Authors: Jenny Allen
Lilith was frozen perfectly still, horrified. All the things that Ashcroft had threatened her with paled in comparison to this. Dying was one thing, Chance killing her and then having to live with it was something completely different. With a shove of force just hard enough to steal Lilith’s breath, the banshee stepped back. Lilith had just enough time to notice that the angry red mark was completely gone, leaving perfectly unmarred alabaster skin. Then the vicious woman sauntered away to the first car without a care in the world.
Lilith rubbed at her throat with tears in her eyes as she looked down at Chance. He was awake now, but he couldn’t have heard anything the woman had said. He just stared at her and Lilith could feel the tears and pain he refused to show. All they’d lived through, all the things they’d survived, the fights they’d come out of and here they were in hot water again. The banshee was just trying to shake her up, but it worked flawlessly. Lilith was terrified and right now she felt completely defeated.
The evil bitch was bad enough, but she wasn’t the one in charge. What was powerful enough to keep this chick under their thumb and happily working for them? Now
was a scary thought.
When the guards finally moved Lilith into the second limo, she didn’t struggle. Obediently, she took a seat between two of the henchmen while she wiped at her teary eyes with trembling hands. She had to pull it together, but the banshee’s threat had definitely gotten under her skin. It was all she could think about.
Chance, broken and mindless like Duncan chained up in that basement. In the end, her Uncle had simply seen too much horror. Watching your own daughter being slowly, excruciatingly tortured in front of you for nearly two days… he wasn’t even a person anymore after that. Duncan died a scratching, raving beast gnawing at his own limbs for blood. How the hell was Lilith going to protect Chance from that?
“Lilith, are you all right?” She expected Chance’s Cajun-flecked voice, but this one was vaguely European yet somehow familiar. She lifted her eyes to see Detective Andrew Cohen sitting across from her. All the warm, southern charm of his Tennessee cover was gone. He looked more like a tired aristocrat and he seemed more defeated than she felt if that was possible. Even his sandy blonde hair seemed a couple shades paler and his almost handsome face was creased with lines of pure exhaustion that just seemed to accentuate his slightly weak chin.
“Cohen? What the fuck is going on here?”
Before he could respond, the last henchmen shoved Chance next to Cohen, crawled in, and closed the door. Apparently, Andrew was taking advantage of the distraction to say exactly nothing and it was pissing Lilith off. Anger was a much easier emotion to deal with. If she couldn’t direct her rage at the bitch in the first car, Cohen was a convenient substitute. It wasn’t like he was completely innocent either. She had plenty of valid reasons to be angry at him. A therapist would have a field day with all the displaced anger flying out of her mouth tonight.
“Cohen!” Lilith snapped his name and it definitely caught his attention. His pale face swung toward her, obviously confused at her sharp tone. “You need to tell us what the fuck is going on. You make some cryptic call telling me to run and next thing I know, crazy SWAT guys are busting through the windows like some damn Nicholas Cage movie. Then that blonde shows up screeching like a banshee, making my ears bleed, which is apparently a turn on for some men. What the hell is happening?”
The last bit caught Chance’s attention. He leaned forward in his seat, his hazel eyes trained on Lilith. There wasn’t a single flicker of amusement on his handsome face. Crap. “Could you repeat that, please?”
In her anger, Lilith had just blurted out what she’d had trouble saying before. This definitely wasn’t the way she wanted to have this conversation with Chance, but it was too late to take it back now. “Ask Cohen. By the look on his face, I’m sure he knows more about that evil Marilyn impersonator than I do.”
Chance turned his intense gaze on the Detective with open hostility. “What the hell is she talking about, Cohen? What is that woman?”
Cohen sighed heavily as he stared at the pale brown liquid in the bottom of his glass. There was no trace left of his suave confidence, he just looked broken. That wasn’t a good sign, and if their lives didn’t rest on his cooperation she might have felt sorry for him...maybe. Unfortunately, he was the only one with the answers they desperately needed. She didn’t have time to patch up his confidence and his attitude was just making her see red.
“Andrew! What the fuck is going on? Say something!”
The Detective ran his hand through his short sandy hair and drained his glass. Slowly, he raised his cloudy grey eyes to meet Lilith’s. “Welcome to my nightmare. Cheers.” His words were slightly slurred and his eyes were moving slowly. Great. He was drunk on top of everything else.
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say? Take your damn balls out of your mouth and say something helpful.” Chance and Cohen both cocked an eyebrow at her in surprise. It was just too much. It wasn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the straw added to the huge ass pile suffocating the damn camel.
Lilith leapt across the limo and smacked Cohen in his defeated face. The guards immediately grabbed her and hauled her back to her seat, but Lilith kicked and scratched every second of it. Rules and stun batons be damned. She wanted to wake Cohen the hell up. Apparently she still had a little fight in her after all.
“What the hell, Lilith?” Cohen rubbed at his face while he tried to get away from her kicking feet. “Damn. Ow! Stop it! I’m not the enemy!”
With a fresh surge of anger, Lilith shoved off the two guards and tried for Cohen again, getting in a nice right hook and a few more kicks. “The hell you aren’t! I haven’t forgotten about those big ass needles you shoved in my arms or how you were about to carve me up like a Thanksgiving turkey for Ashcroft. Where the hell is my father and what the hell is going on?!”
Even when the two men had her pinned into her seat, she kept stretching and kicking. “Lily!” Chance’s voice rose above Cohen’s yelps of pain just enough for her to hear him.
“No, Chance. If Cohen wants to get drunk and be completely useless then I’m going to kick the crap out of him until he says something fucking useful. I’m tired of his damn games. Why the hell are you defending him?”
“I’m not. I’m defending you.” Chance gave her a significant look, his hazel eyes glancing to the guards and back again. That’s when she noticed the barely contained frustration pouring off the guards on either side of her. If she kept it up, that frustration would quickly turn into repercussions that she most definitely would not like.
“You do not wish to make these gentlemen incapacitate you. It isn’t precisely what I’d call pleasant.” The formal language seemed unbelievably odd coming from Chance. It took a second for her to realize what he was doing. It was a trick Lilith’s father used to calm people down and it worked every time. Apparently, Chance had been taking notes.
“Fine.” Lilith slumped back into her seat without struggling, to the immense relief of her guards.
“Where in the hell did that come from?” Cohen stared slack jawed at Chance like he’d never seen him before. “I mean thanks for the assist, but usually she’s the one pulling on your leash.”
Very slowly, Chance turned to face Cohen and the look on his face was definitely not the slightest bit friendly. It was more like the look a wolf gives a mouse and Cohen seemed to shrink into his seat just a tiny bit.
“You better start talking, Cohen.” Lilith echoed Chance’s look of open hostility but it wasn’t anywhere near as intimidating as his. In all fairness, bodyguards inherently get more practice at intimidating looks than forensic examiners. There wasn’t much use in scowling at a corpse. It didn’t make the tests work any faster.
The Detective glanced back at Chance and then stared at her for a moment, a silent war raging behind his cloudy blue eyes. With a sigh of resignation, he finally decided to start sharing, a little bit anyway.
“Your father is alive and relatively safe for now. You’ll see him soon.” Lilith didn’t like the sound of that. “We’ll all be seeing him soon.” She liked the sound of that even less. Cohen’s head fell forward with a heavy sigh. He looked like a man on death row being escorted to his execution. It seemed like Cohen was in the same hot water as they were. This had to involve his family. Had they found out about Ashcroft? Was it the blood exchange? Would it really make any difference? Probably not.
From the look on Andrew’s face, he had no interest in talking anymore. Sharing time was over. Perhaps it was just a clever way of not talking specifics in front of the enemy. A girl could hope. If he was shut down for good, then Lilith and Chance were walking in blind and they couldn’t count on Cohen for anything. Surprise, surprise.
fter an hour of extremely uncomfortable silence the town car came to a stop and, for a moment, Lilith forgot to breathe. The blackout windows had made it completely impossible to tell where they were heading. They could be anywhere. Of course, she imagined some grandiose estate on a remote piece of land squirreled away from city lights. Something befitting an ominous, powerful organization that killed to keep its secrets. A nice, dark, isolated place where no one would hear the screams.
Cohen drained the last of his scotch and Chance just stared at the dark window like he had for the last hour. Several times Lilith found herself wondering what Chance was thinking. He’d been angry on the plane, then they joked around, then angry again once they got off the plane and now, who knows? The male mind wasn’t her specialty. Every time she tried to figure it out, she felt like a cat in a blind panic, completely tangled in twine, and each struggle just made everything worse. It always pushed her to do the wrong thing, say the wrong words, and everything just exploded in her face.
Now wasn’t the time to figure it out. The car door opened and Lilith took a deep breath. This was it, their first real glimpse. The guards exited the vehicle and began hauling Lilith, Chance and Cohen out of the car. Of all the alternatives and possibilities milling around in her brain, a fairly deserted parking garage was definitely not among them. Hiding in the middle of a city was pretty ballsy, but then that’s exactly what her kind did so why should she be so surprised?
There were no grand old lawns with creepy statuary, or elongated windows staring darkly down at them. There were only a few bare security lights illuminating small pockets of the dank concrete building. The stale smells of exhaust and rubber meant it was underground and frequently used. This wasn’t an abandoned building. Their hosts owned this place, directly or indirectly.
There were only a couple cars sporadically parked around this level of the lot. She was guessing it was past their standard, legit business hours. To her disappointment, none of them were close enough to get a good look at the license plate. Damn. Of course, knowing what state they were in wouldn’t help much but it would at least be a piece of the puzzle.
Lilith breathed a sigh of relief when she realized the other town car with the twisted Marilyn wasn’t there. She wasn’t ready for round two. As fantastic as it felt to slam her in the throat, and it had felt pretty damn amazing, it hadn’t been worth the price. She was still rattled by the thought of what she could do to Chance, not to mention the fact that if the banshee made good on her threat it would mean Lilith herself would be worm food.
The guards corralled them toward a green metal door with peeling chips of paint. It was just an old door, but to Lilith it loomed in the dim light like a dragon’s mouth. Her whole body screamed for her to stop, kick, scream, do anything that would keep her out of the monster’s mouth. Running wouldn’t help her now. She had no choice but to force herself forward, one seemingly calm step at a time.
One of the henchmen paused to swipe his keycard over a little black box next to the door. They apparently weren’t completely lax on security. Still, it wouldn’t be too hard to get past with a card scanner. The peeling door popped open with a groan that trickled over Lilith’s raw nerves like acid. Behind it was just a generic stairwell with a chromed elevator. No demons. Not yet.
Another swipe of a keycard and the elevator doors opened up with a mechanical ding. It was a bit of a tight fit for five people especially with the tension from the car hovering around them like a 5 ton elephant. A guard punched the button for the fourteenth floor and the metallic doors closed on the utilitarian hallway. Lilith felt a brief bit of amusement that the buttons skipped from twelve to fourteen. Guess even supernatural emotion-sucking demons were superstitious. More importantly, the buttons went up to twenty. With that many floors, they had to be in a fairly large city, somewhere. Birmingham? Huntsville, maybe? Assuming they were even in Alabama.
Her eyes automatically drifted up to the placeholder for the elevator permit as Cohen slumped back against the wall. To her utter disappointment, the sign simply read “Permit on File with Security Office”. It didn’t even have a state seal. Dammit.
When the doors opened on the fourteenth floor, they were ushered into a small modern waiting room. A huge sleek reception desk dominated the space, complete with recessed lighting, green shimmering counters and the crisp scent of sanitizer. Oversized, brushed aluminum letters with lights behind them pronounced P.I.M.C. on the black tile wall behind the desk. Lilith sighed at the dramatic initials. They might as well have been in a foreign language. It was something but right now and in the back of her mind they even seemed vaguely familiar, but it didn’t tell her a damn thing. Hell, even knowing what it stood for wouldn’t necessarily tell her anything useful. It could stand for Pain In My Crack for all the good it would do her.
The squad of henchmen walked them past several corporate style offices in neutral, impersonal tones divided by glass walls. Each desk was starkly rigged with a computer and a phone without the slightest hint of personalization. It could be an accounting firm, a magazine company, an ad agency, an insurance office. The possibilities were endless.
They reached the only room with solid walls and the guards shoved them in, locking the door behind them. A huge wooden conference table took over the room with a scattering of utilitarian chairs around it. Beige covered the walls to match the ultrathin economy carpet. There were no modern art paintings or inspirational posters on the blank walls. The place looked functional and routinely used. There were marks on the carpet, discolorations from foot traffic and the conference table was covered in subtle scuff marks.
This room wasn’t meant for making impressions or entertaining guests. It was uniform, simply a practical place to meet with not a single window to serve as a distraction. This was a think tank where the execs could crack the whip to get things done. Obviously the company wasn’t completely staged. Real work went on in here. She wasn’t sure what the hell that meant but at least it was another piece of the huge puzzle, even if she didn’t know where it fit yet.
The pile of suitcases on the table was at least a place to start. She recognized a few pieces as hers and at least one of the medium-sized suitcases strongly resembled the one Chance had brought to Tennessee. Odd. She rummaged through the pile, hoping against hope and yes! There it was. She smiled wide as she pulled her forensics case from the pile.
“Lilith. What the hell did that woman say to you?” There was a warning tone in Chance’s rigid voice. She glanced up to see him standing at the end of the table, arms crossed over his chest, jaw clenched. One look and she knew he wasn’t going to drop this easily.
Lilith quickly looked down at her case as she popped it open. “It’s not…important.” She focused intently on the forensic kit. Someone had gone through it. All her scalpels, prods and thermometers were gone. Everything she could have used as a weapon. Bastards.
“Lilith, that isn’t gonna cut it.” He’d been annoyed before but mostly concerned, now he just sounded angry. “Whatever she said to you scared the shit out of you. Talk to me!”
“It’s not important, Chance.” She grabbed a bag of cotton balls and threw them angrily on the table. She met his hazel eyes and scowled at him. This was the last thing she wanted to talk about in front of Cohen. “What’s important is my father and figuring out what the hell is going on, not some bitch’s grudge threat. So why don’t you do something useful. Are one of these yours?”
“Lilith…” Chance started but Cohen cut him off before he could say another word.
“This is all very entertaining, but not the best use of our time.” Cohen was casually perched in a chair on the far end of the conference table as relaxed as could be. He seemed more like himself somehow, more composed and cocky.
Chance frowned deeply, staring Lilith in the eye until she looked back down at her kit. After a few tense moments he finally moved forward, to the opposite side of the table. “We are having a conversation about this later.” There was a deep rumble in his voice that tickled her nerves. She wasn’t quite sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. At least he was dropping it for now.
“Well, Detective, how about you start talking? Why the hell is our luggage here? And where the hell are we?” Chance snapped the questions gruffly as he ripped open a plain black suitcase. He stared down at the neatly folded slacks and button up shirts with suit jackets laid neatly on top. There wasn’t a single pair of his well fit jeans or any of his signature T-shirts, much to their mutual disappointment. Chance shoved the suitcase back into the pile and leaned against the table, fixing Cohen with an openly hostile look.
The detective’s mouth curled into a smug half smile as he reached into his jacket and pulled out a tiny device that oddly resembled a Bluetooth earpiece. With the push of a button, a blue light started to blink as he carefully placed it on the table.
“What is that?” Lilith tensed and backed away just a little bit. She didn’t trust Cohen and his strange behavior really wasn’t helping to instill any confidence.
“It’s a short range scrambler.” Cohen straightened his navy blue jacket and sat a bit taller, reclaiming some of his more sophisticated charm. He flashed a smile full of the southern allure she remembered when she first met him in Miriah’s apartment. That innocent, good ole boy kinda smile. Of course, Lilith already knew that it was completely fake.
“My family has every room in this building bugged. As for where we are, I’m afraid I can’t share that little tidbit of information.” His cloudy grey eyes moved past Chance quickly and fell on Lilith. “My apologies for the car. I know you are upset, Lilith, but you need to listen to me. I know what I’m doing. They need to think they have me completely under control. It’s our best chance.”
For a minute Lilith was just stumped. She had a million different questions to ask, but she just kept coming back to the same one over and over. How in the hell was she supposed to trust him? Lilith finally uncovered the small compartment in the bottom of her kit and held her breath as she popped it open. A tiny silver key glinted in the light like a beacon of hope and Lilith released a relieved smile.
“How are we supposed to believe anything that comes out of your damn mouth?” It was like Chance had plucked the question right out of her mind, but then again, it was a pretty obvious one.
Cohen slid out of the chair and walked purposefully towards Chance with a smooth, liquid grace that was almost feline. He stalked around the table, keeping his pale blue eyes on Chance as he moved. Obviously, he wasn’t the slightest bit drunk. It had all been for show.
“I helped you kill that monster in Tennessee. I handled the FBI and kept the two of you out of it as much as I could. I saved both of your lives! I even called Lilith and tried to warn her about what was coming. I really don’t see what your problem is?”
Chance stepped right in Cohen’s face, shoving a finger into his chest. “My problem?
are my problem. If you hadn’t thrown me in a damn holding cell, Lilith wouldn’t have needed you to save her. If it wasn’t for your inability to handle the local police, I wouldn’t have been shot and the FBI wouldn’t have gotten involved. Lilith was the one that saved my life, not you.
would have let me rot in Phipps Bend. Every complication that you ‘helped us out of’ happened
Chance slammed his fist into the wall to keep from punching Cohen in the face. For Chance, it showed a lot of constraint. He may be an intelligent, collected, skilled strategist, but Cohen brought out the mindless hulk in Chance every time.
To Cohen’s credit, the Detective didn’t even flinch. He stood calmly in front of the six foot three tower of rage and waited for the storm to pass. “Look, it’s all very dramatic, but hardly helpful. I did not engineer those situations no matter what you think, Mr. Deveraux. What purpose would I even have for such trivial games?” Cohen’s blonde eyebrow raised with all the cocky grace of his true aristocratic heritage.
Chance leaned over the Detective. He may have only been a couple inches taller, but Chance knew how to make every bit count. “Because you need us, or Lilith at least. That’s what it has always been about. Either your family is using you as a sympathetic face, hoping that we’ll trust you or you’re in just as much trouble as we are. Either way, you’ll throw us under the damn bus as soon as you get whatever it is you want.”
Cohen studied Chance’s face without a single sign of intimidation. His cool blue eyes were calculating, as if he was emotionlessly weighing all his options, and it made Lilith shiver. She remembered that same look on his face when he was holding a scalpel poised over her, ready to do Ashcroft’s dirty work. He’d claimed it was all a part of his cover, but in her core, Lilith wasn’t sure she ever really believed that.
After a tense moment, Andrew simply turned on his heel, leaving Chance with a twinge of confusion in his anger. Cohen casually strolled over to a chair on the far side of the table and slid into the seat. He took a slow breath, his eyes returning to Chance with a calculated look as he leaned back without a single care in the world.