Zayvion stretched out in my bed wearing nothing but his boxers under the covers. He lay on his side, elbow propped under his head, wide, bare shoulders blocking most of the view of my door and apartment beyond. I faced him, wearing boy shorts and tank top, the covers tucked under my free arm.
We were not touching. We were not talking. We were at war.
“Two out of three?” Never go into battle without laying basic ground rules.
“Fair,” he said.
Zay threw rock; I threw scissors. Damn.
“One,” Zay said.
I threw paper; Zay threw rock.
“Mine.” I looked into his eyes, brown and filled with that gold fire that came from using magic. And let me tell you, he’d been using it very nicely over the last three days since we’d sealed the undead magic users in Maeve’s Inn. Three days we’d spent almost entirely in bed.
We both knew our rest would be short-lived. Victor had called last night and asked me to come down so he could talk to my dead dad, who was possessing my mind. Wanted to know what my dad knew about the solid Veiled—dead magic users who used the disks my dad invented to reclaim bodies.
Yesterday, the higher members of the Authority—Victor, Maeve, Hayden, and a few others—had broken the magical lock on the inn my dad had left there. They transported the solid Veiled to the secret prison the Authority uses to deal with magic users who break the law.
Leander, who had followed me into this world through death’s gate, had not been among them.
Zay had been angry he hadn’t been asked to help. Shame, the only one of us who they requested go along, didn’t talk much about it afterward. All he’d said was: “Freaks are still alive-ish. We have no idea how to remove the disks. Victor will probably want to ask your da about that, and what he knows about Leander. But that place . . . that prison?” He’d shaken his head. “Nothing can break out of those walls.”
I was actually glad I hadn’t been a part of that. Those people had died once. As far as I was concerned, they had no right to be living again—especially when they were bent on killing me and my friends.
I didn’t want Victor or anyone else digging in my head to talk to my dad about undead magic users, but there were still disks out there that could be used to create more solid Veiled. And the longer we waited to find those disks, and whoever was behind the undead using them, the higher chance we’d have of more solid Veiled to deal with.
“Still with me?” Zay asked.
“Sorry. Tie breaker?”
“Winning hand.” He gave me a quick smile, then schooled his face into that impenetrable Zen mask.
“Think that’s going to throw me?”
“That Zen thing.”
“What Zen thing?”
“You know what I’m talking about. It won’t work. How many times do I have to tell you, you are the easiest man in the world to read, Mr. Zayvion Jones?”
One eyebrow quirked. “Bring it.”
It’s one of the most underrated survival skills in history—winning at rock, paper, scissors. Zay had thrown rock twice in a row. Would he stick with his game and throw it again? Or would he expect me to think he would and instead throw scissors to cut my paper?
I studied his eyes, his lips, his smile. Nothing.
We fist pumped one, two, three.
I threw paper.
Zayvion Jones threw rock.
“A-ha!” I crowed. “I win. I’d like my eggs scrambled, toast buttered, and coffee hot.”
“You get a bowl of stale cereal.”
“Oh, no. Hot breakfast was the deal.”
“True.” He pushed the covers down a little, kicking his feet free. “What do you think about omelets?”
“I’m pro-omelet if there’s cheese involved. If not, then I’m totally on scrambled’s side.”
“Maybe I’ll make a nice, slow quiche.” He leaned over me, forcing me to roll onto my back.
I made a face. “I don’t like quiche.”
“I can make you like quiche.”
He kissed me, soft, easy. Moved down to my neck and the edge of my breast and kissed me there, his teeth catching my nipple.
“No, you can’t,” I gasped. Which was a lie. When he kissed me like that, I was pretty sure he could make me like anything.
“Tell me you want quiche.”
“I want coffee.”
“Scrambled,” I breathed.
He grinned. “Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn.” His lips pressed against mine, silencing my objections and sending a pulse of heat coiling down my spine. I squirmed to get my hands free, then wrapped my arms around his wide back, ready for more than just a kiss. His muscles bunched under my palms as I dragged fingers over his skin, silently thankful for how quickly he was recovering from the coma. I slipped my fingers up into the soft, short curls at the back of his head and shifted so our bodies fit together as one.
His mouth remained soft, easy, slow. Too slow.
I wanted out of my clothes. Wanted him out of his. I caught at the waistband of his boxers and drew them down just enough I could stroke the edge of his hip bones.Finally, his tongue dragged delicious warmth across my lips. I opened my mouth and his tongue dipped deeper. A shock of need rolled beneath my skin, and I caught my breath.
Oh, baby. If he kept kissing me like that, I’d eat all the quiche he wanted to cook.
Then he pulled away, dragging all of the covers with him.
“Wait, where are you going?”
“Those omelets aren’t going to cook themselves. Deal was hot breakfast.” He mercilessly shucked the covers down to the foot of the bed and grinned.
Cold air sent goose bumps over my bare legs and arms. “Oh, you are such a sore loser. Winner gets to stay in bed—warm.” I sat and crawled down for the covers, bringing them back up over my shoulders. It was ten o’clock in the morning. I wasn’t planning to get out of bed until noon if at all possible.
“Sore loser? You do know I let you win?”
“You did not.”
“Throwing rock three times in a row? Yes, I did. You make your eggs too runny.”
“I cannot believe you are critiquing my kitchen skills in my own home.”
“Not your skills. Just your eggs.” He stood. “Since you’re awake, how about winner sets the table?”
“Winner doesn’t want a formal breakfast.”
He strode out of the room wearing nothing but his boxers and the fine skin he’d been born with, though he grabbed a T-shirt from the dresser top.
“Not feeding it to you in bed,” he called back. “Again.”
I smiled and snuggled deeper into the blankets. “Didn’t want you to.” Okay, that was a lie. Even though breakfast in bed would be a really nice way to begin the day, it was probably time to start behaving like regular people instead of honeymooners.
I took a minute to stretch out and hog the bed all to myself. Zay’s half was still warm and smelled of his cologne. I closed my eyes and savored the uncommon sensation of not hurting, not worrying, and not running for my life.
Things were good in my life. Right here, right this minute. It felt good to be happy. And I wanted it to last forever.
The sizzle of bacon hitting the pan made me smile, and then the salt and maple aromas were joined by the rich, almost chocolate scent of fresh brewed coffee.
I knew I should get out of bed. If not to set the table, maybe to harass Zay while he cooked. But the bed felt too good to leave behind. Just five minutes more of blankets and bliss.
I woke to the sound of my front door opening.
We weren’t expecting anyone. Maybe Shame decided to drop in. I heard voices. Two. Zay and a man I couldn’t quite place. My landlord?
I got out of bed and put my robe on over my shorts and tank. I strolled into the living room. Zay stood in the middle of the room, his back toward me, hands up and out to the side.
It was not my landlord who had walked into my apartment.
It was Dane Lanister, Sedra’s bodyguard. He was not a handsome man, his eyes too close together in his long, squared-off face, his lips too thin, but he had that thief or professional hit man way of fading into the crowd. His clothes were indistinct—slacks and a gray jacket—and even though he was a member of the Authority, he’d been absent since before we fought the Veiled. I’d last seen him during the wild-magic storm when Jingo Jingo, my ex–Death-magic teacher and current Authority betrayer, had kidnapped Sedra.
The gun in his hand was new too.
He lifted the gun and aimed it at both of us.
“Don’t move, don’t cast magic, and don’t make a sound, or I will kill you both.”
Magic is fast. Bullets are faster. And neither Zay nor I was in any shape to dodge bullets.
I held very still, the thump of my own heartbeat in my ears so loud, I almost couldn’t hear Dane over the noise of it. How had he gotten in? I realized it wouldn’t have been hard. Last I knew, last Zay knew, Dane was a good guy. One of the people in the Authority who was trying to make sure magic was safe for everyone. There was no reason to suspect he would want to point a gun at us.
“We are going to do this quietly,” he said. “Very quietly.”
He stepped into the room, and two other men, one who looked like he wrestled in the heavyweight division and another, shorter man who looked like he could take him, followed behind. I didn’t know them, or at least I didn’t think I did. They shut the door, and it made no sound. Mute spells.
They were using magic to make sure no one above or below us heard what was happening.
“I have business with you, Allison,” Dane said. “Something I should have finished months ago. Don’t,” he said to Zay, who had opened his mouth and inhaled, “or I will shoot her between the eyes this time.”
This time? My stomach twisted, and I wanted to vomit. I didn’t know what other time he was talking about, but I had two bullet scars I didn’t remember receiving. And even though I had no memory of him shooting me, my body—my adrenaline—made it clear he was responsible for at least one of my scars.
Zay did not move, did not twitch a muscle, did not cast magic, did not say a thing.
I tried to pick up the pieces of my brain, to think of what I could do to stop this so we didn’t wind up dead. What weapons did I have? Magic. But I’d have to move to use it, and then I’d be dead.
I knew Zayvion was going over the possibilities too. I wasn’t touching him, so I had no idea what he was thinking. We couldn’t read each other’s minds enough for this to be a coordinated effort.
The two men strode across the room, smiling and silent, straight toward Zayvion. Without breaking stride, they both flicked their fingers, releasing an Illusion they’d been holding. I could hear more people behind us, maybe two—no, three.
They’d used Illusion to give them time to spread out into the room. Illusion so well cast, I couldn’t smell the magic they were using for it. There could be an army of people in the room right now, with guns, knives, and swords at our backs.
My skin crawled. It was everything I could do not to turn and look, but Dane’s gun was unwavering. Soft footsteps scuffled across the carpet. I counted up to six intruders in the room. Two in front closing in fast on Zayvion, maybe three behind doing the same, and Dane, still just on this side of the closed door, the barrel of his gun steady, finger on the trigger.
They hit Zayvion from behind. The Mute spell made sure I didn’t hear what they hit him with. It might have been magic. It might have been a crowbar. He grunted and crumpled to the floor, unconscious.
“Eyes on me, Beckstrom.”
I did as he said, trying to see what they were doing to Zayvion with my peripheral vision. No luck.
“What do you want?” I asked.
I heard the ratchet of handcuffs opening, and then Zay was dragged to the far corner of my living room toward the radiator.
I chanced a look over my shoulder.
“Your attention, Allison,” Dane said calmly, far too calmly, “or I will shoot you. You don’t have to be standing for what I want out of you.”
Zay was bleeding, out cold. Five men, not four, were handcuffing, gagging, and blindfolding him. They all had guns too. I heard the meaty thump of a boot slamming into muscle. Probably ribs. I hoped it was just ribs.
I turned back to Dane. Furious. I didn’t know how, but I was going to take him down.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Do you even know what will happen to you when the Authority finds out about this?” Buying time, really. I didn’t care what he thought was going to happen. I needed a minute to figure out what I could do to him and his five friends without hurting Zay. In theory, I could call on enough magic to burn this place to the ground. I had enough magic at my fingertips, even without the small magic I’d sacrificed in death to do it. But I’d have to pay just as big a price as the spell I cast, and then I’d be nothing but ashes and burnt bones.
I didn’t have any weapons—which scared the hell out of me, and that, in turn, only made me more angry.
I was good at angry.
He motioned with the gun. “Now that Zayvion is out of the way, you have two choices. Do what I tell you to do, or bleed.”
If I lifted my hand to cast magic, I’d be on the ground bleeding. And I did not want to fall to the floor with six angry, armed men in the room.
“All right,” I said. “What do you want?”
Dad? I thought. I knew he was still there, still in my mind. But he had been silent for three days. Either he was too weak to help, or he was hiding from Dane. I didn’t think Dane knew my dad was in my head.
No, he had to know. I’d been trying to convince everyone in the Authority my dad was in my head for months now. Great.
“You are a problem,” Dane said. “And the easiest way to get rid of a problem is to kill it. Simple, efficient, gone. A gun to the back of the head, a knife through the spine, magic to boil your blood, crush your skull, stop your heart. The kind of death we gave your father, Greyson and I. The kind of death I will give you. But first, I want to know where Daniel is keeping Sedra.”
Holy crap. I knew Greyson was a part of my dad’s murder, along with James Hoskil, but I did not know who else had been involved—had no idea Dane had been involved.
“My dad’s dead,” I said, anger steadying my voice. “He’s not keeping Sedra anywhere. Jingo Jingo has her.”
“A technicality. Jingo is working for your father. Carrying out what I admit is a very comprehensive plan to hold Sedra hostage and use her as sacrifice to bring Mikhail back into power. I don’t know what Daniel intends to get out of that. And I don’t care. Tell me where she is.”
“I don’t know. Dad never told me his plans.”
“Oh, he told you. You may not remember it.” He paced toward me. “Daniel was paranoid about how much information any one person should be allowed to access. But not you. He told everything to you. You just don’t remember.”
He stopped. Not close enough for me to make a grab for his gun, but close enough that I could smell the old-vitamin stink of him. One sniff and a wash of fear rolled through me. I remembered that smell. That smell meant pain. Even though I was furious, a whimper filled my throat.
“The information, your father’s information, is in your head,” he said with a tight smile. “All I have to do is pull it out of you.”
The men behind me were moving. I couldn’t hear them, but I felt their footsteps vibrating beneath my bare feet, coming closer.
“Your father Closed you many times. Used you. He’s been taking your memories away since the accident when you were five years old.”
A high ringing started in my ears; my heartbeat thrummed behind it. I was breathing too fast. I didn’t know if I was angry, panicked, or about to be sick. I didn’t remember an accident. I didn’t remember my dad Closing me.
That didn’t mean those things hadn’t happened.
He had to be lying. He had to be trying to knock me off my footing, to break me down so he could get me to tell him where Sedra was.
I didn’t want to believe the bastard, but I knew, somehow I knew, every word was the truth.
His eyebrows lifted. “You didn’t know, did you?” He shook his head. “He never even trusted you with that much. Isn’t that sad? And now he’s in there, isn’t he? Filling up the holes in you he’s been making for himself all these years. Taking up the room he’s carved out in you.”
“I told you I don’t know where Sedra is,” I said. “We’re all looking for her. If you’d been here the last few weeks, you’d know that. Where have you been? Why haven’t you been helping us look for her?”
“I know who my allies are,” he snapped. He lifted the gun slightly, aiming at my head. Then, in a voice clipped with anger: “Tell your father I want to talk to him.”
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