A/N – Thanks go to carmensandiego, waterdancer, pie, Emma, and bronwynmaye for all their help in this. Quotes from The Little Prince and again in italics.
Part Two: The Tame
Arvin Sloane was dead.
In all actuality, the man born with that name was still on this earth, healthy as an ox and as free as a bird. Currently, he happened to be walking out the back exit of a crowded dance club, after picking up papers from a contact who would see an untimely death after consuming the remainder of his drink. But as far as the rest of the common world, all authorities and business contacts were concerned, Arvin Sloane was dead – leaving only a burnt body with enough DNA residue for positive identification.
He looked down at the packet of papers in his hand, inspecting the new passport. He smiled – the work was absolutely flawless. The final piece of perfection required to pull off this coup was finally in his possession.
Just as it should be, the man at the top had outlasted all other members beneath him. For the past eight months, cell leaders and other members of the Covenant had been disappearing one by one. Some rumored Mod Squad had terrorized their alliance, decreasing their numbers and leaving them weakened beyond recognition.
Two males and one female – unidentified as of yet – who had ruined everything he'd worked for over the past thirty some odd years. Three people who had destroyed all dummy corporations procured and used by the Covenant. Three people who had taken out some of the most powerful, most highly guarded and extremely capable men in the entire world.
If he, personally, hadn't identified a few of the bodies that were still recognizable, he wouldn't have even entertained the idea that his alliance – something that he'd built and overseen – was at all fallible. But after the deaths of McKenas Cole and Kazari Bomani just two nights ago, he had become fully convinced of this apparent weakness.
Immediately following the body disposal of the last two men under "The Man", he'd finally finished laying out the trail to a body that was supposedly his, transferred the millions he'd had in the bank to an untraceable account under his new name – Muusa Muhammad – and was now leaving through the alley behind the nightclub to his car. Next stop – Geneva International Airport.
As the man now known as Muusa Muhammad walked by a few promiscuous couples who'd escaped the inside to find more privacy outdoors, he pulled the checked ghoutra closer to his bronzed face. The fall night in Switzerland was only a tad chilly, but the cover served more to conceal his identity in his hasty escape than to provide warmth.
He navigated the dark, narrow walkway swiftly, walking through the pulsing vibrations of bass reverberating through the walls of the building and the cool, caressing night wind. Throaty moans of lover's names and anxious pleas of more, harder, faster mixed with the sensuous groove and surrounding warmth, giving the ambiance an underlying sense of wanton surrealism. But with his goal of safe escape just barely out of reach, he barely took more notice than was needed.
His black suit shielded him in the night as he slinked through the murky shadows, avoiding the couples and the few weak halogen lights that lit the way. Only when Muhammad neared the cross-section in the alley – the break in the wall that led directly to his vehicle – did his body still and his eyes linger a moment, absorbing the sight before him.
It wasn't the act itself that caught his attention. It was the fact that the two males - both wrapped around the same female - were partially blocking his route.
Two males and one female. That alone had him immediately questioning his safety. His hand automatically reached into his pocket for his weapon, gripping the piece as he began to round the corner.
Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the act unfold. Watched as the woman's red dress was hiked up around her hips by one set of hands, while the other set bunched the sides of her underwear together in a thin line and pushed them nearly down past her rump. Hands moved everywhere – disappearing down in front of her, between her legs, down to cup and squeeze her rear, up to grope her chest.
The participants were so engrossed in their lascivious act that Muhammad relaxed some and changed their label to non-threatening. He slid past them, unnoticed – or so he thought.
"You looking for a good time tonight, old man?" Muhammad heard the deep British drawl call out to him, but he kept moving. From the corner of his eye, he could see that the man who'd been behind the woman had stepped away.
"She's quite good. Mouth as hot as a cup of Earl Grey and a skilled tongue that'll suck the cream straight out of an éclair."
His head still forward, Muhammad briskly shook it in answer, and kept walking.
"Come on. Twenty Francs for a blow. Fifty for a quick fuck in the alley here."
Keeping his gaze averted, Muhammad shook his head again and instinctively grasped his weapon tighter. He could hear the man's footsteps coming after him.
"That's a bargain for a tight little cunt like hers. And here… here," the man said, as he caught up with him. He stiffened when the man placed a hand on his arm. Muhammad looked up at the dark-featured man before him, his face carefully blank.
"Watch. You'll love this," the man said, then turned to the two people he'd just left. "Red!" he called out, whistling through his teeth to get her attention. Immediately, the woman stopped and turned to face them. Her head was down, red hair hiding her face as she looked at the ground,
"Complete submission," the man next to Muhammad murmured. "Just the type your kind likes, no?"
"I am not interested," Muhammad replied in a clipped, practiced accent before stepping away.
A few paces down, Muhammad was stopped again. With his gun in hand, he turned sideways to face the young man one more time. He was stunned to find the hand on his arm belonged not to the man, but to the young woman. Her head was still lowered and her hair still shielded her face – and he was surprised when she spoke.
"Monsieur," Muhammad heard the low, melodic French voice intone. "I would like to service you."
His body started at the bold request. He had no time for this; his plane was leaving in less than an hour. But then he looked at her – slim shoulders and long neck that was hidden in her submissive bow, skimpy red leather dress that stopped just short of showing her nipples, lithe arms now limp at her sides and tight, powerful legs that in her business proved her worth. All he could do was curse.
For a moment he could barely think, his mind trapped suddenly between lust and a fatherly instinct he'd thought so miniscule now it'd never find a way to resurface. But there it was, followed by a sense of guilt and remorse and growing incense. He batted all three emotions down and moved to walk away again, but her hand held his shirt.
"Please." The desperation in her voice sought out that raw, vulnerable emotion in him again.
Resigned, Muhammad turned to look at her fully. This unfamiliar feeling inside him gave him the urge to make a last penance for the children he and Emily never had the chance to have. One of his hands gently cupped her shoulder, while the other released hold of his gun and found the bottom of her chin, trying to force eye contact with her.
After some initial resistance, her chin lifted. In the dim light of the alley, he could only see the faint outline of her dark painted lips and her eyes, still downcast. Her hands hesitantly reached out to his waist, nimble fingers trailing over the slats of his ribs, then down to the cushioned wrap he wore around his midsection.
There was a slight tremble in her breath as her hands dipped down closer to his hips. Muhammad heard that same man call out, "If you're gonna fuck him, love, move back further into the shadows."
Muhammad's angry gaze flickered out to the men – the second man also hidden in shadows as he flanked the first – both standing less than twenty feet away. It was on his tongue to censure the callous man who spoke, but before he could even open his mouth, he felt two things: a hand taking the gun from his pocket with a swiftness that shocked him and cool metal pushing up into his jugular.
He looked back to the woman who had turned her head slightly, looking to the men who had started walking in their direction. Her face caught a hint of light from down the way. His heart stopped as he recognized the familiar profile that both relieved and terrified him.
She smiled then, gun cocked, eyes piercing him – laden with hot anger and determination.
5 HOURS EARLIER
"What does that mean--'tame'?"
"It is an act too often neglected. It means to establish ties."
From the row of windows that lined one side of the penthouse suite, Sydney watched the moon rise. It was full, with an orange tint that had her thinking of fireplaces and cold weather, even though it was barely fall. It made sense when she really thought about it. The last time she had been in this country, eight long months ago, cold and raging fires in small nooks had taken on a very real fixation in her existence. To have it all end where it began…
Sydney smiled. Switzerland would mean so many things to her from now on.
Tonight was it, she thought, as the stars began to fully litter the sky. Tonight was the night. The finale. The big fat cherry on top of the sweetest pie she'd ever tasted. Eight months of grueling work, death, and destruction, that followed nearly two years in complete solitude.
And after tonight, it was all going to be over.
Freedom lurked just beyond her fingertips. No longer a flirty tease that crooked its luring finger at her, telling her to come and get her life back. It was so close; so real that chills worked up and down her arms as she thought of the word.
Sydney wrapped her arms around herself and turned back into the room, only to discover that maybe there had been another reason her skin had suddenly become prickly.
"Hey," she smiled.
Hands casually in his pant pockets, Sark stepped closer – his expression mostly bland and unrevealing. Ease settled his body as he moved across the room, accentuating the smoothness of his gait, along with the fit of the black turtleneck and matching slacks he wore.
His appearances had become a startling awakening. Daily, she was amazed at how quickly her body responded when she saw him or, more surprisingly, felt him enter her circumference.
As his external wounds had healed and his emotional ones had buried under layers of thick, tough skin, he'd grown less angry, dark and broody – becoming more casual and accepting.
Even more amazing to her was how attuned they'd become to each other on the job – predicting each other's next move or communicating with even the slightest flicker of eye movement. They shared the same irrefutable sense of determination, the same endless drive that kept them going through the rough spots when it seemed as if this would never end.
Sometimes, she would catch that recognizable hint of arrogance on his face – as if he knew that it was her awareness of him that did peculiar things to her skin, things that she had instantly tried to reject.
Other times, the look in his eyes was too complex to name. His face could be clear of any emotion, but his eyes would darken, simpering fully with a torrid, predatory hunger that was always met with the resistance of confusion and frustration. Like these feelings between them were not only unwanted, but all her doing.
It was infuriating.
Even more maddening was when she had first tried to break down the other, more difficult to read emotions in those eyes – and was only left feeling confused and a bit frightened.
How could an attraction be building between them? And, more unsettling, why did a large part of her want to witness that look again?
But lately, the sight of that kindness that sometimes turned to passion in his eyes or even that destructive, volatile behavior he displayed on the field had grown more reassuring, more natural to her. Somewhere along the way, his resistance – that confusion and frustration – had lessened to nearly invisible and she had all but forgotten about rejecting him.
In a way, they had established a tie.
They had yet to act on this mutual attraction. Neither had made the decision to take that step, cross that imaginary critical line that would change and very much complicate things. But the pounding of her heart that quickened with each step he took closer told her it was inevitable now – not impossible as she'd once thought.
Unconsciously, she backed up a few steps, her back resting against the cool glass as Sark stopped within a few feet of her. He took in her appearance with a brief glance – the black knee-length satin robe she wore over her bra and underwear bringing no additional flicker of interest to his eyes.
"Procrastinating?" he asked calmly, then sidestepped and moved in beside her.
Sydney briefly looked down at her state of dress and smiled. Turning around, she joined him in looking back out at the city. "Why don't you wear a leather dress for five minutes and then tell me how thrilled you'd be to put one on again."
He chuckled lightly, leaning lazily against the glass next to her. "I believe I'll pass. Although, you know you're not the only one who has the pleasure of wearing leather tonight."
She remembered too well the pants he'd bought in Italy last week.
"Yeah, yeah. So, you're telling me to buck up, then?"
"Something like that."
They stood in impregnable silence and watched the varied lights twinkle in the night – waking stars, buildings and passing cars. The steady hum of the air vent and the light background of classic rock music that continuously filtered through the speakers in each room only added to the comforting quiet. Sparks of attraction grew and crackled noisily between them, building this bizarre sensation of inevitability.
Panic and anticipation quickly sluiced through her with the thought.
"Can you believe we're here?" she said, hoping he missed the slight quaver in her voice.
Her stare cut sideways to him. She watched him glance briefly at the skyline, then rather longer at her. He didn't respond, but his eyes and the soft line of his mouth told her that he was thinking something similar.
"Your ankle seems better," Sydney remarked after a few moments of silence.
Insouciantly, he shrugged one shoulder. "It was a simple jar. Nothing that doesn't fix in a day or two."
True, she nodded. It could have been worse. The dropping distance from atop one dilapidated building to another, lower building nearby, then onto uneven dirt in the dead of night – before the original building blew sky-high – was enough to cause more than a simple jolt. It could have been much worse – they had been through much worse.
She took a deep breath and his fragrance infiltrated her senses – faint sandalwood with some spice. She found herself inching closer. Reaching up, she touched his newly smooth jaw in slight awe. He was warm, soft. Familiar now.
He turned his head to look at her, but otherwise held still under her touch. Her voice was amazingly steady when she whispered, "I can't believe how different you look without that awful beard."
"It sort of grew on me," he replied calmly.
"More like grew out of control," she joked lightly, lowering her hand and ending the intimate touch. "I understand the need for anonymity, but eight months of the mysterious mountain man is a tad much, even for you."
"Well, it was an excellent aid in Afghanistan last week."
She smiled, agreeing. "Still, you're a new person now."
He rubbed a strong hand over the other side of his face for a few seconds, then dropped it back to his side. Sydney watched as a muscle ticked in his jaw. His gaze, burning into hers, dipped to her mouth – and stayed there.
He cleared his throat awkwardly. "It felt good to…"
"Good to what?" She blinked at him, bemused by flaming eyes.
His warm breath fanned across her cheek, causing goose bumps to form again on her flesh and a tightly wound knot to shape in her stomach. She searched his eyes. Maybe the time had come to stop fighting.
That was her last thought before Sark was kissing her. But not her last thought as he eagerly urged her mouth open with his own, continuing with this first step or more precisely – as his arm coiled around her waist to pull her against him – this first leap.
Sydney eased into his embrace, thinking of how this came to be, of how long they'd both been fighting this. Thinking, as his hand tightened around her hip over mostly healed, puckered flesh – a knife wound in Bangladesh – about how he had stitched her up several hours later in grim silence.
Remembering, as one of her hands moved over a remnants of a bullet graze on the back of his right shoulder while the other slid over an old gash on his collarbone – both from their work in Buenos Aires – when they'd returned to the suite and he'd vehemently insisted he didn't need her help. She had spent that entire night awake, sitting outside his suite room door just in case he needed anything.
Reliving, as her body heated and liquefied, the excitement she felt knowing that lately he'd spend a few minutes each night leaning against her doorjamb, watching her as she pretended to sleep before returning to his own room.
His lips, wicked things, devastated her senses. Some sound filled her head, like an echo of surf pounding on the shore, but a cloud of sensation muted the more distinct noises. She could have shifted back an inch and severed the contact, but instead she kept herself close to consummate this; to let it grow.
His tongue, taking hot, swift strokes between her pliant lips, gave her a blatant invitation to invade by pulling hers inside his mouth. She tried to gather her wits, but the onslaught of pleasure and heat was too much. She wanted this… wanted him.
Images rose unbidden in her mind as his strong palms opened and slid to the flare of her rear end, pressing her tight against him. Hot images of them together, taking full advantage of every room in this two-room suite fired her system. His pelvis moved slowly against hers in a languid imitation of sex, furthering this craze that demolished her inhibitions.
Dimly, she was aware of a tight pressure in her chest. She turned her face away to gasp for air and managed to inhale his unmistakable scent – one that she'd recognize anywhere now.
He caught her chin in his hand and reclaimed her mouth with an unsatisfied moan. I'm not done. Months of denying each other contact, of compounding feelings and bursts of need that had festered until they'd teetered on obsessive, exploded in a fevered tangle of lips and limbs.
Sydney gave up all control and his hold tightened, her complete surrender subtly changing his advances. Situating a knee between her legs and bringing one hand to her chest inside the part of her robe, he pushed her flush against the glass. Instead of restrictive and grabby, though, it felt relieving, soothing. His kiss gentled, switching from furious to slow and deep and long, while his fingers skimmed lightly over the faint swell of her breast, clad in swirls of red lace.
Without warning, Sark lifted the back of her robe, stroking his other hand down her back, into the string of her thong and straight to where the material widened to cover her. She could feel his chest push against hers as he took rapid breaths that mirrored her own. Shocked by the effect of his fingers there, Sydney arched forward in surprise, Sark's mouth stifling a small cry. Undeterred, his hand driven by her response, he roughly squeezed one round cheek.
He slid into the cleft of her behind, low, deep, touching her intimately in a brash, alluring exploration. She shuddered in reaction to the contact and tightly curled her fingers into the cashmere covering his collarbone.
Sark finally lifted his lips, keeping his forehead against hers as he worked to catch his breath. Her breath seized for a mere second when their gazes met – melting and burning as such a searing heat warranted.
He made a low sound in his throat as he pushed one finger slowly into her, feeling how obviously ready she was for him. One of her hands furrowed up into the back of his hair and she lifted one leg, wrapping it just below his hip. His eyes sank closed while his finger slid deeper, teasing with each miniscule bit of penetration. He drew in a deep breath before looking back at her.
"This probably isn't very wise," he murmured in an erotic exhalation.
Her stomach clenched further as his hand shifted the tiniest bit, rasping against sensitive flesh. "No," she replied in a soft moan. "Probably not."
He searched her eyes for a long, ardent moment. The hand inside her the top of robe pushed the lace aside and enclosed over the silky skin of her breast, his thumb brushing over, then slightly tugging her nipple. Her leg automatically tightened on his hip, as did everything else in her body. She closed her eyes. God, his hands.
His lips caressed the corner of her mouth in a feather-like touch as he whispered against her skin, "Then again, most would say my decisions rarely are."
Sydney bowed her head on his shoulder, a short stint of breathless laughter escaping into the crook of his neck. The succinct noise trailed off as she pulled back to glance into his eyes. Sark moved in closer, as if he were going to kiss her again – and a knock sounded on the door.
Both of them instantly stilled at the sound.
Sark let out a quiet whistle as his hand skimmed up to her lower back. He fixed her lapel with one hand and smoothed the satin over her rear again with the other, his lower hand lingering for a moment in the curve of her back. Even with her nakedness covered up, Sydney still felt raw and exposed after that hazardous entanglement.
The last thing she had needed was to become more aware of Sark and what his mere presence could do to her. Her days and nights had been bad enough without that physical contact. But now that that barrier had been broken, eviscerated, there it was – sitting on the table as pretty as a tiger ravaging its prey. Sweaty palms, erratic heart, the panting breaths – the tingling need that had her feeling out of control.
She so hadn't needed that entire scene to happen.
Sark's jaw hardened and he hummed, low, in his throat. He stepped away at the second knock.
The last glimpse she had of his face showed him slightly flushed, wiping lips that were a bit swollen with the back of his hand. As he turned to walk to the door, she spied mussed hair, tousled by her anxious fingers. She touched the back of her own damp hair and noticed her lips felt tender. She had a feeling that if there were a mirror handy she'd be all wild hair and puffy lips, too.
As composed as she could be, Sydney moved away from the window and followed Sark at a distance into the entry. Before she rounded the corner, she heard the male voice.
"Champagne, Monsieur. Compliments of the hotel."
The front door latched loudly in the quiet room as it shut, and she joined the two men in the suite's foyer. The neatly dressed dark-haired man gave her a swooping look up and down, then produced a smile so blatantly sexual she nearly laughed at the audacity.
"Chérie," he murmured appreciatively.
Sydney barely paid any mind to the two men as she walked over to the tray, grabbing a full flute and taking a sip. The bubbles tickled going down, but the cool and calming liquid was much needed after that kiss.
The vainglorious man's dark eyes raked over her again, stalling on her exposed throat as the muscles worked the champagne down, but she felt nothing more than the unsettling in her stomach, leftover from her encounter with Sark. Carefully, she drained the flute in two drinks and placed it back on the silver tray. The man was still watching her.
"Pervert," she mumbled.
Grinning his infamous cheeky smile, he gave her a friendly kiss on the cheek. "And don't you ever forget it. But you have to admit that after hanging around Mr. Doldrums here for the past week, you missed it."
She laughed, avoiding eye contact with Sark. If he only knew.
"Not in the least, Simon," Sydney called out, as she led them all back into the main room of the suite.
She took her place on the couch, curling her legs beneath her as she sat. Sark sat across from her on a cushioned wingback chair, casually crossing his legs as Simon tossed a file folder in his lap and then one on Sydney's.
Simon slipped a flute from the tray and walked over to the row of windows, looking out at the city. Sydney thumbed through the surveillance photos and documentation, and assumed Sark was doing the same.
Moments of silence passed. When Sydney looked up from her folder, she saw Simon sitting on the desk by the windows. She smiled at the sight of him – dressed in an immaculate white service suit, with his blue-black hair tumbling across his brow. He leaned with a forearm on his knee, staring out into the night and absently picked at the fruit on the champagne tray, preferring the dark grapes to all the other choices.
Funny how she could make friends with such a man.
How she could befriend two such men, for that matter.
Simon must have felt her gaze, for he turned to look at her. "Nice night to get the band back together for a farewell gig, don't you think?"
Sydney set her folder on the nearest table and relaxed into the couch. "Mmm hmm."
"Anxious to get there?" Simon asked.
"I'm more than ready to get to that alley to get this started, if that's what you're asking."
"I bet you are," he said, the timbre of his voice fluctuating in a smarmy manner. "And I can't wait to get my hands up that dress of yours, even if it's merely one of the pains of the job."
She looked at him drolly, shaking her head. "You're such an ass."
Simon winked and popped a plum grape into his mouth, smiling unabashedly. "Yes. I do fancy myself as one of those, too. It's quite a shame that you know me so well, Ms. Bristow."
"So you made visual," Sark interrupted. "And the equipment is all in place."
"Yep," Simon replied, all business again. "The manager of L'Interdit, Mimi, was more than willing to take me in as a nooner."
"The pains of the job," Sydney sighed. Simon waggled his brows suggestively at her.
"So, where were the photos taken?" Sark asked.
"Salon. Downtown. Waited for nearly an hour for him to come back out."
"Salon?" Sydney asked. "Wig?"
"Nope," Simon returned, loosening his bowtie. "Tanning. It appears that Sloane is trying to pass himself off as ethnic."
"Italian? Hispanic?" Sydney asked.
"I'd say with the garb he was wearing when I caught him back at his hotel, more like Arab."
"Ah," Sydney nodded. "With the terrorist threat at a low right now, it makes sense."
"He had five men with him as security all day, but I have a feeling that once he gets his papers, he's going to be on his own."
"I agree," Sark nodded as he stood.
Sydney watched him head over to Simon, who threw something in Sark's direction. Sark held up a thin black pencil and groaned at their partner. "Eyeliner? Christ, it's bad enough I have to smell like baby powder just to get into the pants, but liner, too?"
"We all make our sacrifices for the good of the group," Simon sighed, then hopped off the desk.
"And yours just happen to consist of stiff drinks and nooners," Sark quipped back.
Simon shrugged. "One of the pains." Inserting a hand into his pocket, he walked out the room, calling out, "See you both in about three hours, then."
A charged silence filled the room again without Simon's presence, thickly coating the air with energy, like the room knew that they were once again alone. Sydney got to her feet to finish getting ready, but stopped when she felt Sark's hard gaze on her. She dared a glance at him, but almost immediately kicked herself once her heart started clamoring in her chest.
"I cannot play with you. I am not tamed."
The words popped suddenly into her head, bringing her back to their task at hand. This wasn't the time. Tightening her robe around her, she left the room – feeling two holes practically burning in her back where his eyes were fixed.
The problem was, she thought as she closed her door and let her robe slide from her shoulders and flutter to the ground behind her, out of the two of them who was the untamed one?
"Okay, Red, one former head of The Covenant with a horrendous new dye job has just made his entrance."
Sydney placed her hand on Sark's knee as confirmation to him that she'd received Simon's information. He covered her had with his and squeezed in response, lifting their linked hands in an invitation for her to finally stand.
Thank God. Her legs were starting to numb from sitting so awkwardly on the floor for the past hour.
She glanced up at him from her docile position at his feet, but instead of standing, she moved to her knees in front of him. Sark was looking back at her smugly, looking her over with an unashamed dominance, as was his role.
With lips as red as her tight, strapless leather dress, Sydney smiled coquettishly back at her master – playing her role equally as well.
Loud music blasted at them from all sides. Music that wasn't really her style, but then again, it rarely was in places like these. She found her tastes had changed much over the years – especially after the two she'd spent in hiding.
The people filling the dance floor seemed to like it well enough though. And there were plenty, so many bodies gyrating in the place that you couldn't walk through without brushing up against strangers. The red and green strobe lights gave an otherworldly effect to the place, lighting elated faces – some partially covered by Mardi Gras style masks – in sequences that would have seemed strange if her sight hadn't been on Sark.
Whose gaze was just as fixed on the slight overflow of her tits.
Sydney reached for the martini glass on the table next to them and slid the stem of the glass between her fingers. Cupping the bottom in her palm, she placed it at his lips to drink. To the untrained eye, she may have appeared engrossed in the movement of Sark's throat as he drank the cocktail, but in fact that was the precise moment her senses snapped to full alert.
Sloane was in the building and had just stepped to the table of his contact, directly over Sark's shoulder.
She spied the stocky looking man walking toward the reserved tables, sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the mostly leather and denim clad crowd in his black, monochromatic suit, with a flowing ghoutra on his head. The extra pounds had to be artificial padding, and the dye job wasn't exactly dye. With the headdress he wore to claim his ethnic roots, a straight-cut set of bangs were all that was visible – black and a little too short for his face shape. An obvious wig, since she knew he was nearly bald.
The toothpick holding two green olives in the clear, strong liquid, fell against the side of the glass, spilling some of the drink over the lip of the glass and onto his mouth. In a move that was more natural than part of her role, her tongue flicked out and licked at the liquid, then she her mouth closed over his lip to finish the job.
She sucked languidly on the lip as she pulled back to look at him. "My apologies," she said, biting back a grin.
The lights glinted off both the silver hoops in his eyebrows, and in his lined eyes – slashes of black eyeliner outlined both top and bottom lid. Or maybe the glint was some of the same heat she began to feel, knowing her stomach was pressed against the growing hardness in his pants.
The different colors in the club lit his eyes in red or green, as the normal light blue irises were overcome by translucence in the otherwise dark room. His face seemed extra pale to her, making him appear a bit ethereal – especially with the short, gelled spikes in his hair that appeared darker with product overuse. But it worked. Just like every other situation they'd been in, Sark blended in with the room with effortless ease.
Her gaze slid down to those tight leather pants she had been anxious to see him in and suddenly she was on fire. The combination of the taste of him and seeing his strong thighs around her, squeezed into soft, black leather, made her tongue, and other parts of her body feel thick, swollen. She struggled to avert her gaze to somewhere safer, only to be met with a black hooded vest – unzipped, no shirt on beneath.
The room grew hotter the longer she stared at his bare chest. It didn't have this affect just a few minutes ago, she mused. Her hand hesitantly reached out to trace the outline of his pec – moving back the material that covered him in the process.
He looked down as her nail flicked his pebbled nipple and closed his eyes. Driven by his response, Sydney leaned down to lap up a large drop of wetness that had fallen on his chest. She lingered, curling her tongue around his nipple, feeling a feminine liberation she'd forgotten existed before tonight.
Sark startled her by catching her around the waist and lifting her to sit on his lap. Her breath came in small pants as he pressed her back tightly against his front.
"Simon says look lively," Sark whispered in her ear as his thumb softly stroked just under her breast. "Money has just exchanged hands."
Sydney swallowed hard as she stood – Sark followed. Giving no more thought to what had just transpired between them, she let him lead her out of the club and into the chilly night.
The wait felt endless. In the shadows of the alley bisecting the back exit Sloane would likely take, Sydney stood next to Sark with her arms crossed, both of them waiting for Simon's confirmation. She uncrossed her arms to rub her sweaty palms on her leather dress before remembering it was leather.
"Not much help?" Sark asked, casually leaning back against the cement wall.
She sniffed derisively at him as she unlatched the clasp on her clutch purse, readying herself for every outcome of this daring feat. And there were many, considering none of them knew how Sloane would react. Just thinking his name drove her into a restlessness that made her body itch.
To kill the man she'd wanted dead for almost ten years. To finally be free of everything relating to the spy world. To live a normal life…
"Okay, Red," her earpiece chirped. "He's coming your way."
It was easy to shift back into the same role she'd played in the club. The musky taste of his skin still sat on her tongue; the heady taste of liquor and desire in his mouth as it had plunged hers was tasted with each swallow. She moved her body closer to him, watching his gaze move down to where she pushed up against his front, then back up to look into her eyes.
Her hands wanted to move confidently over the terrain that was becoming familiar to her, but the importance of her role made her refrain. She was already learning where to touch him to hear that slight gasp in his breath and how to slide her tongue against his, then draw it into the warmth of her own so she could feel his body flex as she sucked on it. But her role called for her complete acquiescence to him – she'd come too far to forget the importance of that now.
Sark's hand fisted in her hair, pulling her to him in a quick, greedy motion. Heat scorched where their lips joined and moved against each other, then steadily flowed down to saturate her body as she opened up to him. He yanked roughly on her hair, craning her neck back in a way that would have probably hurt if it hadn't been for the levels of adrenaline swarming her system.
Her hands had automatically flattened on Sark's chest to show her weakness. Her heart beat frantically in her chest and her breathing quickened with each masterful stroke of his tongue, but none of that made her feel threatened.
She felt alive.
Sydney barely noticed when Simon fit himself behind her, only feeling a sudden warmth cover her backside as he stepped in and thrust his hips into her rear. Rough hands grabbed at her hips, and she had to force her mind back to the situation and the sounds around her in the alley instead of what both men were doing to her.
When her dress was forced up around her waist, her thighs and rear exposed to the chill of the night, she didn't even shiver. Eagerly she was groped – Simon's hands delving and probing down in front of her, yet respectfully touching nothing vital, and Sark's thumbs hooking into the string of her thong, tenaciously trying to pull those down as easily as he had gotten her dress up – but she felt nothing more than anxiousness to hear or see Sloane nearby.
Her back stiffened when she Simon stopped kissing her neck to call out, "You looking for a good time tonight, old man?"
A chill worked up her spine as Simon stepped away – a combination of the cool air and anticipation. Her eyes opened and, in an exact contrast to her out-of-control body, steadily held Sark's gaze. She knew full well they were lit up with excitement, a feeling of elation that she hoped he shared. She tried wordlessly to tell him how much this meant to her, but his eyes showed that he already knew.
Simon's voice floated around them as he tried to convince Sloane to stop. Sark let go of her hair and stopped kissing her, but still held her tight in his arms.
"Red!" Simon called out, then whistled.
Sydney complied and turned with her head demurely down and shoulders slumped to show her insecurity. Quickly she smoothed the skirt of her dress down to cover herself up.
She waited until Sloane moved to flee again before she looked at Simon. Tilting his head to give her to green light, he moved back toward Sark and let Sydney take over.
Sydney had to count in her head to control her temper and not react by immediately running after him. Sloane had to be armed, probably ready to shoot after Simon's disruption, but hopefully he'd refrain long enough for her to get close.
Her shoulders shook slightly as she approached him and she had to take a deep breath to keep steady. She stepped closer and kept her hair shielding her face from his view, hoping he'd let her in, hoping he'd take the bait. She reached him and laid a hand on his arm. He stiffened under the touch and she saw his right arm twitch – his gun was in that pocket.
"Monsieur," she said quietly, once his eyes recognized it was her, not Simon. "I would like to service you."
At first his eyes shifted in the direction his car was parked, then the flitted back to her. She saw the indecision in his eyes, the look of a man who was moments away from freedom – a sentiment she ironically shared.
Sloane sighed. His calloused hand touched her shoulder, truly surprising her. She'd never figured Sloane for the type to linger after a scene like this. His sleeve brushed her skin as he put his fingers under her chin to tip her head up. Her pulse thudded at the back of her throat, filling her ears with dull noise, as he forced her to look at him.
He moved closer, subtly, and her hands hesitantly lifted to his sides. Slowly, she smoothed down over his ribs, then his rounded waist, coming within inches of his weapon. Her breathing was shallow and shaky, but her hands were strong and determined.
Simon voice sounded one last time, distracting Sloane. In a movement faster than Sloane could blink – and more accurate than the average person – she ripped his gun from his pocket and shoved the barrel up into his neck.
Barely catching her breath over the exhilaration she felt consuming her, Sydney stared at him. Understanding flashed briefly in his eyes and she couldn't help but smile.
But when it is a bad plant, one must destroy it as soon as possible, the very first instant that one recognizes it.
The sound of the lock shocking back and the sliding of the warehouse's outer door echoed loudly throughout the abandoned building. In a flash, Sydney was snapped her out of her momentary reverie. Thoughts of pulling the trigger and making neat little holes in Sloane's body faded away suddenly. She must have zoned out while waiting for Sark and Simon to finish going through Sloane's belongings and vehicle, looking for the information they needed.
Neither one of her partners would understand how hard it was to wrap her mind around this moment.
Sitting on an old card table – arms crossed, gun tapping anxiously on her thigh – she cautiously regarded Sloane as he lay supine on the hard floor. His hand was limp on his abdomen and his legs appeared equally flaccid, still sprawled in the haphazard way they'd ended up when he'd been dropped on the floor nearly thirty minutes earlier.
"You shouldn't have hit him so hard," Sydney mused aloud, as her to cohorts came up behind her.
Simon took a seat next to her, glancing at Sloane in a lackadaisical manner. A large, purplish lump had already formed on the older man's temple – the result of a blunt hit from the butt of Simon's gun.
Sydney saw Simon tilt his head to the side and shrug. "I told him to stop with the all that whiny hubbub. One more plea of negotiations to spare his mangy life and I'd have done much worse."
Sark cleared his throat and Simon amended, "After we verified the account information, of course."
Sydney glanced over her shoulder at Sark, who had powered up the laptop and tethered it to his phone. He caught her gaze for a brief, shocking moment before a low moan caught all of their attention.
Automatically bringing a hand to his temple, Sloane rose up on one elbow and squinted at them through pain-filled eyes. It only took him a moment to comprehend the situation.
"When my people started dropping like flies, I had a feeling that I'd find you responsible. Even if all correspondence I'd received listed you as deceased."
He was looking directly at Sydney, who offered him only an expression of impassivity. Even though her face was near blank, inside she was fuming – her insides searing with angry heat that was aimed at Sloane. She knew full well where – and how – he'd thought she had died.
"I would ask for your account numbers, but luckily we just happened to find them in a brief search of your vehicle," Sark chimed in. "Quite sloppy, fastening a box to the underside of your rental."
Sloane's gaze hardened imperceptibly as it lifted over Sydney's shoulder to Sark. Sloane finally sat up, hunching over and grimacing as he fought the nausea that had paled his tan skin. He swiped a hand across the red-tinted spittle that had formed in the corner of his mouth before he spoke.
"So you want your money," Sloane referred to Sark, then eyed Sydney again. "You want to act on your precious vendetta." His gaze slid to Simon who smiled cheekily.
"Don't look at me, old boy," Simon held up a hand in defense. "I'm a mite less complicated than them. I'm simply a hired hand who'll take the quid wherever he can get it."
Sark leaned in to Sydney's shoulder and spoke quietly in her ear. "I'm transferring the money now. We'll wait for you outside."
She nodded and tapped the barrel of her gun against her thigh again, her eyes never straying from Sloane. He just stared back, taking periodical swipes at his lip.
Looking into those beady, evil eyes momentarily took her back to events better not remembered.
"Sydney… you need to get out of here. The building –"
"I'm not leaving without you, Dad.""No, Sydney. Go… End this. I'm not –"
"Oh God. Daddy."
An acrid taste filled her mouth as the memory of the scent of blood assailed her nostrils. Blood pooling on the concrete, staining the front of her father's shirt, trickling down the corner of his mouth as the life faded from his eyes. Tears had brimmed in hers that day as she'd ran from that building, narrowly escaping in time.
The outer door of the warehouse slammed shut – eerily sounding like the fateful explosion that had led to her disappearance. She blinked, realizing she was finally alone with Sloane – alone to carry out this final task.
Her breath moved noisily in and out of her lungs as she fought to stave off the urge to end his life quickly and painlessly. A man like Sloane didn't deserve slow. He deserved to feel the full extent of pain she'd felt and then some.
"So, it comes down to this?" he asked calmly, as if this were an everyday conversation.
Sydney shot him a look of annoyance. "You're under the impression that you deserve anything less?"
He shrugged. "I thought you'd died in that warehouse explosion."
She bared her teeth slightly as she crossed the distance between them with angry, purposeful strides. "I know you did. I know everyone did." She squatted to his eye level, her arms resting loosely on her knees. "But I'm still very much alive, Sloane."
Even if most of me died in that blast.
"I have to say I felt quite terrible when I received the confirmation of Jack's death," he shook his head remorsefully. She felt the blood boiling beneath her skin. He canted his head and looked up at her.
"It's such a shame that he had to be in that building when it blew."
"It was your false intel that led the CIA there, you bastard," Sydney seethed. "Just like that plane crash months before. Most of my closest colleagues died in that accident. I still wonder how it was determined to have been faulty wiring."
With all pretenses between them gone, Sloane sat up straighter and dug his heels into the concrete. The careful, almost fatherly mask he would normally afford her had duly made itself scarce. Left in its place was a hard, caustic look that spoke of the true evil within. Finally, a bit of vindication for her and all those who were no longer here – granted, a bit warped and twisted, since only her eyes were left to bear witness.
"Surely you don't blame me for a plane crash that was deemed an accident? Really, Sydney, you give me more credit than is due."
She shook her head – and missed seeing the tip of a blade pushing out the sole of his boot. Before her gaze centered back on him, he kicked out and slashed her forearm, knocking her gun from her grip. Using her crouching position to advantage, Sydney pushed herself backward, sliding away from Sloane across the floor.
Sloane stood up before her and removed the knife fully from his boot. Black hilt in hand, he slowly stalked toward her in a half crouch. Her gun lay out of reach to them both and ceased to be an option.
She ignored the flow of blood on her arm and also stood, facing her approaching opponent head-on.
"Even if you make it past me, you won't get far," she informed him quietly.
Two steps closer. A glint of thin, double-edged silver flashed as he passed directly under a light. "I'm not going to let this prophecy dictate how I die, Sydney."
She stepped sideways, watching him follow. "I don't think you have a choice in the matter."
"Oh, I do," he said adamantly as he forced forward, thrusting the knife at her in a fast, fluid swipe.
Sydney sucked in her stomach as she moved back, the faint whoosh of motion reaching her ears. Sloane came in again – faster, stronger – but this time she was ready. She lifted her left foot and connected hard with his wrist. The pointy toe of her mules stabbed his skin and he flinched, losing the solid hold he had on the hilt.
She moved in closer and backhanded him with a force that knocked him down to the ground on his hands and knees. His hand reached for the knife again and she met him, falling to the ground to procure the blade. Sloane managed to flip her onto her back for a mere second, slamming his forehead maliciously into her jaw, but Sydney's feet quickly gained purchase on the smooth concrete and once again she dominated the struggle.
It was nearly a farce of a fight, considering her skill and his.
She had been too aware of the disparity as she twisted Sloane over on the floor and rolled on top of him – but she would not relent.
Seconds later, the hilt was securely in her hands. Breathing hard, she bent her knees and lifted her legs alongside his ribcage, pressing her forearm and the knife into his throat.
She caressed his throat with the blade of her knife. How easy this would be to spill his blood and watch him die slowly. She let the knife bite into his skin just to get a taste of what it'd be like. Several drops of blood beaded on the blade and ran down, dripping like teardrops onto Sloane's shirt. Her hand tightened on the hilt of the knife.
"Sydney… End this."
His eyes bulged in their sockets as he expended the last of his energy in fight. In that instant, she changed her mind.
Slow or quick, he just needed to go.
Sydney pushed back on her heels and stood, throwing the knife off into the far corner of the room. Sloane sat up on his elbows and watched as she walked over to her gun. It felt good, right, in her hand as she gripped the butt. Turning toward him, she felt a lightness flutter in her body.
She let out a bark of laughter as an indescribable feeling swept through her. She barely recognized it. Relief. Tenfold. Years of it encased in her skin and embedded in her being were let go with one look down the barrel of her gun.
It's over. She'd finally ended it.
Sloane's eyes narrowed slightly in a mute question, but he'd only get one answer from her. Swiping at the wisps of hair that had come adrift in their fight with one hand, Sydney let out a heavy sigh and put a smile on her face that came much more easily than she thought it would.
"I told you I'd be smiling," she said, as her finger curled into the gun.
Without blinking or flinching, she pulled the trigger.
For all of you.
"To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . ."
Dawn rose on the first day of the rest of her life in a manner no different than those before. On the surface, this sunrise resembled every other Swiss morning she'd witnessed – a wash of stark colors bursting forth, gradually brightening in a transformation that touched on many colors of the spectrum. But beneath the immediate layers, there was a newness enhancing her sense of calm – similar to a rebirth.
They watched the dark clouds billowing into the lightening sky together. Thick and black, the puffs grew and dispersed with the same ferocious vengeance once shown at different times by both the people sitting idly, a few buildings away, as they watched.
A vengeance they'd exacted together quite superbly.
Out of the corner of her eye, Sydney could see Sark leaning against the bench, legs crossed, one arm resting on the back with his fingers a scant inch away from touching her shoulder. Both her elbows were hooked over the back and she kept tonguing the blood off the corner of her mouth where Sloane had struck her.
Satisfaction and peace seeped into her body, relaxing her – washing most of her pain and heartache away.
Sark shifted his stance and cleared his throat, stealing her attention away from the morning.
"Apropos our original agreement, I was hoping you'd change your mind and take this," he said, handing her a slim white envelope.
Sydney looked at his proffered hand and the envelope, then closed her eyes and shook her head. "Sark, I told you I don't need your money. My parents set me up just fine before they died."
"So you've said," he replied, hand still extended. He tapped her bare knee with the corner of the envelope when she didn't take it and added uncomfortably, "Please, Sydney. Appease me on this. You more than earned your share."
"Sark…" She held his unwavering gaze for a moment and sighed. Stubbornness on her part would keep both of them here all day and night. She relented with a nod, taking the envelope from his hand in a gesture that felt too final.
She felt a dull ache forming behind her eyes, and she immediately detested herself for it. There was no way she'd cry over this – over him. Even if separating after all these months smote clear down to her soul, she'd be strong. Her eyes started to burn the longer the goodbye was drawn out, but she couldn't bring herself to leave first.
"What will you do now?" Sydney asked hesitantly, through a tight throat.
Sark gave her a brief, casual perusal before looking back up at the smoke. "Find a place to stay," then sniffed before adding, "Some place warm." His voice took on a reflective quality, but whether from his plans or the fact that the building was nearly done smoking, she didn't know. "Set some roots. Lay off the traveling for a while."
He glanced over at her, "You?"
I don't know.
He nodded and moments later, leaned forward to get up. Picking his bag up from off the ground, he stood to leave.
Sydney squinted up at him, trying to keep this light, trying damn hard to keep him from meaning anything more to her than he already did. "Thank you, Sark. For everything." She discreetly cleared her throat before adding, "I couldn't have done this without you."
He seemed to be looking down and just left of her eyes, responding with a, "Likewise." Reaching into his bag, she watched him remove her slim book then hand it over. "You left this behind, in the suite."
Her heart skipped a beat, realizing that she had nearly left it. "I can't believe I forgot this," Sydney said, reverently grasping the item in her hand. "Thank you."
He gave her a curt nod. "So long, Sydney."
With two shaky hands that she had to force to stay firm, she placed the book on her lap. "Good-bye, Sark."
Sydney waited until she knew he'd be far enough away before she let her fingers tightly curl around the book. There was a suspicious dull pain in her chest, and she took a deep breath in case it was lack of oxygen.
It didn't help.
A sharp sting pricked her index finger and she looked down at the tip, noticing a thin paper cut. Turning the book on its end, she discovered the edge of a small card protruding from the pages and pulled it out. An elegant, single hand-painted rose – caught halfway between a tight bud and full bloom – sat lonely on the cover. She traced the drawn blood-red petals with the pad of her other index finger first, then moved down the long, thornless stem before taking a deep breath.
Her entire body pulsed with nervousness as she flipped open the card – and then that was forgotten as the burn behind her eyes intensified.
"There is a flower . . . I think that she has tamed me . . ."
After she'd taken the briefest look, her hand flattened the card, snapping it shut tightly. The scene was so familiar her breath hitched and held in her throat. A war began brewing inside her head – one of decisions and ramifications and ties forged and what the hell was she going to do with her life now that it was fixed?
Black and white. Not an easy decision this time, Syd, she chastised herself.
But why wasn't it?
She clutched the card tightly between her fingers and closed her eyes, knowing that by now he was at least a few hundred feet away, maybe even already to his vehicle. He was on his way to leaving her.
"What have you got to lose, Sydney?"
Tucking her book securely under her arm, Sydney stood up to chase after him. But when she spun around, her body faltered.
He stood less than thirty feet away, with his face coolly guarded. Hands stuffed in his pant pockets – like he felt the need to keep control of them – and with his head slightly downcast, he looked the picture of humility. She smiled inside, knowing that his confidence in her coming after him pretty much negated all of that.
After a slight hesitation, she slipped the note back into the book and calmly walked over to him, her expression equally unrevealing.
"So," Sydney said quietly, once she stood before him.
"So," Sark replied.
She turned toward his vehicle, glanced sideways at him for a second, then began walking. Sark easily fell in step beside her. "Some place warm, you say?" Sydney asked as they reached his car.
He laughed lightly as he opened the passenger door for her. "Yes, some place warm."
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."