Boots pounded on the stairs outside the bedroom, and then a man entered the room. He was tall and lean, his eyes mocha-brown, his features weathered and hard-bitten, but attractive in a lupine sort of way. He had a scar running down the side of his face, going up into his close-cropped black hair. He had a machine gun hanging by a strap from his shoulder, one hand resting casually on the stock, two bottles of water in his other hand. He handed the bottles to Roth. “I am glad you to see you awake, Miss Kyrie.” He grinned and did a two-finger salute, and then retreated down the stairs.
When he was gone, I took the bottle Valentine had opened, and drank slowly. “He seems nice.”
Valentine shook his head, laughing. “Nice? That’s not really an applicable word to use for a man like him.”
“What does that mean?”
I noticed Valentine’s accent was thicker than usual, his normally carefully cultivated tone lacking its usual drawing-room polish, as if a façade had been dropped. “It just means that Alexei is…many things. Nice, however, is not one of them.”
I didn’t try to decipher what that meant. I scooted over on the bed, making room for Valentine. I patted the bed. “I need to be closer to you.”
He slid downward to a lying position, keeping me on his chest, in the sheltering warmth of his arms. I pressed my face against his throat and inhaled his scent, felt his heart beating beneath my palm.
I slept again.
When I woke, I was still on Roth’s lap, cradled against his chest, his arm around my shoulders. He had a cell phone in his other hand, a huge thing almost the size of a tablet, and he was tapping at it with one thumb.
“Help me to the bathroom?” I said. He tossed the phone to the side, slid off the bed, and scooped me up in his arms. “No. Let me stand. I need to try to stand up.”
Roth ignored me, descending a wide but steep set of stairs to a lower level of the boat. I sighed and let him carry me. There were floor-to-ceiling windows here too, but the ceiling was lower, the same blonde wood as on the floor above. To the right of the stairs was a long white leather couch on one wall, perpendicular to the windows, facing a huge TV screen. Ahead, a short corridor led past the TV to a full bar with stools, the window wall facing the bar so anyone sitting on the stools would have a view of the sea behind them. Left of the stairs was a doorway, leading to the bathroom. The bathroom, of course, was as luxurious as any of Roth’s I’d ever been in. Marble and glass and blonde wood, windows looking out over the ocean, soft lighting. He sat me on the toilet and helped me arrange the oversized gray T-shirt of his that was all I had on.
You know your man loves you when he helps you go to the bathroom.
When I was finished, he took me back to the bedroom, setting me on the bed with exquisite tenderness. I loved his protectiveness, even though I knew I’d need to exercise my knee soon.
I flexed the knee back and forth, testing it. “So. This boat? The security?” I glanced at him. “You want to fill me in?”
Roth picked up his phone and spun it between his thumb and forefinger, sitting cross-legged on the bed, facing me. “You were out for a week. You had a nasty fever for a few days. You were severely dehydrated. She had you for almost three days, you know. That’s how long it took me to get to you. Three fucking days.” He wouldn’t look at me. “Once I got you back, I knew I’d never go back to New York. I’m in the process of selling off the tower and a huge portion of my subsidiary businesses. I’m selling all the estates, except for the vineyard in France. Harris acquired this yacht for us, and here we are.”
“But we’re safe now?” I asked.
His features darkened. “No one will ever harm you again. I promise,” he growled. “On my fucking life, I swear it.”
That wasn’t the same as a reassurance that we were safe. “But?”
“But her father is still out there.” He traced a vein on the back of my hand, following it up my forearm. “He’s…not as psychopathic, but…far more calculating. He’s tirelessly vindictive. His daughter is dead. Two of his estates were attacked. Thirty-some of his men have been killed.” He paused. “Kyrie, you just…you don’t know Vitaly. He’s not going to let this go.”
“So we’re running from him?”
Roth frowned. “You need time to heal.”
“And then what?” I pushed the sheet off my legs and stared at my knee, seeing the bandages covering the recent surgical scars. “We just live on a boat forever?”
Roth smirked at that. “Boat? Kyrie, my love, this is one of the largest super yachts ever built. You’ve only seen the smallest fraction of it. This bedroom and the level down there? It’s the…penthouse, basically. Our private quarters at the very top. There are a dozen guest cabins in the decks below, staff quarters for almost fifty people, an industrial kitchen, and a formal dining room. A gym, complete with an Olympic pool. It has its own helicopter landing pad, as well as a hidden launch for a smaller boat. Now, because of our unique situation, I’ve only staffed it with a six-man security team, a skeleton crew to run the ship, and a small staff to run the kitchen and clean. Everyone has been screened a dozen different ways, and of them, only Alexei has access to our quarters up here.”
“Where’s Harris?” I asked.
Valentine hesitated. “I’ve given him some time to himself. He’s earned it.” He sighed. “It feels a bit odd without him around, but he needed some time off.”
I shrugged. “Okay.” It wasn’t okay, though. I would miss Harris, a lot, for one thing.
Roth frowned, seeing my discomfort. “What?”
I couldn’t quite meet his eyes. “I don’t want to spend my life running, Valentine.”
“Neither do I. And we won’t. I just…I need time. You need time.”
Silence extended between us for a length of time I couldn’t measure. “Valentine? Eliza…?”
It was several moments before he could speak. “I’ve known her most of my life.”
“She said she’d worked for you for twenty years, but then you said when your father kicked you out, he left you with nothing. I’m not sure I understand.”
“She was my father’s employee first. I think I told you that. Well…she was assigned to me. I was too old for her to be considered a ‘nanny,’ but she was my personal…I don’t know. Servant? I hate that term, because it wasn’t like that. She was my friend. My parents were not really…accessible sorts. My father had billion-dollar accounts to manage, ultra-high-profile clients to entertain. My mother had charities to run, parties to throw. Our house was always filled with important people. Parliamentarians, European politicians, presidents and prime ministers and royals. Hollywood A-listers. Heads of banks and international corporations. And me? I was just their son. I was expected to make an appearance, show them my best manners, and then retire to my rooms. And Eliza was all I had. She wasn’t that much older than me. Forty-eight to my thirty-seven. When you’re fifteen, sixteen, an eleven-year age difference is a lot. But she was my friend. My only friend.”