I heard someone strum a guitar, and twisted around to see Alexei standing on a balcony overlooking the deck, a guitar in his hands. He smiled at us, dark eyes glinting in the rising moonlight, and strummed again, then began singing. His words were in Russian, the melody slow and mournful, his voice strong and rich, a powerful baritone.
“This is incredible, Valentine,” I said.
I took a sip of the champagne, and then answered, gesturing broadly around us. “Everything. The yacht. You. This date.”
He took my hand. “You deserve romance, Kyrie.”
I had no response for that.
We chatted idly as we ate, sipping champagne and discussing where we might go next, reminiscing about places we’d already been. On the balcony above us, Alexei was leaning against the railing, playing his guitar with masterful effortlessness, singing still, the lyrics unintelligible to me, but still full of romance and meaning. When we were finished eating, one of the young men appeared and cleared everything from the table except the candles and the champagne flutes.
Roth twisted the stem of his flute between his fingers, his other hand in the pocket of his pants. He seemed lost in thought.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked.
His gaze flicked away from the candle flames up to my eyes. “You.”
He nodded. “After all that’s happened, I just find it amazing that you can sit there and look at me the way you are right now.”
I tilted my head in question. “How am I looking at you, Valentine?”
“As if I’m all there is.”
I plucked the glass from him and set it aside, slid my fingers through his across the table. “Because you are all there is for me.” I swept my hand around. “The ship? It’s amazing. Incredible. As amazing as your tower, as amazing as the chateau and the vineyard and that place in the islands. They’re all amazing. But, Valentine? None of that matters. All I need is you.”
He sat forward, his eyes earnest and intense. “I’ve been thinking about this moment since I first saw you in my foyer, blindfolded, scared, and beautiful.” He left his chair, not letting go of my hand, and rounded the table, kneeling in front of me. Not on one knee, but on both. He took my hands in his, rubbed my knuckles with his thumbs. “I knew then that I would do this. I just never imagined what it would take to get here. And I still don’t know what I’m going to say, despite having scripted this in my head a thousand times.”
My heart was in my throat, pulsing rapidly. My hands shook in his. Alexei had vanished, leaving his guitar propped against the railing of the balcony.
Roth let go of my hand and reached his right hand into his pocket. “You belong to me, Kyrie St. Claire. That is true now, and it will always be true.” He opened the small black box, revealing a simple but breathtaking ring, a round two-carat diamond set in a concentric circle formed by the setting of the ring. He lifted the ring out and looked up at me. “Be mine. Forever, be mine.”
I worked words past the lump in my throat, held my left hand out to him. “Valentine—I’ve always….” My breath left me as he slid the ring onto my finger, and I had to try again. “I’ve always been yours. And I always will be.”
The guitar sounded and Alexei was singing again. Roth stood up with me, pulling me to the middle of the deck, dancing with me as the high, full moon shone on the rippling sea.
Slim, polished, expensive Italian leather loafers crunched slowly across the smashed glass. A pant leg, slate gray, pressed and pleated, fluttered in the wind. A matching slate-gray blazer, tailored to fit the man’s broad frame, was held across an arm. He wore a dress shirt, blindingly white, the sleeves rolled up to just beneath his thick, tanned forearms. No tie, the shirt unbuttoned to the third button, letting a few tufts of black chest hair peek out. His shoulders were broad, his chest thick and powerful, his arms stretching the sleeves of the button-down. He wasn’t a tall man, standing a couple of inches under six feet, but his presence was dominating.
A dozen men milled around him, checking for pulses, collecting weapons, keeping a lookout. Pretending to be busy. Not one of them dared to look at the man in the gray suit. He exuded threat. Fury bled from every pore. His deep-set black eyes were narrowed, constantly shifting and assessing, his square, hard jaw grinding and pulsing.
Ignoring the opening of the shattered window, he unlocked and stepped through the twelve-foot-high front door. His eyes flicked and roved, counting fallen bodies, counting bullet holes. Naming the fallen men. Through the foyer, across the open-plan living room and to the stairs leading down.
His lackeys followed him warily, their eyes meeting each others’, questioning. He was in a rage the likes of which none of them had ever seen before. Even the oldest of them, a grizzled man with salt-and-pepper hair, had never seen their boss like this before.
“No one speaks unless he addresses you directly,” he said in Greek. “It is best to just stay away from him if you can.” His dark eyes moved in his weathered face, going from man to man. “Someone will die today.”
Everyone nodded. Everyone knew it.
They descended the stairs, cursing as they found body after body, fallen comrades. None of them could be said to be friends, not in this business, but when you worked side by side with a man every day, when you drank with him and shared whores with him, you felt at least a glimmer of emotion at the sight of his corpse.
Down and down they went, spreading out from room to room until they were sure the house was clear. This was just a precaution, of course. The house was dead. But still, they moved with guns drawn, until they came to the lowest level, where the rock was cold and damp, where ghosts lived and you were convinced you could hear a scream echoing in the distance.
A cluster of men stood around a single door, pressed shoulder-to-shoulder, silent, uneasy.
The oldest man, whom they knew only as Cut—the English word—pushed through the knot of thugs, knocking them aside with the barrel of his AK-47. “Move aside. Move aside.” He took one glance through the doorway into the room beyond and then paled, his eyes going wide. He cleared his throat, sucked in a deep, nervous breath, and then started herding the men away from the door. “Up. Go. Go away. Clear out. Start carrying the rest of the bodies out.”
When they were all gone, Cut stepped into the room and stood beside his boss.
Silence lay thick between the two men. Eventually, a deep, smooth baritone voice broke the quiet, speaking in Greek. “How did this happen, Cut?”