Page 29 of The Other Man

I did not like the sound of that.  Not at all.

She continued, “Our backgrounds are nearly identical.  We were both recruited for a very small unit in the CIA before either of us were old enough to vote.”

Wow.  And she was still young.  So young.  God, how did the government recruit these kids so young?  I kept thinking; my mind stuck on that.

It seemed wrong and sad.

“Why?” I asked her.

“Why what?”

“Why did they recruit you so young?”

She smiled unpleasantly.  “It wasn’t random.  There’s only one reason for the choices of recruits in our particular program.  They found something, a talent, a skill, a specialization in each of us that made us valuable to them.”  The way she spoke was inherently sharp, every word very pointed, shaped to cut, though I didn’t understand why.

I thought at first that it was just the way of her and not a personal attack on me.

I was wrong, but I wouldn’t realize that until much later.

“What was it?”

“That made them recruit me?”

I nodded.

“The same reason they went after Heath.”  She paused, brows raised, as though waiting for my response.

I just stared back.  I wasn’t going to ask.  I didn’t know exactly where this was headed, but I knew I would’t like it.

“You know his story, right?”  The question was whittled into a very sharp, stabbing point.

I shook my head, hating the way that made her look at me, like I was less significant than she’d assumed.

“Oh,” she said, putting worlds of meaning into the word.  “Well, to oversimplify it, we were both very good at killing people from an early age.  By sixteen I was a hardened criminal, working for the same organization as Heath, one that employed individuals like us to do their dirty work.”

Well, hell, part of me had guessed that.  Something about him had always struck me as part military/part criminal, so this added up.

“The law caught up with Heath first,” she continued, “found him in the middle of a particularly gory killing.  Care to hear the details?”

I didn’t have time to answer or even figure out the ramifications of what she was asking.

“He was rather vigorously eviscerating this piece of work named Tony G., who was the top goon of a rival crime family.  Have you ever seen a human eviscerated?  It takes skill not to kill them quickly like that.  The poor bastard was still alive, what was left of him, but Heath wasn’t done.  He was determined to get some information out of the guy before he put him out of his misery.  You see, Heath was always quite talented at getting information out of people.”

By then I was shaking so hard that I knew she could see it, but she just kept talking.

“But back to the story.  Tony G. had a rap sheet a mile long.  That’s why the feds happened upon the crime Heath was committing.  They were actually going after the other guy.

Her eyes were on my shaking hands, clasped in front of me, and I knew I was giving her exactly the reaction she had hoped for.

Her smile turned more vicious as she continued, “Tony didn’t live long.  He bled out while Heath was arrested.  So they had him on murder one and a slew of other awful things.  Caught in the act.  Life in prison, easy.”

I felt faint.  I’d known, absolutely known, that Heath had a violent past, and being that violence had never been a part of my life, I’d known that past was something I could not fully comprehend or relate to, but I’d never imagined anything like this.

“Want to know how old Heath was when this happened?”

I nodded.

“Fifteen.  He was fifteen and a cold-blooded killer.  For a crime like that, with the proof they had that not only was he a killer, but that he had talent with a blade, the kind of talent that you only get with a lot of practice.  It was a given he’d be tried as an adult.  The feds that found him were shaken up by what they’d seen.  He was always big for his age, but he was still fucking fifteen.  It freaked them out, seeing a kid doing a thing like that.  Freaked them out, and got their attention.”

“I think it was the control he displayed, the utter calmness of the way he operated, that made them realize he was not just your average mobster psychopath.  I heard one of the agent’s version of the story later.  To hear him tell it, it was like they’d walked in on Heath reading a newspaper.  That was how calm he was in the middle of the act.

“Long story short, he got a full pardon, well, more like a new life, a new identity, but of course it wasn’t free.  He just had to serve his time in a different way, though it wasn’t all that different for him than what he was used to.  Murder and torture for a more honorable cause, I think is what Heath would call it.”

“What about you?” I asked her, when I could find my voice again.

“Heath got me in, told them about me, that I was like him, that we worked well together.  It was all true, and he knew I wanted out of that life.  The way they treat women in there who aren’t family, even ones working for them, well, let’s just say I was more than happy to defect.  I’m sure he saved my life.  I wouldn’t have lasted long.”

“I’m not sure why you’re telling me all of this.”

Her unpleasant smile came back in full force, and her voice sharpened until each word was a piercing nail.  “Heath is the only person in this world that means anything to me.  Anything at all.  He’s more than my partner.”

“You’re sleeping with him,” I told her, trying and failing not to make it an accusation.

Her mouth twisted until I couldn’t tell if she was trying to grin or scowl.  “You’ve met him.  You see how he operates.  Did you imagine that you were the only one?”

I hadn’t imagined that.

I’d hoped for it.

Wished for it, but clearly that had been foolish.

“Would you like to know why he slept with you in the first place?  I mean, a woman twice his age?  He can take his pick.  Haven’t you ever wondered why he picked you?”

I badly wanted to correct that.  The twice his age part.  It was an exaggeration when the actual truth was bad enough.

And that entire train of thought was just a distraction for myself and the way that I felt in that moment, which was awful.

“Why are you here?  What do you want?”  I was done, and I wanted her to leave before she told me another awful thing.

“I want you to know what’s been going on.  How in the dark you’ve been from the moment you met him.”

“Why?  Why are you so worried about me?”  I asked this knowing the answer, but hoping she’d give me another option.

She was involved with him.  It was obvious.  Sleeping with him.  She’d as much as admitted it.  The only question was, how heavily involved?  How deep did his betrayal run?

“Do you know that he’s spied on you?  Extensively.”

My eyes narrowed on her, studying her face as though it would tell me what this new angle of hers was.  It did not.  “He already told me that he did a background check on me,” I explained, begrudgingly.  “He said he had to do that with anyone he was seeing because of his job, and I believed him.”

She laughed.  It was much too bitter for her years.  “Do you want to know just how much he’s spied on you and the real reason for it?”

I didn’t answer, just folded my arms across my chest and watched her.  I figured she was going to tell me, regardless of how I responded.

“He swept this place, top to bottom.  I guarantee it.  Went through everything, from your filing cabinets to your underwear drawer.”

My mind shot immediately to the time we’d cooked a meal together, to how he’d known every inch of my kitchen, every ingredient in my spice cupboard.

Then it shot to the first time I’d had him over.  He’d known exactly where I kept my vibrator, but I’d been too distracted by him to wonder or care at the time.

Considering all of that, I was certain then that she wasn’t lying.

Still, it confused the hell out of me.  “Why?  Why on earth would he do that?”

“It was all for Iris.  All of it.  The reason he spied on you, approached you, seduced you.  It was all done only to protect her.”

And that confused me even more.  “His sister?  You’re saying he seduced me for his sister?”

She laughed, and it gave me the chills.  She was a scary woman, and she was clearly enjoying herself at my expense.

“It all goes back to your friend Alasdair Masters.”

What the fuck?  Why did it keep coming back to Dair?

I was more lost than ever.  “Dair?”

“Yes, Dair.  Dair and Iris.”

“Dair and Iris?” I repeated back dumbly.

“Yes.  Iris is obsessed with Dair, and she was worried that he was interested in you.  Heath knew she was worried, and Heath would do anything for his sister.  What his sister wants, Heath makes sure she gets.  First, he needed to check you out because that’s what he does.  And then he needed to eliminate you as a threat to his sister.”

Tags: R.K. Lilley Romance