“Annie, you home?”
I had a key and a pass, come in anytime. It still felt weird. Annie didn’t know me, not really.
“Finn, hon, I’m in the kitchen.”
Of course she was. Cooking. For both of us. That piece of domesticity knocked me back every time.
“I need to get changed.”
What I needed was a power wash. My skin felt greasy with fear, layer after layer laid down like a see through glaze as the staccato click of my heels tack-tack-tacked on the linoleum. I strained for the tell-tale click.
It never came.
Instead he came out of the lab. Soundless. Sucking air out of the corridor with his disapproval. I didn’t turn around, I didn’t have to because I knew a thing he didn’t. His stare raked me, probing. Three, two, one … was it going to be him or would he delegate?
He seemed like the delegate type. Yo bitch, do this, do that.
But it never happened. When he spun and softly padded in the other direction, my lungs insisted so I gave them a tiny reward. The doors swooshed open, leaving me to consider the cell and my irrational claustrophobia. I rode the vacuum to the surface and allowed the tail. There was no reason not to, they already had my bona fides.
Dominic just wanted me to know he could, if he wanted, if any of them wanted. A lumen of light sparked. Hope. I tamped that fucker down, fast. Hope had no place in my world.
Not even with Annie.
Especially not with Annie.
“Finish up, love. It’d be nice to have a meal’s not burned to a crisp for a change, eh?” Her voice echoed down the narrow hall, a queer blend of teasing and annoyance.
She was Canadian. The lilt, the not quite from around here cadence, charmed me. That wasn’t all that had my undivided.
“Let me help you, sweetie.” Annie reached for the towel and spun me around so she could take a run at my unruly hair. “Um, this is like silk, baby. You have the most beautiful hair.”
I didn’t but compliments didn’t come my way too often.
She tsked about how it needed a good brushing, we’d do it later … much later. My belly growled and I wasn’t sure what it wanted.
Neither did Annie. She brushed her lips along my collar bone, sending shivers down my spine. But instead of a moist tongue caressing my heated flesh, the prim softness of terry eased around my shoulders.
Fuck delayed gratification. Reaching for her hips, I yanked her close but she sighed and pulled away.
“That’s what I had in mind.”
Annie giggled and swatted my ass. “Dinner first. I’m starved.” Following her out to her kitchen—it was all her this, her that, none of it ‘mine’—the scent of roast pork assaulted my nostrils and I licked my lips in anticipation.
“Is that mashed potatoes?” God damn, the woman cooked sex on a plate. I settled on the stool and dug in. Incarceration hadn’t done my social skills any favors. Good thing she didn’t mind.
“So how did the interview go?”
Interview. Oh, that. A firing squad by any other name… I gave her the Cliff Notes version. Substitute corporate scum for Order, asshat bureaucrats for IT technonerds, male supremacy, cats and dogs lying together. She laughed out loud and didn’t believe a word of it.
Like me she wore cynicism well, better ‘n me. Mine wasn’t some badge of honor. It was more like a pimple on the ass of the universe. She patted my hand and gathered the dishes, stacking them OCD style, silverware soaking in a separate solution but it wasn’t silver and there didn’t seem to be a point.
Gathering my hair into a tail, I fished a band out of the pocket and secured it out of my way. She’d be pulling it off soon enough. She liked doing that, slipping the nylon scrunchy down, separating strands with her fingers, drawing through the knots hard enough to notice. Not so hard as to cause pain.
That bit wasn’t in her, not part of her DNA. Sometimes I missed it.
The lip split where I’d bit through, two of them working me over, the acrid stench of blood. Sickly sweet, intoxicating.
The monitor flickered, knocking me out of that downward slide. I sighed. Beck. I should have known. With a shrug, I motioned for Annie to leave the room.
Beck’s image wavered, then settled. He waited, cold as ice.
“Ich blies es. Es tut mir leid.” How did you say ‘I fucked up’ auf Deutsch?
“Liebchen, I expected nothing less.” A hint of a smile played about his thin lips but his eyes narrowed with concern.
“It is not so bad as,” he paused, searching for a good way to tell me there was a contract out on me now, or that I had won the lottery, “it could be.”
What he said next had me in a cold sweat.