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