What a fool I’d been.
“You thought if you let us go, Blade would call for help.” I already knew that was the plan. I was starting to catch on to his methods. Slowly. “You were going to trace the call and see if they led you to Brooke. Weren’t you?”
I felt him watching me, but I refused to look at him. I refused even to search him out in the window’s reflection.
“Your friend said he knew where Brooke was,” he said. “He failed to bring her. He wouldn’t cooperate and answer our questions. We had two options: put him in a situation where he’d show his cards willingly or make him do so with force. I promised not to hurt your friend, so I chose this route. I would do it again.”
His phone buzzed. He took it out of his pocket and read the screen before replying and putting it back. “And you were wrong. While you were running, he did stop and make a call. We have a new target.”
“Who?” I turned to him.
He looked away this time. “We’ll find out.”
I’d been shut out.
We didn’t go back to the hotel, and I had no clue where they’d taken Blade. We drove up to another huge house, and they took me to my own wing. Yes. Wing. Again. It wasn’t the same house, but once I stepped out on another balcony, high above another death-defying fall, I recognized where we were: their Vancouver estate.
This was home for Brooke, the home she always used to talk about. I knew from those stories that there was an Olympic-sized pool, a tennis court, and a lazy river where she would go tubing with Tanner and their friends. There were more houses on this estate, and a garden that had its own maze.
Brooke loved this home.
She spoke about it with such fondness. She had also talked about her father’s study, though when she did there was no warmth in her voice. There was fear. He’d conducted his business in that room, which had its own entrance.
Sighing, I had to stop myself.
I was thinking back as if this were a common occurrence, as if Brooke had opened up to me about these memories. She hadn’t. These were small snippets I’d gathered from a comment here and there, spread out over an entire year.
She’d talked about the tennis court, about swimming, about the river. She’d mentioned her father’s study. One time she mentioned seeing a man enter through the side door.
But I’d listened and absorbed everything, because that was the kind of girl I was. It was the same now.
It was day three of me being in this house.
My wing had its own kitchenette, and a coffee machine too. I could pick up the phone and ask for any food I wanted. I was in the lap of luxury, but it wasn’t mine.
This had been Brooke’s life.
There was a small-theater-sized screen in the living room, and a sectional couch that had a bed in the middle so it was one giant square.
I couldn’t imagine this life.
Mine had not been like this. There’d been wealth, yes, but everything was overshadowed by my parents, by my father. I’d slept in the hallway most nights, a blanket with me and nothing else. I’d had to sneak back to my room each morning.
I’d had a chef who cooked for me, but it wasn’t normally what I wanted. It was whatever my father ate and left behind. I was never allowed to eat with him. My mother usually took her meals in her room. If she didn’t, she still couldn’t eat with me, only with him. So while I’d also had a gilded cage growing up, a line of terror had run through my background.
I didn’t remember a time when I wasn’t scared my father would snap, find me, send for me.
I didn’t feel that with Kai.
Maybe I should’ve.
I should’ve feared for Blade’s life. The logical part of my brain told me to think about that, but my instincts told me he was safe, just as I was.
I let out a breath and reached for the remote control. I was changing the channel when I heard a soft knock on my door.
I looked over from the couch. “Yeah?”
I expected a guard to walk in with dinner. It was that time, and they always knocked. If I didn’t answer, they told me my food was outside the door. Of course they were there when I opened—if I opened—the door, but they never came in unless I granted them permission.
This time the door opened and Kai walked in.
I sat up straight, my heart slamming against my chest.
It’d been three days since I ran from him. I’d had no word from him since.
He looked good.
I tried not to notice, but I did.
My eyes ran over him, taking in the way his shirt fit his chest, showing the leanness of his stomach and falling in just the right place over his pants. He looked all business, his hair combed back. I had to pry my eyes away from the rest of him.
I didn’t want to see the knowing smugness in those dark eyes, or the smirk that curved his mouth.
“Where’s Blade?” I scowled.
He stopped. I heard a soft sigh before he took a seat on the couch parallel to me. He leaned forward, resting his arms on his legs, his hands folded together over his knees. He angled his head toward me, a shadow falling over half his face.
“I brought a chef in. The guys said you haven’t eaten dinner yet. Would you have dinner with me?”
I frowned. “You’re not telling me? You’re asking?”
“I’m asking.” He inclined his head. “Tanner and Jonah are coming later tonight as well, if you’d like to have drinks with them.”
I studied him, really studied him.
That wall was there, but there was more. A lightness? But that didn’t make sense, not for someone like Kai Bennett.
Still, I was curious.
I sat up, stiffly, and shrugged. “Sure. What time?”
“Dinner will be in thirty minutes. Will you have enough time to dress?”
I scanned over his clothes. He could’ve been on the cover of a fashion magazine.
I sighed. “I’m guessing you don’t do dinner in sweats?”
A grin tugged at the corner of his mouth. “For the right occasion, always.” He stood, nodding toward the closet in the bedroom. “There are dresses in there, or you can dress however you like. I know Tanner and Jonah will be coming from a night at the club. It’s your choice.”
And with that said, he strolled out.
I hated to admit it, but it was good to see him. It was good to see anyone, talk to anyone. The guards didn’t count. Though I’d considered trying to have a conversation with them.
I had tried. They ignored me.
Hearing Tanner and Jonah were coming gave me a little kick of excitement too.
I missed Blade. I missed Carol.
I missed my routine of going to work, working out, and being a Hider operative.
I missed my normalcy, which wasn’t that normal, but it was to me.
As I dressed, I knew I needed to question Kai about Blade. I wanted to make sure he was safe, was okay, and if I could, talk Kai into letting him go.
I was nervous and grew even more so when I’d picked the outfit I was going to wear.
I didn’t want to go too dressy, but I heard what he was telling me without saying the words. Tanner and Jonah would be dressed up. Everything they wore screamed money. So maybe it was them in the back of my mind, maybe it was Kai, or maybe it was the hope that maybe I could talk Kai into letting Blade go, or maybe there was a part of me that didn’t want to feel like the outcast. Whatever the reason, I chose an elegant black pantsuit. The middle plunged down all the way to my stomach, but sheer lace covered the midsection.
I stepped back, looking in the mirror, and again, I didn’t recognize myself.
I was a far cry from the Hider operative who dressed in scrubs, workout clothes, or whatever set of clothes my “cover” had me wearing.
Blade, Carol, and I had dinner out once or twice a month, but nothing fancy.
When I left my father, I’d left that world behind.
This would’ve been me if I had stayed, if I had lived.
That was a big word there.
I’d been happy with Blade and Carol, but being here, coming back to this world, a small what-if had started to take root in me. It wasn’t the what-if of Brooke staying at school, or of somehow growing up with the Bennett family. It was what-if my father had been a different man, if my mother hadn’t been abused by him, if I hadn’t been scared of living in my own home—that what-if. What would life have been like if I’d had a normal family?
Not even wealthy.
If we’d had a meal at a restaurant? If there’d been no factories or business conglomerates, no privileged schooling, just a father, a mother, and a child? A home with three bedrooms instead of three wings? Or one bathroom instead of one entire servant quarters?
What would that life have been like?
I sighed, fixing my hair back into a high bun, and I even put on makeup. All those thoughts were useless. That wasn’t the card I was dealt growing up, and in the end, I was alive. I had a mission, an important mission to focus my life, and that was good.
I was good.