HUNTED BY THE PAST – initial confrontation between Cyn, Kayden and Tag
“Cyn,” Tag’s voice was gentle, making my teeth clench as dread filled me. “Did you ever wonder why you and I survived that night?”
I couldn’t squeeze the words through my tight throat. I shook my head. Realizing he couldn’t see me, I managed, “No.”
“They shot Simon straight out. They could have just as easily turned the gun on us, instead…”
“Instead they beat the shit out of us.” My voice was a harsh whisper.
Tag’s shoulders tightened. “It’s possible the plan was to drain you, me and Flash.”
“So why didn’t they?” My fists were clenched tight, the file crumpling under the pressure. Uncurling my hand, I tried futilely to smooth out the paper.
“They were interrupted.” Kayden’s voice flowed between us. “The patrol that found you interrupted Syphon’s plan.”
“So now he wants to finish what he started?” Anger and dread swirled through me. “So it’s not just me he’s after.” I shot Tag a look. “It’s you too.”
Useless fury darkened Tag’s face. “Probably, but for now he’s gunning for you.”
“Not to sound like a bitch, but why me? Why not you?” I knew the question was vicious but I had to ask. Tag shoulders stiffened and I wish I could call the words back.
Surprisingly it was Kayden who answered in a short tone. “You’re easier to get to. Tag’s harder to follow.”
“Sorry, Tag.” Words wouldn’t stop the pain. I was spinning into a world I had no anchor to hold on to, my life was shredding apart at the seams. The fact those closest to me were the ones paying the cost was creating devastating cracks in my soul.
An uncomfortable silence wrapped around us and unwilling to break it, I gathered up the pictures and put them back in the file. Night was falling taking the light with it. Leaving the file on the seat next to me, I sat back and focused on the passing scenery.
The graphic images floated behind my eyes, blocking out the curving freeway as it made its way down into the valley. How had Syphon found out about my ability? For that matter, why would he need my ability? As much I as tried I couldn’t figure out a single reason why my ability would cause him to come after me. There was no changing what I saw, no real benefit to it. So if he was chasing me instead of Tag, why?
Which reminded me. “What’s your ability, Tag?”
He paused, maybe hearing more than I wanted him to in my sharp question. “I’m a touch empath.”
A harsh laugh escaped. “Since forever.”
A niggling suspicion pricked the back of my brain. The strange jolt I got when Tag hugged me at the cabin. “You’re a human lie detector.” Not a question, more of an accusation.
He turned until our gazes clashed in the rearview mirror. “Yeah.” No excuses.
Betrayal was a sour taste in my mouth. Dropping my eyes, I thought it through. “You never told me.”
His voice softened. “No.”
“Why?” Part of me argued I had no right to feel betrayed. Some secrets weren’t meant to see the light of day. Another part, the part that seemed to be taking a beating today, fired back I had told him about mine, why hadn’t he shared with me? It was childish, but…
“When would have been a good time?”
Hurt veiled itself in sarcasm. “Maybe the same night when I told you about mine? Or hey, here’s a thought, any damn time in the last six years!”
“What good would it have done?” he shot back. “If I had told you, every time I touch you, you’d be wondering if I was reading you.”
“Was I what?”
“Crawling around in my head each time you touched me?””
Even in the dim interior of the car I could watch the warriors’ steel core that generally hid underneath his laid back persona leaked into his eyes, sharpening the flecks of gold. “I don’t crawl around anything, Arden.” His voice hardened. “I read emotions.”
“Whatever.” I groused. It was strangely disturbing to think of Tag having access to my real emotions. Hell, sometimes even I didn’t have access. Okay, this conversation was getting me nowhere. Time to get back on track. “So how does Syphon get his information?”
Kayden decided to rejoin the party. “What do you mean?”
“Each of his victims had abilities. How does he know?” I shot Tag a look. “It’s obvious that you can work side by side someone and never realize it. It’s not like there’s a secret handshake or code words. If SCID only recruits paranormals that’s one thing, but how does he know about your little unit in the first place?” I paused, a flash of clarity had me adding, “Does this mean Flash was approached by SCID too?”
“You can ask Delacourt.” Kayden was back in full poker player mode.
“I’m asking you.”
He watched me with a steady gaze, saying nothing.
Frustration had me gritting my teeth. Obviously getting answers was going to have to wait. “Fine, then I want to talk to him.” God, I sounded like a grumpy child.
“Guess it’s a good thing he’s calling us tonight, uh?” Kayden’s dry tone couldn’t fully hide his laughter as he turned back to face front.
Not bothering to respond, I picked up the file next to me and slapped it against his shoulder. Without turning, he took the file and put it back in the glove compartment. I could’ve sworn he was smiling.
Suppressing the urge to growl, I snapped, “What time are we meeting?”
“Nine o’clock.” Tag said.
Finding the glowing numbers on the dash I noted we had just under two hours to go. Settling back into my seat weariness fell over me in a wave. Dusk had fallen and hear in the canyons of Sedona, darkness draped her cape wide. I let my eyes drift shut. With my eyes closed the acrid smell of smoke wafting from my clothes teased me. All the small cuts and scrapes began to make themselves known. My muscles ached and my head was back to its drum solo.
If Syphon hit possible SCID recruits, why had Delacourt waited so long to approach me? And did it really matter? My mind spun uselessly with endless questions. Pressing the palms of my hands hard against my closed eyes I tried to stop the draining cycle. Right now I had more questions than answers. Hopefully Delacourt would provide the answers I needed. One thing I knew for sure, no matter what it took I was going to find Kelsey, even if it meant dealing with Charles Delacourt.
TOUCHED BY FATE – alternate beginning
Elevator doors slid shut, trapping Risia Lacoste within the gilded confines, along with a unique cross section of humanity—a barefoot, college co-ed in a beach wrap tittering at her male companion who was checking Risia out, a young, travel-worn couple in walking shorts and t-shirts, juggling an assortment of luggage and toddlers, and a trio sporting the young executive look marred by their collection of yard long plastic containers which once held margaritas, but were now being used as light sabers.
Watching the antics, Risia fought back the grin tugging at her lips. Vegas, where even a mere elevator ride turned into entertainment.
One wild swung later, the co-ed’s twittering stopped for a mere second as her companion flinched and ducked. The toddlers laughed. Their parents frowned. And the co-ed aimed a narrow eyed glare accompanied by a disdainful snort at the inebriated instigator. Her mouth opened, but whatever scathing remark she’d prepared was cut short by the elevator’s soft ding. The doors slid open.
One more contemptuous look, then the young blonde grabbed her companion’s hand. “Some people.”
With a lopsided grin, one of the corporate warriors gave a wobbly salute with his plastic weapon of choice. “Don’t know how to have fun?”
Chuckles broke out as the huffy co-ed dragged her sheepish boyfriend away. The small family of four wore matching grins they didn’t bother to hide as the doors slid shut once more, and the atmosphere in the well-appointed enclosure lightened.
Two more stops, then Risia released a small sigh of relief as her solitary journey to the penthouse level continued. Tension warred with excitement as her floor drew closer. Much like her imminent arrival, her current assignment’s finale was in sight. Tonight should prove if her suspicions held a ribbon of truth. Maybe lady luck would take pity on her and this whole, nerve wracking thing would be wrapped up sooner than expected.
The doors opened, and mindful of the floor’s discrete security cameras, she kept her pace casual as she made her way down the carpeted hall. Between one step and the next, every nerve ending sparked. The pinpricks of warning caused a hitch in otherwise smooth stride. Even the fine hairs along her bare arms stood on end. Her brief burst of optimism snuffed out.
Things were about to go south.
Breathing through her thudding pulse, she made it to the third door on the right and wrapped her hand around the cool steel handle. It couldn’t matter who or what waited for her on the other side, necessity dictated she see this through. Beautifully manicured nails tipped elegant fingers on a rock steady hand, as she slid her electronic key into the reader, the light blinking from red to green. The quiet click as it disengaged sounded above her thudding pulse. Nothing good ever lurked in the dark. Her fingers tightened as she pushed the door open. The uncanny warning increased in strength, knotting her stomach and muscles. Imminent danger waited on the other side. Forcing her jaw and shoulders to relax, she donned her shield of untouchable elegance and stepped inside.
Soft light came from the lamp she left on this morning. A weak effort against the crouching weight of darkness prowling through the condo. Maybe she should’ve left the thick curtains open? At least the garish lights of the Vegas Strip would help the lone lamp. Instead a predatory stillness reigned.
Years of training kept her movements fluid and unhurried. Unwilling to loose her only escape route, she kept her hand on the door to hold it open. Feeling around for the light switch, a soft “damn” escaped as the door’s edge slipped from her fingers. Skin met plastic and she pressed. Lights chased away the shadows, leaving her blinking. Yet the tension in the air sharpened in eager anticipation.
No way but forward now. Using the precious few moments to reinforce control over her nerves, she moved from her door to counter between the kitchen and open living space. Behind her, the snick of the door closing completely sounded overly loud. And devastatingly final. Three steps later she paused in the act of setting her purse on the counter.
“Good evening, Ms. Lacoste.”
The suave cultured tones left ice forming in her veins. What had brought this man to her room? Her mind spun as she retraced her movements for the last few days, trying to identify where or where she could’ve slipped up.
Deliberately she let the purse slip from her grip to the counter, feigning a moment of startlement. Turning fully toward the man waiting in her living room, she arched a brow. A practiced move, designed to mask the nerves trembling under her skin. “Mr. Rawlings, I was unaware we had a meeting scheduled.” Her muscles ached with the need to turn around and bolt. Unfortunately, that would give the looming behemoth hovering behind Laurence Rawlings the excuse he needed to put his paws on her. Not to mention quick movements and Jimmy Choo’s never worked well together.
MARKED BY OBSESSION – alternate aftermath of mugging
“Give me a drink or I’ll pick one for you.” From the corner of my eye, I caught the barista’s smile dropping away, to be replaced by a frown of confusion as the unmistakable sound of frustration escaped the woman at my side.
Any other situation Meli’s growl would’ve been cute. Instead it made me want to growl back. I refrained. Barely, but I sure as shit didn’t drop my gaze. Sometimes hard decisions were all you had.
She crossed her arms over her chest and gave the girl at the register her order. “Coffee, two cream, one sugar.”
“And you, sir?”
Forcing my frustration aside, I gave the poor girl my best clueless male smile. “Coffee black, please.”
Minutes later, coffees in hand, I followed Meli’s stiff spine to a corner table. When she went to sit in the one facing the room, I stopped her. “That chair’s mine, babe.” I set her coffee in front of the other chair with its back to the room. Her small huff was easily ignored as she sat, pulling her purse into her lap.
I slipped into my chair, and took a sip of coffee, splitting my attention between those gathered inside the shop those walking outside. A minute ticked by, while she played with her coffee before she finally broke. “What in all that’s holy was that, Wolf?”
I didn’t bother with a response. What was the point? She’d obviously made up her mind about what she witnessed.
Her eyes narrowed and she leaned forward. “Don’t you dare pull the silent thing with me, buster.”
Buster? Seriously? If that was the worse she could come up with, I had a lot to teach her. “What do you want me to say, Meli?” I kept my voice low, not wanting anyone else to be privy to our conversation.
“I want to know what just happened.”
“What just happened, was that I needed an untraceable phone to contact Bishop. I made the best of a shitty situation.”
“Has anyone ever told you that paranoia isn’t a good look on you?”
She could not be that oblivious. Could she? The derisive note in her voice rubbed my temper raw. It was my turn to lean forward until mere inches separated us. “It isn’t paranoia, it’s being goddamn careful. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Melisande, you’re someone’s target. Until we can figure out why, I will do whatever is necessary to keep you safe. Even if you end up hating me for it.”
Color rode high in her cheeks, and it didn’t do a damn thing except make me want to kiss the stubbornness right out of her. “I’m someone’s target because of my brother and whatever ghosts were chasing him. It has nothing to do with me. I can hand these,” she made an awkward motion to her purse, “over to you and be out of this.”
“You really think it’s that simple?”
She sat back. “Isn’t it?”
I couldn’t decide if I wanted to shake her or laugh. Instead, I rubbed a hand over the back of my neck. “For fuck’s sake, you can’t hide from this. Whatever shit your brother stepped in, is now landing on your doorstep and it stinks to high heaven. You so over your head, you’re drowning and don’t even know it. Your house has been shot, you’ve been attacked, and your tires slashed. The only way you’re going to be safe, is to neutralize the threat. And I can’t do that with please and thank you’s.”