Chapter Two: No Safe Place (ALM)

Chapter Two: No Safe Place

He laughed, tossing his head back, face breaking into an expression of pure charm. And then he waved at the windows. “Sunlight, right?” 

Fen closed her eyes. Oh, God, she was stupid. How embarrassing. What the hell, of course, he wasn’t a vampire. Vampires didn’t exist. And even if they did, why would she think he was one? He was standing in bright sunlight. 

“Sorry,” she muttered, not looking at him. “I just…” 

“It’s all right,” he interrupted her. “I’m not American. But I’ve lived here long enough that I was surprised you could tell. That’s all.” 

Fen took a deep breath and released it slowly. 

Yeah, no. Something about this guy had every hackle raised, every nerve on full alert. He was dangerous, she knew it. But apparently he wasn’t going to kill her immediately, so she’d go with it for now. 

“I’d like to go home,” she repeated stubbornly. 

“Wait here,” he said. “I’ll make arrangements.” 

He disappeared through the door. 

Fen waited. And waited. And waited some more. 

Eventually, she wrapped the blanket around her and followed him through the door to investigate. 

The huge bedroom connected to a living room, as ridiculously posh as the bedroom. In the center of the room, two couches in white leather faced one another, a coffee table between them, a cushy chair at one end, and an enormous television on the wall opposite the chair. In one corner, a glossy table included seats for six, a tray of food at one end, and on the other, a glass and chrome desk looked like home base for a high-tech workstation. 

A guy—six feet plus of muscle, close-cropped hair, and more muscle—stood at the door, dressed in a dark shirt and pants. 

Fen stopped breathing.

A guard. 

Was he keeping her in or other people out? 

Shit. 

“The guy who was here before said he’d bring me clothes,” she said, her voice sounding raspy with fear to her own ears. 

“Yes, miss.” The guard’s eyes flickered in her direction, then returned to a straight-ahead stare. “Soon.” 

With a twist of his wrist, he indicated the table. “Breakfast is available for you, should you wish to eat.” 

Fen exhaled carefully. 

Breakfast, huh. 

Hiking up the blanket, she made her way to the table and sat down where she could watch the guy at the door. Damn, but he was hot. Something must be seriously wrong with her that all these terrifying men looked so luscious. 

She looked at the tray of food. Bacon, perfectly crispy, ridiculously thick. Scrambled eggs, toast, fresh fruit, orange juice, and to top it off, a pretty white carnation in a vase. What the hell was she supposed to do with that? 

But a pot held coffee and the smell made Fen want to weep with gratitude. She poured herself a cup, holding the blanket around her by keeping one arm pressed to her side. She took a sip—glorious, delicious perfection—before digging into the food, one wary eye on the guy at the door. 

Okay, yeah, the food was great. Would that every breakfast could be like this one. 

But where the hell were her clothes?

Trying to be low-key about it, she picked up her coffee cup and took another gulp, letting her gaze travel around the room as if casually. Where was the phone? She could call the bookstore, let her boss know what was going on. Not that she knew herself, but she should at least tell her boss that she was going to be late to work. 

Her hand shook as she set the cup down, the sound as it rattled against the saucer unexpectedly loud. 

No phone. 

No phone, no clothes, no idea where she was, and a guard at the door who wouldn’t even look at her. 

No way was this good. 

She stood. “I need to call my employer. She’s expecting me. Where’s the phone?” 

“Soon, miss.” His eyes didn’t even waver in her direction and his body didn’t twitch. 

Maybe that was okay. When all you were wearing was a blanket, awkwardly draped over your shoulders toga-style, maybe it wasn’t a bad thing if the mega-hunk keeping you prisoner didn’t look at you.

Fen tried again. “I’m sure she’s very worried. I’m never late to work. She might be calling the police already.” 

That was true. Rain or shine, ice, snow, sticky humid summer heat, flu, cold or sprained ankle, Fen always made it to the store on time. No choice, really—if she didn’t work, she didn’t eat. 

Paying the rent was always the priority. Making her dollars stretch to where she could live alone had been a triumph, but it didn’t leave room for extras. Losing today’s pay was going to suck. 

“Soon, miss,” he repeated. 

Fen wanted to snarl at him. The jerk was a robot, same words over and over again. 

But she wasn’t stupid. Antagonizing the guy keeping her prisoner was not a good idea. Instead, she stood and went back into the bedroom. 

She needed to escape. 

First step, clothes. She’d thought when she woke up that she was in a luxury apartment, but the tray, the lack of a kitchen, the single door leading out—they all added up to hotel, which meant that on the other side of that door, people would help her. 

She pulled open the closet door. Empty. 

The problem with escaping—especially escaping naked—is that those people who would help her would call the cops. Anyone would. 

She tried the bureau drawers. Just as empty. 

Damn it. 

They must have gotten this fancy suite just for her. One night could have paid her rent for a month or close to it. What a waste. 

She hitched the blanket back onto her shoulder. 

She couldn’t escape into the Chicago winter wearing a blanket. She had to find help. But every possible scenario she could imagine that involved other people ended with the police. 

And if the police got involved, how could she get to Zach and convince him she was harmless? She’d have no way to get her life back the way she wanted it. 

So no police. 

Which meant no escape.

Which meant sitting and waiting and hoping.

By the time the door to the bedroom opened, Fen’s fear had turned to fury. She jumped to her feet, hot words burning to be released, but at the sight of Amazing Voice Guy, caution stilled her tongue. 

He looked grim, jaw set, golden eyes cold. 

Shit, but he was scary.

He dropped a bag on the floor. “Your clothing.” 

His voice was as amazing as ever, deep and caressing with a lilt under the simple words, but his tone had her clutching the blanket tight to her. “I’ve ordered tea. At your convenience, please join me in the sitting room and we will discuss our situation.”

He dipped his head in a nod that looked both formal and inhumanly graceful and exited the room, pulling the door closed behind him with an almost silent click. 

For a moment, Fen didn’t move. At her convenience? Her convenience would be to scramble into her clothing and get the hell out of here, but that didn’t feel like an option. But he couldn’t keep her prisoner, could he? 

Slowly, feet dragging, blanket still wrapped around her, she crossed to the door and picked up the bag. The bag was unfamiliar, but when she opened it, the clothes inside were hers. 

Amazing Voice Guy had been in her apartment. He’d gone through her stuff, sorted through her drawers, opened up her closet. She pressed a hand to her stomach, feeling a flutter of panic. That was so not okay. 

Her space was hers. 

Private. 

But she dropped the blanket and started tugging on her layers. Underwear first. He’d picked out one of her nicer pairs. Had he noticed how threadbare most of it was? 

Gray tank-top next, followed by her black striped tights, a black skirt that skimmed the top of her knees, plus leggings to keep her warm and a black thermal shirt to keep her warmer. Had he seen the mismatched sizes, the safety pins, the tell-tale evidence that she did her shopping at Goodwill and the Salvation Army stores? 

Finally, her favorite dark-gray cardigan. She ran a hand down the sleeve as she pulled it on. No label, but it was the softest sweater she owned and her nicest article of clothing. How had he known? 

She could have left it out on her bed, though. Had she made her bed? Hell, had he been in her kitchen? Had he seen the mouse traps in her empty cupboards?

She ran her hands through her hair, doing her best to neaten it, and ran her tongue along her teeth, before digging into the bag again. 

There was nothing else in it. 

No toothbrush, no hairbrush, no make-up. No deodorant or shampoo. No more clothes. That was a good sign, wasn’t it? He hadn’t packed a bag, just brought her clean clothes to replace the ones that had been soaked in his brother’s blood. 

Leaving the blanket crumpled on the floor, Fen walked into the other room. Amazing Voice Guy was speaking quietly to the guard but at her approach, he gestured to the chair and comfortable couch beyond it. “Please, take a seat. We have much to discuss.” 

He could probably read the weather report and it would sound sexy, but Fen didn’t move. “What do we need to talk about? Thanks for getting my clothes. Find me my shoes and I can be on my way.” 

Amazing Voice Guy left the guard and sat in the chair. He crossed his legs and brushed lightly at the knee of his pants, smoothing out the crease. 

Gay, she realized. Of course, she should have figured that out sooner. The guy at the door probably was, too. A hot guy who kept his eyes politely averted from a half-naked woman? It made so much sense. 

Her shoulders relaxed as her tension eased. She hadn’t thought they were white slavers or kidnappers or rapists… but yeah, those fears had been in the back of her head. Waking up in a strange place with strange men who wouldn’t talk was scary, it just was. 

Her smile felt almost natural, when she said, “Dude, I’ve got stuff to do. I ought to be at work right now.” 

“I stopped by your place of employment and let them know you wouldn’t be coming in today.” 

What the hell?

“I don’t work, I don’t eat,” Fen said, wanting to yell, but keeping her voice even. “Not showing up’s not really an option for me.” 

“The man who tried to kill you was waiting for you outside the store, correct? He knows where you work.” Amazing Voice Guy’s eyes were steady on her face. 

She felt the heat of a flush rising in her cheeks. She couldn’t tell whether it was from anger or embarrassment. Really hot rich guys didn’t stare at her on a regular basis, definitely not when she hadn’t even brushed her hair. 

“So? I told you, I’ll talk to Zach. I’ll get him to call that guy off. He will. The guy even said Zach didn’t know.” 

“Your neighbor is gone. His home has been emptied of all personal possessions.” 

It felt like a punch to the stomach. 

“Gone?” Fen licked suddenly dry lips. 

A glimmer of a smile crossed Amazing Voice Guy’s face. “At risk of creating another echo, yes. Gone.” 

When he again indicated the couch across from him, Fen numbly sank down into its comfortable cushions. Had her assailant killed Zach? No, why would a murderer take all his stuff? Zach must have decided to disappear on his own. But why would he…

Maybe her thoughts showed on her face, because Amazing Voice Guy leaned forward. “Someone shot my brother. That’s attempted murder. You’re a witness. The man who you believe connected you to the crime has disappeared. It suggests he was warned of potential trouble.” 

“That’s okay, though.” Fen swallowed. “He’s gone, so I’ll just get back to my life.” 

“That seems unduly optimistic of you.” Amazing Voice Guy spoke patiently. 

Fen’s nose twitched in annoyance. He didn’t need to talk to her like she was two years old or an idiot. 

“You are in trouble, Miss Naylor. Serious trouble. Someone wants to kill you and your only link to your assailant has disappeared. Meanwhile,  he knows where you live, where you work, and seemingly your schedule.” 

Fen swallowed again. The situation sounded bleak when he put that way. 

“In addition, you are the only witness to the attempted murder of my brother, a crime I take quite seriously.” Amazing Voice Guy leaned back again. “I am unaware of the extent of your resources?” 

It was a gently phrased question, but Fen glared at him anyway. “The hell you are. You were in my apartment, weren’t you?” 

“Under the circumstances, I did choose to retrieve your belongings personally rather than send an aide. It seemed prudent given the uncertainty of the situation.” 

“What’s uncertain about it? Some asshole wants to kill me.”

“Yes,” he agreed with infuriating calm. “And I would have disliked it greatly if he had been lying in wait at your apartment and one of my friends or employees had encountered him rather than me.” 

Fen stared at him. Okay, he was either crazy or… no, he was definitely crazy. He wanted to be the person to run into a killer? Sure, she understood not wanting to let anyone you knew get killed, but if he’d thought that was a real possibility, why not get help? Like the police? Maybe a SWAT team? 

“Are you a cop?” she asked. 

He wasn’t as obviously amused as he had been when she’d asked him if he were a vampire, but his smile was genuine. “No.” 

“Don’t you think this is a problem for them?” 

Why hadn’t she woken up in a hospital? How had he found her and his brother? Questions she hadn’t thought to ask began to bubble up in her mind. 

“I have resources unavailable to a local police department.” 

Local police department? Chicago was a huge city, with thousands of police officers. Sure, crime was an issue—it’s not as if she’d ever imagined the streets were safe—but a big chunk of the city’s nine billion-with-a-B budget went to the police department. 

“What does that mean?” Fen demanded. “What kind of resources?” 

“Suffice it to say that I believe my ability to prioritize our needs exceeds that of the local authorities.” 

His words sounded so smooth, so elegant in that dreamy, not quite American voice. But what the hell was he saying?

“Speak English, please,” Fen said flatly. 

“Bluntly, I intend to remove my brother to a safer place while the crime against him is investigated. If you would care to join us, we would be delighted to host you until your assailant and his employers are incarcerated.” 

“I can’t just leave,” Fen said. ““I have a job. I have rent money to make. If I don’t work, I could lose my place and—”

Fen’s eyes were burning, incipient tears prickling her nose. Damn it, she was not going to cry. Yeah, her place sucked and the mice ate better than she did, but it was hers. She’d felt safe there for the first time in years. Missing a shift or two, okay, she might have to drop by the food bank or soup kitchen, but she could do that. More than that, though, and she wouldn’t be able to pay her rent. 

“While at your place of employment, I consulted your employer. She was dismayed to hear of the attack, but informed me that as far as she was aware, you have no relatives who might aid you in this time of need.” 

Fen hid her tears behind an angry glare. “I told you my mother was dead.” 

“Yes.” A flicker of some unreadable expression crossed Amazing Voice Guy’s face. “However, some other family member—a grandmother, an aunt—might have been able to assist you.”

“I do fine on my own. I don’t need assistance!”

“Under the circumstances, that does not appear to be true. During our consultation, your employer agreed with me that you should not return to work until this crime has been solved.”

“You… what? She… what?” Fen jumped to her feet. “You had no right. Consultation? What is that, a euphemism for fuck-up-my-life?” 

“That is not my intention. However, you are the only witness to the attack on my brother. Your safety has thus become important to me. As I told you, I take this crime quite seriously.”

“So? I tell the police what I know and it’s over. Besides, I’m not the only witness. Your brother’s a witness, too. He can talk to the police himself.” 

“We certainly hope he can. But two witnesses are better than one.” 

“Injured. You said he was injured. Is he—”

“He’s being taken care of.” Amazing Voice Guy’s eyes didn’t meet hers. “We hope for the best.” 

Fen sank back down onto the couch. 

That boy saved her life. Was he going to pay for it with his own? 

A soft knock sounded on the door. The guard opened it and waved in a uniformed waiter carrying a silver tray. The waiter brought the tray over and set it on the table between the couches. 

It held a china teapot, white with flowers, two matching tea cups with saucers, and a plate of cookies. 

Not chocolate chip. 

Delicate little butter cookies in fancy shapes. 

Tea in pretty china teacups. 

Fen wanted to pick up one of the cups, hurl it toward the window, and watch it smash against the glass, an urge so strong she clenched her fingers into fists and then slid her fists under her thighs. 

“Will there be anything else, Mr. Delmar?” the waiter murmured to Amazing Voice Guy. 

“No, thank you.” Amazing Voice Guy nodded to the guard. He escorted the waiter out, closing the door behind them, leaving Fen and Amazing Voice Guy alone. 

“Delmar? That’s your name?” She scowled at him. 

“Do you dislike it?” He sounded only mildly interested in her answer but his eyes sharpened.

“It sounds very… American.”

He picked up the pot and poured a cup of tea, pushing it toward her. “My first name is Kaio. You must feel free to use it.”  

Kye-oh. Fen turned the sound over in her mind. “Are you Hawaiian?” she guessed. “Eurasian?” 

“At some later date, I should be delighted to discuss my background in detail with you. But I’m afraid right now is not the time.” He poured a second cup of tea and set the pot down. 

“I possess ample resources to solve this dilemma. I suggest you join my brother in a safe location. Meanwhile, one of my employees shall replace you at your bookstore temporarily. He shall continue to receive his salary and you may keep the monies earned as he fulfills your obligations. Does that sound acceptable to you?” He picked up his tea and took a sip, watching her over the cup. 

It sounded ridiculous to Fen. “I don’t—I can’t—you have a bookstore clerk on your payroll, just waiting to leap into action when needed?” 

His lips twitched as he set the cup down. “No. But I have multiple bodyguards. I can spare one.” 

“You could just let the bodyguard guard me,” she muttered. 

But Fen didn’t want a bodyguard. 

She wanted to go home, back to her apartment, the place that was hers, all hers. Back to her life. But not a life where she was worrying about murderers around every corner. 

Maybe she’d buy a gun and learn how to use it. If the asshole came back, she’d blow a hole in him before he had a chance to do the same to her. 

Except she couldn’t afford a gun. She could barely buy groceries. 

And she might not have time to learn to shoot. What if she missed? 

“Indeed,” Kaio responded, sounding cheerful. “You might, in fact, be more useful to me as bait in a trap. But I could not assure your safety in that situation, and the morality of the choice on my part seems questionable. I generally prefer virtue over expedience, in particular when it comes to the safety of…” 

He paused. 

Fen waited. He was still watching her, a look in his eyes that Fen couldn’t decipher. Was it curiosity? A puzzled uncertainty? Before she could decide, he dipped his chin in her direction, and finished, “… young people.” 

Fen’s mouth twisted. At least he hadn’t called her a teenage girl. 

But he shot back his suit jacket sleeve and glanced at the watch on his wrist. 

“You’ll need to choose now, however. Safety with my brother or…” He gave a faint, but not unsympathetic smile. “…the uncertain risks of waiting to discover how determined your killer truly is.” 

Reaching down, Fen picked up one of the delicate butter cookies and bit it in two with a snap. It melted on her tongue, sweet and slightly nutty and as delicious as any cookie she had ever tasted. 

Another choice. 

But this one might be between life and death. And if yesterday’s events had taught her anything, it was that she really would prefer to live. 

Fen popped the second half of the cookie into her mouth, chewed, swallowed, and dusted off her fingers. 

“When do we leave?”

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