Page 22 of Beta (Alpha 2)

I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I moved to Valentine’s side, touched his face. Wiped the blood from his forehead, the wet hair from where it was pasted to his temple. “Valentine? Baby? It’s me. It’s Kyrie. I’m here. Harris is here. We’re gonna get you out of here, okay?”

He growled in his throat, but his eyes latched onto me. His gaze darkened, shifted. “Not you. Get away from me, you bitch. Get away. Fucking kill me, you cunt. Stay away or kill me. I won’t do it. Not again. I won’t. Won’t.”

Tears started in my eyes, my throat closed. “Valentine? It’s me. It’s really me.” I’d never heard Valentine talk that way, so coarse, so vulgar, and so full of rage and disgust. He didn’t recognize me. That had to be it. He wouldn’t talk to me that way. He loved me. Right? I forced myself to believe that, knelt beside him so my face was level with his. “Roth? Valentine? It’s me. It’s Kyrie. Listen to me. Listen to my voice. It’s me.”

“Kyrie?” He sounded hesitant. Skeptical.

“Miss St. Claire. We have to go.” Harris stood in the doorway, rifle pointed down the hallway. “The second charge is about to go off, and we have to be there when it does.”

“Give me a second. He thinks I’m—I’m her.”

“We don’t have a second. She’ll be back with a goddamn truckload of men with guns, okay? They’re coming here, and we have to be gone before they do.” He bent, went through the dead man’s pockets a third time, coming up with a spare magazine, which he used to replace the partially depleted one in the gun.

I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed a prayer to whatever might or might not be out there, and kissed Valentine. A slow, deep kiss. The kind that said I love you—I love you—I love you. “It’s me. It’s me.”

He didn’t respond to the kiss. I pulled away, and he blinked, looked at me. “Kyrie? You’re real?”

“Yeah, I’m real. And we have to get out of here, okay? Can you walk?”

“I—god—I don’t—don’t know.” He seemed barely able to form words, muscles tensing and flexing, each shift and jerk of his hands drawing fresh blood from his wrists and ankles. “I’ll try.”

I fitted the tiny key into the handcuff attached to the bed, released it, then unlocked his other hand and both feet as quickly as I could. Valentine lunged off the bed, tripped over the sheets, and stumbled to the floor, scrambled away on his backside into the corner. I snatched a towel from a stack on the floor—not daring to wonder what had gone on with the buckets and pitcher and towels—and approached him.

“Come on, baby. Stand up, okay? We have to get out of here.” I held up the towel.

Valentine levered himself to his feet, and stood pressed even deeper into the corner. He seemed afraid of me, wary of me, as if I wasn’t who I said I was. “Stay—stay back. Don’t touch me. Don’t fucking touch me.” He flexed his hands into fists and released them, shook them, rubbed his face and sucked in deep breaths and let them out. Squeezed his eyes shut and opened them, staring at me with a bizarre mix of desperation, lust, and worry. “Tell me something only you’d know.”

“It’s really me, Valentine, I swear—”

“TELL ME!” he shouted, his voice raw and hoarse.

I wracked my brain. “You sent me three checks! The message on those three checks was ‘you belong to me.’” I took another step closer to him, the towel held out for him.

Crackcrackcrack. The M-16 rattled, deafeningly loud. “We have to fucking go!” Harris shouted.

Valentine snatched the towel and wrapped it around his waist, covering his still massive erection. “Don’t touch me. Please. I can’t—I’m not me right now, and I can’t—I’m—fuck—” he cut off with a growl, shoving past me, without touching me. “Let’s go.”

He stopped, unbuckled the dead guard’s belt and jerked the pants off him, stepped into them, and tied the belt in a knot. The pants were several inches too short, the waist too loose, and the belt too long, but he was covered to an extent.

Harris set off with Valentine on his heels, me in the rear. Down the stairs, around the corner away from the front gate, and through a courtyard. A boxy Mercedes SUV, a Jaguar, and a Rolls Royce sat in the courtyard, gleaming in the sunlight. Harris ducked to peer into the Mercedes, checked the driver’s-side door handle. It was unlocked, and he bent in, came up with a keyless ignition fob.

“Get in.” He gestured at both of us. “Kyrie in the front. Mr. Roth, you get in the back.” He glanced at his watch. “Now, please.”

I slid into the front seat while Roth got in the back, and as soon as we were in and the doors closed, Harris had the car bolting backward, spinning around. A blinding flash lit up the courtyard, accompanied by an explosion that flung chunks of rock and brick and mortar into the air. Windows smashed, car alarms set to blaring. The roof of the Jaguar was caved in by a hunk of brick, and the driver’s-side window of the Rolls shattered. A huge piece of brick hit the hood of our Mercedes, denting it, and another hit the roof near my head.

Harris gunned the engine, and the powerful V-8 rocketed the car forward through the hole made by the bomb. The tires hit bits of brick, and the car jolted, bounced, and then we were hauling too fast down a hill, braking and squealing around a corner and then another, and then we were aiming for the coastline. A helicopter thumped in the distance.

I glanced back at Roth, who was hunched over in the seat, sweat coating his back and shoulders. He was shaking all over, handcuffs still dangling from his wrists and ankles. I risked reaching a hand out, touching his shoulder. He flinched away, glancing up at me with wild, bloodshot eyes.

“Don’t!” he hissed. “I can’t control it.”

“What did she do to you?” I whispered, more to myself than to him. “You can’t control what?”

“Myself. I need—I need—” He didn’t finish, though, biting off mid-sentence and ducking his head, grabbing the chains of the handcuffs and pulling hard, drawing blood, as the pain offered lucidity.

“Leave him be for now,” Harris said. “Take a look behind us. Anyone following? You see that helo?”

I peered back. “No, no. I don’t see anyone behind us, and the helicopter…it’s there, but it’s out over the water, flying toward the island. I don’t think it’s following us.”