I curve my hands around my own cup, enjoying the warmth between my palms. “How did you survive the explosion?” I ask quietly, holding his gaze.
His mouth twists slightly. “I very nearly didn’t. When they saw that they were losing, one of those suicidal motherfuckers set off a bomb. Two of my men and I happened to be near the ladder to the basement, and we dove into the opening at the last minute. A section of the floor collapsed on me, knocking me out and killing one of the men who was with me. Luckily for me, the other one—Lucas—survived and remained conscious. He managed to drag both of us into the drainpipe, and there was enough fresh air coming in from the outside that we didn’t die of smoke inhalation.”
I draw in a shaky breath. The drainpipe . . . That was the only place I hadn’t looked that horrific day when I spent hours combing through the burning ruins of the building. I had been so dazed and shellshocked, it hadn’t even occurred to me to check there for survivors.
“By the time Lucas got us both to a hospital, I was in pretty bad shape,” Julian continues, looking at me. “I had a cracked skull and several broken bones. The doctors put me in a medically induced coma to deal with the swelling in my brain, and I didn’t regain consciousness until a few weeks ago.” Lifting his hand, he touches his short hair, and I realize the reason for his new haircut. They must’ve shaved his head in the hospital.
My hand trembles as I lift my cup to take a sip. He had almost died after all—not that it makes his absence for the past few weeks any more forgivable. “Why didn’t you contact me at that point? Why didn’t you let me know you were alive?” How could he let my torture continue even a day longer than necessary?
He tilts his head to the side. “And then what?” he asks, his voice dangerously silky. “What would you have done, my pet? Rushed to my side to be with me in Thailand? Or would you have told your pals at the FBI where I could be found, so they could get me while I was weak and helpless?”
“No?” He shoots me a sardonic look. “You think I don’t know that you talked to them? That they now have my name and picture?”
“I only spoke to them because I thought you were dead!” I jump to my feet, nearly upending my coffee cup. All of my anger suddenly surfaces. Furious, I grip the edge of the table and glare at him. “I never betrayed you, even though I should have—”
He rises to his feet, unfolding his tall, muscular body with athletic grace. “Yes, you probably should have,” he agrees softly, his gaze darkening as we stare at each other across the table. “You should’ve turned me in at that clinic in the Philippines and run as far and fast as you can, my pet.”
I run my tongue over my dry lips. “Would that have helped?”
My stomach twists with excitement and a dollop of fear. He’s not joking. I can see it on his face. He would’ve come for me, and no one could’ve stopped him.
“Who are you?” I breathe, staring at him incredulously. “Why was there no record of you in any of the government databases? If you’re a big-time arms dealer, why hasn’t the FBI heard about you before?”
He looks at me, his eyes strikingly blue in his darkly tanned face. “Because I have a wide network of connections, Nora,” he says quietly. “And because, as part of my interactions with my clients, I occasionally come across some information that the United States government finds valuable—information that relates to the safety and security of the American public.”
“No.” He laughs. “Not in the traditional sense of the word. I’m not on anyone’s payroll—we simply exchange favors. I help your government, and in return, they make me invisible to all. Only a few of the highest-level officials in the CIA know that I exist at all.” He pauses, then adds softly, “Or at least, that was the case before the FBI got their hands on you, my pet. Now it’s a bit more complicated, and I’ll have to call in quite a few of those favors to get this information erased.”
“I see,” I say evenly. My head is spinning. The man who kidnapped me is working with my government. It’s almost more than I can process right now.
He smiles, visibly enjoying my confusion. “Don’t over-think it, my pet,” he advises, his eyes gleaming with amusement. “Just because I help prevent an occasional terrorist attack doesn’t make me a good guy.”
“No,” I agree. “It doesn’t.” Turning away, I walk over to the small window and gaze outside. The sun is just beginning to come up, and there is a light layer of snow on the ground.
The first snow of the season—it must’ve fallen overnight.
I don’t hear him moving, but suddenly he’s behind me, his large arms folding around me, pressing me against his body. I can smell the clean male scent of his skin, and some of the residual tension drains out of me. Julian is alive.
“So where do we go from here?” I ask, still staring at the snow. “Are you taking me back to the island?”
He’s silent for a moment. “No,” he says finally. “I can’t. Not without Beth there.” There is a tight note in his voice, and I realize that he’s missing her too, that he feels her loss just as acutely.
I turn around in his embrace and look up at him, placing my hands on his chest. “I’m glad those motherfuckers are dead.” The words come out in a low, fierce hiss. “I’m glad you killed them all.”