Authors: Katherine Garbera
She waited, hardly breathing, until he returned. He handed her a big black cotton T-shirt that was obviously well-worn. She took it from him.
This new person she’d become after being attacked was vulnerable and needy in a way the old Olivia had never been.
He started to leave, but she knew she couldn’t sleep without him. “Kirk?”
“Will you stay in here?”
She didn’t give him a chance to change his mind. She rushed into the bathroom and changed out of her designer pantsuit into the T-shirt he’d loaned her. It was big, dwarfing her body, and made her feel…safe. Just the way Kirk did.
He wasn’t in the room when she came out and she was disappointed, thinking he’d left. She climbed into the bed, hearing the squeak of the bedsprings. A minute later Kirk appeared in the doorway.
He had his handgun tucked into the waistband of his jeans. She noticed he had his wireless communicator in his ear. He was her protector, this gun for hire, and she realized that her own worldview had changed.
Just yesterday she would have said that guns for hire were wrong, that a man who’d sell his loyalty was a step above a criminal. Today her view had changed. Today she realized that he was…her hero. Why did she keep coming back to that?
No man had ever been a hero to her before. No man had ever cared enough to do this. Even her own father had simply asked her nanny to stay in the room with her when she’d been younger and afraid.
Suddenly she felt very silly asking him to stay. “You don’t have to be here if you don’t want to.”
He shook his head. He walked into the room and put his gun on her nightstand. She looked at the weapon. It was sleek and smooth, and she had no doubt he knew how to use it. She’d seen that this man was more than a guard; he’d been a weapon in that hallway, efficient and deadly as he had saved her from Ray’s men.
He was probably sick of her being a clinging vine.
“You want me to be stronger tomorrow.”
“Of course I do,” he said, sounding a bit impatient with her conclusion.
“I’m sorry if I’ve been…a bother.”
“You saw something horrific,” he said. “It’s understandable.”
She closed her eyes and then opened them back up again. Kirk still stood above her bed. He was watching her carefully, and she realized what she’d thought was annoyance might be a little bit of caring.
“I don’t think one night is going to be enough to make me feel safe again.”
“Its not, but it will do a world of good to start you in the right direction.”
She nodded, knowing he was right. He glanced around and then went across the room to the chair by the window. He dragged it over one-handed and she watched the flex and play of his muscles as he drew the chair across the room. He angled it near her bed so that he was close.
“Go to sleep.”
She raised one eyebrow at him. “It’s not that easy.”
“It takes me a while to fall asleep,” she said. It always had. When she was a little girl, before her parents had sent her to boarding school, her maid used to sit in a chair next to her bed until Olivia drifted off to sleep. “Can you just go to sleep on command?”
“Of course you can, you’re G.I. Joe.”
He almost smiled and that comforted her the way his big soft T-shirt did.
“Close your eyes,” he said.
She closed them again, but when she did she saw Burati’s face as he’d bound her hands. Saw the knowledge in his eyes that he was going to kill her. She jerked upright and opened her eyes.
“What is it?”
“I keep seeing Burati.”
“Ah, baby, I’m sorry.”
He’d called her baby, she thought. Later that would be significant to her. When she had time to think about the fact that this man who was used to protecting others had called her an endearment. She knew it meant something to him and that made her feel special.
“Will you hold my hand until I go to sleep?” she asked.
He held his big hand out to her and she reached for it, letting his hand engulf hers. He held her hand perfectly again but soon her arm was tingling from the odd angle and she wondered if she’d get any sleep tonight. He reached over and turned off the light.
“Kirk?” Her voice was soft, almost a whisper, as if she were afraid to wake him up.
“Will you hold me?”
“I’m sorry, but you did say you’d keep me safe and right now my dreams—rather nightmares—are threatening me.”
He got onto the bed with her, careful to stay on top of the covers.
And as she curled on her side and wrapped her arm around his waist and felt his arm around her shoulder she knew that it was Kirk Mann she wanted. Not any other man but this tough man who made her feel safe.
ay smiled genially as he entered his office and found Lars and Phillip from the diamond consortium waiting for him. Anita had called him on the way in to let him know the other men had been in the office when she’d arrived.
He’d been on the phone with Phillip since Olivia’s disappearance. Both men were concerned about her and Ray hadn’t had to fake the fact that he had no idea what had happened to his fiancée.
He had called Lars and Phillip yesterday to let them know that he’d found one of his employees stealing rough diamonds and had let them know he’d dealt with Thomas. While the consortium would never publicly okay killing, Ray realized that they were pleased he’d plugged that gap.
“Good morning, gentleman. Has Anita taken care of everything you needed until I got here?”
“Good morning, Lambert. Yes, your assistant has been very helpful,” Lars said. He was a tall blond man and spoke with a South African accent. This mine had been his before he’d earned a spot on the consortium and Ray knew that Lars still took a personal interest in this mine.
“Good. What can I do for you gentlemen?”
“We want to see the mining operation so we can determine how long Thomas was stealing from us. Then we need to see your production logs,” Phillip said.
Phillip was a dark-haired aristocrat who’d grown up in Great Britain. He and Olivia had travelled in the same circle of friends and it had been through Phillip that he’d met her at a family birthday party for Phillip’s mother-in-law.
Ray couldn’t breathe for a minute as the ramifications of everything started to weigh down on him. He reminded himself that he was much smarter than these two men. He’d outwitted them for the last seven years without them having a clue as to what he’d been doing.
He wasn’t about to let it all go to hell now.
“No problem. Our logs are kept in the conference room down the hall. Why don’t we go down there and take a look at them? I have the stones I took off Thomas yesterday. I have already determined the part of the mine he took them from and we can tour that after we are finished with the logs.”
He led the way down to the conference room. His cell phone beeped and he glanced at the unit to see he had a text message from Burati. “Will you give me a moment, gentlemen?”
“Yes. But please don’t be long. We want to talk to you as we go over the logs.”
“Of course. I’ll send my assistant down to take notes as we go over everything.”
He walked back into the office. “Go take notes, Anita. They are going to have a lot of questions.”
“Were they here when you arrived?” he asked Anita. The woman was efficient and usually guarded his office like a mother hen with her last chick.
“Yes. They were in your office.”
“In my files?”
“I don’t know. When I walked into my office Lars came out.” She stood up. “Would you like me to go through the files and see what is missing?”
“Thank you, Anita.”
He entered his own office and closed the door. He’d left the photo of Olivia on his desk here. Figured it’d be a good idea to keep everything that involved her as if she were just missing. Speaking of his missing fiancée…he called Burati.
“What did you find out about her friend Anna?” he asked as soon as the other man answered his phone.
“Anna Sterling is a private investigator. Near as I can tell, Liberty Investigations does work for corporations—usually white-collar crimes. The Web site information is very vague and everyone I’ve contacted says little is known about them. I left messages wherever I could for them to call us.”
This was why he’d hired Burati in the first place. The man was a top-notch investigator and a really good guard. “Great. Have you found out who the man was who took Olivia?”
“No. That is proving harder to do. I’m still looking through photos and searching Internet databases,” Burati paused. “Ms. Pontuf’s mother called this morning, sir.”
“I should have called them sooner, but to be honest I didn’t think of this angle. I think we should tell her parents she’s been kidnapped. While I’m calling them, I want you to notify the police that she was taken.”
Ray made a note to call Olivia’s parents. “I will call her parents. Maybe some publicity will generate a few leads. But in the meantime I want you to keep looking for her.”
“We know they left the airport so they might still be in Jo’Burg.”
“Or anywhere in South Africa. Do you have contacts in Cape Town?” Ray said. He wanted to delegate this entire matter to Burati but didn’t know if he could trust this man with the delicate operation if Ray didn’t keep overseeing him.
“Yes, I do know some people down in Cape Town. I will send Ms. Pontuf’s picture to everyone I know in the area.”
“Very good. Keep me posted.”
He hung up from his call to Burati and dialed Olivia’s parents house. Their maid answered. “I need to speak to Mrs. Pontuf. This is Ray Lambert.”
“She is at breakfast this morning, sir. May I take a message?”
“Have her call me as soon as possible. Please tell her that there is an emergency involving her daughter.”
“Very well, sir.”
His office door opened as he disconnected the call with the maid. Phillip stood there. “We need you.”
“Sorry, Phillip,” Ray said. “I’ve been trying to reach Olivia’s parents, because I thought they should be the first to know that Olivia has been kidnapped.”
“Good idea. I wanted to wait until we were alone to discuss the details. What happened yesterday?” Phillip asked.
“Her bodyguard was attacked at the airport and she was taken by a man that no one has been able to identify.”
“Do you think she was taken in retaliation by the men Thomas worked for?” Phillip asked.
“That would be my guess,” Ray said, realizing that Olivia might still be of use to him. “But it would only be a guess, Phillip.”
“We need to get our security force on this. We still have questions about the logs, but right now finding Olivia might give us more information. Have you spoken to the police?”
“Yes, they are looking through their international criminal database to try to identify the man who took her.”
“They have a photo of him? How is that possible?”
“She was taken at the airport,” Ray said. “The man grabbed her from a café while she was waiting for her flight.”
“Where was she going? Back to London?” Phillip asked.
“She said she was going to visit a school chum in the States.”
The rest of the morning was spent searching for Olivia, and Ray felt like he was back in control. Things couldn’t have been going better if he’d planned it this way.
Olivia showered and dressed and came out to an empty bedroom, but she’d expected that. Kirk had said he needed to get back on guard duty and relieve Laz. She turned on the radio as she got dressed in yesterday’s clothes. She dropped her brush as she heard news of her kidnapping on the radio.
She sat on the bed as she listened to the announcer telling listeners that she’d been taken against her will at the airport. They said that no ransom had been demanded yet.
“Oh my God,” she said. She had no makeup and there wasn’t any in the bathroom. She looked at her face in the mirror. She was very pale. She was vulnerable without Kirk by her side. She slicked her wet hair back into a ponytail and went downstairs.
“Have you heard the news broadcast?” she asked Laz when she entered the kitchen. He leaned against the counter holding a cup of coffee in one hand and eating a piece of toast.
“Yes, the alert just came on. How did you know about the news?”
“It’s on the radio. Is it on the television as well?” she asked. All of her friends here…okay, she didn’t have that many, but they’d be worried about her.
“Yes. They have a grainy picture of Kirk leading you out of the airport,” Laz said. “But it will be very hard for anyone to identify him as your kidnapper.”
She sat down in one of the kitchen chairs. “I have to call my parents.”
“No,” Kirk said entering the room. He looked good to her in his T-shirt and khaki pants. “That will give you away. They will accuse you of stealing from Ray.”
“Because they say that you were carrying some important papers for the Onyx Diamond Group and suspect your kidnapping has something to do with that.”
“This is a big mess. My parents are going to be upset.”
“Of course,” Laz said. “But we need to do the best we can to keep them safe. Do you think that Lambert knows you went willingly with Kirk?”
“Yes, I know he does. Burati heard me call you by name.” Olivia wished she’d kept quiet, but to be fair it had been her first kidnapping and rescue. And she suspected that it took some time to get used to doing the right thing under pressure.
“Damn,” Kirk said. “Savage wants a conference call in ten minutes.”
“Can I come, too?” Olivia said.
Kirk hadn’t said a word about last night and she realized he probably wasn’t going to. She’d thought that today would have to be better than yesterday, but now she wasn’t sure. Kirk was treating her like a stranger, the world thought she’d been kidnapped, and her parents would be going nuts once they got word. Today seemed to be another crazy day. And she wondered if her life would ever get back to normal.
Laz led the way out of the kitchen. She realized he wasn’t distant, just prudent. He wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of saving her. And that was kind of reassuring, but she wasn’t sure she liked the way he could switch off his emotions.
She couldn’t do that and all she really wanted was to be in his arms, to feel his strength wrapped around her so she’d have the sense that she was safe. Because seeing her photo on the television didn’t make her feel safe at all.
They kept playing the grainy airport image and her engagement announcement photo. “Why didn’t I realize Ray would do this?”
“How could you know?” Kirk asked. “We thought he’d come after you.”
“He still will,” Laz said. “Only when he kills you he’s going to blame Kirk.”
She flushed and felt faint at the thought of dying. She hugged herself even tighter than she had before. What had she been thinking last night? There was no safety for her in this new life she’d stumbled into.
Kirk put both hands on her shoulders. “You aren’t going to die, Olivia.”
She shook her head. Only Kirk could protect her until they were able to get Ray behind bars. And even then she might not be safe. And what would happen if he got her parents?
“Look at me,” he said. There was such command in his voice. So much confidence and she wasn’t sure of anything at all. She was just a little coward who kept getting more scared with each hour that went by.
She shook her head. She was barely holding it together. If he looked at her with either annoyance or pity she’d lose it.
“Laz, will you give us a minute?” she asked.
Laz left the room. She walked over to Kirk and put her arms around him. He hesitated and then wrapped his arms around her. “I’m scared.”
“You make me feel safe.”
“Good.” He tried to step away, but she held him close. She needed this.
“Tell me what you are afraid of,” he said.
“I’m scared for my parents. Ray could kill them.”
“We won’t let that happen. Lambert isn’t going to get away with this. We are going to stop him and keep you and your family safe.”
“How?” she asked.
“Anna will call your parents. They know her, right?”
“Yes,” she said. “They do. I’m sorry for breaking down a bit.”
“That’s understandable. The first time I saw an image of myself on the news as a murderer it shook me.”
“I have been accused of some hairy stuff. I’ve done some things that might not make you feel comfortable, but those things—my skills—are the only thing that can keep you safe now.”
She swallowed hard. She had pushed the reality of what being a mercenary meant. Had tried to ignore the fact that a man with scars from gunshots and knife wounds and burns wasn’t a man who’d lived a safe life. He would have had to do things that were unimaginable to her.
“I’m better now. You are the best man to keep me safe, and I’m very glad to be here with you.”
Kirk said nothing else, simply let her go. Olivia walked away from him, trying to think only about this moment and not beyond it. That wasn’t too hard considering she had no idea what the future held for her.
Every neat little plan she’d made was now in the past and she was starting from scratch and learning about herself again in the process.
Burati called Phillip as soon as he was done alerting the media to the fact that Olivia Pontuf had been kidnapped.
“I can only talk for a moment,” Phillip said.
“That’s fine. I haven’t gotten any closer to finding Olivia. Lambert asked me to notify the media that she has been kidnapped and I did.”
“Good. Please keep me informed of any information you get. Do you have someone you can trust who works with you?” Phillip asked.
“I can get Barack again. Why?”
“I want to set up a bug here in Lambert’s office and I’d also like to have some photos taken of the files in the secretary’s office. He moved some of them before we were able to read them.
“I can do that. When do you want me to do this?”
“Soon. I will let you know when we can be sure that Lambert won’t be in. I’m almost to the mine so I’ll have to let you go for now. Thanks for the call.”
“You’re welcome,” Burati said.
He hung up and called his cousin to tell him that he’d pay him well for one night’s work. He warned the other man that they wouldn’t have a lot of notice. Barack was used to doing work when asked and had no problem with it.
Kirk didn’t like the way Lambert had played this latest bit of information, but he did admire the man. He was smart and they had to take that into account when they were dealing with him. Olivia had left the room and he let her go earlier because there was nothing he could say to change her mind about the man he was.