The Vigilante's Lover: A Romantic Suspense Thriller (The Vigilantes Book 1) (10 page)

We enter what seems to be an elevator, but there are no buttons.

The doors close, and we start going down. I reach for the wall to steady myself in the crazy shoes. Before I can even ask where we’re going or how this elevator is controlled, the doors slide open again.

The corridor ahead is oval shaped, barely taller than us and only slightly wider. The walls are smooth and metal. Jones leads the way, and I try to walk more normally. I am determined to get the hang of these heels. I try not to think about what will happen if I have to try to escape in them.

“What is this place?” I ask.

“It’s an old missile silo,” Jones says pleasantly. He slows his pace to accommodate my unsteady gait.

“But what is it now?” I ask. “Those glass walls we came through aren’t from a missile silo.”

We arrive at another set of doors. Again Jones is scanned. But before the steel panels can part, he holds up his hand, palm forward. A red light blinks and the doors stay closed. My anxiety rises.

“How much did Jax tell you?” he asks.

He’s fishing for information. I don’t want to get Jax in trouble.

“Nothing,” I say innocently. “He says he found me at a safe house and therefore my identity was compromised. He thought I’d be safer here.”

All lies. I can do this. I think of my mother, what she would say and do if she had no idea who was friend or enemy.

Jones nods. “Well, don’t trouble yourself with any of that. We’ll make sure your home is safe enough when we get you back.”

My head snaps up. “I can go home?”

“Of course you can,” he says. He lowers his hand and the light switches to green. The doors open smoothly.

For a moment, I can’t connect what I see ahead of me with the bare metal tube we just walked through. It’s like a hotel lobby. A few people wander through the plush space, artfully decorated with low sofas, a twisted metal sculpture in the center, and a long curving desk to one side.

At the desk, six women sit facing out, looking at a glass screen that separates them from the people passing by. Projected on the screen are images, words, maps, and dots. They busily move their hands over the information and talk into little microphones that come from their ears.

There is no natural light. The walls are marble but have no windows. We must be deep underground from the elevator ride.

A slender woman in a tailored pale blue suit approaches. “This must be Mia,” she says and reaches for my hand. “You are surely exhausted. If I know Jax, he hasn’t fed you or let you sleep.”

“We slept — I slept,” I say, fumbling for words.

Her expression doesn’t change. “I’m Dell. I’ll arrange for your return home.” She nods at Jones. “I’ll take it from here.”

“It’s been a pleasure,” Jones says. Then he walks away. I feel abandoned again.

“How do you know Jax?” I ask.

The woman begins walking, and I assume I must follow.

“The question is, how do YOU?” she asks.

My suspicion is pricked. Does everyone here answer a question with a question? I decide to be stubborn. “I asked you first.”

We cross the lobby and enter a carpeted hall. Dell smiles at me kindly. “I worked with Jax back on the West Coast,” she says. “Six years of his crazy antics. There was this one time in Vegas with a bunch of MMA fighters having a brawl…” She trails off, shaking her head. “That Jax.”

“Oh.” I wonder now if maybe she and Jax had some sort of relationship. She’s talking about him very familiarly. My stomach feels like lead. Dell is poised and beautiful and wears her heels with grace and ease. This is undoubtedly the sort of woman Jax is used to.

Not a naive country girl who can’t handle her shoes.

I try to match her posture as I totter down the hall. I wonder what he is going through. Interrogation? Back to prison? He was so confident things would go well for him.

“Will I get to see Jax?” I ask.

Dell pauses by a tall steel door and waits to be scanned. “He’s going to be in meetings today.” Her tone is dismissive.

The handle pops open. “Let’s get you something to eat while we arrange your transportation,” she says.

I feel weird about just going home after everything that has happened. It seems so anticlimactic.

Dell leads me into what looks like a lounge. Curved sofas follow the rounded walls, all in subdued shades of gray and blue. Soft lamps give the room a peaceful glow. A long kidney-shaped coffee table is decorated with three small vases of bright pink flowers like exclamation marks in the calm space.

“Do you drink coffee? Tea?” Dell asks.

“Tea, thank you,” I say. I sink onto one of the sofas and resist removing the uncomfortable shoes.

Dell sits a few cushions down. “I’m sure you’ve been quite lost and bewildered by all that’s happened.”

My concern pricks me again. What if they want to get information from me to use against Jax?

“So, when will I get to leave?” I ask.

Dell taps the face of what looks like an ordinary watch. On the wall, which appears to be glass over a light gray surface, an image appears. Dell skims the words, which mean nothing to me, just a string of Greek letters and coordinates and times.

“Surface time to your home in Tennessee is about six hours,” she says. “But we have to get special dispensation to have transport brought in mid-shift.” She smiles at me kindly. “But that will be no problem.”

“Thank you for the trouble,” I say uncertainly.

The door slides open and a young woman, maybe seventeen, enters the room with a tray. She is dressed oddly in a white pantsuit that looks like vinyl. “What an unusual outfit,” I say.

“Katya is in training,” Dell says. “This is her uniform.”

Katya’s chocolate eyes never leave me as she sets the tea set on the coffee table. “I’ve never met a special before,” she says.

“That is all, Katya,” Dell says sharply.

The girl’s face flushes red. She turns and hurries out.

“What did she mean by ‘special’?” I ask.

“Just someone outside our business interests being in the facility,” Dell says. She pours a steaming cup of tea. “I hope a breakfast blend is all right.”

Suddenly I wonder if the tea is drugged. My heart pounds as Dell sets the pot back on the tray. “Sugar?” she asks. “Milk?”

I shake my head no. She moves the cup closer to me.

“Won’t you have some?” I ask.

“Will that make you more comfortable?” She’s on to me.

“Yes, I would like you to drink first.” No sense hiding what I feel.

“Hanging with Jax would make anyone wary,” Dell says. She pours another cup.

I screw up my courage and ask, “Did you and he…date?”

Dell laughs with a low throaty sound. “I wouldn’t call it that.”

I imagine the two of them entwined in bed.

I don’t want to know any more. I pick up the cup, almost take a drink, then set it down again. Dell hasn’t touched hers.

A small panel near the floor opens across the room, and a silver object rolls out like a metal bowling ball.

I resist the urge to pull my feet up on the sofa as it travels across the carpet to rest by Dell’s ankles.

“Ah, good,” Dell says. She presses her palm to the surface of the ball. It glows green, and with a strange hiss, the top section pops up and twists open. Inside is a lovely bracelet with a line of clear crystals and a large gold clasp.

Dell picks it up. “Thank you,” she says to the object, which responds by sealing itself closed and rolling back to the open panel.

Weird.

Dell turns to me. “This is a very important accessory for you,” she says and slides closer to me. “It acts as a key to all the rooms in this building. You are free to move about this living space as well as a kitchen, bedroom, spa, and gym.”

She snaps the bracelet on my wrist. “You are not a prisoner here, Mia. We want to get you home and back to your normal life. It’s just not simple once you’re brought to a facility as high security as this one.”

I shake my wrist. The crystals tinkle together like any normal bracelet. “How does it work?”

“When the scanners get to it, the doors will just open for you.”

“They don’t know who I am, like the other people?”

Dell hesitates, as if weighing her words. “You are not in our system.”

That makes sense. Everyone was so surprised that only my name popped up on those glass screens.

I glance around, realizing there are multiple identical door panels in the circular room. I’m no longer sure which one I came in.

“How do you get back aboveground?” I ask.

“Now that’s another thing entirely,” she says. “There are limited entry points. You’ll be escorted for that.”

“Will Jax do it?”

I see her patience is wearing thin on this subject. “I don’t think you’ll be seeing Mr. De Luca today.”

Or ever again, if I understand her tone. I arrange my face into a simplistic smile and repeat my earlier question as though I’m not terribly sharp. “How long until I get to go?”

“As soon as we can arrange it.”

Or, I think, as soon as I can get myself out of here and find Jax.

17: Jax

Two guards come through a side door to stand on either side of me.

One holds out his hand. “Knife, please,” he says.

I hand it over. He drops it into a steel box. Again he holds out his hand.

“Holster and Blackphone, please.”

I pull the phone out and pass it to him, making sure to press the secure lock button as I do. The phone gives a subtle vibration as confirmation. I expected they would take it, but I still lament the loss. Like Sam said, an untraceable blackout phone is a rare bird. I had hoped he had been able to rig a cloaking system, but obviously not.

“Holster,” he repeats.

I reach inside my sleeve and snap it off.

“The ear mike, too,” he says.

That stings a little. The small filament would have been useful even without the Blackphone. I carefully extract the mike from my ear and give it to him.

“Watch,” he adds.

The watch disappears into the box.

The man in the suit steps forward. “That everything?” he asks the guards.

One of them nods. “All that we saw on the scanners,” he says.

They missed the skeleton key, thankfully. It’s ultra thin, and Sam must not have handed that particular tech over to the syndicate yet. I’m grateful to be one step ahead.

The suited man motions down a hallway. “Mr. De Luca, if you would be so kind as to come this way.” He leads us down the corridor. One of the guards follows.

“So, why does a fugitive like yourself waltz up to our front door?” he asks.

“Testing your defenses, perhaps?” I ask.

“I assure you, Mr. De Luca, your approach was noted long before you arrived.”

How much of that statement is true? I wonder. The data screens clearly showed they lost track of me after my escape from Ridley. Do they know the car is mine? Or is this man simply trying to throw me off guard?

I give him a grunt of acknowledgment. “So who are you, then?”

“Alan Carter, head of this syndicate.”

“A contemporary of mine, then,” I say, keeping my voice pleasant. “Can’t say I ever made the trip out here before.”

“Indeed.” Carter’s tone is haughty, tinged with suspicion. “It’s been my experience that those on the coasts only talk to us when they want something.”

“My needs are quite simple, I assure you.”

He stops and studies my face for a moment. I give him a small yet warm smile.

“Are they now.” It’s a statement, not a question. His eyes are cold.

Carter moves on, and the guard gives me a firm push to keep moving, as if I’m a common criminal. This does not bode well for how quickly I might be cleared of my charges.

We walk the hall in silence until we reach an actual silo that once housed a nuclear missile. A few vintage posters are framed and hang on the wall. “Ready to launch at a moment’s notice!” reads one, sporting a rocket with a smiling face. Another shows a soldier holding a missile and says, “Defend our freedom from the Reds!”

I’ve been in similar silos in the old Soviet Union. It’s amusing to see almost identical posters there, pointing to America as the bad guys.

Now the silo holds multiple floors with a central open atrium. On each floor are desks and glass screens displaying a dizzying array of information. I spot one collection of screens all tuned to different news broadcasts from the national outlets. Pop-ups appear frequently, pointing out locations and threat analyses of the information. Additional information scrolls along the bottom.

This is the nerve center, where the syndicate collates all the information coming in the countless feeds, sifting through it and parceling it out for later analysis. What I wouldn’t give for a few minutes at one of the terminals to try to locate Klaus. Sam and Colette found nothing on their own, but they were limited by the necessity of avoiding any association with me. There would be so much more information here.

Carter has other ideas, though. He leads me down several levels and along another hallway before stopping at a door. A scanner runs a beam over Carter and the door opens. The three of us enter a spartan room with only a white table and two chairs. The plain walls enhance the harsh lighting. In the middle of the table is a small black dome. It is the only thing in the room that is not white.

Carter motions for me to sit in the chair on the far side of the table. He settles opposite me. A guard stands near the door, staring impassively. Occasionally his eyes flit between me and Carter.

I’ve been in interrogation rooms before, but not on this side of the table. I fold my hands on the cool surface and say nothing. Eventually Carter pulls out a tablet and scrolls through information. He frowns several times, then puts it down with a sigh. The screen winks out before I can see what it says.

“Trespassing, unauthorized access of syndicate systems, attempted bribery, assault and battery of a civilian police officer, and murder of a fellow Vigilante,” he says. “Not to mention escape from an authorized penitentiary. How again were you thinking to prove your innocence when none of this is in dispute? Of which of these crimes do you claim innocence, Mr. De Luca?”

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