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“I understand, believe me.” The bus turned, and we swayed to one side. He used the commotion to pull my shirt down lower to cover my gun. “Next time you pull that out, you shoot, okay? Don’t think—don’t even really try to aim. Just point at center mass and pull the trigger. If you draw it, you shoot it. Got me?”

I nodded. “Got it. I’m sorry. I just…froze.”

“And that’s how you get killed in those situations. You can’t freeze.” His voice was totally calm, as if we were discussing sports or the weather.

“I was scared, Harris. They had fucking machine guns. I was about to die.”

He let out a breath. “I know. I know.” He touched my shoulder in a gesture that was part friendly affection and part apology. “I’m sorry we’re in this. I’m sorry you’re in this.”

“I just—I just want Valentine back.”

“Me, too.” He patted my shoulder again. “And we’ll get him back.”

“Promise?”

Harris was a long time responding. “No. I can’t promise that.”

6

DROWNING

VALENTINE

Curtains of distortion swept across my brain, the ceiling and floor wavering and twisting. Heat billowed through me. I was on fire. I was burning alive, skin crackling. I was so hot my skin must surely be blistering, but I didn’t dare look. Nausea rocketed through me in a sudden burst.

I felt vomit in my throat, at the back of my teeth. I could only crane my neck and hope I didn’t choke as I spewed all over the bed and the floor and myself.

Once my stomach was empty, I felt a sweat break out over my skin, cooling me to shivers.

My penis ached. My skin crawled. Eyes closed, eyes open, I saw over and over the repulsive vision of Gina writhing on top of me, clawing me, leaving bloody gashes gouged down my chest. I heard her voice, calling out as if in the grip of ecstasy. I felt her on me, and I wished I could vomit again.

When the door swung silently open, I saw her in triplicate. She wore a green miniskirt, tight as a second skin, molded to her thighs and ass, barely long enough to cover the bottom of her buttocks. Long tanned legs, four-inch ivory heels, sleeveless ivory blouse cut low between her breasts. I clenched my eyes, opened them, saw a single image, which blurred and multiplied.

“Val. My, my, my. Such a mess. The medication has side effects, it seems.” She rounded the foot of the bed and sat at my side—the side I hadn’t vomited all over. The back of her hand touched my forehead. “You’re burning up.”

I twisted away from her touch, and her eyes narrowed. “Get away from me.”

She stood up, tugged at her blouse. “I thought we were past this, Valentine.” I didn’t bother responding, and she snapped her fingers. The same two thugs as before appeared in the doorway. “He needs to be cleaned up.” She wrinkled her nose and gestured at me.

This was my chance. I knew it, felt it coming. One of the men produced a key from his pants pocket and unlocked the end of the handcuffs on my right hand. My wrist was still shackled, but free from the bed. Then he freed my foot on the same side. The thug passed the key to his brother, who unlocked my left hand and foot .

One of the thugs backed away and drew a huge silver pistol from a shoulder holster. “Up. Stand up,” he growled. “Nothing funny.”

I slowly slid my legs to one side of the bed and attempted to sit up. My entire body protested, dizziness sweeping through me as I levered myself to a sitting position. My stomach roiled, heaved, but I shoved it down, gritting my teeth and forcing myself to my feet. I had to brace myself with a hand on the headboard as the world spun and dipped beneath me. Gina was watching from beside the doorway, her purse over her shoulder. She dug in her purse, rifling through it for god knows what.

A meaty, clammy hand clapped around my forearm, jerked me forward, off balance. I stumbled, wobbled, dizziness and riotous nausea rollercoastering through me. I could see four of everything, then three, one, and two, and then it was all a myriad of shapes and colors and bodies and blue sky, blue water, white roofs and walls and blue doors and a black-suited thug in front of me, catching me, something cold and silver and hard between us.

My stomach heaved, bile streaming between my teeth and down my chin as I tried to contain it, and then an idea hit me and I let it go, let it pour out of me and all over Tobias or Stefanos or whoever this fuckhole in front of me was. Vomit hit his suit coat, shirt front, face, and he cursed in Greek, but I was already grabbing his hand, fumbling half-blindly, taking his sudden distraction as an opportunity to twist his hand so the barrel of his gun pointed at himself, and my finger found the trigger and jerked it.

BANG! The pistol went off with a deafening crash. It kicked back and into my chest, the recoil of the absurdly massive handgun knocking me backward. I snatched the gun, still dizzy, seeing too many of everything, still heaving, stumbling. I fell backward three, four, five steps, hit the wall, pointing the pistol with one hand at the other black-suited thug, who advanced slowly, his own gun drawn.

“You kill my brother.” He was inches from me, his silver gun with a wide black mouth pointed in front of one of my eyes.

“Tobias.” Gina’s voice was a low, threatening razor. “Take the gun from him and get him cleaned up.”

“But Stefanos—”

“Is dead.” She pulled a tube of lipstick from her purse, applied it slowly, pursed her lips, and put the tube away. “Do I look like I give a fuck?”

Tobias muttered something in Greek under his breath, but he holstered his pistol. I had no chance of resisting as his fist flashed out and connected with my cheekbone. I fell sideways, and the pistol was stripped from my hand. I was dragged by my wrists out of the room and into a bathroom, huge and echoing, all marble and glass.

He let me go, and my head smacked painfully against the marble floor. I heard water running, and then I was dragged across the bathroom, the grooves between the tiles plucking at my hair and scraping my scalp, and then icy water sluiced down onto my face and chest, and I was trying to roll away, but the stream came from a handheld wand and I was sprayed down head to toe, and no matter which way I turned or rolled or how I curled up, the frigid water beat against my skin like knives of ice.

I heard a footstep on the tile somewhere near my feet, and I felt a presence over me, the stream of water battering against my chest, so cold now I was numb. A fist clenched my hair, jerked my head backward, and the spray was moved to slice into my eyes and my nose and my mouth, and I was drowning, drowning, unable to breathe or even keep from inhaling the water. Coughing, I couldn’t turn away, could only pull brutally against the hand gripping my hair, ripping hunks out by the roots in an attempt to get away.


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