Read Claim Me Online

Authors: Anna Zaires

Tags: #Adult

Claim Me (4 page)

BOOK: Claim Me
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sleep fitfully
my first night at the safe house, waking up every couple of hours from nightmares. I don’t remember the exact details of those dreams, but I know Lucas is in them, and so is my brother. The scenes are a blur in my mind, but I recall bits and pieces involving trains, lizards, gunfire, and underneath it all, the delicate scent of lilacs.

Around five in the morning, I give up trying to fall back asleep. Getting up, I put on a robe and wander into the kitchen to make myself some tea. Obenko is there, reading a newspaper, and as I enter, he looks up, his hazel eyes sharp and clear despite the early hour.

“Jet-lagged?” he asks, and I nod. It’s as good of an explanation for my state as any.

“Want some tea?” I offer, pouring water into a tea kettle and setting it on the stove.

“No, thanks.” He studies me, and I wonder what he’s seeing. A traitor? A failure? Someone who’s now more of a liability than an asset? I used to care what my boss thought, craving his approval as I once craved my parents’, but right now, I can’t work up any interest in his opinion.

There’s only one thing I care about this morning.

“My brother,” I say, sitting down after I make myself a cup of Earl Grey. “How is he? Where’s your sister’s family now?”

“They’re safe.” Obenko folds his newspaper. “We’ve relocated them to a different location.”

“Do you have any new pictures for me?” I ask, trying not to sound too eager.

“No.” Obenko sighs. “We thought you were gone, and when you contacted us, I’m afraid taking photos wasn’t our main priority.”

I take a scalding sip of tea to mask my disappointment. “I see.”

Obenko lets out another sigh. “Yulia… It’s been eleven years. You need to let go of Misha. Your brother has a life that doesn’t involve you.”

“I know that, but I don’t think a few pictures every now and then is too much to ask.” My tone is sharper than I intended. “It’s not like I’m asking to see him…” I pause as the idea takes hold of me. “Well, actually, since you don’t have the pictures, maybe I can just view him from a distance,” I say, my pulse accelerating in excitement. “I could use binoculars or a telescope. He would never know.”

Obenko’s gaze hardens. “We’ve talked about this, Yulia. You know why you can’t see him.”

“Because it would deepen my irrational attachment,” I say, parroting his words to me. “Yes, I know you said that, but I disagree. I could’ve died in that Russian prison, or been tortured to death by Esguerra. The fact that I’m sitting here today—“

“Has nothing to do with Misha and the agreement we made eleven years ago,” Obenko says. “You fucked up on this assignment. Because of you, your brother has already been uprooted, forced to change schools and give up his friends. You don’t get to make demands today.”

My fingers tighten on the tea cup. “I’m not demanding,” I say evenly. “I’m asking. I know it was my mistake that led to this situation, and I’m sorry. But I don’t see how that’s relevant to the matter at hand. I spent six years in Moscow doing exactly what you wanted me to do. I sent you a lot of valuable intel. All I want in return is to see my brother from a distance. I wouldn’t approach him, wouldn’t speak to him—I would just look at him. Why is that a problem?”

Obenko stands up. “Drink your tea, Yulia,” he says, ignoring my question. “There will be another debriefing at eleven.”



the night coordinating with the cleanup crew and preparing for our departure. If there’s any silver lining to this disaster, it’s that we’re going home early, and I will soon be able to hunt down Yulia with no distractions.

First, though, I need to take care of the situation here.

I begin by making breakfast for Rosa, who hasn’t come out of her room this morning. At first, I’m tempted to slap together a sandwich, but then I decide to try my hand at one of the omelets I’ve watched Yulia make. It takes me two attempts, but I succeed at producing something that resembles one of Yulia’s delicious confections. It doesn’t taste half-bad either, I decide, trying a bite before putting half of the omelet on a plate for Rosa.

Holding the plate with one hand, I knock on the door of Rosa’s bedroom. After a couple of minutes, I hear footsteps, and she opens the door. She’s dressed in a long, shapeless T-shirt, and to my relief, her eyes are dry, though the bruising on her face looks even worse.

“Hi,” I say, forcing a smile. “I made an omelet. Would you like some?”

The maid blinks, looking surprised. “Oh… Sure, thanks.” She accepts the plate and glances at it. “That looks great, thank you, Lucas.”

“You’re welcome.” I study her injuries, my stomach tightening at the sight. “How are you feeling?”

Her face flushes, and she looks away. “I’m fine.”

“Okay.” I can tell she doesn’t want company, so I say, “If you need anything, just let me know,” and then I head back into the kitchen.

I need to eat my own breakfast before tackling the next task.

y the time
Esguerra comes out of the house, everything is ready for him.

“I brought the cousin here,” I say when my boss steps out onto the driveway. “I figured you might not want to go all the way to Chicago today.”

“Excellent.” Esguerra’s eyes gleam darkly. “Where is he?”

“In that van over there.” I point at a black van I parked behind the trees farthest from the neighbors.

We walk toward it together, and Esguerra asks, “Has he given us any info yet?”

“He gave us access codes to his cousin’s parking garage and building elevators,” I say. “It wasn’t difficult to get him to talk. I figured I’d leave the rest of the interrogation to you, in case you wanted to speak to him in person.”

“That’s good thinking. I definitely do.” Approaching the van, Esguerra opens the back doors and peers into the dark interior.

I know what he’s seeing: a skinny teenager, gagged and with his ankles tied to his wrists behind his back. He’s the third guy, the one Nora knocked out at the club yesterday. I’ve already had a couple of guards work him over, and now he’s ready for Esguerra.

My boss doesn’t waste time. Climbing into the van, he turns around and asks, “Are the walls soundproof?”

I nod. “About ninety percent.” I can smell the urine and sweat inside the van, and I know these odors will soon be overwhelmed by the coppery stench of blood.

“Good,” Esguerra says. “That should suffice.”

He closes the van doors, locking himself in with the boy, and a minute later, the sound of his victim’s pleas and screams fills the air. I tune them out, letting Esguerra have his fun while I read the latest update from Diego and Eduardo. They found a record of the private plane landing in Kiev, so Yulia is definitely out of Colombia.

I forward Diego’s findings to the hackers, and when Esguerra is done, I wrap the teenager’s body in a plastic sheet and message the cleaning crew to come in.

alf an hour later
, I’m walking back toward the house when my phone vibrates with another text from Esguerra.

New development. Need to expedite the departure.

My adrenaline spikes. Entering the house, I intercept Esguerra in the hallway. “What happened?”

“Frank, our CIA contact, emailed me,” Esguerra says, pushing back his wet hair. He must’ve taken a shower to get rid of the Sullivan kid’s blood. “An artist’s sketch of myself, Nora, and Rosa is being circulated in the local FBI’s office. It had to have come from the Sullivan brother who got away in that white SUV. I’m guessing it won’t be long before the Sullivans find out who we are, and given what I did to the other Sullivan brother in the club and the cousin just now…” He doesn’t finish, but he doesn’t have to.

Esguerra and I both know Patrick Sullivan will be out for blood.

“I’ll send Thomas to prepare the plane,” I say. “Do you think Nora’s parents can be ready to go in the next hour?”

“They’ll have to be ready,” Esguerra says. “I want them and the women away before we do anything.”

“How many guards should we send on the plane with them?”

“Four, just in case,” Esguerra says after a moment of deliberation. “The rest can stay to be part of our strike team.”

“All right. I’ll go tell the others and make sure Rosa is ready to go.”

e arrive
at Esguerra’s in-laws’ house in full force, our limo followed by seven armored SUVs transporting twenty-three guards. The neighbors gape at us, and I feel a twinge of amusement at the thought of Nora’s parents trying to explain this to their suburban acquaintances. I’m sure the good people of Oak Lawn have heard rumors about Nora’s arms dealer husband, but hearing and seeing are two different things.

Predictably, the parents aren’t ready yet, so Esguerra and his wife go in to round them up. Rosa stays in the car, explaining to Nora that she doesn’t want to be in the way.

When we’re alone, I turn around and look at Rosa through the limo partition.

“Would you like some music?” I ask, but she shakes her head. She’s not speaking, just staring out the window, and I’m sure she’s thinking about what happened yesterday.

Not wanting to discomfit her, I roll up the partition and use the time to check on the plane. Thomas assures me that it’s ready to go, so I double-check my weapons—an M16 slung across my chest and a Glock 26 strapped to my leg. I’d like to be even better armed, but I’m driving. Fortunately, Esguerra has an entire arsenal in the back under one of the seats. I’m hoping we won’t need it, but we’re prepared in case we do.

Some forty minutes later, Esguerra comes out of the house, hauling a huge suitcase. He’s followed by Nora’s father with another suitcase, and finally, Nora and her mother.

Though there’s plenty of room in the back, Rosa comes to sit at the front with me, explaining that she wants to give the four of them more room.

“You don’t mind, do you?” she asks, glancing at me, and I give her a reassuring smile.

“No, please have a seat.” I roll up the partition again, separating us from the main cabin, and start the car. “How are you doing?”

“Fine.” Her voice is quiet but steady. I don’t press her for more, and we drive in comfortable silence for some time. It’s not until we pull off the interstate onto a two-lane highway that Rosa speaks again. “Lucas,” she says quietly. “I’d like to ask you for a favor.”

Surprised, I glance at her before directing my attention back to the road. “What is it?”

“If there’s ever a chance—” Her voice breaks. “If you ever get them, I want to be there. Okay? I just want to be there.”

She doesn’t spell it out, but I understand. “You got it,” I promise. “I’ll make sure you see justice served.”

“Thank you—” she begins, but at that moment, I catch a glimpse of movement in the side mirror, and my pulse leaps.

On the narrow highway behind our SUVs is an entire cavalcade of cars, and they’re gaining on us quickly.

I floor the gas pedal with a surge of adrenaline. The limo jerks forward, accelerating at a mad pace, and I lower the partition to meet Esguerra’s gaze in the rearview mirror.

“We have a tail,” I say tersely. “They’re onto us, and they’re coming with everything they’ve got.”



, ne lozhisya na krayu…”
My mom is singing a Russian lullaby to me, her voice soft and sweet as I snuggle deeper into the blanket.
“Pridyot seren’kiy volchok, i ukusit za bochok…”

Her crooning is off-key and the words are about a gray wolf that will bite my side if I lie too close to the edge of the bed, but the melody is warm and comforting, like my mom’s smile. I bask in it, savoring it for as long as I can, but with each word, my mom’s voice gets fainter and softer, until there’s only silence.

Silence and cold, empty darkness.

“Don’t go, Mom,” I whisper. “Stay home. Don’t go to Grandpa tonight. Please, stay home.”

But there’s no response. There’s never a response. There’s only darkness and the sound of Misha crying. He’s feverish and wants our parents. I pick him up and rock him back and forth, the sturdy weight of his toddler’s body anchoring me in the sea of darkness. “It’s okay, Mishen’ka. It’s okay. We’ll be okay. I’ll take care of you. We’ll be okay, I promise.”

But he doesn’t stop crying. He cries all through the night. His screams get hysterical when the headmistress comes for him in the morning, and I know she did something to him. I saw the bruises on his legs when he came out of her office last evening. She hurt him somehow, traumatized him. He hasn’t stopped crying since.

“No, don’t take him.” I struggle to hold on to Misha, but she pushes me away, taking my brother with her. I come after her, but two older boys block my way, forming a human wall in front of me.

“Don’t do it,” one of the boys says. “It won’t help.”

His eyes are pitch black, like the darkness around me, and I feel myself spinning. I’m lost, so lost in that darkness.

“I have a proposition for you, Yulia.” A man dressed in a suit smiles at me, his hazel eyes cold and calculating. “A deal, if you will. You’re not too young to make a deal, are you?”

I lift my chin, meeting his gaze. “I’m eleven. I can do anything.”

“Bayu-bayushki-bayu, ne lozhisya na krayu…”

“It’s your fault, bitch.” Cruel hands seize me, dragging me into the darkness. “It’s all your fault.”

“Pridyot seren’kiy volchok, i ukusit za bochok…”

The melody trails off again, and I’m crying, crying and fighting as I fall deeper into the darkness.

“Tell me about the program.” Strong arms catch me, imprisoning me against a muscular male body. I know I should be terrified, but when I look up and meet the man’s pale gaze, I’m suffused with heat. His face is hard, every feature carved from stone, but his blue-gray eyes hold the kind of warmth I haven’t felt in years. There’s a promise of safety there, and something else.

Something I crave with all my soul.

“Lucas…” I’m filled with desperation as I reach for him. “Please fuck me. Please.”

He drives into me, his thick cock stretching me, spearing me, and the heat of him dispels the lingering coldness. I’m burning, and it’s not enough. I need more. “I love you,” I whisper, my nails digging into his muscled back. “I love you, Lucas.”

“Yulia.” His voice is cold and distant as he says my name. “Yulia, it’s time.”

“Please,” I beg, reaching for Lucas, but he’s already fading away. “Please don’t go. Stay with me.”

“Yulia.” A hand lands on my shoulder. “Wake up.”

Gasping, I sit up in bed and stare into Obenko’s cool hazel gaze. My heart is drumming in my throat, and I’m covered in a thin layer of sweat. Turning my head, I take in the sight of peeling wallpaper and gray light seeping through a dirty window. There’s no Lucas here, nobody to catch me in the darkness.

I’m in my bedroom at the safe house, where I must’ve fallen asleep before the debriefing.

“Was I… Did I say anything?” I ask, trying to get my shaky breathing under control. The dream is already fading from my memory, but the bits and pieces I recall are enough to knot my insides.

“No.” Obenko’s face is expressionless. “Should you have?”

“No, of course not.” My frantic heartbeat is beginning to slow. “Give me a minute to freshen up, and I’ll be right out.”

“All right.” Obenko walks out of my room, and I pull the blanket tighter around myself, desperate for what little comfort I can find.

BOOK: Claim Me
3.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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