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Authors: Diana Pharaoh Francis

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BOOK: Edge of Dreams
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Did I mention my sister isn’t talking to me? She’s pissed I let him walk away without dragging him to see her. Since then he’s been nulling his trace so I can’t find him. Of course, if he can afford the nulls to do that, maybe that’s a sign he’s not drugged out of his gourd. I can’t be all unhappy he’s off the grid. He was one of the people who tried to kill me. Sure, he was drugged up at the time, and they’d tampered with his head, but he’d never even apologized. He wasn’t the same man my sister had fallen in love with. I was just as happy to see him stay away from her. Besides, he was as wanted by the Tyet as I was. Not to mention, he was tangled up with the FBI. My sister didn’t need that kind of trouble.

Patti returned. She pushed up my sleeve to reveal the cut. It was about two inches long. I looked away as she cleaned it with warm water and a washcloth. I gritted my teeth and sucked in a breath.

“Hurts, doesn’t it? Maybe you’ll think twice about going to the Bottoms next time. At least take one of your goon squad. How did you lose them, anyhow?”

“I know the city better and I make good nulls.”

It actually hadn’t been that easy. I’d dodged through several buildings and into the subway, then switched lines and jumped off at a random spot. They’d followed me all the way to that point, but I had jumped the train quicker than they could, and by the time they could get back to where I’d ditched them, I was long gone. Nulling my trace meant that I hadn’t left any trail for them to follow once they no longer had eyes on me.

“Any idea yet who’s paying them to watch you?” Patti dabbed on some disinfectant ointment and then wrapped my arm with some gauze, followed by some hot-pink vet wrap. One of these days, I was going to buy myself some good heal-alls. Now that I had some money, I could afford a couple, and since I kept getting myself hurt on the job, it would be smart to keep one on me.

“My goons have got to be from Price or Touray. Neither of them wants me to fall into the wrong hands.”

I was guessing it was Touray, not Price, though. I tried not to feel like I’d lost my pet kitten. After all, I’d told Price to stay away from me, and one of the things I love best about him is that he respects my boundaries. Or maybe he’d given up on me. It’s not like I’d tried to call him or anything since I booted him out of my life. He might have figured out he wasn’t all that into me, that it was all just a case of the two of us getting thrown together in an intense situation and hormones just took over.

Or maybe he figured I just wasn’t worth it. After I’d ended us, I’d broken the tab he’d used to lojack me before I went home. I suppose that was a sign I didn’t really love him as much as my heart seemed to think I did. I didn’t trust him enough to let him know where I lived. He wasn’t stupid. He’d have gotten that message loud and clear. So either he was respecting my wishes and letting me figure out my life, or he was over me. Why did both those possibilities hurt the same?

“I’m a contrary bitch,” I told Patti as she pulled my sleeve back down. Hopefully the hole and the blood weren’t terribly obvious. My arm was on fire. The rest of me was starting to throb and tingle as the numbness wore off, and I started to warm up. Deep inside, I could feel the fluttering of chills waiting to erupt.

“You won’t catch me arguing with that,” Patti said.

I laughed. “Tell me why we are friends again?”

“Because we both need someone to help bury the bodies, no questions asked. Plus, I’m not sure anyone else will put up with you. Oh, that reminds me, your stepmother called me.”

“She called
you
?” I’d been dodging Mel’s calls. After I’d recovered from rescuing Josh, I’d let my stepbrother Leo update the rest of the family. Or rather, I’d totally ducked out on the drama of telling my family how much trouble I’d gotten myself into and that I’d fallen in love with a Tyet man. That, and I wanted to keep them safe.

I loved Mel. She’d been just as much a mother to me as my own had been. I’d always felt ridiculously guilty that my father had left her and me and everybody else without a word. Worse, I couldn’t track him. He was just gone. All his trace had vanished liked he’d never existed. It was totally impossible, and yet that’s the way it was. Mel couldn’t remarry, couldn’t move on in any way—my dad wasn’t dead. But this time it wasn’t the guilt that made me avoid her. I’d become a danger to my entire family. I couldn’t pretend they didn’t exist, but I could pretend not to have any real connection. At least until I figured out how to protect them. And me. I needed to figure that out, too.

“Apparently she was tired of talking to your answering machine. She said she expects you for dinner a week from Saturday. Six o’clock sharp. She also said, and I quote, ‘no excuses will be accepted.’”

“I guess I have Saturday night plans next week. My bathtub will be so sad. It’ll be the fifth Saturday in a row I’ve broken our date.”

“There’s always this week.”

“I already told Ben I’d help clean the kitchen this week after you guys close.”

“I’d say you lead a very boring life, but getting shot, stabbed, and other various and sundry scrapes and scares argue to the contrary,” Patti said. “You might want to get that wound tinkered before you help Ben. Most definitely before your dinner. Mel will notice real quick that you’ve got a bad wing.”

“She probably already knows. I swear the woman has her own intelligence network better than the NSA or the FBI or anybody else.”

“Good thing she doesn’t work for the Tyet or you’d be in trouble. Maybe you should make her your secret weapon.”

“Right. Get my stepmother involved in my mess. Good plan.”

Patti shrugged. “That’s what the mafia families all were—families. At least you can trust her. And your brothers.”

“Seriously? My brothers are jewelers.”

“Your brothers are expert metal tinkers. They are also jewelers. Your stepmother is a reader and a damned good one.”

It was true. Mel had worked for a while as a cop consultant when she was younger, reading the emotions of suspects and witnesses. It wasn’t legal to use dreamers, but you could use a reader, since they were picking up emotions, not trespassing into thoughts. After a few years, she’d gone on to work with mental patients and then to consult for the government. She’d spent a lot of time traveling to Washington and other places, helping with various negotiations and treaties.

She’d retired a few years ago at the ripe old age of fifty-two and now did some teaching at the university and spoke at conferences all over the globe. At dinner, she would read me like a book and make me talk about everything. I groaned. This was going to be a shark feeding frenzy, and I was going to provide the bait.

“Was that groan because you know I’m right about leaning on your family?” Patti finished packing up her medical supplies and shoved the box up on a shelf above my head.

“No. I just realized how painful next Saturday night is going to be.”

“Better than being dead.”

“Is that a choice? At the moment I’d consider it.”

She put her hand out to help me up. I towered over her by a good nine inches. “You can’t escape your family that easily.” She looked me over.

I was wearing my gun in a nylon shoulder holster, both gifts, courtesy of Gregg Touray. He’d sent them over with a message about how he didn’t want me to be defenseless. I’d destroyed my own gun with magic in the course of rescuing Josh. He’d also sent over a Kevlar vest, but I’d left it rolled up on my dresser.

Patti put her hands on her hips, her brows arching. “Did it not occur to you to approach that rat-bastard surgeon with your gun drawn?”

I flushed. It hadn’t, really. Before a month ago, I’d forgotten to carry my gun half the time, much less draw it. I was going to have to get better about it. I used to carry a Chinese telescoping baton. I needed to get into a store and replace it. In my defense, until recently my cover had been that I was a not terribly competent tracer, and the cases which came my way hadn’t been that dangerous. Except maybe for the occasional missing child cases I had worked anonymously and pro bono.

Patti shook her head at me. “Look up
careful
in the dictionary. You might want to learn about it. Now, come on. I’ll introduce you to your next client, and then I’ll have Ben cook you something.”

I didn’t bother to tell her what I wanted to eat. Patti didn’t work that way. She decided what I needed, and I didn’t complain or I might find myself eating liverwurst on burned toast for a week. I was not willing to go through that hell again.

I followed her up the hallway past the kitchen. I waved at Ben, Patti’s partner and a cooker. It was a branch of maker magic. There are five major kinds of magic: tracer, maker, binder, dreamer, traveller. Then there are tons of minor magics that are offshoots of the others. So for instance, my stepmom is a reader, which is related to dreamer magic. My stepbrothers are metalsmiths, which is an offshoot of maker magic. As a cooker, there’s nothing Ben can’t do with food.

It was well after the lunch rush, but the diner was still busy. Ellie, a plump, bubbly waitress with curly hair that hung to her waist slung coffee and plates and chattered brightly with the customers. Before Patti could introduce me to my new client, the door jingled, and a man stepped in followed by another man and a tough-looking woman.

“Oh
hell
no,” Patti muttered and stomped up the aisle to meet them. No mean feat in stiletto boots.

I hung back. These three were part of my bodyguard squad. They’d showed up on the diner’s doorstep a day after I’d left the safety of the healer’s house six weeks ago. They followed me everywhere, or tried. I didn’t give them the slip often, but sometimes it was necessary. Like when I went to the Bottoms. It was also necessary when I went home. The first time they tried to shadow me there, I scraped them off and didn’t come back to the diner for almost a week. By the time I showed up, they were going out of their gourds.

We pretty much had ourselves a Mexican standoff. That’s when we had our come-to-Jesus meeting. I wasn’t footing the bill for their protection, so they didn’t figure they answered to me. On the other hand, they couldn’t do their job if I sneaked off and got myself killed. They’d probably end up filleted or skewered pretty quick after, Tyet justice being what it was. So we made a deal. I’d come into the diner first thing every morning and report in, and they wouldn’t try to follow me home. It was the only concession they were willing to make.

“What the hell good are you idiots if you let her go off and get stabbed?” Patti demanded of Dalton, the one in charge.

He had a long face with a large, blunt nose, straight eyebrows, full lips, and a close-cut mustache and beard. His skin was light copper. What always caught me up short were his eyes. Instead of the dark brown his coloring suggested, they were silvered steel. Definitely not natural. They were some sort of magical implant, but what they did was impossible to guess. He was a good three or four inches taller than me, and next to him, Patti looked like a child. If it came to a fight, I’d put my money on her.

As she continued to harangue him, he turned his silver stare on me, then strode up the aisle to stop right in front of me. I held my ground, unwilling to be intimidated. Everything about him was a threat. He had muscles on his muscles, and danger radiated from him like smoke off a bonfire. He wore animosity like a shield.

“We have to talk,” he said, his lip curling in a slight sneer.

He always sneered. I wondered if he even did it when screwing a beautiful woman. Or man. I didn’t know which way his bat swung.

He had a way of holding himself tight, like a lit piece of dynamite. There was no doubt he was pissed. I couldn’t really blame him. By risking myself, I’d risked his life and everybody else in his crew, given that the typical Tyet poor job evaluation included death. I’d have been surprised and maybe a little bit disgusted if he
wasn’t
enraged. Then again, as he liked to point out, he wasn’t working for me, so I wasn’t obligated to him in any way. Plus he’s an asshole.

“I have a client.”

His mouth twitched, and the muscles in his jaw knotted. Then his expression smoothed out. “I’ll wait.” He glanced down at the pink bandage showing through the bloody hole in my shirt. “How bad?”

“I’ll live.”

“I’ve got a heal-all.”

I should have known. “Better save it for an emergency,” I said. “I’ll see a tinker later.”

His eyes narrowed, but he nodded. “Your call.”

I blinked. It was? I scowled. What was Dalton up to? He walked away without another word. He slid onto a seat at the end of the counter, with his back to the wall, where he could see everything. His companions took seats on either side. I felt his eyes follow me as Patti motioned me toward a booth.

“What’s the point of having them around taking up space if you get mauled on their watch?” she grumbled.

“I lost them on purpose,” I reminded her.

“So? If they were worth a damn you couldn’t have done it.”

“Maybe I’m just that good,” I suggested.

“Maybe you’re just that stupid.”

“You really think I can trust them?” I asked, startled.

“I think you don’t have a choice. For fuck’s sake, Riley, you almost got yourself killed today. Again. What’s it going to take before you realize you need a little help?”

I thrust my fingers into my copper hair, pulling it loose from its ponytail. “Dammit, Patti.”

“You know I’m right.”

“I—”

Patti glared at me, daring me to argue or maybe just because I was playing with my hair in the diner and she was worried it would go flying off into the food. Her blue eyes sparked with anger. Nope. This was about putting myself into too many dangerous situations. I wasn’t going to win this argument. Not while I was still bleeding from the surgeon’s attack, anyhow. I decided to save time and irritation and give in now rather than after a long argument.

I gave an exasperated sigh. “Okay. Fine. You’re right, as usual. But that doesn’t mean I can trust them.” I hooked a thumb in the direction of Dalton and his two companions.

“So don’t. Find your own people, but stop acting like you’re Wonder Woman. You can
die
, Riley. Quit fooling around.”

I glanced at Dalton. He held his coffee cup between his palms, his silver gaze locked on me. He had to have heard every word. I turned back to Patti, refusing to feel embarrassed or guilty.

“Okay. I will. Later. Where’s this new client?”

“Right here.”

A black woman with iron-gray hair rippling along her scalp in elegant cornrows stood up out of the booth behind Patti. She wore a navy-blue suit with an ivory turtleneck and heavy black boots. Underneath her jacket on her hip was a holstered gun. On her belt I could see the gold shine of a police badge.

BOOK: Edge of Dreams
7.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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