“Despite the circumstances, I like you, Kian.”
The words pulled Kian out of his thoughts. They were back on the road, and Daven sat in the front passenger. The food had done him good. The shower too, Kian thought. Daven looked relaxed, no sense of anxiety in sight.
Kian returned his gaze back to the road, thinking about Daven’s comment. Taewon was the last person to give him those words. Before Taewon, he’d never heard them. Before Taewon, he’d never wanted to care what those words could mean. Or understand the bonds those words could forge, and the pain they could bring as well.
Daven chuckled, the sound drawing Kian’s attention from his past.
“What?” Kian asked.
“When you met Taewon, did you tell him, ’hi, I’m Kian, your assassin’?”
“Hmm…I’m kinda happy to hear that.”
“Never had anyone tell me they’re my assassin before.”
“Does it turn you on?”
“A little,” Daven confessed.
“A little?” Kian asked, looking at him.
“Twenty percent,” Daven said.
“Where is the eighty percent?”
“In a mix of anxiety and fear,” Daven answered.
Kian returned his gaze to the road. He couldn’t blame Daven.
Daven folded his arms against his chest.
“How did you meet Taewon?”
“Is that really what you want to know?”
“I’m curious as hell, Kian. Never met anyone who will leave a house, and a life they’ve built at the drop of a hat. What does he do anyway?”
Kian felt his stomach twist at the thought of Taewon.
“Taewon is a gifted investor. He spends too much time indoors buying and selling stocks, playing money markets across the globe.”
“Is that easy when you’re in hiding?” Daven asked.
Kian shook his head.
“It is if you know what you’re doing. He does. The house we left is owned under a shell company. He will rent it out to someone, in time.”
“You mean Lina will handle it.”
“Yes, she’s his front man,” Kian said.
More than front man, Lina was Taewon’s life partner now. She filled in the space Kian left wide open. He hoped it was enough, that Lina was enough to keep Taewon happy as he deserved.
“How did you meet Taewon?” Daven asked again.
“If I tell you that story, the twenty percent becomes one percent.”
“Very serious,” Kian said.
Daven stared at Kian
“Does this mean you want the twenty percent to increase?”
“Hell yes,” Kian flashed a genuine smile at Daven.
“Taewon was right,” Daven said, pressing his right hand to his chest.
Daven faced forward.
Kian concentrated on driving, allowing silence to reign. Thinking about Taewon made him uneasy. He picked up the phone he had placed on his lap, swiped his thumb over the screen to stare at the red dot trailing to the south of France. Dropping the phone back on his lap, he cleared his throat.
“I will tell you about Taewon if you promise me to give me one thing.”
“And what do I have that you want?” Daven asked, not looking at Kian.
Everything, Kian wanted to say.
“A kiss,” Kian said, treating Daven to another smile.
“Are you soliciting?”
“Don’t you want to kiss me, Daven?” Kian asked. “I want to kiss you.”
Daven returned his gaze.
“Now?” Daven asked, his expression enough to let Kian know he was not averse to the idea.
Kian slowed the car.
“Does that mean you’re willing?”
“I’m not unwilling, Kian. Is this normal for you? Propositioning?”
“Only with you,” Kian said, “but not right now.”
Kian gripped the steering wheel.
“Later, when you’re not thinking about it, and imagining it’s weird for me to ask. Do we have a deal?”
Daven studied him for a moment, as though weighing the pros and cons.
“Ok, deal,” Daven said with a short nod. Clearly, the urge to know the truth had won.
Kian’s grip on the steering wheel tightened. Of course, what was a simple kiss to Daven? Kian sighed.
Oh well, the kiss would be something to look forward to at the end.
He couldn’t talk about his grandfather with Daven because that required a few stiff drinks first. Plus, Daven would never meet his grandfather. What was the point of saddling him with such a scary man?
“The organization I work for takes on clients from around the world,” Kian said, thinking discussing Raja Securities was easiest. “The cost of a contract determines the type of operatives the organization sends. The less cost, the more…mild operatives need to be. The more expensive a contract, the more skilled the operative.”
“You said I was the second most expensive contract,” Daven said. “Does that mean you’re the second best operative?”
“You are the second most expensive contract,” Kian said. “In the history of the organization. Currently, the highest payload an assassin working in the organization can hit.”
Kian glanced at Daven and gave him a faint smile.
“Kim Taewon was the first.”
“So, that makes you the most skilled assassin.”
“Operative, assassin,” Kian said. “It’s all the same.”
A mix of fear and panic swept over Daven’s face. Kian congratulated himself on a stellar explanation. It really wasn’t everyday a man discovered he was in a car with the most dangerous man possible.
“You’re lucky to have met me after Taewon.”
“Why am I lucky?” Daven asked.
“Before Taewon,” Kian said with a sigh, “I didn’t understand the concept of preserving life. I followed orders, and survived. Life was simple, which in your perspective would be considered frightening.”
Daven shifted in his seat, uncomfortable.
“Do you want me to stop now?” Kian asked. “Our kiss will lose its effect if the twenty percent goes down.”
Daven held his gaze, and for the first time Kian read clear determination in green eyes.
“Continue, Kian,” Daven said, his voice firm, with no distress.
“They call Taewon’s contract the Seoul Incident,” Kian continued. “It was the first time an operative in the top tier fucked things up.”
“Fuck things up, meaning you refused to carry out orders.”
Yes, Kian thought.
It was the first time he ever rebelled against his grandfather. The first time he chafed against the bonds Raja Securities tied around him. The elite assassin walking away from his future, all because of a man. His grandfather called it a betrayal.
“I met Taewon in Sapporo, Japan. He went skiing there while his father ran a presidential campaign in South Korea.”
“Presidential campaign…?” Daven asked, then his eyes widened. “You don’t mean, President Kim Shin? A year ago, I attended a UN summit meeting in New York, and heard him speak. He is a great man.”
“Taewon is Kim Shin’s illegitimate son. As such, he can never be acknowledged, especially in a family that is now living in the Blue House.”
“Damn. Who wanted Taewon dead?” Daven asked.
“Taewon’s stepmother, Kim Shin’s current wife and the first lady,” Kian answered. “She wanted a clean background for her family. Taewon is the product of an affair that happened while Kim Shin was married to her. His existence would have killed Kim Shin’s election campaign.”
“So, you saved Taewon,” Daven said.
“I tried,” Kian said. “I was twenty-four, had known nothing but contracts and training. When I met Taewon, he was wild, and reckless, his zest for life hard to ignore. I—”
Kian broke off, thinking about his time in Sapporo with Taewon.
Taewon was carefree those days. He lived hard, enjoying every second of the day. He laughed and played without fear. Kian had loved spending time with Taewon.
“The contract was ambiguous to start,” Kian continued after a while. “My job was to get close to him, and send back daily reports. I started out playing the part of his boyfriend, easy enough, but then Taewon was hard to ignore. We spent too much time together and…”
“You fell in love.”
Kian glanced at Daven.
How easy those words came to Daven. It had taken him a bullet lodged into Taewon’s left shoulder to realize it.
“I didn’t know it at first, until the order to take out Taewon came and I couldn’t carry it out. When I ignored my task, the organization send in a clean team. Running seemed the best option at the time, as I had never disobeyed orders before. I figured if they couldn’t find Taewon they’d give up on the contract. I was wrong.”
“How long did you run?”
“Two intense weeks,” Kian said.
He was fond of those two weeks. Being with Taewon, it hadn’t seemed like danger lurked in the shadows. He and Taewon…they shared too much on their run across Japan. One night, after a particular bad fight to escape a wet team, Taewon talked him into making a stand.
“Mrs. Kim was persistent. She insisted on seeing Taewon’s body before any payment. The organization wouldn’t give up on five million pounds. So, they kept coming.”
“How did you save him?” Daven asked.
Kian pressed his foot on the gas, increasing their speed.
“I did what I do best,” Kian said. “I ended a life he understood and loved, took away everything he knew. I killed Kim Taewon.”
Daven stopped pushing for answers after Kian’s dramatic end to his story. He wanted to go home after this. The idea of being forced into a life like Taewon lived scared him. Not being able to see Naomi and the kids…gosh even his parents…that would be too harsh.
Needing to drown out fear and possible panic attacks at the outcome of this trip, he turned on the radio and attempted to tune into a decent station. That Kian didn’t stop him was telling.
When Kian wasn’t talking about the past, and the deadly organization he worked for, he was surprisingly entertaining. Daven laughed when Maroon 5’s Sugar came on and Kian knew the words.
Kian sang well, his fingers tapping the steering wheel as he drove. Daven could almost imagine they were out here on a vacation. After the impromptu karaoke session, Kian launched into a conversation on favorite music.
“I have an iPod full of Coldplay music that I left at Naomi’s,” Daven confessed. “On shitty days, I use it to purge.”
Kian directed that devastating smile at him and Daven once again remembered Taewon’s parting words. Right before he left, Taewon had wished Kian would smile more often. Taewon wasn’t wrong. Kian was stunning when he smiled.
“The only birthday gift I ever got was an iPod with Coldplay’s Yellow,” Kian said.
“That is kind of sad, Kian.”
“Why?” Kian asked.
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-eight,” Kian answered.
“In all those years, no one has ever gifted you anything on your birthday?”
Kian kept silent, as though in deep thought, then nodded.
“Yep, only the one gift,” Kian said.
“Not even Taewon?” Daven asked.
“I’m trying to keep Taewon alive. Gift shipping would draw attention.”
“You’re missing out.”
“How many gifts have you had?” Kian asked, looking at Daven.
“Countless,” Daven said, feeling as though he was bragging to a pitiful creature.
Did Kian have no family? Or did he, and they had shunned him for the choice to kill people for a living.
God, what was that like?
“As it should be,” Kian said in a soft voice, as he drove through Lille. “Daven, recline your seat and try to rest.”
“I’m not tired.”
“Close your eyes anyway,” Kian insisted. “I need time to think.”
Daven frowned when Kian looked at him again, he met cold brown eyes. The playful Kian had disappeared again. He sighed and reclined his seat.
“When this ends, you should consider finding a psychiatrist,” Daven said under his breath. “Your mood swings are more frightening than you.”
Daven crossed his arms against his chest and shifted to stare out the windows. He only meant to rest his eyes. The next time he shifted to stretch his cramped body, the car had stopped. Daven turned to the driver’s seat and sat up when he found Kian gone.
Rubbing his eyes, he opened the passenger door and got out, letting the cool air sweep away the last vestiges of sleep. They were in a park. The only car in the parking lot.
Where was Kian? Where were they?
Daven looked back in the car. Kian’s jacket was on the backseat. Stepping away from the car, he slammed his door closed and looked around the parking lot. There was a bathroom in the farthest corner.
Daven imagined Kian had stopped for the bathroom.
A small sense of relief returned, and he turned to lean on the car.
Daven stopped short when he saw the man standing a few feet away dressed all in black. His gaze riveted on the gun the man held. Before Daven could react, the man fired the gun and he froze as a bullet came sailing straight at his head.