“This door is custom made, heavily reinforced,” James observed, as they stepped into a sparsely decorated yet chic space. But before they had a chance to look around, a young man with bleached hair and a longish face stepped into the room. He was obviously expecting them.
Impeccably dressed in a well-fitting charcoal suit and a dark red shirt, he was quite attractive, though his looks couldn’t hold a candle to James’s. But there was something devious
about his features. He emanated a sort of hidden, sensual depravity. His hooded eyes were the most remarkable thing about him: intense, yet dead at the same time. Pale and empty, like a well-dressed storefront with nothing but bare shelves inside. “Hello,” he said. “I’m Alain Proctor.”
His voice was pleasant enough, with husky undertones.
He first looked at James, as if sizing him up, then turned his gaze to Amanda, locking onto her. Something twitched in his features. He gasped and abruptly moved forward.
“Hey, man, stop right there.” James demanded, stepping forward to block Proctor from getting close to Amanda. He was taller and much bulkier than the grey-suited stranger.
He keeps forgetting I’m twice as powerful, she thought. Nevertheless, she was quite pleased about his instinct to protect her.
Proctor stopped, his gaze still locked on Amanda’s. His expression showed a curious mixture of awe and confused wonder. James stood his ground, frowning.
Suddenly something sparked in Proctor’s eyes, and to her considerable amazement, Amanda saw that they were, in fact, blue. She could have sworn they were pale grey, almost colorless. They had looked so empty just a minute ago.
At the same moment, something strange started happening to her, too. She felt like her consciousness was splitting. Time itself seemed to stall, slowly spreading and ebbing around her.
She looked up at James, and he responded with a tiny reassuring smile, appearing unaffected by whatever was making her feel this way. It was as if her consciousness was slowly detaching from her body and floating upward like a balloon. Hovering near the ceiling, she was looking down on them, zooming in on the man in the grey suit.
She forced herself to think of her physical form, her fingers, her arms, her legs. She zoomed back into her own body, then out again for a split second, then back in for good. After chasing the sensation away, she looked at James, still in the same position. And she realized that this uncanny, surreal standoff must have lasted only a few seconds.
Proctor stepped back, still staring at her.
A bit dizzy, Amanda touched James’s sleeve, then leaned on his arm to help ground herself.
“Are you okay?” James asked, supporting her weight with ease.
Amanda nodded that she was fine. “Just a little dizzy,” she whispered. She didn’t want to tell him what she’d just experienced. Especially not in front of the other guy.
James wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders and pulled her against him.
Warmed by his concern, she felt stronger under the pressure of his caring, muscular arm.
James looked sternly at Alain Proctor. “Okay, man,” he demanded. “Tell us why you keep following us.”
“I’m following you?” the man repeated slowly, mocking him. “Aren’t you the ones who just broke into my apartment?”
James made no reply. Amanda followed the direction of his gaze and noticed that it was trained on the desk by the wall. His face twitched, and his fingers tightened around her shoulder.
She moved in front of him to get a better look.
Smirking, he unabashedly looked her over. She crossed her arms. First Prague, then Florence, now here. She’d had just about enough of the way he looked at her, especially now that she’d seen those photos. What kind of a monster was he?
“What are these horrible photos?” she insisted. “Why do you have them?”
He slid his hands into his pockets, shrugged, and averted his gaze. “Proof for my clients.
Proof of a job done.”
“Oh my God,” she gasped. A killer for hire. That’s what he was… and he’s been following them! Worse, he wasn’t shy about it. In fact, he seemed to have known they were coming, and if that were true, he must have left the photos out for them to find. This was borne out by the way he seemed to enjoy their shock and revulsion.
“I see.” James stepped in front of Amanda again. “You’re coming with us.” He grabbed Proctor’s arm to escort him to the door, and predictably, the man resisted. Amanda rolled her eyes. James was a Sentinel 9, so what macho nonsense was this? Pushing and shoving—
completely pointless. She decided to knock Proctor out with an energy pulse and wrap things up quickly. But to her astonishment, the pulse had an unexpected effect on the man. His body tensed up, and he began gasping and moaning, but not in agony. In fact, he seemed to be enjoying it.
She hit him again, even stronger. Alarmingly, he seemed to derive an intensely sensual pleasure from her hits. There was no mistaking it. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and he tossed his head up, panting and biting his lip.
James and Amanda exchanged dismayed glances, and James obliged— this time with his fist. Proctor sagged to the floor.
“What is wrong with you?” James demanded.
“I absorb your energy,” Proctor explained, catching his breath. “Feel free . . . such power
. . . it’s wonderful.” He licked his lips again, catching his breath, looking directly at Amanda now. “Give me more. Hit me hard, my pretty. You’re so strong, maybe I’ll die, but I don’t care. I want more of you. I love what it does to me.”
“Pervert,” she said, looking down at her shoes.
“He’s a tricky little prick,” James added, then addressed Proctor directly. “Now get up, or I will hit you again. But not how you like it.”
“Okay, Purple Heart.”
James was startled. “How do you know us?”
Sitting on the floor, the blond man ignored the question. In fact, he mostly ignored James altogether. He seemed to have eyes only for Amanda, and she was fresh out of patience with his lecherous looks.
“Okay, that’s enough,” she said. “Now that we know what you are, tell us, what do you want? Why are you following us? Did someone hire you to kill us?”
“Don’t worry, beautiful. I’m not going to hurt you. To me, you’re like a beautiful little rose. So pretty. So deliciously pretty. You want me to come with you? Sure. That’s fine. I need to make one phone call first.”
James clenched his fists. “Are you kidding me?”
“No, I am not kidding you, Purple Heart.” He chuckled again. “Where do you propose to take me, anyway? Basil Blake? The Committee? Ha ha. My dear Sentinels, I have them on speed dial.”
James and Amanda just stared at him. He narrowed his eyes. “Go ahead. Call Basil. Ask him about Alain Proctor. Ask him what you should do with me.”
“Oh, I’m about to,” muttered Amanda. Her heart pounding, she dialed Basil’s number. To her relief, he answered on the first ring. “Hi, it’s Amanda. James is here too. Listen, Alain Proctor is with us. He’s the stalker and we finally found him. We’re in his apartment.” To her surprise, there was only silence on the other end. “Hello? Are you there?”
“Go on,” Basil said.
“We have him right here. He’s been following us, and we just learned he’s a killer for hire,” Amanda continued. “What should we do? Hello?”
She began to think the call had been dropped, but Basil finally spoke, his voice grave and compelling. “Let him go. Try not to engage. He can be dangerous.”
Let him go? She must have misheard him. “Too late!” she said. “We’re here already. And by the way, he was immune to our energy pulses. Now, where do you want us to bring him?”
She couldn’t believe her ears. “He’s not going to hurt us? Proctor’s invulnerability to their energy pulses was troubling enough. She hadn’t even known such a thing was possible. But Basil had barely reacted! “Do you know that he kills people? I’m telling you, he’s a hired assassin!”
“We know everything about Alain,” her adviser said. “Let him be.
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