Rachel woke, the dream fading too rapidly for her to capture it. She inhaled and caught a whiff of her own scent and her eyes popped open. She really needed a shower. The sight of her office chair moved all the way out from behind the desk, in a position she never left it, brought her fully awake. She gasped and started to sit up.
“Gently,” a voice said from next to her and a hand pressed her shoulder down.
She squeaked, startled, and her eyes flew to Viktor’s face. “Viktor! What are you doing here?”
She started to say, ‘nothing,’ and then like a strobe light she flashed on Steve’s face. “Oh, God…”
Viktor blinked, expressionless. “Raych?”
She closed her eyes, not wanting to see his eyes, the knowing look. “I remember Steve…”
“Do you remember anything else?” came the careful voice.
“You slapped me, and yelled at me for going out with him.” Sudden tears, hot and uncomfortable, welled up in her eyes. She turned her head into the pillow, ashamed for him to see it. “He seemed so nice,” she whispered.
It took her a moment to realize his hand on her arm was meant as comfort. He rubbed back and forth, up to her shoulder, in long gentle motions that were oddly soothing. “We all do dumb things when we’re lonely,” he murmured.
She didn’t look up. She didn’t want him to see her tears, to know that she was hurt by the stranger with the attractive face and enticing cologne.
He seemed to guess it anyway. “It’s okay, Raych. You’re safe now.”
She wondered about Viktor, suddenly, and met his gaze. “Why do you care?” she demanded. “Why are you here, Viktor?”
He studied her, not answering right away.
He said something in Russian, softly, that she couldn’t catch. Then he stood up. “You need some food,” he noted abruptly, and turned to the door. “I’ll be right back.”
Before she could react, he was out the door, closing it softly behind himself.
“Dammit!” she burst out and sat up. “Jerk,” she said more softly, superstitious that he might hear her. She blew out her breath in annoyance and looked around her office. “I need a shower,” she told her desk, more to ignore the feeling of being completely alone than because the desk would answer her.
She gathered up her toiletries and gym bag. Her unknown intruder had scattered everything all over the floor and it took quite some time to put it all back in her bag. She couldn’t find her brush and turned back to the desk and got down on her hands and knees to look underneath it.
A picture caught her eye and she fished it out from under a pile of papers where it was half buried. It was a picture of the Greene family.
She sat back on her heels, her shower forgotten. “David, where are you?” she asked softly. Her mind started into gear. First, Viktor showed up to tell her not to search for the boy, saying that it was too dangerous. Then she met Steve, who Viktor claimed was one of Krichoff’s men. How were they connected? And what about the parents, if that’s what they really were? What was their part in all of this? They had seemed harmless to Rachel, worried for their son; not members of a crime syndicate spanning three continents.
She fished out more of the file and sat on the floor to rifle through it. First there was the original visit, the report she hadn’t had time to type up yet. Then there were the pictures she’d been given. She sat staring at the contact record for several moments as the plan formed in her mind. She was so engrossed she didn’t register when Viktor returned until he was actually in the room.
“What are you doing?” he snapped.
She jumped and compulsively stacked the papers. “Cleaning up,” she lied.
He glanced at the papers in her hands and frowned. She shoved another set of papers on top of them and stacked them all together, despairing of ever getting her files straight again. Instead, she stood up with the sheaf in her hands and laid it on her desk. “What food did you get?”
He blinked and his eyes snapped to her face, as though he saw through her subterfuge. “Corner Bakery,” he answered. “I didn’t know what you’d want, so I got a couple things. We can put the rest in the fridge.”
Her stomach growled loudly and she blushed. “That sounds good,” she said gratefully. “I’m actually hungry.”
That got a smile out of him and he set the bag on her desk. She moved the stack away and set it on the chair behind her. “Let’s see what you brought.”
They ate their food in companionable silence, only speaking in short sentences. He seemed as hungry as she felt, stuffing his mouth.
“I have to get a shower,” she mused out loud when she finished the last of her eggs.
“You mind if I make a phone call?” he asked.
“No problem,” she answered, spying her brush under the desk. She fished it out and popped it in her bag. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
He nodded and pulled out his phone as she went to the door. She shook her head and went down the hall to the locker room. The shower washed away a multitude of sins and she found herself just standing, letting the spray beat down on her skin. She turned it off with a pang of regret and got dressed, wondering what she would say to Viktor when she got back to her office.
She had to unlock her office when she returned. Viktor was gone, the scent of his cigarettes the only thing remaining. Then she saw the desk. A new pack of his cigarettes sat in the precise center, with a note: ‘Just don’t smoke them all in one sitting. V.’ “Smart ass,” she muttered.
She turned to set her gym bag down and her eyes fell on the place where she’d stacked the papers with the Greene’s file.
The file was gone.
She tore through the remaining papers franticly, hoping that she’d just misremembered where she’d put them. But they did not turn up.
Viktor had taken the entire file, including all the pictures.
“Dammit, Viktor,” she whispered to the empty room. “Why did you do that?”