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Authors: Roxy Harte

Tags: #Romance, #Adult

Unholy Promises (6 page)

BOOK: Unholy Promises
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“I know it’s hard to accept, Ari.” My grandfather and Henri are the only two people alive who still call me by my childhood nickname. It’s nice to hear. “But your brother is dead. It’s hard now, but with the passage of time, you will come to accept the truth.”

“Is that what you told Eva?” I growl, past the point of niceties. “When you held her at the funeral and whispered in her ear?”

He looks at me as if I’ve grown a second head.

“Yes, Henri, I was there. I watched how you tried to console her with your hand wrapped around her ass. Did you think I would leave without going to my own funeral?

She believes I’m dead. But here I stand, very alive. Just like Nikkos is someplace—very alive.” I end my tirade with my hand wrapped in his collar, daring him with my eyes to let me break his neck.

“If I knew anything, I would tell you. Like you … he is dead,” he sputters out, trying to get more air than I’m allowing him. “Jesus, you’re a ghost … go live your life. No one is watching you!”

“But someone is watching Nikkos. Someone very powerful,” I offer, tightening his collar so that his eyes start to bulge. “And now, it is my job to find him and protect him from whatever comes.”

I drop him back into his chair and he fights for his lungs to refill.

“I wasn’t going to let them hunt you down like an animal, my friend.” His voice is rougher, but he seems no worse for the wear. “What good would that have brought, I ask?

I believe in your innocence. I know you were not responsible for what happened to those agents.”

I nod my head, his affirmation meaning little. “You’re a good friend. That’s why you are going to tell me what I need to know to find him.”

Henri sits quietly, adjusting his shirt and tie before standing. Without a word, he walks across the room to pick up his coat, hat, and briefcase. He pauses at the door. I am prepared to beg on hand and knee if forced to, but don’t need to when I notice what Henri is staring at—his computer terminal. Afraid to hope, I sit at his desk and, without bothering to ask for permission, boot up his system.

“You should look up Eva while you are in town,” he offers before quietly stepping out of the office, locking up for the night as he goes. As far as he is concerned, I am not in the room, I was never here.

He called me a ghost and so, for the task at hand, I will be a ghost.

I ignore reason, knowing codes have changed a dozen times, but finding Henri’s files proves to be not very difficult. I am almost disappointed, then staggered when I realize the sheer number of files. Punching in decade-old passwords, I am relieved when file after file opens. It is as if he expected me. Nice and tidy, I follow the breadcrumbs he has laid out, ending at Eva’s personal files, assignment after assignment, documenting her work.

“Damn it, Henri, stop being the romantic! I’m not here for her!”

Curiosity manages to get the best of me and I am suckered into reading about her latest activities. It appears she is purposely choosing assignments that are considered suicidal at best. It is a miracle she still lives, I realize as I click through each file. What is even more shocking is that each file puts me closer to a man she seems to have a personal vendetta for, King Cobra, and by association, my brother, although she knows him by the name Daniel.

Following a hunch, I type in more code, confirming my suspicions as detailed lists appear, logging names and dates, followed by identification numbers and city names.

Pages and pages of slave trade records, detailing exchanges made across the globe, the players a menagerie of international political figures and famous faces. More code and voila—the latest information on my brother—and perhaps the reason Eva has what appears to be a single-minded focus, an implication that King Cobra has someone working inside the WODC. Based on twenty-four months of explicit surveillance and documentation, Eva proposed an extreme operation that would destroy King Cobra’s operation, but she was denied, leading her to believe that the insider was a high-ranking official.

Thank god, Henri is predictable. At six a.m. exactly, his key turns the lock. It doesn’t matter that he left only three hours ago; it doesn’t matter that it is Christmas day; his day begins at six a.m. and has for the twenty-odd years I’ve known him. I stall mid-pace, hearing the key, having paced for an hour already. I sit quickly.

He enters the room to find me sitting calmly, waiting, in one of the two high-backed leather wingchairs, facing his desk. If he is surprised to find me still here, it doesn’t show on his face as he crosses the room and takes his seat behind his desk. Henri left knowing I didn’t have time to stop her. He left anyway, he made me hack in and steal the information, instead of just telling me, but why?

“Find what you are looking for, Ari?”

“She thinks that you are King Cobra.”

“Yes.” His eyes glint mischievously, knowing I am closer to knowing my brother’s whereabouts now than yesterday. “It seems Eva has become a rogue agent, determined to bring down King Cobra on her own, if need be. I can’t trust her. Lucky for me that you showed up when you did.”

“How so?”

“You’ve read her assignment log?” He peers too deeply at me, making me nervous, he always the teacher, me the dense student. I stand and cross the room to look through his tall upper-level window. He joins me at the window and together we watch snow fall in the early morning light.

I ask tiredly, “All of this has been for a reason, but I haven’t a clue what you want me to see. If Eva was rogue, as you suspect, she would have already met out justice against Nikkos … and King Cobra, who she thinks is you.”

“Would she?” Henri asks, excitedly, and I still don’t see the hidden meaning. “Or does she see a savior?”

“A savior, Henri?”

“Oui, a savior, someone capable of seeing the job done.”

I rub my hands over my tired face, “Please?”

“Ari, Ari, Ari, mon ami, can you not see? She takes every assignment based on risk factor! I noticed the pattern years ago. She takes every one that has a ninety percent or better failure rate. At first, I thought she merely wanted to prove that she was the best, invincible, but non, she wants to not succeed. By taking on King Cobra, she guarantees a horrible retribution. She guarantees her own death.”

I close my eyes against the glaring white of the snow-covered ground. “You think that she is messing with Nikkos to put her in King Cobra’s crosshairs?”

“Exactement!” Henri gushes, ecstatic that I finally see. But I don’t see, I don’t see at all. The look I give him must tell him that because he continues, “Eva is our best, if she picks a private war with King Cobra, with the intention of getting herself killed, why would I interfere with that? Don’t you see? Her survival instinct is too strong. In the end, she will kill King Cobra.”

“There is always the chance that she will die.”

“She won’t die and all the work Nikkos has done will pay off when he takes King Cobra’s place.”

“Oh God,” I say, realizing what has happened, what is happening, “That was his assignment all along? To reach a place of power within Cobra’s organization and become the bigger, badder fish? You put him in there as King Cobra’s replacement? You fuck!

This is my brother! Do you know what kind of man it would take to replace Cobra?”

“Oui, it would take a man as Nikkos and when the agency chose him, it became necessary to separate you from him, because you would have been his conscience and we certainly couldn’t allow that.”

“He won’t do it. To take over for Cobra, he would have to turn. He won’t do that.”

“He already has. The brother you knew is no more, mon ami.”

I close my eyes, swearing, trying to wrap my mind around what is and what isn’t possible. Opening my eyes, I look through Henri’s window and see the truth … really see it, for the first time in forever.

Winter wraps the landscape in a blanket of white. It is Christmas morning. I am in Paris, once again in agent mode, the holidays holding no meaning, and somewhere, out there, my children are waking up to find gifts. Soon they will be sitting down to burnt turkey and really awesome gingerbread. I know because I know my ex-wife makes incredible gingerbread houses every year for the holidays. Christmas once meant family, festivity, and age-old traditions. As an agent, I lost all sense of holiday. With a wife and children, I pretended the holidays back into existence, but that was a temporary fantasy world of my making. It occurs to me that this year my children will most likely not even celebrate Christmas, let alone savor gingerbread. I left them in Africa with the agreement I would see them holidays and summers. That was over a year ago. I haven’t seen them since, despite attempts to contact them. In Africa, her father is the big fish and as corrupt as they come.

For me, Christmas no longer has meaning, even though last year both Celia and Garrett tried to create a happy place for all of us to celebrate. It was nice, but it wasn’t home for the holidays, though they are more family to me than any other these days. Of late I am called more and more to duty, serving the United States, though I would not call the U.S. my home. It is a place of safety, though even my safety is an illusion. In my world of politics and true evil there is no room for the novelty of such nonsense as Christmas and the idea of family. I shake my head, wanting it back for real—home, family, holidays … safety. I want the real deal, Christmas and presents, goodwill toward men and peace on Earth … even if just for a day.

I want to wrap myself in the cocoon of family. I think of Garrett and Celia waking together. We were supposed to share today. I had both looked forward to it and dreaded it. Is that why I’m here? Am I merely avoiding the holiday?

No, Nikkos is the only living family I have. My brother, my twin, and I will not leave here without seeing him. I will not leave here without him. Period. “You can’t have my brother, not for that. I will not let you change him into the monster who could take King Cobra’s place.”

“He is already the monster, Ari.” Henri puffs his pipe, inhaling enough to blow out a smoke ring and then another. “But, if you insist on this tragic course…”

“Stay out of my way, Henri,” I promise with a seethed threat. “I’m here to save him.”

Henri chuckles around the stem of his pipe, slapping me on the back. “Ari, Ari, Ari.

You give me hope for an eventful New Year, thank you. I was beginning to get a bit bored.”

Neither of us takes our eyes from the brilliant landscape, a wintry wonderland forming with the falling snow. “If it’s excitement you seek, Henri, I could use a helicopter.”

“Of course, my friend, whatever you need, in exchange for a favor?”

My blood runs as cold as the melt dripping from the icicles hanging from the eaves.

Favors are never a good thing, not for the likes of Henri.

“Make sure she doesn’t survive this one, Ari.”

Chapter 4

Death lies on her like an untimely frost

Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.

~ William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

December 24, 10:52:38 p.m.

Ile St. Louis, Courtyard Apartment

I arrive home to find a crowded apartment, obnoxiously happy Christmas carols emanating merrily from the stereo. A spread of cheese and crackers, various dips, and bowls of dippable fruit and veggies beckon from my tabletop. It seems the office party followed me home.

“Liam?” I call into the crowded living room, dropping my leather jacket on a wall peg.

“Hey, love! Where’ve you been?” he asks, dropping a kiss on my cheek as he slides my holster and 9mm off my shoulders. “Sweet Jesus, you’re frozen solid! Go stand by the fire. You went running, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I needed … air,” I lie, not willing to divulge any information about my whereabouts tonight. We’re used to each other’s half-truths and outright lies by now. Six months of living together cured both of us of any misguided notions that we could actually be honest with each other.

I smile, taking my weapon from him and sliding it into the top drawer of a small Queen Anne trestle table that stands beneath the coat hooks. Here, I smile. Here, especially, my smile keeps me alive.

I have no doubts that his concern is genuine as he pushes me toward the fire, reprimanding me every step of the way for being out so long. Liam is the agency’s mother hen, and his accent, all rolling Rs and so pointedly English, lends well to his mothering.

Entering the living room, I am relieved to find that the apartment isn’t nearly as crowded as I’d first thought. Matilda, Eric, Ben, James and Suzuki, all close friends, mingled in front of the stereo, arguing companionably over the music selection. None of them true couples, though they come in pairs more often than not. They tend to pair up as mood, base need or circumstances warrant. I envy them.

They assume Liam and I a couple and, for all intents and purposes, they’d be correct.

I’m not certain if he is in love. I mean, he proposed, it must be love. I don’t know, it’s an emotion I gave up long ago, but that part hardly matters, even the marriage isn’t the part that matters. It is the trust part, and to be honest, that has been the harder part earned. We are both agents, we lie to keep ourselves alive. It’s kind of hard to turn off and on. Most days, I’m not even sure what is truth and what is lie.

I don’t love Liam. That I know is truth. I also know I need Liam to trust me, because only in his trust will I get my heart’s desire … Daniel free. That was the deal I made with Henri. Henri will help me extricate Daniel and rehabilitate him and I will make Liam believe that I am in love with him, make him believe that he is in love with me, even go as far as to marry him. Henri’s grand scheme that “will kill so many birds with one round of buckshot”. I’m not so certain about his reasoning on this one, though normally I would never question Henri.

I shouldn’t feel responsible for Daniel, but I do, he’s Luka’s brother and, as far as I know, Luka was the only family he had, and now … because of me, he has no one. I know if Luka was alive, Daniel would not have made the unwise choices he’s made. I also know what it’s like to be stuck, to be controlled, to no longer be able to make decisions based on self. Yes, Daniel is the right hand of international crime lord, King Cobra, the direct opposite of my cage, top agent at WODC. A cage is a cage, regardless of which side of the law. As far as I’m concerned, we are the same person. I can’t get myself free, but I can and will get Daniel free.

BOOK: Unholy Promises
13.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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