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Authors: Ann Aguirre

Hell Fire (3 page)

BOOK: Hell Fire
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Truthfully, it wasn’t just a desire to torment Chance with what he couldn’t have that led me to ask for a single room. I also couldn’t face the idea of sleeping here alone—not in this town. Wholly illogical fear clutched me tight, but then . . . fear was
usually
irrational. Most people weren’t aware enough to fear the things that could
really
hurt them.
The proprietor made a show of checking her appointment book. “Oh, I think I can accommodate you. I can give you the Magnolia room for three hundred a week. You’ll share a bath with the Plumeria, but that’s currently unoccupied. Meals are served promptly in the dining room at nine, one, and six. If you’d like to use the kitchen to fix yourselves snacks and such, I can let you have access for another forty dollars a week.”
“That sounds perfect,” Chance told her, producing three hundreds and two twenties.
That changed the woman’s demeanor measurably. “It’s a pleasure to have you stay with us. I’m Sandra Cheney. My husband, Jim, handles the repairs and restoration around the place, so you won’t see him much. Our daughter, Shannon, cleans the rooms. I do the cooking and ensure guest satisfaction.” By her expression, she’d do a
lot
to please a man who looked like Chance and carried hundreds in his wallet. I wondered what Jim would say about her dedication to customer service.
Well, I was used to that. After all, Chance was worth a second look: long and lean with vaguely Asian features, smooth brown skin, and a pair of tiger’s eyes that could melt your knees at thirty paces. When you dated a guy who looked like Chance, you got accustomed to women checking him out, but that wasn’t my problem anymore.
“Thanks,” he murmured, noncommittal. He’d gotten good at pretending not to register all the double entendres that came his way.
Sandra didn’t seem to mind, as long as he had money. “If you’ll fill out this card, I’ll get the key to the Magnolia room.”
I watched him, chuckling softly when I saw him write the name
Chance Boudreaux
. He looked about as Cajun as I did Navajo. He flicked a smile in my direction as he saw me reading over his shoulder. The man made a game out of leaving different names anywhere we stayed. People who knew him understood they’d never get more out of him regarding his true name than “Chance.”
I never had, either. I didn’t want to mind, but deep down, I did. It had taken this long for me to admit it, but I’d had enough of Chance’s secrets. Even meeting his mother, Min, hadn’t done anything to dispel the shadows around him. In fact, she encouraged the obfuscation, saying it would be dangerous for anyone to find out the truth.
But
I’d
never hurt him, at least not with a spell tied to his true name. The hurt I inflicted on him went deeper, I supposed, more than skin-deep. He still wore scars on his back, gained saving my life a few weeks earlier. Chance had sheltered me with his own body as the glass flew all around us, the result of a sending that caught us flat-footed in a warehouse, where we’d been looking for his mother.
I sighed as he signed the guest registry with a flourish. It just didn’t pay to think about such things.
Better to stay in the here and now
. I hated torturing myself with might-havebeens. While he wrapped up with Sandra, I went to the Mustang to fetch our stuff.
The night offered complete calm, not even a whisper of a breeze. Dead man’s hands ran down my spine as I studied the dark windows all around us. There should have been people running errands, going about their daily routines, right? I tried to talk myself out of misgivings that were probably imaginary. Most likely, people just hadn’t returned from work. Even knowing that, I couldn’t shake the feeling something was wrong—bad wrong.
As I returned, she was saying, “All set. Let’s go on up. You’re on the second floor. You intend to check out the historical sites, am I right? You simply can’t leave without visiting Sapelo Island.”
We let her chatter as she led the way up the polished stairs in her twill slacks and cashmere twin set. She lacked only a set of pearls to qualify as a perfect Southern hostess. When she realized I just had a backpack, and Chance, a duffel, she looked a little put out. I guess with a money roll like his, we ought to have been traveling with designer luggage.
Still, her smile dimmed only slightly. She rattled off the amenities and then told Chance he could follow the gravel trail to park the Mustang around back. I glazed over well before she left.
The click of the door jostled me out of the innkeeper-induced coma, and I took stock. She hadn’t lied; it was a nice room, done in pastels—lots of pretty pictures of magnolias and lots of Victorian lace. I liked the wallpaper with its fat candy-pink and white stripes. Sandra had done a nice job of blending colors and patterns into a sweet whole.
“I’m losing man points just by standing here.” Beside the antique brass bed, Chance looked even more masculine by contrast.
It wasn’t nearly big enough. We’d be all over each other in the night, but I still couldn’t face the idea of closing my eyes here with a wall between us. I had to own it; being here terrified me. I’d run from Kilmer as soon as I could, and I had to be out of my mind for coming back. But at least I wasn’t alone this time.
The dead dog seemed symbolic in more ways than one. If I’d had any sense, we would’ve called this thing a loss and just moved on. But I couldn’t. Running would mean I was letting them win. I deserved answers—and closure. Once I put this behind me, I hoped the dreams would stop. I’d go back to the pawnshop; go back to enjoying my quiet life.
Butch stuck his head out of my bag and whined as if in sympathy. I forced a smile and petted him in reflex. “I’m fine; don’t worry.”
Chance quirked a brow. “Saying it repeatedly doesn’t make it true, Corine.”
Because I felt hunted, fragile, I bit back. “Fine, but my mother
died
here. How would you feel about Mexico, Chance? If that mountain had been Min’s grave.”
He didn’t move; didn’t flinch. Dammit, I’d never known when I wounded him, and I still didn’t. I hated that he could read me like a book, whereas he was microfiche to me, and I didn’t know how to work the machine.
“Like you do now. And I wouldn’t stop until I had the people responsible for it. I
do
understand your reasons; I just want to make sure you can bear up. It isn’t likely to get easier, if just being here unsettles you.”
He had a point.
I exhaled. “I’m sorry. That was uncalled for. Yeah . . . I’ll hold. Don’t even worry about me.”
His smile came sad and sweet, like the dying notes of a blues sax at closing time. “I can’t help that.”
Well, I knew. I’d always think about him too. Some things just never stopped being true. My heart ached at his expression, quietly resigned but hungry for what I couldn’t give. Not when he couldn’t offer what I needed back.
More as a distraction, I set Butch down and let him run around, sniffing. He pronounced the room clean with a little yap and jumped into the armchair by the window. The little dog circled three times and then lay down on the pale yellow cushion. He’d eaten and had a drink at the last place we stopped for gas, and done his business outside town, so I expected him to be good for a while.
With the last light gone, the sky looked like a bruise over the treetops in the backyard. I gazed outward, wondering what they were doing—the men who’d murdered my mother. Were they eating their dinners and then settling in with their TVs? What the hell
happened
all those years ago?
Chance came up behind me, but he didn’t touch. I could feel his warmth just beyond my personal space, and I wanted to turn into his arms; let him hold me and kiss my throat until the hurt receded into heat.
I didn’t.
When I finally spun round, I managed to move back in the motion. “We’ll get started in the morning.” I made my tone businesslike as I checked the time on a reproduction vintage clock. “You feel like rummaging in the kitchen for us? Looks like we missed dinner.”
“Anything special you want?” Why, oh why did he have to put it that way?
“Fruit and cheese.” I hesitated. “Thanks, Chance.”
Not just for getting dinner—for everything. Without him, I had no hope of getting at the truth. We’d always possessed a symbiotic relationship, where our gifts were concerned. It was all the emotional stuff that tripped us up.
He went out the door smiling, as if he knew I’d meant more than I said and felt more for him than I wanted to admit, even now.
But then, I always had.
Out of Luck
 
 
 
 
I’d like to say things looked better in the morning, but since it was pouring rain, that would be a lie. I smuggled Butch out in my bag first thing, and we both wound up drenched. After wrapping him in a towel, I took a quick shower, which made me feel marginally better.
I gave Butch his breakfast while wondering where Chance had gone. Since he hadn’t left a note or taken the Mustang, I could only assume he’d return soon. By the time I finished braiding my long hair, he showed up with coffee. That was when I figured out he must’ve vacated the room to give me some privacy.
“Thanks.” I took the steaming mug and noted he’d doctored it with cream and sugar, just as I liked.
He was trying so hard, and sometimes I felt tempted to give in, but we hadn’t
resolved
anything. The reasons I had for leaving in the first place still resounded with truth. His luck might very well be the death of me.
Chance’s talent was also unique, which was why I’d blackmailed him into coming to Kilmer with me, after I helped him find his missing mother. He had what I called uncanny luck; with a little focus, he could shake loose whatever he needed from the cosmos. Sadly, that ability came at a terrible price. Because he got all the lucky breaks, the world balanced itself out on the person closest to him, which meant all the bad karma stuck to me when we were together.
His lover
before
me died. He’d never mentioned that . . . until a few weeks ago in Laredo. And that just underscored my wariness about him. How could we have spent years together—years!—and he’d never seen fit to tell me?
When I remembered all of that, it became easier not to succumb to temptation. The problem was, I couldn’t cut him out of my heart entirely. A certain heated look from him still had the power to turn me into hot butter.
I grabbed Butch and slid him into my bag. “Be good. Don’t make any noise.”
In answer, the dog snuggled down on top of my wallet and made himself at home. Downstairs, we ate a good breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, and biscuits; I slipped tidbits to Butch whenever the coast was clear. And on the way out, it occurred to me that Chance and I needed only another couple to qualify as a Scooby-Doo unit. I was grinning as I got into the Mustang.
“What’s so funny?” A smile started in Chance’s eyes, as if he wanted to share the joke but feared it might be at his expense.
That stung a little. I’d
never
hurt him on purpose. “We should call Chuch and Eva to join us.” I explained my rationale, and then he laughed too.
“We’d need a painted van, and Chuch would kill me if we traded the Mustang. He still loves this car, even if his name isn’t on the deed anymore.”
Subtle, Chance. Very subtle.
Not being an idiot, I didn’t touch that line. “So, where do we start?”
Chance closed his eyes for a moment, and the car livened with the thrum of a charged wire. Use of his gift never failed to prickle the hair on my forearms, rousing a little chill that hinted at arcane energy in play. Rain tapped away at the Mustang and cloaked us from the wider world. I felt I could sit all day and gaze at the purity of his profile.
When his long lashes unfurled, I caught my breath a little. His striated gaze, amber, topaz, and sherry brown, just never lost its magic. I forced myself to sound brisk, no matter what my pulse was doing. “Got something?”
“I have no idea,” he said finally. “It’s faint, really faint. But
if
I do, it’s west.”
Well, that was odd. Generally, his ability worked like dowsing, and the pull got stronger the closer we came. I’d only seen him blocked one other time, which didn’t bode well. To date, only demon magick had proved stronger than what Chance could do. He put the car in gear, looking uneasy.
“So I was right. There
is
something wrong here.”
Chance nodded. “Wrong and
old
. Whatever’s happening in Kilmer, it isn’t recent.”
By my reckoning, it was at least fifteen years old, and might hark back farther still. Tragedy had a way of running under your radar if you weren’t personally affected by it. Maybe other families had been torn apart as mine had; I just hadn’t noticed.
“Well, don’t just sit there. ‘Go west, young man.’” I forced a smile.
He didn’t offer one in return, just started the car and waited long enough for the windows to defog before he circled around the inn. This late in the morning, there were no cars to challenge us when we pulled into the street. Driving west offered no answers, though, just took us to the road that led out of town.
Chance frowned at the wet pavement as he pulled into the parking lot of what had been a used-car dealership. Now it was just a sea of broken cement with a small vacant building at the far end. The chains had long since rusted away.
“I hate to say it, Corine, but I don’t think I can be your Magic 8-Ball. I think we’re going to need old-fashioned legwork.”
I should’ve known it wouldn’t be as easy as I wanted, but some part of me wasn’t even surprised to find my suspicions confirmed about Kilmer’s rotten core. My flesh had been crawling ever since we drove through the tunnel of trees leading to town. It didn’t look like things would improve any time soon.
“There are two obvious places to start. I can make a list of all my old foster parents and we can drop by to see how they’re doing . . . and pick their brains.” My tone expressed how much that notion pleased me. “Or we can do a little research at the library. We may end up doing both, anyway, but I know where I’d prefer to start.”
BOOK: Hell Fire
12.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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