Yeah, for a normal person.
He wasn’t normal in any sense of the word. “Believe me, I’m more than enough to keep you safe.” There was no arrogance in those words. It was just a simple statement of fact.
Kiara paused at her favorite chair, across from Nykyrian and his rigid pose. He’d finally removed his long coat and draped it right where she’d planned to sit. How strange that he seemed even more formidable without it.
Not an easy thing to do . . .
Maybe he was right about not needing anyone else. He looked more than capable of single-handedly bringing down an entire army.
Now she could finally see the full, ripped outline of his body . . . and the presence of more weapons.
Daggers and knives were cradled in sheaths from hipbone to hipbone around his back. More sheaths were attached to his wrists and biceps, front and back, along with the two blasters. No doubt there were more weapons in his pants and boots. And he seemed oblivious to all of them.
A shiver went over her.
As she tried to pick up his coat, she frowned at the unbelievable weight of it. How did he manage to wear it so flawlessly? She could barely lift one sleeve. It had to be lined with armor, and the flash of silver said there were even more weapons hidden within its folds.
Nykyrian stood up and took it from her with one hand before he laid it down beside him on the couch. That, too, was impressive.
She arched a brow at the clinking sound the coat had made. “Just out of curiosity, how many weapons are in that thing?”
“Enough to make me happy.”
Kiara was unamused by his curt reply. “So is there any part of you that’s not a lethal weapon?”
He sat back down before he answered. “No. Even my wits are sharpened.”
Rolling her eyes at his dry sarcasm, Kiara was a little more respectful of him and his strength as she took her chair. Her father’s dire words echoed in her ears. He’d warned her of The Sentella’s ferocity, telling her to stay alert and call for him if she had any suspicions toward them at all. While he knew they were the best at protecting her, he still didn’t fully trust them and he’d left his own guards all over the street outside and patrolling the inside of her building.
Just in case.
And who could really blame him for being paranoid? In spite of what Nykyrian had said earlier, they were all mercenaries whose only loyalty was to currency.
Watching Nykyrian closely, she tried to read his thoughts. Would he sell her out? Or kill her himself? Could he be that cold-blooded?
Of course he could.
And yet she wanted to believe he was better than that. That he had some form of moral fiber hidden underneath that icy facade and mountain of weapons.
Nykyrian’s own words drifted through her mind. Emotions are bred out of us during training. Still, she refused to believe he was completely without feelings. Were that true, he wouldn’t have comforted her while she cried. He wouldn’t have cared enough to even bother.
His gloved fingers flew over the touch keypads while he worked with only a whisper of light tapping.
A wicked smile curved her lips as she studied the gorgeous body and profile of the man who seemed oblivious to her presence. She’d been around many men who constantly worked to improve their physical appearance, but none of them had ever appealed to her as much as he did.
A man who should repulse her.
Yet there was something about him that called out to her like a hurt child needing comfort. Kiara almost laughed aloud at the thought. She studied Nykyrian, his jaw tense, his features blank. The epitome of fierce soldier and lethal killer.
No, there didn’t appear to be anything about him even close to hurting or needy.
So why did she feel this way?
“What are you working on?” she finally asked.
He growled a low warning in his throat that made her a bit uneasy. “I have a lot of work to finish. I’m not here to be sociable. I’m here only to protect you. Ignore me and go about your business as if I’m not even in the room.”
She arched a brow at that ridiculous comment. “Have you any idea how much space you take up? In case it’s escaped your notice, you’re not exactly small or easy to ignore.”
She could have sworn she saw one corner of his mouth twitch as if he’d almost smiled. But he said nothing in response.
Kiara folded her arms around her leg and rested her chin on her knee. She watched his flying fingers, amazed he could type and talk at the same time. “But since you’re here . . .”
His fingers stopped moving, the sudden silence echoed around her, increasing her discomfort.
“I just thought you might as well tell me something about yourself. We could end up spending days together, weeks even, and I for—”
“Fine,” he snapped, cutting her off.
Kiara hid her triumphant smile behind her knee, but she was sure her eyes glowed in mischief.
Nykyrian sat back and defensively crossed his arms over his chest. “If it will solace your mind, I will allow you to ask me eight questions. After that, you’ll never again ask me another thing about my past, or my colleagues, and you’ll remain quiet and let me finish what I’m doing.”
The sharp, clipped words irked her. She stared at him, trying to think of things that would give her a working knowledge of what kind of person he was. “Okay,” she said as she thought of the first one. “What’s your surname?”
She choked in surprise over the last name she’d expected to hear. She wouldn’t have been more surprised to find out he was a royal prince. “As in the universally famed and acclaimed Commander Huwin Quiakides?” In The League, that name carried more prestige than all the presidents and royal families of all the United Systems combined. The late commander was a legend revered by all.
“Was he your father?”
She thought she noticed his teeth clench before he answered, “Three, yes.”
Kiara gave an unladylike snort. “That doesn’t count. You should have said that when I asked the second question.”
He shrugged in an aggravating manner of disinterest. “Be specific. Anything counts.”
Oh, that little booger . . .
But arguing with him was pointless. The one thing she did know about him—he was stubborn to a fault.
Kiara sat for a minute, thinking over what little information Mira had given her while she’d been in The Sentella’s base. “If he was your father, why did you leave The League?”
This time, she definitely saw the angry tic in his jaw as his features hardened. “What makes you so sure I was in The League?”
Kiara gulped at the harsh, deadly tone. At that moment, she could easily imagine him tearing someone into pieces and she had no desire for that someone to be either her or Mira. “I saw part of the tattoo on your wrist. It is true, isn’t it? You were a League assassin?”
Some of the tenseness left his lips, and she wondered why. “Four, yes.”
Kiara was getting tired of him numbering his answers. “You know, you could try and be a little friendlier.”
“I’m not paid to be nice. I’m paid to kill.”
A lump of dread closed her throat at the thought. “Do you like to kill?” she asked, her throat growing tighter by the heartbeat.
Kiara witnessed the first truly visible, emotional response from him—he went completely rigid and tense. There was no mistaking the anger, even though he held it in well. He closed the computer with a sharp snap and tossed it aside.
Without a word, he left the room.
Kiara sat in her chair for several minutes, wondering about his reaction. Since he brought the subject of his killings up so often, why would her question bother him?
She went to find out.
He stood in front of the blast shields in her studio. She watched him from the doorway as he slid his hand over the plastic panels as if looking for a hole. He appeared ambivalent again.
“You said you would answer my questions.”
He dropped his hand. “I didn’t expect you to ask that one.”
Nykyrian crossed the room with that powerful, commanding gait to stand before her. For a moment, she thought he might actually touch her, but he remained less than a foot from her—just close enough to warm her with his body heat, with an intangible wall so thick around him, she didn’t dare reach out and touch him or even step closer.
“Why would you care how anything makes me feel?” His low tone seemed somehow searching.
“I don’t know, I just do.”
He turned around and changed the topic. “Do you practice in here?”
Kiara frowned at the unexpected question, curious about what had prompted it. “Yes.”
He walked over to the mirrors and touched her favorite spot on the stretching bar. She’d used it so much there was a slight dip in the wood from her ankle and a permanent stain there from the oils in her skin. “Do you enjoy what you do?”
He shook his head. “That was a well rehearsed response. Tell me, honestly, do you enjoy the grind of what you do? The discipline, the hours and hours of rehearsal, the promoters who make demands, the fittings, the other dancers who envy you, the media who criticizes every move you make, and all the bullshit that goes along with each performance? Do you really enjoy what you do?”
Kiara looked away. No, she hated all of that. She couldn’t even eat what she wanted to for fear of gaining any weight . . . or just as bad, losing it. Once the costumes had been created, they were fined heavily if they gained or lost more than two pounds.
And she was weighed every single day.
Everything she did out in public was scrutinized. Everything that happened in private was fodder for the public gristmill.
Then there were all the blisters and sore muscles. The cramps and pulls. The doubts and fears. Worst of all, the backbiting and two-faced friends.
She hated every bit of that. But she wasn’t about to let this stranger know about her private hell. So she answered with the truth. “Dancing was all I ever wanted to do.”
His grip tightened on the bar. “Really? Or do you do it because someone expected you to? Because it’s what they trained you for?”
A chill crept up her back. “What makes you think that?”
Nykyrian turned around and faced her. “The pictures and awards you have in the main room on your shelves. Most of them are of you as a child, dressed for dance recitals with people applauding you or of you holding the awards that you so proudly display. You don’t look old enough in any of them to make a life-shaping decision. And from the amount of them, I doubt you ever had time to try and do anything else.”
He moved close to her again. “I would say you dance because you were told it was what you should do with your talents.”
She froze. “Why would you say that?”
“Again, the pictures you have. When you’re in practice clothes, there’s a look of nervous fear in your eyes. Like you’re afraid of disappointing someone. And in the ones where you’ve won an award, there’s no real joy. Only relief.”
The truth in his words cut through her consciousness. How could he see something about her that she’d never admitted to anyone? Not even herself.
Yet he was right about all of that.
Why had no one, especially her, ever noticed that before?
“Are you always this astute?”
He shrugged. “In my business, it pays to read and understand people, especially what motivates them. It keeps me alive.”
Kiara ran his words through her mind. And in that moment she had her first insight into him. “Is that why you do what you do? Because someone told you, you should be an assassin?”
Silence answered her.
“You still owe me six answers.”
“Four answers,” he corrected, folding his arms over his chest. “And I’ve answered enough for tonight.”
He walked past her and Kiara knew the subject was closed as firmly as if it were held in trust by League Protectors. With a weary sigh, she realized she didn’t know much more about him now than she had in the beginning.
But she did know that he was the son of one of the most feared commanders in the universe. The burning question now was how did Huwin Quiakides father a son with an Andarion?
Who was Nykyrian’s mother?
Most importantly, given his pedigree, why would he leave The League? Why would anyone risk their life and disappoint their father so?
Curious, she returned to the main room where he was once again occupied with his computer.
“Will it disturb you if I turn on the viewer?”
Returning to her chair, Kiara picked up the remote and began flipping through the channels. She listened more to Nykyrian than to her programs. Even though he appeared oblivious to her, she sensed the rigid wall of defense he’d closed around himself. Somewhere, there had to be a chink.
But did she really want to find it?
Given his past, there was no telling what secrets and ghosts haunted him. What had he seen in his life?