That’s the word I was looking for, but that way of describing what was about to happen seemed wrong too. I didn’t know what Kai had planned, but I knew he did have a plan. He always did, and I knew the end result would be my father’s death. Somehow.
My stomach should’ve clenched at that.
I should’ve felt ready to have a nervous breakdown. But I didn’t. I only had a feeling of something dead in the air, and how fucking helpful was that?
We drove north to the same warehouse I’d slept at earlier.
All three SUVs sped into the parking lot, into the warehouse, and hit their brakes. The guards emerged all at the same time.
There was a lot of yelling.
A van pulled in behind us, then a second van.
Guards dispersed, four going to each van. They opened the back doors. More shouting. Commands in the air.
They brought a man out with his hands tied behind his back and a bag over his head. He wore black clothing, same as the guards—a black suit, but athletic shoes to run in. His clothing was wrinkled and torn, and he smelled as if he hadn’t changed clothes or showered in days.
Out of the second van came a guy wearing dirtied and ripped jeans, and a T-shirt whose ends stuck out underneath a ripped sweatshirt. Two halves of the sleeve dangled off one arm, which was a mess of bruises and redness. Dried blood. A rash. Other scars.
As the guards hurried him past me, I saw that the scars were rope burns.
His arms were tied in front of him, and he had a bag over his head too.
My dead feeling only intensified.
Prisoner one was taken to an office on our right. The second was taken to a side office.
Then they pulled my father out, his hands tied with rope and a bag over his head too. A guard replaced the rope around his wrists with a zip tie before gripping his arm and leading him into the office on the right.
Kai stood outside my door, waiting for me. Watching me.
“Where are Brooke and Jonah?” I asked.
“On their way back to Vancouver.”
I had a fleeting thought that maybe it was for the best. They’d both been drunk. They could sleep most of the way. Then that thought left and the emptiness returned.
Finally I asked, “Why am I here?”
Kai didn’t need me for this. Maybe for my father, because I’d asked, but not the other two. And who were the other two? How long had he been planning this? How long had he had them?
He frowned before stepping closer. “Do you not want to be here?”
I looked down. I’d told him I did. Gone to huge lengths to make that statement, actually. I’d told him I wanted to be a part of this because of my father, that I wanted to destroy him, but I wavered now.
Kai stepped closer, his hand sliding around my neck and his fingers threading into my hair. He lowered his forehead to mine. “You don’t have to be here. You really don’t.”
He cupped the side of my face, and I leaned down, savoring his touch and closing my eyes a moment.
When I opened them again, he was watching me. Like always.
Waiting. Like always.
Being there. Like always.
I was so goddamn torn inside.
“I’m scared to see what you’re going to do,” I whispered.
That was the truth, in the most real way I could put it.
“Why?” He cocked his head to the side.
My hand rested over his. Why? I’d asked myself that question, over and over again.
The truth. Stick to the truth.
My hand shook over his. “Because I’m scared of what it’ll do to me.”
I gripped his hand, pressing it to my chest. “I’m not an idiot. I know you’re more than likely going to kill all three of those men, and while I have chosen to stand at your side, to stay at your side, I am twisted about the right thing for me to do.” I took a breath. The words came faster than I could process them now. “The Hider in me should try to stop you. But as the child of one of those men, I want to stay to see vengeance play out. The woman in me is scared. I’m just scared.”
Kai wrapped his arms around me, and just like that, I felt certainty and strength swirl up inside of me. But it wasn’t mine. It was his. He was giving it to me, or I was absorbing it from him. Either way, I knew I was one of Kai’s now, just as he’d said.
I was one of Kai’s—his hostage, his lover, his friend, his confidant, his enemy.
I was his, but he was mine too.
Or was he? Could Kai actually belong to someone?
As fast as that possessive need rose up in me, it vanished.
“What do you need from me?” he asked.
His honesty was brutal. And melting me.
“I need to know what I am to you. I am changing the framework of who I am because of you, so I need to know it’s worth it.” I paused a beat. “I love you, even though I shouldn’t. I do.”
His eyes darkened. His lips parted. And he was kissing me.
It was a possessive claim. Hot. Commanding. His tongue swept to meet mine, and I moaned into his mouth, pushing up on my toes and wrapping my arms around his neck.
I don’t know when I’d fallen for him, but I had, and I couldn’t change it.
I could never go back to the life I led before—to either of the two lives I’d led before.
He pulled back, his lips resting over mine. “Wait for me. I will say what you need to hear, but not now. Not here. Wait. Can you do that?”
“I don’t have much choice.” My grin was rueful.
The corner of his mouth tugged up, and he kissed me again, then pressed a kiss to my forehead. He breathed against there for a moment. “Just wait. Please.”
Those were my instructions.
He gave me a third kiss, then led me to the first office. Once inside, he put me in a dark corner, up against the wall. A man sat in a lone chair in the middle of the room, a single light trained on him. The rest of the room was dark.
I knew I wasn’t the only one standing in the shadows.
Kai walked forward. He made no sound. He was like a ghost again.
He sighed. The sound was so loud in that room, and it was everyone’s cue.
We were about to begin.
He turned to a wall and spoke, “Bring them up.”
It took a second, but a videoconference image came up and filled the entire wall. In it was a table, in a room similar to ours, and around the table sat eight individuals—three women and five men, all middle-aged or older.
A woman sat at the end, her gray hair swept up into a bun at the top of her head. She wore a black turtleneck sweater, black-framed glasses, and minimal makeup. She was the image of classy, elegant, and wealthy.
She was in charge of the gathering.
She folded her hands on the table and leaned toward a microphone in front of her. “Okay, Kai. We’re all assembled. What is it that you want us to know?”
Kai glanced once in my direction before walking forward and folding his hands in front of him. The next two words had me swallowing because it wasn’t what I was expecting; they weren’t who I was expecting.
“Welcome, Council,” he said.
The elegant woman leaned forward, folding her hands over each other, and regarded us. “You sent word two days ago to assemble. We’re here at this ungodly hour, and when we get done, I still have to travel home. I’ll be missing my granddaughter’s birthday party, so let’s hurry this along. Who do you have behind you?”
Kai pulled the bag off the guy.
His face was badly bruised, and swollen on one entire side. His lip had been busted and dried blood still caked on top. One eye barely opened.
I shifted farther back against the wall, because I recognized that eye.
“This is the security guard who approached a guest of mine on behalf of Bruce Bello.” Kai’s eyes narrowed as he waited for their reaction.
A few of the council members bent together, starting to talk.
“Okay. Okay!” The woman slapped her hand on the table, shooting the members a glare. “We’re here to listen to the Bennett family. Stop talking.” She regarded Kai again. “We’re all aware of Bruce Bello and that you have his daughter in your care. She’s the guest this man approached?”
“Yes.” Kai turned to the man. “You’ve been my guard for four years. Have you always been working for Bruce Bello?”
The man coughed, jerking forward.
We waited until he was done.
He lifted his hand to wipe his mouth. There was blood on it. He took a second to compose himself. “No. I was a faithful and loyal employee until I received a coded email from Bello just a few weeks ago.”
“And this email said?”
God. Kai was emotionless. His demeanor said each and every question he asked would be answered. This man had been tortured into submission.
“He had a picture of my daughter in a man’s arms. He was holding a knife to her throat. The email said I was to do what he wanted or he would kill my little girl.”
“And what were his instructions?”
“I was to kill his daughter to save mine.”
Kai lifted his eyes to mine at that very moment. No reaction. No shock. No remorse. No sympathy. He knew all this already.