Beta, p.4
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       Beta, p.4

         Part #2 of Alpha series by Jasinda Wilder
 
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Ships or boats or whatever were something I knew nothing about. This one wasn’t a sailboat, but rather a smaller version of the massive yachts visible elsewhere in the bay. It didn’t look particularly impressive, or new. Usually, if something belonged to Roth, it was the best available. Not necessarily the biggest or most ostentatious, but just the highest quality. This boat looked…understated, and that was putting it nicely. It was the kind of thing that wouldn’t stand out in any way, no matter where we were. Which, it occurred to me, may have been the intention.

  As if reading my mind, Harris sent me an apologetic grin. “Not what you’re used to with Mr. Roth, I imagine, but this was the best I could do on short notice. It’ll do the job, though. ”

  “How’d you get it?”

  “Traded the Aston for it, plus some cash. ” He stepped aboard and held his hand out, helping me across and onto the yacht. “It’s on the older side, but it’s got a few things most boats like it don’t have. ”

  “Like what?”

  Harris didn’t answer immediately. Instead, he untied the lines keeping the boat moored to the dock, and then led the way to the wheelhouse. He took a seat, and I sat nearby, waiting. Harris put the boat in reverse and expertly backed out of the slip, angling the bow toward open water, then pushed the throttle forward.

  “Well, anonymity, for one thing. The slip itself was…borrowed, and the boat’s papers are untraceable. It just means anyone looking for us—Vitaly’s men, for example—will have a harder time finding us. I didn’t think about your cell phone soon enough, which is the only reason they were able to track us to Marseilles. Stupid of me, honestly. Good thing Henri is the ‘shoot first and don’t ask any questions’ type. ”

  “Who is Henri?”

  Harris shrugged. “That’s a tricky question to answer. ” He glanced at me. “Mr. Roth used to run in some shady circles. I think you know that. And even now he still retains contact with some old…friends and acquaintances. Henri is one of those. Honestly, I don’t know much about him myself, just that he’s tough as nails, cold as ice, and loyal as hell. As long as he’s on your side. And he’s very much on Mr. Roth’s side. ”

  “He said something about owing Valentine his life,” I said.

  Harris checked behind us, and then returned his attention to navigating past the breakwater and out into the trackless azure expanse of the Mediterranean. “Yeah, that’s a story I don’t know. Henri was a smuggler, I think. My guess is that he and Mr. Roth got into a tight spot, and Roth got them out. ”

  I shifted uncomfortably. “When Roth told me about his old life, he made it sound like he was just a businessman. Like he just…handed over some boxes and took some cash, and that was it. Like it wasn’t…dangerous. ”

  Harris chuckled. “He would say that. And that’s how it was, mostly. Not even that, really. Arms dealing is just another business, in some ways. The deals happen in a hotel bar, or in some corner of a nightclub. Prices and goods are discussed over some drinks, the parties shake on it, and that’s about it. Lackeys do the rest. But Valentine didn’t have employees back then. He did it all himself. Acquired goods, negotiated the deals, did the delivery. That’s where it got dangerous. The types of people who deal in weapons aren’t always the nicest sorts, obviously. And sometimes they’re notably lacking in what you might call…scruples. Meaning, they’ll try to take what they want and find a way to not pay for it. Especially when dealing with some twenty-year-old kid doing business on his own, with no firepower backup, no one standing behind him as a presence, you know? Tells you how good he was that he never got killed doing what he did, the way he did it. I think he came close a few times—more than he’d ever admit to, though. Like with Henri. He’s a wily old cat, Henri is. Not the kind of guy who is easily backed into a corner. And not the type of guy who would lightly, or easily, admit to owing someone his life. What he did today, taking out those guys? That was a big deal for him. He’s in semi-retirement, you could say. Doesn’t really do business anymore. Tries to keep a low profile. ” Harris pushed the throttle open, and the bow skimmed over the water, barely touching down. Harris set our destination in the GPS unit and then returned his attention to our conversation. “So, offing three of Vitaly’s goons? That could open him up to retaliation. ”

  Page 10

 

  “Oh. ”

  “Yeah. Oh. ”

  I swallowed hard, hoping Henri wouldn’t get in any trouble because of me. “Where are we going?” I asked.

  “Greece. ”

  4

  CAPTIVE

  VALENTINE

  My head throbbed. That was my first realization. It pounded and ached like fuck. It felt like a thousand hammers were pounding on my skull. Why did my head hurt so badly?

  I tried to touch my fingers to my forehead, but couldn’t. My hand wouldn’t move. I jerked it, but it was…restrained. My eyes slid open, warily, painfully. Even my eyelids hurt. Blinding light assaulted my eyes. I had to blink and squint and twist my head to the side. I shut my eyes again and peered through slitted lids.

  The sunlight was blinding, and it bounced off the waves like so many knives. A seagull cawed. An osprey keened. I could hear the waves crashing outside the window. Oh god, my head…it was sluggish, thick. I was having trouble getting my bearings.

  Gradually my eyes adjusted to the light, and I craned my neck, looking for a hint as to where I was, or why my hands were restrained. Was this a new game of Kyrie’s? I tugged hard, but my wrist was bound firmly to the bedpost. Bedpost? The bed in the Languedoc chateau didn’t have posts. It was a platform bed, the headboard mounted directly to the wall. And the chateau wasn’t on the sea. This incredible brightness reminded me of something. Something familiar, an old, haunting memory.

  I twisted my head and strained to see out the window, where I saw flat-topped white roofs, whitewashed buildings with blue doors and shutters, and more than a few roofs and cupolas painted that same distinctive bright blue. I could see that the buildings descended down the hillside in serried ranks, bare rock peeking through in places, the sea rippling in the distance, far below.

  In an instant, I knew exactly where I was.

  Oia, Greece.

  Shit. No, no. Shit, no. How did I get here? The blue of the sea was a perfect azure rippling with the occasional whitecap, sails dotting the blue; there’s nowhere on earth quite like the Aegean. Oia is a city carved out of the rock on an island a hundred and fifty miles southeast of Athens, a quaint, quintessentially Aegean village.

  Vitaly Karahalios kept an estate on Oia.

  I tugged each of my limbs. I was bound spread-eagled to the bed. Brass rails two inches in diameter spanned between the stout upright posts at each corner, handcuffs shackling me in place. The headboard was set against a wall with windows running in almost a complete circle around the circumference of the room, which was clearly a rotunda, offering a spectacular view of the entire island, with the tiny fishing village of Ormos Armeni visible to the south.

  I heard a lock twist and turned my attention to the doorway directly opposite the bed. The door was thick, dark wood reinforced with black straps of metal, locked from the outside. The door swung open, revealing the one woman on the entire earth I would have given my entire fortune to never see again.

  Gina Karahalios.

  Time had favored her. Fifteen years ago, Gina had been a fresh, nubile girl of nineteen, slim and delicate and almost too angularly beautiful. Now…? Now she was all woman, a bit of weight giving her curves and making her even more beautiful. Her thick, straight black hair hung to her waist in loose locks glinting in the sun, dark as a raven’s wing. Her skin was the flawless golden tan of a Greek woman raised in the Aegean sun. She wore a white dress, sleeveless, cut in a deep V between her plump breasts, the hem flirting just above her ankles. The dress was long and fluttering, molded so tightly to her curves as to be immodestly revealing.

  Her eyes, though. Those hadn’t changed
. Black as her hair, gleaming with wicked intelligence, cold, cruel, calculating. Predatory. Seductive. Those eyes could fix on you and make you squirm, no matter who you were. Even her father was a little afraid of Gina, I think, and that was saying something. I’d once watched Vitaly slit a man’s throat with a steak knife and then go back to eating.

  She stood at the foot of the bed, one arm wrapped around her waist, the other hand at her mouth, touching two fingers to her lips in a thoughtful posture. Her hip was popped out, knee drawn up. Gina never merely sat or stood or lay; she posed. She was always, always aware of how she looked, how she was seen.

  “Val. My god, Val. Age looks good on you. ” Her voice was a little deeper, a little smoother, and she spoke in very lightly accented English.

  “You too, Gina. ”

  “It’s good to see you, I must say. ”

  “I can’t say I agree there, actually. ” I tugged my hand against the bond. “Let me go. Let me go now, and we can forget this happened. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. ”

  She grinned, the curve of her lips reminding me somehow of a viper eying a hapless mouse. “Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no. I don’t think you understand, dear Val. You don’t understand at all. ”

  “What, Gina? What do I not understand?”

  “This. ” She waved at me, the bonds, and the bed. “This situation. ”

  I had to dispel my trepidation. Gina had been capable of damn near anything fifteen years ago. Something told me she was even more dangerous and unpredictable now.

  “So, help me understand. Why am I here? Why am I handcuffed to the bed?”

  “You used to like playing these games with me, Val. Don’t you remember that night? You must remember. Cyprus? Yes, it was Cyprus. The Four Seasons. You were meeting…who was it? Uri? Uri Domashev. You got such a good deal that night. I think you must remember this—in fact, I know you do. You never forget things. You made the deal with Uri. You fleeced him, scalped him dry, and he knew it, and he couldn’t do a fucking thing about it. I was very proud of you that night. And I showed you. I let you tie my hands to the balcony, and you fucked me from behind until I screamed so loud people complained, but of course everyone knows you don’t tell me what to do, so they couldn’t make us be quiet. You let me tie you up that night, too. Remember? I used your shoelaces. That was a good night. ” She bit her lower lip and wiggled her eyebrows. “Tell me you remember, Val. ”

  I remembered. Oh, Jesus, I remembered. You didn’t forget someone like Gina. “Of course I remember. But Gina, that was fifteen years ago. Things have changed. ” I tried to keep my voice low, tried to stay calm. “A lot has changed. You tried to have me killed, if you’ll remember. And now you kidnap me? Come on. Untie me and let me go. ”

  “Oh, no. I don’t think so. You’re not remembering right. ” She moved around the bed to stand beside me. “I didn’t try to have you killed, silly. That was Papa. He felt you’d outlived your usefulness, plus there was the fact that you were abandoning me…. he wasn’t happy. And I even tried to talk him out of it. ”

  Page 11

 

  “Gina…Micha told me you’d sent him. Before I put a bullet in his brain, he told me you’d paid him a hundred grand to take me out. He told me you’d instructed him to make me suffer. ” I paused to let that sink in. “If he’d just shot me, it would’ve worked. I never even saw him coming. But he tried to hurt me first. And that was his mistake. That was your mistake. I let it go, Gina. I didn’t hold it against you. I didn’t try to get even. I went my own way and left you alone. ”

  “You left me, Val. ” Her voice went thin and low and growling. “You left me. ”

  “Your father wanted me to be a hit man. He wanted me to do things I wasn’t comfortable with. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I cashed out. ”

  “You don’t just cash out on us, Val. It’s not that simple. ”

  “It should’ve been. ”

  “But it’s not. It’s not. You’re mine. ” She leaned over me, touched a long, blood-red fingernail to my chest, over the sheet still covering me. “I let you have some time to think, okay? I let you have your fun. I wanted you to…age a bit. You were too young to appreciate me then, I think. I don’t like boys, and you were just a boy back then. You needed some seasoning, so when you got away, I decided to let you go. But you’re mine. You’ve always been mine. You were my favorite, Val. There’ve been others, of course, but none of them was you. They couldn’t satisfy me the way you did, even back then. I’ve kept an eye on you, you know. You’ve had lots of practice. You should be able to satisfy me now. It’s been a long time since I’ve been truly satisfied with a man. ”

  I barely suppressed a shudder. “Gina, this is crazy. You have to let me go. I don’t belong to you. I’m in love with someone else, all right?”

  She narrowed her eyes, and I saw something else in her gaze: a hint of something dark and manic and insane. Jealousy. “That bitch doesn’t own you. I do. ” She abruptly straightened and turned away, examining her fingernails. “But no matter. Alec should have taken care of her by now. ”

  My blood ran cold. “Gina…what did you do?” She didn’t answer, just twisted her head on her neck to grin at me slyly. “WHAT DID YOU DO?” I shouted the last part so loud my voice went hoarse.

  “Disposed of unneeded distractions, my dear Valentine. That’s all. ” She bit her thumbnail coyly, a choreographed gesture of icy insouciance.

  “If you hurt her, so help me…you’d better pray I don’t get free. I’ll kill you. I don’t hurt women, but if you harm a hair on Kyrie’s head, you’ll pay for it. You’ll regret it. ”

  “You won’t do a damned thing, Val. ” She pivoted on her heel, grabbed the sheet draped over my chest, and flung it back. I was stark naked beneath it, a fact I’d tried not to think about till then. “You’ve gone soft. You always had your friend Harris do your dirty work. Don’t pretend, all right? I know you better than that. ”

  “If you think for one second that I’ve gone soft, then you don’t know a single thing about me, Gina. ”

  She quirked an eyebrow. “Ah. There’s a bit of that steel spine you used to have. ” She perched her hip on the edge of the bed, partially facing me. I glared at her, stared her down, refusing to flinch as her fingers rested on my chest and tickled downward. “Other parts of you used to be like steel, too. ”

  I tried to arch away, twisting to avoid her touch. “Don’t fucking touch me, you viper. ”

  There was nowhere to go, and she ignored my efforts to get away from her questing hand, just like she ignored my protest and my insult. Her attention was focused on my body, her eyes roaming and devouring, her lips curled in a cruel smile.

  “You used to respond so beautifully, Valentine. I barely had to touch you, and you’d be ready to come all over me. Are you still that responsive? Hmmm?” She wrapped her fingers around my flaccid cock.

  I closed my eyes and thought about that day fifteen years ago when she’d sent Micha to torture and kill me. I thought about the pain of his knife in my back, inches from piercing my heart. I thought about the fight, every move agony, wrestling the gun from his fingers. I thought about shooting him in the kneecap and pressing the gun to his forehead until he told me Gina had sent him. How she’d caught wind of my plan to disappear, and had obviously not been willing to let me go that easily. For the first time in fifteen years, I thought about the moment I’d pulled the trigger. Micha had been going for a hideout pistol, so I’d had to shoot him. Blood had spattered everywhere. I’d vomited all over Micha’s twitching corpse. With the knife still in my back, I’d run. Stumbled onto my sailboat stocked in preparation for my departure. I sailed toward Athens, but only made it as far as Milos before I had to stop and find a doctor. I’d paid him ten thousand dollars to fix me and keep quiet about it.

  The self-distraction program was working, because Gina hissed in frustration and leaped off the bed. She paced the length of th
e room, enraged by my lack of response to her ministrations. “You aren’t cooperating, Valentine. That’s not how this goes. ”

  I barked in laughter. “What did you think—that I’d wake up, kidnapped and cuffed to a bed, and be happy to see you?”

  She whirled on me, eyes blazing in fury. “You…will…be…mine. You are mine. I will make sure of it. ”

  “I belong with Kyrie, not you. ” I knew as soon as the words left my mouth that I shouldn’t have said it.

  “She was already going to die, but now? I think maybe she will suffer first. I think maybe I will have her brought in. Maybe I will make her watch me fuck you. Maybe I will take what I want from you and then kill you, and then kill her. ” She leaned over me again, caressing my chest, my thighs, my cock, and my testicles, her touch gentle in contrast to her words. “I’ll do it myself, too. I’ve had plenty of practice at that, you know. I’ve got a few rather lovely techniques. ” She licked her lips, shifting tactics abruptly. “But first? I’ve got to get you hard. I’d rather not drug you, but I will if I have to. Let’s try this first. You used to love this. ”

  She lowered her mouth to me, started working me gently and insistently, skillfully. I kept my mind occupied, thought of all the worst moments of my life, all the painful, embarrassing, horrible memories. Anything to keep from responding. I focused on the horror of my position, on the anger. On the shame.

  Page 12

 

  It didn’t work. She got the response from me she wanted, and seemed to take immense and vocal satisfaction in that fact.

  She stopped when she felt me start to harden, spat me out with a wet pop. “There we are. God, Val. You are more beautiful than I had remembered. I’m going to enjoy this very, very much. ” There was a small table next to the bed, with two drawers. She opened one, pulled out a small rubber ring and a bottle of lubricant. I wasn’t fully hard yet. She squirted some of the lube onto her palm and smeared it onto the ring, then onto me. I closed my eyes and tried to force myself down, thought of Micha’s spasming body and the blood and gore flooding the street. It started to work, but by then Gina had the cock ring on me and was stroking me into hardness with quick, vigorous pumps of her hands. I hated that I had so little control over myself. That I couldn’t stop the response to physical stimulation. I wasn’t aroused, but my traitorous body responded out of my control.

  Jesus, it hurt. The ring was meant for a much smaller man, and the blood flow was restricted, so I couldn’t subside even if I wanted to.

 
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