Paris. The City of Love. And it’s everywhere. In the romantic arches and columned architecture, wide boulevards and cozy courtyards, in the way the midday light flirts across the cream-gray stoned structures of its boulangeries and fromageries, bistros and bars. It’s even in the pastries—of which I’ve indulged in a few. The last city on earth a woman with her own twisted version of a clipped wing and an irreparably shattered heart should be flying solo in.
My lover will never see Paris.
My lover is dead.
He’ll never kiss me down by the banks of the Seine. Or cuddle on a park bench with me while we watch the city light up at night.
My knees buckle and I drop to the ground, folding my body into a protective curl over the cool marble basin of La fontaine Médicis. Burying my face in the crook of my arm, my heart wedged deep within my throat. Broken. Choking on a trifecta of agony, regret, loss. Foolishly allowing my emotions to whip through me like a sudden windstorm. No matter what I do, the pain never seems to subside. Even now, surrounded by beauty from my impromptu stroll through the lovely Jardin du Luxembourg, there’s nothing but heartache. And this time, I give into it, stealing a moment, struggling to catch my breath.
Yeah, that’s what you get for trying to play tourist here, of all places.
As if somewhere, somehow, I’ll recover that precious something that’s unequivocally irreplaceable. I swallow hard then tilt my head back, knowing the sunlight will never be strong enough to soak up all my tears, yet still hopeful it’ll guide me through another day.
I force my eyes open. A horrible move.
Damn you, Paris.
Two marble lovers loom over me. Yep, even the bloody fountain is working against me. I glare up at the impassioned pair, frozen in place and time beneath a one-eyed Cyclops. The watchful beast reminds me of someone . . . reminds me of the situation I’m in . . . an in-your-face reality check that sends me scrambling to my feet. I cautiously look around, cursing my stupidity, my weakness as I curl my fingers into a fist.
I might be surrounded by love but I’m running for my life.
There’s a hit out on me. My former boss, Hayden, thinks I sold him out. Turned traitor on my own organization.
I’m running rogue. Hell-bent on both revenge and redemption. Whatever it takes, I’m going to finish a job that began nine months ago. An unauthorized assignment that turned horribly, devastatingly wrong. My miscalculation. My fault. My heart left shattered into incomplete pieces that will never wholly fit back together again.
Jaxson, oh Jaxson.
“Actions have consequences,” Hayden’s fond of saying. Forgiveness? Him pardoning me? Yeah, not going to happen. My chances of surviving are as likely as the two statuesque lovers overpowered by that domineering, overbearing creature—not a chance in mythological hell. Any hell for that matter, including the one I’m currently living in.
I’m the traitor, Kylie. The rogue mercenary.
Yeah, best remember it if I want to stay alive.
I shake out the pins and needles in my legs and adjust the light-pink scarf around my neck. Hey, when in Paris, right? And Parisians do love their scarves, despite the warm May temperatures. Scarves, cheese, bread, wine . . . goddamn lovers.
Get a grip, hang low, blend in . . . Frenchify. A scarf in late May? No problem. A boring, black T-shirt? I’m all over it. My bold red hair—nope, not my best idea. Still, my hit man will expect a blond. He likes blonds, likes women in general. If I were a gambling woman—well, okay, I am that—I’d say Hayden’s bringing in his top gun. His big boom guy. Diego.
Casually, I let my gaze roam across the crop of nearby trees, fully expecting Diego to pop out of the shrubbery and change this serene setting into a bloodbath. There’s nothing quiet or subtle about the way the handsome Latino handles business. He’s the contractor Hayden uses to send a message to our enemies. Or, in my case, teach a lesson to the other contractors about what happens when you turn traitor. No, if I’m going to go out, I prefer to do it less dramatically. A simple slice to the throat or bullet to the temple would suffice.
Still, Hayden’s anything but predictable. He might send another hit man after me. Hell, there’s a whole handful of killers who’d like nothing better than to wring my neck. I barely dodged Declan’s near hit back in Oklahoma until a funny thing called fate intervened. Yeah, I didn’t see that coming. Luck and I don’t often dance to the same heartbeat. Luck and love—but that’s another story.
Though if I survived my organization TORC’s most ruthless hit man . . .
I take a few seconds to fiddle with my scarf before setting a brisk pace through the tan pebbled paths. Anxious to leave the garden to the lovers, the pigeons, and my moroseness, which seem to be competing to take over the place. My attention turns toward taking care of old business before it takes care of me.
Exiting the park, I make my way to Montparnasse, where I duck into an electronic store and, using a prepaid credit card and fake passport, buy a more expensive burner phone than the kind I previously purchased in Switzerland. Unlike the cheaper phones now scattered all around Geneva—yeah, I like to be in control of who traces my calls and I wouldn’t put it past Hayden to fully equip all of his contractors with the technological know-how to do so—this phone has Wi-Fi so long as I stayed within the 14th arrondissement. I haven’t been online since going rogue. No better time than now to up my game if I’m going to tidy things up. Make amends for my failed assignment. Get my revenge.
Kill my target, that Prick Novák.
I plaster a friendly smile on my face. The old man waiting on me can’t seem to decide if he should call me out on the fact the passport picture looks nothing like my bright, redheaded wonderfulness.
Don’t even ask, monsieur. Bad decision, ah . . . oui.
Transaction finished, I make one more important stop, breathing in the delightful scent of confectionary heaven as I enter the Petit Chocolat Patisserie. To the salesperson’s amusement, I order two napoleons, three petite pains au chocolat and one café au lait. Blending in . . . Frenchifying . . . right . . .
I take a seat at a small sidewalk table but close enough to the patisserie window where I don’t stick out to the pedestrians passing by. Then I sip my coffee as I troll through social media, starting with that Novák’s Twitter page. Like so many other subversive leaders, he’s active online, primarily to recruit Pricks from around the world to work with him. Seems any asshole has the capacity to reach millions in the click of a button without censor.