Beta, p.23
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       Beta, p.23

         Part #2 of Alpha series by Jasinda Wilder
 
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I tilted my head in question. “How am I looking at you, Valentine?”

  “As if I’m all there is. ”

  I plucked the glass from him and set it aside, slid my fingers through his across the table. “Because you are all there is for me. ” I swept my hand around. “The ship? It’s amazing. Incredible. As amazing as your tower, as amazing as the chateau and the vineyard and that place in the islands. They’re all amazing. But, Valentine? None of that matters. All I need is you. ”

  He sat forward, his eyes earnest and intense. “I’ve been thinking about this moment since I first saw you in my foyer, blindfolded, scared, and beautiful. ” He left his chair, not letting go of my hand, and rounded the table, kneeling in front of me. Not on one knee, but on both. He took my hands in his, rubbed my knuckles with his thumbs. “I knew then that I would do this. I just never imagined what it would take to get here. And I still don’t know what I’m going to say, despite having scripted this in my head a thousand times. ”

  My heart was in my throat, pulsing rapidly. My hands shook in his. Alexei had vanished, leaving his guitar propped against the railing of the balcony.

  Roth let go of my hand and reached his right hand into his pocket. “You belong to me, Kyrie St. Claire. That is true now, and it will always be true. ” He opened the small black box, revealing a simple but breathtaking ring, a round two-carat diamond set in a concentric circle formed by the setting of the ring. He lifted the ring out and looked up at me. “Be mine. Forever, be mine. ”

  I worked words past the lump in my throat, held my left hand out to him. “Valentine—I’ve always…. ” My breath left me as he slid the ring onto my finger, and I had to try again. “I’ve always been yours. And I always will be. ”

  The guitar sounded and Alexei was singing again. Roth stood up with me, pulling me to the middle of the deck, dancing with me as the high, full moon shone on the rippling sea.

  20

  VITALY

  Slim, polished, expensive Italian leather loafers crunched slowly across the smashed glass. A pant leg, slate gray, pressed and pleated, fluttered in the wind. A matching slate-gray blazer, tailored to fit the man’s broad frame, was held across an arm. He wore a dress shirt, blindingly white, the sleeves rolled up to just beneath his thick, tanned forearms. No tie, the shirt unbuttoned to the third button, letting a few tufts of black chest hair peek out. His shoulders were broad, his chest thick and powerful, his arms stretching the sleeves of the button-down. He wasn’t a tall man, standing a couple of inches under six feet, but his presence was dominating.

  A dozen men milled around him, checking for pulses, collecting weapons, keeping a lookout. Pretending to be busy. Not one of them dared to look at the man in the gray suit. He exuded threat. Fury bled from every pore. His deep-set black eyes were narrowed, constantly shifting and assessing, his square, hard jaw grinding and pulsing.

  Ignoring the opening of the shattered window, he unlocked and stepped through the twelve-foot-high front door. His eyes flicked and roved, counting fallen bodies, counting bullet holes. Naming the fallen men. Through the foyer, across the open-plan living room and to the stairs leading down.

  His lackeys followed him warily, their eyes meeting each others’, questioning. He was in a rage the likes of which none of them had ever seen before. Even the oldest of them, a grizzled man with salt-and-pepper hair, had never seen their boss like this before.

  “No one speaks unless he addresses you directly,” he said in Greek. “It is best to just stay away from him if you can. ” His dark eyes moved in his weathered face, going from man to man. “Someone will die today. ”

  Everyone nodded. Everyone knew it.

  They descended the stairs, cursing as they found body after body, fallen comrades. None of them could be said to be friends, not in this business, but when you worked side by side with a man every day, when you drank with him and shared whores with him, you felt at least a glimmer of emotion at the sight of his corpse.

  Down and down they went, spreading out from room to room until they were sure the house was clear. This was just a precaution, of course. The house was dead. But still, they moved with guns drawn, until they came to the lowest level, where the rock was cold and damp, where ghosts lived and you were convinced you could hear a scream echoing in the distance.

  A cluster of men stood around a single door, pressed shoulder-to-shoulder, silent, uneasy.

  The oldest man, whom they knew only as Cut—the English word—pushed through the knot of thugs, knocking them aside with the barrel of his AK-47. “Move aside. Move aside. ” He took one glance through the doorway into the room beyond and then paled, his eyes going wide. He cleared his throat, sucked in a deep, nervous breath, and then started herding the men away from the door. “Up. Go. Go away. Clear out. Start carrying the rest of the bodies out. ”

  When they were all gone, Cut stepped into the room and stood beside his boss.

  Silence lay thick between the two men. Eventually, a deep, smooth baritone voice broke the quiet, speaking in Greek. “How did this happen, Cut?”

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  Cut shook his head. “I have no answers, boss. But I will find out. ”

  “HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?” His voice was effortlessly powerful, echoing in the small room. His eyes were locked on the bullet-riddled, bloodied body of his daughter. “Who would dare?”

  His eyes flicked briefly to Tobias’s body but returned immediately to Gina. He withdrew his hand from the hip pocket of his slacks, passed his trembling fingers through his thick, wavy black hair.

  “Who did this, Cut?”

  “I do not know. ” Cut shook his head. “But whoever it was, they are dead men. ”

  “Death is too good. Too quick. ” He spoke through clenched teeth, shaking with rage. “Their families. Their friends. Everyone they know and love. I will pull the world down around their ears, Cut. This is not just war, my friend. Oh, no. They have opened the gates of hell. ” His voice was quiet now, clipped and precise, as thin and sharp as the edge of a razor.

  He handed his suit coat to Cut, and then crouched beside the body of his daughter and picked her up, heedless of the mess. He carried her up to the ground floor. Cut radioed ahead for someone to have a wrapping sheet ready.

  He laid Gina on the ground and lowered the white cotton over her face, then turned away, his shoulders shaking. He unbuttoned his soiled dress shirt and tossed it aside, standing now in a tank top and his slacks. He looked back at the house, the stack of bodies, the shattered glass.

  Turning to one of the men, he spoke in a voice so calm it belied the fury sparking in his eyes. “Have you checked the footage?”

  “Footage, sir?” The man straightened, wiped at his forehead with a wrist, looking puzzled.

  A slow blink, as if in disbelief. “The security camera footage. ” He said this with mocking precision, as if the man was dense, or deaf.

  “No sir, I mean—not yet. I did not know I was supposed to—”

  He held out his hand, and Cut placed a silver-plated pistol in it, diamonds spelling out a name across the barrel.

  BANG!

  The body dropped, eyes wide and staring. A glance at Cut had the older man jogging across the grounds to the room containing the security tapes.

  Cut accessed the previous day’s footage, rewinding through the hours of nothingness until bodies began unfolding themselves and jerking in reverse. The door opened, and the room was filled with a cold, deadly presence.

  “Well?” His voice was low, expectant.

  Cut didn’t answer, but continued rewinding.

  “Stop!” The command snapped through the silence, and Cut paused the footage.

  The playback screen showed a tall man dressed all in black, with blond hair, a thick blond beard, and pale blue eyes. The man on the screen was staring directly at the camera, as if he knew it was there, although the camera was only a tiny thing hidden in th
e corner of the ceiling, not much more than a pinprick in the plaster.

  “Roth?” The name was spoken with disbelief. “Here? He is responsible for this?”

  “It looks that way. ” Cut knew Roth, too. Remembered the problems the man had caused in the ranks with his defection.

  “Show me the room. ” He didn’t have to be more specific.

  Cut tapped a few keys, and the playback switched from the main room to views of each level, descending successively downward to the lowest level. In reverse, he saw a bald, battered, bleeding, limping girl wearing Tobias’s clothing emerging from the room, falling on the stairs, found and carried away by Roth. Before that, Gina, alive, walking into the room, accompanied by Tobias.

  “Must have been one of Gina’s…experiments,” Cut suggested.

  “No. This was…something else. ”

  There was no camera in the room itself, but the footage, rewound further, showed Tobias dragging a bloody, naked girl away, and then Gina and Tobias dragging a young girl into the room, and then hours of nothing, and then Tobias with a different woman, a beautiful blonde unconscious in his arms, one knee bloody. This was clearly the woman on the stair from earlier, before she had her head shaved. Tobias was followed by Gina, who moved past him and opened the door for him.

  Cut paused the footage then, and leaned back in the chair. “Looks to me like Gina took some girl for her little games, only the girl belonged to Roth. This was the fallout. ”

  “There is more to it, I think. There were two girls, for one thing. ”

  “The second one was just a fear tactic,” Cut said. “Showing the first one what would happen to her. ”

  A nod. “And then somehow she overpowered Tobias, killed him, and then killed Gina. ” A long pause. “The problem we had at the house on Oia, did you ask Gina about that?”

  Cut nodded. “She said it was nothing to worry about, so I did not bother looking at the footage. She handled it, whatever it was. ”

  “Something tells me she was lying to you. ” He passed a hand over his face. “I let her run a little too wild, I think. If Roth was here, there was more going on than just this one girl being tortured. Roth wouldn’t cross me like this unless he had no choice, especially for some random woman. This is not his style. This was not just one of Gina’s games. ”

  “We go to Oia, then?” Cut suggested.

  He shook his head. “No. I bury my daughter first. Have someone bring me the tapes. Find out what really happened on Oia. ”

  * * *

  He stood alone in front of a crypt. The cemetery was ancient, some of the crypts dating back several centuries, a few even older. Many of the names on the crypts, if you could read Greek, said Karahalios.

  Cut stepped across the grass, careful not to walk over any buried headstones buried in the grass. He stopped beside his boss. “I am sorry for your loss. I helped raise that girl. ”

  “I know you did. ” He turned away from the marble with the freshly engraved name and dates of birth and death. “What have you found?”

  Cut let out a breath. “I did some digging. I looked at the tapes from Oia and followed the trail backward. My most educated guess is that Gina never really forgot Roth. She was always waiting for the right moment, I think. After he left, she acted like she had gotten over him. None of us ever really spoke of him again, least of all Gina. But then, a few weeks ago, there was a big mess in France. A car chase. Alec was killed. Shot in the head at close range. No one really knows exactly what happened, but my feeling is Alec was sent to clean up, you know? Only it didn’t go so well. And then another mess in Athens. Four of our guys were killed there. Whoever did them was a professional. Clean, quick, and accurate. ”

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  “Who?”

  “Who what, boss?”

  “The men in Athens. Who were they?”

  “Marcus, Niko, Gino, and Anthony. ”

  He nodded. “Continue. ”

  Cut hesitated as if he didn’t want to share the next part. “Oia…that was bad, boss. Gina nabbed Roth. In France, I think. She had him snatched, and then sent Alec to take care of Roth’s girl, only the girl got away, and someone helped her get away. Someone very good. Yevgeny, Kiril, and Tomas were all killed in Marseilles. They stashed the girl with Henri, and Gina sent some men after her. Henri got them. She sent more men after Henri later. Burned his bar. Tried to kill him. ” Cut hesitated. “That did not go well, either. Tino, Vasily, Micha, Stefano. All dead at Henri’s hand. Henri was at the fortress, too. ”

  “Foolish girl. I warned everyone to stay away from Henri. He was to be left alone. ”

  Cut nodded. “I know. She did not listen, obviously. ” He blew out a breath and then waved a hand, continuing. “Gina…was into some pretty nasty shit. You know that. Well, she had Roth chained to a bed in the Oia house for three days. The girl, the one Gina had in the cellar, with the shaved head? She and another guy stormed Oia, blew the gates off, rescued Roth, and got away. Big mess. Gina covered it up, though. Kept you from finding out till she had the gate and the wall fixed, took care of the bodies, made sure no one would rat her out to you. She obviously wanted this kept quiet, right? She knew you would put a stop to it. ”

  “I told her, I fucking told her to let him go. ” An irritated sweep of a hand through his hair accentuated his words. “Forget him, I said. Roth did not worry me. I knew he was planning to vanish, and I let him. He was a good kid, just not cut out for this life. He did not have the stomach. He was no rat, though. Never said shit to anyone, and he knew a lot about my operations. Fucking Gina tried to have him killed, and I took her privileges away from her over that. Let him go, I said. Forget him, I said. Ten years, he kept his secrets and mine, and then she goes and kidnaps him?” He paced away from the crypt, running his hand through his hair in frustration. “She couldn’t leave well enough alone, could she? Fuck. ”

  Cut let the silence stand for a few minutes. “Like I said, I did some digging. The girl is Kyrie St. Claire. An American, from Detroit. The other guy, the one who helped her take Roth out of Oia…his name is Nicholas Harris. Former Army Ranger. Highly decorated. Works for Roth. ”

  He nodded. “Good work. ” They strode across the cemetery and got into a waiting car, a black Maybach. “Any idea where they are now?”

  Cut shook his head. “Not exactly. There was a super yacht sold in Marseilles, the kind of thing only a few men in the world can afford. It was bought with cash, false names on the paperwork. It sailed out of Marseilles almost a week ago. They could be anywhere at this point. Somewhere in the Mediterranean, or out through the Bosporus and into the Atlantic. I have eyes out at the major ports, but it’ll take time to find them. ”

  “Make me a list of everyone connected to this. Everyone who has touched the lives of Roth and this St. Claire girl. Everyone. ”

  “What is the plan?”

  A shrug. “I am not sure yet. I cannot let this stand. I will not. They killed thirty-three of my men. Destroyed one of my homes. Killed my daughter. ” He pinched the bridge of his nose between a thumb and forefinger. “I should have reined her in, Cut. But I did not, could not, and now she has caused me this mess, and got herself killed in the process. ”

  “What about the deal with the Russians?”

  “Finish it. We cannot back out now. But put a hold on things after that. I need time to figure out what I will do. Recruit new men. Good ones. No sloppy shit, you got it? They pay for their pussy. They keep their hands clean. No more messes. ” He rubbed his face with both hands. “I did not want this. Roth was a good kid. I had a soft spot for him, you know? I kept tabs on him over the years. He did good for himself. Now? Now, because of my daughter’s mess, I have to do something I was hoping not to have to do. ”

  “I can take care of it for you, boss. You know I can keep it quiet. ”

  “No, Cut. I appreciate the thought, but no. I have to do this myself. Just get me the
list of names. ”

  Cut nodded, and fell silent.

  “This will not be pretty. ” He said it low, more to himself than out loud.

  Cut sighed. “Vengeance is never pretty, boss. ”

  “It’s not just vengeance, Cut. I have to punish him. ” He idly traced a circle on his knee with his finger. “You do not cross Vitaly Karahalios. ”

  21

  A PROMISE

  VALENTINE

  I stood at the window of our bedroom, looking out the moonlit sea, Cape Town in the distance. Behind me, Kyrie slept. She was on her stomach, the blanket draped across her ass, her back bare. Her hair had grown in over the last few weeks, covering the healing scars on her scalp.

  Things were okay. We were both healing, inside and out.

  A soft knock echoed at the base of the stairs. I grabbed my shorts off the floor, stepped into them, and met Alexei in the lounge. “What is it?” I asked.

  “Sorry to bother you at this late hour, but this is something I think you would wish to see right away. ” Alexei handed me a folded sheet of paper. “It comes from your man Robert, from New York. ”

  I unfolded the paper.

  It was an explanation from Robert: This came in the mail yesterday, delivered via DHL to the midtown office. It was addressed to you personally. To Valentine Roth. There was no return address, no signature, no explanation, nothing. Just the document attached. I’ve had it assessed by a trusted forensics expert, but I don’t think we’ll get anything from it. What’s going on? ~RM

  My blood froze in my veins.

  The document was a handwritten list of names:

  Nicholas Harris

  Robert Middleton

  Henri Desjardins

  Layla Campari

  Kyrie St. Claire

  Calvin St. Claire

  Katharine St. Claire

  Albert Roth

  Olivia Roth

  Valentine Roth

  Eliza Gutierrez

  My heart thudded in my chest. I folded the paper into quarters. “Thank you, Alexei. ”

  He nodded, turned to go, and then stopped, glancing at me over his shoulder. “I am only a man who is good with guns. I do not know much of people, or fixing problems. I do not know much about you. But I do know a threat when I see one. ”

  “That’s exactly what this is, Alexei. ”

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  “What will you do?”

  I didn’t answer for a long time. “Take precautions. Get eyes on everyone on this list. Protect them. ”

  “I think we will need Harris for this,” Alexei suggested.

  I nodded. “I think so, too. ” When Alexei was gone, I called Harris. “Sorry to do this to you, my friend, but I need you back. ”

  I heard a smile in his voice. “Roth. What did you think I was gonna to do? Sit on some beach somewhere and drink mai tais? I’m in Chicago at the moment, about to interview a potential recruit. ”

  “Recruit?”

  “For Alpha One Security. It’s my new gig. It’s not connected to you in any way. It’s all under my name, paid for out of my pocket. ”

 
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