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Authors: Anna Zaires

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Claim Me

BOOK: Claim Me
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Claim Me
Capture Me: Book 3

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 Anna Zaires and Dima Zales

www.annazaires.com

All rights reserved.

Except for use in a review, no part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.

Published by Mozaika Publications, an imprint of Mozaika LLC.

www.mozaikallc.com

Cover by Najla Qamber Designs

najlaqamberdesigns.com

Photo by Lindee Robinson Photography

Models: Sarah Stroven and Adam Stroven

Edited by Mella Baxter

e-ISBN: 978-1-63142-165-5

Print ISBN: 978-1-63142-166-2

I
The Escape
1

L
ucas


S
ay that again
?” I grip the phone tighter, nearly crushing it as my disbelief morphs into burning fury. “What the fuck do you mean she escaped?”

“I don’t know how it happened.” Eduardo’s voice is tense. “We came back to your house a half hour ago and found her missing. The handcuffs were on the floor of your library, and the ropes were sawed through with something small and sharp. We had the guards scour every inch of the jungle, and they found Sanchez unconscious by the northern border. He has a hell of a concussion, but we got him to wake up a few minutes ago. He says he came across her in the forest, but she surprised him and knocked him out. That was over three hours ago. We’re getting the drone feeds now, but it’s not looking good.”

My rage deepens with every sentence the guard speaks. “How did she get her hands on ‘something small and sharp’? Or open the fucking handcuffs? You and Diego were supposed to watch her at all times—”

“We did.” Eduardo sounds bewildered. “We checked her pockets after each meal, like you said, and we inspected the bathroom—the only place she’s been alone and untied—several times. There was nothing there she could’ve used. She must’ve concealed the tools somehow, but I don’t know how or when. Maybe she’s had them for a while, or maybe—”

“Okay, let’s suppose you didn’t completely fuck up.” I take a breath to control the explosive anger in my chest. The important thing now is to get answers and figure out where the holes in our security are. In a calmer tone, I say, “How could she have gotten out without triggering the alarms or any of the guard towers spotting her? We have eyes on every foot of that border.”

There’s a prolonged silence. Then Eduardo says quietly, “I don’t know why none of the security alarms were triggered, but it’s possible there were a couple of hours when we didn’t have eyes on the border at all locations.”

“What?” I can’t hold back my anger this time. “What the fuck do you mean by that?”

“We did fuck up, Kent, but I swear to you, we had no idea the security software would let anything slide.” The young guard is speaking quickly now, as if anxious to get the words out. “It was just a friendly poker game; we didn’t know the computer wouldn’t—”

“A poker game?” My voice goes deadly quiet. “You were playing poker while on duty?”

“I know.” Eduardo sounds genuinely contrite. “It was stupid and irresponsible, and I’m sure Esguerra will have our hides. We just thought that with all the technology, it wouldn’t be a big deal. Just a way to get out of the afternoon heat for a couple of hours, you know?”

If I could reach through the phone and crush Eduardo’s windpipe, I would. “No, I don’t know.” I’m all but biting out the words. “Why don’t you explain it to me, all nice and slow? Or better yet, put Diego on the line, so
he
can do it.”

There’s another bout of silence. Then I hear Diego say, “Lucas, listen, man… I don’t even know what to say.” The guard’s normally upbeat voice is heavy with guilt. “I don’t know why she decided to go past that tower, but I’m looking at the footage from the drones now, and that’s exactly what she did. Just walked right by us, heading west, and then got on the bridge. It’s like she knew where to go and when.” A note of incredulity creeps into his tone. “Like she knew we’d be distracted.”

I pinch the bridge of my nose.
Fuck.
If what he’s saying is true, Yulia’s escape is not dumb luck.

Someone gave my captive key security details—someone intimately familiar with the guards’ schedule.

“Did she come in contact with anyone?” The most logical possibility is that the traitor is either Diego or Eduardo, but I know the young guards well, and they’re both too loyal and too smart for this kind of double cross. “Did anyone talk to her besides the two of you?”

“No. At least, we didn’t see anyone.” Diego’s voice tightens as he catches on to my suspicion. “Of course, she was by herself for a large portion of the day; someone could’ve come to the house when we weren’t there.”

“Right.” Hell, the traitor could’ve even approached Yulia before I left for Chicago. “I want you to pull up the drone footage on any and all activity around my house in the past two weeks. If anyone so much as stepped a foot on my porch, I want to know.”

“You got it.”

“Good. Now get going and track down Yulia. She couldn’t have gotten far.”

Diego hangs up, clearly eager to make up for his and Eduardo’s blunder, and I put the phone back in my pocket, forcing my fingers to unclench from around the object.

They’ll catch her and bring her back.

I have to believe that, or I won’t be able to function this evening.

W
hile I wait
for an update from Diego, I do the rounds with the guards, making sure they’re all in position at Esguerra’s new Chicago vacation home. The mansion is in the wealthy private community of Palos Park and well situated from a security standpoint, but I still check the newly installed cameras for blind spots and confirm the patrol schedules with the guards. I do this because it’s my job, but also because I need something to keep my mind off Yulia and the suffocating anger burning in my chest.

She ran. The moment I was gone, she ran to her lover—to this Misha, whose life she begged me to spare.

She ran even though less than two days ago she told me she loved me.

The fury that fills me at the thought is both potent and irrational. I don’t even know if Yulia’s words had been meant for me; she mumbled them while half-asleep, and I didn’t have a chance to confront her. Still, the possibility that she might love me had kept me tossing and turning the night before my departure.

For the first time in my life, I’d felt like I was close to something… close to some
one
.

I love you. I’m yours.

What a fucking liar. My ribcage tightens as I recall Yulia’s attempts to manipulate me, to butter me up so I’d agree to save her lover’s life. From the very beginning, I’ve been just a means to an end for her. She slept with me in Moscow to get information, and she played the part of an obedient captive to facilitate her escape.

The time we spent together meant nothing to Yulia, and neither do I.

The buzzing of the phone in my pocket interrupts my bitter thoughts. Fishing it out, I see the encrypted number that’s our relay from the compound.

“Yes?”

“We have a problem.” Diego’s tone is clipped. “It looks like your girl timed her escape perfectly in more ways than one. There was a delivery of groceries to the compound this afternoon, and the Miraflores police just found the driver walking on the side of the road, a few kilometers outside town. Apparently, he picked up a beautiful American hitchhiker just north of our compound. He had no idea she was anything other than a lost tourist—that is, until she pulled out a knife and made him get out of the van. That was over an hour ago.”

“Fuck.” If Yulia has wheels, her chances of eluding us go up exponentially. “Search all of Miraflores and find that van. Get the local police to help.”

“We’re already on it. I’ll keep you posted.”

I hang up and head back into the house. Esguerra’s in-laws are already pulling into the driveway for their dinner with my boss and his wife, and Esguerra is likely not in the mood to be bothered right now. Still, I have to let him know what happened, so I send a one-line email:

Yulia Tzakova escaped
.

2

Y
ulia

A
s soon as
I’m in the city bounds of Miraflores, I pull into a gas station and ask the attendant to use the landline in the tiny store. He understands enough of my English to let me do so, and I dial the emergency number all UUR agents have memorized. As I wait for the call to connect, I watch the door, my palms slick with sweat.

Diego and Eduardo must know I’m missing by now, which means Esguerra’s guards are looking for me. I felt bad threatening the van’s driver and forcing him to get out of the car, but I needed the vehicle. As it is, I don’t have long before Esguerra’s men track me here—if they haven’t already.

“Allo.” The Russian greeting, spoken in a mellow female voice, brings my attention back to the phone.

“It’s Yulia Tzakova,” I say, giving my current identity. Like the operator, I’m speaking Russian. “I’m in Miraflores, Colombia, and need to speak to Vasiliy Obenko right away.”

“Code?”

I rattle off a set of numbers, then answer the operator’s questions designed to verify my identity.

“Please hold,” she says, and there’s a moment of silence before I hear a click signifying a new connection.

“Yulia?” Obenko’s voice is filled with disbelief. “You’re alive? The Russians’ report said you died in prison. How did you—”

“The report was false. Esguerra’s men took me.” I keep my voice low, cognizant that the attendant is eyeing me with increasing suspicion. I told him I’m an American tourist, and my speaking Russian undoubtedly confuses him. “Listen, you’re in danger. Everyone connected to UUR is in danger. You need to disappear and have Misha disappear—”

“Esguerra got you?” Obenko sounds horrified. “Then how are you—”

“There’s no time to explain. I escaped from his compound, but they’re looking for me. You need to disappear—you and everyone in your family. And Misha. They’ll be coming for you.”

“They cracked you?”

“Yes.” Self-loathing is a thick knot in my throat, but I keep my voice even. “They don’t know your current location, but they have the agency’s initials and one former agent’s real name. It’s only a matter of time before they track you down.”

“Fuck.” Obenko goes silent for a moment, then says, “We need to get you out of there before you’re recaptured.” Before they have a chance to extract more information out of me, he means.

“Yes.” The attendant is typing something on his cell phone while glancing at me, and I know I need to hurry. “I have a car, but I’ll need help getting out of the country.”

“All right. Can you get closer to Bogotá? We may be able to call in some favors with the Venezuelan government and smuggle you out across the border.”

“I think so.” The attendant puts down his phone and starts toward me, so I say quickly, “I’m on my way,” and hang up.

The attendant is almost next to me, his forehead furrowed, but I hurry out of the store before he can grab me. Jumping into the van, I shut the door behind me and start the car. The attendant runs out behind me, but I’m already peeling out of the parking lot with a squeal of tires.

When I’m back on the road, I assess my situation. There’s only a quarter tank of gas left in the van, and the attendant most likely reported me to the authorities—which means the vehicle became compromised faster than I expected.

I’ll need a different set of wheels if I’m to make it out of Miraflores.

My heart hammers as I step on the gas, pushing the old van to its limits while keeping a careful eye on the road. One kilometer, one-point-five kilometers, two kilometers… My anxiety intensifies with every moment that passes. How long before Esguerra’s men hear about the strange blonde at the gas station? How long until they start looking for the van via satellites? I can’t have more than a half hour at this point.

Finally, after another kilometer, I see it: a small unpaved road that appears to lead to a farm of some kind. Praying that my hunch is correct, I turn onto it, leaving the main road.

A couple of hundred meters later, I spot a storage shed. It’s a dozen meters to the right, and behind it is a thickly wooded area. I turn toward it and park the van behind the shed, under the cover of the trees. If I’m lucky, it won’t be spotted for some time.

Now I need to locate another vehicle.

Leaving the shed, I walk until I come across a barn with an old, beaten-up tractor in front of it. I don’t see any people, so I approach the barn and peek inside.

Jackpot.

Inside the barn is a small pick-up truck. It looks old and rusty, but its windows are clean. Someone uses it regularly.

Holding my breath, I slip into the barn and approach the truck. The first thing I do is search the nearby shelves for keys; sometimes people are stupid enough to leave them next to the vehicle.

Unfortunately, this particular farmer doesn’t seem to be stupid. The keys are nowhere to be found. Oh, well. I glance around and see a rock holding down a piece of tarp. I grab the rock and use it to smash the truck’s window. It’s a brute-force solution, but it’s faster than picking the locks.

Now comes the hard part.

Opening the driver’s door, I climb onto the seat and remove the ignition cover under the wheel. Then I study the tangle of wires, hoping I remember enough of this to not disable the vehicle or electrocute myself. We covered hot-wiring in training, but I’ve never had to do it in the field, and I have no idea if it’ll work. Every car is a little different; there’s no universal color system for the wires, and older cars, like this pick-up truck, are particularly tricky. If I had any other option, I wouldn’t risk it, but this is my best bet right now.

Here goes nothing. Steadying my breathing, I begin testing the different combinations of wires. On my third attempt, the truck’s engine sputters to life.

I exhale a relieved breath, close the door, and drive out of the barn, heading back toward the main road.

With any luck, the truck’s owner won’t discover it missing for some time, and I’ll make it to the next town before I have to get another vehicle.

A
s I drive
, my thoughts turn to Lucas. Did the guards tell him about my escape? Is he angry? Does he feel like I betrayed him by leaving?

I love you. I’m yours.
Even now, my cheeks flame as I remember those words, said in a dream that might not have been a dream. Until that night, I didn’t know how I felt, didn’t realize how attached I’d become to my jailer. There was so much wrongness between us, so much fear and anger and mistrust that it took me a while to understand this strange longing.

To make sense of something so irrational and senseless.

I’ll miss you.
Lucas said that to me as he cuddled me on his lap the next morning, and it was all I could do not to burst into tears. Did he know what he was doing to me with his confusing words of caring? Was that incongruous tenderness part of his diabolical revenge? An even more sadistic way to wreck me without inflicting so much as a bruise?

The road blurs in front of me, and I realize the tears I held back that day are rolling down my face, the adrenaline from my escape sharpening the remembered pain. I don’t want to think about how Lucas broke me, how he promised me safety and tore my heart to pieces instead, but I can’t help it. The memories loop through my mind, and I can’t shut them off. Something about Lucas’s behavior that last day keeps nagging at me, some discordant note I registered but didn’t process fully at the time.

“Do not fucking beg for him,” Lucas snapped when I pleaded for my brother to be spared. “I decide who lives, not you.”

There were other things he said, too. Hurtful things. Yet when he took me that night, there hadn’t been anger in his touch. Lust, yes. Insane possessiveness, definitely. But not anger—at least not the kind of anger I would’ve expected from a man who hates me enough to let my only family be murdered. And that “I’ll miss you” the following morning. It just didn’t fit.

None of it fit—unless that’s how Lucas wanted it.

Maybe he wasn’t done mind-fucking me yet.

My head begins to ache from the confusion, and I wipe the tears off my face before tightening my grip on the wheel. Whatever Lucas planned for me no longer matters. I escaped, and I can’t keep looking back.

I have to keep moving forward.

BOOK: Claim Me
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