Authors: Katherine Garbera
She started humming again. Strangely, that song was a comfort to her. Her favorite things were running flat out with nothing but her iPod buzzing in her ears. Dancing at midnight on New Year’s Eve, she thought. Swimming in the Mediterranean on a crystal clear summer’s day.
“You’re singing again,” he said.
“I’m sorry I keep wigging out. I guess you don’t react to things like I do,” she said. Then realized how stupid that was to say. This was a guy who had taken on two armed men to save her. Of course he wasn’t bothered by violence and its aftereffects.
He seemed immune to everything. What if she could be like him? Honestly, if this became mundane to her she’d wonder if she had a soul left. Or if she’d simply stopped feeling. She was scared and angry and tired and achy.
A million other emotions were blended in with those feelings. She wanted to curl up somewhere and hide from the world and at the same time she wanted to find Ray and kick him really hard. Let him know that he might have scared her, but he hadn’t really intimidated her.
She wasn’t sure that last part was true, but she was going to pretend it was for now. That was really all that she could do. It was either that or break down and start crying and if she did that she was afraid she’d never stop.
irk kept a vigilant eye out as they drove through the affluent suburb. This safe house was one they’d used before. He had a stash of weapons and clothes at the house, and he was looking forward to getting there.
The house had state-of-the-art security, including a safe room with video monitors where he could keep an eye on everything that was going on around them.
Once they were ensconced there he’d debrief Olivia, send that report to the local authorities, and then work on getting Savage to extract her. The only way Olivia was truly going to be safe was if she was away from Lambert and his henchmen.
The safe house was in a neighborhood near the one where Olivia lived, according to Anna, but Jack had thought hiding close to the enemy was a good idea. They entered the secured subdivision using the automatic gate key that had been left for them in an airport locker. Laz had picked it up when he’d gotten the keys to this car.
The Savage Seven had safe houses all over the world and the keys were left in airports and train stations. Savage was a big believer in being prepared and in contingency plans.
They entered the tree-lined neighborhood and Laz slowly pulled into the garage. Olivia made a move to get up, but Kirk pressed his hand to her shoulder to keep her in place.
This house seemed safe enough and there was no connection to Olivia to it for Lambert to exploit, but they never took chances. Safety was the first order of business where she was concerned.
“Stay here while Laz checks out the house,” Kirk said.
“How long will he be?”
Kirk shrugged. Damn, this woman liked to talk.
The garage door closed behind them, enveloping them in the darkness of the garage once Laz killed the lights. He didn’t turn on the garage light, instead leaving the area in darkness. That would give Kirk the advantage if anyone came into the garage from the house and not give away his position.
Laz got out and entered the house. Kirk left the window up and the doors locked. The vehicle had bulletproof windows, so from a safety standpoint, Olivia was good.
“I’m in,” Laz said through the earpiece. “The place looks clean, but let me check all the rooms.”
“Affirmative,” Kirk said.
“Are you talking to me?” Olivia asked.
“No. I was talking to Laz.”
“It’s odd because I suspected that, but I was raised to respond when anyone speaks. I was also raised to marry a rich man. That may have been what led me into this mess.”
Kirk realized that talking soothed her. He should make the effort to have a conversation with her, but that could lead to him being distracted and that was never a good idea.
“House is clean,” Laz said in his earpiece.
“We’re going to get out of the car now. I want you to let me get out first. Once I’m in position I will tell you to move. Just get out and walk toward the door.”
“I can’t see.”
“Follow me,” he said.
He got out of the car and kept his weapon drawn. Olivia stepped out and stood close to him. He felt her shivering as she put her hand on his arm.
There was a loud explosion sound. Kirk didn’t hesitate to toss Olivia back into the car. He came down on top of her, prepared to protect her from the gunshots.
“Stay down,” Laz said in his ear.
“What the fuck was that?”
“Checking it out now,” Laz said.
Olivia was shaking even more.
He put his hand over her mouth. “Quiet.”
There wasn’t another shot and nothing but the sound of a car driving down the street.
“Car backfire,” Laz said. “You’re clear.”
Kirk pushed himself up and saw that Olivia was staring up at him. With his infrared glasses on, she was visible to him. He noticed she’d been crying again, but she’d kept quiet, and he had to respect that.
She nodded, but didn’t move even after he’d gotten off her.
She was going to lose it again, he thought. “Come on.”
She sat up, but just kept her arms wrapped around her. “I’m…I don’t think I’ve ever been this terrified before. Nothing is the way it should be.”
“I want this to all go away,” she said.
“It won’t. It can’t unless you die. And I’m not going to let that happen. Just get out of the car and you’ll start to feel better.”
She scooted across the seat and then stood up. “I still can’t see.”
He took her hand and led her toward the door. But she didn’t move.
“Everything,” she said. She came closer to him in the dimly lit garage. Going up on her tiptoes, she brushed her lips over his, lingering for just a second before she turned and went into the house.
Kirk was glad that Olivia went upstairs for a shower. Laz took a few minutes to access what they needed and then left to exchange their car, pick up supplies, and make sure that no one had followed them. Laz was also going to check the airport to see if Burati had returned there.
“I think we need to set up a more active perimeter while we have Olivia in the house. When you are in-country I’d recommend leaving Hamm at the guard gate.”
“Do you think the safe house has been compromised?”
“No. But we don’t know what we are dealing with yet.”
“Agreed. I’ll contact the security staff at the subdivision and let them know what we’ll need.”
“Can you get us a video patch from the guard gate? I’d like to monitor everyone in and out.”
“Will do,” Savage said.
“Anna got a call from Lambert at the D.C. number. We are going to downplay the connection there. It wouldn’t take much digging to find out that she and I are married.”
“Another reason to stay single,” Kirk said.
“What? Wait until you fall for a woman—”
“Not happening. What do you know about the bodyguard?”
“Anna pulled a file on him. He grew up in Soweto.”
“Lots of development going on there,” Kirk said. “Lots of violence, too.”
“Yes, there is. He has lost his father and two older brothers working at the Onyx Diamond Mines.”
That was an interesting connection. “How? Is mining that dangerous?”
“I don’t know that much about it, but I’m doing some research.”
“Can Burati be made to work for us?” Kirk asked. The simplest way to eliminate the threat to Olivia was to get her out of the country, but since that wasn’t an option, they had to either kill the men who were after her or bring them over to their side.
“I don’t know the measure of him yet. I’m hoping to talk to him once we get to Johannesburg.”
“When will that be?”
“Tomorrow. We are gathering supplies and getting the men ready. Anna is trying to contact Olivia’s parents.”
“I’m going to debrief her and then I’ll send the report to you.”
“Good. If you need anything else, just yell.”
“I will. Mann out.”
Kirk paced around the house, making sure that the locks were secure and the connections on the windows and doors that activated the alarms were all sitting properly. Then he went back to the front room, which gave him the best view of the downstairs area.
He could cover the entrance to the garage and the front door from there. He also saw the stairs if he sat in the right spot. He checked his weapon and then found a quiet place on the floor to sit.
He found once he stilled his body he could hear more than the sounds near him. He could feel the vibrations of people and animals in the vicinity.
He sat quietly. He’d taken his shirt off because it was hot. He sank down into a cross-legged pose and put his gun on the floor in front of him. He opened his mind and let the night fall in around him.
He still had his earpiece in and monitored Laz’s communications. But the other man was quiet now. He heard the shower shut off upstairs and hoped that Olivia had found a way to stem the tears that she’d battled on and off since he met her.
Olivia tried to have a shower, but she didn’t feel safe and in the end had to settle for washing up in the sink. She knew it was ridiculous to place her faith in a man like Kirk, but then again maybe that was the smartest thing she’d done. He was the one person who’d kept her safe all day.
And it was too quiet downstairs. What if something had happened to Kirk and Laz? Anna had told her that they needed every detail she had on Ray to help figure out what had happened and how best to protect her.
Laz was going out to get supplies and change vehicles. Olivia was really impressed with the team that Kirk was a part of. And, to be honest, she was really impressed with Kirk. She cautioned herself that she might be feeling a bit of hero-worship where he was concerned, but she couldn’t help that. He made her feel safe, and that was the only thing that mattered.
She ran down the stairs, anxious to not be alone anymore. The shadows in the house didn’t scare her, but the shadows in her mind did.
Kirk was sitting in the dimly lit living room when she came down the stairs. He had no shirt on and was sitting cross-legged on the floor facing the empty fireplace. She stood quietly on the threshold, wishing she could back away and leave him alone, but she was fascinated by this new side of the man she wanted to know more about.
“Sorry to disturb you,” she said, walking into the room.
“What’s up?” he asked as he turned to face her.
“Um…” How was she going to tell him that she just needed his company? This bristly man didn’t seem to like having anyone around. “I—Anna said you needed some statements from me.”
“I do,” he said, getting to his feet.
Her stomach rumbled and he arched one eyebrow at her. Oh, my God, that was embarrassing.
“How’s the stomach?”
“Fine. I’m a bit hungry. I don’t know why, but I really want chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes.”
He shrugged. “Sometimes comfort foods are what you need after a scare like you had.”
“Maybe that’s it,” she said. She hadn’t eaten that meal since she’d turned thirteen and her father had transferred to the United Kingdom.
“What’s your favorite meal?”
He shrugged, something she realized he did a lot. “Steak.”
He wasn’t going to say any more. His ways were simple and quiet. He wasn’t a talker and she had to get used to it. “What were you doing just now?”
“Yeah, I think there’s a box of nuts in the kitchen. Wait here and I’ll get them.”
He walked out of the room and she followed him. She didn’t want to be alone. Maybe later she’d be fine with it, but right now, she wasn’t.
“I told you to wait.”
“I don’t take orders,” she said.
“Maybe in your everyday life, but as long as you’re under my protection you will.”
“Fine, but I can’t be alone right now.”
He narrowed his eyes on her. “Don’t clam up now.”
“Sorry I talk too much.”
“It’s fine. What’s with you not wanting to be alone?” he asked.
She didn’t want to say that he’d somehow become her touchstone. She didn’t want to tell him that she needed him.
“Olivia, talk to me.”
It was funny, really. She’d wanted him to talk to her and he hadn’t. But now that she was quiet he wanted words from her.
“I can’t be alone right now. I’m scared.”
He nodded, then went to the pantry and took out a can of dry roasted nuts and handed her a vitamin water. “Sit down over there. We’ll get started on your debriefing.”
“You’ve got kind eyes,” she said.
“You’re the kind of person who cares about strangers.”
“Not really,” he said.
She shivered. Was she putting her trust in the wrong man? The image of him coming into the hallway and rescuing her from Burati played in her mind. He was the only man she trusted.
“Sit down and get comfortable,” he said. “I’m going to ask you a bunch of questions. I’ll record everything you say.”
“Before we get started, do you have the stuff you took from Lambert?”
“Yes. I left it upstairs. Should I go get it?” she asked.
She left the room but couldn’t make herself go upstairs. It was dark and…suck it up, she thought. Was she really going to stand here like some kind of wimp? Kirk wasn’t going to let anyone into the house or upstairs while she was there.
She took a deep breath and ran up the stairs two at a time. She held on to the railing and then ran flat out to the room she’d been given. She’d left the lights on and she entered the room quietly. She took the pile of things from the dresser and then ran back downstairs.
She hadn’t had a chance to look at them and she hoped there was something incriminating in the information despite the fact that she was having a hard time believing the man who wooed her in London would want to kill her. Even though she’d seen him with the gun and he’d sent her bodyguard after her. She wondered if she’d simply misinterpreted things.
Kirk still sat where she’d left him. He’d turned on an overhead light now but had left his shirt off. She could see his skin better and realized he had a lot of scars on his back.
“When?” he asked turning to glance over his shoulder at her.
She walked over and put her hand on his back and moved her fingers lightly over his skin, tracing the scars that covered his back.
“Fire,” he said. Standing up, he walked over to his T-shirt and pulled it on.
“You didn’t have to put your shirt on,” she said.
“Yes, I did.”
“I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable,” she said. She had liked touching him. Had been wondering how he’d feel since the moment he’d come to her rescue. Well, to be honest, she hadn’t thought of that until they’d been in the car together and she’d started feeling safe.
Her fascination had to stem from the fact that he wasn’t like any other man she knew.
“I’m not uncomfortable,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s a good idea for you to touch me.”