Beta, p.8
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       Beta, p.8

         Part #2 of Alpha series by Jasinda Wilder
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Harris had, in the end, decided the only real possibility was to just go for it. After some investigation and asking questions I wanted to know nothing about, he came up with a location for Gina Karahalios. She was living on an island about hundred and fifty miles southeast, in a place called Oia. We took the yacht from Athens across the Aegean and through a cluster of islands of various sizes, docking on the far side of the island from where Gina’s house, according to Harris’s information, was located.

  We started out slowly, simply strolling through the countryside as if we were tourists like any others. We caught an ancient, rumbling bus and took it on a clattering, scary journey over hills and around cliff faces, eventually getting off at the outskirts of Oia. It was a picturesque place, square white houses with blue doors and shutters marching down to the sea, which glittered in the distance, far below. The sun shone bright, a few wisps of cloud drifting slowly here and there. Buses rumbled, a few cars passed here and there. An old man held on to the halter of a gray donkey pulling a cart full of fruit.

  Harris pointed to a huge house high up on a hill, a sprawling estate with turrets and cupolas all painted the same blue as everything else. “There. That’s it. ”

  The road leading up to the house in question was winding and narrow and steep, and there was a wall surrounding the house, seven feet high and made of white-washed bricks with bits of broken glass twinkling and gleaming on the top edge.

  Harris eyed the way up. “This is going to be rough. Stay right behind me. ” He twisted a long cylinder onto the barrel of his pistol, dug three clips out of his backpack, and stuffed them into his pocket. “Come on. Let’s get this over with. ”

  And he took off running up the hill, hugging the side of the road. There was no one on the streets this far up, this close to the estate. Curtains twitched and faces peered out, watching us, seemingly unsurprised to see a drawn gun. I followed him up the hill, ignoring the jelly-weakness in my thighs and the ache of oxygen-deprived lungs. We reached the last row of houses before the road curved toward the gated entrance, and then Harris stopped and ducked against the corner of a house. Even he was breathing hard and sweating. I was gasping and dripping sweat, and barely able to stand upright.

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  “Take a minute and catch your breath. I’ll be right back. ” Harris dug several small packages from his backpack, things shaped like bricks with wires attached.

  “Harris? What are those?”

  “Distractions. ”

  “Jesus. What is this, Die Hard?” This last was to myself, though, because Harris was already across the road and pressed flat to the wall beside the electronically controlled gates. He peeled something from the back of the bomb and pressed the package to the wall beside the gate, touched a button or switch—I couldn’t make out which from this distance—and then moved in a crouch around the corner and out of sight. After a few minutes, he returned at a sprint and moved into the doorway beside me.

  He was breathing deeply, a sheen of sweat on his forehead. “Kyrie, I don’t know what we’re going to find when we go in there. Maybe nothing. Maybe something awful. I don’t know. Just…be prepared for anything. And above all, stay right behind me, no matter what. ”

  I nodded, unable to speak.

  The explosion was a deafening CRUMP, followed by a pattering rain of debris and shouts in Greek. Harris drew his pistol and nodded at me, and then we set out across the street, into the cloud of smoke around the gateway. I tugged my shirt up around my nose and mouth and held it there as we entered the pall of dust and debris, following close behind Harris, who seemed unaffected by the acrid smoke. A shape resolved in the sun-fractured shadows of the smoke. Harris’s pistol made a quiet barking sound, not unlike a firecracker, but much louder than I expected a silenced pistol to be. The shape dropped. Another replaced it, and Harris shot that one, too. Then we were through, and I was stepping on something at once soft and hard, rolling out from under my foot. I felt my stomach lurch and refused to look down, simply adjusted my footing and stayed tight behind Harris. He swiveled from side to side, and his pistol cracked, again and again, and then there was the crackcrackcrack of a machine gun, dust spitting up from the shattered marble tiles near our feet, but the shooter was quickly brought down by Harris.

  He was moving with the graceful, predatory economy of a professional warrior, partially crouched, feet silent, body angled, swiveling and pivoting as if his upper half was a gun turret. When he fired his gun, he didn’t stop, didn’t slow, just kept on gliding with serpentine swiftness, the pistol barking and jerking in his hands nonstop.

  I felt nothing. All emotions, all senses were switched off, shoved down, and I tried to pretend I was in a movie, that this was all pretend, but I couldn’t. Not totally. I had a gun, too, but I didn’t dare draw it. Couldn’t, wouldn’t, not unless I was ready to shoot and kill, and I knew I wasn’t. Then, before I knew it, we were standing outside the house itself.

  Harris exchanged clips in a swift, practiced motion, stopped with his back to the wall, pivoted, and peered up a stairway. I couldn’t have told you what the house we were in looked like, except for an impression of marble floors and white walls and dark beams on the ceiling. Harris kept his back to the far wall as he slithered up the stairwell, peering up and angling to see around corners. His pistol fired, twice, a third time, and I was right behind him, glancing behind me every so often.

  As we rounded the corner of the stairs, I saw a shadow moving on the landing beneath us. I tapped Harris on the shoulder, pointed down without speaking. He nodded, in a crouch that spanned three stairs, aimed his pistol downward, and waited. A body wielding a wicked-looking black assault rifle appeared in the doorway, and Harris shot him twice. I looked away after the first shot, and then Harris was tapping me on the knee, and I had to follow him.

  A woman’s voice was shouting in Greek, pausing now and then, clearly engaged in an argument over the phone. This was followed by silence and then the sound of an engine roaring, and the whine of helicopter blades powering up. Harris was paused in the doorway of the stairwell, just out of sight, waiting until the helicopter took off. He then jerked his head for me to follow, heading for a door at the end of a short hallway. A man stood outside it, an M-16 held in his hands. He saw Harris, but a moment too late. Harris shoved me to one side and lunged, the M-16 ripping the air, but Harris’s pistol was already cracking, rounds slamming into the guard’s body within the blink of an eye. Harris pushed me out of the way.

  I hit the wall hard enough to knock the breath out of me, and I stood gasping as Harris rifled through the dead man’s pockets and came up with a small handcuff key. Harris jerked at it the locked door, cursed, searched the man’s pockets again, and then cursed again before stepping back and kicking the door just to the left of the handle. The frame splintered but held, and he kicked it again. This time, it flung open, and Harris stepped through, pausing to grab the M-16.

  I was right behind Harris as soon as the door burst open.

  Harris let the assault rifle droop, shock clearly overtaking him. I couldn’t see around him, could only see a bed, a brass footboard, and a foot handcuffed to the railing, a bit of bare leg. I knew that foot. I knew the curl of hair on the toes and the scar on his ankle where he said he’d cut it open rock climbing, and I knew the scrim of fine blond hair on his leg, the scar on his calf from the muffler of a dirt bike.

  “Valentine!” I lunged around Harris, but stopped in shock.

  He was totally nude, cuffed spread-eagle to the bed, his hair wet and matted to his scalp, blood trickling down his forehead. He was alive, though, eyes wide and crazed, teeth bared in a rictus of madness. He had a massive erection, so engorged his veins stood out throbbing and purple. A pill bottle sat on a side table, as well as a silver pitcher. He was sweating, writhing, spine arching and hips lunging. His wrists and ankles were bloody, rubbed raw from his thrashing against the cuffs.

  “What the fu
ck is wrong with him, Harris?”

  “Drugs is my guess. A drug to make him…do what she wanted, when he wouldn’t cooperate. ”

  “How are we going to get him out of here in this state?” I glanced at Harris, who only shook his head.

  “I don’t know. But we have to. ” He handed me the key he’d gotten from the dead man. “Uncuff him. Leave the cuffs on his wrists for now, though. I don’t know how crazy the drug’ll make him. I might have to subdue him till it wears off. ” He sounded too calm, and I darted a glance into Harris’s eyes. It clearly disturbed him to see Valentine this way.

  Roth, who was always in control, always calm and collected. Roth, seemingly the master of his universe, reduced to a naked, crazed beast.

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  I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I moved to Valentine’s side, touched his face. Wiped the blood from his forehead, the wet hair from where it was pasted to his temple. “Valentine? Baby? It’s me. It’s Kyrie. I’m here. Harris is here. We’re gonna get you out of here, okay?”

  He growled in his throat, but his eyes latched onto me. His gaze darkened, shifted. “Not you. Get away from me, you bitch. Get away. Fucking kill me, you cunt. Stay away or kill me. I won’t do it. Not again. I won’t. Won’t. ”

  Tears started in my eyes, my throat closed. “Valentine? It’s me. It’s really me. ” I’d never heard Valentine talk that way, so coarse, so vulgar, and so full of rage and disgust. He didn’t recognize me. That had to be it. He wouldn’t talk to me that way. He loved me. Right? I forced myself to believe that, knelt beside him so my face was level with his. “Roth? Valentine? It’s me. It’s Kyrie. Listen to me. Listen to my voice. It’s me. ”

  “Kyrie?” He sounded hesitant. Skeptical.

  “Miss St. Claire. We have to go. ” Harris stood in the doorway, rifle pointed down the hallway. “The second charge is about to go off, and we have to be there when it does. ”

  “Give me a second. He thinks I’m—I’m her. ”

  “We don’t have a second. She’ll be back with a goddamn truckload of men with guns, okay? They’re coming here, and we have to be gone before they do. ” He bent, went through the dead man’s pockets a third time, coming up with a spare magazine, which he used to replace the partially depleted one in the gun.

  I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed a prayer to whatever might or might not be out there, and kissed Valentine. A slow, deep kiss. The kind that said I love you—I love you—I love you. “It’s me. It’s me. ”

  He didn’t respond to the kiss. I pulled away, and he blinked, looked at me. “Kyrie? You’re real?”

  “Yeah, I’m real. And we have to get out of here, okay? Can you walk?”

  “I—god—I don’t—don’t know. ” He seemed barely able to form words, muscles tensing and flexing, each shift and jerk of his hands drawing fresh blood from his wrists and ankles. “I’ll try. ”

  I fitted the tiny key into the handcuff attached to the bed, released it, then unlocked his other hand and both feet as quickly as I could. Valentine lunged off the bed, tripped over the sheets, and stumbled to the floor, scrambled away on his backside into the corner. I snatched a towel from a stack on the floor—not daring to wonder what had gone on with the buckets and pitcher and towels—and approached him.

  “Come on, baby. Stand up, okay? We have to get out of here. ” I held up the towel.

  Valentine levered himself to his feet, and stood pressed even deeper into the corner. He seemed afraid of me, wary of me, as if I wasn’t who I said I was. “Stay—stay back. Don’t touch me. Don’t fucking touch me. ” He flexed his hands into fists and released them, shook them, rubbed his face and sucked in deep breaths and let them out. Squeezed his eyes shut and opened them, staring at me with a bizarre mix of desperation, lust, and worry. “Tell me something only you’d know. ”

  “It’s really me, Valentine, I swear—”

  “TELL ME!” he shouted, his voice raw and hoarse.

  I wracked my brain. “You sent me three checks! The message on those three checks was ‘you belong to me. ’” I took another step closer to him, the towel held out for him.

  Crackcrackcrack. The M-16 rattled, deafeningly loud. “We have to fucking go!” Harris shouted.

  Valentine snatched the towel and wrapped it around his waist, covering his still massive erection. “Don’t touch me. Please. I can’t—I’m not me right now, and I can’t—I’m—fuck—” he cut off with a growl, shoving past me, without touching me. “Let’s go. ”

  He stopped, unbuckled the dead guard’s belt and jerked the pants off him, stepped into them, and tied the belt in a knot. The pants were several inches too short, the waist too loose, and the belt too long, but he was covered to an extent.

  Harris set off with Valentine on his heels, me in the rear. Down the stairs, around the corner away from the front gate, and through a courtyard. A boxy Mercedes SUV, a Jaguar, and a Rolls Royce sat in the courtyard, gleaming in the sunlight. Harris ducked to peer into the Mercedes, checked the driver’s-side door handle. It was unlocked, and he bent in, came up with a keyless ignition fob.

  “Get in. ” He gestured at both of us. “Kyrie in the front. Mr. Roth, you get in the back. ” He glanced at his watch. “Now, please. ”

  I slid into the front seat while Roth got in the back, and as soon as we were in and the doors closed, Harris had the car bolting backward, spinning around. A blinding flash lit up the courtyard, accompanied by an explosion that flung chunks of rock and brick and mortar into the air. Windows smashed, car alarms set to blaring. The roof of the Jaguar was caved in by a hunk of brick, and the driver’s-side window of the Rolls shattered. A huge piece of brick hit the hood of our Mercedes, denting it, and another hit the roof near my head.

  Harris gunned the engine, and the powerful V-8 rocketed the car forward through the hole made by the bomb. The tires hit bits of brick, and the car jolted, bounced, and then we were hauling too fast down a hill, braking and squealing around a corner and then another, and then we were aiming for the coastline. A helicopter thumped in the distance.

  I glanced back at Roth, who was hunched over in the seat, sweat coating his back and shoulders. He was shaking all over, handcuffs still dangling from his wrists and ankles. I risked reaching a hand out, touching his shoulder. He flinched away, glancing up at me with wild, bloodshot eyes.

  “Don’t!” he hissed. “I can’t control it. ”

  “What did she do to you?” I whispered, more to myself than to him. “You can’t control what?”

  “Myself. I need—I need—” He didn’t finish, though, biting off mid-sentence and ducking his head, grabbing the chains of the handcuffs and pulling hard, drawing blood, as the pain offered lucidity.

  “Leave him be for now,” Harris said. “Take a look behind us. Anyone following? You see that helo?”

  I peered back. “No, no. I don’t see anyone behind us, and the helicopter…it’s there, but it’s out over the water, flying toward the island. I don’t think it’s following us. ”

  Page 23


  We were racing around a curve on the hillside, the sea far, far below. A bus rushed past us, too close, our mirror almost scraping the side of the bus. In the back seat, Roth was rocking and growling, his hand going to his crotch and grinding himself as if the pain of his engorged penis was just too much. And then he jerked his hand away and grabbed the back of Harris’s seat, and his fingers went white with the force of his grip.

  He glanced up at me, saw me watching. “Don’t look at me, Kyrie. Don’t you fucking dare look at me. You see the state I’m in? I’m crazy right now, baby. Crazy. ” He grinned, a feral leer. “You wanna help me out, love?” He’d never sounded so English as then, the way his words twisted, the way his voice deepened and his lips curled.

  He’s not himself. I repeated that in my mind, hating the words coming from his mouth and the way he said them.

bsp; “You want my cock, don’t you, Kyrie? You see it? I’m fucking crazy right now. I can’t stand it. I need you. ” He reached for me, eyes hot and leering and ravenous. With a spear of pain in my heart as I did so, I backed out of his reach.

  “Roth. It’s not you. That’s not you. ” I fought the tears. “It’s not you. ”

  His face twisted, and he hunched over. “Fuck. Fuck. ” He rubbed his face with both hands, spoke through his fingers. “Don’t come near me. Don’t touch me. Don’t look at me. ” The hate, the disgust, the raw vitriol in his voice made me flinch, shudder, and made the tears stream down my face.

  Harris stopped the SUV on a side street, beckoning for me to follow him. I slid out of the car and shouldered my backpack, waiting until Roth was in front of me before following Harris. We made our way through the sleepy village by the sea, fishing boats plying the waters in the distance, guitar music playing somewhere, water lapping at boat hulls and chucking at dock pylons. Our yacht stood out among the old fishing boats and small skiffs. We boarded, and Harris had us untied and was backing out before Roth and I had even sat down. Roth headed for the stairs leading below, and I followed him, dropping the backpack to the deck.

  He pushed through the doorway of the stateroom I’d slept in, perhaps by accident, or perhaps because he could smell me on the blankets. I followed, hesitant but determined. Locked the door behind us. This was Valentine. My Valentine. I couldn’t leave him alone, not now, not like this.

  He whirled, chest heaving, sweat gleaming on his skin, on his bulging muscles. His blond hair was long and damp, curling at his neck, his pale blue eyes crazed and wild. His hands shook. The handcuffs dangled, silver streaked with blood.

  “Why are you here?” he demanded, his voice low and threatening.

  “I—I can’t leave you alone. I just got you back. I can’t leave you. I won’t. ” I stood straight and unflinching as he took a slow, prowling step toward me. “It’s me, Valentine. It’s Kyrie. I’m here. I love you. I love you. ”

  His fingers twitched and curled. I trusted him. I knew him. Even in the hold of some drug, I knew he wouldn’t hurt me. He loved me. I trusted in that.

  His trembling fingers lifted and touched my cheek. I felt a tear there, though I hadn’t realized I was crying. He smeared it away. His breathing was erratic and panting, his chest rising and falling, his jaw working, every muscle taut and tensed. His finger slid across my cheek, down my neck, stopping at my clavicle and dropping away. I stood still, letting him touch me, denying the fear I felt in my gut. He leaned in, put his nose to the side of my neck, inhaling deeply. For some reason, my gaze locked on the bed, a low frame bolted to the wall. The bars of the frame were narrow enough that I could cuff him to it, if I had to.

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