Beta, p.6
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       Beta, p.6

         Part #2 of Alpha series by Jasinda Wilder
 
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I growled, thrashed, pushed my hips up into her touch.

  “Ah, yes. Much better,” she murmured.

  Despite the hold of the drug on my body and my mind, there was a seed, a tiny speck of myself, somewhere deep within the recesses of my soul, untouched, untainted. And that minuscule, fading spark knew this was wrong, this was not what I wanted. It knew this primal need that had been artificially catalyzed within me was a sexual assault of the worst kind. My will, my desire, the truth and fidelity of my soul and my being, had been stripped from me. I’d been reduced to an animal, all higher functions ripped away, leaving me chained to a bed for the use of a soulless demon-bitch of a woman.

  And there was not a fucking thing I could do about it. I wasn’t even left with the will to resist the need inside me. All I had was the spark of knowing how wrong, how shameful, how evil this was.

  Gina slid astride me, nails digging into my chest, and slid me inside her body.

  The spark of my soul screamed in protest, unheard beyond the walls of my prison.

  5

  ACROSS THE MEDITERRANEAN

  “Good. Now push the slide into place. Right, just like that. Perfect. Now pull it back. Good job, Kyrie. ” Harris took the pistol from me and set it on the table between us. “Now do it again, and this time I’m not going to coach you. ”

  I picked up the heavy black gun and began the process of stripping it down, removing each piece and laying it on the table in the order Harris had shown me. When the weapon was down to components¸ I put it back together again, faster than the last time. I’d been doing this for the past two hours, disassembling and reassembling the pistol Henri had given me. The first time, it had seemed foreign and impossible, like putting together a puzzle without any guidelines or edge pieces or a picture for reference. But with Harris’s patient instruction, it got easier. Now I could do it on my own, without him showing me which piece went where.

  It was bizarre, me, a middle-class white girl from Metro Detroit, erstwhile college student and starving bachelorette, learning to strip a Glock.

  Harris stood up and went below deck, returning with three empty soda cans. Jerking his head to indicate that I should follow him, Harris went to the stern of the boat and tossed a can into the water. “Shoot it. ” He pointed at the can.

  “But…the boat is moving, and the water is moving. How can I possibly—”

  “I don’t expect you to hit it from here. It’s a tough shot even for a skilled marksman. The point is just to give you something to shoot at. Just try. ”

  The red can was bobbing in the wake, now a good thirty feet astern. I held the pistol in both hands, arms extended out in front of me. Harris moved my left hand so my fingers were overlapping my right hand, nudged my feet shoulder-width apart, putting me in the stance he’d shown me before we started disassembling.

  I took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and squeezed the trigger. Except the safety was still on. I thumbed the button, and then took aim once more at the can, which was now a tiny red dot fifty feet away and bobbing on the waves.

  BANG! The gun jerked upward, the noise and the violence startling me. I knew I hadn’t hit the can, obviously, but I was curious to know how close I’d gotten. I glanced at Harris, who nodded.

  “Good. ” He tossed another can in. “Try again. ”

  I aimed at the second can, let out my breath, and squeezed. This time, I saw the water spray up where the bullet struck, a good two feet to the left of and well below the can at which I was aiming. I watched the motion of the soda can, waited until it was at the bottom of a wave trough, and squeezed off a round. This time, the can plinked and disappeared under the water. It was only fifteen feet away, but still, I’d hit it, and that was something.

  “Excellent, Kyrie. Excellent. ” He tossed the third can in. “Once more. ”

  I tracked the bobbing of the can, waited, then fired. Missed. I let out a breath, fired, missed again. The can was now barely visible in the blue of the Aegean.

  I lowered the pistol and flicked the safety on. “It’s too far away. ”

  Harris just grinned, reached behind his back for his gun, lifted it, and assumed what I thought of as the military stance, his body sideways, both arms crooked, right hand holding the butt of the pistol, left hand cupped under his right. He paused for a split second, and then squeezed off three rounds in such fast succession that it sounded like a single loud roar. I had my eye on the can and watched it rupture, water geysering as the rounds plowed into the waves.

  “I’ve spent hundreds of hours at the range,” he explained, placing his pistol in the back of his jeans. “But you did really good for your first time. I mainly just wanted you to have a feel for how loud it is, for the kick. And again, it’s just for last-resort emergencies. If you aim it at someone, you’d better be prepared to shoot them. ”

  “I don’t know if I’m capable of that,” I admitted, following Harris into the pilot’s cabin.

  Harris settled into the pilot’s seat, disengaged the autopilot, and nudged the throttle lever forward. “Of course you’re not. You can’t be sure what you’re capable of until you’re forced to find out. ”

  “Is it hard? Shooting someone?”

  Harris let out long breath. “Yes. It is. The first time, it’s…awful. Not sure what else I can say. I threw up the first time I killed a man. And you know, if it ever becomes easy, it’s time to find another line of work. It’s hard every time. ”

  Hours passed, and I watched the horizon in silence, the evening sky deepening to darkness as the waves churned beneath the hull.

  “Will we reach Greece tonight?” I asked.

  Harris shook his head, seeming amused at my question. “Oh, no. It’s over a thousand nautical miles from Marseilles to Athens. It’ll take us a few days to make the trip. I’m heading for Palermo first, to restock and refuel, and then will make for Athens. ”

  “Oh. ” Apparently my understanding of Mediterranean geography was somewhat lacking.

  “We’ll find him. ”

  “When? And how?” My voice was soft and quiet and hesitant, betraying my doubt.

  Harris didn’t answer right away. “I’m working on the how. As for when? As soon as we can, I suppose. If Gina Karahalios has him, getting him back could be tricky. The other question is whether Vitaly is involved. There are a lot of variables to deal with, and…it’s just me. I can’t risk bringing anyone else in. I shouldn’t have involved Henri, but I did. ”

  Page 16

 

  “I’m here. ”

  “I know. But…how do I say this without sounding insulting? I was an Army Ranger. ”

  “And I’m just…what? What am I?” Now that the question was aired, I realized it had been percolating inside me for a long time.

  Harris glanced at me. “I didn’t mean to incite an existential crisis, Miss St. Claire. ”

  “You didn’t. It’s been happening all along, I’m finally just talking about it, I guess. ”

  “I understand. ” He sighed. “You know, I joined the Army as an eighteen year-old kid. I was bored. I came from a totally normal family. Had a mom and a dad and two sisters. No drama, nothing interesting. But I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself. I graduated, and spent six months just…literally fucking around. That was all I did. Went to parties and hooked up. But even that got boring. So, one day, I happened to walk by a recruiter’s office. He was standing outside, smoking a cigarette. I bummed one off him, and we started talking. Damned good salesman that he was, he had me signing up by the time I was done with my smoke. ” Harris laughed. “I hated the Army for the first two years. But then I got into an off-base brawl with a couple of Rangers and got my ass handed to me. The same guys who beat the shit out of me ended up buying me beer and convinced me to try out for Ranger school. After months of work I got in, and that was the beginning of things for me. I had something I wanted, suddenly. It provided the motivation to try. ”


  It was odd to think about Harris as anything other than the buttoned-up and endlessly capable man I’d come to know.

  I looked at him again. He was over six feet tall, but just barely, and was slender in a whipcord, razor-blade sort of way. He had short, dark brown hair and vivid, intelligent green eyes that could be either friendly and warm as summer grass, or as cold and frightening as chips of ancient jade. He wasn’t classically handsome; his features were too rugged for that. He was striking, but not so much that he’d stand out in a crowd. He was intense, exuding competence and power. He moved with an easy grace, the kind of predatory prowl of someone capable of extreme violence, someone who is intensely fit, athletic, his body honed to a razor edge. Looking at him, it was impossible to determine how old he was. Over thirty, for sure, and certainly less than fifty.

  Silence descended, and stayed for a long time. I sat in the chair beside Harris and watched the stars prick and poke the blackness with points of silver, multiplying from thousands to millions to quintillions to an innumerable multitude. The boat ascended gentle rolling waves and slid down into the troughs, tilted and rolled, bucked and bobbled, churning through the waves and the darkness, and only the unpredictable motion of the sea kept the journey from hypnotizing sameness. There was nothing to see but the ever-moving sea and the sky, black with shaken-salt stars.

  I nodded off and was woken by the low rumble of the boat’s engine cutting out and the lapping of bay waves. I rubbed my eyes and stretched as Harris docked the boat, tied the moor line, and returned to the cabin.

  “We’ll sleep on the boat,” he said. “There are two cabins. Lock yours, and sleep with the gun close by. I don’t expect trouble here, but it pays to be ready. ”

  I nodded and followed him below, then entered one of the bedrooms. I locked the door, crawled onto the bed fully clothed, and tried not to think about how much I missed Valentine.

  * * *

  I woke up to the shrill caw of seagulls and the gentle lap of waves against the hull, the gentle hum of the engine revving up, voices in the distance. I rose and ascended to the wheelhouse, took my seat beside Harris, squinting at the blinding sunlight scintillating off diamond-and-blue waves.

  “Good morning, Miss St. Claire,” Harris said.

  He twisted the wheel, bringing the bow of the boat about, pushed the throttle lever, and the craft moved forward. He handed me a green Thermos. I twisted the silver top off and poured a measure of thick black coffee, sipped it gratefully.

  “You could’ve slept longer, you know. ”

  I shrugged, sipped. “It’s fine. We’re restocked and everything?”

  Harris nodded. “Refueled, some food, and a few other things. ”

  Something in his voice alerted me. “A few other things, huh?”

  Harris shrugged. “I’m developing a plan. I’m hoping I’ll be able to work things out without involving you, but I’m afraid I may not have much choice. There are just…too many variables. I don’t know. We’ll see. ”

  “I’m not sure I like the sound of that. ”

  “I only know the Karahalios family by reputation and from what little Mr. Roth has told me. They’re brutal, thorough, and have essentially endless resources. ” He guided the boat out of the bay and into open water, then fiddled with the GPS and autopilot, setting our next destination. “What I’ve heard is that Vitaly is the kind of kingpin the Greek government is wary to tangle with because, in the current economic and political situation, he has too much influence. ”

  “And he has Valentine?”

  “I’m not sure Vitaly himself actually has him. I think it’s his daughter, Roth’s former girlfriend. That doesn’t make her any safer to mess with, since, as far as I know, she has her father’s resources at her disposal, as well as her own. ”

  I swallowed hard. “And we, you and me, are going to—what? Just walk up, knock on the door, and ask for him back? Walk in and shoot her?”

  Harris did a shrug-and-nod thing. “Basically, yeah. Although I’m going to try to divert some attention elsewhere first, and hope it buys us enough time to get Mr. Roth and get out. ”

  “And then? If these people are as scary as you’re saying, what chance do we have of actually getting away?”

  Harris let out a breath. “I don’t know. I really don’t. I wish I had something comforting to say to you, but I just don’t. Would you rather turn around and go home? Just leave him?”

  I shot him a glare. “Of course not. ”

  “Okay, then. We’ll just have to wing it and hope. It’s not like I can just muster some army of henchmen or something. ”

  I watched the waves dance and gyrate, trying desperately not to think about what Valentine was going through. “I’ll tell you this much, Harris: I’m not going to be sitting in some hotel room or in the cabin of this boat waiting with my thumb up my ass, okay? Whatever happens, I’m going with you. I know I don’t have your training, but…Valentine is the man I love, and I can’t just sit around, hoping and waiting. ”

  Page 17

 

  “I know. But what good is rescuing him if you’re dead?” Harris gave me a long, penetrating look. “You’ve changed him, Kyrie. You have. And for the better. ”

  “He’s changed me, too. ”

  * * *

  Forty-eight hours later, we were docking in Athens—the Marina Zea, Harris informed me. We shouldered our bags, ensured our pistols were safely secured but within reach, and set off on foot down the marina dock. The marina was set in a wide, circular bay with docks jutting out into the center, boats of all sizes moored and waiting for their owners. Beyond, multi-story apartment buildings rose in a ring, balconies and flat roofs ascending in serried ranks. From a distance they all looked uniformly white, but as we made our way from the docks closer to the city proper, I realized each building was different, some pink, some white, some yellow, but most of them adhered to the same basic design, block-shaped, balconies facing the street, with shops and stores and restaurants below at ground level.

  There was a sense of age to the city that was immediately palpable, even from a distance, even without having spent more than five minutes here. We wove through the marina, passing trucks carrying loads of various kinds, families, groups of businessmen, gaggles of laughing children, pairs of women, couples, locals and tourists and old men with white hair and wizened, wrinkled faces.

  We came to a place where the buildings closed in tight on our left, a portion of the marina on our right fenced-off for construction, the pavement narrowing to a space barely wide enough for us to walk side by side. Harris stopped, eyeing the cityscape around us. We were in front of a graffiti-scarred, old, low white building, boarded off and empty, a ten-foot-high chain link fence to one side. Located at the water’s edge were partially constructed piers and bare concrete pillars standing sentry in the dark waters. The city noise was dampened, muffled, and distant. There was no one in sight, the only cars passing back and forth half a mile away.

  “I don’t like this,” Harris said, reaching behind his back to draw his pistol. “Something’s not right. ”

  As if his words were a cue, a battered blue metal door swung open, the door heavily marked with white spray paint graffiti every bit as illegible as the graffiti on the abandoned buildings and freeway overpasses back in Detroit. The door squeaked ominously and a man stepped out, followed by three more. Each man was dressed alike, in a sleek dark suit and a black T-shirt. Each man held a machine gun, the tiny kind I thought might be an Uzi.

  “Took you long enough to get here,” one of them said. “We expected you yesterday. ”

  Harris stepped sideways so his body blocked mine. He said nothing, only stood silent with his pistol at his thigh.

  “Nothing to say?” The speaker was a short, ugly young man wearing a sparse black goatee, his face marred by severe acne. His eyes were cruel and cold and dull. “Come on, then. She is expecting you two. ”
r />   “Fuck off. ” Harris tilted his head to the side.

  “I think no. ” He glanced to either side in an exaggerated gesture, looking at his three companions. “We are four. You are two. We have these. ” He waggled his machine gun. “You come now. Drop the gun. ”

  Harris looked sidelong at me. He seemed to be contemplating something. “How about you first?” He returned his attention to the men in front of us.

  I didn’t see a way out of this.

  I slid farther behind Harris, letting his body completely block mine. Hoping I was being discreet, I reached behind my back and withdrew my pistol, gingerly, quietly thumbing the safety off. What was I doing? I couldn’t do this. They had machine guns. I couldn’t do this.

  Apparently I wasn’t being discreet enough, because one of the men shouted something in Greek, stepping toward me, lifting his gun. Three short, angry steps, and he was beside Harris and I was twisting away from him, loath to let him get his hands on me. Time distorted then, milliseconds drawing out even as everything sped up. Harris pivoted, his arm flashing out and wrapping around my attacker’s throat, jerking him in front of him. The Uzi waved, spat fire and noise, and then Harris’s pistol barked once and blood sprayed. I shrieked, but my hands were clutching my pistol in front of me, feet shoulder width apart, pistol cupped and supported as Harris had shown me, and my finger was tightening on the trigger, the black barrel leveled at one of the men. Harris shoved the dead body forward and stepped swiftly to one side, his pistol barking, once—twice—three times. Uzis chattered and the dead body jerked and burst red, but then the guns were silenced and bodies were crumpling, and I was still standing with my pistol held out in front of me, finger on the trigger, barrel shaking, pointing at empty space.

  “Kyrie. Put it away. It’s over. ” Harris spoke from beside me, his voice too calm. “Put it down. Put the safety on. Now, Kyrie. Now. ”

  I flinched at the whip-sharp note in his voice and lowered the weapon, pushing the button in to secure the pistol, returned it to the small of my back.

  “I couldn’t—I couldn’t—” My voice cracked.

  Harris’s hand touched my shoulder. “I hope you get through all this without ever needing to. I really do. ” He bent and grabbed two handfuls of pant leg. “Come on. Help me pull these assholes out of the way. ” Harris dragged the body backward a few feet, and then realized blood was leaving a wide trail. “Fuck it. Leave ’em. We need to move. ”

  He set off in a trot, stepping over bodies without a second glance. I followed less surely, unable to look away from the blood and the staring eyes and the gaping holes. Harris returned, grabbed my arm, and pulled me into a run, slowing only once we hit a main road and were able to get lost in the bustling crowd. I wasn’t following Harris at that point so much as being pulled by him without resisting. Seeing men shot and killed…I couldn’t move past it. Knowing someone had died was one thing, knowing someone had likely died when I rammed the Peugeot was one thing…what had just happened, that was something totally else.

 
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