Angelo's footsteps resounded through the stark corridor of the underground compound as he walked toward the white room where they were keeping the child.
Drop the girl into an orphanage.
That was what Oversight Committee wanted to do with her. Angelo grimaced. He rarely agreed with the powers that be, but in their covert organization he did what he was told. This time he knew he had no choice but to allow the lamb to go into the system. She knew far too much. At just ten years old, she'd seen too much as well. She'd been in hiding for so long, running from the threat stalking her family. Only a few hours ago, she'd seen her father gunned down. The girl's confusion since then had been total, making Angelo wonder if she'd really understood what had happened on that dead end street. If she remembered...
Angelo gritted his teeth. Someday the girl would remember. Someday she would figure it out. Angelo couldn't allow that. Not when he was so close to getting what he needed. The girl's memory would have to be erased.
When he reached the door of the white room, he hesitated. Much as he wasn't looking forward to it, he'd have to tell Kyle what they planned to do to keep the organization secure. Better that Kyle hear it from him.
From the first, Angelo had seen that Kyle wasn't an operative who performed his duty like a well-programmed machine, the way he'd been trained to. He did his job, but he did it his own way. He was an operative worth more than an entire team. But, when Kyle found the girl covered in her father's blood out there tonight, something had happened to him. The child had gone into his arms--into the arms of a stranger--and refused to accept anyone else's comfort. From that moment, Angelo understood his prize operative had lost his allegiance to the organization. His loyalty was to the girl. Probably because Kyle had been, for all intents and purposes, abandoned as a child himself.
Kyle wouldn't agree with what they had to do to contain this leak, Angelo knew. But they had no choice. Focus on the mission. Right now, what mattered was that this girl had seen too much and she would have to be silenced. She would have to disappear. Permanently. It was the only way to maintain structural integrity.
Taking a deep breath, Angelo pushed his card into the scanner and waited for the door to open. By the time Kyle found out, it would be too late for him to change anything.
The white room was the shape of an octagon with flat, brilliant white walls untouched by decoration or places to hide. The bed they'd brought for the girl was empty save for a G.I. Joe action doll and an untouched sandwich. A full glass of milk had been spilled on the floor.
She was gone.
Swearing, Angelo turned back and flew down the hall before the doors had even hissed to a close behind him. God only knew what the girl's parents could have taught her about escape. If she'd somehow gotten out, an alert would have sounded instantly. Unless...
The realization growing in Angelo's mind seemed impossible. Unthinkable. Even when he had the undeniable proof right in from of him, he couldn't get himself to believe it.
Kyle had taken the girl. They'd trained him to disappear without a trace, to be a master of disguise and deception. He was one of the best operatives they had. Regardless, he and the girl would be hunted and they would be found.
Kyle had taken her before they could wipe her memory. Sooner or later, those memories would return.
The girl would be alone at some point, Angelo acknowledged while he unconsciously held the action doll in a strangling grip. And then Kyle wouldn't be able to protect her.
"You've been a tyrant today." Vincent Carson's gentle, unmistakable voice floated to her from the doorway of her office much later in the day than she'd expected him to appear. "Welcome back, love."
Kira couldn't control her need to look at him, but she could control her rigid expression as she growled, "I leave for a little while and everyone falls into slovenly habits."
Vincent shook his head, not commenting on the state of her own cluttered office as he straightened from leaning against the door frame. Kira clenched her jaw to hold back the instinctive moan cramming itself into her throat and begging relentlessly for release. She'd been gone forever... or may as well have been for how good it felt to see him. Her chest felt impossibly tight watching him enter the room in strides that seemed to eat up her resolve along with the distance between them.
The casually sophisticated clothes he wore could have been nothing at all for the reaction she had to them. What Vincent wore didn't matter so much as the way the fabrics flowed against his body and how he moved with animal-like grace. Though he worked out religiously every day and his muscles were hard as rock, she knew only too well how smooth his skin was. Like steel encased in velvet.
"You've been gone three months, Kira."
Somehow he made that sound even longer than it'd felt to her.
I didn't even think of him. I told myself I didn't notice the time. The void I felt without him. I didn't let myself.
"Everything we needed to get done was done. Profits were up this quarter, as usual," he said, reminding her what she well knew.
The closer he came, the fiercer the pressure coiled in her chest. She could see him again, smell his spicy cologne, so familiar. At one time, his scent had comforted her. Now it heated her blood and made her heart pound painfully. She could feel him before he'd even touched her. The need to be in his arms hadn't lessened in the least during their separation.
"Did you find what you were looking for in Rome?" he asked pointedly, and her eyes narrowed as she gazed at him.
He knew. He knew she'd gone to Rome for the important business reason of searching out new fabrics for the upcoming summer line. Kira Gunn Industries always had the newest, the most innovative, the most exciting fashions. He also knew she'd stayed for no reason. No reason outside of her desire...no, not desire... her need to escape him. He'd known the whole time, but he'd allowed her to go. He hadn't come after her. For the first time ever, he'd given her freedom from him. In the past, her any suggestion that meant their separation for even twenty-four hours had resulted in him seeking out and unfailingly finding a more efficient way of doing the task so they could be together. Yet he'd consented for them to be apart for three endless months.
When Kira looked into his dark eyes as he stood in front of her desk, her shock turned to shame she didn't want to feel. She'd hurt him with her need to get and stay away from him. These past few months had been as hard on him as they'd been on her. Why? Why had he let her go? Why hadn't he come after her? And why had he suffered without her? Why?
Forcefully shoving away her guilt, Kira turned back to the mess of papers spread out across her desk.
Nothing's changed. In three months of agony, trying to free myself from this man, I'm right back where I started.
Even as she asked herself what she'd expected, she anticipated his understanding of her feelings now. Vincent was nothing if not empathetic when it came to her. He moved around the desk, put his gentle, tormenting hands on her shoulders, and her frustration mounted even while her willpower crumbled.
Anything she wanted, anything she needed, he would give to her. He wouldn't think of himself for even a second. Even as her soul railed in aggravation at those same things, she soaked it all in.
"You need to slow down, Kira," Vincent whispered, his mouth near her ear. Every nerve ending in her body screamed to vibrant life.
Kira closed her eyes helplessly to the sound. She hadn't closed her eyes for more than a few hours a day for the past three months. Vincent hadn't been there to keep back the horrors awaiting her there. Instead of feeling more focused in his absence, she realized now that she felt weak, out of control--things she couldn't tolerate--and completely lost.
"You're running your employees ragged. You're running yourself into the ground, and I won't let you do it. You should have taken the day off when your flight got in this morning instead of working all day."
Kira made no effort to fight him nor to fight herself and the vow she'd made to loosen his hold on her life. A hold she'd welcomed for as long as she could remember.
"When's the last time you slept? Ate?" One of his hands left her shoulder, and Kira heard rather than saw him picking up the wrappers from various junk foods strewn across her desk and the floor around the wastebasket from a long day at work.
She didn't need to answer. For the past fifteen years--the only years of her life she remembered--Vincent had come to know her better than she knew herself. He seemed to understand exactly what she needed when she needed it...before she understood the need herself. "I take care of you," he'd said more times than she could count.
Kira squeezed her eyes tighter together when he whispered, "I missed you." She heard his pain and couldn't close herself off from it this time.
She was so tired. Vincent would take care of her. She could just close her eyes, lean back and give in.
"Let me call Perry. He can be in your kitchen before we arrive. And then I can watch over you while you sleep."
She shook her head. "I can't sleep."
"You have to. You will. I'll be there."
Sighing, she turned her head to look up at him. He wouldn't relent unless she gave him no choice. And she didn't think she had it in her tonight. She nodded her assent only once.