Abigail Owens was being followed.
Maybe she was being paranoid, but she didn’t think so. She’d seen the same man at the train station in Budapest, and then again in Bucharest. Now he was here in Kiev. Twice might be a coincidence. Three times meant he was following her.
She ducked behind one of the large stone pillars at the Kiev Passenger Railway Station, closed her eyes, and tried to catch her breath. “Not now,” she muttered. This was not the time for a panic attack, but her heart wouldn’t listen to reason and began to race. Her breathing increased until she was practically panting.
She opened her eyes and tried to focus on her surroundings. The bright light flooded through the high windows, reflecting off the glass and onto one of the massive chandeliers hanging in the impressive Gothic-style building. The beauty of the place had captivated her for the past hour. The old architecture was stunning, but the building completely functioned as a train station. She loved the dichotomy of the two. She’d taken lots of pictures. It was when she was taking a snapshot of the crowd that she’d noticed the man watching her.
Several people walked by her and stared, but no one approached her. Just as well, since she couldn’t talk at the moment. It was taking all her concentration just to be able to breathe.
The panic attacks were fairly new, and she was still learning to deal with them.
I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. She repeated the mantra over and over in her mind until the tightness in her chest began to recede and her breathing slowed, so she didn’t feel or sound as though she was trying to win a thousand-yard dash.
Constance, her older sister and best friend in the world, had said panic attacks were normal considering what she’d been through. Her sister wanted her to seek professional help, but Abigail had refused. Not like she could see a shrink and tell them the whole tale.
What would she say? That she’d been kidnapped by an evil worldwide organization bent on capturing drakons—half-human and-half dragon men who were over four thousand years old? And by the way, she’d not only seen one of those drakons up close and personal, but he was now married to her sister.
Yeah, that would get her locked up pretty quickly.
Breathing settled somewhat, Abigail realized she was rubbing two fingers on her left hand. She immediately stopped. She didn’t want to remember how those fingers had been broken.
Now that she was somewhat calmer, she considered her options. She’d planned on going to Minsk next as part of her tour of Europe, even had her ticket, but she needed to change her destination to throw off the guy following her.
Luckily, she didn’t have to worry about wasting her ticket to Minsk and buying a new one for somewhere else. She had all the time in the world and money enough to do whatever she wanted. And how weird was that? She still couldn’t get used to the money thing. A year ago, heck a few months ago, this trip would have been unthinkable.
And while money made life easier in so many ways, if she needed help beyond that, she knew all she had to do was pick up the phone and her brother-in-law would have someone swoop in and rescue her. But she was tired of being rescued.
First, her older sister had done it when their parents had died. Yes, they’d lived with their grandpa, but it had been Constance who’d taken care of her, mothered her, and encouraged her. And it had been Abigail’s sister who’d risked her life to save her after she was kidnapped by the Knights of the Dragon.
What kind of stupid name was that for an evil organization anyway?
And they were evil. She shivered and rubbed her hands over her arms, trying to ward off the sudden chill that wrapped around her. They were dangerous and wealthy men and women who wanted power at all costs. They called the creatures they sought dragons instead of drakons, wanting to see them as beasts and not the men that they were. As if that somehow made the despicable things they did less horrific.
Unlike their sires, who were pure dragon, they were a combination of both their parents—intelligent and with human hearts capable of great emotion, yet primal and cunning and more than willing to do whatever it took to stay alive.
There wasn’t anything the Knights wouldn’t do in order to secure a drakon for themselves. She knew firsthand they had no problem with kidnapping or murder. But those that had known about her were dead. Or so she’d thought.
There was no denying some guy was following her. She knew she wasn’t imagining things. Moving quickly, she checked her watch and made her way back to the ticket counter. She’d studied all the schedules and had a fair idea what trains were leaving soon. Her options were limited.
Thankfully, the line was short. Abigail leaned in close so she wouldn’t be overheard. “Moscow, please.” The bored woman processed her quickly, and within a few minutes, Abigail was holding her ticket to freedom.
This time she was going to save herself.
It would be all too easy to run home to the protection of her family. And if she did, she might never find the courage to leave again. She was fighting for her life, for the courage to live it the way she wanted. If she gave in to the fears that haunted her daily, she would lose something vital. She would lose herself.
As she walked away from the ticket counter, out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of the man watching her. He was around six feet tall, wore a leather jacket, and was trying not to look conspicuous. But his military haircut and his posture made him stand out in the crowd. It gave him away, made him memorable. And the Knights of the Dragon were notorious for hiring ex-military men and mercenaries. In the time she’d spent around them, she’d picked up more information than they’d realized.
Her first instinct was to run, but she forced herself to walk toward the ladies’ room and duck inside.
She used the facilities and then washed her hands before gazing at her face in the mirror. It was pale, even for her. She’d lost some weight these past few months, too, her appetite not what it had been before the kidnapping.
She shuddered and dropped her backpack on the counter. Her sister would be appalled at how little she had on her. But she’d learned quickly that traveling light was the way to go.
The most important things were the camera and journal she kept in a separate purse around her neck and arm so she could keep it close and safe. She made sure her wallet, passport, and travel visas were also tucked into her bag, took a deep breath, and slung her backpack over her shoulder. This had to work.
When she left the ladies’ room, she casually glanced around as though trying to orient herself. She joined the crowd heading up the escalator and made her way to the right platform. It would be cutting things close, but it would work. It had to.
The train was on time, and she left the building as it approached. This was the train she’d originally planned to take, the one to Minsk. It was hard not to look over her shoulder to see if the man was following her. She showed her ticket and passport to the agent waiting outside the train and boarded.
The first thing she did was peek out a window. Sure enough, the guy was on the platform waiting to get on. Her chest began to tighten, but she forced herself to breathe. There was no other option, not if she wanted to get away from him. As soon as he boarded, she began walking through the train, losing herself in the third-class cars crowded with people settling in for the trip. Since she always traveled second class, she figured the guy would look for her there first.
Cutting it as closely as she could, Abigail stepped off the train at the last second and quickly ducked back into the building. She didn’t wait to see if she’d lost him. She didn’t have time.
Walking fast at first and then breaking into a run, she barely made it to the other platform to catch the train to Moscow. By the time she was seated, just seconds before the doors shut, she was breathing heavily.
“Come on. Come on,” she whispered, willing the train to leave. She peeked out the window, almost afraid to see the man searching for her. Sure enough, she caught sight of him just as the train began to move. He was standing in the middle of the platform, just outside the train, turning in a slow circle. The last glimpse she had was of him talking on his phone as the train pulled away with a high-pitched squeal.
She shuddered and tugged her warm jacket more tightly around her.
An older woman sitting across from her said something to her in Russian. At least Abigail thought it was Russian. She had a small notebook where she’d written helpful phrases for most of the countries she’d planned to visit. She dug it out of her knapsack, looked up the appropriate section, and searched for what she needed. “Ya nye paneemayoo.” She said the words slowly, knowing she was most likely mangling the language. Still, she hoped the woman understood enough to know Abigail was trying to say she was sorry and didn’t understand.
The woman canted her head to one side and studied her out of shrewd brown eyes. “English?”
Abigail nodded and tried to smile. “Yes.”
“Where you go?”
Abigail didn’t really want to talk, but the older woman looked like someone’s grandmother. “Moscow,” she told her.
“Ah. Beautiful city.”
“Yes, it is.” She shivered, and the woman reached out and patted her knee.
“You cold. Don’t worry. They bring water for tea.”
Abigail knew they’d bring hot water to the second-class passengers. She even had her own teabags and a bottle of water as well. She’d learned to be prepared.
She should contact her family and tell them what had happened, but she wasn’t going to. There was nothing they could do for her that she couldn’t do for herself.
The older woman settled back in her seat, pulled out a book, and began to read. Abigail looked out the window and watched the world go by. It was one of the reasons she’d started taking the train instead of flying. She got to see so many more places and the vast countryside. Taking decent pictures through the window was out, but she used her phone to take some shots, kind of a photo diary for herself, rather than anything she might use for a gallery showing.
She’d always wanted to photograph Moscow, so she should be excited, but all she could feel was a sense of dread and a hard ball of worry in the pit of her stomach.
“You did what?” Nicodemus Wilde raked his fingers through his hair and swallowed back a roar of anger. It wouldn’t do anyone any good if he allowed his temper to take over.
He took a deep breath and peered out the window into the night. “How did you manage to lose her? You’re supposed to be the best security firm in Europe, and all I asked you to do was keep tabs on my sister-in-law. How hard can that be?” He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “How did you manage to lose her?”
“I’m sorry, sir. She jumped trains at the last second.” The agent paused. “It had to be deliberate.”
Despite his agitation, Nic knew all too well how resourceful his sister-in-law could be. Abigail was young and pretty, and people tended to underestimate her. From everything his wife had told him, her sister was more street smart and savvy than most her age.
Plus, like her sister, Abigail had an instinct for things, a gift. She knew if a gemstone was real just by looking at it. Sometimes she didn’t even have to look. She could simply sense it.
Nic wasn’t sure if either woman realized their talents bled out to other areas of their lives, giving them an extra sense of awareness about their surroundings.
“She must have seen our agent. I’m sorry, sir. This has never happened before.” He sounded disgruntled, but Nic didn’t care about the guy’s bruised ego.
“Do you know where she is?” He could not tell Constance he’d lost her sister.
“The only other train that left at that time was the one going to Moscow. We’ve already got a man en route to intercept, plus men waiting at every other stop in case she gets off earlier.”
“Good. Find her, and don’t lose her again.” He hung up and tensed as he sensed Constance behind him.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. She was tousled from sleep and looked worried.
He hated to see her upset about anything. There was no way he could lie to her. She was his heart. He tucked his phone away and sighed. “Your sister gave her security detail the slip.”
“She what?” Constance nibbled on her bottom lip. In spite of the seriousness of the situation, Nic’s body responded. He wanted to lick that luscious lip and kiss his wife senseless.
He cupped her face in his hands. “They know she’s on a train to Moscow.” And they better be right about that or heads would roll. “They’re sending a man to meet the train.”
“We should tell her about them. She wouldn’t have run if she’d realized the man was there for her protection.” They’d had this argument before, and Constance continually wavered back and forth between telling her sister and not telling her.
Nic pulled out his phone and handed it to her. “Abigail will take it better coming from you.”
“Coward,” she muttered as she took the phone.
“Smart,” he countered. “I’m not coming between you and your sister.”
Abigail was startled when her phone rang. She dug it out of her bag and glanced at the number. Her heart began to race. “Constance? What’s wrong?” If she was calculating correctly, it was still night or very early morning for her sister.
“Why would anything be wrong?”
“Because you should be sleeping. Or maybe not. Where are you? No, don’t tell me.” It was safer if she didn’t know. She couldn’t be forced to tell anyone what she didn’t know.
It was a stark reminder of her new reality that she even had to consider such a thing.
Home had always been the comfortable house on a quiet street in Vegas. Now she was technically homeless. With the house sold and her things in storage, she had nowhere to call home. It was both freeing and downright scary.
Abigail was adrift in the world, rudderless except for the love of her sister. And even their relationship was different now that she had Nic.
Constance sighed and hesitated. That wasn’t like her sister. Not at all. “Talk to me.”
“Umm, the man, the one who was following you?”
Abigail pulled the phone away from her ear and stared at it. How could her sister know about that, unless… “Put Nic on the line.”
She heard the fear in her sister’s voice, the worry, and it made her ache. “It’s okay. I’m not mad.”
Constance gave a weak laugh. “Yes, you are. I know you. I’d be furious, too. But I didn’t want you traveling all around Europe alone without protection, not after what happened.”
“I love you,” she told her sister. “Now put the big guy on.”
“Love you, too.”
“Abigail.” Nic sounded wary. That made her smile. The idea that an immortal, powerful drakon would be cautious around her was hilarious.
“Hey, Nic. So I hear you know the guy I ditched in Kiev.”
He made a low rumbling sound, like a growl. “Yeah, I knew Constance wouldn’t relax knowing you were on your own in Europe.”
“All this time, someone has been following me?” She’d been traveling for weeks and had only just now caught on. Obviously, she wasn’t nearly as aware as she thought she was. It was rather scary when she thought about it.
“Yes, and you should never have known. These guys are the best in the business.” Which meant her brother-in-law was paying massive amounts of money to keep her safe while she was traveling economy class. She shook her head at the absurdity of it all.
“I should have seen him earlier.” She had, but she hadn’t trusted her instincts until she’d seen him a couple of times.
“No, you shouldn’t have. It hasn’t been the same guy the whole time. They’ve traded off so something like this wouldn’t happen.”
“So what now?”
“A guy will meet you in Moscow. Just ignore him and let him follow you. It will let your sister sleep at night.”
When he put it like that, she couldn’t say no. And truthfully, she wasn’t sure she wanted to. The scare at the train station had put more than a little fear into her, reminding her just how fast something could go wrong and life could change.
“Okay?” Nic sounded confused.
“Yes, I’m not going to fight you on this.” She shifted position and yawned. She needed a nap. Maybe after she had her cup of tea. Hot water should be coming any moment now. “I’m independent, not stupid.”
“No, thank you. This has to be costing you—”
“Doesn’t matter.” He interrupted her before she could finish. “You’re family.” And she knew that said it all for him. She was important to Constance, so she was important to him. Didn’t matter they really didn’t know one another well at all.
“I’ll call when I get settled into a hotel.”
“Don’t skimp. Not this time. Please?”
It belatedly occurred to her that her family knew how she’d been traveling and where she’d been staying, and yet they’d said nothing to her about it when they’d talked.
“I promise.” It was something she could easily do. After the stress of today, she wanted a night or two in a really soft, comfortable bed. She wanted a hot bath and food that didn’t come out of a package. There was also the matter of laundry to be taken care of. “Tell Constance I’ll call her when I know where I’m staying.”
Abigail ended the call and tucked her phone away. The older woman was unabashedly watching and listening. “Family?” she asked, her voice heavily accented.
“Yes. My sister and her husband.”
The woman nodded. “It is good to have family.”
The woman was right. It was good to have family. “I’m Abigail.” She held out her hand.
“Natasha.” The woman offered her hand. It was smooth but strong.
“Natasha, what are the best hotels in Moscow?”