Authors: Cate Dean
The shouts faded as they bounced down the road. Every single bruise and cut Claire had acquired flared back to life. She twisted her fingers into the front of Marcus’ shirt, bit down on the scream in her throat.
An eternity passed before they finally shuddered to a stop, and the engine died.
Marcus relaxed against her, his weight pressing her into the ridged floor. She reached up, shocked by the sweat that slicked his face, matted his hair.
“Marcus—” Something warm and hot dripped on her hand. “Heaven above—Mindy Kay, help me.”
They eased Marcus on to his back; when his left arm touched the floor he recoiled, let out a raw cry.
“Please, Claire,” he whispered, jerking away when she reached for him. The movement had him gasping for breath. “There is naught you can do—”
“Hold still, Marcus.”
Claire searched the ceiling, found the overhead light. It snapped on, highlighting the sweat soaked shirt, the pain on his face, the blood darkening his upper arm.
He had been shot.
sing the rental’s GPS, Eric got them to Huntsville, pulling into the gravel parking lot of the police station just after ten pm. It looked deserted.
Annie pushed the door open, but before she could get out, Eric gripped her arm.
“Did you hear that?”
Pausing, she listened. And heard nothing but the sound of nature—crickets, rustling in the bushes, the crackle of animal feet on dried leaves. She hated nature. Another reason she knew she’d be thrown out of any coven.
Not that she wanted to be part of one, but the whole love of Mother Nature, and running naked through wild forests made her shudder. And now she was throwing the mundane’s clichés at her own kind. Claire never ran naked through a forest. But then, Claire wasn’t really a witch.
Annie shut that thought down before it started tearing at her again.
“What did you hear?”
“I thought—never mind. Let’s get this done.”
They stepped inside the station, and found no one. Closer inspection revealed small pools of blood; not enough to be life threatening, but add in the smashed chair, the signs of a struggle, and Annie expected to trip over a body at any second. She just hoped it wouldn’t be Marcus. Or—
Don’t go there. You can’t—she’s gone, no matter what the dreams imply.
Rubbing at her face, suddenly exhausted, Annie sat in the nearest chair. Eric came back from the other room. “There are cells back there, and more blood. Looks like we missed the party.”
“How the hell are we supposed to find him now?”
He crouched next to her, took her hand. “Let’s do another search, and take it from there.”
With a sigh, she nodded. “I’ll start looking through . . .” Her voice faded when she touched the black three-hole punch on the desk. An echo of power clung to it—familiar power, that shouldn’t be there. Couldn’t be there—
“She was here—”
“Who?” Eric caught her arm when she pushed past him. “Talk to me.”
“Give me a minute—I have to be sure.”
She headed into the back room, drawn to the first cell. Blood smeared the denim blue blanket—not enough to endanger, but it was more than a simple cut. Hand shaking, Annie reached for the blanket. And snatched her hand away when the same energy brushed against her fingertips. Energy she had never been able to feel before. This time hate smacked her, laid over the innate goodness like an ugly stain.
She clutched the bars, and was assaulted again. Stumbling out of the cell, she caught the edge of the desk, her head rebelling against what her heart already accepted. She nearly screamed when Eric touched her shoulder.
“It was Claire,” she whispered. Turning, she met the disbelief in his eyes, understood completely. “I don’t want to believe, but she’s everywhere. Her blood is in the cell, and her energy—oh, God.”
She covered her face, grief and hope beating at her. Eric pulled her into his arms and she held on, his presence stable. Real. She pressed her face into his shoulder, the words she couldn’t say running through her mind.
Claire is alive.
eat poured off Marcus—and Claire snatched her hand away when she realized what he meant to do.
“Keep back.” She caught Mind Kay’s wrist. “He is going to heal himself.”
Marcus pushed himself up and hunched over his left arm. His figure blurred as smoke curled through him, surrounded him. The cyclone of sand and wind burst free, raw and barely controlled. The force yanked his hair out of its confinement, tossing it around the sharp-edged features.
Claire watched, fingers twisting into the hem of her sweatshirt. It was different this time—he shook inside the cyclone, the light of his soul cracked, and fading. The healing seemed to be causing him pain instead of easing it—
With a raw, anguished cry he collapsed. The storm of his power blew out, pelting them with sand before it disappeared. Claire lowered her arm and crawled over to him.
“Forgive me, Claire—I failed—”
“You saved our lives. Now stop the self-flagellation and tell me what to do.”
“There is—nothing.” He opened his eyes. Green swallowed the gold, and the pain in their depths stunned her. “You must leave me.”
“Like hell.” She leaned over him and whispered. “I’m not going anywhere without you. Not again.”
With Mindy Kay’s help, Claire got him to the open door of the van—and nearly fell out of it when she recognized their mystery driver. “Simon—”
“Let me, Claire.” He pulled Marcus to his feet, at eye level with the six foot plus Jinn. Muscles bunched under his shirt as he kept Marcus upright, half-carrying him to the cabin all but hidden in a ring of pine and oak trees.
Lea took her arm. “How are you?”
“Yeah.” She slipped one arm around Claire’s waist. “Lean on me. I know you’re exhausted.”
“You can see that?”
“Like a neon sign. Will Marcus be okay?”
Claire closed her eyes briefly. “I hope so, Lea. I may need your help.”
“Whatever I can do.”
They walked to the cabin, Lea helping her up the steps. Every injury, old and recent, ached by the time she made her way through the main room and into the bedroom.
Simon had stripped off the bloody shirt before he left them alone, giving her a clear view of the damage. Marcus opened his eyes, caught her wrist before she could touch him.
“You can do nothing for it, Claire.”
“There has to be—”
“Metal is—poison to a Jinn.” He swallowed, pain tightening the lines of his face. “It is too late—”
“As long as you’re breathing, it’s not too late.” She eased out of his grip, laid one hand on his forearm, flinching at his raw gasp. “I’m going to get this bullet out, then we will go from there.”
His whisper stopped her. “It has already crippled my power.”
She leaned over him. “I won’t give up on you. Do you understand?” He closed his eyes, tears sliding back into his hair. Her throat ached with the need to cry, to scream. Instead she kissed his forehead, startled by the feverish skin under her lips. “You hang on, Marcus.”
She limped out of the bedroom, closed the door—and sagged against the wall, letting the fear take over, just for a moment.
“Claire.” Simon moved to her side, those clear green eyes studying her. “You knew about him, that he’s a Jinn.”
How he knew was a question she would have to save for later. “Since the moment we met. I had dealings with one before. Marcus is more—trustworthy than the last Jinn I encountered.”
“What can we do?”
“I’ve never had to care for a Jinn, not like this. I don’t—” She closed her eyes. “He’s dying, Simon, and I don’t know if I can save him.”
“You’re not alone.” He moved in, framed her face with strong, calloused hands. “Do you hear? Tell us what to do for you, for him.”
She took in a shaky breath, met his eyes. “We need to get the bullet out—it’s like poison to his system. Then we have to find a way to draw out what is already causing damage.” She closed her fingers over Simon’s wrist. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“I saw this happen once. I won’t stand by and let it happen again.” He let her go before she could form a question, gestured to Mindy Kay. “I have a med kit in the van.”
“Got it.” She strode to the front door, stopping to glance through the narrow sidelight before heading outside.
“I’ll sit with him, see what I can see.” She paused by Claire, kissed her cheek. “We’ll take care of him.”
Swallowing, Claire nodded, then closed her eyes, feeling the tears slide down her face.
“Take a minute.” Simon’s low, quiet voice opened her eyes.
“You’re going to be explaining that last statement before the night’s over.”
“I know it.” He held out his hand. “We deal with one crisis at a time. Marcus first, then my history with the damn witch.”
Claire studied him, and leaned in to whisper when Mindy Kay returned with a familiar medical kit.
“I look forward to it.”
nnie let Eric guide her out of the police station. Still rocked by what she’d felt, she tried to put logic on the impossible. It wouldn’t fit. She was probably hallucinating about Claire being here, wanting her dreams to be true, and not just dreams.
Cold air slapped her as they stepped outside, and she realized just how frantic and crazy she’d been in there. Touching her cheeks reinforced it; the skin under her fingers was hot, and she knew if she looked in a mirror she would see a deep flush.
Eric muttered to her, words she couldn’t take in yet, and led her to the passenger side of their rental. She turned around, not wanting to see herself in the window—and froze when she caught sight of another car, parked on the side of the building.
She didn’t think—she just sprinted forward.
“Annie—where are you—Annie!”
Eric’s footsteps followed her, crunching over the gravel. She skidded on the uneven surface, slamming into the side of the car before she could stop herself. Marcus’ energy brushed over her—along with the remnants of panic and fear.
“Oh, God—” She grabbed Eric’s arm as he caught up with her. “Marcus is here.”
“I don’t know—I’ve never been able to sense anyone before, not just by touching . . .” Her voice faded, and she stepped away from him, slowly pulled the sapphire ring out of her pocket. Slipping it on her left ring finger, she watched the same blue fire spark across the stone, and felt the pull of her power as it gathered itself. “It’s my focus,” she whispered.
“What do you—”
“Claire used her amethyst pendant to help focus her power—not that she needed it.” Annie looked up at him, fear and excitement whipping through her. “Marcus has been teaching me, but I just couldn’t break through. I was terrified, after what happened with the love spell, after being taken by Natasha, knowing she could crush me without blinking. I blocked my power—it was easier than facing my own failure.”
“Hey.” He fingered curls off her cheek. “There wasn’t anything you could have done, not against a demon. Even Claire, at full strength, barely held her own. Why didn’t you tell me this before now?”
“You were already dealing with enough. And—I’m not all that sure about your comfort level with this.”
“I love you, Annie. And this,” he cradled her hand, blue fire wrapping their fingers in a glittering web. “It’s part of you.”
It was just that simple for him. And she loved him because he accepted her, without reservation. And she was one hell of a package to accept.
“I need to use your—” Eric already had his phone out. “And he mind reads. How did I ever get so lucky?”
She kissed him, hard and fast, and punched in Marcus’ number. Expecting it to go straight to voicemail, she almost dropped the phone when someone answered.
“Marcus—where the hell have you been—”
The familiar voice knocked the breath out of her. She dropped to her knees, clutching the phone. “Claire—” Tears lodged her voice in her throat.
“Where are you?”
Eric eased the phone out of her hand and turned on the speaker. “Claire, it’s Eric. Annie’s fine—just in shock.”
“Please tell me you’re not here.”
“Too late. We followed Marcus up. Is he—”
“He’s been injured. I have to go, Eric—”
“Not until you tell me where. I can track his phone if I have to,” he said, when silence met his request. “But why waste the time?”
A quiet sigh broke the silence. “The directions will be texted to your phone. Make certain you are not followed. Every life here depends on your discretion.”
The call disconnected before Annie could get her breath back. Claire’s cold, detached voice was like a slap. And it ignited Annie’s temper.
She pushed to her feet, stalked to their rental. “You navigate.” With a curse she yanked open the driver’s door. “I’ll get us there, with
“I’ll have my snit now.” She slid behind the wheel, raised her eyebrows when Eric looked at her. “That way, by the time we get there I’ll be calm enough not to smack her for talking to you like you’re a drooling idiot.”
He moved around to the passenger side and climbed into the car, checking his phone when his text notification chimed. “Leave the headlights off, and turn right out of the lot. I will never understand women.” She glanced over at him. “Not five minutes ago you wanted all the signs to point to Claire, and now that they do, you’re talking violence.”
“That wasn’t Claire talking.” Not the Claire she knew, the Claire she missed with an ache that never went away. “And I’m going to find out exactly what the hell is wrong with her—even if it requires violence.”
laire disconnected the call, and slid to the floor, shaking so badly she put the phone down before she dropped it.
Simon knelt in front of her, enveloping her hands in his warm, solid grip. “Talk to me.”