Brighter Than the Sun Page 75

“You saved her life. Thank you,” Joe said gravely.

“Just doing my job,” she said faintly. “Provided I still have one after the ass I was to you all.”

“You’ll do, Allie,” Rio said with a smile. “You’ll do.”

• • •

ZOE ran in no clear direction, cringing and ducking when she heard distant gunfire. She wiped at the blood smearing her vision and kept running, but then she stepped in a hole and painfully twisted her ankle, going down in a painful heap on the ground. She tried to push herself up but her strength was utterly sapped. She curled into a ball, moaning as the pain she’d tried so valiantly to suppress hit her with a vengeance.

She huddled there, shaking violently, tears mixing with the blood smeared on her cheeks and mouth. The metallic taste sickened her and she dry-heaved, her stomach rebelling at the violence that surrounded her like a thick fog.

This was who she was. Her legacy. How could Joe possibly want this—her? She’d never even been able to tell him the truth herself, and now it looked as though she had used him, purposely deceived him and his entire family. Dragging them all down with her to her level of subhumanity.

“Zoe! Zoe! Where are you, honey?”

The unfamiliar voice made her tense all over and she held her breath, praying she was hidden among the dirt and rubble she was lying in. And then . . .

“Zoe! Honey, are you all right? Don’t be scared. I’m one of the good guys.”

She opened her eyes to see an unfamiliar set of ice blue eyes belonging to a tall, imposing man with blond hair and hard features. She shivered at the intensity in his eyes and shrank back involuntarily.

“My name’s Steele, ma’am. I work with KGI. I’m one of the team leaders like Joe. My team is made up of P.J., Cole, Baker and Renshaw. I’m here to take you back to Joe. How badly are you hurt?”

Tears filled her eyes as he gently wiped some of the blood away from her face.

“I can’t go back there,” she whispered. “I don’t belong there. I’m not your kind.”

He cocked his head, obviously confused by her statement. “And what kind is that, honey?”

“The good kind,” she choked out. “I’m . . . dirty. Tainted. My entire life I’ve been surrounded by corruption and filth. My father heads a vast criminal empire. That’s who I am, what I come from, the kind of person I am. My mother didn’t even love me enough to take me with her when she left my father. Please, just let me go. I can’t go back there. Not like this. Please just let me go. I’m begging you.”

Steele’s hard face softened with lines of understanding. He cupped her cheek, dabbing at more of the blood seeping from the cuts on her face, his expression going cold as he examined the damage done to her.

“How about I bring you to my wife. She’s a doctor and she can see to your injuries. You need medical attention, Zoe. You’d like her. She’s one in a million.”

“You won’t let Joe see me like this?” she asked fearfully.

His face softened again. “No, Zoe. I won’t make you do anything you don’t want. But I need to take you now. We don’t know how badly you’re hurt or if you broke anything. I’ll call ahead to Maren and let her know we’re coming in so she’ll be waiting to examine you. Deal?”

“O-Okay,” she said shakily. “Do you . . . do you have a blanket? I don’t want anyone to see . . .”

She broke off, ducking her head in shame.

Steele reached into the pack he was carrying and pulled out a blanket. Then he simply wrapped it around her, lifting her into his arms so he could tuck the corners up around her chin so that only her face was visible.

“I’m bringing Zoe in. Have the chopper ready for transport. I’m taking her to the infirmary to see Maren,” he said into his mic. “And tell Joe to stand down,” he said in a warning voice.

Zoe closed her eyes and buried her face against Steele’s chest to avoid the scrutiny of the others as Steele strode toward the waiting chopper. She heard the distant protests of Joe and his brothers arguing with him to stand down. Only when she was safely inside the helicopter with Donovan and Steele and it took off into the air did she give in to the overwhelming pull of unconsciousness.

CHAPTER 25

“I think you should bring Rusty into the exam room,” Maren said quietly to her husband. “Zoe’s severely traumatized to the point I think she’s had a break with reality. She’s borderline catatonic, and at the mere mention of seeing Joe, she gets hysterical.”

“Fuck,” Steele said, rubbing the back of his neck. “You should have seen her when I found her. She was so goddamn ashamed, and for what? Genetics? She’s convinced that she’s a bad seed because of who and what her father is. She’s shouldering enormous guilt for involving all of us when if she hadn’t gone to Rusty, she’d be dead.”

“She’s refused to see anyone else. Even Marlene. I think Rusty is our best chance at getting through to her.”

“She’s in the waiting room, silent and not talking to anyone. She’s shouldering as much guilt and blame as Zoe is, and that’s just bullshit. What her family did to her is unforgivable,” he said in disgust. “And I’m worried the damage can’t be undone.”

“Go get her,” Maren said softly. “Tell her Zoe needs her. Rusty would never turn her back on anyone who needed her.”

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