I’ve found her.
After four years and two months.
I stare at the screen, my blood pumping relief and shock and fury and joy through my veins. The cocktail of emotions paralyzes me for several minutes.
Then I force myself to analyze what I’m seeing.
Her hair is different. Longer. Darker. Pin-straight and rigid where soft, friendly waves used to be. The curve of her jaw captured by the camera lens also shows the difference. She’s leaner. Meaner. Even from this obscure angle, I can tell any trace of gentleness has been wiped clean. Eroded by sin and tragedy and horror. The change was probably inevitable, but I still don’t want to see the evidence.
To anyone else, the picture would seem ridiculously vague, the image nothing more than a blurred black-and-white pixelation of hair, chin, and shoulder.
It’s the reason my algorithm spat it out almost reluctantly, a last batch of possibilities in the dregs of to-be-discarded possibilities, and then dumped it in my supercomputer’s equivalent of a spam folder, the code scrolling impatiently as it waited my command to delete, delete, delete.
But I know it’s her. Despite the dark leather cap pulled low over her forehead. Despite the bulky jacket designed to hide her true shape. Her stealth speaks volumes. Besides, she’s in my blood, in my heartbeat. After so many years of dead ends and fruitless hoping, of agonizing disappointment and withering despair, this time I simply…know.
It’s her. The Widow.
My hand shakes as I hit the zoom-in key. My gut churns, and I feel a little sick as my ever-helpful brain cheerfully supplies me with all the ways she could’ve continued to elude me—if I’d turned away, for a second, to stare at one of the other three screens on my desk. If I’d trusted my supersmart computer and accepted the prompt to delete without reviewing this particular needle in my mountain of haystacks. If I hadn’t tweaked the code yet again last night to capture just such an obscure image.
Hell, if I’d blinked at the wrong time…I torture myself with infinite possibilities as I stare at that mesmerizing angle of chin and shoulder.
A chin I’ve trailed my treacherous fingers over many times in helpless wonder.
A shoulder I’ve rested my guilty but secretly unrepentant head on.
There’s so much more to her. And I treasured every single inch of her forbidden body, fucked her at every opportunity she granted me. Until she systematically erased herself from my life.
But why New York? And why now?
I know how good she is. Hell, she’s the best or she wouldn’t have eluded me for this long. The thought of another four years without her punches a cold fist through my gut. With it comes the certainty that I wouldn’t have survived those next four years without her. That I’ve been clinging on with the very last dregs of my endurance to make it this far.
But here she is…
I can’t see her eyes, but I don’t fool myself into thinking they’ll hold an ounce of softness. What we did changed us forever. And not for the better.
I lean back in my chair. Exhale slowly. Terrified of blinking in case she disappears from my screen. It doesn’t matter that I’ve copied and stored the longitude and latitude of her location in a dozen vaults on my server and memorized every single piece of data on the screen.
New York City. East Fifty-Third Street. CCTV camera. A one-in-a-billion shot.
Without taking my eyes off her, I reach for my phone and press the voice activation app. “Good evening, Mr. Knight.”
“Nala, how many times do I need to tell you to call me Killian?”
“You have yet to change my default settings, Mr. Knight.”
My lips twitch but a smile doesn’t quite form. My eyes water with the need to blink. But I resist. “I changed them last week. You reset them again, didn’t you?”
“I assure you, I’m quite incapable of doing that.”
“Yeah, right. Fine. Place a call for me. Pilot. Home.”
“Dialing pilot. Home,” the female AI obliges me.
Nelson Whittaker, my LA-based English pilot, picks up on the second ring. It’s three a.m. but he answers as if it’s normal working hours. Which it is, to be fair. Everything is normal for me in my line of work.
“Good morning, sir.”
“How soon can you get to the airport?” I snap.
“As soon as I put on my trousers and chuck a bucket of water over my son to wake him up,” he replies with a dark chuckle.
My fingers fly over the keyboard as I save her information in a few more electronic vaults. “Give William my apologies,” I say.
“No need. He’s been champing at the bit to take the new girl for another spin.” The new girl being the Bombardier Global 8000 I added to my collection of private jets last month.
“In that case, I expect to see you at Van Nuys within the hour.” At this time of the morning, traffic from their Santa Monica apartment should be light enough to get them there fast.
“We’ll be there.” He clears his throat. “I expect the paperwork regarding out-of-curfew flights—”
“Will be taken care of. I’ll text you the details but we won’t be straying far from the usual parameters.”
“Very good, sir. Destination?” he asks crisply.
My gaze tracks that chin. That shoulder. The hair. Four years’ worth of turbulent emotion threatens to rip free. My chest burns with it, but I contain it. “New York.”