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“Val, you mean?” She winked at me. “He’s dealing with a…distraction.”

“Do what you want to me, but leave him alone.”

She laughed, a bell-like sound of hilarity. “Oh my. How very original of you. I don’t think so, though. I’ll do what I want with you, and then I’ll do what I want with him. I’m afraid much of it will hurt rather a lot.”

“Why?”

“Why?” She peered at me from beneath thickly mascaraed lashes. “Because I always get what I want. I want Val. And I want you to suffer for daring to touch what is mine.”

She reached into her Chanel bag and withdrew a small metal cylinder, which she screwed onto the barrel of her gun.

“He’s not yours, Gina. He never was, and never will be. And if you lay a hand on me, all you’ll succeed in doing is making him even more angry.”

Her hand shifted slightly, and the gun popped with a short, sharp bark. A hot, piercing pain slammed into my knee, and I screamed, clutching my leg, watching the blood gush, thick and bright.

“He’s so very sexy when he’s angry, don’t you agree?” She sounded so calm, as if we were two girlfriends talking about a mutual crush.

I could only scream breathlessly, the agony blasting through me and stealing oxygen from my lungs, the pulse from my veins, thought from my mind. I heard the click of a cell phone camera, and looked up through tears to see Gina touching the screen of a pink-and-diamond encased iPhone, and then heard the telltale sound of a sent message. She slithered up off the chair, smoothed the front of her dress, tugged the scooped neckline down to better prop up her cleavage, and then moved to kneel beside me. Raising her cell phone, she held it up to get a downward angle, capturing the agony on my face and the bloody wreck of my knee, pressed the barrel of her pistol to my temple, and then—click—took a selfie.

I watched her send it to Roth.

I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t even breathe. The pain was excruciating, beyond anything I’d ever even imagined. I couldn’t even sob.

Gina stood up again, smoothed and straightened her dress, placed her cell phone in her purse, which she then hung on her shoulder. She turned to me. “Come along.”

I stared at her. “You—you sh-shot me.”

She gave me a well, duh look. “And that won’t be all I’m going to do to you. Oh no. Not even close.” Gina touched a long, cherry-red fingernail to the bottom of my chin, lifting my face. “But…if you cooperate with me, I’ll in turn make sure I’m the only one who will touch you. Do you understand?”

“I—”

“What that means, in case you’re too stupid to follow, is that if you make trouble for me, if you cause me to repeat myself, I’ll let one of my boys…play…with you. You won’t enjoy that, I assure you.” She tapped me on the nose. “Now. Come along.”

“How am I supposed to—”

Gina rolled her eyes at me. “It’s one knee. You have two. Now let’s go, you silly little cunt. I have things to do.”

I gritted my teeth, bit down on a scream as I struggled to my feet. Or, foot. I couldn’t put any weight on my knee, but I had no choice except to hobble as best I could toward the stairs. Gina followed behind me, gun barrel pressed against my spine, urging me to go faster. Getting down the library stairs was raw torture. Inch by inch, step by step, I fought, trying not to scream, not to sob, not to show weakness. This woman was a viper, the kind of animal who would smell fear and prey on it.

I would not be prey.

She shoved me toward the front door, where a bulky, swarthy, short man in a trim black suit stood with some kind of compact machine gun in his hands, waiting. I happened to glance to my left, toward the formal sitting room, and I fell to the floor, a sob catching in my teeth.

Eliza. Eyes open and staring, a crimson pool spreading beneath her skull. Roth’s kind and devoted housekeeper was dead.

“Eliza? Eliza, no. No. Nononono.” I crawled toward her, fingernails scrabbling at the hardwood floor, heart breaking in my chest.

I was grabbed around the middle and lifted off the ground. A hand pawed at my breasts, but I didn’t even notice as I focused on Eliza, sweet, quiet, competent Eliza.

Dead Eliza.

Within me there was a hard, cold knot of rage, already in place and building, put there by the chase across France, by Roth’s kidnapping, by the turn my life had taken, all at the hands of this woman. Rage at the hell my man had endured. All that rage was only intensified by the sight of Eliza.

I thrashed, kicked, bit, and screamed, heard grunts of pain as I connected with flesh.

“Knock her out, Tobias.”

A blow struck the back of my head, a lance of dizzying pain knocking the breath from me, narrowing my vision to tunnels. Another blow, and then a third, each harder than the last, and finally blackness swallowed me.

15

MERCENARIES

VALENTINE

It took every ounce of self-control I possessed to let Kyrie shower by herself. I stood in the doorway of the bathroom for several seconds, drinking in her lush, glorious nude beauty as she adjusted the water and stepped in. I wanted to shove my shorts off and go in there with her, shove her against the marble wall and fuck her senseless, and then dry her off and take her to bed and fuck her again and again, until we were both so spent we couldn’t move.

Instead, I wrenched myself away and went up to the roof. Harris was there, sitting in the pilot’s seat of the chopper, smoking a cigarette and thumbing rounds into a clip.

He saw me coming, lifted his chin at me. “Mr. Roth. Glad to have you back.”

I let out a sigh. “I owe you, Harris. More than I can ever repay.”

He shook his head. “No, sir. You don’t. That girl, she’s something else. Haven’t known her long, but she’s like family. So are you. I don’t want a fucking dime from you. Not for that. I took care of her because it was the only thing to do. I helped her go get you because it was the only thing to do.”

I shrugged. “All right. But I still owe you my life. So you need anything, anything, ever, it’s yours.”

Harris’s eyes were frozen emeralds. “Get the fuckers.”

“That’s why I’m up here, Harris. I can’t leave her. I promised her. But…I can’t just sit here and wait with my thumb up my ass. I have to do something. We have to get them. Strike first.”

Harris clamped the butt of his cigarette between his teeth, set the clip he was filling aside, and reached down behind his seat to pick up a long, flat black case. He laid the case across his knees and opened it, revealing a Remington MSR. It was a military version, not the stripped-down and simplified civilian version.


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