Kiara’s scream echoed in the flat.
Nykyrian went cold. Drawing his blaster, he ran down the corridor to the back room where her scream had originated. Carefully, he entered the studio, then froze.
With a stern frown, he looked at Kiara’s rage-flushed face. She stood in the center of the room, hands on hips. There didn’t appear to be any kind of threat in here at all.
Well, nothing more than her anger.
Irritated over her unwarranted shriek, he holstered his blaster. “What’s going on?”
“What have you done?” she demanded. “Look at my room.” She gestured toward the black blast shields over her floor-length windows. “How dare you people come into my home and rearrange my furnishings. And what is that thing?”
Nykyrian stared at the opaque window coverings. “It’s a blast shield.”
Darling and Hauk exchanged wary looks.
“I forgot to mention that,” Darling said. “We covered all the windows to keep snipers from seeing a target.”
Kiara fumed. “I want you to leave. All of you. Out!”
Nykyrian nodded to Hauk and Darling, excusing them. Without a word, they left.
She continued to glare at him. “I meant you as well.”
“I know you did. Get used to me. I’m not leaving.”
She walked right up to him, her fists clenched tightly at her sides. “You’re fired. Now get out!”
Her audacity almost made him smile. It’d been a long time since someone dared stand up to him in anger without a weapon pointed at his head. “You didn’t hire me.”
Kiara’s eyes widened. Never in her life had she been so angry. In fact, it was rare she ever lost her temper. She stared at Nykyrian wishing she were Trisani and could splatter him against her walls with just her thoughts.
“I want you out of my home.”
For a brief moment, she thought he winced, but his face quickly turned emotionless. He left the studio.
Satisfaction washed over her as she surveyed the empty room. Tomorrow she’d have the building’s maintenance crew remove the shields. Tonight she would enjoy the peacefulness of being alone and alive.
She wanted her life back and she intended to claim it!
A movement in one of her mirrors caught her attention. Stepping closer to the glass, she recognized Nykyrian in her front room.
She narrowed her eyes dangerously. He hadn’t left. In a heated daze, she went to expel him from her life. She was tired of having no control over anything that happened to her. Yes, they might kill her, but at this point she was willing to risk it for a moment of sanity.
Reaching the kitchen, Kiara paused by her counter, shocked by the sight before her.
What was he doing?
Her anger dissolved as she watched his fluid, confident moves. Never had she expected an assassin to cook. “Why are you doing that?”
“I thought you might be hungry. I know I am.”
Kiara watched him rinse assorted brenna vegetables in her sink. Pulling her cutting board off the wall, he pulled one of her knives out of its block and tested the edge with his thumb. “Do you ever cook?”
“All the time.”
He held the knife up for her inspection, his features bland. “With this?” Finally there was emotion in his tone. It was mocking and snarly, but at least it was emotion.
He scoffed. “I’ve used sharper spoons.” He pulled a knife out from the folds of his coat.
Her eyes widened at the way the light glinted against the black titanium blade. “Is that sanitary?”
“I’m sure it’s cleaner than yours. I wash mine with alcohol and sterilize them, then put them in airtight sheaths, not a porous wood block that can hold bacteria.” He struck the knife several times against the spike on his right vambrace in silent, short, quick strokes before he started slicing the vegetables with a shocking ease.
No . . .
That couldn’t be what she thought it was . . .
“You travel with a whetstone on your arm?”
He paused before he returned to chopping. “You don’t ever want to kill someone with a dull knife. It takes too long to sever their arteries, or puncture organs, and it makes it even messier than normal.”
“Is that a joke?”
He didn’t answer and the way he handled that knife put a painful knot in her stomach. Yes, it was graceful and impressive, but it showed an expertise and precision that made her blood run cold. He chopped fast, the blade slicing like a diamond-tipped razor through everything.
It was actually a wonder he didn’t cut his own fingers, as fast as he moved. Yet he never missed a beat. He pulled out a stockpot and added herbs and seasoning to the water.
Kiara frowned. “You actually look like you know what you’re doing.”
He stopped chopping and looked up at her. “Why does it surprise you? Even killers need food.”
She ignored his obvious barb. “Food yes, but Cretoria? That is what you’re making?”
“Yes.” He finished chopping the vegetables, then placed them on the counter.
“So, you’re a killer and a gourmet.”
Nykyrian shrugged while he walked to her cooling unit and pulled out her defrosted trona meat. He returned to her counter. “You could say I’m a gourmet killer. Being Andarion, I like my human meat cooked well.”
“You told me you don’t eat humans.” She was sure the look under his glasses was a sharp glare.
Without a word, he began slicing the meat—this time with an even larger knife that he pulled out of his sleeve.
Just how many weapons did he have concealed on him?
Kiara wasn’t sure she wanted an answer to that.
Her eyes wide, she watched as he twirled the blade while he sliced. How weird that he inadvertently made a show out of it and, by the way he moved, she could tell he was doing it subconsciously—unaware of how out of the norm his movements were.
Was she safe alone with him?
Surely her father wouldn’t have hired him if he thought there would be any danger to her. Right?
“Do you ever remove your gloves?” she asked, trying to distract herself from that disturbing thought.
He didn’t answer.
Kiara hated when he did that. So she moved on to her next question. “What about your shades? Do they ever come off?”
She pursed her lips at his curt response, trying to figure out why he wanted to wear them inside. “Don’t they make it too dark?”
“They adjust automatically to accommodate various light levels.”
Fascinating tidbit . . . but it still didn’t tell her why he wore them all the time. “Are you embarrassed over your Andarion eyes?”
“Nothing about me bothers me. But my eyes seem to make everyone else uncomfortable.”
He added seasoning to the meat. “Especially Hauk.”
Kiara wondered at his words. How could an Andarion be made uncomfortable by another of his kind?
She glanced about for Hauk and Darling who were nowhere in her home. “Where did the others go?”
“As per your highness’s demands, they left.”
She was a bit surprised by that. “You mean someone actually listened to me?”
“Don’t get used to it.”
His clipped words silenced the conversation. She felt rather ridiculous over her outburst and as she stood there, she realized she was wearing nothing except a bathrobe while confronting a complete stranger in her kitchen. “I need to dress.”
Nykyrian let out a long breath as she left him. Thank you. The low dip in the front of her robe had caused him quite a bit of discomfort. Since she’d called his attention to the studio, the only thing he’d really noticed had been the tiny droplets of water clinging to the deep cleft of her br**sts.
Water he wanted to lick off that skin in the worst sort of way.
He vowed to keep his mind on business and not Kiara’s body. To help achieve his goal, he switched on the music player located on the kitchen wall. As he finished placing the meat and vegetables into the pot, he heard Syn in his ear telling him he was outside in the hallway.
The door buzzer sounded.
Kiara came running from her room, fastening the last three buttons of her blouse. He groaned inwardly, regretting he’d ever told her he wasn’t interested in her body. No doubt, she figured she could run around nak*d and not stir him.
This was going to be a long mission.
Reining his body back under his rigid control, Nykyrian moved to the door, ready just in case.
Kiara opened it, admitting Syn and her father.
“Thank God.” The commander pulled her into his arms and held her close. “When I saw the bodies, I was terrified you were hurt.”
Her face paled before she glanced at Syn, then Nykyrian. “Luckily Nykyrian and Syn were there to save me.”
Kiefer released her and faced Nykyrian. “I thought you people were going to wait until tomorrow before starting your protection.”
You people . . . Could there be any more loathing in the way he said those words?
Nykyrian had to bite back a sarcastic reminder that they were both housebroken—though to be fair, given their pasts, that was a miracle. “Had we waited, she’d be dead now.”
The president tensed before returning his attention to Kiara. “I wanted to tell you about this, but I was waiting until after your performance. I didn’t want to upset you.”
“I’m not upset.”
Nykyrian rolled his eyes, grateful they couldn’t see the action behind his shades. Not upset . . . yeah, right. She was more than ready to kill them all.
Kiefer gave her a grim smile. He looked back at Nykyrian with a stern scowl. “I have misgivings about this. I warned Nemesis, now I warn you. Should anything happen to her, I won’t rest until I have destroyed every member of The Sentella.”
Nykyrian had to stifle the urge to make an obscene gesture over a threat that was as preposterous as it was unneeded. If The League couldn’t kill him, a Gourish president damn sure couldn’t. “We’re trained professionals. Kiara is safer with us than she’d ever be with you.”
Kiefer narrowed his eyes in a way that made Nykyrian want to punch him. “She’d better be. I intend to keep in constant contact.” He gave his daughter another fierce hug. “I hate to leave, but I need to get back to the base and deal with the reporters and paperwork over what happened tonight. If you need me, call.”
“I will,” she promised, kissing his cheek.
“I’ll check on you when I get home.” He released her and headed for the door. “I love you, baby.”
“I love you, too, Daddy.”
He kissed her brow before he took his leave.
Kiara ached as her father left her alone with the two men she wasn’t so sure about. Her heart heavy, she locked the door, then frowned at the mocking expression on Syn’s face as he walked over to Nykyrian.
“What the hell was that action?” Syn asked him.
“I think it’s something called ‘paternal concern.’ ”
Syn scowled at his bland explanation. “What . . . ? You sure? I thought that crap was a myth.”
Nykyrian shrugged. “No, really. I watched it once in a documentary. It was fascinating. Believe it or not, there are people out there who actually have feelings for their progeny.”
“Get the f**k out. No way. You’re screwing with my head again, aren’t you?”
“No. I swear. You just saw it with your own eyes. I did not make that shit up.”
Syn shivered. “Yeah but it’s really messing with my concept of the natural order of the universe. Paternal love? What’s next? Limb regrowth? Genetic splicing reversals?”
Kiara gave Syn an irritated grimace. “Don’t your parents ever worry about either of you?”
Syn arched a brow. “What parents?”
A ripple of apprehension went through Kiara that she might have been insensitive to them. “Are they dead?”
“Careful,” Nykyrian said, returning to the kitchen. “You might not want an answer to that question.”
She tried to understand his cryptic response. “What do you mean?”
Syn laughed evilly. “Kip wasn’t born, he was spawned.”
Now she was completely confused. “Who’s Kip?”
Syn indicated Nykyrian with his thumb.
“You were a tubie?”
Nykyrian glanced up from his dinner preparations. “Syn has a brain disorder that causes him to lie most of the time. Ignore him.”
Syn snorted. “I don’t lie. I merely tell the truth creatively.”
So Nykyrian wasn’t a test-tube baby. This really didn’t make a bit of sense to her. “But neither of you has parents?”
Nykyrian put a lid on the pot. “They’re dead.”
“Isn’t that what I asked to begin with?”