Page 3 of Beta (Alpha 2)

I tripped and fell onto the bed. Sobbing. And when I managed to open my eyes, all I could see was the knife, black handle, silver blade curving and serpentine and razor-sharp, evil. The note, a torn scrap of paper and the blood-red ink.

I grabbed my phone, ripped the charger cord free, and pressed the “home” button. I swiped it to unlock it, then tapped Harris’s name.

“Miss St. Claire.” His voice, cool and calm, was there before it rang a second time. “How may I help you, ma’am?”

“He’s gone—he’s—they…someone took him! He’s gone, Harris. Help me. Help me!” I wasn’t making sense and I knew it, but I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think.

“Kyrie.” His voice cut through my panic. “Breathe. Take a moment and breathe.”

I took three deep breaths, in through my mouth, out through my nose. I tried again. “I woke up just now. Maybe ten minutes ago. We’re in—in France. Valentine is gone, Harris.”

“Where did he go? To the shops, perhaps? Out for coffees?”

“No, Harris! You don’t understand!” I was shrieking, shouting. “There’s a note, a fucking note with a goddamn knife!”

“I’m trying to understand, Miss St. Claire. Are you saying someone kidnapped Mr. Roth?”

“YES!” I screamed it, so loud and shrill it hurt my throat. I had to swallow and breathe and start over. “The note — someone stabbed a big knife through the note into the pillow. It’s a woman’s handwriting. It says—god, god. It says, ‘he belongs to me.’”

“This is serious? For real? You aren’t joking?”

“DO I SOUND LIKE I’M FUCKING JOKING?” I fell forward onto the bed, phone pressed to my ear, sobbing. “Who would do this…who? Why? What do I do, Harris?”

“Is there anything else apart from the knife and the note?”


“Just those words? No demands or anything?”

I shook my head even though I knew, rationally, that Harris couldn’t see me. “No. No. Just the note, just those words. His phone, the cars, his clothes…everything. It’s all here. I’ve looked everywhere, but he’s gone. Who took him, Harris?”

“I have a couple of ideas. It’s going to be okay, Miss St. Claire. We’ll find him. Just stay there and don’t touch anything. Get dressed, but don’t go anywhere. Don’t call anyone. No one, do you understand me? Not Layla, not the police, no one.”


“Say it. Repeat it for me.”

“I won’t go anywhere. I won’t call anyone. I’ll stay here and wait for you.”

“Yes. I’m in London, so I’ll be there in a matter of hours.” His voice was calm and collected, and that reassured me somehow.

“Okay.” I swallowed hard and tried to sound calm. “Harris? Who could have done this?”

“We’ll speak when I arrive, Miss St. Claire. Until then, try to remain calm. Get something to eat. Pack a bag of your clothes. Sensible clothes, sensible shoes. Necessary personal items. Do not touch anything of Mr. Roth’s, especially not the note or the knife.”

“Okay. I understand.” My voice was quiet, barely audible.

“We’ll find him, Miss St. Claire. I promise you. You have my word.” Something cold in Harris’s voice scared me. But that was good. I needed the scary bodyguard Harris right now, not the polite driver and friend.

I hung up the phone, unplugged the charger cord, and wrapped it into a tiny bundle, tucking it into my purse. I showered quickly, harshly suppressing the images of the last time I was in this shower. I lathered, rinsed, and got out, dried off. Brushed my hair, tied it up still wet into a messy chignon. Jeans and a T-shirt, my hiking boots. Roth had insisted on buying me a bunch of outdoor gear before we set out on our big trip. He’d bought me a set of luggage and pretty much a whole new wardrobe. Jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts and sweaters, khaki shorts and tank tops, a rain slicker, expensive hiking boots, hats, sunglasses, pretty much every kind of outfit for every kind of climate. And somehow he’d gotten it all into two big Louis Vuitton suitcases and a backpack. He always packed for us, saying he had a foolproof system.

So right now I tried to replicate his method, rolling the clothes rather than folding them, packing them down deep into the bottom of my backpack. A couple pair of jeans, shirts, my favorite hoodie, some shorts and socks and underwear and a spare bra, toiletries. I put my purse in the backpack as well, and laced up my hiking boots, tied a sweater around my waist.

Why was I packing? I’d followed Harris’s instructions, but I didn’t quite understand why I needed to pack and why I was now ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

Once I was packed, I went into the kitchen and made what I thought of as a “French breakfast,” a baguette purchased the evening before, some Brie, fresh sliced fruit, and a cup of coffee. With Roth, everything tasted better. Plain cheese tasted like heaven, coffee was thick and rich and always perfectly doctored, bread was crusty on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. But now, alone, everything was tasteless, and I couldn’t stop thinking, couldn’t stop wondering.

How? Who? Why? If there had been a demand or something, I could have understood a little. An old enemy out for revenge, someone whose business Roth had taken over and chopped up. Someone simply wanting a ransom. But the feminine handwriting had me stumped. How could a woman kidnap a huge, muscular, powerful man like Roth? It didn’t make sense. It shouldn’t be possible.

I fidgeted. Paced. Repacked. I stared at the note, trying not to hyperventilate. After an eternity, I checked the time on my phone; barely an hour had passed. Even breaking every speed limit between here and London, Harris couldn’t be here in anything less than four hours. What the hell was I supposed to do until then? I’d be insane in four hours.

I needed to get out of the chateau. I had to. I couldn’t stay here for another minute, not with that note and the ominous presence of the knife. But Harris had specifically told me not to leave, not for anything.

I tried to distract myself with the TV, but most of it was in French, with a couple of UK channels coming in rather poorly. I clicked it off. The man I loved was missing, and I was supposed to just cool my heels watching TV?

Hell, no.

So I paced some more, refusing to check the time. I sat, knees bouncing, chewing my nails, thinking my girlfriend back in Detroit, Layla, would be furious if she saw my fingernails all chewed up.