Beta, p.20
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       Beta, p.20

         Part #2 of Alpha series by Jasinda Wilder
 
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He scooped the rifle back up, glancing at Harris. “Rifle is mine. ”

  Harris nodded easily. “Sure. ”

  I held Kyrie on my lap, her head resting on my shoulder, lolling with the motion of our takeoff.

  A few minutes into the flight, Harris leaned over to me. “You know Vitaly will find out what happened,” he said, shouting into my ear over the noise of the rotors. “He had to have had video surveillance on a place like that. ”

  I nodded. “I know. ”

  “This isn’t over, Roth. ”

  “It is for now. ”

  “Where do we go from Athens?” Harris asked.

  I spent a few minutes thinking. “Buy me the biggest yacht you can find. I don’t care how much it costs. Staff it and get me security. I want the fucking best, Harris. Men whose loyalty cannot be bought or questioned. ” I glanced down at Kyrie, wiped at the blood on her face with my thumb. “Tell Robert to streamline everything. Sell off the subsidiaries, everything that’s not vital. Make it so I can run it all remotely—so I’m not needed in the day-to-day operations. ”

  Harris already had his encrypted satellite phone out and was dialing.

  I planned on vanishing, going off the grid for a long, long time. Vitaly would be looking for us, I knew that. Let him look.

  By the time he found us, I’d be ready for him.

  18

  HEALING

  I woke up slowly, taking stock. The last thing I remembered was Valentine’s face peering down at me.

  Gina. Tobias. Lisa.

  Page 55

 

  Memory assaulted me, and I sobbed.

  “Sshh. ” Valentine’s voice, murmuring in my ear. His chest was beneath my cheek, his arm around my shoulder. “You’re safe. I’ve got you, Kyrie. ”

  “Valentine?” His name came out in an incoherent mumble.

  “Yes, love. It’s me. ”

  “You came. ”

  His chest rocked, as if he was stifling a sob of his own. “Of course. ” His hand smoothed over my scalp, ever so gently. “Of course I came for you. Nothing could keep me away. ”

  “Hurts. ”

  “What does?”

  “Everything. ”

  He rubbed my arm with his hand. “I know. We’re almost there. ”

  “Thirsty. ” A straw touched my lips, and I took a tentative sip. Cool, clean water wetted my lips. I took a greedy gulp, letting the water soak into my mouth, wetting my tongue. I swallowed it, and then some more. “Where?”

  “We’re in the air right now. We’ll be in Athens in a few minutes. ”

  “You…are you okay?”

  “Me? I’m fine. Not a scratch. ”

  I tried to summon something to say, but everything hurt. I took another sip, and thought of something he should know. “Tobias. He—he didn’t. I—he tried. He was going to. I stopped him. I—I killed him. ”

  He let out a breath of relief. “You did good. ”

  “I peed on him. ” The admission actually made me laugh, for some reason. It wasn’t funny, though.

  “I know. ”

  “I killed Gina, too. I shot her…so many times. I couldn’t stop. She was so evil. ” I felt dizzy, tired. I was exhausted. My face hurt. My broken nose hurt. My knee throbbed. My ribs hurt, too, thanks to Tobias. At the time, none of the pain had registered, and afterward, everything else had been throbbing too badly to notice. “Tobias…she brought in a girl, an innocent…girl. An American girl. She made me watch while Tobias…god…. ” I couldn’t finish, shivering, stomach roiling at the memory.

  “I know, love. I know. We found her. ” Valentine kissed my temple. “Shush, now. It’s over. You’re safe now. Rest, all right?”

  “I like it when you sound English. ” I wasn’t sure where that came from.

  Sleep pulled me under.

  * * *

  I woke again, and this time I didn’t hurt as much. I felt light, as if I could float, yet my brain seemed heavy and sluggish. I opened my eyes to bright sunlight, the way things are always a little brighter at sea. I felt the rocking of a boat beneath me, gentle but constant, the deep side-to-side rolling motion of the sea. I’d spent enough time on boats with Roth, on rivers and at dock and out to sea, that I could recognize the motion anywhere.

  There were floor-to-ceiling windows running around the room, polished chrome between each pane, blonde-colored wood trim beneath, matching the floor. The bed I was on was a California king on a pedestal against the back wall, set in the center of the room. The glass ran three hundred and sixty degrees, providing a view of the sea in every direction. The sun shone off to my left, bright orange and resting on the horizon. Sunrise, it seemed. The sea was calm, tinted orange-pink.

  I swallowed, my throat dry. Rolling my head to one side, I saw a panel on the wall beside my head containing buttons and sliding switches. They were all conveniently labeled: lighting—with three sliders all at the bottom, indicating that they were off; wall tint—and a single slider, at the bottom; ceiling tint—with a single slider toggled up. I glanced up, and saw that the roof of the room was flat black, opaque. I stretched out and slid the ceiling tint switch down, and the roof’s opacity faded to transparent, showing me the sky, orange-red now, a few clouds appearing as gray twists across the horizon.

  Where was I? Was this a boat? Clearly it was, since there was nothing in any direction but ocean. Looking out past my feet, straight ahead, I could see the bow of the boat. A man in black fatigues stood at the bow, and as I watched, he turned in place, revealing a machine gun of some kind slung across his chest. Another identically dressed man approached and the two conversed, each of them scanning the horizon in all directions as they spoke. One of them laughed and slapped the other on the back, and then retreated from the bow, moving astern.

  Footsteps thudded on stairs, and Valentine appeared beside the bed. “Kyrie? You’re awake!”

  I worked myself into a sitting position, feeling the distant twinge of aches dulled by medication. “Those men out there—who are they?”

  He sat beside me on the bed and gathered me in his arms, settling me on his lap, his pale blue eyes assessing me head to foot. “Our security. There are six of them. Three of whom were with me when we rescued you. You’ll meet them all later, though. How are you feeling?”

  I nodded against his chest. “Groggy, but okay. ”

  He nodded. “You’ve got some pretty potent meds in you right now. ” He took my hand in his. “I brought a doctor on board, someone Henri knows. You needed knee-replacement surgery, as well as stitches to your scalp. You also needed your nose set. You had some bruised ribs, black eyes. ”

  I nodded, and my head swam. I stilled, and burrowed against Valentine. “Dizzy. I’m kinda thirsty. ” I looked up at him, saw the worry in his eyes. “I’m okay, Valentine. I am. If you hadn’t come when you did, though—”

  He shook his head, interrupting me. “I didn’t protect you. I left you, and she got you. ”

  That’s right. He had left me. I blinked at him. “Why did you leave me? Where did you go?”

  “I was gone for five…for five fucking minutes. I went up to the roof to talk to Harris. I had some plans to discuss with him. They must have been waiting. Someone shot at me. Not trying to kill me, just…driving me away. Getting me out of the way so Gina could…. ”

  “She was waiting in the library. The house was empty. I looked for you after I got out of the shower. But I found her instead. I knew…going into the library, I knew I should turn around and leave. I felt it. But I—I didn’t. I was stupid. I went anyway. And there she was. ” I swallowed hard against the lump in my throat, and Valentine pressed a button on the wall panel, speaking into an intercom, requesting water be brought up to us. “I should have listened to my gut. If I had—”

  “No. You should have been safe in my home. I thought you were safe. It was only supposed to be five minutes. I’d be back before you got out of
the shower. ” He pinched the bridge of his nose, shoulders heaving and sinking as he fought his emotions.

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  Boots pounded on the stairs outside the bedroom, and then a man entered the room. He was tall and lean, his eyes mocha-brown, his features weathered and hard-bitten, but attractive in a lupine sort of way. He had a scar running down the side of his face, going up into his close-cropped black hair. He had a machine gun hanging by a strap from his shoulder, one hand resting casually on the stock, two bottles of water in his other hand. He handed the bottles to Roth. “I am glad you to see you awake, Miss Kyrie. ” He grinned and did a two-finger salute, and then retreated down the stairs.

  When he was gone, I took the bottle Valentine had opened, and drank slowly. “He seems nice. ”

  Valentine shook his head, laughing. “Nice? That’s not really an applicable word to use for a man like him. ”

  “What does that mean?”

  I noticed Valentine’s accent was thicker than usual, his normally carefully cultivated tone lacking its usual drawing-room polish, as if a façade had been dropped. “It just means that Alexei is…many things. Nice, however, is not one of them. ”

  I didn’t try to decipher what that meant. I scooted over on the bed, making room for Valentine. I patted the bed. “I need to be closer to you. ”

  He slid downward to a lying position, keeping me on his chest, in the sheltering warmth of his arms. I pressed my face against his throat and inhaled his scent, felt his heart beating beneath my palm.

  I slept again.

  When I woke, I was still on Roth’s lap, cradled against his chest, his arm around my shoulders. He had a cell phone in his other hand, a huge thing almost the size of a tablet, and he was tapping at it with one thumb.

  “Help me to the bathroom?” I said. He tossed the phone to the side, slid off the bed, and scooped me up in his arms. “No. Let me stand. I need to try to stand up. ”

  Roth ignored me, descending a wide but steep set of stairs to a lower level of the boat. I sighed and let him carry me. There were floor-to-ceiling windows here too, but the ceiling was lower, the same blonde wood as on the floor above. To the right of the stairs was a long white leather couch on one wall, perpendicular to the windows, facing a huge TV screen. Ahead, a short corridor led past the TV to a full bar with stools, the window wall facing the bar so anyone sitting on the stools would have a view of the sea behind them. Left of the stairs was a doorway, leading to the bathroom. The bathroom, of course, was as luxurious as any of Roth’s I’d ever been in. Marble and glass and blonde wood, windows looking out over the ocean, soft lighting. He sat me on the toilet and helped me arrange the oversized gray T-shirt of his that was all I had on.

  You know your man loves you when he helps you go to the bathroom.

  When I was finished, he took me back to the bedroom, setting me on the bed with exquisite tenderness. I loved his protectiveness, even though I knew I’d need to exercise my knee soon.

  I flexed the knee back and forth, testing it. “So. This boat? The security?” I glanced at him. “You want to fill me in?”

  Roth picked up his phone and spun it between his thumb and forefinger, sitting cross-legged on the bed, facing me. “You were out for a week. You had a nasty fever for a few days. You were severely dehydrated. She had you for almost three days, you know. That’s how long it took me to get to you. Three fucking days. ” He wouldn’t look at me. “Once I got you back, I knew I’d never go back to New York. I’m in the process of selling off the tower and a huge portion of my subsidiary businesses. I’m selling all the estates, except for the vineyard in France. Harris acquired this yacht for us, and here we are. ”

  “But we’re safe now?” I asked.

  His features darkened. “No one will ever harm you again. I promise,” he growled. “On my fucking life, I swear it. ”

  That wasn’t the same as a reassurance that we were safe. “But?”

  “But her father is still out there. ” He traced a vein on the back of my hand, following it up my forearm. “He’s…not as psychopathic, but…far more calculating. He’s tirelessly vindictive. His daughter is dead. Two of his estates were attacked. Thirty-some of his men have been killed. ” He paused. “Kyrie, you just…you don’t know Vitaly. He’s not going to let this go. ”

  “So we’re running from him?”

  Roth frowned. “You need time to heal. ”

  “And then what?” I pushed the sheet off my legs and stared at my knee, seeing the bandages covering the recent surgical scars. “We just live on a boat forever?”

  Roth smirked at that. “Boat? Kyrie, my love, this is one of the largest super yachts ever built. You’ve only seen the smallest fraction of it. This bedroom and the level down there? It’s the…penthouse, basically. Our private quarters at the very top. There are a dozen guest cabins in the decks below, staff quarters for almost fifty people, an industrial kitchen, and a formal dining room. A gym, complete with an Olympic pool. It has its own helicopter landing pad, as well as a hidden launch for a smaller boat. Now, because of our unique situation, I’ve only staffed it with a six-man security team, a skeleton crew to run the ship, and a small staff to run the kitchen and clean. Everyone has been screened a dozen different ways, and of them, only Alexei has access to our quarters up here. ”

  “Where’s Harris?” I asked.

  Valentine hesitated. “I’ve given him some time to himself. He’s earned it. ” He sighed. “It feels a bit odd without him around, but he needed some time off. ”

  I shrugged. “Okay. ” It wasn’t okay, though. I would miss Harris, a lot, for one thing.

  Roth frowned, seeing my discomfort. “What?”

  I couldn’t quite meet his eyes. “I don’t want to spend my life running, Valentine. ”

  “Neither do I. And we won’t. I just…I need time. You need time. ”

  Silence extended between us for a length of time I couldn’t measure. “Valentine? Eliza…?”

  It was several moments before he could speak. “I’ve known her most of my life. ”

  “She said she’d worked for you for twenty years, but then you said when your father kicked you out, he left you with nothing. I’m not sure I understand. ”

  “She was my father’s employee first. I think I told you that. Well…she was assigned to me. I was too old for her to be considered a ‘nanny,’ but she was my personal…I don’t know. Servant? I hate that term, because it wasn’t like that. She was my friend. My parents were not really…accessible sorts. My father had billion-dollar accounts to manage, ultra-high-profile clients to entertain. My mother had charities to run, parties to throw. Our house was always filled with important people. Parliamentarians, European politicians, presidents and prime ministers and royals. Hollywood A-listers. Heads of banks and international corporations. And me? I was just their son. I was expected to make an appearance, show them my best manners, and then retire to my rooms. And Eliza was all I had. She wasn’t that much older than me. Forty-eight to my thirty-seven. When you’re fifteen, sixteen, an eleven-year age difference is a lot. But she was my friend. My only friend. ”

  Page 57

 

  He trailed off, going silent for a while, remembering. Eventually he continued, and I remained silent, grateful for this rare peek into Roth’s past. “When my father…sent me out, as he phrased it, she’d been working for him for eight years, five of those as my personal…whatever. I was twenty-two when I moved to New York—when I escaped Gina and Vitaly, I suppose I should say. Five years exactly from the day my father sent me out, I hired Eliza out from underneath him. ”

  “So what you told me originally—”

  “Not entirely the truth, no. Once I had things going in New York, I called Father’s head of staff, Gregory, and asked for Eliza’s contact information. Said I wanted to look her up to say hello. Well, I said hello, and I asked her if she would like to come work fo
r me. That was a little over twelve years ago. She’d worked for my father’s household staff while I was out making my fortune. God, how long did she work my father? Thirteen years? And twelve for me?” He covered his face with both hands. “And fucking Gina just…gunned her down. For no reason. ”

  “I’m so sorry, Valentine. ”

  “Me, too. ” His expression twisted into hatred. “I’d like to bring Gina back just so I can kill her again. ”

  “Valentine, you can’t think like that. ” I shifted closer to him. “I want that part of our lives to be over. The guns, the killings…I just want it to be over. ”

  He shook his head. “While Vitaly is out there, that’s impossible. ” Roth stood up, shoved his phone in the back pocket of his pants, and paused at the top of the stairs. “You should rest. ”

  “Don’t leave, Valentine. Don’t—don’t leave me alone. ”

  “I was just going to grab you something to eat…. ”

  I reached for him, tugged on his sleeve until he sat back down on the bed. “We have a staff, don’t we? Have it sent up. ” I waved my hand in dismissal. “I’m not hungry anyway. I just…I can’t be alone right now. ” I tried to close my eyes, to rest again, but images of Tobias, and Gina, and Lisa, bloody and ravaged and brutalized, kept popping into my head. I remembered the scene in the library and Gina pulling the trigger. I could almost feel the bullet hitting my knee again. The thirst and the hunger. Tobias’s breath on me, his weight, his leering grin as he prepared to rape me.

  My vision blurred, my eyes hot and stinging.

  “God, Kyrie, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. ” His voice cracked. “I failed you. I fucking—I failed you. ” He shook beneath me, struggling for control.

  “It wasn’t your fault, Valentine. ” I twisted so I could look up at him.

  He wouldn’t look at me. “Yes. It was. ” He shrugged. “I underestimated Gina. I got complacent. I thought she’d forgotten. Moved on. Ten years. She left me alone for ten years. And then, out of the blue…she just…she ruined everything. Me. You. Us. The life I’d worked so hard to build. ”

  “You think I’m ruined?” I asked in a high, small, tremulous voice. “You think you are?”

  “You were almost raped. You were shot. Beaten. You saw…you—”

  “We both went through really horrible shit, Valentine. Not just me, not just you. ”

  “I didn’t protect you. ” He stood up, paced away and back. “And now you’re on Vitaly’s radar. So even if you wanted to…I don’t know…start over somewhere else. With—with someone else, you couldn’t. He’d find you. He’d kill you. ”

  “Roth, what—what are you saying?” I lunged forward, struggling to my feet, hopping, grabbing onto Roth for balance, turning him to face me. “Start over? Someone else? What are you talking about?”

  He held onto my arms, keeping me upright. “I failed you, Kyrie. I promised you’d be safe. I left you. I left your side. I should have stayed. ” He shook his head. “How can you trust me now?

 
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