Dirtiest Secret, Page 2J. Kenner
They better not, because although Dallas wouldn't admit it out loud, Quince was right. He was taking a hell of a risk. His dad had pulled serious strings and forked over serious dough to get him into St. Anthony's, one of the most prestigious boarding schools in Europe, if not the world. At the time, Dallas had been royally pissed--and he sure as hell hadn't wanted to be shipped off from the States to the UK--but now, after a year, he had to admit he liked it here.
Or, he had to admit it to himself--he wasn't about to tell Eli and Lisa the truth. Not yet. Maybe not ever. He loved his parents. He did. But there was always that thing between them. That distance. Maybe because he knew too much about who he was and where he came from. Maybe kids weren't meant to know the truth about themselves. Maybe they just couldn't handle it.
He thought of Nietzsche's favorite motto: Become what you are. And he thought of his own corollary: Figure out what the fuck you are before you start to become it. Not to mention who you are.
Well, he was trying, wasn't he?
He'd been working hard, playing by the rules. More or less, anyway. Doing all the shit he was supposed to. He couldn't take back the months of drugs and stealing cars and sneaking out at night and generally acting like a fucking asshole, but he could stay here, do the work, and become the man he wanted to be. The man he knew he could be.
Any other night, he would have stayed in and studied.
Or, more accurately, he would have stayed in, amused himself with books or videogames, then spent ten or fifteen minutes before class finishing his homework or studying for a test.
Tonight, she was here.
Tonight, Jane had called from the station. "I took the train from London. Everyone thinks I'm spending the night at my friend Donna's, the one who moved to London last year when her dad took the job at the embassy." Her words spilled from her, fast and furious, as if she had to get them out before she lost her nerve. "But I'm not with Donna. I'm here. And I really want to see you tonight. You know. Before it gets crazy. Before it's more than just us. So I'm coming. Right now. And I don't care if you think I shouldn't. I'm coming, and you can't say no."
She was coming; she was really coming.
And, of course, he couldn't say no.
"Don't go," Quince said as he peered out the window toward the canopy of a nearby willow tree and the common area below. "I've got a bad feeling."
Dallas patted his back pocket to make sure his wallet was there. "Give it up, man. I'm going. I mean, come on. What's the worst that can happen?"
Quince turned to face Dallas, and as he did the moonlight through the willow's fronds cast shadows on his face. "Oh, gee, let's think. Expulsion?"
"As much money as my dad pumps into this place? I don't think so." The words came easily, but he didn't really believe them. Despite the family fortune, Eli Sykes had to fight to get Dallas admitted to the Academy. Apparently Dallas wasn't the model of decorum that the school usually accepted. And it wouldn't take much for Phelps and the administrative board to decide they should never have caved in the first place.
Didn't matter. Even if it meant living at home and getting his damn GED, he'd do it. He'd sneak out.
He had to see her.
"You'll cover for me?"
The shadows moved over Quince's face. "I still don't like it. It's going to get all fucked up."
"Q, come on, man. Back me up here."
Quince sighed. "Fuck. You know I will."
Dallas flashed a wide grin--the one that would put him on the cover of GQ and Esquire in later years. A decadent, knowing smile that promised sin and redemption all wrapped up together.
"I owe you big-time," Dallas said.
"Hell, yeah, you do." Quince cocked his head toward the window again. "She's down there. Go. And for god's sake do it quietly."
He'd had plenty of practice sneaking down the back stairs of Lancaster Hall, and Dallas was out of the room, down the corridor, and through the fire escape door in less than three minutes. He hesitated just long enough to make sure none of the guys with too-tight neckties and sticks up their asses had reattached the alarm trigger, but all stayed quiet.
He crept through the moon-dappled dark, through the shadows casting patterns on the damp ground. A small tributary of the Thames ran through the school property, dividing the common area between Lancaster and Wellington Halls. Jane had never been here, but he knew where she would be. Hadn't he written her enough emails describing the campus and where he liked to go to sit, to think?
And, yes, to curse the fact that the girl he wanted--the girl he loved--was the one girl he couldn't have.
The path curved to reveal the bench. It was plain enough, the paint faded from years of exposure to the elements despite the limited shelter provided by a majestic oak that was undoubtedly older than the school that had been founded three centuries ago.
He hurried toward it, his chest tight. She wasn't there. Had she changed her mind? Surely she hadn't changed her mind.
Then the shadows near the bank of the river shifted, and there she was, just standing there looking out at the ghostly reflection of the moon on the water. Her back was to him, and he stood perfectly still. But she must have heard him. Or maybe she just sensed him.
She turned. And when she smiled it was like the rest of the world just fell away.
He took a step toward her, and then another and another until they were standing only a breath apart.
He reached for her, and she did the same, but both pulled back the second their fingers touched.
Her mouth quirked into an embarrassed smile, and she dropped her gaze.
The moment turned awkward, and he didn't know how to erase the thick unease that seemed to fill the air between them. All he knew was her. All he wanted was to touch her, hold her.
He wanted to kiss her, wild and hot, and so much deeper than the one gentle kiss they'd shared over a year ago. And, dammit, he didn't care if it was wrong. He wanted it. Wanted her.
He always had.
But there were promises between them. And so he held his arms firm to his sides, forcing himself not to move. Not to reach out. Not to touch despite the need that curled through him, a longing so intense and pure and strong that he didn't understand how it could be wrong. More, he didn't understand how he was able to resist.
She looked up, but still didn't quite meet his eyes. "I know. But--" She cut herself off and her shoulders rose and fell. He held his breath, hoping she was less strong than he was, because if she capitulated, then he would, too.
He should have known better, and when she lifted her head and finally met his eyes, the awkwardness was gone. There was no uncertainty. No embarrassment. He saw only resolution. And regret.
"I had to see you," she said. What she meant was, "The most we can have is to see each other."
"I know," he said. "Before everyone gets here. I get it." One more day of classes and then it was spring break. His parents were in London, his father accompanied by his key staff members and their families. The plan was that Dallas and his mom, Lisa, would travel to Oxford. Dallas might only be fifteen, but his grades and test scores were such that he had a good chance of being admitted, and the various appointments his parents had lined up all but filled his short vacation.
While Lisa and Dallas did Oxford, Eli, his father, would stay in London and visit the new Sykes department store that had opened last year. And since Jane was doing an afterschool internship in the marketing department through her private school back in the States, she'd be in London with Eli while Dallas was in Oxford.
If they were going to see each other alone, now was the time.
Thank god she'd called. He wished to hell he'd had the nerve to call her first.
"I'm glad you came," he said. "I'm so damn glad you came."
Her smile reached her eyes, making her already beautiful face radiant. She'd always been a pretty girl, but she was fifteen now, too, just a fe
w months younger than him, and she was growing into a stunning woman. She wore her dark hair long and parted simply in the middle so that it cascaded to her shoulders, so lustrous that it shone in the moonlight. Her brown eyes were wide, and her eyebrows angled slightly, giving her an expression of permanent amusement, as if she saw how much the world was askew even if no one else did. Her pale skin was luminous and though her face was round, her stunning cheekbones added an air of runway model elegance to an otherwise girl-next-door visage.
All in all, she was perfection. But it was her mouth that caught and held his attention. Her lips that he dreamed about. That he wanted to touch. That he wanted to taste. He imagined the heat of her mouth pressed against his, the softness--and he felt himself get hard in response.
He dropped his eyes, hoping she couldn't see the evidence of how much he wanted her. He was still a virgin and pretty damn inexperienced, too. But he could fantasize well enough, and right then his mind was churning with the scent of her, the feel of her, warm and naked against him, and--
He drew in a breath and forced himself to think of non-sexual things. Calculus would be good. Or statistics.
He shuffled his feet, then looked back up at her. "So, um, did you walk from the train station?"
She shook her head, her gaze mostly on the ground, too. God, weren't they a pair? "I took a cab. I--I wanted to get here as fast as I could."
The words lit a fire inside him. "Yeah? I'm glad." He exhaled loudly. "Right. Um, what do you want to do?"
He was looking at her as he asked the question, and even in the darkness, he could see the blush rise on her cheeks. His insides twisted, and his cock that had calmed down at the thought of differential equations stiffened again.
Man, they were so screwed. They were both so damn screwed.
"I saw a flier in the common room about a midnight concert in the park," he said quickly. "It's probably totally lame, but that'll just make it more fun. Some guys doing covers of Beatles songs to celebrate the somethingth anniversary of some album or other."
She laughed. "Music is so not your thing."
"But it's yours."
Her sweet smile just about gutted him. "Yeah. It is." She dragged her teeth over her lower lip and his pants were suddenly way, way too small. "And it does sound lame." She took a step toward him, then nudged his foot gently with her toe. "And I think it'll be a blast."
She nodded, looking excited and happy, as if they were about to set out on a grand adventure.
He started to lead the way toward the park, and she fell in step beside him. The silence was comfortable, and right then there was nothing he'd rather be doing, and no one he'd rather be doing it with. So naturally, he had to go and toss cold water all over their good time. "Eli's going to shit a brick if he finds out you're here."
"He's the one who decided to bring an intern to London with him," she said lightly. But then she grimaced as she shot him a quick glance. "I don't think I've ever heard you call him Dad."
He cocked his head as he looked at her. "Do you think I should? Never mind," he said before she could answer. "It's not important. I shouldn't have even said anything."
She studied him as if trying to figure out what he wasn't saying. "Are you still pissed he sent you over here? I mean, boarding school is one thing, but he shipped you halfway around the world."
He shook his head. "If you tell him this, I'll deny it, but no. I was fucked up back home. All that shit I was into. And--"
He cut himself off, then shoved his hands in his pockets. He'd been about to say, "You." And he really didn't want to go there.
She came to a stop, taking his hand and making him halt beside her. "Am I making it worse? Should I not have come?"
"God no." The words came out too fast, revealed too much. He looked down at their joined hands, then back up at her. "Maybe," he whispered.
Their eyes met, and even though it was a cliche, he felt it. The power. The heat. Right there between them, and so much stronger than them both.
"Dallas." That was all she said, and he didn't know if she spoke in protest or invitation.
He wasn't about to wait to find out.
In one motion, he leaned in, his palm cupping the back of her neck as his mouth closed over hers. She tasted like honey. She tasted like home. And when she gasped, the sound opening her mouth just a bit more, he took advantage, exploring with his tongue. Tasting, taking, deepening the kiss until there was nothing separating them. Not air, not skin, not the goddamn world that said they shouldn't be doing this. That it was crazy.
That it was wrong.
Breathless, he drew away, suddenly afraid that he'd taken too much. That he'd pushed too hard.
Terrified that when she opened her eyes he'd see fear. Or, worse, regret.
But her face was soft, her pale skin almost angelic in the moonlight, and when she opened her eyes and looked at him, he saw his own desire reflected right back at him in her wide, brown eyes.
"We shouldn't," he whispered.
Neither one of them moved. They stood there, only inches apart, and he could feel her breath on his face, minty and tantalizing. He thought he could hear her heart beat; he was certain she must be able to hear his.
And then, as if pulled together by the weight of their connection, they stepped forward at the exact same time. Mouths came together, hard and fast. Hands grappled, fingers stroked. He'd never been so hard in his life, even in all the times he'd laid in bed, his hand down his briefs as he imagined her. For a moment, mortification washed over him, but then she made the softest noise, and he realized that it was his name. And it was so full of need and desire, that it was a wonder he didn't come right then.
"Jane, I--" He didn't know what he'd intended to say, but it didn't matter. His words were cut short by her scream, sharp as a knife and brutally short.
Someone had her. Two black-clad men stood on either side of Jane, their faces hidden by ski masks, their grips locked tight on her arms as they dragged her away from him, her head lolling to one side.
"No!" It seemed like forever before he bellowed the word, before he tried to lunge forward to help her. But he realized in the moment that not even seconds had passed. And that he couldn't help her--he couldn't even help himself. He was caught, too.
He struggled, managing to break the hold on his left arm, and he spun to the right, trying to get free--trying to see whatever he could before they grabbed him again and held him fast.
Four men. Two holding him. Two standing beside them, one with a cloth in his hand.
And then the two who had Jane.
That made six men altogether. Six attackers.
Six, he repeated to himself as he fought fear, battling it down and forcing himself to listen to their voices. To judge height and weight. To study their eyes and fight the terror and think even as the man with the cloth came toward him and pressed the chloroform-soaked rag over his mouth and nose.
And as the world faded from beneath Dallas, he held fast to his mental image of those six dead men. Because that's what they were. Dead. No matter how long it took for him to make them that way.
"Dallas? Shit, man, you still there?"
He realized with a start he'd been clutching his phone as if it was the sixth kidnapper's neck, so tight it was a wonder the damn thing didn't shatter in his hand. Irritated, he pushed his memories aside and focused.
"Where are you calling from?"
"The jet," Liam said. "In transit from Berlin to the safe house in Mendoza."
Dallas frowned, wondering how Argentina played into the mix as he walked naked onto the balcony so that he could speak freely. Below, at the party, a few women nudged each other as they looked up and pointed. He barely noticed them. "I'm listening."
"Mueller pulled the kid from his private school in Shanghai and managed to smuggle him to Europe. We finally caught up to the bastard in Germany
. Quince did a fine job getting him talking," he added. Dallas's boarding school roommate was now officially an MI6 operative and unofficially one of the core members of Deliverance, the handpicked covert team that Dallas had put together over a decade ago.
He'd started the organization as a way to find--and destroy--his tormentors, but it had evolved into so much more than that. Deliverance had become a powerful force, doing whatever was necessary to rescue kidnapped children, and its select, discreet clientele found their way to the organization through word of mouth and referrals. And no client could point the way back to Dallas or any of the other men.
Deliverance pushed the envelope, it bent the law. Most of all, it got the job done.
Dallas took a breath, just to ensure that his voice was steady. "So you're saying that Mueller told you about the sixth?"
"In the course of the interrogation, yes. We went through the standard questions to determine if he knew anything about your kidnapping."
"And he did."
"The son of a bitch is a goddamn rabid dog in service to anyone with a tasty enough bone."
"Any reason to believe that Mueller was actually involved?" It was a stretch, but maybe Mueller was the sixth, now trying to obfuscate the facts. Hell, maybe he was the goddamn Jailer.
"Negative," Liam said. "He was serving time in a German prison for six months before and eighteen months after you two were snatched. He wasn't involved--I'd bet my reputation on it. But he's still a source, and potentially a key one. He knew about your kidnapping and a shit ton of others."
Dallas clenched his fists as he drew a breath, forcing down the fury that threatened to overwhelm him. "How'd he know about mine? Word on the street?"
If so, that was interesting in and of itself. Eli Sykes had kept the kidnapping secret--he hadn't told anyone except his closest circle. Not the press, not the FBI, not Scotland Yard. Nobody. He'd taken matters into his own hands, hiring mercenaries, arranging to pay ransom. And above all, keeping it very, very quiet.
To this day, Dallas wasn't sure if his father had done too much or too little. Yes, he and Jane had gotten free. But the price they'd paid was brutal.
Even now, almost two decades later, the world believed that Dallas Sykes, the screwup son of billionaire retailer Eli Sykes, had left his posh boarding school for a stint in a private hospital. As for Jane, the press hadn't noted her disappearance at all, and she'd kept it a closely held secret.