Beta, p.12
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       Beta, p.12

         Part #2 of Alpha series by Jasinda Wilder
 
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He nodded. “Yeah. ” A long pause. “Anyway. The point is, I tried to leave. And she sent a guy after me. Not just to kill me, though, but to make me suffer first. If he’d just shot me from behind, I would never have had a chance. But he tried to cripple me first. Stabbed me in the back. We fought, and I won. I made him tell me who’d sent him, and why. He told me. And I put a bullet in his skull. That’s something I’ll never forget, either. I got away, and thought that was it.

  “I ended up in New York, used the money I’d saved to buy a house on Long Island. Flipped it. Did all the work myself. Sold it for a profit, did it again. Bought an apartment complex building in the Bronx, fixed the units up, rented them out. Had a business going within a few years, making serious money. Legitimate money. Diversified. Hired someone to keep the real estate business going, started buying companies out, improving them, and selling them off. Then I met your father…and by that time, I hadn’t heard a peep from Gina or her father. I thought they were history.

  “And then, ten years later, I woke up handcuffed to the bed in Gina’s estate on Oia. ”

  I slid off the bed, knelt between Valentine’s knees. Took his hands in mine. “Valentine? What did she do to you?”

  He squeezed his eyes shut, tried to pull his hands away. Spoke through clenched teeth. “She…you know what she did. ”

  “Tell me. ”

  His chest was heaving, veins standing out purple in his neck, on his forehead. “You really want to hear me say it? Fine. She stripped me naked, handcuffed me to the bed, and groped me. Got me hard. Fucked me. I wouldn’t let her make me come, though, and she got mad. She’d put a cock-ring on me, so my erection wouldn’t go away. Couldn’t. I did everything I could. I tried to stop it. Jerked on the cuffs so hard my wrists started bleeding. I was so hard it hurt. So hard for so long. I wouldn’t let her make me come. So she…forced that pill into me. Two of her goons pried my mouth open and put the pill onto my tongue. Forced my jaw closed and pinched my nose closed so I had to swallow to breathe. I damn near choked. But she got the pill into me. A few hours later, she came back. And this time…well, you saw how I was. It turned me into a monster. I still fought it. I fought it for—for you. I knew it was wrong. The need, it was wrong. It wasn’t me. But I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t stop my body from reacting to the chemicals. I tried, Kyrie. I tried. Fuck, I tried. ”

  His voice broke. His shoulders shook. He tucked his chin against his breastbone and shuddered, and his hands clenched around mine, turning to fists around my fingers, crushing me. I let him, swallowed the cry of pain. A groan left him, scraping out between grinding teeth. “She took what she wanted. She got on top of me, and she raped me. Made herself come on me again and again, and I tried to hold back even though it hurt. ”

  He paused.

  “She took what she wanted from me for herself, but it wasn’t enough,” he continued. “She wanted to break me. But I held out. Refused to come. I don’t know how. Then the pill wore off. You saw what happened, the side effects of the drug leaving my system. I went through that. She came back, found me covered in vomit. Couldn’t have that, of course. She couldn’t fuck a puke-covered man, so she had her goons uncuff me. I tried to escape. I puked all over one of them, and managed to get his gun in the process. I shot him. But I couldn’t even stand on my own. They cleaned me off. That hurt rather badly. ” He paused again, rubbing at his face, then began again. “I wouldn’t take the pill the second time. I’d killed one of her men, and it had taken two of them to administer the pill the last time. So she decided to…have some fun. She water-boarded me. Poured water into my mouth. Up my nose. It’s like drowning, but worse. Panic. You can’t breathe, and she knew just when to stop so I wouldn’t actually die. And then she’d start all over again. She used a moment when I was gasping for breath to put the pill into my mouth, and then she kept pouring water down my throat and forced me to swallow it. Even after I’d swallowed it, she kept water-boarding me. Over and over and over. Just to hurt me. Because she enjoyed it. ” He finally opened his eyes and looked down at me. “And then you and Harris rescued me. ”

  “Valentine…. ” I didn’t know what to say.

  “I never gave her the satisfaction she wanted. If you hadn’t rescued me, I would have succumbed. She would have broken me. ” He ducked his head, closed his eyes. “She did break me. I didn’t give her what she wanted from me. I didn’t let her make me come. But she still broke me. ”

  I withdrew my hands from his, reached up, and took his face in my palms. “No. She didn’t. You’re not broken, Valentine. ”

  “Yes. I am. I am. ” He jerked his face from my hands. “Look what I did to you. I had you pinned to the bed. I nearly—I nearly did to you what she did to me. I did do that to you. Just because you didn’t fight doesn’t mean—” He choked, gasped, started again. “I forced you. I brutalized you. ”

  I couldn’t stop the tears. “No. Valentine, no. ” I shook my head, gripped his face. “Look at me, Valentine. Please. ”

  He twisted his face out of my grip, closed his eyes, and refused to meet my gaze. “It won’t happen again, I promise. ” He murmured the words, syllables dropping from his lips like cold, hard pebbles.

  “Valentine, no. Look at me. That’s not how it was. ”

  I was lying a little, though. That hadn’t been my Valentine making love to me, hadn’t been my Roth fucking me. That had been someone else, something else. He hadn’t forced himself on me. He’d stopped. But what we’d done when he was in the throes of the drug, that hadn’t been us, either. I couldn’t figure out what it was or how I felt about it, but it wasn’t us.

  Roth wouldn’t look at me. Wouldn’t touch me. Wouldn’t let me touch him. I put a palm to his cheek, trying to be gentle and tender. He flinched away.

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  And that scared me.

  “Valentine, please…don’t pull away from me now. Please don’t. ”

  He didn’t answer. Didn’t even acknowledge my words.

  “Look at me, Valentine. Please!” He shook his head. Panic ran hot in my blood. “LOOK AT ME!” I screamed.

  He flinched, and his eyes went dull. He went slack. Unresisting. “Okay, Kyrie. I’m looking at you. ”

  I sobbed. “I’m sorry, Valentine. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have—” I fell to the floor, weeping. He didn’t touch me. Didn’t comfort me. Didn’t say a word. I forced myself to stop and sat up. I looked at him. “You didn’t brutalize me, Valentine. You didn’t force me. You didn’t take anything I didn’t give. ”

  “Okay. ” His voice was flat.

  “Roth?” I stood up, stumbled back, spine to the wall. “Valentine?”

  He blinked, glanced at me. “Yes?”

  “Say something. ”

  “What would you like me to say, Kyrie?” No intonation, no inflection, no Roth.

  I’d lost him. He was gone. I shook my head, knelt down, and crawled toward him. Put my hands on his knees. He looked down at me indifferently. “Roth? Please. Don’t do this. Don’t pull away from me. This is me, okay? I’m sorry I yelled at you. I’m just…I’m scared. I’m confused. I’m angry. Not at you, at her. ”

  “It’s fine. It doesn’t matter. ”

  “It does matter, Valentine. It’s not fine. ”

  “Okay. ”

  I wanted to scream at him again, tell him to wake up, to come back to me, but I couldn’t. I fell backward onto my butt, fighting tears, sobbing, chest heaving. I sat for a long time, just watching Roth. He in turn sat staring into space, motionless, blank. Eventually, I stood up, wiped at my face, and moved to the door.

  I twisted to glance back at Roth. “You’re letting her win. You’re letting her break you. I love you, Valentine. I’m here. I’ll fight for you. I’ll fight for us. But if you give up, what is there to fight for?”

  I moved topside, found Harris behind the wheel, feet propped up, a cigarette smoldering between two fingers,
a paperback in the other hand.

  When he saw me, he set the book face down. “How is he?”

  I could only shake my head. “Not—not good. ” I couldn’t bring myself to tell Harris what had happened. I assumed he would guess pretty close to the truth.

  “Give him time. ”

  I shrugged. “I guess. ”

  “I’ve been waiting to decide what we should do, where we should go next. We should be safe here for a while, but they’ve got contacts all over the world. They’ll get wind of us here soon enough. We need a plan. ”

  I felt cold and empty. “Just…just take us back to New York. If the bitch wants us, she can come get us. ”

  “Kyrie, I don’t think that’s—” I leveled a look at him, and the expression on my face was all he needed. He held up his hands in surrender. “Okay. Okay. New York it is. ”

  11

  THE MANHATTAN PROJECT

  The relief I felt as I set my backpack down in the master bedroom of Roth’s Manhattan tower home came in a thick, hot, choking wave of tears. I dropped the bag to the floor, staring around at the familiar room. Wide bed, white duvet tucked in neatly at the edges. The wall opposite the bed slid open to reveal a floor-to-ceiling television that could double as a computer display. A set of double doors leading to a walk-in closet larger than most middle-class single-family homes. The door beside that leading to the bathroom, another expansive universe of dark marble and spotless glass and polished metal, modern lines and sleek curves and soft lighting. The wall facing outside was entirely glass, the whole wall designed to slide open to make the huge corner balcony and bedroom into one mammoth indoor-outdoor space. The balcony where Roth had told me the truth regarding my father’s murder. The balcony where everything I’d ever known had changed.

  I turned away from the balcony. Roth stood in the doorway, unmoving, staring blankly over my shoulder at the skyline. “We’re home, Valentine. ”

  He nodded. “Indeed we are. ”

  He’d been nearly catatonic the entire way here. Countless hours on the boat, from Alexandria to Istanbul. A terrifying twin-engine prop-plane ride from Istanbul to Paris. From there a tiny jet, barely bigger than the prop plane, four comfortable seats, no flight attendant. Just Harris, Roth, myself, and the pilot, who spoke no English and was given a fat envelope full of Euros to fly us out of a private airfield in the countryside outside Paris. No names were exchanged, no questions asked, no flight pattern filed. Hours of yet more flying low over the Atlantic. No one spoke. Harris had a laptop on which he typed nonstop the entire ride. Roth stared out the window, blinking slowly every few seconds, taking deep sighing breaths, index finger tapping at his lips. No one slept.

  Now I stood in the center of the bedroom, facing Roth, searching for something to say. For something to do. Kiss him? Tell him I love him? Drop to my knees and suck him off? Leave? Go stay with my friend Layla? Find a hotel? Stay in one of the guest rooms?

  No. None of that would work. I’d told him I loved him. I’d tried to kiss him. Somewhere in the Mediterranean, partway to Istanbul. Middle of the night, moonshine gleaming through the porthole, bathing us both in silver light. Both of us were awake, unable to sleep. I rolled over, tucked my head against Roth’s chest. He hadn’t wrapped his arm around me. Hadn’t even responded or registered that he knew I was there. I leaned up, kissed his jaw. Nothing. Kissed his cheek. Nothing. Kissed his lips. They were dry, cracked, chapped. No response, just a blank stare at the ceiling. I was worried and afraid. Was this the drugs still? Or was it psychological trauma? I didn’t know, and didn’t know what to do about it.

  Now, standing in the center of the room, I felt everything well up inside me. All the emotions I’d buried deep, over and over, began to boil over. The fear I’d denied myself. The panic I’d not allowed myself to feel. The pain at what Roth had endured. The sick-to-my-stomach unease at the way Roth had fucked me on that boat. The look in his eyes. The feral hunger, the brutal power. The way he’d taken me, nearly forced me. And then the way I’d stuffed down my own deep fear of him, my rage at Gina. The way I’d pretended as if him fucking me was okay. Even though I knew—knew—it wasn’t Roth. It wasn’t the man I loved taking me, giving me pleasure. That was a drug, raping me despite my consent. That was some chemical-addled monster riding me, using me. But I’d done it for Valentine. He had been in agony. Crazed. And I’d missed him. Needed him. I’d hoped, naïvely, that my love would be enough. That my feelings for him would bring him back to himself somehow.

  Page 34

 

  I’d been wrong.

  And now…?

  I was exhausted, physically and mentally. I couldn’t stand up anymore. I tried. I locked my knees and clenched my teeth and sucked in deep breaths, in and out, in and out, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Dizziness washed over me. My breath came in panicked gasps, refusing my efforts to breathe evenly and regularly. My stomach twisted and rose up into my throat, hot and knotted into a rock-hard lump. I’d been as strong as I could be, for as long as I could. Now I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I couldn’t hold back.

  My knees gave out, and I collapsed to the floor on my hands and knees, choking on my sobs. They were quiet at first, little squeaking rasps in my throat, but then my voice caught, a sob lodged in my throat, and I couldn’t breathe. My arms trembled, unable to support me any longer. I felt carpet against my forehead, chest burning, lungs aching with my inability to breathe. I fell once more, this time to my side, and I curled up. Something broke inside me then, and the silent heaving shattered, and a sob became a wail. I covered my face with my hands, tucked my forehead against my knees, heels to my buttocks, and wept.

  Moments turned to minutes, and I couldn’t quiet myself, and didn’t try.

  I felt the ground topple and tumble beneath me, felt hands beneath my neck and hip, rolling and lifting, and then I was airborne, and the familiar scent of Roth filled my nostrils, the achingly sweet sensation of his chest at my cheek, and we were on the bed and he had me cradled in his arms, clutched close.

  “Kyrie…Kyrie…. ” His voice was a raspy, grating murmur, thick with emotion and pitched low, barely audible. “I’m here, love. I’m here. ”

  I twisted against his chest, looked up at him. His eyes were wet. Roth. My Valentine, the powerful, indomitable Valentine Roth…was crying. For me? For himself? For us? He didn’t wipe the tears away as they trickled down his cheeks. One tear…two. Three. Four. Unchecked. His eyes were red, unblinking, staring out over my head. His chest rose and fell as if he was fighting a battle he knew he couldn’t win.

  I touched my palm to his cheek. “Valentine?”

  “I fucked it all up. I gave in. I tried to fight it. I knew it was you. I knew what the drug was doing to me was wrong, but I couldn’t fight it. And I knew you’d do anything for me. Anything. And you did. You—you took everything I could do to you. I hurt you. I—violated you. Us. I did that to us. ”

  “It wasn’t you, Valentine—”

  “I couldn’t stop. ”

  I sat up straighter, stared into his eyes. Looked deep into myself. “Valentine, listen. Please listen. What happened on the boat? Nothing happened that we haven’t done before, right? Did I ask you to stop?”

  “No, not after—”

  “Exactly. It wasn’t entirely you, and I get that. But I love you. I love you so much. I don’t hate you. I don’t feel violated by you. ”

  “I know. ” He had to pause to breathe, to swallow, to blink. “And I love you. But…what happens now? With us?”

  He was supposed to tell me that. “I don’t know. ”

  “I feel like…like something is broken between us. ”

  “No. ” My voice was so small, I wasn’t sure Roth heard me. I said it louder. “No, Roth. You can’t think that way. You can’t let her win. You love me. I love you. That’s all that matters. ”

  “Is love enough?”

  “It has to be,” I s
aid. “It has to be. She can’t win, Roth. She can’t. We can’t let her. ” I sucked in a deep breath, let it out slowly. “I didn’t risk death and see men killed and cross the world to find you, only to lose you like this. Only to lose us to her fucked-up games. ”

  “Every time I close my eyes, I’m there in that room. I haven’t really slept since then. Not really. Every time I do, I dream of her. Of being water-boarded. Of being raped. Of feeling her on me, feeling her skin. I see her hair, and her fake breasts. I feel her fingernails on my skin. I probably have scars from her nails digging into my chest. I feel it all over again, all of it. I can’t sleep. I can’t even try. ”

  “God, Valentine. How could she? Why?” I let the tears slide freely down my cheeks.

  He shrugged, faking an insouciance I in no way believed. “Because she could. She wanted me. She felt she owned me. ” He rubbed at his chest. “She’s a fucking animal. ”

  I couldn’t help it. I touched my lips to his chest. Tenderly, with butterfly gentility, I kissed his skin, the scars where her fingers had left marks on him. I leaned over him, not straddling him, just lying beside him and kissing his chest. All over, inch by inch. I smoothed my palms over his skin, tracing the ridges of his ribs, the furrows of his muscular abdomen, kissed his neck. He was tensed all over, unmoving, not breathing.

  “Kyrie…. ”

  “Yes, Valentine. It’s me. It’s me. Look at me. Feel me. It’s me. ” I kissed his cheek. The corner of his mouth. His forehead. Beside his nose. His eye, so gently, feeling the lid flutter beneath my lips. Then the other corner of his mouth. “Did she do this, baby? Did she kiss you this way?”

  He shook his head. “No,” he whispered, barely audible.

  I kissed him, feeling the chapped surface of his mouth against mine. “These are my lips against yours. Do you feel me? Do you know me?” I pulled back, and his eyes were closed, expression taut and pained. “Open your eyes, Valentine Roth, and look at me. See me. Me. ”

  His eyes flicked open, haunted cerulean the same shade as the Mediterranean fixing on mine. “Kyrie. I see you, darling. I see you. But…. ”

  “What? But what?”

  “When you kiss me, when you touch me, it hurts. I feel her. I focus on you, but all I feel is her. ” He shot up off the bed, strode shirtless across the room, and touched the panel beside the door to the balcony.

  The entire wall of glass slid soundlessly aside into a pocket, letting in the blare and honk and shout and laugh and clamor of Manhattan dozens of stories below. The sun was setting, framed between the endless towers of glass and mirrored steel. Roth stood gripping the railing of the balcony in both hands, a familiar posture. His shoulders slumped, his head hanging.

 
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