As the fog of a drug induced slumber cleared from her brain, Carla Goldman opened her eyes with a groan. Upon seeing her surroundings, she sat up abruptly in shock and instantly regretted it. She cradled her pounding head in her hands and tried to remember just how she’d managed to wake up in jail yet again. This hadn’t been such a rare occurrence when she was younger but she thought those days were over the moment she joined the opera. The intriguing and somewhat frightening owner and composer had informed her that he wouldn’t tolerate such from his actors and especially not from his principals. Carla had learned early in her contract to either avoid the police or know which ones could be persuaded to see that there were no records of her arrest. She hoped this unfortunate slip would prove no different.
A groan, followed by a muffled curse, pulled her attention from her own problems towards the cell across from hers. Shocked, Carla realized its occupant was none other than Omni CEO, Michael Blankenship. Had she been with him when they were arrested? It frustrated her that she could remember the last few days only in the vaguest of ways; she felt she was missing something important. Her introspection was interrupted by the slamming of a large, metal door which caused her head to throb painfully in response.
“Ah, Ms. Goldman, you’re awake.” The coffee-skinned man seemed familiar to her in some way but she couldn’t immediately place him. “I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that you’ve fulfilled your side of the deal admirably. The ADA is quite impressed. We have plenty of evidence to indict Blankenship on possession of an illegal substance, child pornography, and sexual misconduct with a minor as well as helping us to obtain the necessary search warrants to pursue conspiracy to kidnapping and murder. Quite an accomplishment, I should say.”
“What? What deal? What are you talking about?” Though her head throbbed with each word, Carla couldn’t prevent her voice from rising with each word. She had the feeling that something, somewhere, had gone terribly wrong.
“Why, the deal you made to gather evidence on Blankenship and Stanislav Zakharov, whom you know as Robert Chaney, for the murder of Blankenship’s father and the kidnapping of Alexandra Roberts in exchange for immunity. I don’t know how you got him to spill it all but we are…”
“You stupid bitch!” Blankenship had finally shaken off enough of the drugs in his system to understand what was going on. “You’re going to get us both killed! Chaney isn’t anyone to cross. Do you think these fools can protect you? Once he knows you made a deal with the cops, he’ll be after you to teach you not to fuck with him or those he works with.”
Carla recoiled from the sheer fury, hatred, and terror in the businessman’s voice. What did the foreign man mean about murder? She didn’t know anything about a murder and she only wanted to get rid of that Roberts bitch so that she could convince Erik that…
All the blood fled her face so quickly that she felt faint. Everything was so jumbled up that she didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. Dropping her head into her hands, Carla groaned and tried to remember the last few days. She knew Alex had left the theater and that Erik had requested to see her shortly afterwards but that was when things got foggy. Did he do something to her? There were all sorts of rumors about Erik Devereaux and his unusual abilities but she’d scarcely believed them. Sure, they lent him an aura of mystery and danger that was extremely alluring but that was all. No one could really control another human being with just a voice, no matter how lovely it was. Right?
“Is everything ok, Ms. Goldman?” She finally remembered who he was; he was Erik’s pet cop. Da’ud or something like that. Damn foreigner. Though his question was solicitous of her well being, his voice betrayed his apathy. He knew what had happened; he had to!
“What did he do to me?”
“What did who do to you, Ms. Goldman?”
“You know who! Devereaux! What did he do to me, you son of a bitch?” Her panic was steadily rising and the insult ended on a note worthy of the opera stage.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Ms. Goldman. You left the Metropolitan a few days ago when you discovered that the understudy had been training for the lead; which, I should point out, is part of her duties as your understudy. Erik tried to persuade you to stay but you refused to listen. You must have gone straight to the ADA’s office after that and yesterday we were finally able to arrange things sufficiently to gather the information we needed.” The former policeman spread his hands and shrugged. “If you met with Erik once you’d left the opera house, I am not aware of it.
“Someone should be down shortly, though, to release you. You will be asked to remain in the city in case testimony is needed. On behalf of the ADA, I thank you for your cooperation.” With a small bow, Da’ud left the confused woman to her cell, her thoughts, and the verbal abuse of her former lover.
“Remain in the city?” Blankenship sneered at the opera singer. “I’d advise you to leave the country but there’s no where you can go that Chaney won’t find you. Do you know what he does to traitors, Carla? Do you know how he treats fancy sluts like you who rat him out to the police? He has a friend, I’m told, who needs fresh women regularly because his clients can get a bit too…enthusiastic with the goods.”
“You mean he runs a whorehouse?”
“Oh no, nothing so pedestrian. His clients purchase the goods in full to use however they so choose. Some use the girls for sex, some want to watch her with another or many others, some like to inflict pain…I’ve even heard of a few who use them in labs for experimental purposes.” Carla’s eyes widened as Blankenship spilled the foul deeds of those who dealt with Chaney’s associate.
“You’re talking about selling people as if they’re no different from a sofa or a tv!”
“Not people, Carla. Women. You see, there is quite the difference.”
Retreating to the very furthest corner of the cell, Carla Goldman thought back to the man she’d met only recently for lunch. Handsome, smooth, extremely polite…but even then there’d been something that made her skin crawl. If only she’d listened to her instincts she might not be in this situation. Suddenly, leaving the cell wasn’t as enticing as when she’d first awakened.
The couple had trudged through the deep snow until the sun began to rise on the horizon. His black mask made it difficult to enter a tavern or Bed & Breakfast without alerting those they wished to avoid but he knew Alex couldn’t make it much longer in the bitter cold. On the outskirts of Kirov, Erik found an abandoned farm whose barn appeared sturdy enough to provide some protection from the elements and allow his companion to catch a few hours sleep. Once they were inside, he directed her in helping to create a fire ring so that they could have a bit of warmth without burning the building down around them. He kept the fire small so that the smoke wouldn’t be too obvious and watched Alexandra carefully as she warmed her frozen fingers and toes.
“You need to remove your shoes and gloves, ma petite, so they can dry or you risk frostbite. A bed of straw will prove to be quite warm.”
“I’d be warmer if you held me. There’s much to be said for body heat you know.” Peeling the wet, icy gloves from her hands, Alex winced when the heat made her numb fingers tingle painfully. Erik helped her with her boots and socks and left her by the fire to gather things they’d need for the short time they’d camp here.
“I know you would, minx, but one of us must keep watch. I won’t have you recaptured just because I couldn’t resist you.”
Her pout was playful and they bantered in a similar vein as Erik created a spit of sorts over the small fire to dry their shoes, socks, and gloves while Alex gathered straw for a makeshift bed. Nerves, exhaustion, and lack of sleep jockied for dominance as she grew warmer and her eyes drifted shut. Erik smoothed the hair from her face tenderly and hoped his contact hadn’t been compromised in the years since he’d been in the area.
An hour drifted past and the masked man checked his shoes and, satisfied they were dry enough, quickly slipped them on. Leaving the gloves for the moment, he double-checked all points of entry into the barn. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary but he’d felt it in his gut; something was amiss. The ladder to the loft was missing a few rungs but was otherwise sound. Making his way up top, Erik cautiously eased over to the window and tried to find whatever was making him anxious. He could see nothing other than a blanket of white snow and the trees they’d left an hour ago. Frustrated, he started back down the ladder when he smelled it. Smoke. And lots of it.
Waking Alex, he quietly ordered her to put her shoes on and make it quick while he tried to pinpoint the origin of the smoke that was quickly filling the barn. When flames began to flicker under and around the doors and windows, he knew they didn’t have long before the entire building was engulfed. Erik grabbed Alex’s hand and pulled her over to the loft and practically threw her up the ladder. He followed quickly as the doors succumbed to the flames and fell into the barn. Zakharov’s men were outside with firearms trained on the doorway in case they tried to escape. Rushing to the window, he was relieved they’d yet to cover the back of the barn and pulled Alex onto the roof.
“If we want to survive this, we’re going to have to jump, Alexandra.”
“Jump? Are you crazy? We’ll break a leg or be killed or…” The fear in her voice was rising along with the volume and Erik placed a hand over her mouth to keep her from giving away their position.
“Are you scared of heights, ma petite?” For some reason, after all they’d been through, the thought amused him somewhat. Shaking her head, she managed to make a weak joke of her fear.
“Oh no, it’s not the height that bothers me, it’s that sudden stop at the end when I fall from it.”
“Then we’ll jump together and I’ll help cushion you.”
“Why can’t we just take out the bad guys at the front and go out that way? We have the advantage of higher elevation, right?” Clinging to the window casing, she glanced back inside and noticed that the flames were licking merrily along the old wooden walls. The straw she’d gathered for her makeshift bed was now just a tiny pile of ash.
“Because then we’d have to also go through the fire, mon amour, and that won’t be nearly as forgiving as the soft snow below us. We must jump, it’s the only way.” Erik pried her fingers from the window and led her to the roof’s edge. With a gentle kiss to reassure her, he took her hand and indicated they’d jump on the count of three. “One…two…” Just as he said the word ‘three’, Alex’s fear overrode her common sense and she snatched her hand from his. Already in motion, Erik jumped safely to the ground alone. Again mindful of those who guarded the front, he resorted to ventriloquism to encourage her.
“I cannot leave you there, mon amour. Sit on the edge and simply slide; I will catch you, I promise. We must go soon, though, for Zakharov’s men will circle the building when we don’t emerge from the front.”
Trembling all over, Alex sat and scooted to the edge of the roof. Erik seemed so far away…there was no way he could catch her. She forced herself to keep moving forward when every instinct screamed at her to retreat. Teetering on the edge, she looked down at her fiancé and was instantly caught in his warm amber gaze. A feeling of peace settled over her and she smiled. Gripping the edge to ease over the last few inches, there was a thunderous crack and the roof buckled beneath her. Erik watched in horror as the roof, carrying his Alexandra, collapsed into the burning building.