Page 8 of Beta (Alpha 2)

I glanced up at Henri, who had the shotgun to his shoulder, pipe still in his teeth, aiming the weapon at the door. Car doors slammed, and I peeked up to watch Henri as he stepped out from behind the bar, moving in the slow crouching shuffle of someone who has had tactical training of some kind. He moved to stand beside the door so that when it swung inward, he would be able to blast whoever stepped through. I ducked back down behind the bar.

My heart hammered in my chest, my stomach lodged in my throat.

Hinges creaked slowly. A foot shuffled on the wood floor.

BOOM!—BOOM!—BOOM! Three bellowing, deafening blasts of the shotgun, followed by the sound of wet splatter. Bodies hitting the floor.

“Stay down,” Henri called out. “Do not move.”

I stayed down. My lungs wouldn’t work. I was close to hyperventilating, sucking in short, shallow breaths and letting them out with a whine in my throat.

“They are done. Is okay. You safe now.” I heard the sound of something sliding across the wood planks of the floor. “But still, stay down. Not good for you to see.”

No arguments from me there. I hugged my knees and waited, listening as Henri dragged three heavy bodies I didn’t want to see across the floor and down some stairs. I continued to sit on the floor behind the bar for another half hour as Henri mopped and scrubbed.

Finally, he appeared behind the bar. “All done. Go sit, now.” He washed his hands in the sink, dried them, then grabbed a book of matches and relit his pipe, sipped at his wine.

And just like that, everything was back to normal. Sitting at the bar with a glass of half-finished wine. As if three men hadn’t just died.

I opened my mouth to ask a question, but Henri shook his head. “Do not ask. You do not want to know.”

“The police?” I asked anyway. “Won’t they—”

“Non. Not here. They will not come here.”

That was a mystifying answer, one that I wasn’t sure I wanted to know more about.

My heart leapt into my throat again when the door opened suddenly and Henri jerked the shotgun to his shoulder. Harris stepped through. He’d changed out of the suit into a pair of blue jeans and thick black V-neck sweater, the sleeves pushed up to his elbows. “Just me. Just me.” He sniffed the air, his eyes darting from the floor at his feet to the door, and then to Henri and the shotgun. “Something happen?”

Henri set the shotgun on the bar, speaking in rapid French, gesturing at a door in the back of the bar.

“Persistent fuckers,” Harris muttered.

Henri barked a laugh. “Vitaly Karahalios? He does not give up.”

“You know anything about his daughter, Gina?”

Henri spat on the floor, a spiteful, angry gesture. “Evil. Worse than her father.” He glanced at me, speculation in his gaze. “Ahhh. Now I see. This is about the girl, non?”

“That’s what I think.” Harris gestured at the door in the back of the bar, ostensibly meaning the bodies beyond it. “They’re Vitaly’s men, yes?”

Henri nodded. “Oui. I am as sure of this as one can be without knowing for certain. Who else could find her here, and risk my wrath?”

“Good point.” Harris gestured at me with his fingers, indicating that I should go with him. “Thanks, Henri. I’ll be in touch.” Harris reached into the back pocket of his jeans, and it didn’t escape my notice that Henri tensed at the motion, his hand resting on the shotgun. Harris held up a thick white envelope, which clearly contained a thick sheaf of Euros, setting it on the bar near Henri.

“I do not need this,” Henri said, shaking his head.

“For your trouble.”

Henri winked at me. “Protecting a beautiful woman is never trouble.” He pushed the envelope away, a gesture that contained a strong note of finality. “I owe Roth my life. This was my honor.”

Harris nodded and stuffed the envelope back in his jeans pocket. “All right. You know how to reach me. You hear anything, see anything, find anything out, let me know, okay?”

“Oui. Of course.” Henri held up a finger. “Wait. A moment, wait.” He twisted to reach under the bar, set the small black pistol on the bar, then two clips and the box of rounds. “For her. Teach her. You and I will not always be around, non?”

I shook my head. “I can’t. I wouldn’t—”

Henri held up his hand, glaring at me, and I fell silent. “You can. You will. Those men? Mercy is a thing they do not know. Better to die than let them get their filthy hands on you, yes? Better yet, you kill them first. Learn. For Roth, learn.”

I picked up the handgun. It was heavier than I’d thought it would be, and cold to the touch. “Is it safe? To put it in my bag, I mean.”

Henri snorted. “What good does it do in your purse? Can you reach it there so swiftly? Non. Look. Your first lesson.” He clamped his pipe in his teeth and puffed, then grabbed the gun from me, pushed a button on the side, and the clip ejected. He held it sideway, pulled back the slide. A round clattered onto the bar. “Now it is safe.” He knocked the clip back in, pulled and released the slide, and then held the pistol so I could watch as he thumbed a switch near the trigger. “Safety on. Now it is safe. Push the button to shoot. And if you shoot? You shoot once, one time only, and you kill. Only shoot to kill.”

I swallowed hard and backed away. This was absurd. What was happening to me? How could this be my life now? A few short months ago, I was a broke and starving girl, alone in the world. And then I was collected by Roth, and everything changed. I became his, willingly his. He took me away from everything. He was showing me the world. We’d visited a dozen or so countries so far, and I’d discovered exactly how big the world was, and just how many places there were to see, and I realized I wanted to see all of them.

But only with Roth.

And he was gone. My idyllic little world—traveling with my Valentine, eating and drinking and fucking and sailing and hiking and living—had been shattered.

I’d been shot at. Chased. I’d hidden behind a bar like something from a Hollywood movie as shotguns went off around me.

And now I was supposed to take a gun and shoot people with it? I’d never touched a gun in my life. Not even so much as a BB gun.

“Take the gun, Miss St. Claire. We don’t have time for you to have qualms about it right now. Take it and put it at the small of your back, just like in the movies.” Harris was at my side, talking quietly to me.