Read Hollows 11 - Ever After Online

Authors: Kim Harrison

Hollows 11 - Ever After (2 page)

Quen turned to the bar, his voice flat. “His actions resulted in a bar burning down and the collapse of a US monument.”

“It wasn’t
just
a bar, it was Margaritaville, and I’m still getting hate mail. It was his fault, and I got blamed for it. And let’s not forget San Francisco getting toasted. Oh! And how about
my
ending up in a
baby bottle
waiting for my aura to solidify enough so that I could survive? You think I enjoyed that?”

Granted, the kiss to break the spell had been nice, but the last time I worked for Trent, the assassins had been aimed at me.

Upset, I turned back to the bar’s mirror. My face was red, and I forced myself to relax. Maybe Quen was right to bring me here. If we had been at Junior’s, I probably would be halfway out the door looking for my car. Even angry as I was, I looked like I belonged here with my hair up and my elegant dress that made me look svelte, not skinny. But it was all show. I didn’t belong here. I was not wealthy, especially smart, or talented. I was good at staying alive—that’s it—and every last person up here save Quen would be the first to go if there was trouble. Except maybe the cook. Cooks were good with knives.

Quen lifted his head, the wrinkle line in his forehead deeper. “That’s exactly what I’m saying,” he said softly. “The man needs someone to watch him. Someone who can survive what he gets himself into and is sensitive to his . . . quirks.”

“Quirks?” Frustrated, I let go of my clutch purse and downed another swallow of wine. “Dude, I hear you. I understand,” I said, and Quen blinked at my word choice. “I even sympathize, but I can’t do it. I’d end up killing him. He’s too pigheaded and unwilling to consider anyone else’s opinion, especially in a tight situation.”

Quen chuckled, relaxing his tight grip on his emotions. “Sounds familiar.”

“We are talking about Trent, not me. And besides, the man does not need a babysitter. He’s all grown up, and you”—I pointed at Quen—“don’t give him enough credit. He stole Lucy okay, and they were waiting for him.” I turned back to the bar and the reflection of the Hollows. “He can handle whatever Cincinnati can dish out,” I said softly, going over my short list of trouble. “It’s been quiet lately.”

Quen sighed, slumping beside me with both hands around his drink, but I wasn’t going to fall for it. “I will admit that Trent has a knack for devising a plan and following through with it. But he falters at improvisation, and that’s where you excel. I wish you would reconsider.”

Hearing the truth of it, I looked up and Quen lifted his drink in salute. Trent could plan his way out of a demon’s contract, but that wouldn’t keep him alive against a sniper spell, and that’s where the real danger was. My jaw clenched and I shoved the thought away. What did I care?

“I left the I.S. because I couldn’t stomach working for anyone. That hasn’t changed.”

“That’s not entirely true,” he said, and I frowned. “You work with Ivy and Jenks all the time.”

My eyebrows rose. “Yes. I work
with
Jenks and Ivy, not
for
them. They don’t always do what I think is best, but they always at least listen to me.” I didn’t do what they thought was best, either, so we got along tolerably well. Trent, though, he
needed
to listen. The businessman made more mistakes than . . . me.

“He’s doing much better,” Quen said, and I couldn’t stop my chuckle.

“Yeah?”

“He worked with Jenks,” Quen offered, but I could hear the doubt in his voice.

“Yes, he worked with Jenks,” I said, the wine bitter as it slipped down. “And Jenks said it was like pulling the wings off a fairy to get Trent to include him on even the smallest details. No.”

Quen’s worry line in his brow was deepening. “Quen, I understand your concern,” I said, reaching out to put a hand on his arm. It was tense, and I pulled back, feeling like I shouldn’t have touched him. “I’m sorry, but I just can’t do it.”

“Could you maybe just try?” he said, shocking me. “There’s an elven heritage exhibit at the museum next Friday. Trent has a few items on display and will be putting in an appearance. You’ll love it.”

“No.” I faced the mirror and watched myself take a drink.

“Free food,” he said, and I eyed him in disbelief through the reflection. I wasn’t that desperate. “Lots of contacts with people with too much money,” he added. “You need to get out and network. Let Cincy know you’re the same Rachel Morgan who captured a banshee and saved San Francisco, and not just the witch who’s really a demon.”

I flushed, setting the glass down and looking around for a clock. Jeez, had I only been here ten minutes?

“I expect you would pick up a few legit jobs,” he said, and I stiffened. I wasn’t out of money, but the only people who wanted to hire me wanted me because I could twist demon curses. I wasn’t that kind of a girl, even if I had the potential to be, and it bothered me that Quen knew who had been knocking on my door. Working a couple of easy chaperoning jobs for Cincinnati’s elite would do wonders for my esteem.

Isn’t that what Quen is offering me?

“There would be a clothing allowance,” Quen wheedled. My pulse quickened, not at the thought of a new pair of boots but at being dumb enough to consider this. “Rachel, I’m asking this as a personal favor,” he added, sensing me waver. “For me, and Ceri.”

Groaning, I dropped my head into my hand, and my dress pinched as I shifted to turn away from him. Ceri. Though she had agreed to maintaining a public image with Trent, she loved Quen. Quen loved her back with all the fierceness of someone who never expected to find anything beautiful in the world. Hell, if it was nothing more than being a security escort, I could stomach Trent for a few hours. How much trouble could the man get into out at the museum, anyway?

“You fight dirty,” I said sourly to his reflection, and he toasted me, smiling wickedly.

“It’s my nature. So will you do it?”

I rubbed the back of my neck as I turned to him, guilt and duty pulling at me. Avoiding him, I sent my eyes to the TV. It was showing the Cincy skyline, which was odd since it was a national station. The banner
THIRD INFANT ABDUCTED
flashed up, then vanished behind an insurance commercial.
Act as Trent’s security?
I thought, remembering Trent’s savage, protective expression under the city when he downed that man trying to abduct me. And then how he looked on my front steps when he found Wayde carting me out of the church over his shoulder. Trent had spun a charm to knock the Were out cold with the ease of picking a flower. True, it hadn’t been needed, but Trent hadn’t known that.

My fingers spinning the footing of my glass slowed as I recalled Trent opening up to me and telling me about the person he wanted to be. It was as if I was the only person who might really understand.
And Quen wanted me to be the one to deny him that?

“No,” I whispered, knowing that Trent would count my presence as his failure. He didn’t deserve that. “I’m not going to be his babysitter.”

“Rachel, you need to put your petty grudge aside and—”

“No!” I said louder, angry now, and his words cut off. “This isn’t about me. Trent can stand on his own. He’s better than you give him credit for. You asked me, I said no. Find someone else to spit in his eye.”

Quen pulled back from me, his face creased in anger. “That’s not what I’m doing,” he said, but there was a whisper of concern in his denial. “I simply don’t want him out there alone. There’s nothing wrong with someone having your back. He can stand on his own without having to be alone.”

Behind him, the TV was showing the front of Cincy’s hospital, lit up with lights and security vehicles.
Have his back?

“I won’t bring it up again,” he said, shifting away from me, suddenly closed off. “I think our table is ready.”

Confused, I slid from the stool, shimmying until my dress fell right. If I was there, Trent wouldn’t see it as me watching his back. He’d say I was babysitting him. Quen had it wrong.

Didn’t he?

“After you,” Quen said sourly, gesturing for me to follow the man standing before us with two huge menus in his hand.

God save me from myself, maybe Quen was right.
“Quen . . .”

But then my gaze jerked up to the TV over the bar as I caught a familiar phrase, and my thoughts of Trent vanished. With a sudden flash, I recognized the new Rosewood wing behind the newscaster on the scene. The Rosewood wing was simply a fancy name for the three comfortable houselike facilities they’d built for the terminally ill babies suffering from Rosewood syndrome. The cul-de-sac was damp from the earlier rain, and lights from the I.S. cruisers and news vans made everything shiny. The thought of
THIRD ABDUCTION
echoed through me, and I jerked to a halt. Behind me, Quen grunted in surprise.

“Turn it up!” I exclaimed, turning back to the bar and shoving past Quen to get closer.

“. . . apparently abducted by a kidnapper posing as a night nurse,” the woman was saying, and I felt myself pale. “I.S. officials are investigating, but so far they have no leads as to who is taking the failing infants, and why.”

“Turn it up!” I said again, and this time, the bartender heard me, aiming a remote and upping the volume. I felt myself pale as Quen rocked to a halt beside me, both of us looking up. A phone buzzed, and Quen jumped, his hand fumbling to a back pocket.

“Because of baby Benjamin’s miraculous progress in fighting the lethal disease, officials are not hopeful for a ransom demand—they fear that he was taken by unscrupulous biogenetic engineers trying to find and sell a cure.”

“Oh my God,” I whispered, fumbling in my clutch bag for my phone. They’d killed all the bioengineers during the Turn. It was a tradition both humans and Inderlanders alike gleefully continued to this day. That I was alive because of illegal tinkering didn’t make me feel any better.

“Let’s hope they find them soon,” the woman was saying, and then the headlines shifted to the latest Washington scandal.

Head down over my phone, I punched in Trent’s number. It would go right to his private quarters, bypassing the switchboard. I felt hot, then cold, my grip on my phone shaking. He wouldn’t have abducted the baby, but he’d have a short list of who might have. The Humans Against Paranormals Association, HAPA, maybe, now that they couldn’t have me. Trent had once promised that he’d give the demons the cure to their infertility, but after suffering through the chaos wrought by his father’s saving me, I couldn’t believe that Trent was looking to increase the number of survivors just yet.

The busy signal shocked through me, and I glanced up at the shadow of a man standing too close: Quen, his brow furrowed as he looked at his phone’s screen. Blinking, I remembered where I was. Quen’s lips twitched, and he held out his phone. It was smaller and shinier than mine. “He’s on my line,” he said with a thin, distant voice. “You talk to him.”

Fingers shaking, I took the phone. “He’ll know we’re together, that we talked.” Oh God, I didn’t want Trent to know that Quen doubted him. He looked to him as his father despite the monthly stipend.

Quen shrugged. “He’ll find out anyway.”

Mouth suddenly dry, I answered the phone and put it to my ear. “Trent?”

The hesitation was telling, but he caught his balance quickly. “Rachel?” Trent said, clearly surprised. “I’m sorry. I must have hit the wrong button. I was trying to reach Quen.”

I held the phone tighter, my pulse pounding. His voice was beautiful, and I felt glad for turning Quen down. “Ahh,” I said, glancing up at a stoic Quen. “You hit the right number.”

Again Trent hesitated. “Okay?”

“We were having dinner.” I explained nothing, and Quen’s face became even more bland. “Quen and I. You saw the news? Do you know who did it?”

My worry came rushing back, crowding out my brief flash of pleasure for having caught Trent off guard. It happened so seldom. The host was still waiting, and when Quen shook his head, he smiled ingratiatingly and walked away, dropping the menus on the bar.

“No, but I’m going out there right now.” Trent’s tone was tight, and my idea that he was fixing Rosewood babies died. “Since you’re with
Quen,
would you both meet me there?”

My lips parted, even as I heard the accusation in his tone. He wanted me there? With him?

“Rachel, are you there?” Trent asked, and I flushed, glancing at Quen before pushing the phone tighter to my ear.

“Yes. The hospital, right?”
Where all the news vans were? Swell.
I couldn’t help but wonder if his invitation was because he wanted my professional opinion or simply to find out what Quen and I were doing.

“Rosewood wing,” he said, his tone grim. “I doubt there will be any indication as to who took the infant, but I don’t want evidence to be buried if the I.S. doesn’t like what they find. If one of us is there, we will at least have the truth.”

I nodded as Quen exchanged a few words with the bartender and slipped him a bill. The I.S. was an offshoot of the original FBI and local police forces before the Turn, responsible for hiding Inderland crimes before humans could find evidence that witches, werewolves, and vampires existed. Covering up the uncomfortable or unprofitable was in their blood.

“Rachel, may I talk to Quen?” Trent asked, shaking me out of my thoughts.

“Um, sure. I’ll see you there.” My stomach was in knots, and I held the phone out. “He wants to talk to you.”

Quen looked at the phone, his expression never shifting as he reluctantly reached out. Turning sideways to me, he drew himself up. “Sa’han?” He hesitated. “Having dinner.” Another pause. “Of course Ceri knows. It was her idea.”

Ceri was in on this, too?
Frowning, I forced my arms from my middle. Trent would be pissed. I knew I’d been when my mom and dad rented me a live-in personal security guy for a few months.

“No,” Quen said firmly, and then again, “No. I’ll see you there.”

I could hear Trent complaining as Quen closed the phone, cutting him off midprotest. That wasn’t going to go over very well, I decided, and when Quen gestured for me to head out before him, I meekly fell into place, my thoughts turning to the hospital.

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