“Your brother sent me,” she said, crossing her legs and moving so she was right in front of me.
“Which one?” I asked, almost wishing I was having a private meeting with the actual Warden Drumheller. In almost every instance, callous old wardens were less spiteful than bitter ex flames.
“One of the dark haired gods,” she answered. “I can’t tell them apart.” Since I knew at least half a dozen Shifters in the area that could pass on a message other than an ex who would just as soon rip my heart from my chest as she would bind me with hell wire and make me her eternal sex slave, I had my answer.
“Joseph,” I cursed under my breath, tempted to teleport back to Montana right now just so I could smack the back of his head.
She answered with a non-committal shrug.
“So where’s the real Drumheller?” I asked.
“At home with a screaming case of diarrhea,” Sasha answered. “Don’t worry, he’ll be back tomorrow and with no memory of taking a sick day. I’ve got a Mindtripper paying him a visit tonight.” I nodded. “So what’s the message?” If it couldn’t wait until tonight when Joseph could have told me himself, it had to be critical.
“The tracker you had following those Inheritors who were tailing your girl”—her nose curled over the last word—”followed them to some point a couple miles south of the Canadian border in Idaho. The trail went dead there. The Inheritors apparently disappeared in the middle of a national forest.”
“Do you have the coordinates for where they disappeared?” I asked, thinking. Something wasn’t right. The Inheritors were too young and undeveloped to have honed their talents if they were Teleporters, so how did two Immortals just disappear from a pair of my best trackers?
“I can get them,” Sasha answered.
“Text them to me. I’ll check them tonight when I teleport out of this hell hole,” I said. “Don’t tell Joseph or anyone else you did, okay?”
The skin between her brows pinched, but she nodded in agreement.
“Is there anything else?” I asked, needing to get back to my cell so I could work out this puzzle in my head. Nothing made sense, nothing seemed to fit together. Emma being followed by Inheritors. Those Inheritors disappearing in the middle of nowhere.
“Your trackers overheard one of them on the phone,” Sasha said, swallowing. “They addressed the person on the other side as Troy.”
And now, the whole puzzle came together. All the pieces fit due to one name pulling them together.
Troy. I didn’t have to guess what his motive was for tailing Emma. Payback. And I didn’t have to wonder what would have happened had I not been there that night to intervene. They would have killed her.
“Damn it,” I cursed, leaning forward and hanging my head. “I really should have killed that bastard when I had the chance.”
“Joseph said you all could work out a mission plan tonight, but he wanted you to have this information right away,” she said, shoving off the desk. “And I didn’t exactly have to be asked twice.” There wasn’t enough consciousness to process Sasha’s undercurrents; I was consumed with dread and worry and helplessness. I was sweltering in my worry for Emma. A minute or two of quiet passed between us. I did nothing but tap my foot over the floor as my mind raced over options and plans and revenge.
“Wow,” Sasha said at last. “You really do love this girl. The unlandable Patrick Hayward has been landed. I guess it’s time to pull out the black in my wardrobe.” Coming towards me, she rested her hand on the side of my face and smiled. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” I replied, mustering up a smile.
A knock sounded on the other side of the door.
Lifting a finger, Sasha started to shift, the transformation starting at her feet this time and moving up her body.
“You rap on that door one more time, Officer Nicks, and you’ll be sharing a cell tonight!” the Sasha’fied warden before me hollered at the door.
“Impressive,” I said, popping out of my seat. “Thanks for the information, Sasha. I better get back to my kennel.” Giving her a wave, I turned to exit.
“Patrick,” Sasha called out in Warden Drumheller’s voice. It was creepy hearing his voice lined with the want Sasha inflected into it.
“Yeah?” I said, spinning around. Warden Drumheller’s body towered a few inches in front of me. I was so startled I didn’t have time to respond to Sasha’s next move. Grabbing my face, Sasha planted Warden Drumheller’s lips firmly against mine.
That was enough to jolt me out of my stupor. Shoving the hulking form away, I wiped my mouth on the backside of my arm.
“Sasha!” I hollered, doing another wipe. “Was that your idea of a sick joke?” Grinning at me, Warden Drumheller moved back behind his desk. “That was my idea of a goodbye kiss, love,” he said with a wink. “You’ve got it bad for this girl. The kind of bad that never goes away.”
“I’m going to be forever scarred after that, Sasha,” I replied, wishing I had a toothbrush so I could scrape my tongue too. “But you always knew how to make an impression.”
“You too,” she replied, Drumheller’s voice as soft as I imagined it ever would be.
“Thanks for the info,” I said, twisting my cuffed hands over the doorknob. “It was nice of you to agree to come.”
Drumheller winked at me. Another reason I needed to scrub my brain out with bleach. “I offered,” he said right before clearing his throat and putting on that Marine face of his. “We’re done here, Nicks!” I stepped aside from the door as it swung open.
“Anything else, sir?” Nicks asked, a look of satisfaction in his eyes like he was convinced whatever I’d deserved, I’d just gotten.
“That will be all,” Drumheller replied, reviewing something on his desk.
Cocking his neck to the side, Nicks waited for me.
“Oh, Nicks? There is one thing,” Drumheller called out, snapping his fingers.
“Yes, sir?” Nicks replied, rolling his shoulders back.
Meeting his eyes, Drumheller said, “Slap yourself across the face. Hard.” Nicks forehead lined. “Sir?”
“Don’t ask me to repeat myself,” Drumheller replied in that stone flat face, although I could detect the playfulness in his eyes that was a paramount of Sasha.
Glaring over at me, Nicks lifted his hand and walloped himself across the cheek. The sound echoed down the hall.
I choked on my laughter. I’d pay a million bucks to see that again.
“There,” Drumheller said, biting the side of his cheek, trying to keep the explosion of laughter contained. “Now that will be all.”
Shooting a quick thumb’s up at the desk, I exited the room, passing a confused Nicks, and tried again not to laugh at the flaming red handprint across his cheek.
This time, I couldn’t keep it contained.
If I thought the days had crept by before, I was wrong. Time refused to move the remainder of the day. Learning my girl was being all but hunted by the likes of Troy and his scum while I was “trapped” in jail was a rare form of torture. The only thing that got me through the day was the knowledge Joseph was with her. I’d trust my life to any one of my brothers—even the life I cared for more than my own.
When the officer shouted, “Lights out!” and Mr. Rogers’s snoring symphony immediately followed, I was out of there. It wasn’t even a conscious thought anymore; it was just where I needed to be. I felt her pulling me and I pushed and then I was there.
“Looking dapper tonight,” Joseph called out from the Emma and Julia’s computer chair, followed by a whistle.
I’d been in such a hurry to get here, I’d forgotten to make my normal layover in my closet. I was about to correct my mistake when a form shifted on the bed and I knew it wouldn’t have mattered if I was standing here buck nak*d—I wasn’t going anywhere.
“He looks dapper every night,” Emma said, slamming her book shut and bouncing off the bed towards me.
I don’t know if she leapt into them or I threw her into them, but she was in my arms before they had a chance to ache that she wasn’t in them.
“How could I miss you that much in one day?” she said against my neck.
Nuzzling my face into her hair, I smiled. “It’s because it was me you were missing.” She chuckled, her chest vibrating against mine.
“I’m going to get out of here before stuff starts breaking,” Joseph said, giving the chair a final spin before leaping out of it. “It looks like she’s in good hands for the night.” Clapping his hand over my shoulder, he gave it a squeeze. “Give me a ring when my body guard services are needed and you’re ready to talk about the intel from earlier. I’ll be close.”
“Thanks, brother,” I said as he closed the door behind him. I hadn’t even had a chance to give him a hard time for sending Sasha to deliver a message half a dozen other Shifters could have, but I suppose Emma and my current state of privacy was his way of making amends.
“So I take it you’ve worked out some things in your head?” I said, lowering her to the ground, but not about to let her out of my arms.
“More like quite a few things, I think,” she answered, blowing the hair out of her face.
I knew I should be concerned with what she’d worked out, but all I really cared about right now was what that meant for us. Did the riddles she solved leave room for me in her life?
“Where does that leave us?” I asked, trying to keep my voice unemotional.
“Here,” she said. “Together.”
“Together as in right now, or as in together, dot dot dot?” I was starting to sound like an insecure girl.
“Together as in dot dot dot. Dot,” she said, grinning up at me. “In your case dot, dot, dot infinity, mine more like dot dot dot to the ripe old age of ninety-two.” This was why. This was why I’d been reduced to a blubbering, heartsick maniac. To see the woman I loved standing in front of me with a worry free face, admitting her love to me.
“I love you,” I said, because right now, there was nothing else to say or do.
Popping on her tip-toes, she kissed the corner of my mouth. “I love you,” she whispered, skimming her lips over mine and kissing the other corner.
She was wearing down my defenses, what few if any I had when it came to her body challenging mine, but something was more important than following Emma down this lip skimming, kissing path.
“Em,” I said, bracing her arms and setting my jaw. I needed a deep breath and to imagine my ancient primary school marm nak*d on a cold day.
Yeah, that helped. A bit.
“Yeah?” she said, looking at me like I was the crazy man I was. The old Patrick wouldn’t put the brakes on a make-up/make out session for anything.
“Would you do something for me?” I asked, taking another slow breath through my teeth.
“Depends on what that something is.”