Read [Southern Arcana 1] Crux Online

Authors: Moira Rogers

Tags: #paranormal romance, #urban fantasy

[Southern Arcana 1] Crux (6 page)

BOOK: [Southern Arcana 1] Crux
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“Thanks, Kenzie.”

“No problem.” A shiver danced up her spine, though she wasn’t sure if it was from the touch of his hand on hers or the warm tone of his voice around the nickname he’d given her.

Oh, God. I’m
so
stupid
.

“She’s feeling better now, but we should get her started on this.” He saluted her with the milkshake and handed it to the dark-haired man who’d come in with Kat.

The young woman gave Mackenzie a shaky smile.

“Thank you.”

“No problem. I hope you feel better.”
Whatever’s
really

wrong with you.

Nick patted the bar. “I’m sorry, Mackenzie, but I forgot that I already asked Joe to come in this afternoon. Is there any way you could come back for the rush tonight and help out?” She shrugged one shoulder. “Tips’ll be better, at any rate.”

“Sure.” Mackenzie set the bottle of water on the counter.

“Everything—everything’s okay, right?”

Nick’s answer seemed easy. “Everything’s fine. Really.

There’s not a problem.”

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“Okay.” She wiped her hands on a towel and tried to look calm. “I guess I’ll just go back on upstairs. If you need me early, let me know.”

Nick nodded, and Jackson flashed her a smile. “I’ll see you later, Kenzie.”

No, you won’t.
The thought depressed her, but she kept the smile on her face as she walked through the front door and started around the side of the building. By the time her foot touched the first step, she knew her face was tight and exhausted, but she didn’t care.

Something was going on. Something suspicious, something having to do with her. She wanted to trust Nick—

and she wanted
desperately
to trust Jackson—but the circumstances were too odd to be ignored.

She slipped into the apartment and leaned back against the door, eyeing the cheerful room with an almost tangible longing. To stretch out on the bed, to get a full night’s sleep somewhere safe—

You don’t know it’s safe.

She finally pushed herself off the door and trudged to her bag. Her anticipation of a few days of comfort had prompted her to unpack everything, and she dropped heavily to her knees and began to slowly gather her meager belongings.

She’d take the chance and sleep for a couple hours, but as soon as the streets started to fill for the evening, she was going www.samhainpublishing.com 59

Moira Rogers

to run. She’d run all night if she had to, and come dawn she’d be on her way to another city, another cheap motel, another crappy job…

Covering her face with her hands, Mackenzie gave in to exhaustion and sobbed.

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Chapter Five

She’s going to run, Nick. I can feel it.

His earlier words echoed in his head, haunting him as he leaned against a dumpster in the alley behind Nick’s bar.

They’d screwed things up.

No, correction.
He’d
screwed things up by failing to give Kat what few specifics he knew, or even suspected, of Mackenzie’s situation. She’d freaked out, and Mackenzie had realized something was wrong. But there wasn’t anything he could do about it now except fix it, and that meant catching her before she had a chance to skip town.

The apartment door opened shortly after six. Mackenzie emerged, clearly dressed for concealment in that blasted sweatshirt and a baseball cap. Slung over her shoulder was the bag she’d brought with her the night before.

He watched as she closed the door, locked it and slipped the key under the planter he’d pretended to pull one from the night before. When she turned to glance back at the apartment, he caught sight of her face. With no one nearby, she hadn’t bothered with her usual mask, and she looked tired and
Moira Rogers

hopeless. She reached out one hand to brush over the door and visibly steeled herself to slip down the stairs.

He didn’t bother to hide himself. “Mackenzie.” She stopped on the second step from the bottom, her hand clenched around the railing. “Jackson.” She looked terrified, and he cursed silently. “I’m sorry we scared you earlier, but you don’t have to leave. Whatever you think is going on…”

She stared at him as if she could see through him. When she finally met his gaze again, her eyes were weary.

“Something’s going on,” she said quietly. “I don’t know what it is, and maybe it’s harmless. Maybe you’re all nice people. If you are, though… Well, I still should leave. Nice people can get hurt.”

“Not us,” he told her confidently. “Well, it’s not
likely
.

Whatever you’re up against, whoever’s got you on the run, we can help. Let us.”

Even as she shook her head, Jackson could tell Kat had been right. Mackenzie
wanted
to trust him; it was clear she was wavering. More obvious was the fact that she’d reached the limits of her endurance. As he watched, tears welled and she hastened to close her eyes.

“It’s too much. He’ll just keep finding me, and his guys will hurt anyone who’s in the way. He’s crazy, Jackson. Out of his damn mind.”

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His heart clenched painfully, and he took a slow, careful step closer. “
Who
, Mackenzie? Tell me who it is, and we can make him leave you alone. There isn’t—” His words cut off as a frisson of electricity shot through him.

Magic.

Someone was casting a spell, and that someone was close.

He shivered again and looked around. He saw nothing, but the feeling intensified, chilling him despite the heat. “Crap.” Her eyes flew open, and she stiffened. “What?” A sudden thought occurred to him, and he reached out, his hands landing on her upper arms. “How far has he chased you, Kenzie? How many cities?”

“I—” She stared at him, eyes wide and frightened. “This is the fifth. I thought it was my car, so I left it behind in Memphis.”

“Dammit. They’re tracking you, all right, but it’s not anything you can avoid or stop.” He let go of her and grabbed her bag, taking her hand with his free one. “Come on. We’ve got to get out of here. They’re close.” She froze, suspicion clear on her face. “How would you know? What’s going
on
?”

He wouldn’t get very far if he had to drag her through the French Quarter. Jackson groaned as the electric feeling raised the hair on the back of his neck. “Can we please save the www.samhainpublishing.com 63

Moira Rogers

explanations for later, when the crazy guy isn’t about to descend on us?”

She hesitated for a split second and then started, shivering so violently Jackson felt her hand tremble in his. “What in hell—”

He didn’t get a chance to respond. Two men walked around the corner of the building, wearing near-identical expressions of satisfaction. The one on the left was tall and dark with a T-shirt that stretched tightly over hard muscles.

His companion was the opposite, delicate and waiflike, with his tousled hair not even reaching the top of the other man’s shoulder.

The tangible aura of magic flowed, strong and steady, from the shorter man. His brown eyes fixed on Mackenzie, and he grinned. “Damn, I’m good.”

Times like this, having Alec around tended to come in handy. “Evenin’, boys,” Jackson said, his manner not betraying his sudden tension even as his hand tightened around Mackenzie’s. “Can I help you with something?” The two men exchanged looks, and the taller one stepped forward. “We gonna do this the hard way, Jessica?” Mackenzie’s fingers dug into his hand, but her voice stayed steady. “Stop calling me that. I already told you that I’m not Jessica Evans, whoever she is.” 64

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Crux

He started to take another step, but the short man reached out suddenly, his eyes focused on Jackson. “Watch out, Eddie.

He’s a caster, and not second-rate, either.”

“Really.” The man named Eddie surveyed Jackson before switching his gaze back to Mackenzie. “So, Jess—I’m sorry.

Mackenzie
. You finally starting to believe?”

“What do you want?” Jackson kept his voice even. “Who sent you?”

Eddie’s lips curled into a slow smile. “What, she didn’t tell you? Or did she lie and make up some sob story? She’s good at it, with the big blue eyes and that pretty face.” He could have been human, but Jackson doubted it, accompanied as he was by a spell caster of the short man’s caliber.
Shapeshifter,
he decided. “Why don’t
you
tell me. The story I got is ‘crazy stalker’, and I have to say…it’s lookin’

pretty credible at the moment.”

Jackson felt the soft whisper of power down his spine as magic began to gather in the back alley. The magic-user watched him with bright eyes and a slightly condescending smile. “She’s got something our boss needs,” he said quietly.

“Something very, very precious. Irreplaceable, in fact. No one’s going to hurt her, and if she comes with us she’ll be treated like a queen. Whatever she’s told you, it’s a lie.” Jackson edged in front of Mackenzie and muttered quickly under his breath, hoping the shield he placed would www.samhainpublishing.com 65

Moira Rogers

hold after he’d moved into the fight. “Tell me what she has, and I’ll get it for you. But I won’t let you take her against her will.”

Eddie snorted. “Not how it works, buddy. You move and she comes with us, or we move you and she still comes with us.”

Mackenzie’s hand brushed his shoulder. “They’ll do it.

They’ll kill you. They killed someone in Minneapolis.

Chicago, too. Maybe you should just—”

Jackson lifted his arm, speaking a single word as he did, and the magic-user flew into the side of the building, his face hitting it with a sickening crunch. Jackson addressed Mackenzie as the man slumped to the ground. “Get back. If something happens, get inside with Nick. She can protect you.” He didn’t take his eyes from Eddie as he spoke. “Okay, Tiny. Let’s see how you fare without your caster.” The alley erupted into chaos. That was the only way to describe what happened after Jackson gently pushed her back.

Mackenzie stumbled two steps and flattened herself against the wall, her gaze focused on the short man slumped on the ground. He didn’t move, hadn’t since he’d flown into the wall as if tossed by a giant hand.

It made no sense. Neither did Jackson’s insistence that Nick would protect her. Nick was maybe five feet tall on a 66

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good day, and so petite Mackenzie was fairly sure she could pick her up with little effort. Huge, towering Eddie looked like he could pick
Jackson
up without breaking a sweat.

Eddie started forward, looking as if he’d had the same thought. His arms hung loosely at his sides, and a cocky grin curled his lips as he sized Jackson up. “So you got the jump on Mason. Am I supposed to be impressed?”

“Nope,” Jackson said. “You’re supposed to be impressed after I kick your ass.” He took another step away from Mackenzie and assumed a fighting stance, bringing up his fists. “Just because I use magic doesn’t mean I’m a weenie.” Mackenzie’s heart froze in her chest, pure panic bubbling around it. Jackson wasn’t a savior
or
a hero. Jackson was as crazy as Marcus and Eddie, with their talk of shapeshifters and magic and destiny. She’d fallen headfirst into a vast cult of lunatics who thought they were something out of a fantasy novel.

Jackson was one of them.
He
was
too good to be true.

Figures he’s crazy.

Jackson and Eddie blocked the exit from the alley. Her only other option was to go through the bar, to slip past Nick and whoever else from their crazy cult might be inside. To abandon Jackson to trouble he’d stumbled into because of her.

Crazy or not, he’d helped her. She couldn’t run away.

Stupid, stupid,
stupid
.

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Moira Rogers

It seemed like her realization had taken forever, but the men still approached each other with deadly intent. Eddie growled low in his throat as he stopped just out of reach, pure joy flooding his eyes. He didn’t pause for witty repartee, didn’t do any of the silly things the bad guys always did in movies. He sized up Jackson and launched himself at him, his fist flying so fast it was only a blur.

Jackson must have anticipated it. He dodged the punch, stepping aside so Eddie’s blow whistled harmlessly through the air. He rounded on him, his foot aiming for the back of Eddie’s knee. It looked like the blow might land, but Eddie swung the back of his fist out and clipped Jackson on the side of the head. He staggered, and Mackenzie’s breath caught in her throat.

It didn’t take him long to recover, and he straightened, flashing Eddie a disgruntled look. “Now, are you pullin’ those at all? Because if you’re fightin’ dirty, I’m joinin’ you.” Eddie smirked and came at him again.

“Oh,
fine
.” Jackson huffed and held up a closed fist.

When he opened it, a shimmering ball of light hovered above his palm.

Mackenzie blinked and rubbed her eyes, but when she looked again it hadn’t disappeared. If anything, the light had grown brighter.

Oh God, now
I’m
going crazy.

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The corner of Jackson’s mouth ticked up as he regarded Eddie. “Aren’t you just wishin’ you knew what I was about to do?”

The cocky grin slid from Eddie’s face as he charged, full-bore, at Jackson. At the last second, he whispered and the light exploded, blinding in its intensity.

When Mackenzie’s vision cleared, Jackson stood beside her. “Come on. The effect only lasts for a couple of minutes.

We’d better be far away from here by then.” She looked at Eddie, who stumbled into the wall and cursed, hands out in front of him as though he couldn’t see.

She’d lost her mind. It was the only explanation. She’d lost her mind, and the stress and the terror had made her as insane as they were.
Or maybe it’s real,
whispered a tiny voice, one she wasn’t sure she could acknowledge. Not yet.

BOOK: [Southern Arcana 1] Crux
2.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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