Kissing Sin Chapter Thirteen

Five days later, recovered from my wounds if not the memories, I was back in the bowels of Genoveve, my hands clasped behind my back as I stared out over the bloody sands of the old arena.

Behind me, Jack was speaking to Rhoan, but his words were little more than a babble of sound that was making no sense. Not that it mattered. I knew all the important stuff already. Roberta Whitby was dead. Jack and Rhoan hadn't got there in time to save her - a bomb had blown the vehicle apart long before she'd ever reached the tunnel where their trap waited. And the man who'd been Mrs. Hunt had been reduced to little more than unknowing flesh, his brain fried so completely he wasn't even capable of looking after himself. This despite all the shields the guardians who'd been bringing him in had placed on him.

Despite all he'd done in the last few days, all that we'd been through, Jack still didn't know the location of the second lab. Still didn't know the name of the man behind it all. While he mightn't be back at square one, he hadn't advanced much beyond it, either.

Except for the fact that Misha had, in the very end, come through with his promises. In the aftermath of his death, he'd given me the answers I needed - although that wasn't something Jack knew just yet.

I closed my eyes against the bloody images crowding my mind. I didn't want to remember how Misha had died, but rather, how he'd lived, in the times when he'd been just a lover and a good friend. Because that was what he was, despite everything. A friend.

A friend who had died loving me.

He'd been buried without fuss in the traditional wolf manner, his body burned and his ashes scattered in the woods of one of his estates. That I'd been asked to the reading of his will surprised me, as did the fact that he'd left me two things - an undeveloped strip of land in the hills where I could - in his words - run free, and a letter.

It was the letter that had provided all the answers. I reached into my pocket and lightly touched the folded piece of paper. I'd read it often enough over the last few days to be able to recite it by heart, and yet the words still had the power to shock me. Or maybe it was the sentiment - the fact that he really had loved me.

Even if he'd never really understood what that meant.

If you are reading this, then I am dead, it started, and you and the Directorate are left to fight this monster alone. For that, I am sorry. I want his madness stopped, as I have wanted almost nothing else, and everything I have done in recent times has been to that end. But I fear I have played my cards too close to my chest, and that in doing so, have placed myself in his hands.

He has two identities, Riley. I cannot tell you the first, because it is an identity he has guarded very closely. But I know it is someone you see often - not a ft tend, not a lover, but someone close all the same. Nor is it to him Gautier reports to at the Directorate, but rather, our clone sister. Both she and Gautier will escape this cleansing, because he is not aware that you know about Gautier or the fact that there is someone else at the Directorate. Her lab-given name is Claudia Jones, but I have no idea what name she uses at the Directorate.

The other identity he has taken, and the one he most closely resembles, is Deshon Starr. He has taken over the cartel who rule the docks and claims inner Melbourne as its territory. He is ruthless and without morals. His operation is a closed group, and few outsiders are ever permitted into its ranks without intense scrutiny. But I have found the chink in the armor. Deshon likes men, and he likes to have lots of them at his disposal, so that gives the Directorate one entry point. The other is Deshon's two lieutenants. They are lab-enhanced - an area the cartel has been exploring for over forty years. They are not clones, not lab-born crossbreeds, but humans who, while still fetuses, underwent several procedures that involved cross-planting DNA from shifters to enhance their reflexes and senses. These experiments also gave them an overdeveloped se* drive. se* is a fix they must have every day, and they go through women like sharks. Lovers are vetted, but less carefully than others, because they tend not to last long. The one who used you at the breeding center was Alden Merle. The other is Leo Moss. Of the two, Merle is probably the saner - but that's not saying a great deal. Both men are extremely dangerous and live only for two things - to obey Deshon, and to kill.

One thing more I must tell you.

For the longest time, the only emotion I have ever felt was the hunger to succeed. Then I met you.

Is love the desire - no, the need - to be with that person, whatever the cost? Does it cause the rue of rage when you see that person with another? Does it make you ache to hold her, to whisper things that sound foreign and strange to your tongue? Does it make you wish for things you know can never be?

I haven't the answers, Riley. In all that I've learned over the years, no one has ever mentioned a force such as this. Bui whatever it is, I feel it for you.

We would have been good together.

I closed my eyes against the tears suddenly stinging them. I may not have believed his words in life, but I had no such choice on his death. He'd proven he meant what he said, because he'd given me - or rather, the Directorate - the answers, and the name we needed. And he didn't have to do that.

’’Riley? Are you paying the slightest attention to what I'm saying?’’

Jack's barked question made me jump. I took a deep breath and turned around. ’’Actually, no, I wasn't. Was it something important?’’

’’Hell, no. I just say these things because I love to hear the sound of my own voice.’’ He waved a hand to the spare chair in front of his desk. ’’Sit, woman, and pay attention.’’

My gaze met my brother's as I walked across the room. There was understanding there, like he knew what I was feeling. And he probably did. We might not share the communication of twins, and we might not be telepathically linked, but we very often knew when the other was hurting. I sat down, and he reached across, grasping my hand, squeezing it lightly.

’’In his own weird way, he cared.’’

I smiled. ’’I know.’’

’’People, can we get back to business here?’’ Jack glared at the two of us for a moment, then continued. ’’As I was saying, we have two people who, given everything Misha told you the day he died, fit the bill. One is Frank Margagliano, and the other is Deshon Starr. Both men have apparently undergone subtle changes in recent years - ’’

’’It's Deshon Starr.’’ I took the letter from my pocket and handed it to Jack.

He raised an eyebrow, then leaned back in his chair and read the note. ’’Well,’’ he said slowly, once he'd finished. ’’That's certainly a help.’’ He smiled slightly. ’’And I'm glad it's Deshon, because that's whom I was leaning toward.’’

’’Misha's given us a way in.’’

He studied me for a moment, then placed the folded letter on his desk and leaned forward, his hands clasped in front of him. ’’He's given someone a way in, certainly.’’

His gaze was on mine, green eyes challenging. He wanted me in on this, there was no doubt about that. But this time, it was all in, or nothing at all. His way, or the highway.

’’No,’’ Rhoan said, before I could say anything.

I looked at him. ’’I have to do this. I have to see it through.’’

’’No,’’ he repeated, his voice full of repressed fury as he looked at Jack. ’’She's not trained for this sort of work. And given that she's the prize this man has spent the last few months hunting, it would be utter stupidity to throw her into his web.’’

I touched a hand to his, dragging his gaze back to mine. ’’The last place he will look for me is in his own backyard.’’

’’There's Gautier.’’

’’Gautier can be taken care of,’’ Jack said.

’’Dammit, Riley,’’ Rhoan exploded, ’’do you know what you will have to do? What you will have to dance with?’’

’’Yes, I do.’’ And while the thought made my stomach curl, the simple fact was, I owed it to Kade, and to all the stallions who had died in our escape - and all the women who had been held in those breeding cells and who were more than likely dead - to see this through. But more importantly, I owed it to myself. These people had taken me, filled me with drugs that might yet have dire consequences, they'd abused me, and basically torn my world apart. And most of all, they'd made me fear. I couldn't let them get away with that. I had to be a part of their downfall, if only for my future peace of mind.

And if that meant dancing with a murderous piece of meat, then so be it. I was a wolf, and se* was only se*. As I'd said to Quinn more than once, it was merely an act that meant nothing more than enjoyment until real feelings were invoked.

Besides, how could I ever hope to live a normal life when that man was out there? When my brother was involved in the hunt and I was not?

’’We can use the moon fever to our advantage,’’ I said softly. ’’If what Misha says about them is true, they're likely to be less circumspect during the full moon phase.’’

’’Dammit, Riley, that's not the point.’’

’’The point,’’ I said softly, ’’is that that man has been plotting against me for over three years. Would you sit back and let someone else make him pay if our positions were reversed?’’

He slumped back in his chair, and rubbed a hand across his eyes. ’’Jesus, sis, you have no idea what you're getting yourself into.’’

Maybe I didn't. Maybe he was right, and I was stepping through hell's door when the sane would be running. But that was something I just couldn't do. Not if I wanted to live with myself. ’’Can it be any worse than what has happened to me already? Any worse than sitting here, waiting to see what effects the drugs Talon used on me are?’’

’’Yes, it can.’’ His gaze met mine, eyes bleak. ’’You've never embraced your vampire half. Never acknowledged the killer instinct. It's going to take that, and more, to get through this.’’

’’You cannot go in there alone, and we both know Jack can't send a female vampire to do this, simply because the Directorate has no female guardians capable of moving around in the daylight.’’

’’I don't want you doing this.’’

’’And I didn't want you to become a guardian, but you did, because you felt it was the right thing to do. I feel the same way about this.’’

’’F*k, Riley, that's not fair.’’

I raised an eyebrow. ’’Why? Because it's the truth?’’

He leaned forward and grabbed my hands. ’’If you really, really need to do this, then I can do nothing but support you.’’ His gaze searched mine for a moment before he continued. ’’But if this is about Misha, about what was done to him, then I won't. Can't.’’

’’I'm doing this for me. Because of what has been done to me.’’ Mostly, anyway.

He sighed, and let me go. ’’Then at least get some training before we go in.’’

’’If she does this, she'll be getting training. And Gautier will know about the training, because everyone there knows I want to set up a daytime unit.’’

’’Hiding in plain sight,’’ I murmured. ’’How much time have we got, do you think?’’

’’Plenty, because he thinks he's safe, and we can't afford to rush. We'll continue to keep track of Gautier, and set up a watch on our two female assistant directors. And we'll need to thoroughly investigate the two lieutenants, as well as set up covers for the two of you.’’

’’Why not just take Gautier out?’’ Rhoan asked.

Jack glanced at him. ’’Because the minute we do that, Starr will know something is happening. He's better kept under close watch, and fed false information.’’ His gaze came back to me. ’’Are you in, or out?’’

’’In,’’ I said.

And even as I said it, I knew I'd stepped onto the road to becoming the one thing I'd sworn never to become.

A guardian, just like my brother.

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