Beta Read online
I cleared my throat, confused. “New gig?”
“Yeah. By the way, boss, I quit. ” He laughed. “But don’t worry. Alpha One Security has only one client: you. ”
“Alpha One Security, huh?” I thought it over. “Okay. Well, name your price. And hurry up with the recruiting. There have been some…developments. ” I read him the list of names.
His voice was quiet when he spoke again. “I still can’t believe Eliza is gone. ” He blew out a breath. “He named your parents? Kyrie’s mom? Even Layla? Shit. This isn’t good. ”
“Listen, my recruit is here. I’ve gotta let you go. I’m on this, Roth. I’ll get my guys on every single one of the people on the list. ”
“Thanks, Harris. ”
His voice was muffled as if he’d put his hand over the mouthpiece of his phone, and then he came back on. “Before I let you go…how’s Kyrie?”
I sighed and stopped at the bottom of the stairs leading up the bedroom “Good. Doing better. She can move around pretty well now. She’s adjusting. ”
“He’s out there, Harris. He’s coming for all of us,” I said. “How do you think I’m doing?”
“Stay offshore. Stay low. We’ll handle this. ” He hung up, and I put my phone into sleep mode.
The paper in hand, I ascended the stairs as quietly as I could, hoping not to wake Kyrie. She was sitting up in bed when I cleared the top step, the sheet tucked beneath her arms.
“What’s going on, Valentine? I heard you talking to Harris. ”
“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to wake you. ”
Her eyes lit on the paper. “What is that?” She leaned forward and held out her hand.
I hesitated, then gave it to her, my heart in my throat. “A…message. It’s from Vitaly. ”
Her eyes raced across the page, and then she looked up at me briefly before reading the list of names a second time. “This…this is everyone. My mom, your parents. My brother. Even Layla! What does this mean, Valentine?” By the tone in her voice, I knew she understood what it meant.
I sat down on the bed beside her and pulled her onto my lap. “It’s not really a threat so much as…him making sure we know he hasn’t forgotten. He wants us to be scared. To panic. ”
“Well, it’s working. ” Her voice was small.
I caressed her back in slow circles. “I promised you I wouldn’t let anyone hurt you again. Well, that goes for everyone on this list, too. They don’t have anything to do with this. I won’t let him hurt you, or anyone else. ”
“What are you going to do?”
I buried my face in the soft brush of her fine blonde hair. “Protect them. Harris is going to work from the States. He’s forming a security company. He’s going to have armed and highly trained men watching over everyone, night and day. No one will get near them. I swear to you, Vitaly will not get anywhere near them. I won’t allow it. ”
“What about Layla? She doesn’t have anyone. ” She sniffled. “God, Valentine. I’ve been so focused on everything that’s happened to us…I haven’t spoken to her in weeks! She doesn’t even know what’s going on, what happened. If she sees some strange guy following her around, she’ll freak. ”
She snatched my phone out of my hand. “I have to call her. How do you dial out on this thing?”
I gently pried the phone from her hands. “Kyrie. Listen to me. I’ll take care of her, too. I promise. ”
“How? By siccing some ex-Marine on her? That’s only going to worry her more, Valentine. She doesn’t even know she’s in danger! She’s…more than just a friend to me. You have to do something. ”
I called Harris. He answered on the second ring. “Harris? Listen, about Layla. Get her here, will you? We’ll stay in the Cape Town area for a few more days. I want her on this boat in seventy-two hours. ”
Harris didn’t miss a beat. “Got it. ” A pause. “Will she be expecting me?”
“I’ll have Kyrie alert her, yes. ”
“Sounds good. See you in a few days, then. ” Typical of Harris, he didn’t end the call; he just hung up.
I scrolled through my phone book until I reached Layla’s number, dialed it, and handed it to Kyrie. “Don’t try to explain everything to her right now, okay? Just convince her to come see us. ”
Kyrie held the phone to her ear, resting against my chest.
I could hear the tinny ringing, once, twice, three times, and then a sleepy voice on the fourth ring. “He—hello?”
“Layla…hi. It’s Kyrie. ”
“Bitch, don’t you know it’s four in the morning?”
I heard the smile in Kyrie’s voice. “Sorry, hooker. It’s only ten here. ”
She glanced at me in question. I grinned and leaned closer to the phone. “We’re just off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, Layla. This is Roth, by the way. ”
Kyrie lifted the phone and put it on speaker. Layla’s voice came through loudly. “Well, no shit. It’s the man himself. You taking care of my girl, Mr. Roth?”
Kyrie answered for me. “You know he is. ” Her voice wavered a little, though, and Layla caught it.
“Key? You know I can hear all the shit you aren’t telling me, right? You can’t keep anything from me, not even through the phone line. ” I heard a rustling, and then the gurgling of a coffee maker in the background. “What’s going on?”
Kyrie sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It’s…there’s just too much to fill you in over the phone. ” She glanced up at me, and I nodded at her, smiling my encouragement. “What do you have going on?”
“Right now? Or in general?”
“In general. ”
I heard the stuttering of the coffee maker finishing and the chug of liquid filling a mug. “Classes. Work. Same as ever. ”
“Why don’t you come and visit us?”
“Where? South Africa?” She laughed. “I ain’t going to South motherfucking Africa. ”
“Not South Africa itself, per se, more…near there. On our yacht. ” She bit her thumbnail. “Come visit us. For…a while. ”
Layla clearly sussed out the fact that Kyrie was leaving something out. “Key? What the fuck is going on?”
Kyrie sighed. “Babe…you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. I just…I need you to do this for me. Okay? Please? You know I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important to me. ”
“What about classes? I can’t just drop out—I’ll lose credit and a whole shitload of money. I’ve got rent due, and also, how the hell do you expect me to get to South Africa or wherever the fuck you two are?”
I spoke up. “Layla, you have my word that any and every expense you could possibly think of will be covered. My man Harris is on the way from Chicago to pick you up right now. He’ll help you pack, and he will personally fly to you us. ” I made a snap decision. “Your tuition will be paid. You won’t need to worry about rent, or anything else. Not ever. All right?”
Suspicion tinged her voice. “Why would you do that? You don’t even know me. ”
“You’re important to Kyrie. Thus, you are important to me. ”
A long pause. “Fine. But something tells me some heavy shit went down. ” She sighed. “Do I get to ride in a private jet, like Kyrie did that one time?”
I laughed. “Nothing but the finest for you, Miss Campari, I assure you. ”
She chuckled. “Miss Campari. That’s a new one. Never been called that before. ” She yawned. “Listen, I need to drink my coffee. Let me talk to Kyrie real quick. ”
“I’ll see you in a few days, Miss Campari,” I said.
“’Bye, Mr. Roth. ”
Kyrie turned the phone off speaker mode and held it to her ear. “Layla, yeah, it’s just me now. Look, just go along with whatever Harris tells you, all rig