Brighter Than the Sun

Page 27

Her forehead wrinkled. She didn’t understand what he was trying to say. “But Rusty said you help people.”

“We do. That’s our top priority. There’s a lot of bad shit in the world, as I’m sure you know. But we take measures that most would deem extreme. I’ve killed people, Zoe. But I’ve also helped people. We protect the innocent and take out the evil. We take out criminal empires. Eliminate terrorists. Drug dealers. Arms dealers. Kidnappers. Mobsters. Human and child traffickers. Pretty much everything vile and evil. I have so much blood on my hands—me and all of my brothers and KGI members have so much blood on our hands that we very much exist in gray areas. And it’s not always by the books or the . . . law. We will eliminate any source of evil possible. We all have stains on our souls, consciences to deal with, but we live with it and accept it, because at the end of the day, it’s the only way we can live with ourselves. If we ever started turning our backs on the many victims we encounter, it would all be over for us.”

He sucked in a deep breath and averted his gaze from her.

“It’s a huge responsibility and presumption on our part to play judge and juror and take justice into our own hands. Not many would condone our actions or our mission. Hell, we don’t always agree with what we know has to be done.”

She could feel the blood drain from her face and she pressed her hands against the seat so as not to betray the trembling. Bile rose in her throat. Oh God. What would he do—think—if he knew who and what she was? What she came from? What her father was and that he—and she—was the very thing he fought so valiantly to rid the world of?

He would despise her. He would look on her with disgust. She wanted to cry because she was damned from birth with no way to change who she was—what she was. Her father’s blood ran through her veins. Evil. Corrupt. Sins of the father for which she had no chance of ever finding absolution.

“I knew you would feel this way,” Joe said grimly, his hands curled so tightly around the steering wheel that his knuckles were stark white. “I disgust you, what I do disgusts you. My family disgusts you. I don’t blame you—”

“No!” she burst out, cutting him off midsentence. “You’re wrong! I admire what you do, who you are. I was just . . . shocked. How can anyone be so selfless? To make your life’s work risking yourself for complete strangers? For victims and people who don’t have anyone else to stand for them. How can you all do it? You have families. Children. God, it must be terrifying for your loved ones every time you go on a mission, not knowing if one or all of you won’t come back. And that if you don’t, it’s because you were protecting someone you don’t even know.”

He gave her a peculiar look, warmth entering his gaze. Never had she felt more wretched about her deception than now. She was the epitome of what he risked his life to combat. Her kind. Her way of life.

Former way of life.

She gave herself a stern reminder that she wasn’t what her father was. She wouldn’t make the same choices. And no longer would she live under his thumb, obeying his rules. But she still couldn’t hold back the fact that she felt dirty. Unclean. Not good enough for this warrior who stood for all that was good.

Then she almost laughed hysterically. Way to get ahead of yourself, Zoe. This man couldn’t be less interested in you. He’s being nice. It doesn’t matter if you’re good enough or not. He’s off-limits. He doesn’t want you, and even if he did, he wouldn’t if he knew the truth.

To cover the lull and to escape the warmth that emanated from his face, wrapping her in its comforting embrace, she struggled to change the subject.

“So what do you do when you aren’t saving the world?” she asked brightly.

He chuckled, but the warmth didn’t leave his gaze. Far from it. It seemed to burn over her bare skin, and his smile . . . He had the most bone-melting smile. He was looking at her oddly and she didn’t at all know what to make of it.

He started forward again, following the paved road through the park, but he kept his gaze on her from his periphery.

“I guess you can say that when I’m not out saving the world, I’m showing a pretty lady around my home turf.”

Pleasure suffused her veins even as she argued that they were treading on forbidden territory.

“I’m sure that’s a full-time job,” she said dryly. “I can’t imagine you ever lack for female company.”

God, was she actually feeling him out? Asking him how many women he saw on a regular basis? Was the sudden burn in her chest jealousy? She needed to tape her mouth shut so she’d stop blurting out embarrassing things, and she definitely had to get a rein on her emotions or hormones or whatever the heck was making her think and act like a jealous lover.

His eyes gleamed now and a hint of laughter sparked as the corners of his mouth inched upward even farther.

“Only one,” he said vaguely. Then he winked at her before turning his attention back to the road.

What the heck was she supposed to make of that? Rusty had made it clear that Joe was a very happy bachelor and had no plans to change his relationship status from single to not single anytime soon—if ever. It was a running joke in the family, and Rusty had told her that Marlene and the other wives had tried—unsuccessfully—for years to get him to settle down, get married and have a family.

No way she believed he was a tease or that he was leading her on or that he wanted a fling before walking away. Okay, so maybe she was being incredibly naïve. Her taste in men was horrible, but she just couldn’t see Joe Kelly being anything like Sebastian.

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