Alpha one, p.14
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       Alpha One, p.14

           Cynthia Eden
 
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  Susan shoved and kicked at the trunk. Her breath rasped out. It was so dark. Only one faint beam of light trickled into the trunk. Without that light, it would be as if she was in a tomb.

  Buried alive.

  Susan screamed as loud as she could. The car kept going.

  “Help me! Help me! Somebody, please!” She’d hated the dark for years. Ever since her mother had gone away.

  Susan had been six. Her mother had just...put her in the closet. “Be a good girl. Mommy has to leave for a while. And you...you have to be quiet until I get back.”

  She’d put her in the closet, then never come back. Just...put me in the closet.

  “Help!”

  Her mother had been an addict. A whore. Social services had finally come to find Susan...because her mother had overdosed. They’d taken her out of that closet.

  “Get me out!” Susan screamed as she kicked toward the back of the car.

  She’d promised herself never to go back into the dark again. She’d fought for a better life. Clawed her way to that promise of wealth and privilege.

  She couldn’t go out like this. Not in a trunk. Not cut up with a knife, like McLintock.

  She should have more.

  The car stopped. She rolled, banging her knees, still screaming for help.

  Then she heard the voices. Footsteps coming toward her.

  The trunk opened. Light spilled onto her. Susan stopped screaming.

  And she started plotting.

  I’m not dead yet. Her heart thundered in her ears.

  Survive. That was all she had to do. Stay alive. Escape.

  She just had to play the game right....

  Chapter Nine

  Juliana didn’t know why she went into her father’s room. Despite what Susan had said, Juliana didn’t expect any big revelations. She and her father—they hadn’t been close.

  Not in years.

  She stood in the doorway, feeling like an intruder as her gaze swept over the heavy furniture. The room was cold but opulent. Her father had always insisted on the best for himself.

  He just hadn’t cared about giving that best to others.

  Such a waste. Because when she tried hard enough, Juliana could almost remember a different man. One who’d smiled and held her hand as they walked past blooming azalea bushes.

  She turned away, but from the corner of her eye, she saw...

  My paintings.

  Goose bumps rose on her arms, and she found herself fully entering his room. Crossing to the right wall, she stared at those images.

  Storm Surge. The painting she’d done after the horror of the last storm had finally ended. On the canvas, the fury of the storm swept over the beach, bearing down like an angry god.

  Eye of the Storm. The clouds were parted, showing a flicker of light, hope. The fake hope that came, because the storm wasn’t really over. Often, the worst part was just coming.

  Her hand lifted and she traced the outline of her initials on the bottom left of the canvas. Her father...he’d told her that her art was a waste of time. He’d wanted her in law school, business school.

  But he’d bought her art, framed it and hung it on his wall.

  So he’d see it each day when he woke?

  And right before he went to sleep each night?

  “Who were you?” she whispered to the ghost that she could all but feel around her in that room. “And why the hell did you have to leave me?” There had been other ways. He shouldn’t have—

  A woman was crying. Juliana’s head whipped to the left when she heard the sobs, echoing up from downstairs.

  She rushed from the room, leaving the pictures and memories behind. Her feet thudded down the stairs. She ran faster, faster...

  Susan stood in the foyer, her face splotched with color, and streaks of blood were on her arms and chest.

  Gunner waited behind her. His face was locked in tense lines of anger.

  “What the hell is going on?” Logan demanded as he rushed in from the study.

  “Some of the guards near the gate found her....” Gunner picked Susan up and carried her to the couch. “She was walking on the road outside of the house.”

  Susan was still crying. Her eyes—they didn’t seem to be focusing on anyone or anything.

  “We need an ambulance!” Juliana said, grabbing for the nearest phone. There was so much blood... She could see the slashes on Susan’s arms.

  Juliana glanced up and met Logan’s hard stare.

  “The bastard just dumped her in the middle of the road, like garbage,” Gunner growled, but though fury thickened his voice, the hands that ran over Susan’s body were gentle.

  Juliana started to rattle off her address to the emergency dispatcher.

  “No!” Susan jerked away from Gunner and her gaze locked on Juliana. “Don’t let them take me! I don’t want to go! I want—I want to be home!” Tears streaked down her cheeks. “Let me st-stay, please.”

  Gunner grabbed her hands and began to inspect the slices on her body.

  Juliana hesitated with the phone near her ear. The operator was asking about her emergency.

  “Does she need stitches?” Logan leaned in close.

  Gunner’s tanned fingers slid over Susan’s pale flesh. He caught her chin in his hand, forcing her to look at him. “Are there any other wounds?”

  She just stared at him, eyes wide.

  “Susan, tell me...are there any other wounds?” When she still didn’t answer, his hands moved to the buttons on her shirt.

  She jerked, trembled. “No! No, there aren’t any more...” Her gaze darted back to Juliana. “I want to be home.” She sounded like a lost child. “Please, I told them that I just wanted to go home.”

  Logan gave a small nod. Juliana’s fingers tightened on the phone. “Never mind. It’s my mistake. We don’t need any assistance.” She put the phone away and hovered near the couch. She could see bruises already forming near Susan’s wrists. And those cuts... Someone had definitely used a knife on her.

  Susan’s breath choked out. “Thank you.”

  “Don’t thank us.” Gunner’s voice still shook with fury. “We’re gonna have to take you in.”

  Her face crumpled. “Why?” Desperate.

  “Because there’s evidence on you,” Logan told her, his own face grim. “The techs can check you. Whoever attacked you—there’ll be evidence left behind.”

  Susan’s laugh was brittle and stained with tears. “We both know who attacked me. Guerrero—or rather, his men.” Her lip quivered but she pulled in a deep breath. “He took me from my apartment, threw me in a trunk.”

  “He? You saw Guerrero?” Juliana asked, stunned. If Susan had seen Guerrero and gotten away...

  Susan gave a slow shake of her head. “I never saw anyone. The man—at my apartment—came at me from behind. Took me someplace, but when he opened the trunk, he had on a ski mask.” Her gaze found Gunner’s again. She kept turning back to him. “I can’t tell you anything about him. I don’t have any evidence or DNA on me. I didn’t touch him, didn’t claw him, didn’t fight.” She swiped her hand over her cheek. “I was too scared.”

  “How did you get away?” Juliana asked. She hated seeing Susan like this. She’d wanted to protect her, but...

  It seemed she couldn’t save anyone.

  “I didn’t know anything.” Another swipe of Susan’s hand across her face. “I didn’t! I kept telling him that, over and over...”

  Juliana fired a fast glance over at the grandfather clock. It had been five hours since the press conference.

  Five hours of torture for Susan.

  “It felt like I was there forever,” Susan whispered. “Then...then he said I could go if I delivered a message.”

  Logan’s gaze locked on Susan. “What message?”

  “Guerrero...said to tell you...there is no evidence. There’s no escape.” She looked at Juliana. “And you’re going to die.” A sob burst from her. “I’m so sorry!”

  Susan w
as apologizing to her?

  “He’s coming...he’ll kill you, and he said he’d kill your lover.” A fast glance toward Logan. “He knows what Logan did. I told him, I had to tell him! He was cutting me and I wanted him to stop. I didn’t have any information on Aaron, and it was the only thing I could say—”

  Juliana shook her head, lost. “What did Logan do?”

  Silence. Then the grandfather clock began to chime.

  Susan’s jaw dropped. “I don’t...” She fired a wild glance at Logan. Then Gunner. Then Juliana.

  Juliana gripped the back of the leather sofa. “What did Logan do?” Something was off. Wrong. She could see the fear in Susan’s eyes, and Logan...

  Why had the lines near his mouth deepened? Even as his gaze had hardened.

  “We should talk,” Logan told her softly.

  Susan was still crying. “He knows...” she whispered. “I told him what Aaron...how he kept you away from her...”

  Her father had kept Logan away? Since when? Logan had walked away. Hadn’t he?

  “The man who took me, he said—” Susan was talking so quickly that all her words rolled together “—he would kill Juliana...make you watch...”

  Logan’s gaze seemed to burn Juliana. “No, he’s not.” He jerked his head toward Gunner. “Take Susan upstairs, then call Syd. I want techs out here to check her out.”

  But Susan tried to push against Gunner. “No, I don’t want anyone else to see what he did! No!”

  Gunner lifted her into his arms once more. “Shh. I’ve got you.”

  She’d never expected him to be so gentle. So...easy.

  Susan’s cries quieted as she stared up at him with hope in her eyes. “He won’t come back?”

  “No.”

  Juliana didn’t speak while they climbed the stairs. Her palms were slick on the leather sofa. Logan’s face had never looked so hard, so dark before.

  He knows what Logan did.

  She pushed away from the couch and marched to him. “What’s going on?”

  “The sins of the past...Guerrero thinks he can use them against me.” His smile was twisted. “And he can.” His hands came up to rest on her shoulders. “When I tell you...you can’t leave. You’re going to want to leave. To get as far from me as you can. That’s what Guerrero will want.”

  He was scaring her. What could he possibly have to say that would be so bad?

  “I can’t let you leave me. Guerrero will be out there, just waiting for the chance to get you. He’s trying to drive us apart, and I won’t let him.”

  “Tell me.”

  He braced himself as if—what? He were about to absorb a blow? Did he actually think she’d take a swing at him? If she hadn’t done it before, it wasn’t as if she was going to start now.

  “It wasn’t just chance that led me to that diner all those years ago.” His voice was flat, so emotionless. “I was there because I’d been looking for you. I wanted to talk to you. I needed to.”

  She remembered the first time she’d met Logan. She’d been at Dave’s Diner, a dive that high-school kids would flock to right after the bell. She’d been home from college on summer break, hanging out with some girlfriends. Juliana had been leaving the diner and she’d run into him, literally. His hands had wrapped around her arms to steady her, and she’d looked up into his eyes.

  She’d always been a sucker for his sexy eyes.

  Juliana held her body still. Inside, a voice was yelling, telling her that she didn’t want to hear this. Susan had been too upset. This wasn’t good. But she ignored that voice. Hiding from the truth never did any good. “Why?”

  “I came to find you...because I wanted to apologize.”

  That just made her feel even more lost. “You didn’t know me. There was nothing you’d need to apologize for.”

  His gaze darted over her shoulder. To the picture that still hung over the mantle. The picture of her mother. “I didn’t know you, but I knew her.”

  Her breath stalled in her lungs.

  “I told you about my father.”

  He had. Ex-military, dishonorably discharged. A man with a taste for violence who’d fallen into a bottle and never crawled out. Logan had told her so many times, I won’t ever be like him. As if saying the words enough would make them true.

  “The military was his life, and when they kicked him out, he lost everything.”

  She waited, biting back all the questions that wanted to burst free. Her mother? She wouldn’t look at that picture, couldn’t.

  “I tried to help him. Tried to stop him, but he didn’t want to be stopped. He was on a crash course with hell, and he didn’t care who he took with him to burn.”

  She wouldn’t look at her mother’s picture.

  “I tried to stop him,” Logan said again, voice echoing with the memory, “I tried...”

  * * *

  THE BEDROOM DOOR shut softly behind them. Susan could feel Gunner at her back; his gaze was like a touch as it swept over her.

  He saw too much. She didn’t like the way he looked at her. As if he could see right through her.

  She swiped her hands over her cheeks once more. No matter how hard she wiped, Susan could still feel the tears. “I need to shower. I have to wash away the blood.”

  But he shook his head. “You’ll just wash evidence away. We told you—”

  “I’m not a crime scene!” The words burst from her. “I’m a person! I don’t want to be poked and prodded by your team. I just want to forget it all.”

  His dark gaze drifted over her bloody shirt. “Is that really going to happen?”

  No.

  She glanced around the room, her gaze sweeping wildly over every piece of furniture. Every picture on the wall.

  Every. Picture. Her heart kicked into her chest.

  “I know what it feels like,” he told her, and the gravelly words pulled her gaze back to him.

  “I was taken hostage by a group in South America.” He lifted his shirt and she gasped when she saw the scars that crossed his chest. Not light slices like the ones she’d carry on her flesh. Deep, twisting wounds. Ugly. Terrifying. “They took their time with me,” he said. “Five days...five long days of just wishing that pain would stop.”

  She’d had five hours. Susan never, ever wanted to imagine having to go through days of that torment. It wouldn’t happen. She wouldn’t let it happen.

  Her gaze swung back to the wall. Juliana’s canvases. Those storms. Surging.

  A storm was at the door. A hurricane that was going to sweep them all away.

  Not her. She wouldn’t let it hurt her.

  “What did you do?” she asked, taking a small step toward him, unable to help herself. “What did you do to get away?”

  That stare was like black ice. “I killed them. Every single one of them.”

  Susan shivered. She hadn’t been strong enough to kill the man who came after her. He’d been too big. That knife...

  “I just cried,” she said, voice miserable. “I cried, and I told him everything he wanted to know.” Because she’d just wanted the pain to end.

  She’d always thought she was so tough, but in the end, she’d broken too easily.

  “You’ll get past this,” Gunner promised her as he lowered his shirt, hiding all of those terrible, twisting scars. “I did.”

  But she wouldn’t.

  * * *

  “I WAS ALWAYS dragging my father out of bars. Or finding him in alleys passed out. But even when he was sober—days that were far too few—my father...had a darkness in him.”

  It seemed as if every word came slowly. The grandfather clock’s pendulum ticked off the time behind him, with swinging clicks that seemed too loud.

  “My father was a good killer. An assassin who could always take out his targets.” Logan’s breath expelled in a rush. “He told me, again and again, that I was like him. Born to kill.”

  And Logan had told her—again and again—I won’t be like him.

  “Why—wh
y was he discharged?” Juliana asked.

  “Because on his last mission, he had what some doctors called a psychotic break. He had to be taken down by his own team. He wasn’t following orders. He was just hunting.”

  And that broken man had come home to Logan? “Where was your mother?”

  “She left him.”

  And you? She forced the words out. “And what about my mother?”

  He lifted his hand as if he’d reach for her, but his fingers clenched into a fist before he touched her. “That night, I found him at another bar. He jumped in his truck and wouldn’t give me the keys.” He lifted that clenched hand to his jaw and rubbed his skin as if remembering. “He punched me. Hit me over and over then got in that beat-up truck. I couldn’t...I couldn’t just let him leave like that. I climbed in. I thought I could get him to stop.”

  She didn’t hear the grandfather clock any longer. She just heard the drumming sound of her heartbeat filling her ears.

  “He was going too fast, weaving all over the road. I was trying to get him to stop....” A muscle flexed along the hard length of his jaw. “I saw the other car coming. I yelled for him to stop, but it was too late.”

  Too late.

  “I guess I got knocked out for a few minutes, and when I opened my eyes again, he was dead.”

  She blinked away the tears that she wouldn’t let fall. “And my mother?”

  His gaze held hers. “She was...still alive then.”

  Her knees wanted to buckle. Juliana forced herself to stand straighter.

  “I rushed to her. I tried to help.” He drew in a rough breath. “She said your name.”

  Her heart was splintering.

  “It was...the last thing she said.”

  She stumbled back. But he was there, rushing toward her, grabbing her arms, holding tight and pulling her close.

  She didn’t want to be close then. She didn’t want to be anything.

  “She loved you,” he said, voice and eyes intense. “You were the last thought she had. I came to find you... I was in that diner because you should have known how much she loved you. I wanted to tell you, I needed to. But then you looked up at me.” He broke off, shaking his head. “You looked at me like I was something—somebody—great, and no one had ever looked at me like that before.”

 
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