Page 57 of Beta (Alpha 2)

He trailed off, going silent for a while, remembering. Eventually he continued, and I remained silent, grateful for this rare peek into Roth’s past. “When my father…sent me out, as he phrased it, she’d been working for him for eight years, five of those as my personal…whatever. I was twenty-two when I moved to New York—when I escaped Gina and Vitaly, I suppose I should say. Five years exactly from the day my father sent me out, I hired Eliza out from underneath him.”

“So what you told me originally—”

“Not entirely the truth, no. Once I had things going in New York, I called Father’s head of staff, Gregory, and asked for Eliza’s contact information. Said I wanted to look her up to say hello. Well, I said hello, and I asked her if she would like to come work for me. That was a little over twelve years ago. She’d worked for my father’s household staff while I was out making my fortune. God, how long did she work my father? Thirteen years? And twelve for me?” He covered his face with both hands. “And fucking Gina just…gunned her down. For no reason.”

“I’m so sorry, Valentine.”

“Me, too.” His expression twisted into hatred. “I’d like to bring Gina back just so I can kill her again.”

“Valentine, you can’t think like that.” I shifted closer to him. “I want that part of our lives to be over. The guns, the killings…I just want it to be over.”

He shook his head. “While Vitaly is out there, that’s impossible.” Roth stood up, shoved his phone in the back pocket of his pants, and paused at the top of the stairs. “You should rest.”

“Don’t leave, Valentine. Don’t—don’t leave me alone.”

“I was just going to grab you something to eat….”

I reached for him, tugged on his sleeve until he sat back down on the bed. “We have a staff, don’t we? Have it sent up.” I waved my hand in dismissal. “I’m not hungry anyway. I just…I can’t be alone right now.” I tried to close my eyes, to rest again, but images of Tobias, and Gina, and Lisa, bloody and ravaged and brutalized, kept popping into my head. I remembered the scene in the library and Gina pulling the trigger. I could almost feel the bullet hitting my knee again. The thirst and the hunger. Tobias’s breath on me, his weight, his leering grin as he prepared to rape me.

My vision blurred, my eyes hot and stinging.

“God, Kyrie, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry.” His voice cracked. “I failed you. I fucking—I failed you.” He shook beneath me, struggling for control.

“It wasn’t your fault, Valentine.” I twisted so I could look up at him.

He wouldn’t look at me. “Yes. It was.” He shrugged. “I underestimated Gina. I got complacent. I thought she’d forgotten. Moved on. Ten years. She left me alone for ten years. And then, out of the blue…she just…she ruined everything. Me. You. Us. The life I’d worked so hard to build.”

“You think I’m ruined?” I asked in a high, small, tremulous voice. “You think you are?”

“You were almost raped. You were shot. Beaten. You saw…you—”

“We both went through really horrible shit, Valentine. Not just me, not just you.”

“I didn’t protect you.” He stood up, paced away and back. “And now you’re on Vitaly’s radar. So even if you wanted to…I don’t know…start over somewhere else. With—with someone else, you couldn’t. He’d find you. He’d kill you.”

“Roth, what—what are you saying?” I lunged forward, struggling to my feet, hopping, grabbing onto Roth for balance, turning him to face me. “Start over? Someone else? What are you talking about?”

He held onto my arms, keeping me upright. “I failed you, Kyrie. I promised you’d be safe. I left you. I left your side. I should have stayed.” He shook his head. “How can you trust me now?

“You can’t take all the blame yourself, Valentine.” I fought the panic inside me. “I knew…I felt something—I knew something was wrong when I went looking for you. If I’d just waited for you—but I didn’t know where you were—”

“Because I left you.” He tilted his head back, blinking hard. “Then they were shooting at me. I tried to get back to you, but Harris, he knew…if I’d made a run for the door, they’d have shot me. They could have. At any moment, they could have killed me. But she wanted me alive. She wanted me out of the way. If you hadn’t gone looking for me, she probably would have blown the door off its hinges or something. She would have gotten you. But if I’d stayed with you—if I’d done like I promised, you wouldn’t have—”

“Roth.” I grabbed his face and made him look down at me. He shook his head, but I held on. “Valentine. Listen to me. Baby, listen. Please. I don’t want to start over somewhere else. I couldn’t, even if none of this had happened. I couldn’t leave you. I couldn’t go back to…a normal life, to life without you. I just…I can’t. I won’t.”

“Why?” He seemed honestly puzzled.

“Because I love you, you big idiot.” I hobbled closer to him, pressed myself against him, and looked up into his distraught blue eyes. “Valentine…I love you. Do you hear me? I fell in love with you the first time I heard your voice. I was so scared then. I didn’t know what you wanted with me. You plucked me out my life and you dropped me into yours—”

“And now look where you are. What you went through, because I dragged you into my world.”

“Shut the fuck up, Valentine. I’m trying to make you understand.” I hopped again, losing my balance. “Jesus, this knee sucks.”

I clung to his neck and hung on until I regained my balance. He gazed at me, one finger dragging over the stubble of my scalp. Shit. I’d forgotten that I was bald. Ugh. I ran my hand over my head, wincing.

“You’re beautiful, Kyrie.”

“Even with no hair?”

He nodded. “Even with no hair.”

“You’re distracting me.” I shook my head, running a palm over my scalp. “Listen, the point here is that I love you. No one could have predicted what would happen. I mean, yeah, I wish you’d told me about Gina. She wasn’t just an ex-girlfriend, you know? She brings the whole ‘crazy ex’ thing to a whole new level, right?” I tried to make it a joke, but Roth didn’t laugh. “Too soon, huh?”