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Page 43 of Alpha (Alpha 1)

“Hi,” I breathed, and immediately hated myself for sounding so pathetic. I’d sounded breathy, flirty. Like I should be some air-headed bimbo with one name. Veronica. Bambi, with a heart over the “I.”

“Good morning, Kyrie. Feeling refreshed?” He smiled at me, warm and friendly, yet his eyes betrayed amusement, promise, memory of what I’d done to him less than an hour earlier.

“Yes, thanks.” I leaned over to peek into his cup. “Tea? Or coffee?”

He swirled the khaki liquid in his cup. “Tea. Earl Grey, with a touch of milk.” He lifted the cup and saucer toward me. “Care for a cup?”

The fact that he was a tea drinker served as a reminder that he was actually from England. It was easy to forget, so faint was his accent. I’d never tried tea English-style. “Can I try a sip of yours? I’ve never had tea before. Not the way you’re drinking it, at least.”

He placed the cup on the saucer and held it out to me. “Old habits die hard. I’ve never been able to get into drinking coffee in the morning. I don’t really do the whole ‘afternoon tea’ bit anymore, but I’ve got to have a cup of Earl Grey to start the day.”

I sipped at his tea, surprised by how much I liked it. “Mmmm. That’s pretty good, actually. I’ll try a cup, the way you have it.” I gave him his tea back, expecting him to summon Eliza to make mine. “I forget you’re from England sometimes. You don’t really sound like it, most of the time.”

“That’s intentional. I worked rather hard to eradicate my accent.” He rose and went into the kitchen, opened a cupboard, and withdrew a cup and saucer like his, took a quart of half-and-half from the fridge, tipped a tiny bit into the teacup, and then poured tea from a pot sitting on the stove. “Here you are,” he said, setting it front of me.

“Thanks,” I said, a bit mystified. I hadn’t expected him to get my tea himself. “I could have done that, you know. I thought—”

Roth spoke over me. “Eliza is not my personal servant, Kyrie. I only have her serve meals on special occasions. Usually she just leaves food out for me, since I work long and erratic hours. I fend for myself most of the time. Just because I’m rich doesn’t mean I’m unable to do things for myself, you know.”

“I didn’t mean it like that, Roth.” I sipped at my tea. It was good, but I didn’t think it would ever replace my need for coffee. “Anyway. You said we had a busy day today. What are we doing?”

He grinned at me. “Well, since we’ve discarded the blindfold, I thought we’d do something fun together. Have you ever been sailing?”

I shook my head, feeling excitement thrill through me. “No, I haven’t. I’ve always wanted to, though.”

Roth’s eyes lit up. “Wonderful! This should be an enjoyable time, then.” He eyed my outfit. “That should be fine for sailing, and I have a bathing suit for you on the boat. Some breakfast, then, and we’ll head out. What would you like to eat?”

I shrugged. “A bagel? I don’t eat much in the mornings.”

I slipped off my chair, but Roth waved me back down. “Sit, Kyrie,” he ordered. “What kind of bagel? We have a variety.”

“Sesame?”

“Toasted? Cream cheese?”

I nodded, and watched him as he cut two thick bagels in half, then stuck the halves in a four-slot toaster. “Why are you making my breakfast for me?”

He leaned back against the counter, sipping at his tea. “Because I can. And because I want to.” He looked past me, out the window. “This house has been empty but for Eliza and me. Having you here is a wonderful change.”

“Eliza said something very similar.”

Roth looked surprised. “She did?”

“Yeah. She said she was lonely a lot, and having me around was nice. I like her. I think we could be friends.”

“That’s surprising. Eliza is…very private and reserved. Much like me. That’s why we get along so well, I think.” He gestured at me with his cup and saucer. “That she seems to like you is a good sign. I trust her judgment in many things, especially people.”

The bagels popped up at that moment, and he smeared cream cheese on each of the halves with a spoon and then returned to the table, setting the plate between us. We each took a half and ate in silence. It was supremely strange, to be having breakfast with this man, sharing such an intimate, domestic thing as a bagel and cream cheese. It felt natural, as if we’d always done this. Again, I felt a bolt of fear at how much I liked this feeling, this easy comfort with a man I barely knew.

When we were finished, Roth cleaned up for us both and then took my hand. “Ready to go?” I nodded. “Do you need anything? A purse?”

I shrugged. “Not really.”

Roth seemed surprised at this. “All right, then. Let’s go.” He brought me to the door to his private quarters, held his finger to the plate, and then shoved the door open.

Beyond was a wide hallway with high ceilings, thick cream carpet, and dark wood-paneled walls, which were lined with black-and-white photographs. I paused to examine the photos. They were amazing, artistic, vividly focused. The subjects ranged from portraits to landscapes, most of them taken in Asia. There was a photo of an old Chinese woman, a scarf covering her head, wisps of gray hair sticking out around her ears, her toothless mouth grinning, eyes crinkled. There was a tall, curved-roof pagoda, a rice paddy, an ox with shaggy fur and baleful eyes, and then several more portraits. It wasn’t until I realized that Roth was watching me examine the photos with a blank expression that I thought to look at the bottom right corner. There, written in white marker or pen, was the same scribbled “VR” signature from the checks.

“You took these?” I asked.

He nodded. “A hobby, you could say. Something I haven’t had much time for lately, much to my regret.”

“They’re amazing,” I told him, sincerely impressed. “That first one, the old woman, it’s like something you’d see in National Geographic. It’s really good, Roth.”

He smiled at me. “Thank you, Kyrie.” He took my hand and pulled me forward, and I followed him, although there were several more photographs I wanted to see.

Later, perhaps. If I was lucky. We passed a few open doorways, one leading to a half-bath, another to what looked like a security room, monitors showing security camera views of the foyer, the kitchens, the library, the main garage, two elevators, another garage, and the roof. No surveillance of my rooms, though, but there were blacked-out monitors, so it was hard to say.

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