The sense of urgency amplified. “Does that name mean anything to you?” he asked Margarete.


A moment of thought, then she shook her head.

The fine hairs on the back of his neck rose. His brow furrowed as he visually searched a room he’d already physically searched. He felt as if someone were watching him. He found nothing out of place, though. No eyes staring from portraits, no cameras. “I want you to stay at AIR,” Hector said.

When she gave another shake of her head and opened her mouth to issue a denial, he held up a hand to silence her. “There are two other women there, and they’ve gone through the same thing you have. They were picked up by the guys who abducted you, and drugged. They were going to be sold.”

“I—no.” The glittery tears sprang forth anew, tracking down her cheeks. “I want to stay here.”

“You can’t,” he said, using a tougher voice. “Bobby didn’t change his will. Which means you aren’t in it. Sometime this week, his mother is going to take over the deed, and she’s going to kick you out. You’ll have no place to go. No protection. This way, you’ll be able to take what you want with you, and we can help you find a place when the one who wants to sell you is locked away.”

“You won’t have to worry about anything,” Noelle added gently. “I know a girl, who knows a girl, yada yada, and you’d be doing her a favor, watching over her house while she’s off planet. It’s a very safe place. I’ve been there myself.”

He seriously doubted she knew a girl who knew a girl off planet. Ava was her closest—and perhaps only—friend. Which meant Noelle was planning to pay for everything herself.

Sweet of her, and for most people, probably bewildering. Nearly everyone at AIR had called her spoiled at some point. Even when she was merely a trainee, she’d had food delivered to her desk—and she had only shared with Ava, no matter how much bitching people did. She went through cars like some men went through condoms. She drank champagne and ate expensive chocolate treats and sometimes left the office in a formal gown.

He thought back, some things about her finally adding up. No one had seemed to notice that when their computers broke down, they were somehow fixed the next day. Or when an agent’s kid got sick, she suddenly didn’t feel well so maybe her doctor should check them both out, make sure the brat hasn’t—and couldn’t—give her anything. The faker, saving everyone’s pride by making herself seem silly.

Bottom line, when something mattered, she took care of it. He realized that now. She just didn’t want anyone to know she’d helped.

Why? he wondered. Because people would expect more from her? Because they would realize she wasn’t… what had she called herself? A flake. Irresponsible.

Yeah, he thought. That was it exactly. She strove so hard to project that kind of image, then hated that people couldn’t see through it. But then, she also held most people at a distance; that way, they couldn’t hurt her if they didn’t like her.

He did the same thing. He kept people at a distance so that they wouldn’t like him. So that he wouldn’t hurt them.

Remember that.

“Gordman has an appointment at Cirque du Culotte tomorrow,” Noelle said, her relish back full force. “Ten in the morning.”

Circus of the Panties? Shit. Hector was ashamed to note he knew the place. Located in the center of Whore’s Corner, the worst the city had to offer. “It’s a… massage parlor that specializes in, uh, happy endings,” he said, having heard the question in her tone.

Her lips curled in disgust. “Okay, that’s just gross.”

He ignored the sudden surge of bile rising up his chest. What would she say if she learned he’d been in that particular shop?

“Margarete?” he said, returning his attention to the Rakan. “What’s it going to be?”

Her golden head bowed. “Yes,” she whispered. “I’ll go to AIR.”

“Good.” No reason to mention he would have had her carted there with or without her consent. He pushed to his feet. “Grab some things, and we’ll escort you there now.” He and Noelle had a thousand things to do—and only until ten tomorrow morning to do them.

Thirty-four

HECTOR DIDN’T SPEND THE night with Noelle, but he did pick her up the next morning, as promised. Sweet progress, she thought. I’ll have him bagged and tagged by week’s end.

He hadn’t yet experienced the full measure of a Noelle Tremain seduction. No man had. Too potent. Of course. But Hector was about to be the first. He’d addicted her to the goods, and now he would supply her with more. It was as simple as that.

He’d nearly popped his zipper when he had first spotted her outfit. Another deeply V’d top—why mess with what worked?—paired with a tight black skirt. Both allowed for easy access to her fun zones. Not to mention, the skirt barely covered her underwear when she sat down. And they had a thirty-minute car ride to enjoy.

Which they did. At first. He continued to move his gaze up and down her legs, his lips parted as he struggled to draw in enough oxygen. Until fifteen minutes in, when his entire demeanor changed. He began shifting nervously in his seat, avoiding looking in her direction entirely.

Twenty minutes in, the silence was making her crazy and Hector looked ready to vomit. What the hell was going on with him? This was more than simply trying to keep her at a distance. This was abject terror.

Not knowing what else to do, she studied the area. For a moment, she felt as if someone other than Hector was watching her, her skin prickling with unease, but she didn’t see any signs of a tailing car. The sky was overcast and gray, mist saturating the air so thickly their windshield appeared to be having an allergic reaction; clear little welts bubbled everywhere. The buildings lining both sides of the sidewalk were dilapidated and covered with graffiti. Some had huge front windows with naked otherworlder men and women dancing just beyond the transparent shield armor.

The dancers had to be drugged. Their faces were expressionless, their movements halting. Noelle wasn’t sure how some of them remained on their feet. Not a one of them smiled or waved people inside. And when they brushed against each other sexually, they didn’t seem to enjoy it. They just… tolerated it.

On the sidewalk, bums stumbled into the buildings, prostitutes shouted at drivers, and trash tumbled in every direction.

Last night Noelle had dug up Gordman’s financials. He was paid very well for a job he hadn’t yet listed in his employment file, but he was paid in cash, so there was no paper trail at any bank.

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