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Authors: Mark Henwick,Lauren Sweet

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Urban, #Paranormal & Urban, #Urban Fantasy

Wild Card (4 page)

BOOK: Wild Card
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Old allies suddenly felt uncomfortable. The finest graduations of trust needed to be recalibrated. For that, Athanate needed to meet, to scent and sense the meanings behind words, face to face.

All of which meant Haven’s lawns being churned to mud as a hundred or more cars and SUVs parked across them and meetings spilled out from the house itself over the lawns.

Guiding Julie, still wearing her blindfold, I barely registered it all.

We hurried down the stairs; I was too impatient to wait for overused elevators.

Through the double doors to the suite where Jen had been recovering. I tugged Julie’s blindfold off.

Pia and David were standing outside the door, Pia clearly upset.

“Thank God,” she said.

“This is Julie, she’s joining us.” I brushed past them, and opened the doors to the sound of Jen and Alex shouting.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

“Amber!”

Both of them said it at the same time, both of them moved toward me, and then both suddenly stopped as they realized what the other was doing. Tense and awkward barely covered it.

Alex held up his hands.

“You guys have to talk,” he said and walked out.

I wanted him back, but maybe it would be easier to talk to Jen alone for the moment. Alex knew more than Jen about everything that had gone on.

His departure got Jen and me moving again, and we met in the middle of the room.

I held her tightly to me, trying to squeeze the trembling from her body.

“What the hell happened to me?” she said, her voice muffled against me. “Why is Deauville here? In fact, where
is
here? Why wouldn’t he answer any of my questions?”

“Slow down. There’s a lot for you to take in.” There were some chairs and a sofa set around a coffee table on one side of the room. “Come on, let’s sit.” I snagged a blanket off the bed as we walked, and draped it over her shoulders, which got me a tentative smile. She’d still be in shock, and that wasn’t going to change in a hurry. I needed her to keep warm.

She was pale and shaky. We’d cleaned the blood and filth off her yesterday and tied her golden hair back in a knot, but it only seemed to accentuate her pallor.

We sat stiffly on the sofa, almost as if we were strangers. I gave myself a mental kick. This wasn’t about how uncomfortable I felt, it was about getting Jen through the confusion and trauma of her abduction, and what I’d had to do to heal her. I tried to relax.

“Before I start,” I said, “I told you last week, I’d never refuse to answer your questions again. That applies—”

“Only last week? But…how long has it been? I remember…” She touched her face, lifted her arms and looked at the unmarred skin, then her hand reached quickly for her side, where she’d been shot. There was nothing there—no wound, no scar. “It was all a dream?”

“No.” I grabbed her left hand and trapped it between mine. “It’s Monday today. Sometime early Saturday, you were kidnapped by Frank Hoben.”

“You warned me,” she muttered, frowning. “Why’s it all so blurred? It’s like I read about it happening to someone else.”

“I think that’s partly shock,” I said. She didn’t ask about the rest of it. I was relieved and worried at the same time.

“Reynolds!” her head jerked back up. “Zimmerman. They were…”

“They’re dead, Jen.”

She looked down at our hands in silence. I could hear the murmur of voices outside, the feel of bustle throughout the building, but Jen looked oblivious to it.

Her voice had dropped to a whisper when she spoke again. “It was all my fault, wasn’t it? I shouldn’t have gone back home to get those files. Hoben shot them.” She blinked, wrestling with her memories. “They were lying there wounded, but he killed them because I’d killed one of his men. He just shot them as they lay there.” Tears eased out of her eyes and slid down her cheeks. I wanted to brush them away, but I didn’t dare move. I let her pick her way through her recollections of what had happened at Manassah and afterwards.

“I killed him,” she said, surprising me by leaping forward to the last thing she would be able to recall before the rescue. “Hoben. I shot the bastard. I remember picking up your gun. I did kill him, didn’t I?”

“You killed him.”

“Good.” She shuddered. “But he shot me. I remember that, too.”

“He did.”

She looked up at me. Her free hand moved the blanket and sweatshirt from her side again. There was no mark on her skin.

“Right there,” I said.

There was a quiet knock on the door, and Pia came in with a tray of coffee.

Jen focused on her as she knelt gracefully to put the tray down.

“I know you,” Jen said hesitantly.

Pia smiled at her and put out her hand. “You weren’t fully conscious when we met. I’m Pia.”

As they shook, I could see Jen framing another question, but Pia cut her off.

“I look forward to talking with you when Amber’s brought you up to speed,” Pia said.

Jen grimaced as she watched Pia leave, her face a picture of her struggle to remember. I wondered how much she would remember of Pia urging us to come together when Jen had woken briefly on that first night. Could she recognize Pia from her aura?

“I can’t promise it will all become clear,” I said. “But I have to start somewhere.”

I poured the coffee to gain a bit more time. Jen’s blue eyes came back to me, and now there was a hint of something besides the confusion in them. Maybe even a little fear.

“You did say you realized we weren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.” I said. What if I’d messed with more of her memory than I intended?

“Oh yeah. I remember that okay. Thursday. We were getting ready to go off and sign the deal on the racetrack.” She gave a little laugh. “You got all evasive about being a werewolf.” I could feel a tremor pass through her hand. “You’re not a werewolf?”

“No.” I hesitated. Not completely true, but I was thinking of the Athanate side of things. It was one thing for Jen to say last week that she had figured out I had to be paranormal and she was okay with it, and another thing entirely to tell her I was going to want to drink her Blood. “Not exactly.”

“Vampire?” she whispered.

I took a deep breath, trying to overcome the feeling of my lungs being squeezed. “Vampires don’t exist. But the myths come from something real, a people called the Athanate. When I met you, I was becoming Athanate.”

I felt another shiver pass through her.

“And now?” she said.

I huffed. “Now it’s just gotten weirder.”

She gave another short laugh, almost a bark. “I always said weird for you has a different meaning than the rest of us.”

“No one knows exactly what I am. I’m a mix of Athanate, Were and Adept—what people generally think of as vampire, werewolf and witch.”

“And I’m an…Athanate now too?” Her face was pale and her nose pinched. “I must have died, right? You brought me back from the dead?”

“No. That’s a vampire myth. Athanate are living. Dead is dead.”

“But you did something. I can almost remember…”

“You were certainly dying from the shot and, well, everything else that happened to you.” Everything that animal Hoben and his men had done to her. “One of the abilities Athanate have is to heal. I healed you.”

We looked silently at each other. Jen’s face slowly lost a little of its pallor. Apparently, healing was better than being revived as a vampire, even if she didn’t understand how the healing took place.

“Deauville was looking after me too,” she said. “I remember, I woke up a couple of times.”

“Yes.” How could I broach the subject of what Alex was and what he meant to me? I hedged. “Alex used to be a doctor. He—”

“He’s another vamp—I mean Athanate?”

“No.” Not so far, anyway, but who knew how that was going to turn out. Gods, this was complicated. “He’s a werewolf.”

She paused a minute to let that sink in. Then, predictably, her mind went to her corporation, and she frowned. “He’s one of the wolves who were making trouble for me out at the resort property, scaring the workers away from Silver Hills, wasn’t he? I knew it. I knew there was something weird—”

“It was a mistake, Jen. The pack—”

“Hell yeah, it was a mistake, all right. I’ll sue the bastards.”

Not the way I wanted the conversation to go. At least the color had come back to her cheeks. “In which court?” I said.

She blinked. “I see what you mean.”

Amazingly, we actually managed to laugh, but Jen stopped suddenly.

“Oh God, my company. What does everyone think happened?”

“They’ll know you were kidnapped. The police will still be at Manassah now. But it’s only Monday, remember. As soon as we organize a cover story, you can contact your company and anyone else who needs to know. I guess nothing will have happened other than crisis meetings.”

Jen thought about that and nodded. At least I wasn’t having to explain everything, step by step, to her. She would understand the need for paranormals to avoid exposure. She’d become accustomed to my being evasive. Only now I’d have to explain to her why she was regarded as no longer a security risk. Because she was kin.

“Is that going to be difficult?” she said. “The cover story?”

I hadn’t thought about it too much, what with everything else going on, but it was a problem. “We blew the factory up and killed everyone inside. Yup, that’s difficult. On the other hand, they have a team here whose job is to clear up this sort of thing.”

“A team here? So, this is a place for Athanate?” She waved to encompass the whole building.

“This is Haven, the home of House Altau.” I needed to set things up for her. “There are two types of Athanate, and Altau are the leaders of the good guys, the Panethus. I guess because they haven’t worked out what the hell I am, Altau have set me up as a subsidiary House—House Farrell.”

“House?” She could hear the emphasis.

“Like a family, a group.” A group comprising Athanate and kin. How to explain?

“And Pia?” she said.

“Pia is a member of House Farrell. So is David. You remember meeting him?”

She nodded.

“And Alex. And maybe a couple of others.” Julie, I’d just claimed, but I didn’t know if that was valid. Would that mean Keith as well? Oh, God.

“Deauville,” she said, ignoring the rest. Her tone made it clear that news was unwelcome.

Before she could question me any more about that, the door swished open and Bian came in, wearing a trim burgundy pantsuit, her leopard-spot tattoos that covered her upper body just showing above her shirt collar. She was followed by an assistant who was juggling phones and clipboards.

“Ms. Trang?” Jen said faintly. “What on earth are you doing here?”

“Ah,” I answered for her. “Bian is the head of security here, Jen. You two have met?”

Bian laughed. “I’m the signatory for the consortium that owned the land for the new racetrack. One of my overt jobs.” She came and sat on one of the chairs in front of us. “I couldn’t make the official signing ceremony. Shame. It would have been fun.”

“So you’re Athanate, too?” Jen said, looking pale again. Too many things to take in at once.

“Yes. I see Amber’s briefing you.” She straightened and pressed her hands together, bowing her head slightly to Jen. She spoke in Athanate and followed it in English. “Honor to you, Jennifer kin-Farrell, and twice welcome.”

“Kin?” Jen said, looking at me. I glared at Bian. I wanted to run this at my own pace, and here she was, steamrolling through it all.

Bian looked blithely unconcerned, listening briefly on a phone held by her assistant and then scrawling something on one of his clipboards. She waved him to leave.

“I was just getting to that,” I said. Bian’s grin was unnerving, but it was nothing to the pressure I felt from Jen’s look of inquiry. She must realize, even though I’d said Athanate are different than vampires…

“The myth of the vampire is right in one aspect. We need Blood.”

When she didn’t flinch, it felt like the steel strips that had been wound around my chest had unexpectedly loosened.

“I mean, I will need Blood. No one is sure exactly when.” I watched as Jen dipped her head, her eyes steady. I let myself hope a little more. “And the types of Athanate I mentioned—the good guys, Panethus? We don’t just need Blood, we need emotion as well.”

“She means love,” Bian said, topping up our coffee. “Panethus Athanate and their kin are bound by love.”

I was watching Jen’s eyes. I saw every feature of her face with a hard-edged clarity. Her pupils grew and a tiny sigh escaped her. My heart kicked and I felt the now familiar looseness in my jaw. I clenched my teeth. Fangs had to come later, when she had a chance to get used to the idea, but my Athanate was purring at her reaction.
Oh, yes.

Jen smiled, as if she could sense what I was going through, although that was impossible of course. For the first time in this room, I started to relax and smile back.

And the door opened again. It was Alex.

Bian turned to him, repeating the gestures and the Athanate greeting. I tried to stop her but she was already giving the translation. “Honor to you also, Alexander kin-Farrell, and twice welcome.”

Jen gasped as the implications sank in.

 

Chapter 5

 

“Oh,” Bian said. “You didn’t get to that part yet. Sorry.”

I could have strangled her, even if she had the grace to look concerned.

The temperature in the room plummeted. Jen shifted away on the sofa and sat stiffly, not meeting my eyes. Alex looked sympathetic, but he realized there was nothing he could do that would make it any better at the moment.

“Uh, right. Sorry for interrupting,” he said. “But a message came in from Larimer.” The alpha of the Denver pack. “He wants Amber and me at a meeting as soon as possible.”

Bian sat back in her chair. “He might have the right to order you around, Alex, but not Amber. And you’re going to have to come to a decision about your primary allegiance sometime soon.”

Alex shrugged it off. “This came in through the comms center here. Skylur passed it on as agreed. I’m not asking your permission, I’m just informing you as a courtesy.”

BOOK: Wild Card
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