Romantic Action/adventure/suspense Novel
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Men and women who have sacrificed their personal identities to live in the shadows and uphold justice for all–no matter the cost.
A woman without a past. A man without explanations.
Their love has no beginning. No end…? Kira Gunn, 25-year-old wunderkind, remembers nothing about her life before 31-year-old Vincent Carson. He’s been her guardian, her protector, her business partner and her passion for 15 years, yet he remains an enigma who seems to exist solely to give her everything she wants and needs. Who is he? Where did he come from? Who is she and where did she come from? The vague nightmares she’s had as long as she can remember–gunshots, utter terror and the gentle eyes of salvation–and Vincent’s tender resistance to help her discover the answers of her uncertain past are taking its toll on her body, her heart and her soul. How can she trust a man whose past is as gray as her own? But how can she leave Vincent, the only home she’s ever known? For he is her salvation.
The love they share is no ordinary love…
Kira has become the sole reason for Vincent’s existence since the moment her vulnerable, trusting child eyes met his own. As Kira struggles with unseen demons, Vincent fiercely guards the truth, even as his own heart takes the wounds of her battle. She wants the one thing he can never give her. To seek out the truth of her past would be to put both of their lives in danger…and could mean losing the only thing in the world that matters to Vincent–Kira’s love.
Awards & Honors:
2007 EPIC Award winner
2006 CAPA Award nominee
TRS Sweetheart Award nominee
L-Edit Slip finalist
5 stars from Huntress Reviews
5 angels from Fallen Angel Reviews
5 cups from Coffee Time Romance Reviews
5 beacons from Lighthouse Literary Reviews
5 stars from The Romance Studio
4 ½ stars from Once Upon a Romance Review
A Perfect 10 review from Romance Reviews Today
4 1/2 delightful divas from Dark Diva Reviews
No Ordinary Love Excerpt
© Karen Wiesner
“Do you have the portfolio from the senior-year student attending Parsons?” Kira asked of Vincent when the daily financial meeting concluded and they were alone in her office the next morning.
Frowning, he told her in a distracted way, “It’s at my apartment. I can get it at lunch. Or we could go together and get it then.”
Across the hall, his phone rang. Relieved, Kira told him to get it and they would talk later.
She called to have her limo meet her out front, then slipped out as soon as Vincent was distracted. As she rode the few blocks from Kira Gunn Industries’ Madison Avenue office and retail, she realized she’d never been to Vincent’s apartment without him. She had the keys, but the times she’d been there had been only long enough for him to grab something or to change his clothes.
After telling her driver she’d call him when she was ready to leave, Kira went inside with her head buzzing. On his floor, she unlocked both the deadbolt and the regular lock with separate keys, then pushed inside. The darkness was almost total. She groped for the switch.
While she couldn’t imagine Vincent becoming angry about her being here without him, she couldn’t escape the feeling she was invading his privacy. She located the portfolio almost immediately on the credenza in the living room, but looked away from it to really take in the personality of his apartment the way she never had before.
The furnishings were utilitarian. Black sofa and chairs. Basic oak tables and bookshelves. The only thing that stood out was the over-sized armoire entirely covering the longest wall of the room. It was locked.
His desk was very clean. No bills, but then she knew his penchant for paying things immediately. No paper trail. She stood, indecisive for a moment—then passed a milestone. Vincent couldn’t remain an enigma. She needed to know more about him—much more. Kira began her search at his desk. She didn’t find an address book of any kind.
She found herself running her fingers over the books on his shelves, wondering what Vincent read. Nonfiction exclusively. Many of the titles were meaningless to her. They gave no clue to what the books were really about. Others were more obvious: self-defense, coping with phobias, trauma psychology, guns, seizures, dog training, various computer programming and repair guides, military tactics, even some memory loss and gaining confidence titles.
Confused, she looked for a stereo and CDs, but found no music whatsoever. His computer equipment was state of the art with so many extras, she couldn’t begin to guess the myriad of things he could use it for. He’d asked countless times if he could teach her about computer hacking, shell programming, telnet programs, port surfing, encryption, and gaining root. He’d set up the LAN Ethernet system at KGI himself.
Kira had resisted anything related to computers and the Internet, outside of the basics. She couldn’t explain her reluctance to learn more when her mind thirsted for knowledge of all kinds. Somehow her temptation had felt so much like getting too close to a pain that could destroy her. It was senseless, but she hadn’t been able to tell Vincent the truth, especially since the truth made no sense to her either.
Hesitantly, Kira pushed the button to boot one of the computers in what Vincent called his hacking lab. A screen that didn’t look anything like her desktop came up. A small box implicitly demanded a password. Kira tried her name first and got another box, telling her she would be viewed as an intruder if she didn’t get it right next time. She didn’t guess right, and the screen went totally black. Frowning, she shut the computer off and moved over to the television. An all-news channel came up.
His kitchen held no surprises at all. All was just as utilitarian as the living room, almost appearing unused for longer than the past few days he’d been staying at her apartment. With a feeling of yielding discomfort, she went through his medicine cabinet in the bathroom.
His bedroom consisted of nothing more than a bed, a nightstand and lamp, a dresser and his clothes hanging in the closet. Save for the clothes, she could easily have believed no one actually used the room. Berating herself only lightly, she opened each drawer of the dresser, looking through everything. Then she opened the small drawer on the nightstand. Paper, pens, a gun—loaded, with the safety on. Unfathomable instinct had her feeling beneath the bottom of the drawer, where her fingers met with a small object, taped in place. When she pulled it loose and brought it out, she saw a key.
She removed the tape from the key, running her index finger along the cut of it.
What could be in that huge armoire? What would he keep locked and out of sight of any guests he might have?
What guests did Vincent have? She would be willing to bet she was the only other person who’d ever been in his apartment. So what would he keep locked and out of her sight?
Steeling her resolve, she turned toward the doorway leading out to the living room. Opening that armoire wouldn’t merely be walking through his apartment, sneaking a peek in his medicine cabinet. She would be invading his privacy in the worst way.
Would he be angry at her if she opened it? She couldn’t imagine that. Whatever she wanted to do, he encouraged.
The key might not even fit. What was the harm in seeing if it did? She’d just look. She wouldn’t touch anything.
Quickly, before she could change her mind, she marched into the living room and shoved the key into the lock. It fit, turned easily, in fact. All she had to do was pull. Maybe he had a theater system, though she couldn’t picture him providing such entertainment for himself. An immense stereo system, since that seemed to be lacking elsewhere in the room? What else could it be?
In her hesitation, she noticed that the armoire was wider than it was tall. The doors were bi-folds, with hinged panels every three feet or so. Once she opened each side, they would fold up and she could push them back into the slots on either side. Then whatever was inside could be viewed without obstruction.
Kira’s heart beat so wildly, she almost felt silly. It’d probably be nothing. Something so ordinary, everyone had one and she just couldn’t think at this moment what might fit in such a large cabinet.
Removing the key, she put her fingers in the rectangular indention and eased the right door back.
“Oh my…” she muttered faintly, not even realizing she’d spoken out loud as she revealed guns. Many different kinds. Hand guns, semi-automatic and pump shotguns, rifles. There was even an illegal machine gun. Stacks of ammunition, both in steel boxes and smaller cardboard boxes, for each make and model, were stored below the guns on the floor of the armoire.
Is he expecting a war, right here in this claustrophobically small apartment? Why?
She knew Vincent liked guns. ‘Like’ wasn’t really the word for it. He seemed to know a lot about them. He was comfortable around them, with them, as though he used them often. Maybe this was simply a collection.
Her gaze moved across the rows of weapons, held in place on a cushioned liner at the back of the cabinet. Were there guns across the whole of the cabinet? But she saw the glint of something—glass?—in the shadowed darkness on the left.
She put her fingers into the indention on that side and pushed back. The panels folded, then fit into the slot on the end when she shoved them back. Confusion filled her mind totally as she stared at the equipment before her. Screens, electronic equipment she couldn’t begin to name, let alone guess the uses of, lined the shelves. For a few minutes, she merely stared at it all the way a person who had no aptitude for math might stare at a jumble of numbers when asked to come up with answers.
If she’d been in someone’s office or another person’s apartment, she would have been mildly curious about what all this was for. But Vincent had put these things here. He used the system for something.
As she stared, she realized there was something familiar about it all. She’d seen something like this elsewhere, but she couldn’t place where at the moment. Her eyes began to focus on the actual components individually instead of as a whole, and she saw that some of the buttons, switches and screens had words on them. ‘Kitchen-K2V’, ‘Bedroom1-K3V’, ‘Limousine-1A’, ‘Office-KGI-1K’, etc. ‘KGI’ obviously meant Kira Gunn Industries. She couldn’t guess what everything else meant.
After she read each of the machines and screens, she saw some of them overlapped. There was more than one ‘Bedroom1’ tag, for instance. There were four different tags for ‘Bedroom1’, but each one had a different number and was followed either by an ‘A’ or a ‘V’.
Kira turned and went to the couch. She sat down, then began opening the drawers on the oak apothecary type table in front of the couch. In a moment, she’d found a series of remote controls. She stared at each of them for only moments before she made the connection between the letters and numbers on the buttons of the remotes corresponding with the letters and numbers tagged on the screens. Then she aimed the remote that had listings of ‘KGI’ at the screens, pressing the button labeled ‘KGI-1K’. She aimed the remote from shelf to shelf until a screen popped on one.
She looked upon her own desk in her downtown office. She could clearly see the half eaten Twinkie she’d opened a couple hours ago there—the financials from the meeting just before she’d left.
This was a…a security system of some sort. That was why she recognized it. Though she’d only been in it once or twice, her offices had an area with a similar security monitoring system, on a much larger scale. Guards sat in the equipment-stuffed room, checking video displays and audio systems to make sure everything was safe on the office levels and the retail store below, from the third floor down to street level. Cameras covered each hall, office and the store. Naturally, the only areas in the building that didn’t have cameras were the bathrooms and dressing rooms.
Kira pressed another button on the remote, and another screen came to life. The private bathroom in her office. Bathroom. There was a camera in her bathroom. One connected somehow to this security system. Why would anyone put a camera in the bathroom of her office? Why would Vincent? Why would he monitor her bathroom or her office when there were already security systems in place within the building?
She set down the remote and picked up another, this one labeled ‘K-A’, aiming it aggressively. A red light glowed on one of the components, but nothing else seemed to happen. After a minute, she picked up another remote and saw the backseat of her limousine.
There’s a camera in my limousine.
With another remote, another button, yet another screen flared to colorful life showing her bedroom in her penthouse. She pressed every button on the remote and a row of screens, showing rooms in her apartment at all possible angles, lit up.
Wildly, she pushed all the buttons on all the remotes, then sat gaping in horror. Not merely seeing anymore, but hearing as well. She heard the click of Ruff’s fingernails on the linoleum in her kitchen. She saw him and then heard him drinking from his dish. At the same time, she saw and heard her secretary come into her office and put a file on her desk.
Vincent had…he’d bugged—wasn’t that what he’d done?—every part of her life. He could watch her, listen to her, whenever she was in her apartment, her office or the limousine.
No wonder, she realized, feeling completely exposed and vulnerable and not liking the sensations at all. No wonder he always knows when I have a nightmare, when I’m upset or I need him. He’s always knows when I cut my legs shaving or I’m lonely. No wonder! And no wonder he didn’t want me to move out of the penthouse, if he’s had something like this set up for some time, so he always knows where I am and what I’m doing.
When the trill of a cell phone sounded, she didn’t recognize it as coming from her until it continued for several long minutes. Then she fumbled to retrieve it from her purse.
“Yes?” she said, her gaze still on the screens.
“Kira, where are you?” Vincent asked, not frantically, but worry edged his tone.
I’m out of his sight at this moment. He can’t see or hear me, and it worries him.
She couldn’t speak as she wondered if she should tell him she was on her way. She would close up the armoire, pretend she’d never seen any of it…or she could confront him. Then what?
“I’m…at your apartment,” she said unemotionally. In the heartbeats of his pause, she wished he’d bugged his own damn office so she could see his expression.
“Did you need the portfolio right away?” he asked warily, or what sounded that way.
“Did you find it? Are you coming back? Or should I come there?”
Kira’s mind raced. He couldn’t refuse to answer, not this time. Not with all of this to force him to. He would have to give her some kind of explanation for the invasion of privacy he’d breached—so much worse than what she’d done when she came to his apartment today and looked through his things. To think she’d felt guilty about looking through his medicine cabinet and dresser drawers.
“You should come here,” she said, suddenly sure of herself.
He paused again, as if noticing something in her tone. Then he said, “I’ll be there in about ten minutes, barring traffic.”
Did he want to say ‘Don’t touch anything’ before he hung up? She couldn’t be certain. Once she replaced the phone in her purse, she didn’t feel the slightest qualm about going through the other drawers in the table in front of her. Most of them were empty. Some had rolled magazines and newspapers. Some had ammunition for the gun she found in a drawer.
Was he merely paranoid about her safety? Obsessed with her? What answer could fit all this? Fit his tenderness? Fit his ultimate desire of whisking them away to some deserted place to hide from the world?
It all seemed horribly wrong now. The years of only needing and wanting desperately to be together, to stay together at all cost.
What were they running from? If they were hiding, then why had he allowed her to start such a high-profile business?
Why did he want to leave it all behind now? Was he just trying to convince her to need only him, to go away with him, away from the rest of the world and any danger? He must have sensed her withdrawing from him for months, just as he’d known she’d stayed in Rome for so long, hoping to get her head on straight concerning him. She was more confused than ever about him, herself…about them now.
She’d been right last night. This couldn’t go on much longer.
She hadn’t moved from the sofa when he came in. She didn’t glance away from the monitors to look at him either, but she felt his shock nevertheless in the soft curse that drained from him like blood from a wound.
“Are you going to tell me that this isn’t what it looks like?” she asked coldly. She should have been furious, but the sense that her entire life was a lie, was built on mysteries that couldn’t or wouldn’t be explained by anyone but this man, kept her guarded. “You’ve been monitoring my life—every part of my life…for how long?”
Surprising her, he knelt in front of her, putting his head down on her lap. She saw the torment in his expression before he hid it from her. Seeing a shudder work through him, she swallowed at his pain but couldn’t let this go.
“I want to know why, Vincent.”
He looked up, his face crumpled with a grief she couldn’t understand, no more than she understood anything he did.
“You know why.”
What’s his answer every single time?
She didn’t hesitate: “To keep me safe?”
No shadow of doubt entered her mind on the fact that he wished she would simply accept his motivation and go on as though it was nothing out of the ordinary.
“What am I in danger of, Vincent?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“Then tell me what you suspect. I walk around in the dark all the time, assuming I’m safe from all sides. I have no idea what my attacker might look like. But you seem to believe there’ll be an attacker. Tell me what you suspect of him. It.”
As if he couldn’t tolerate any more, he reached for one of the remotes and switched everything in the cabinet off at once. When he turned, his arms went around of her thighs. Angering her further, she felt her body react to his proximity.
“Don’t tell me you don’t know again!” she said sharply, thoroughly anticipating his plan to do just that. “You owe me something for this.”
She waved her hand angrily at the security system—such a misleading reference in this case.
After a moment he seemed to believe she would stalk out and he might never see her again. He nodded. “You want an answer. All I have are pieces.”
“I want them.”
His jaw tightened, and he drew breath through flared nostrils.
“The night I found you, you were in the bushes on a dead-end street. There were some men there. One of them was killed.”
“The gunshots,” she realized instantly, “in my dreams.”
“I don’t know. All I know is you were there. There was no identification. No one seemed to know who you were. But someone was killed. If that someone was related to you, then whoever killed this person might know about you. They might come after you.”
Her chest felt painfully tight as she said carelessly, “It’s been fifteen years.”
“And I covered our tracks well. But it wouldn’t be impossible for someone to find us.”
“Why would anyone kill my father?” she asked without conscious thought.
Vincent’s eyes narrowed. “Why did you say your father? Do you remember something?”
“No.” But she felt it. Voices…some she recognized but couldn’t place and those she feared… A word she reached toward but couldn’t call forth stuck in her throat.
Daddy. Daddy, let’s go home. Let’s go.
“It was my father. I don’t know how I know that, any more than how I always knew how old I was, but I know this.”
“Do you remember anything else?”
Her dream came to her, but with no clearer interpretation than the countless times she’d seen, heard and felt the same things over and over.
She shook her head when the images faded. “Does it help you to know anything more?” she asked.
Something flickered in his eyes, yet he denied he knew anything more.
“Why didn’t you tell me any of this before?” she asked.
He snorted, standing. At the hardening of his face, she barely recognized the warrior before her.
“Because I don’t know a thing. There’s nothing to tell. But I can’t relax for the same reason. Especially now. If it was your father who was killed, I was right all along. You’re in danger. You could be if the person who killed your father knows about you.”
Kira withdrew at the anger in his tone, unsure whether it was directed at her.
“Why were you there, Vincent?”
He’d gone to the cabinet and closed the doors.
“Wrong place at the wrong time,” he muttered without looking at her.
When he did face her, his tone was much softer and the tender man she knew was back. “But then I found you.”
“Does that make it worth this?” she asked. “Hiding all these years? Living in fear?”
They’d moved around constantly for a year, never in the same place for longer than a few days, until Vincent had said they were staying in New York. Once his ‘plans to keep them safe’ were in place.
“How can you ask me that, Kira?”
How could she not ask? It made no sense that he was merely at the wrong place at the wrong time. A teenager who wasn’t wanted by his family, stumbling across a kid and suddenly realizing his mission in life? Finally belonging? No. He claimed he knew nothing, yet he still kept secrets.
She took a shaky breath. She couldn’t be angry with him. Her anger would crush her own soul along with his.
“Vincent, were you in Rome?”
His jaw tensed as they stared at each other, both nervous, across the breadth of the room.
“The whole time?”
He nodded, and she heard the lack of shame as he explained. Even after being caught, he continued to believe what he’d done was utterly necessary. “I flew back as soon as you called in your order to get the jet ready in two hours.”
“And you had a set-up like this…” she motioned toward the cabinet, “…there, too?”
“More intricate, so you could call my office, apartment or satellite phone and always be patched through.”
“What about my apartment?”
“What about it?”
“What’s hidden there? To keep me safe?” The touch of sarcasm in her voice went unnoticed by him.
He swallowed, seeming to quickly add up the logic of telling her more. “Your dog,” he said finally.
“He’s been trained to defend you, with a single command from me.”
Wild-eyed, Kira began, “How—”
“There’s a remote in his collar, if he’s with you and I can’t get to you first.”
Explaining why he’d immediately given her another dog after the death of her first. Explaining why Ruff had turned from sweet pup to a killer when they’d been threatened Sunday night.
“Is that all?” she barely whispered.
“Your apartment is fully stocked,” he added briefly.
“With a collection like this one?” she guessed, pointing to the right side of the cabinet, where the guns and ammo had been.
“There’s a panel behind the bookshelves. The button to open it is on the underside of the mantel.”
Kira’s face flooded with heat, and she looked away from him.
If the dreams I’ve avoided for years are real, then all of this isn’t merely a nightmare. It’s genuine. The seizures I was plagued with had to be caused by emotional trauma. But how genuine can the threat be? We’ve lived in peace for fifteen years.
This man she loved, who she was unwilling to live without and couldn’t imagine deceiving her, was a stranger. That fact was impossibly clearer than it’d ever been to her before. And if he was a stranger, how could she be sure he really was protecting her? For all she could remember, he might be the person who killed her father.
Savior or devil in disguise? She stared at him, wondering.
“Kira—” he began softly.
“Will you get rid of all this?” she asked, stumbling to her feet, ignoring the pain she heard and saw emanating from him.
In agony, he shook his head. “I can’t. I can’t risk it. If anything happened to you—”
“What if something happened to me, Vincent? What would happen then?”
“I would never forgive myself.”
She withdrew again on another wave of confusion.
“I love you, Kira. I would die for you. You have to believe me.”
In one heartbeat, she did believe him. That, she’d always known. But in the next, she knew she had to get away from him. Get away from Vincent. Escape her beloved stranger. Somehow.