Authors: Dannika Dark
Tags: #paranormal fantasy
“It means that I’ll be taking a trip,” he grumbled.
I scoffed at him. “How are you going to get Marco to come with you? Tap him on the shoulder and say ‘Excuse me. We think you may have been involved in something illegal. Could you please fly back to Cognito with me so we can put your ass in the slammer?’ He’ll never talk.”
Justus folded his arms and lifted his head to the high ceiling. “If Marco is involved with the benefactor, then he will want to know where you are, because you are a deal that has not been closed. I have his trust, and can use that to bring him in.”
Simon snatched my glass and placed it on the table. “No worries, love.”
I listened as they questioned Sunny, but it was impossible to fight against the collapse of energy. Justus didn’t need to level down because he kept himself under control during the confrontation, while I could barely contain my light within my fingertips.
I nodded off somewhere between plane tickets and hotels. Intense emotions spiked energy levels in a Mage; most of the time we leveled down. It takes concentration to harness your light and shift it appropriately—controlling it, before it controls you. It was my first street fight, and I didn’t bother leveling down. I needed the nap.
I woke up stretched across the sofa with my head in Simon’s lap. Silence swaddled me. Embers diminished to a curious glow, and the air smelled of bacon and coffee. Simon’s fingers had been busy, as tiny little braids skimmed over my face.
“How long was I out?”
“Hours,” he said.
“Why didn’t you wake me?”
“Wouldn’t dream of it—especially after the priceless look on Adam’s face.”
“I wish you wouldn’t try to start trouble.” I sat up and rubbed the corner of my eyes, feeling well rested.
“You know, you’re more agreeable unconscious. I’d love to sleep with you again sometime.”
Braids scattered across my shoulders. “I see you were busy.”
“I’m a man who likes to keep my hands occupied.”
I noticed a wet spot on his pants and wiped my mouth in embarrassment.
“I think Bam-Bam fancies your friend.”
“His name is Knox, and my inside sources tell me otherwise.” I yawned.
“Some things are more obvious to other men, I suppose.” He tugged a loose thread from his jeans until it snapped off.
“So what’s the plan?”
“Why would he go?”
Simon stretched out like a cat, groaning aloud. “Knox is human, so he can get close and do a little detective work without raising suspicion.” He sighed and chewed on a fingernail. “We know a few places he owns, but it’s a big city and he could be staying anywhere. We’re crashing at Sunny’s flat to keep a low profile. No need to worry about our names raising any flags in town.”
“How long will we be gone?”
“This time love, you will
leave the house.” He pinched my nose playfully. “It’s safer here. No one has access to get in. He’s put his trust in you once more.”
My voice softened. “I want to help, Simon. I have more right than anyone to go after him, and I don’t want to be excluded.”
He groaned, kicking up his feet on the coffee table. “Careful what you choose for your purpose in life; revenge is a swamp you’ll get lost in. You’re too valuable, which is why we’re keeping you safe and sound in the castle.”
He dropped his chin and wiped a hand across his lap. “I believe I need a new pair of trousers since these are covered in slobber. I do love it when the ladies drool over me.”
“Do me a favor? Don’t hit on Sunny. I
how much you love to flirt, but you owe me a solid. She’s a sensitive girl and I don’t want her played by one of my friends. Just keep an eye on her, and… away from Justus.”
“No worries,” he chuckled. “Something tells me that massive bloke is going to erupt like Mount Vesuvius if Justus so much as charms her. I must confess that I would very much like to see that.” His pierced tongue poked at his lower lip. “Novis didn’t show it, but he’s quite displeased with your Adam. He’s the sort that has high expectations of his Learners. I suspect he’ll be revoking some of his privileges.”
“Great.” I slumped back on the sofa and threw my legs over Simon’s lap. As if I didn’t feel guilty enough. “When are you leaving?”
“No time to waste, darling.”
“Why can’t I go?”
“Can’t risk it.”
“He wouldn’t recognize me.”
Simon wiggled my toe, the little piggy that had roast beef. “He’s a clever Mage, so you stay put.”
“What makes you think he still lives there?”
“The pubs Sunny gave us are still in his name. Doesn’t even bother to get a different identity from what the Mageri gave him. Marco appears to be quite the entrepreneur. He’s taken a fancy to that place.”
“It’s a hole-in-the-wall town.”
Simon laughed. “Your phrases amuse me; they don’t mean the same thing where I’m from. Cowardly men prefer to stay out of sight, and out of mind,” he concluded. “Why should he leave? Your city is without a Council because of the low population, so that puts him in a powerful position. Marco has years on him, and he’s stinking rich.”
“Do you think Justus will try to confront him?”
A moment lapsed before Simon answered. “I won’t let him.”
With everyone gone, I had no distractions to pass the time
. We didn’t own a television, radio, or even a computer. My music player was difficult to charge, and I was tired of listening to the same old songs. I paced the house and discovered a new diversion: cooking. I had a couple of signature dishes, but otherwise, I’ve always been a catastrophe in the kitchen. Justus filled the kitchen with a few essentials before leaving; little did he know what he was missing out on.
On the third night, Simon called to check in on me.
“Are you guys done with your expedition yet?”
“Miss me already?” he purred. “Marco is an elusive bastard. We’ve sent Knox to his pubs, but the human could not be any
conspicuous. We can’t afford to have him make too many appearances. Sunny will give him a ring tomorrow—pretend to be the ex who wants to smooth things over.”
“Don’t do that, Simon. It’s better if he forgets all about her.”
“I’ve considered the risk. If this doesn’t draw him out, then she’s returning to Cognito with us…for good.” Simon chuckled like a man with a secret. “Hercules made sure of that.”
I swirled my finger in the soft icing of a chocolate cake, decorated with a garnish of strawberries and a dusting of sugar. I liked the idea of Sunny moving to Cognito, so I didn’t argue. “I don’t see how she agreed to that.”
Simon snorted. “She doesn’t know.”
“Since when does Knox have any—”
My words hit the brakes. In a silent house, any small noise was like a parade. “Hold on.”
“What is it?”
A knock sounded at the front door in a friendly rhythm.
“Nothing,” I exhaled, sliding off the counter. “Adam’s dropping in to check on me. Don’t mention this to Justus; I’m already in enough hot water to boil a lobster.”
I arrowed through the living room and wiped my fingers on my jeans. The metal door was a security measure that helped Justus sleep at night. I slid the latch and heard whispers on the other end of the phone.
“I’m not kidding, Simon. Don’t you dare mention this.”
“Let me call you back.”
Simon was my friend, but his friendship with Justus spanned at least a century. I slipped the phone in my rear pocket and pulled open the door.
A man of tremendous height wearing a black raincoat stood before me. Slowly, I lifted my chin to look up at him. Adam always had a few inches on me, but this guy towered at 6’5”.
Only the tip of his nose and mouth were visible. An oversized hood cloaked his face, but his pressed lips stretched wide when he smiled. Rain dripped from the ends of his fingers, splashing on the dark concrete. Light from inside glistened off the water-drenched coat, and he smelled like a thunderstorm.
He removed the hood, spilling a stream of water to the floor. Hair the color of sunlight spread across his shoulders, all one length and wet at the ends. The soft ethereal quality of it was a contrast against his pronounced bone structure. Shadowed grooves along his face showcased high cheekbones, and yet there was a softness to his expression. The top of his nose was a little broad, drawing attention to deep-set eyes framed with heavy brows, giving him an animalistic gaze. His light eyes glittered, but I couldn’t distinguish the color as they dropped to the floor. His looks were distinct, but not classically handsome. In fact, he was frightening, and… I really needed to stop staring.
“Who are you?” I asked, inching the door closed. We never had visitors.
“Jiminy, it’s coming down like cats and dogs out there! Sorry I’m late; I missed the turn. You must be Silver.”
He offered a hand and lifted his brows with a pleasant expression.
“I’m Logan Cross.”
I stared at his hand wordlessly.
“Justus didn’t mention I was coming by to keep an eye on you? I could sit out here if it makes you easier, but I know about the back door and that wouldn’t make
feel easy. He would have my hide if he didn’t think his Learner was protected.”
I forced a smile.
Logan had a strong voice that warmed me on the inside like a cup of cocoa. “It was a last minute arrangement, but he said he would prepare you for my visit. Did he not call you?”
I shook my head. “I haven’t spoken to him.”
“Then showing up at your door unannounced was rude. Forgive me. I didn’t mean to startle you. Please, go inside and call Justus,” he said, rubbing the corner of his eye. “I’ll wait out here.” Logan looked battered by the rain, despite his coat.
Throughout our conversation, he never looked me in the eye. Maybe he was introverted, although his strong, confident voice contradicted that. When he shook out of his raincoat, I covered my smile with a hand. His clothing gave everything away. A green shirt hung loosely over a pair of matching pants. The drawstring dangled next to a beeper on his waist, but what set it off were the white sneakers. Logan Cross worked in a hospital to some capacity, although whether he was a surgeon or an intern, I couldn’t tell. He was a svelte man of considerable strength—with toned arms, strong hands, and broad shoulders that formed a v-shaped physique. Still, it was that masculine face that caught my attention.
“I came directly from work so I didn’t have time to change,” he apologized.
“Justus sent you to babysit me?”
Logan scratched his jaw. “Try to think of it more as keeping you company. I owe a favor, and I always pay my debts. Did he mention how long he would be away?” He folded the wet coat and placed it in a neat pile on the floor. “Justus was pretty vague. No offense, but I’m on a tight schedule. I’d rather use up my vacation days on a cruise.”
I swung open the door, feeling ridiculous about my lack of manners, and guilty this poor man was put in charge of me.
“Please, come inside, Mr. Cross. I don’t mean to be rude. I just wasn’t expecting visitors. Are you hungry? I’ve got mountains of food in there, and I could use some help getting rid of the evidence of my boredom.”
His laugh was a deep, throaty rumble. “I’m always a willing victim. My last meal was twelve hours ago, but I should warn you that I have a voracious appetite.”
I let him in, locked the door, and reheated the enchiladas. Logan was a polite man who insisted that he serve himself. He prepared his own plate and sat on a stool in front of the kitchen island. I contained my laughter as he shoveled it down like a ravenous wolf, sliding the fork along the plate to catch every morsel. The sound of his lips smacking and the satisfied grunts were a boost to my ego.
I pulled out a short, chubby glass from the cabinet and poured some cold milk into it.
“Tasty, I’ve never had it with chicken before,” he said, licking the end of his thumb.
“How do you two know each other?”
He tilted his head with an enigmatic smile, looking at his plate. “Justus landed in my ER unconscious and full of holes. There wasn’t a reason I can think of he should have made it out of surgery, but when he woke up, he ripped out the IV. I found him crawling down the hallway.”
I burst out laughing, dribbling milk on my chin.
. I wiped it away with the back of my hand. Now I was the proud owner of a mental image of Justus crawling, ass-out, in one of those hospital gowns looking for a slice of healing sunshine.