I slipped my feet into a pair of sandals, but I felt naked walking out of that room without a sweater, runners to run, or any type of covering I might need if I had to make a break for my life.
No matter the thoughts swirling in my head, that part of me would never be gone. But for the first time ever, I began to wonder if that’s what I wanted for the rest of my life.
The guards trailed behind me as I left my wing.
I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I walked in the general direction of the main part of the house. The hallway wound around, coming to a second-floor landing, and I crossed to the stairs. I could hear the sounds of cooking in the kitchen, which was behind the stairs. The layout was similar to their other house, and I walked in feeling a little more at ease.
Until I saw Kai.
He stood in the shadows at the window, a glass of bourbon in his hands, and his profile took my breath away.
Moonlight lit the entire bay, and lights from boats and homes beneath him put a soft glow over his face. I faltered mid-step.
The attraction burst inside me, heating me, making me ache, and I clamped my mouth shut in reaction.
I hadn’t asked for these feelings. They disgusted me on the regular, but he’d been gone for three days, and it was all hitting me full force now.
But Blade. I couldn’t forget Blade.
I couldn’t forget myself. My situation.
I was here against my wishes, but as Kai turned to look at me, a dangerous new what-if edged its way in alongside the others.
My hand shook, and I tucked it behind me, meeting his gaze across the room.
His eyes warmed, a softness shining there, and he nodded. “You look beautiful, Riley.”
So did he.
I smiled and ducked my head. “Thank you.” A wave of nerves hit me again, and I had to stop and breathe to calm myself. It didn’t work. I was even more nervous.
“Would you like a drink?”
“Please.” I raised my head.
He turned his back to me as he poured a glass of wine.
I was glad for the small favor and smoothed a hand down my front. Sometimes that helped. It didn’t tonight. I began to think nothing would take the edge off until Kai turned back, a full glass of red wine in his hand.
He held it up. “Brooke always liked this wine. I thought…”
I nodded. “Thank you. That’s perfect.”
“Perfect?” He raised an eyebrow, handing it over.
I grabbed the stem of the glass, avoiding his hand, and I knew he took note.
He stepped back. “Perfect is a big word, especially for someone who’s still here against her will.”
I paused in raising it to my mouth. “What?”
He motioned to the table.
There was a bowl, two plates, three glasses, and two sets of silverware for every seat. Every glass and plate had a gold rim at the edge. It was another reminder of this world I was visiting—a world where I used to live, or I should’ve.
Why was I thinking like this?
I loved being a Hider operative. And that wasn’t this world.
It never would be.
I sat and pulled my chair up to the table. “When are you going to let me go?”
I had to leave, because staying here was messing with my mind. It was muddling everything.
“I thought you were going to bargain for your friend first.”
There was the Kai I knew. We were back on solid footing. I was the 411 Hider, and he was my kidnapper.
I looked up, feeling more settled inside. “And if I asked that? What then? Would you actually grant that?”
He took a sip from his glass before putting it on the table as he sat to my left at the head of the table.
“I have a proposition for you.” He motioned to the table and the room. “That’s the reason for all of this.”
“Yes.” He nodded, his mouth pressing tight before relaxing. He raised his chin. “I let your friend go home.”
Surprise spread through me. My hand tightened on my chair.
“Your Network has been unable to find Brooke. Your friend has no idea where she is. He was bluffing to try to get you back. We followed up on his call, and the person we found had nothing to do with my sister. Now, I’m in a place where I’ve exhausted most of my options.” His eyes pierced mine. “I fully believe you know where my sister is, but the normal ways I would force you to tell me are…unavailable, so I have a different proposition for you.”
“You let Blade go?”
I was still stuck on that one.
“I let him go as a gesture of goodwill to you. He will not make claims of being kidnapped by my family—to the law or to your employers. As far as they’re concerned, he attempted to get you back by himself, and it went bad. He failed. He is back home, and I’ve been told he was put to work immediately.”
I heard what he was saying. “You have people in the Network. They’re giving you information.”
It made sense—that’s how he found me, how he knew Blade was acting on his own.
“Yes, I do.”
“That’s how you knew about me this whole time.”
“Yes.” He gentled his tone. “Brooke asked me to keep tabs on you. She worried about you.”
It didn’t help. I already knew this, and it so didn’t help. I felt a sting of betrayal. The Network was sacred. No one was supposed to be bought. We were all pure. That’s what I’d thought. That’s what I had believed this whole time.
We were good.
Looking at Kai now—he was bad. But since I’d been held by him, the lines had become more and more blurred. And now, hearing there was someone in the Network working for him, fury flared inside of me.
“I believe you know where my sister is,” Kai continued. “I will not be convinced otherwise, but you won’t tell me. I’m loath to force the issue. I’ve tried, and I’m not willing to resort to the lengths that are my last options. So…” He reached for his glass and took a healthy sip from it, gritting his teeth before putting it back on the table. “…here’s another play.”
He paused. His eyes were steady on mine.
“I’ll tell you the truth. All of it.”
My answer was swift. “Okay.” I raised my head, rolled my shoulders back, and waited.
I didn’t have to wait long.
Kai leaned back in his seat, picking up his glass. “Brooke ran, but she wasn’t alone. She ran away with her boyfriend, a member of a Milwaukee-based mafia family, Levi Barnes. He’s not in line to take over the family business, but he’s connected to them. His father is the youngest of Mildreth Barnes’ sons. Brooke ran with him because she overheard a meeting where I was told Levi was informing on his family to the FBI.”
Ice ran down my spine.
She wasn’t afraid for her life. She was scared for her boyfriend’s. It all made sense now.
“Brooke knows I’ve recently been more ambitious in reaching out to the Midwestern part of the States, to the families who run those territories. She assumed I would either kill Levi as a gift to his family or I would turn him over to them.”
Rats got killed. That’s just what happened.
I nodded, swallowing faintly. “I see.”
“You don’t.” He leaned forward, moving without making a sound. The chair didn’t squeak. There was no shift in the floorboards. If I hadn’t seen it, I would never have heard him. There was an almost ghostly quality to the way he moved sometimes. Silent. Stalking. Hunting.
His eyes grew fierce now, pinning me down. “If you reveal what I’m about to tell you, I will have you murdered.” He paused.
He meant what he said, and I forced my head to nod. The shiver wrapped around my entire body, but I had to listen. It was important.
“I want in on the Midwest. That’s my goal, and I have done extensive research into all the controlling families. Brooke’s boyfriend’s family is weak. They’re my way in, so my sister was wrong about my intentions. I have no wish to kill her boyfriend. I want to use him. He’s going to be my way in to destroy his family.”
I hung my head, whispering, “You don’t really want to find your sister. You want to find her boyfriend.”
“No.” I heard his chair move now as he leaned back again. “You’re wrong. I want to find my sister because I love her, and because the longer she’s out there…”
I looked up, his voice beckoning me, and I saw him nod toward the window.
“…the more unsafe she is. She’s a Bennett. You think I’m the only one looking for her? I have enemies who would relish hacking her to pieces—while she’s alive, while she’s screaming my name, and videotaping it all for their sick pleasure.”
He stopped, his eyes closed tightly. His jaw clenched, and then he shoved back his chair. His glass in hand, he dumped the rest of his bourbon down his throat before stalking to the liquor cabinet. “I have been protecting my family since I was a child. Against who is the only component that’s changed.” He poured his glass half full. Capping the bottle again, he remained there, his back to me. “I have to find my sister. I need your help to do that.”
He looked back, his eyes stricken. “Please.”
A lump formed in my throat.
God. I knew the danger of the Bennett name, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that most of the danger was from the family itself.
“I can’t,” I whispered.