Authors: Karen Nichols
“I’ll get her to eat something and see about the guest room,” for now, his wolf said possessively. “I’ll keep the lines open, Jase. Be careful.”
“Yeah….that’s top of my list right now,” he growled and stalked out of the kitchen toward his bedroom.
“He’s angry,” she said softly, laying out meat and reaching for the cheese.
“He’s seriously pissed at the moment,” Nick turned to see the look in her eyes.
“And it’s not your fault. He’s not pissed at you.”
“Set those appointments and see what you can find on that other issue we were talking about,” Jase held the black helmet in one hand, keys in the other. “I’ll be a few hours.”
“Try persuasion….our bail balance is depleted for the month,” Nick shouted after him, the door slamming a few seconds later.
Brea carefully closed things she was finished using and carried them to the fridge, watching the dark haired man curiously.
“You found me on the beach?”
“Whoever it was brought you out here,” he nodded toward the main door. “We had a lot of fog this morning. I think they figured they could get you to the beach without anyone noticing. If the storm had been a little faster, I might not have seen them at all.”
“Thank you. I don’t know…”
“No one’s been bothering you?” It sounded lame even to him since leaving someone to die with slit wrists on a stormy beach seemed a little more than a bothering offense.
“No…..I don’t even have a place for being bothered,” she sighed thickly. “I work, I run and I work some more. I love cooking. I love my…..my shop….” Her fingers pressed hard against the full lower lip that shook. She ground her teeth together before 20
lifting the sandwich and taking a bite. The sandwich barely made it to the plate, her wrist turned up. Wide eyes stared at the obviously fresh scar, her head shaking adamantly. “I didn’t…..I’d never….”
Nick scratched his jaw and went to the other room. He’d slid the knife into a bag when they brought it home. He showed it to her.
“We knew you’d been hurt. We could smell the blood,” Nick laid the bag down before realizing what he’d said, those damnable wide eyes blinking up at him.
“You…..smelled…..there was blood?” Came the weak question, her face paling a little more.
“We just knew something was off, Brea, that’s all. The other two just left you there and drove off, so me and Jase went to see what was going on. The storm was blowing in and you just laid there,” Nick watched as she used one finger and pushed the blade away. He took it and set it on top of the fridge out of sight.
“I’m not cut.” Her head shook again. “I’m not….see….” she held up her wrists, her tone adamant.
Nick sat and leaned back in the chair. “It’s your blood and you were cut. The quilt you were on is soaked with it. Somehow…..”
“You could be wrong,” she whispered furiously, not tasting the latest bite of sandwich in her mouth. It took half a glass of water to get it to swallow.
“How’s your head?”
Brea stared, one hand up and rubbing where the lump should have been. She shrugged. “Fine. I heal fast. Mom always said it was genetic,” she answered, pushing 21
that aside. “You saw them? You saw the people who took me out on the beach?” Heal fast? Nick added that tidbit to the column where slashed wrists sealed tight and healed.
“No. There was too much fog for identification. I didn’t…..I saw them while I was drinking my tea, but they didn’t register right away. Not as….a problem,” he explained.
“Until Jase mentioned the storm. Then we both wondered why friends would leave you out there alone. When we didn’t see you move, we went to check and…..” he shrugged lightly. “Found you out like a light. Blood was all over the quilt but you weren’t….cut.
That we could see.”
“I heal fast,” she whispered again, shakily.
“Anyway….Jase collected you and I grabbed the quilt and your pack and we brought you here. Then that storm hit. You slept through the thunder,” he told her with a little smile. “So what kind of teas and coffees did you make? I’m the notorious tea drinker in the house. Jase can’t function without enough caffeine to sink a ship.”
“I blended them with….with other beans and teas and…and with spices and ground the beans….” Squeezed her eyes closed tightly together. “And made new flavors. We served iced coffees and teas, too….along with the pastries and breads.
They burned my building to the ground,” she whispered in a painful rush.
“We have friends in Newburg, Brea. We’ll get some answers and figure out what’s happening,” Nick had placed his palm over hers and now watched as she opened her eyes and looked at the hand. Her palm tilted up at the wrist, her fingers sliding between his and curled closed before she let herself nod.
Brea sat staring at the strong, tanned hand clasping hers. Safe was one of the words echoing inside her. Protected. Her head tipped to the side, shaking slowly before pulling her fingers free and wrapping them around the glass of ice water and taking a long drink.
“Have you been together long?” She asked when she was sure her voice would work, both hands now wrapped around the sandwich. Curious eyes peeked up through thick lashes at the silence from the other side of the table.
Nick blinked and stared, listening to the question a second time in his mind. All the time staring into those bottomless almost gold eyes.
“I’m sorry. Did I say something….” Brea leaned over a little, one hand up and waving in front of his face. She followed his gaze to the freckles dotting her chest and flushed pink. Maybe her question was a little too personal.
“Together?” His head snapped up at the all too familiar question. “Jase? Me?” Nick tore his gaze from the freckles and swore. “Sorry. No. Oh, hell no…..we’re business partners. Friends since about the age of five. We’re not…..no….not like that.”
“Sorry,” Brea murmured, swallowing and taking another bite. If her mouth was full, she couldn’t say something really stupid. Again.
“I know this isn’t easy, Brea, but can you think of anything….any reason, no matter how odd it might seem….why someone would do this to you?” Nick went to the fridge and poured some of the tea into a tall glass before adding the ice and leaning against the counter, watching her as she ate.
“Someone’s been leaving me notes. Telling me to leave town. All my friends at there. Why would I leave and isolate myself that way?” She struggled to clear her throat. “They’re in my pack.” He set the glass down and almost left until he realized it was her pack. He was waiting for permission, she realized. “You can get them. They’re in a little pocket on the side. Like I said, I don’t have secrets.” Brea ate the sandwich, barely tasting it and she knew it was really good ham.
Flavorful. And the bread was the kind she liked best, filled with chewy seeds and whole grains. Of course, that was a little health offset by the gobs of mayo she slathered on the bread, but hey, everyone’s gotta have a vice or two.
Nick walked back, pieces of paper fanning out in his fingers, his head bent until he reached the counter.
“When did you get these, Brea?”
“They started a week after….god, it’s been a hell of a spring,” she whispered.
“After your parents died?”
“They didn’t die! They were killed!” She said loudly, angrily, her palm up and on her lips seconds later. “I’m sorry….so sorry…..”
“What happened?” He asked firmly. “We can’t help without information, Brea.
Only you have the information.”
Nick should have been expecting this. He winced at the heavy chair crashing behind her when she surged to her feet, two arms flailing above her head.
“Me? I don’t have anything! I don’t know anything! I don’t have a place to live, I don’t have clothes, I don’t have my shop! Someone broke into their house and killed them,” she heard the anger, felt the fury inside her as she paced, picking up the chair and striding the length of the long kitchen dining area. “The police said it was a random home invasion...then the house exploded! They never even found the….found the….” She hated the tears in her voice, one palm up and flat when he moved to come to her.
“Don’t. Just. Don’t. You wanted information but I don’t have any. I don’t know. They were teachers! In a little nowhere town of Newburg on the coast of Washington.
Mother taught little kids in first grade and dad taught physics in high school.” Her hands crossed over her, palms rubbing along her arms. She walked to the back door and opened it, breathing deeply.
Nick didn’t have an idea why someone wanted her to disappear, but he was pretty sure the things levitating over his table were a good clue. He swallowed slowly as they drifted back to the surface. His gaze whipping to the woman staring into the light mist falling after the storm had continued its rage inland.
Alrighty then, he mused as he puffed out a very slow stream of air.
If she was any kind of magic, why hadn’t they known? Why hadn’t they been able to tell? It was natural for them. It was part of their make-up to be able to recognize various breeds and species.
“I’ll be in the other room, Brea,” Nick saw her nod. He could feel the pain inside her and knew she was crying again but he didn’t know how to help, how to make the pain go away. He couldn’t give her that right now because she wouldn’t be willing to accept it or see it for what it was meant. But he could work to find answers for her.
He stood facing the entry way so he could see her and pulled his phone free, hoping Jase was off the bike. He got lucky.
“Jase….we need a magic reader.”
“A reader? What the hell….” Jase had been leaning on the bike, staring at the taped off steaming remains of what was once a brightly colored café. “She’s some kind of magic? No, hell no. We’d know.” He said firmly, confidently. “We’d know.”
“We didn’t and I just watched everything on the table float in the air when she lost her temper,” Nick said quietly. “She didn’t see it. She was pacing and crying and….trust me….something’s locked inside her. She has a collection of typed notes, too.
Warning her to leave Newburg. She said they began just after her parents were killed.”
“So someone wants her gone because of her gift? That she isn’t even aware of?” Jase shoved his free hand through the thick blonde strands. “I’m at the café now.
Someone made certain there wasn’t a thing left. I talked to one of the investigating officers. Shared the military thing…..he said they can’t identify the accelerant used.”
“Ahh…..magic. Why not leave her inside then? Instead of carting her to the beach?”
“Make it look like suicide,” he shook his head. “But the lump on her head would have made them suspicious.”
“There is no lump on her head,” Nick said quietly. “It’s gone already. She says she heals fast.”
“We need a reader. I’ll see if someone we know can come out over the weekend.
Otherwise…..how is she?”
“Gorgeous. Smart. Angry as hell,” he frowned and leaned over to peer into the kitchen. “And baking. Which might be the best thing for her right now. Something that feels normal.”
“I’ll be back in an hour or two. What size you think she is? I’ll pick up some clothes and stuff,” he looked at the charcoal beams and belongings. “There’s nothing to salvage.”
“Her parents were killed in what the police are calling a home invasion, and the house supposedly goes up in a gas explosion,” Nick didn’t try and hide the fury in his tone.
“Okay. Someone came into town, took out her parents and wanted her gone.
“She’s a threat to them somehow?”
“With an unknown power that she’s unaware of and probably can’t control worth shit at the moment. But someone is scared of her enough to want her gone,” Jase let all that drift around inside his head. “Later. I’m going to ask questions and spend money.”
“Be careful. If someone is watching….”
“I won’t lead them home. Keep the alarms on, Nick.” Nick went to the panel before going to the safe in his bedroom. He didn’t need 27
the gun. He could have handled most anything with claws and fangs. But somehow he just didn’t think Brea was ready for that little tidbit of information yet. He slid the weapon into the drawer at his side and went back to work on the stack of applicants.
He was never really sure of all the things in the pantry or cabinets. He knew there were things he liked and he knew where to find them. He knew occasionally baked goods appeared on the counters with notes not to eat them all at one sitting.
Mrs. Aimes had a habit of treating them like they were seven and so in retaliation, they usually devoured whatever it was with huge glasses of cold milk and heard about it the next time she showed up to clean and cook for them.
It was a fair trade.
When the smells began filling the house, Nick felt his stomach growl and pushed away from the computer at the same time he heard the beeps alerting them of someone coming through the main gate. He looked out and watched the large bike cruise along the drive to the garage and reset the alarms on the gates.
Jase came through the laundry room, several large bags in his hands and his feet bare, his boots left in the garage. Silver-grey eyes went to his friend, one brow raised curiously.
“I don’t know. She hasn’t come out of the kitchen since I called you,” Nick looked at the packages and laughed. “Got a little nuts, did you?”
“She’s got nothing,” he shrugged, snagging her pack and heading down the hall to the guest room. He left everything in the center of the bed before returning to the living room. “I’m starving.”
They went into the large kitchen quietly, both of them coming to a halt at the form bent over and leaning on the counter, fingers turning pages in a cookbook that must have belonged to Mrs. Aimes. They’d never opened it before.
Two sets of male eyes stared at the upturned behind. She’d taken her shoes off, toes flexing that were painted an alarming shade of purple.
Brea felt warm. Really warm.
Like lasers were aimed at her ass.
She straightened up slowly, jumping a little when she turned to find them staring. Like she was dinner and it was long past feeding time. She gestured to the table, hoping to distract that look in their eyes.
They hadn’t even noticed the table she’d laid out. Two scowls going from the food she was laying out to the woman silently presenting them with dinner.
“I cook when I’m upset,” she said simply. “I don’t know what either of you likes….but the things were in the freezer and fridge, so I figured…..” She laughed when two full grown men over six foot three scrambled for seats and waited politely.
“Okay….I guess it’s okay then. Neither one of you cooks?”
“Define cooks,” Nick suggested, reaching for a platter with a browned roast of boneless pork surrounded by small carrots and potatoes.
“Mrs. Aimes buys things we like and stocks the pantry and fridge. She cooks when she’s here and leaves containers in the freezer,” Jase accepted the platter, the low growl emanating from his stomach one of keen anticipation.
“I noticed. But there are all sorts of cuts of meat and vegetables in the fridge,” 29
she met the two sets of blank eyes with a laugh.
“You have a beautiful smile,” Nick said easily, offering her the platter and reaching for the gravy and biscuits.
“All hungry people say that,” she shrugged it off, putting food on her plate and eating. “Thank you for not…..for getting involved. I suppose I have to go talk to the police again. They think I’m paranoid.”
“Did you show them the letters?” Nick returned after swallowing and sighing hungrily.
“No. Yes….at first. No…I tried telling them it wasn’t a home invasion. I know my parents. They’re careful and smart,” she said firmly. “No one listened. Then I start getting those notes….I gave the first two to the police….they passed it off as a prank,” she pushed things around on her plate. Spearing a carrot now and then and eating, she didn’t pay attention to the food vanishing. Or a few things floating above the table top.
“This is delicious, Brea,” Jase reached for a few floating things and Nick the others, settling them back by the time she looked up at them.
“Mom always told me it was easy to cook for starving guys.”
“We’re pitiful. Helpless,” Nick commented, a carefully applied puppy-dog look in eyes that teased.
“He’s right,” Jase chimed in. “Pitiful males in need of a woman to care for us.” Brea laughed aloud, her head shaking. “Thank you both,” she was up and behind each one, hugging them tightly. She didn’t see each of them cross their eyes when her chest was pressed into their backs. “You make me laugh and I think I need that to keep 30
from crying again. And I know guys don’t handle that well.” She stood up and was going to start finding containers for the left overs, only to realize there wasn’t going to be anything leftover. Brea looked from one to the other.
“We were hungry,” Jase offered the unvoiced question.
“Brea, I put your pack in the guest room. We’d like you to stay. The place has good alarms and you’ll be safe here,” Nick wasn’t sure what to expect.
Jase picked up the invitation when she opened her mouth to protest.
“He’s right, Brea. I spoke with the police when I went into town. Let them know where you were if they needed to talk to you,” Jase finished off the vegetables and reached for another biscuit. “I can hook up your computer and you can file claims and whatever from here on the shop and your belongings.”
“You’re both very kind,” she began cleaning off the table, loading the dishwasher and picking at the food on her own plate as she worked. “The police will think I’m crazy if I tell them I was…that I was cut…..they won’t believe me.”
“I didn’t tell them that part and I think it might be a good idea not to mention it right now,” Jase slid the empty plates toward her. “We don’t have any evidence to show them you were brought here against your will. We believe you because we saw the people and we’ll make a statement if you want to tell the police. I just think it might be best to let whoever did this to think they succeeded for now.”
“It’ll give you a chance to rest and grieve. I don’t think you took the time for that before, Brea,” Nick had watched how little she ate. Both at lunch and now. She picked at her food, nibbling and unable to stay in one place for long.