“I don’t fit in,” he said, wincing now. “Not unless I black out some teeth.”

“Snob.” He was joking, but I knew Hunter well enough to know his tastes ran to classical rather than country. In fact, in some ways I knew this man even better than the one I’d left inside that bar. Ben and I shared history, but Hunter and I had shared magic. We’d never sat down for a so-where-are-you-from? sort of discussion, but by once trading a soft-stream essence of breath tinged with a power known as the aureole, I’d seen into his soul.

We’d agreed to forget about this unearned intimacy, but that hadn’t prevented Hunter from popping up on my mental radar in bright, jarring blips. I knew he felt the same. I could sense when his thoughts snagged on me as well…and it was a knowledge that wanted to burrow through my body, take up warm residence somewhere between my belly and pelvic bone, and part my thighs. It wasn’t helping matters that Hunter seemed to be reconsidering our platonic pact, as evidenced by his appearance now. He’d been watching out for me as plainly as I’d been watching out for Ben.

“How’d you know they were going to be there?” he said, pushing from the car to stroll to the passenger’s side.

How’d you know I was going to be there? I wanted to say as I disengaged the alarm and climbed in. “I put a trace on Ben’s phone, surveillance software on his computer, and satellite on his house 24/7.” Olivia had been a self-taught computer genius, a skill set that’d been lost when I took over her identity. Fortunately, I had the resources of a casino heiress’s fortune at my disposal, and could buy as much information from her illicit contacts as I needed. The word in the underground was the hacker known as the Archer had gotten lazy, but the rumor was somewhat muted by great, flowing-and seemingly endless-stacks of green bills.

Hunter shot me an arched look as he shut the car door.

“What?” I asked defensively in the sudden, vacuumlike silence.

He tilted his head back, ostensibly to study the wide sky outside his window. “Have you ever stopped to think-”

“Not if I can help it,” I interrupted smartly, revving the engine. I already knew I wasn’t going to like the end of this rhetorical question.

“-that the fantasy of something, or someone, is often more vivid than the reality?”

“No,” I replied immediately, shifting into gear as I lifted my brows. “Have you?”

His mouth quirked, but he shrugged one shoulder so his black T-shirt stretched across his torso. “You could just let him go,” he said, his voice unexpectedly soft.

I looked at him like he’d grown a second skull. “Let the man I’ve loved since I was a teen be corrupted and tainted by one of the most evil beings in the Las Vegas valley?”

“Let the man you love,” he said, emphasizing the present tense, “make his own decisions.”

I turned back to face the road. That was the stupidest idea I’d ever heard.

Hunter was too close, watching me too carefully, and he smelled too damned good to be trapped in a car with a woman who had extrasensory perception. This wouldn’t normally be so unnerving-men looked closely at Olivia Archer all the time-but Hunter knew what tight emotions lived coiled beneath the Botox and boobs. He’d seen and, more importantly, felt the sharp nosedive my nature took whenever I truly lost my temper. Not only did he seem not to care, it appeared to interest him further. Twisted bastard.

“Look, you didn’t know me then,” I said, before he could offer me any more sage testosterone-driven advice. “And despite what you think, you don’t know me now. Ben does.”

And while attraction was one thing, true knowledge of a person was rare enough that it was still celebrated with elaborate ceremonies-a church, a woman in white, a walk down the aisle…and, in those instances, only one man waiting at the other end of it to receive her. One man was all I needed, wanted, or could handle.

Hunter sighed audibly beside me, and the accompanying scent was a lacy pattern of spice and smoke. “You really know nothing of a man’s reaction to spurned love, do you?”

“And you do?” I shot back.

“I’m an expert.”

The quiet rejoinder made me wish I’d said nothing, and I shifted uncomfortably. When your senses were so keen you could sharpen knives on them, when you could feel life pulsing from the plant life around you, and the heat retained in the concrete even after a winter’s day, the desire radiating from a person you were forever yoked to with magical power was like licking sunshine.

I’d be lying if I said a part of me didn’t want to incinerate myself in that fire, to see how far and deep the connection could go, and if a physical joining could compete with, or complete, the breath-stealing intimacy of shared souls. Another, stubborn part of me said that wasn’t fair. If I’d been allowed to share Ben’s thoughts, if pieces of his soul and psyche could’ve been caught and interwoven with mine, I knew I’d feel the same intensity- probably more-for him. Hunter and I had simply crossed a frontier that Ben could never reach.

We remained silent as I gunned it down Boulder Highway, swiveling onto the 95 without slowing to head downtown. The stench of Shadow activity was as easy to follow as if it was transmitted through my GPS, and though it’d been less than a year since my extrasensory abilities had fired to life, using them was as natural to me as moving from sleep into full consciousness.

“It’s not him, you know,” Hunter said, after a bit.

I thought about Ben, probably two-stepping with Regan right now, holding her in a light, practiced hold. I remembered the way his palms had molded to my own back, and could almost feel them there now. Mine first. Mine always. Always mine. “Yes it is,” I said sadly.

“That she wants, I mean,” Hunter said, and I glanced over to find him watching me with stark compassion. “It’s you. She wants to get inside your head and injure your heart, and you’re allowing it. She knows she’s getting to you.”

He was right. My weapon hand twitched even as I nodded. I fought regret for the opportunities I hadn’t taken. I should’ve killed her five months ago when she’d first approached me as a Shadow initiate, and said she wanted to “help” me. I should’ve killed her once I discovered she knew who I was beneath the identity that was my safety and refuge and only remaining link to my dead sister. I should’ve slain her before she targeted my lover, using him to get to me. What I’d done instead was barter her life in exchange for information about the one person who, at the time, I’d have done anything to kill.

But he was dead now, and with nothing left to haggle with, Regan soon would be too. I swore it.

“Something else is causing the vibrational outbursts,” I said, changing the subject as we took the off-ramp down Casino Center Drive.

“Something else?” he asked, and I told him what Regan had said in the bathroom. Yet there wasn’t anything else in the paranormal realm-there were Shadows, there were Light, and that was it-and Hunter said as much as we veered north. I shrugged, unable to answer, knowing only that Regan’s surprise, and ultimate relief, had been real. Maybe Warren would know more when we found him.

I pulled to a stop in front of a street-side meter and switched from my impractical heels into a pair of black canvas boots with silent rubber soles, Velcro securing them tightly about my ankles. I’d have liked to change out of my black skirt and silk top, but there wasn’t time, so I locked everything but my conduit in the car, then took the lead on foot. I’d been a freelance photographer before my metamorphosis into a superhero, and had logged more hours on Vegas’s back streets than any other agent.

We slipped past the four-block stretch still remembered by locals as Glitter Gulch. Though having undergone an extensive facelift-including a canopy of light, a name change, and an exodus of most elements of urban decay-the Gulch would always be grittier and more infamous than its temptress sister, the Strip, and for that I was pleased. Long live the ninety-nine-cent shrimp cocktail.

For now, we strained to see beyond the canopy of neon and into the scarred landscape of an in-fill site, the still developing Union Park. The city had bought the railroad land that’d been Las Vegas’s original link to the rest of the world, and while the ambitious multi-use development promised to revitalize this historic urban center, right now it was a sixty-one-acre cross-hatching of cranes and gigantic mounds of earth. And a stark black void had opened up directly above the skeleton of one promising high-rise hotel and casino. I didn’t say anything about our new beard being located at what seemed to be the center of all that opaque darkness because Hunter’s stiffening posture told me he was thinking the same.

Вы читаете The Touch of Twilight
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату