My hand shook as I opened the door, and there he was. My stomach jumped to my sternum. My heart picked up its pace.
He wore only sweatpants, the waistband hanging low. I couldn’t help myself. I took in every single muscle of his chest and stomach. Even his hips were defined. He straightened from where he’d been leaning against the doorframe and his eyes darkened, turning completely black as he looked me over too.
I became self-conscious in only a T-shirt and a pair of boxer briefs I’d found in his closet. I’d changed before crawling in bed after breakfast.
I was wearing his clothes, with no bra.
His gaze settled on my chest. I felt my breasts hardening.
“Tanner told me you didn’t kill the others,” I blurted, needing to think of something else, to change the mood. “Is that true?”
Kai’s eyes whipped to mine, and though he didn’t move, I felt him pulling away. A wall slid between us.
His face hardened. “Yes. Your friends are alive. Your Network was notified of their capture, along with yours.”
They already knew. I had notified them, but I held my tongue.
His eyes began to smolder, and a taunting glint showed as he said, “But then again, you already knew that since you’re the one who called them.”
Now I snapped to attention.
How had he known? Had the Hiders told him?
He chided softly, “You think one of my men left that phone by accident?”
Everything in me fell to the floor. Hope. Rebellion. Strength. It was gone now, and I knew what he said was correct. Everything had been thought out, even the bait for me to take.
It was then I realized the real reason they’d taken me. It all clicked in place.
I’d been a fool.
Despair washed over me. “You didn’t take me because you thought Brooke notified me, did you?” It was true. I felt it now, and I saw an arrogant look flare over his face. “You took me because of the 411 Network.”
He’d kidnapped me, knowing I would call them if I had a chance. And I did—exactly what he wanted.
His tone was soft, but it sent chills down my back. “Your friend Blade isn’t the only tech specialist at the top of his game. We have one of our own.” He leaned toward me, his breath an irritating caress on my face as I closed my eyes. I couldn’t move away, but I wouldn’t lean toward him.
He moved closer until I could feel the heat from his body. He was an inch away. I could hear him breathing.
“Your friend does not know where you are, and your cooperation is no longer needed. Your network is looking for Brooke for us, to get you back.”
His hand touched my arm, zapping me with the contact. His arm curled around me, tugging me against him. Sensations seared through my insides. He bent down, his breath now on my neck.
“With or without your help, I will get my sister back, and then you will be released. Until then…” He ducked, swinging me up into his arms.
I gasped, my arms grabbing his neck in panic. But I didn’t need to. He cradled me against his chest as he returned to his bedroom. He moved to the side of the bed I’d been lying on, closest to the balcony, and laid me down.
He stared at me before pulling back, and I couldn’t move.
“I didn’t intend this, if it matters to you. You were supposed to be taken and put in a nice, comfortable room. You were supposed to be given anything you wanted, except your freedom, and your Network would hand-deliver my sister to me for your safety. I wasn’t even planning on talking to you, except to ask about Brooke, but here you are.”
His hand went to my face, his thumb on my bottom lip. He traced it, and I couldn’t suppress a shiver.
It wasn’t a bad shiver. That was the problem. I would never understand my reaction to him.
He stepped back, his hand falling away, and triumph flared in his eyes. “Sleep tonight, Riley. That is all I ask of you.” He moved to the other side of the bed.
I slipped under the covers and felt the bed move as he joined me. The light went off a second after that.
“What happens if I kill you in your sleep?” I asked. “You trust me to sleep here, with you?”
He laughed softly. “No, but for some reason I can’t make myself have the men take you away. So for now, you stay. If you kill me, then you’ll die as well.”
“Are you going to hurt your sister when you get her back?”
He didn’t laugh this time. “She thinks I will, but no. She ran with the wrong assumption in her mind. That is all I can say.”
He sighed, barely a foot away from me. I could feel it.
“Tomorrow we can talk. Perhaps you’ll find some answers. Until then, I am tired. I have been traveling all day and had many meetings. I want to sleep. Sleep, Riley.”
But I didn’t, even long after he did.
I heard his breathing even out, and I tried rallying inside.
I made myself remember that male Hider. I remembered seeing the guard pull the trigger, the spray of blood, and the way his body slumped to the floor.
He died because of me, and I vowed I would find his family.
I tried to summon the energy and courage to slip from the bed, get to the kitchen, and find a knife. I envisioned stabbing it deep inside Kai.
I had to make that guy’s death stand for something. I had to.
That promise was the only way to make it right in my head. Because instead of getting up, I fell asleep.
I slept three hours.
I could tell my body had caught up on sleep when I woke, because I felt good. I felt sane. And I watched Kai sleep for the next hour.
Now that I wasn’t sleep-deprived or in shock, I could think more clearly. I reviewed everything that had happened—with Kai, Tanner, Jonah, everyone, everything.
I was weak. That’s the only explanation I had for why I wasn’t running right now, or fighting right now.
I hadn’t had sex in six months. There was that too.
I was attracted to Kai Bennett. No matter who he was, that was just a fact. After last night—feeling my body wanting to go to him while my mind screamed at me to keep away—that was the only explanation I could justify. I was weak, and I hadn’t lusted after a man since that Tinder date. And even that guy’s effect on me had been minimal compared to Kai Bennett’s.
No. Brooke’s brother.
I had to pull back. I had to erect walls between him and me, because I knew what I needed to do. First names weren’t a part of it. Names weren’t a part of it. He was Brooke’s brother. He was the reason she’d run. He was Cord’s murderer, their father’s killer.
Murderer. Killer. He was those things too.
Hider training told us to strip away our humanity. It would be there in the times we needed it, but to get to the abused, we had to walk into hell. We had to be prepared for whatever was on the other side. When they’d taught us this, I’d thought of my mother. I’d thought about how she’d been beaten within an inch of her life, how he had left her to die and called someone else to take care of the body. That Hider—though my father had no idea he was with the Network—hadn’t known what he was walking into. If my father had caught him, backtracked for some reason, or followed up, that Hider would’ve had to kill him. Because if he hadn’t, I had no doubt Bruce Bello would’ve killed the Hider and my mother.
That’s what I needed to do this morning. I lie here, beside this man, and began to strip away my humanity.
When we Hiders opened the door, saw the survivor, realized the scene was safe, our humanity came back to us.
Except sometimes it didn’t.
I hated that, and I was ashamed because of it.
It was why we did what we did, but when we opened those doors, sometimes I didn’t feel a thing for the survivor. I wouldn’t feel a thing until we had already taken them where they needed to go. It was usually on the drive home that my humanity came back to me.
The car would be silent. I would be riding in the back or next to either Carol or Blade in the front, and I would gasp when it returned.
No one ever looked over at me. No one asked. I didn’t know if they knew or understood, but it wasn’t until then that I shed a tear for what we’d done. We’d helped someone, and I was grateful.
But I was also thankful because I’d gotten through it, and so had my team. Blade and Carol were like my family by now. I’d spent almost more time with them than anyone else. Almost.
Sitting up, I slipped from the bed, stood, and looked down at this man sleeping.
It wasn’t right, because at a time when I needed not to feel, that’s all I was doing. I still felt so much confusion over how I could lust so much for this murderer. I felt the same disgust with myself that I’d felt all those times when I’d needed to feel my heart and hadn’t.
I usually pushed it down. Now I didn’t.
I allowed the disgust to grow to loathing. I loathed myself. It filled every inch of my body, every pore, every cell, every hair until finally, finally it moved past me and onto him.
It was my own self-hatred, but I allowed it to spread beyond me.