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“Just that much. ”
“That’s impressive. I’ve worked for Mr. Roth directly for five years, and for his company for eight. Meaning, I’ve worked for him for a total of eight years, five of which I’ve spent as his driver and pilot. ”
“And bodyguard, and private investigator. ”
“Yes, and those things. ” He banked again, and then resumed speaking. “I worked directly for Mr. Roth for almost a year before he even gave me that much of his name. And here you spend less than forty-eight hours with him, and you’ve gotten his name from him. Pretty impressive. ”
“All I did was ask,” I said.
Harris laughed. “I asked, too. A month and a half in. Know what he said? He said, ‘Ask me any more personal questions, Harris, and you’ll end up shoveling elephant dung for the circus. ’”
“He actually used the word ‘dung’?”
Harris nodded. “Yes, ma’am. He doesn’t like swearing under most circumstances. If he does, you know he’s serious as a goddamn heart attack. ” He gave me another glance, this one inquisitive, curious. “When I showed him what I’d found out about your…boyfriend…Steven…he was more upset than I’ve ever seen him, before or since. He said, and I quote, ‘Make sure that vile piece of shit doesn’t lay a finger on her, Harris. Make sure he knows who she belongs to. If he resists…fucking bury him. ’”
I shivered. “Obviously Steven listened,” I said.
Harris’s voice was cold and terrifying. “I didn’t leave him much choice. ”
“I don’t want to know what that means, do I?”
“No. Probably not. ”
Silence extended between us. I tried not to think about Steven, or what I’d seen in that file. I wanted to enjoy tonight, this experience. I focused on the view outside my window, Manhattan beneath me, bathed in the golden light of early evening. Harris banked the helicopter a third time, and then I felt us going lower, watched as we approached a high-rise with a helipad on the roof. Soon the building was out my view, and we descended straight down. A gentle bump, and we landed safely.
“Wait a moment for the rotors to stop,” Harris said. “Don’t want the wash to mess up your hair. ” He flipped a switch, and the engine’s roar turned to a receding whine, the rotors slowing to a stop.
He stepped out and opened my door, placed his hands on my waist, and lifted me down. He gestured at the nearest door. “This way, please. ”
I followed him through the doorway, which led us into a small foyer area and a single elevator. He pushed the call button and stood beside me, hands clasped behind his back, a distinctly military at-ease posture that seemed second nature. The elevator doors opened, and he gestured for me to go first. Then he stepped on and pushed a button for a few floors down. My heart was starting to beat a little harder, knowing I was about to meet Roth once more. The elevator doors opened, and I stepped off into a small, dark room. It was lit by dim red lights hidden behind thick stands of bamboo planted directly into the floor on either side of the room.
Opposite the elevator was a set of double doors, black lacquer, thick and heavy-looking, banded with hammered black iron, the handles wrist-thick rings.
Harris moved to stand beside me, and glanced at the doors and then at me. He reached into his blazer pocket and pulled out a long strip of green fabric, the same shade and material as my dress. “Ready?”
I inhaled, held my breath a moment, and then let it out. “Yes. I suppose I am. ”
Harris tied the blindfold around my head, and then placed his hand on my shoulder. I heard a ring squeak on the door as he lifted one of them. I felt his balance shift, his fingers tightening ever so slightly on my shoulder as he pulled open the obviously heavy door. I smelled food, Asian, possibly. Rice, searing meat, vegetables. I heard flames leaping, low voices. Harris guided me through the door.
“I’ll see you later, Miss St. Claire,” he said.
“Wait…you’re leaving me here? I don’t know where I’m going, I’m blindfolded, remember?” I felt panicky, fearful. Harris was now familiar to me. I didn’t want to be left alone in another strange place. I wasn’t in Roth’s house anymore, or in a vehicle. I was in a restaurant. Were there people watching me, staring at me, wondering who this weird blindfolded lady was? I was embarrassed, hating the blindfold, hating the vulnerability, hating that people I didn’t know could see me when I couldn’t see them.
I felt a hesitant, cool touch on my shoulder, heard a soft male voice with a faint Asian accent. “Miss St. Claire. Please, my name is Kim. I will bring you to Mr. Roth. He has given instruction. ”
“You’re all right, Miss St. Claire,” Harris said. “Have a good night. ” I heard the heavy doors closing.
“This way, please. ” I felt Kim’s hand take mine, placing my fingers on his arm. “Follow, please. ”
I moved with careful, precise steps, and my host seemed to understand the limitation of my dress, as he moved slowly enough that I didn’t feel rushed or off-balance. I heard the voices again, but they were all off to my right, and they all seemed to be speaking the same language. Chinese, maybe? I wasn’t sure, having very little familiarity with Asian languages.
“Are there any other people here, Kim?” I asked.
“No, no,” came the response. “Only Mr. Roth, me, you, the chefs. ”
“Oh. Okay. Thank you. ”
“Yes, yes. ” Kim stopped, and I heard a door, the slight squeak of oiled hinges, and a latch opening. “This way, please. ”
Another few dozen steps, and then another pause, another door opening.
“Miss St. Claire, sir,” Kim said, a hand on my elbow urging me forward.
I heard a chair sliding, and then Roth’s hands were on my arms, my wrists, taking my hands in his. “Kyrie. Welcome. ”
“Thank you,” I said. “Where are we?”
He led me four steps, pulled out a chair, guided me into it, and then resumed his own seat. “This is Longjing. It’s a Chinese restaurant I own. ” His strong fingers tangled with mine. “You look…simply ravishing, Kyrie. I knew that dress would suit you when I had it made for you, but I had no clue how positively breathtaking you would look wearing it. ”
I felt myself blushing. “It’s incredible, Roth. Thank you. ” I ducked my head. “For the dress, for the whole experience so far. ”
“Do you like the jewelry?”
I let out a disbelieving huff of laughter. “Like it? Roth, it’s…incredible. That’s not the right word…there aren’t any words. I’ve never worn anything like it. ”
“That’s the point, my lovely. No one has. That set was designed for you, for that dress. ”
Roth’s thumb caressed my knuckles. “You deserve the best, Kyrie. And that is what I intend to give you. ”
“I just…I don’t even know what to say, Roth. Everything is so…much. I can’t even fathom how much you spent on what I’m wearing. ”
“You want to know?” He sounded amused. “If you want to know, then I’ll tell you. Altogether, what you are wearing cost over one hundred thousand dollars. ”
My mind was boggled. “Why?”
He laughed. “It’s nothing, Kyrie. We’re not even going to be seen tonight, either. Not in the public sense, when what we wear would be judged. ”
“Do you do public appearances like that?” I asked.
“Very, very rarely. And only if I absolutely have to. ”
“So then all this,” I gestured at myself with both hands, “is just for…what, for kicks?”
“For…kicks?” I heard the puzzled frown in his voice. “You mean just because? No. Not at all. You are the most beautiful woman I know, Kyrie. You should be adorned to showcase your beauty. I had this dress made so you would feel beautiful, and so I would enjoy looking at you all the more this evening. ” His voice lowered, became intimate, close, rumbling. “Do you feel beautiful, Kyr