The 11:00 bus drops off yet another stranger in TEKville.
The newcomer pauses as the bus pulls away, absorbing her surroundings, then pics up her bags and heads down the street in the direction of the hotel recommended by the bus driver.
She is not aware that at this very moment a car approaches TEKville, following the bus at a discreet distance.
As the woman reaches her destination she scans her surroundings furtively before entering the hotel. She checks in quickly under an assumed name and is directed to her room without delay. Once inside she leans her back against the door and sighs in relief.
Gott sie Dank enlich bin hier! [Thank God I am finally here.] But is it safe? Was mein Vater right to send me away?
As so many newcomers to TEKville have done before her, she quickly unpacks her things and sits on the bed, contemplating the strange set of circumstances that has brought her to this inconspicuous little town in the middle of nowhere.
Meanwhile, the car that has been discreetly following the bus for many days pulls into TEKville and pulls to a quiet stop on a deserted side street. The driver slowly emerges, scanning his surroundings critically.
Where IS she? This must be done very carefully if it is to be done here. This strikes me as one of those little towns where everyone knows everyone else's business.
Deciding that the town certainly must be big enough to have a hotel, the stranger re-enters his car and slowly drives around, getting the lay of the land. Two hours later he checks into TEK Hotel.
Once he has unpacked the few belongings he has brought with him he begins a familiar task, one that always calms his mind before a job.
Over the next few days the stranger checks out all of the local bars and restaurants, saying little and watching everything silently, his eyes and ears taking in every detail and filing it away for future reference.
At the sushi bar, he watches the server's interaction with her customers.
"Who is the hunk in the waiting area, Etsuko?"
"I do not know, Shakira, but he is truly -- as you say -- a 'hunk', hai?"
At the diner he cannot quite overhear Leah's comment to Van, but is amused nonetheless, although no hint of that amusement is evident on his face.
He is, however, close enough to overhear Orlando's conversation with Dianne, which he finds equally amusing.
It is the interplay between the pretty waitress and the handsome African American man with his hand up her skirt that he finds the most interesting, but he refrains from becoming involved, focusing on his spaghetti.
At the hotel's bar - the aptly named "Jungle Room" -- he finds that he has interrupted "Ladies' Night Out". Since none of the ladies present bear any resemblance to the one he seeks, he beats a hasty retreat, noting the predatory look in the eyes of the blonde crossing the room.
At TEKville's upscale restaurant he attempts to remain inconspicuous as he checks out the waiting area, but the hostess soon notices his presence.
"Will there be just one for dinner?"
"No, thank you. I'm very hungry, and I see that there is a long wait."
There is also a large crowd the night he checks out the New York bar. The red-haired singer with her acoustic guitar seems to have an enthusiastic following.
His eyes narrow sharply when he spots Giselle on the far side of the room, and they lock on her immediately.
He watches her surreptitiously for the rest of the evening, and when she and her brown-haired friend leave the bar, he discreetly follows.
He waits in his car on the darkened street outside the bungalow until all the lights inside are extinguished, and then waits for another hour before slipping silently from behind the wheel. The front door is no challenge to his lock-picking abilities and he is soon inside the house.
He begins to silently ascend the stairs to the second floor, assuming that his intended victim will be alone.
Jes, ever vigilant thanks to the hardships she endured in her youth, awakens to the slight creaking of the stairs and snatches her gun from under her pillow.
She knows that Gannon, fully aware of the girls' history, would never enter the house stealthily. Sitting bolt upright in bed, she awakens Giselle with a hand over her mouth and with a slight shake of her head to warn her friend not to speak, motions with the gun toward the bedroom door.
Giselle looks frantically toward the closet where her own gun is stored, but it is too well secured for quick access. Giselle knows, however, that she can count on Jessy's reflexes and cool head to handle the situation. Silently both girls slide out of bed, pushing pillows under the covers to simulate their sleeping bodies, and creep into the shadows where the pale moonlight shining through the stained glass window will not reveal them to the intruder.
They wait in silence, fearing that the dual pounding of their hearts must surely be audible. Jessy's hands, however, remain steady, grasping her weapon with the easy grip that hints at long familiarity. She raises it and sights carefully as the bedroom door begins to open, slowly and silently.
She starts as the moonlight glints off what appears to be a luger with a silencer protruding through the open doorway, and jerks in surprise at the sudden PHUT PHUT of the weapon being fired twice into the covered pillows on their bed. As the intruder eases into the room to check the efficacy of his work, Jes herself takes careful aim.
BLAM! The deafening sound of her own gun being discharged into the silence of the night is followed by a low grunt of pain from the intruder, who suddenly melts from sight. Jes bolts for the door, gun still gripped in her hand, but she is not quick enough to catch more than a fleeting glimpse of the dark figure now fleeing through the bungalow's front door. Knowing that an attempt to catch the intruder at this point would be an exercise in futility, she relocks the front door and shoves a chair under the doorknob.
With that, she puts her back against the door and weakly lets herself slide to the floor, letting the gun slide from her hand.
Giselle, close on Jessy's heels, arrives in time to witness her friend's collapse and runs to her, dropping to her knees.
"Jess! Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Zellie. You?"
"Thanks to you, yes! What in the name of God . . . ?"
"I don't know, Zellie, but we'd both be very thankful that I'm still a light sleeper, thanks to . . . . you know."
Giselle puts her arms around Jes and hugs her tightly. Jes returns her embrace.
After a moment they both draw back and look at each other, the same thought written clearly on each of their faces.
"Jes, we can't call the police."
"Yeah. I know. The last thing we need is to call their attention to us. Call Gannon."
"Right. He'll know what to do."
Giselle rises and flips on the light, then gasps audibly.
Both girls are startled to see a trail of blood spattered across the floor.
"You hit him?"
"Well of course I hit him, Zellie. Are you forgetting to whom you speak?" A wry smile faintly crosses her face.
Giselle smiles. "Of course you hit him," she echoes. "That should help Gannon to get to the bottom of this, especially if you wounded him badly enough so that he has to seek medical attention."
Giselle moves to the phone and dials Gannon's cell.
"Giselle? Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm all right . . . thanks to Jes. Someone just broke into our house and tried to kill . . . well, one or both of us. Jes heard him coming up the stairs and woke me. We hid in the shadows. He fired two shots into the mounds on the bed that we made from our pillows, and Jes winged him. He got away, but left a trail of blood. We can't . . . we don't want to call the police, Gannon. You know why. Can you . . . ."
"I'll be right there. Just don't let Jes shoot me." Click.
The woman in room 1201 does not leave TEK Hotel for many days. She orders room service and enjoys American meals to which she is not accustomed.
Tiring of room service, she discovers that a nearby Japanese restaurant delivers.
She spends hours in her room, reading and snacking.
Gradually convinced that she is indeed safe at last, she begins to relax and venture out into the world. At first she does not go far -- just to the hotel's bar for a drink -- but little by little she venture farther from the safety of her room, realizing that she cannot remain sequestered there forever.
In time she becomes bored with living in hiding and decides to look for a job to fill the endless hours. Contrary to her father's wishes, her mother insisted that she acquire an education in some field. She has a small amount of medical training, following in the footsteps of her mother, who was a nurse in France prior to marrying her German politician father. She decides to seek employment at a hospital in a nearby city.
Time passes. Late one night several weeks later, an unconscious man is rushed to her hospital with a severe gunshot wound. He has lost a lot of blood and is in desperate need of a transfusion, but he has a rare blood type for which the hospital has no supply. Gabrielle overhears two of the ER nurses discussing the handsome stranger's dire situation and tentatively speaks up, indicating that she shares that blood type and would be willing to donate to save the man's life. She is rushed to the lab where a phlebotomist quickly draws as much of Gabrielle's blood as possible while still leaving her with enough reserves to function.
The bullet had lodged in a very dangerous spot, so immediate emergency surgery was performed on the wounded stranger. It was touch and go, but the doctors manage to extricate the bullet and close the wound. The man was moved to Recovery and eventually to a private room. Because he had not been able to tell the doctors anything about the shooting, a guard is stationed outside his room for the man's protection.
The next day the man awakens, taking in his surroundings through slitted eyes until he is certain that he is alone.
His immediate reaction is to attempt to get out of bed, and he winces involuntarily at the unexpected pain. More carefully, in an attempt to minimize the stabbing sensation that erupts in his chest at the smallest motion, the man eases out of bed and stands, weaving, on his feet.
He rips out the IV and the cords attached to the monitor.
Grasping the edge of the bed for support, he moves unsteadily toward the closet and opens it, relieved to find his clothing neatly folded on a shelf.
Slowly he begins the agonizing process of donning his shirt and jeans.
Panting with exertion and pain, he decides to forego his boots and carries them instead.
He stands at the door, eyes closed, willing his body to cooperate.
As he steels himself and pulls on the handle, the door is suddenly flung open and he staggers back.
A doctor enters, followed by a Care Assistant holding an armload of clean bedding.
Through the open doorway he glimpses the armed guard, then his eyes focus on the Care Assistant.
The wounded man is a professional and prides himself on the impassivity of his face, but even he cannot prevent a startled widening of his eyes.
It is HER! But . . . .
Quickly he steels his expression into its normal stony glare, but although his confusion is banished from his face, his mind whirls with the implications.
The doctor admonishes him for being out of bed and immediately recruits the assistance of the Care Assistant in relieving the patient of his garments. He does not resist. Finding himself unexpectedly so close to his prey, he acquiesces, his mind quickly adjusting to the new circumstances and formulating a new plan of action.
Once divested of his garments the patient is hustled back into bed. As the doctor checks his vitals she tells the man how lucky he is to be alive at all and lets it slip that the only reason he did survive is because of a transfusion from a volunteer with the same blood type as his.
As she says this, her eyes slide involuntarily to the Care Assistant.
A light flush infuses the woman's face, and she immediately looks down to avoid the patient's gaze, suddenly focused on her.
As she looks up, the man raises one eyebrow, and as if watching herself from across the room she finds herself nodding very slightly, then flushing an even deeper shade of pink. One corner of the stranger's mouth quirks almost imperceptibly as he acknowledges the irony.
For several long moments he keeps her pinned to the spot with his eyes, and it is suddenly as if the world outside the tunnel that has materialized between them has ceased to exist. She shudders with the intensity of his gaze, feeling her nipples harden under her uniform.
Finally she tears her eyes from his and shakes her head sharply to bring the world back into focus. She realizes that the doctor is still talking and wrenches her attention to her words, trying futilely to ignore the palpable tension that still ties her to the patient.
Steadfastly refusing to look at his face again, the Care Assistant hurriedly assists the doctor in hooking up and checking the monitor, then rushes from the room as quickly as she can without drawing attention to herself.
The man remains motionless in his bed, absorbing what just happened and trying to reconcile it somehow with the contract that still remains unfulfilled, in spite of his original belief that the woman had been successfully exterminated. His impassive face reveals none of the tempest raging within. Knowing that his target has selflessly saved his life and that her blood now runs in his veins, how can he now complete the job he was sent here to perform? And how could he begin to reconcile her death at his hands after the intensity of the sexual attraction that sparked between them in that single glance? He has been attracted to female targets before, and has even used that attraction to lure them into his bed to make completion of the job more expedient -- and more enjoyable -- but he has never felt anything quite like this before and is left in a state of utter confusion as he ponders his next step.
That night, as a nurse comes to check his vitals, the man remains in the same position as he was when the doctor and CA left hours earlier. Efforts to engage him in conversation are met with stony silence. The nurse shrugs and completes her duties without comment, making certain that the armed guard remains at the door when she leaves the room.
This becomes the norm over the next few days as the patient's wound begins to heal. In spite of her best efforts to avoid his room, the young Care Assistant finds herself drawn to his window like a moth to flame.
Her furtive attempts to gaze upon the man without his knowledge are futile, as he appears to sense her presence and looks up to meet her eyes every time she peeks through his window.
She flees repeatedly, but not before a renewal of the heat of their first gaze renders her weak in the knees.
Unaware of what has transpired in TEKville, the man's employer in western Europe is desperate for word of the completion of the job for which he hired the hit man and tries repeatedly to reach him.
The hit man's cell phone, however, is back in his room at TEK Hotel, leaving him oblivious to his employer's desperation. Focusing completely on his own dilemma regarding the job for which he was hired, the patient has all but forgotten about his employer. This alone is testimony to the patient's state of mind, as it is completely uncharacteristic of him to forget about anything. Finally, frantic at his inability to reach the hit man, his employer calls in backup . . .
Eventually the patient's wound heals to the point that he is allowed to leave his room and walk through the hospital halls. Eager to rebuild his lost strength and to escape the constant turmoil of his thoughts, he embraces the opportunity to do something physical.
One day as he is prowling the halls, deep in thought, he turns a corner and collides head-on with the beautiful Care Assistant who is the frequent subject of those thoughts, nearly knocking them both to the floor.
After the woman's initial shock, her first instinct is to run. As she regains her balance and turns to flee, his hand shoots out and grabs hers.
Flinging open the door to the nearby storage closet, he drags her bodily into the cramped space with him and places his back against the door, blocking any attempt at escape.
Rooted to the spot by the intensity of his gaze, all thought of escape has completely fled her mind. The world goes gray around the edges as they stand immobile, eyes locked on one another.
The man's instinct when he dragged her into the storage closet was to finish the job then and there. That resolve fades immediately when their eyes lock. He is frozen with indecision, intoxicated by her proximity. Finally, after long moments fighting the silent battle within, the man groans involuntarily and crushes the woman to him in a frenzied embrace, kissing her with a passion of which he scarcely knew he was capable.
Her initial resistance lasts but a second before she melts into his arms and returns his passion fully.
Angry with his inability to set aside his personal feelings and complete the job for which he was hired, the man is not gentle, but she has no need for passivity. He has unleashed something inside her that she had no idea existed. Reaching under her dress, he grasps the wisp of silk panties and rips them from her body, eliciting a low moan from the woman.
Oblivious to the pain in his chest, he lifts her effortlessly off the floor with a hand on either side of her buttocks, thankful for once that all he is wearing is a hospital gown. Still locked in their intial kiss, she surrenders herself completely to the moment. As their passion mounts, he whirls and slams her back against the door, using it as leverage.
Once the fireworks have subsided, they remain locked together for several long minutes, panting with the aftermath of their exertion. Finally she draws her head back and their eyes meet.
For the first time there is no fear and no confusion. They gaze at one another in mutual understanding until he leans forward and kisses her gently, grunting slightly as he is reminded of his injury. Her fog begins to clear. "Oh! Oh, I'm so sorry! Your wound . . . " She attempts to disengage, but he tightens his grip, unwilling to let her go.
"Do not be sorry, little one. It is nothing."
:"But . . . . but I don't even know your name!" she protests weakly.
A grim smile twists his lips. "Luka," he replies, briefly. "And you are Gabrielle."
A frown creases her forehead. "How . . . how did you know my name?"
"A story for another time."
"But . . ."
Luka kisses her tenderly to forestall any additional questions. The kiss gradually grows less tender and more insistent. Gabrielle's eyes fly open in astonishment as she feels Luka begin to stir anew. She attempts to draw away, but Luka's hand has found its way into her bodice and is doing wonderful, intoxicating things. Her last coherent thought is "Oh, God!" before she is once again swept away into the mindless world of their shared passion.
Later -- much later -- when they have tidied themselves up as best they can (fortunately the closet into which Luka dragged Gabrielle contained fresh linens!), Luka furtively checks the hallway, and finding it empty, resumes his walk. Gabrielle looks after him in astonishment, marveling at the fact that he shows little outward sign of the exertion or the pain it must have caused his wound.
She smiles wanly as she turns to head in the opposite direction down the hall and nearly staggers from the weakness in her own limbs.
Mein Gott! she thinks to herself, reverting mentally to her German accent, so well controlled in her speech. Vat haf I done? Who is this Luka, and how did he . . . She doesn't have words to explain her intense reaction to the stranger. She is not accustomed to falling into bed -- here she smiles weakly, thinking "Bed? If only it vas a bed!" -- with a man at the drop of a hat.
Her thoughts continue to cartwheel through her head as she makes her way out of the hospital and back to TEKville.
Luka, back in his room, is equally consternated by what just happened in the storage closet. Normally the consummate professional, he has just allowed himself to become involved with his target . . . No longer my "target", he is forced to admit. Not now. Not after . . . He smiles self-deprecatingly. Sex is one thing. Sex is a tool. But sex with Gabrielle . . . His thoughts trail off. He has never before allowed himself the oblivion he experienced with her. A bomb could have gone off in the hospital and he wouldn't have noticed. What is happening to me? If I'm going this soft, I'm going to have to find another career or I'm going to get myself . . . and HER . . . killed. He grimaces at the irony.
Luka's strength returns quickly. Gabrielle no longer resists the magnetic pull that draws her to his room. Over the next few days she finds many excuses to bring fresh linens and whatever else she can think of to Luka's room. Quivering with desire, she quietly locks the door from the inside and closes the shades.
Wordlessly she climbs into bed with Luka. Foreplay is unnecessary. Luka rises to the occasion the moment she steps into the room. Conversation is equally unnecessary, even unwelcome. Neither wants to risk it. There are too many unanswered questions, but the answers have nothing to do with what Gabrielle and Luka share in his hospital room, so they remain unasked. For now, it is enough.
Eventually, however, Luka's recovery is complete enough for him to be released. It is the day they have both been dreading. Their little interlude in the hospital was just that. Once Luka leaves the hospital, they will have to face reality and figure out where the future leads.
Gabrielle's stricken look when she enters his room the morning that he will be released tells all. After struggling with her suspicions and fears, she has finally come to a decision -- the only decision that makes sense. Luka is a stranger, and a dangerous one, at that. This much she knows, although he has not been forthcoming with any additional information. When she walks away this day, that will be the end. Luka has only to look at her face to know what she intends.
Their lovemaking takes on a frantic tone that day. As she leaves him, he whispers "I will find you!" She shakes her head sadly and closes the door behind her.
Once Luka is released from the hospital, Gabrielle can't bear to return, so she resigns and returns to TEK Hotel to brood on the incredible experience she shared with Luka. On some level she is deeply ashamed of her wanton behavior and knows that it would be best if she never saw Luka again, sensing in him something that would not lend itself well to a normal, committed relationship. On another level entirely she is completely miserable and bereft without him. She spends endless hours alone in her hotel room, trying to work through her conflicting feelings and regain a sense of normalcy, but it seems futile.
Ironically, Luka also returns to TEK Hotel and experiences much the same emotions. On the one hand he knows that living a "normal" life would be very difficult for him and that Gabrielle deserves better than a hired killer, but on the other hand he knows that it is unlikely he will ever experience the intense and instant attraction to another woman that he did with her, and he misses her acutely. He broods in his room, day after day, but approaches no closer to a solution.
Neither is aware that the situation is about to be taken out of their hands.
One evening, wearying of her solitude and craving human interaction, Gabrielle showers and dresses and takes the elevator to the top floor of TEK Hotel.
As she enters the Jungle Room, she marvels at the way the world seems to have gone on without her while she brooded over the impossible situation with Luka.
She takes a step toward the seating area when she suddenly feels a hand gripping her arm. She attempts to turn, but an unfamiliar voice whispers harshly in her ear.
"You will come with me. Do not call out. Look natural."
She opens her mouth to object but is brought up short by the unmistakable feel of a handgun pressed against her ribs. Helpless, she is forced to obey as she is roughly pushed ahead of the stranger into the elevator.
As the elevator doors close, she frantically searches for a way to escape, but the stranger's grip on her arm and the steady pressure of the gun against her ribs prevents her thoughts from focusing.
"We are going to be a couple in love," rasps the stranger. "Make it believable . . . or else."
The elevator door opens and the man grasps her around the waist, handgun hidden beneath his jacket. "Move!" he orders.
As he half drags her across the hotel lobby toward the front door, her eyes cast around frantically for rescue, but the lobby is all but deserted and no one so much as glances their way. "Please!," she begs, "Please . . . what do you want?"
"Shut up and keep walking!" he barks as he steers her out of the hotel, turns sharply to the right, and forces her into the alley between the hotel and the adjacent building. The alley is dark and deserted, and Gabrielle's heart pounds in her chest as she faces the fact that there is no rescue and no escape.
The man shoves her roughly and she falls to her knees.
He hesitates briefly, and then a malevolent smile crosses his face. "You're a pretty one, aren't you? Might as well take some enjoyment first." Keeping the gun trained on Gabrielle, he reaches down and begins to unbuckle his belt.
"Oh, no! NO! PLEASE!" Gabrielle scrabbles backwards on the gritty asphalt, trying to put distance between herself and the man. Leering, he crosses the distance between them with two long strides. "Do not move again!" he growls as he points the gun at her head with one hand and unzips his pants with the other. He kneels, yanks up her skirt, and rips her panties off with a single motion.
As he begins to lower himself onto a sobbing Gabrielle, a quiet "PHUT!" is heard, and suddenly the man collapses onto her, blood streaming from his head.
In a heartbeat Luka is beside her, tossing the would-be killer's body aside as if it were a toy and gathering her into his arms.
"L . . Lu . . . Luka!" she hiccups, still sobbing uncontrollably.
"Hush, Elle. Hush. Everything is all right. He can't hurt you now."
Luka rocks her gently in his arms.
"B . . .bu . . . but how? Where?"
"Come, Elle. Let's get you out of here."
Luka lifts Gabrielle to her feet and looks searchingly at her face, steers her toward the opening of the alley, and asks "Can you walk? We don't want to attract attention."
"Y . . . yes . . . I think so."
Luka smooths her ruffled hair. "Stay here for a moment, OK? There's something I need to do." She nods wordlessly as he steps back into the alley and bends over twice, retrieving items that he stuffs into his pocket.
He returns, puts his arm around her, and asks "Ready?"
Wide-eyed, she nods once again, and after a quick glance up and down the street Luka leads her from the alley back into the hotel.
Fortunately, the lobby is still nearly deserted, and this time Gabrielle is thankful. When they reach the elevator, Luka breaks the silence.
"I'm taking you to my room. Okay?"
Gabrielle looks at him in confusion. "Your . . . YOUR room? But . . . ."
He smiles. "Yes, it appears that we have been only a few yards apart since I was released from the hospital. I'm really losing my touch. I checked the hotel register when I arrived but never stopped to think that you might not be using your real name."
The question on her lips is forestalled by the jerk of the elevator stopping on the twelfth floor. Luka guides her gently to his room.
He closes the door behind them and walks her to the bed.
He turns back the covers and carefully lifts her. Sensing that an attempt to do anything about her clothing at this time would send her into a panic, he looks lovingly into her eyes and places her, fully dressed, on the bed, pulling up the sheet and blanket to cover her.
Gently he sits next to her. He takes her cold hands in his and begins.
"Gabrielle, I think I owe you the truth." As she listens, wide-eyed, he tells her his story.
"I was born in Croatia. My family is involved with an organization that resembles your 'Mafia'. I was raised to assume my father's role in that organization, which is what we would call an 'enforcer'. I learned, among other things, many languages, and learned to speak them like a native, with no accent to reveal my heritage. I am very, very good at what I do."
Here Luka pauses, then steels himself to continue.
"I was hired by a high-ranking Croatian to eliminate the daughter of a certain important German politician."
Luka searches her eyes. "I was hired to assassinate you."
Gabrielle gasps as her eyes widen. She tries to pull her hand away, but Luka retains his iron grip and will not release her.
"Elle, wait. Hear me out." He pauses again, gathering his thoughts.
"I saw a woman at a local bar who I mistook for you. You could be twins, except for the color of your hair and your adorable freckles." He smiles, but his smile fades quickly as he continues. "I followed her home that night, waited outside until well after dark, entered the house, found her bedroom, and . . . " Here Luka pauses once again, closing his eyes against the memory. ". . . I shot her, Gabrielle. Or at least I thought I did. I never saw the bullet coming that hit me. Whoever it was, he or she is good. Very good. I escaped from the house as quickly as I could and drove away from TEKville, knowing that it would not be safe for me to seek medical attention here. I don't remember much of the drive. I was nearly unconscious from loss of blood. I ditched the car near the hospital where you work so they couldn't use it to identify me, and was found wandering on the street and brought to the ER."
Luka takes a deep breath.
"You know the rest. When I awoke and saw you, I was stunned, believing you to be dead. And then . . . and then something passed between us that I still can't explain or begin to understand, and although I tried to set it aside and steel myself to complete the job . . . I couldn't do it, Elle. Especially not . . . not after the first time we . . . oh, Gabrielle, what have you done to me!"
Luka buries his head in his hands. Gabrielle remains frozen, eyes still wide with the shock of his revelation. At the sight of his distress, however, she reaches out a trembling hand to touch his arm. "Luka?"
He snaps out of his self-absorbed reverie and meets her eyes.
"Luka . . . what about . . . the man . . . ?" She is unable to continue.
"Ah. Yes. After my release from the hospital, my brain started functioning again. I checked my cell phone and saw repeated missed calls from an international number. It occurred to me that my employer would not have been sitting idly by during my recuperation, waiting to hear from me. He is a desperate man. His inability to reach me would have signaled to him that I had failed. He would send backup."
Gabrielle's eyes are like saucers. "Oh, Luka! He . . ."
Luka cradles her face in his hand. "Hush, Elle. It's over. He can't hurt you now."
"But Luka, how . . .?"
"As I said, my brain eventually began to function. It occurred to me that if you knew you were in danger when you arrived, you would not have used your real name when you checked in. I began to make discreet inquiries. A woman as beautiful as you are is not easy to forget, Gabrielle." He smiles warmly. "I was soon able to find out where you were and changed rooms so I could be on the same floor and keep an eye on you." His eyes cloud. "I am sorry that I could not arrive sooner and spare you the terror you must have felt. I was seconds too late when I saw the man drag you into the elevator, and I am not as quick on my feet as I was before my injury. I dashed down the stairs as quickly as I could, but you were already gone from sight by the time I reached the lobby. It took me a few minutes to find you."
"Luka?" Gabrielle inquires tentatively, and their eyes meet.
"Thank you." She says, simply.
He smiles gently. "We are even now. You saved my life, and now I have saved yours. If you never want to see me again, knowing what I am, I will understand."
"But Luka," she says, a frown appearing between her brows, "won't there be others? I mean . . . if the 'backup' doesn't return and the man who hired you can't reach him . . . ." she trails off.
Luka's expression becomes grim. "I will have to expose him. That is the only way short of killing him to keep you safe. It will mean giving up everything -- my 'career', my family, my way of life -- but I will do that gladly. After what I found with you, I could never go back to . . . ". He shakes his head. "I will need to return to my homeland to arrange it. But Gabrielle . . . if you will have me, I will be back. Can you possibly forgive me?" Hope transforms his usual stoic countenance.
Gabrielle simply stares at him, emotionless, as the seconds drag by.
Finally, when he begins to lose all hope, she gives a slight nod. "I have no choice, Luka. We are bound together by something . . . something I can't explain. Whatever it is, it can't be denied. I do forgive you, Luka, and I will wait for you."
Luka gathers her into his arms and holds her tightly. Time slows. The world disappears.
After long moments in Luka's tender embrace, Gabrielle draws back and searches his eyes.
"Luka? To erase the memory of the man in the alley . . . will you make love to me?"
Luka's smile lights the room. "Ah, Gabrielle. Nothing would give me more pleasure."
And so, he does.
The End. For now . . .