Copyright © 2013 Marie Harte
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Arriving to work a half hour late, she darted past security with a wave and gave the elevator a little extra juice to move faster. Exiting onto her floor, she brushed past Cole Sainte, her boss’s nephew and one of the firm’s top investigators, and ignored his raised brow.
Like he’d never been a few minutes late. Of course, she’d made it a habit of always being early, doing her best to earn her keep. But she thought she’d done a fairly decent job as Buchanan Investigations’ IT rep.
She hurried to her office and stopped short at the sight of a yellow sticky note. A summons from her boss. Terrific.
Racing down the hall and up the stairs, she made her way to his office. At a nod from his secretary, she knocked on the door.
“Come in,” he barked, not sounding at all happy.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said, trying to catch her breath, and gave him a hesitant smile.
As always, Max Buchanan looked dashing, his dark hair threaded with bits of silver, his features enhanced by the power that caged him like a living thing. He could read minds and influence thought. But, frankly, he was a hot mess when it came to network security, spreadsheets and databases. She hoped her skill with electronics would compensate for her miss today.
He gave her a half smile, as if reading her mind. And with Max, who knew? Then his gaze shifted to the man seated on the couch along the far wall of his office. “Our guest specifically asked for you.”
Surprised, because for the duration of her time at Buchanan Investigations she’d made sure to stay out of the limelight and away from anyone but Max and his employees, she turned.
Remy watched as Jurek Westlake stood and came toward her, holding out a hand. She hadn’t seen him in years, not since the fire that had changed her life. Like Max, he had an aura of competence and power he wore like a second skin. A thick head of dark hair framed a masculine face any woman would have a hard time denying as handsome. He had to be close to Max in age, yet like her boss, he seemed almost ageless. His perpetual smile—as well as the ability to charm the skin off a snake—had enthralled more than one bad guy into turning himself in to the police. As the brains behind Westlake Enterprises, Buchanan’s rival investigative firm, he made an odd guest for a Friday morning.
She wondered what he thought while they shook hands. As she’d expected, she read nothing from his face he didn’t want her to see. A pleasant smile, a polite greeting. But no hint of loathing, disgust, or the dismay he must feel at being near Dr. Benjamin Carter’s niece.
The door opened behind her and a deep voice apologized, “Sorry I’m late, I…”
Ripping her gaze from Jurek, she turned to see who’d joined them, stunned by the familiarity in his voice.
A handsome blond man stood in silence, a grown version of the boy she’d once loved and ten times as overwhelming. He stared back at her with eyes wide with shock. But when he spoke, he said no more than what she could have expected.
“You cold-hearted witch. You’re still alive?” J.D. had trouble thinking straight as the object of his darkest fantasies and deepest pain stood before him, in the flesh.
She’d grown more beautiful, were that possible, in the years since he’d last seen her. At fifteen, she’d been sweet, innocent and adorable. He’d been with her for two years and had seen her mature into a lovely young woman. On the outside, at least.
But now, ten years later, at twenty-seven, she was simply stunning. Those big blue eyes looked impossibly innocent in her heart-shaped face. Cropped black hair showed the fragile lines of her neck and chin. She was both lovely and vulnerable as her full lower lip quivered, and damn if he didn’t want to hug her tight and protect her from the world.
No, I’m not that stupid. Not again.
He took a few steps back, needing to maintain his distance. To come any closer might put Jurek and Max in real danger, since he felt hot enough to blast through the room—a loss of control he hadn’t experienced in ages. He could feel the energy building inside him, aching to be set free. His confusion and anger grew, and he worked to contain them. “What the hell, Jurek?”
Jurek glanced from J.D. to Remy and his eyes narrowed. “Hell. It’s really her.”
J.D. glared at Max, then back at Remy again, unable to look away from her for long. What the hell was she doing here, in this office? Then he put the pieces together. Remy. Max’s IT rep. It fit all too well.
“Elizabeth Remington Sinclair.” Unable to stop himself, he approached her.
“Do you know who she is?” he asked Max, his voice hoarse with contempt.
Jurek placed a hand on J.D.’s arm—to calm him or stop him, J.D. couldn’t say. He shrugged it off.
“Let him go, Jurek,” Remy said in a soft voice. So sweet sounding, yet so contemptuous underneath. She obviously knew Jurek.
J.D. cared less about their byplay than about the emotions passing over her traitorous face. He felt too much sensation, like a live wire exposed to the elements, as all the pain and fear and fury from that day so long ago raced back, sizzling in his blood.
“I know who she is,” Max answered quietly. “So does Jurek. The question is, who is she to you?” Max motioned subtly for Remy to stay still when she would have moved away.
J.D. saw the motion, and the room literally crackled. Blue sparks danced in the air.
Jurek calmly folded his arms and watched the scene unfold. J.D. had the insane urge to laugh. Nothing, not even Jurek’s normally easygoing computer whiz having a nervous breakdown, could shake his boss’s cool resolve.
“Let me tell you who she is.” He took a deep breath and strove for control. He moved another few steps back from her, glad when Max and Jurek finally showed some sense by stepping clear of them.
The last time he’d seen Remy, she’d been staring down at him through a wall of Plexiglas after literally setting him on fire. “She’s a liar, a user and an unfeeling snitch out for number one—herself,” he said concisely, not to be misunderstood. “She’s probably a plant for the ISPP. No doubt, right now she’s planning the capture of just about everyone working for you, Max.”
The ISPP, or Institute for the Study of Psychic Phenomenon, had been shut down ten years ago by the man watching him with concern, his boss—Jurek Westlake. The Institute had been conducting inhumane experiments on its test subjects, not to mention breaking several laws regarding kidnapping and murder. All led by Dr. Benjamin Carter, Remy’s loving uncle.
Unfortunately, not everyone involved in the organization had been found. Rumors circulated every now and then about a new ISPP, one funded privately rather than by the government subsidy it had once enjoyed.
Watching Remy, J.D. felt all the hurt and torment of those years spent within white walls, unable to break free. She had been his one enjoyment, his one source of freedom from the relentless tedium of confinement. And then he’d found out she’d been working against him all along. “I’m doing this for your own good, Joshua,” she’d said before trying to end his life. God, what a joke. She might not have liked her uncle, but she’d only ever been about helping herself. The agonizing pain, both physical and emotional, returned to him in waves, and a hazy blue light enveloped his hands.
He could see her understanding and wondered how she’d respond. Part of him wanted her to fight back, so that slapping her down and ending her once and for all would bring the closure he’d been needing for so long. Yet the other part of him he’d thought long buried wanted to protect her and wrap her in his arms. What a screwed-up mess.