky followed closely at Peyton's side as they padded down the hallway and to the stairs. Before she made it down to the bottom of the staircase, she saw that she had company. Lucas sat on the couch, his back towards her, with blankets cast aside and bunched up. He rubbed at his stiff neck, and she knew he'd slept there. Peyton also knew from experience that their couch wasn't the most comfortable.
She saw his gun in its holster, sitting there on the coffee table. She hated guns; she always had. And yet she seemed to be surrounded by them now she was under constant FBI protection. Guns frightened her because life could be extinguished in such a quick flash. She hadn't grown up around them; her father had raised her to value life. When she'd lived with Greg he had kept a gun; he was from Brooklyn and was still keen on home security. She remembered her professor and sometime boyfriend telling her it wasn't the gun that was to be feared, but more the intent behind it. He reasoned that the danger came from the person who held the weapon. She hadn't necessarily believed him, but as the sight of the object now made her feel strangely more at ease she supposed maybe there was some truth in it. She brushed the dark thought aside.
"Good morning," she greeted him in a small, hesitant voice once she'd crossed into her den and caused him to turn his head and look over at her.
"Peyton." Lucas stammered as he was alerted to her presence. "Good morning, I didn't hear you," He stood up and moved to face her. He realized he hadn't heard or noticed her moving through the house, and he should have been paying more attention.
"Everything okay?" she asked idly. It surprised Peyton a little to see him on her couch. She'd grown used to the squad cars parked around her home over the past few days. The officers and agents would patrol around the house while keeping her safe. She'd offer coffee and snacks sometimes and they'd sit in the kitchen for awhile but once night fell the men and women would disappear into their police cruisers and watch and wait until morning.
"Yes, everything's fine." It wasn't really; he wasn't exactly following protocol as he slept over at the latest victim's home last night. His supervisor, William Spencer, would probably have him thrown off the case for visiting with Larry Sawyer when Peyton was still missing and now sleeping in the Sawyers' home when officially off-duty.
Peyton smiled weakly before her hands moved to pull her robe closer to her frame.
"I'm sorry. I meant to be gone before you woke up," he uttered, suddenly feeling the need to excuse his being there as he watched Peyton self-consciously tightening her robe around her body, hiding her bruises and her sleepwear completely from his sight. She tied the satin belt around her waist and he whispered his apology again.
"It's fine," she said hiding her shyness and her shame. She liked Lucas; he'd saved her in her bid to escape Ian. She was sorry for the other day when she'd broken down. Lucas had been good to her. She trusted him more than any other policeman on her case.
"Your dad and I got to talking," he continued on to excuse his presence in her house. "It was late and he offered me the couch."
"It's fine, really..." Her uneasiness within the shell of her skin had nothing to do with Lucas at all. She knew that her father had become good friends with Lucas Scott. Her father had told her how Lucas had visited while she was still missing. And it occurred to her that having him in her home made her feel more at ease. "You and my dad were talking?" she asked as an afterthought.
"Literature," Lucas explained with a bob of his head and a tiny smile.
Peyton nodded her head and offered a small laugh. She liked that her dad was talking and bonding with this man. It had been a long time since he made any sort of an effort with anyone.
"Well, it's really nice that he can talk about dead writers with someone," she joked. "I was always more into music and art so..." Like her mom had been when she was still alive. Peyton realized she'd become more introspective recently. Her father had always said how she'd taken after her mother in so many ways. And she'd been thinking more about her mother lately.
"He certainly likes his gothic fiction," Lucas said lightly and earned a smile from her.
"Yeah, I remember him reading The Telltale Heart to me when I was five... Let's just say it was kind of lost on me back then."
Lucas offered another grin before he busied himself with fastening his tie around his collar.
"Would you like some coffee? Or some breakfast?" Peyton offered after Dusky nudged her snout against her leg reminding her it was time to eat.
"No, that's okay," Lucas turned back toward the couch, gathering up his jacket that was laid over its arm. "I should probably get to the station."
"Come on." The big dark circles beneath his eyes told her he could definitely use a shot of caffeine. "Even an FBI agent can spare some time to have a coffee? And that couch doesn't give the best night's sleep so I know that you could use it."
Lucas conceded with a smile, "I guess I have a few spare minutes."
"That's what I thought." She smiled with a hint of satisfaction. "I'll make some coffee."
She turned on her heel and but led the way to the kitchen, leaving Lucas to follow. She moved to the cupboard and pulled out the bag of Dusky's food before she stooped over the dog's bowl by the back door and tipped in the feed. Peyton left a content Dusky eating her breakfast, before she busied herself with pouring the coffee grinds into the filter.
She heard the footsteps tapping on the tiled kitchen floor, and even though she knew it was Lucas she still felt that stab of irrational fear at the back of her mind. She pushed the thought away and turned around to see Lucas now fully dressed in his work suit and she smiled sheepishly.
"They even have you working on a Saturday, huh?" Peyton attempted small talk.
"Comes with the territory," Lucas replied with a little grin. "Weekends are kind of a forgotten luxury."
Peyton returned the smile before she busied herself with making the coffee. She flicked the maker on and listened as it stirred and spluttered to life.
"So, how are you feeling?" Lucas inquired gently. They hadn't really spoken since that day in the hospital. Mitch had questioned Peyton further regarding her abduction.
"I'm okay," Peyton said with a slight shrug of her shoulders. Whenever anyone asked her that overused question she told everyone she was fine, that she was coping. She'd survived, she was lucky in that way. Sherrie O'Neil hadn't been so lucky.
"You sure?" He was looking at her like he wasn't convinced.
She merely nodded this time. Most people would ask the question and then move on to a more neutral topic, not knowing what else to say to her. But then she knew his whole job revolved around reading people. She was probably giving him a thousand signals that she wasn't coping that well but she tried to fool him, and herself, that she had it all under control.
"Bagel?" she suggested, wanting to change the subject. She set two bagels down on the chopping board before he'd even had a chance to answer.
"Sure." Lucas watched silently as she moved to cut up a bagel for him. Her hand was just slightly unsteady before she'd sliced it. She set down the knife and offered a choice curse under her breath.
He mercifully took over her task; she looked back at him and sighed. There was no fooling him.
"It's just hard. I don't know... I keep seeing him." She felt like she was going crazy. She couldn't blow-dry her hair without turning off the dryer every few seconds and straining her ears to catch the sounds that weren't there. She couldn't go to sleep at night without checking the windows were locked and her closet was empty. She felt foolish, like a little child frightened of the monsters that lurked beyond the shadows.
"That isn't uncommon," he offered gently, watching as Peyton hugged her arms to her body.
"Yeah?" she questioned with the hint of cynicism raising itself. If that was true then why did she feel like every single thing in her life was spinning out of control?
"Peyton, what you're feeling," Lucas said sadly, "it's common amongst victims."
"You see this kind of thing a lot, huh?" She knew what his job was, trying to understand how a killer's mind worked. She didn't know how he could do that job he did or how he dealt with what he saw.
"Unfortunately, I do," he told her honestly.
His blue eyes held such sadness behind them. He really wasn't like the police she'd met in her town. He wasn't like the ones that had come into Eddy's after a late shift, grumpy and seemingly uninspired by their jobs. Lucas, from everything she'd seen and heard from her father, cared about people. He'd visited the house when she was missing and he didn't have to do that. He didn't have to be here, now, talking with her now but he was.
Peyton didn't say anything. She plucked two thick ceramic coffee mugs from the cupboard and poured them both a hot, steaming drink. He cradled the mug in both hands while she mixed cream and sugar into her own.
"Maybe you could try talking to someone?" he tried to offer that option as delicately as he could. As part of his job, and after everything he'd seen, that was what was always suggested and recommended. But not everyone was so inclined to open up right away.
"Maybe … I don't know." She looked down at the pale tiles beneath her bare feet. "I'm not good at talking…. When my mom died, I went to a counselor for a little bit. The school made me. But it, um, it didn't really work out."
She didn't trust people, certainly not enough to let them in. She knew it. And talking to a complete stranger, who knew nothing about her, seemed impossible.
"It might help to talk about what happened to you," he told her gently.
"I guess..." She stared down at the dark beverage she held in her hands. She could feel Lucas's gaze on her and she lifted her head. She needed to say it. And saying it to kind Lucas who rescued her and understood her seemed easier than saying it to anyone else. "It's just; I mean I'm lucky, right? Sherrie O'Neil wasn't so lucky."
Lucas saw the tears glistening in her lovely green eyes, "Peyton…."
"I shared the same room as her." Her voice was so fragile and frightened. She could still remember the note and the nail marks on the bed's headboard.
"Peyton, what happened to Sherrie O'Neil wasn't your fault." The idea that this girl would feel somewhat responsible from one man's sick, cruel actions made him more than a little nauseous. "None of this is your fault."
"I know," she lowered her eyes to the rim of the ceramic cup. It wasn't her fault, it was Ian's. She knew that. She couldn't really explain why she felt the hint of guilt and accountability she did whenever she thought of Mr. O'Neil and the children growing up without their mother. Maybe it was because she knew what it was like to be left behind.
"It's going to take time, Peyton," he assured and encouraged lightly. She'd tilted her head, letting her thick, blonde locks hide her face from him.
She nodded, trying to believe his words; trying to believe that one day she'd feel comfortable in her own life and her own skin again. "Yeah," she whispered. "I know."
"You've been through a lot," he reminded her. "But you have your father who loves you; people who care about you."
Peyton lifted her head; her fingertips wiped the stray tears from her lashes.
"It will get easier." He rested a reassuring hand on her shoulder. She was a survivor; the fact that she'd escaped Ian's clutches told him that much. She was strong enough to get past this even if she didn't believe it right now.
She nodded her head and attempted a sure smile as she finally looked him in the eye. There was something about the way he looked at her that made her want to believe in his words.
"Things will get better." He squeezed her shoulder gently. He silently promised himself once again that he'd catch the man so that Peyton, and so many others, wouldn't have to live in fear.
"I hope so." She hated being like this, living through her life being scared of even the smallest shadow or jumping at an unexpected sound.
Dusky barked, turning both Peyton's and Lucas's attentions towards her. The dog was on all fours, standing firm and alert.
"Dusky!" Peyton called out at the animal but the dog continued to bark.
"It's probably just the neighbor's cat," Peyton explained. She moved to pluck the keys off the rack and then she made toward the back door.
"Let me," Lucas requested. There was something about the sudden change in the dog's usually-placid temperament that made him think it wasn't the next door's cat that had her teeth bared and every muscle in her body poised. "Stay here and don't move."
Peyton nodded wordlessly and placed the keys into his palm. Only one person had managed to get her dog this agitated in months. She didn't want to open the door to find Ian on the other side of it. She tried to ignore the trembling in her whole body while she watched Lucas move slowly to the back door.
She saw his hand creep to the gun holster he wore at his waist. He was thinking the exact thing she was. Only he was calm and vigilant. And she was scared.
Lucas opened the door and peered out from it. The backyard was quiet in the morning's glow. He checked his corners, with the gun poised and ready. He couldn't see anyone.
He looked down to the object at his feet.
"Lucas?" Peyton moved to the back door to find Lucas standing, staring out at her garden. Her brow furrowed at the sight of the long, black gift box. She wasn't entirely sure it was just her imagination that the air tickled against her skin and seemed to be several degrees colder.
"Stay inside and out of sight," he urged her. Peyton backed away from the door watching while Lucas moved through into the den, his gun still cradled in the palm of his hand. He checked the windows and doors; he twitched the drapes and peered into the quiet street. He could see the squad cars parked outside but there was no sign of anyone else.
Peyton watched quietly while Lucas moved back into the kitchen, toward the bag he'd left on the breakfast table the night before. He unzipped it and pulled out his forensics equipment. He pulled on the standard white plastic gloves she remembered seeing in detective shows.
"Is he out there?" she whispered fearfully.
Lucas shook his head and walked back to the back porch. He bent down to examine the box. From his years of service with the Bureau he knew to check that the object wasn't a concealed threat before he touched it or moved it. He couldn't underestimate the anger the killer felt after Peyton escaped him.
"What is it?" Peyton asked when Lucas finally ventured back into her home with the large package in his hands.
"I don't know." He set it down on the counter. Peyton followed to stand beside him. It was for her. The tiny white envelope attached to it was addressed to her. Her name was printed so boldly and carefully on the envelope, and Lucas knew immediately who it was from.
Peyton found herself reaching for the envelope; curiosity got the better of her.
"Don't touch it," Lucas instructed, reaching out with his own hand to stop her from opening it. Peyton stepped away immediately.
"It's from him, isn't it?" she asked.
"Yeah, I think it is."
He moved forward and carefully lifted the envelope but nothing was inside but a blank greeting card. He dropped the blank stationery into a plastic evidence bag anyway.
Peyton's heart hammered in her chest as Lucas finally opened the lid. The tears welled behind her eyes, threatening to spill and they blurred her vision. She blinked her lashes; she wanted to see what was inside even though the better part of her screamed that she probably was better off not knowing.
Twelve long-stemmed red roses lay inside. They were wrapped in a black ribbon with a little piece of paper nestled in the middle of the flowers.
The four letters gleamed boldly and Peyton raised her hand to cover her mouth. She stifled the scream that welled up in her throat.
Lucas set the lid back on top of the box. She'd didn't need to see this. She was shaking so hard, and perhaps against his better judgment, he reached out to hold her. She clung to him, her body trembling, and she buried her face in the fabric of his jacket.
"It's okay," Lucas uttered, knowing full well it wasn't. Ian continuing to threaten her even after she'd escaped him concerned him greatly. He knew it must be just terrifying for her.
"He's going to keep coming after me, isn't he?" She couldn't stop the realization slipping through her lips. She had tried so hard to control her fears; and had tried to keep the tears from betraying her voice.
"And I'm going to catch him."
"I hope so." She felt Lucas's reassuring squeeze at her shoulders, strong and protective. She wanted to believe him. He seemed to be a man of his word. He'd do everything he could to catch Ian.
"I need to call this in," Lucas told her gently. There was a chance Ian could still be in the area and he needed to get the police out there.
Peyton pulled away and offered him a weak smile, but it was a smile nonetheless. Lucas calmed her and reassured her better than she did herself these days.
"Of course." She took a couple of steps back. He needed to do his job and the best thing she could do right now was let him.
"Why don't you go wake up your dad?"
"Yes, okay." She disappeared from the kitchen with Dusky following closely at her heels.
Lucas moved cautiously to the windows and peeked through the slivers of the blinds. He didn't think that Ian would be as bold so to stalk outside Peyton Sawyer's home when she was under police protection. But then he wouldn't put anything past this killer. And he wasn't taking any chances.