Adam hadn’t lied when he’d told Kris that he had no need to know him.
Kris Allen was a mission.
And what he needed to know about Kris Allen could be summed up in two simple words: mission parameters.
The mission parameters here were simple. Acquire the target. Ensure that the target did not escape. Supply the target with food twice a day so that he didn’t starve.
That last one rankled. It was more a babysitting job than anything else, barely worthy of his attention. And yet, the orders had been given, the mission entrusted to him and he would carry it out.
Kris Allen was a mission, the simplest one he’d undertaken in years.
But Kris Allen was also almost unbearably pretty.
Discovery of that particular detail has been surprising, although perhaps it shouldn’t have been. He’d had the necessary intel before embarking on the mission; he’d studied the pictures and seen the video. And yet neither had prepared him for the reality of the man, for the soft brown eyes, the strong jaw, the full lips.
And so while Adam felt no need to get to know the man in his charge, he at least had to admit to the base physical attraction that was present.
Adam was practical enough to see it as a welcome distraction. Welcome because it broke up the tediousness of being trapped on this ship, in an unmanned docking station with Ahriman and that android, Becker; neither of whom were particularly good company.
He felt disloyal even thinking it, but it was true. Ahriman could spend hours alone locked up in his quarters and Becker . . . well, everyone knew that conversation with an android was nearly impossible.
But now he was back in front of the distraction, the very pretty distraction, and the boredom would be staved for at least a small while.
Adam hadn’t been surprised when Ahriman supported his earlier decision to withhold the meal from Kris. The man had no love for rich people, ironic considering how much money Adam had helped him accrue over their years together. He’d approved of it, and had told Adam to wait the full twelve hours before returning to the cell.
Adam had, following his orders to the letter as always. And when he’d finally gone back to the cell, he’d half-expected to further exchange words with their captive. But Kris had merely accepted the food in silence, eyeing Adam warily before pushing the first tray through the small opening in the cell. Adam had lingered for a moment, watching as Kris began to eat the rations, apparently savoring them as if they were first class fare.
He’d felt a momentary twinge of something, a passing moment of what felt like regret. He’d studied it for a moment, then discarded it.
Yes, maybe he had overreacted, he usually did when dealing with the very rich, but there was no reason for regret.
Kris Allen was a big boy and he had not hurt him.
Conscience clear, Adam had turned away.
That had been exactly twelve hours ago. Now he was standing in front of the cell, running through the same motions as if living through deja vu.
Except that this time, when he turned to walk away, the sound of Kris’ voice, hesitant and unsure as he called out, stopped him.
Adam turned back to see that Kris was standing nearly flush with the bars of the cell, hands wrapped around them tightly.
“Do you have to go? I mean . . . could you stay for just a minute?”
Adam tipped his head to the side. “Why?”
“It’s just that . . . there’s nothing to do in here but sleep and think.” Kris let out a dry, humorless laugh. “But I’m not sleeping very well. And I might be starting to go a little crazy.”
Adam could see Kris’ fingers tightening around the bars, how every line of his face was drawn tight with tension.
He waited a moment more, curious to see how far Kris would go, what he might say.
They stood there in silence until Kris drew in a breath, letting it out in a shaky exhale before whispering, “Please.”
It had cost him to ask that, Adam knew. He made his decision quickly, throwing a surreptitious glance at the camera before folding his legs underneath him and sinking to the ground. Ahriman had said nothing about speaking to Kris. He hadn’t forbidden it, had in fact set no rules about it at all.
And besides, it was almost certain to be an entertaining way to pass the time, if only for the view.
It was a while before Kris spoke, almost as if he were gathering the courage to do so. “Has Simon paid?” he finally asked, fingers worrying the bottom of his shirt. “Has he said that he’s going to?”
“I don’t know,” Adam said.
Kris shot him a disbelieving look.
“I don’t,” Adam repeated. “I’d assume because you’re still here that he hasn’t, but I don’t know about anything else.”
Kris sighed, and there was something about him that seemed to deflate, as if the words had wounded him. Adam noticed with some interest the dark smudges under his eyes, the heavy slope of his shoulders. He looked beaten, the spark that he’d seen in their earlier encounter all but gone.
“Is this normal?” Kris asked. “For a kidnapping, I mean? Is this how things usually go?”
“Again . . . don’t know. You’re our first.”
Kris looked surprised, unbelieving. “You’re kidding.”
“Does it look like I’m kidding?”
“Well, I hope you’re having as much fun with it as I am.”
Adam, caught off-guard by the statement, could only laugh. He found himself rethinking his earlier assessment. It seemed that Kris wasn’t completely beaten after all.
“So what do you usually do?” Kris asked. “I mean . . . why do you need a cage if kidnapping is only a side project?”
“We’re involved with a lot of things,” Adam said. “None of them are particularly legal.”
“So, you can’t tell me.”
“I knew you caught on fast, Allen.”
Kris managed a weak smile before bringing his knees to his chest, hugging them into his body as if cold. “Simon must be going crazy by now,” he said quietly.
Adam knew that the words hadn’t been meant for him, but he still found himself responding. “Your husband?”
“Not too long ago you were asking what would happen if he didn’t pay.”
“Well, that was . . . I wasn’t thinking straight. It was just a stupid moment of doubt.”
“You doubted your husband would pay to save your life?”
“No! No, I know he loves me. It’s just that . . . things have been hard lately. We’ve been fighting and he’s been distant. But it happens. After the honeymoon phase ends, things are always tricky.” Kris paused, taking a deep breath to settle his near-manic flow of words. He looked at Adam, eyes plaintively seeking understanding. “I mean . . . you know how it is.”
“No, I don’t.”
“You don’t? You’ve never experienced that?”
Adam shrugged. “I’ve never been with someone long enough for it to matter.”
“Wait, so . . . you’ve never cared about someone? You've never been in love?”
“This life doesn’t exactly lend itself to that.”
Kris shook his head, eyes filling with something akin to pity. “That just seems so sad.”
“You’re feeling sorry for me?” Adam asked. He wasn’t angry, more amused than anything, but he forced his voice to come across as cold, intimidating. Keeping the upper hand meant staying in control at all times, no matter the circumstances.
“No,” Kris said hurriedly. “No, I was just . . . ”
And there was the reaction that Adam was looking for, the one he had purposely provoked. Kris had straightened, and was now staring at him with wide eyes. Adam could see that he wasn’t frightened, not quite yet, but could easily be pushed to it.
He decided to let it go, seeing no advantage in pursuing it. “Well, don’t,” he said as he stood. “After all, I’m not the one in the cage.”
“No, you’re right,” Kris said after a moment. “There’s no argument against that, is there?” And then he looked up at Adam, his gaze dull and defeated. The circles under his eyes seemed obscenely dark now, making him appear smaller than he was and too, too frail.
Funny though, Adam thought, how none of that detracted from his beauty.
Funny too, how that vague sense of regret was suddenly an uncomfortable, unwelcome presence once again.