“If I ever hear, catch, or sense either of you two anywhere within one state of her again,” I stared each one of them in the eye for a good two seconds to let the threat and tone of my voice wedge its way into their less-than-bright minds, “I will rip each of your balls off and shove them down your throat.” Both their faces curled with the image. Words were a powerful tool when wielded in just the right way.
“Sayonara, suckers,” I said before whipping their ties in the opposite direction of their owners, succeeding in an exemplary, unconscious-inducing bout of noggin’ bonkin’.
They were out. And probably still would be when the cops arrived after a certain someone placed an anonymous call that a couple hooligans were preying on unsuspecting female students. I knew the Mortal judicial system couldn’t hold them, but it would buy me time.
Time to figure out what the hell a couple of newbie Immortals could possibly want with Emma. And while I didn’t consider myself someone who readily stereotyped, these two were a couple of Inheritors if I’d ever seen some. A million and a half thoughts, conclusions, and guesses started running rampant in my head, but I stifled them all.
First things first, I needed to make sure Emma had made it safely back to her dorm and a third thug wasn’t laying in wait for her. That thought got me moving, fast. Maybe a little too fast, because just as I rounded the corner of her dorm, I barely had time to come to a screeching halt before I ran at blurring speed into someone.
A certain someone I really didn’t need to see me right now. And a certain someone who I was really glad did see me right now when her eyes amplified at the same time a smile burst like a stick of dyn**ite.
But once her senses caught up with her, that smile faded, and something else replaced the exhilaration that had just lit up her face. Something distinctive, something important—so, of course, I had no clue what it was.
I wanted to wrap every last inch of my arms around her, I wanted to whisper a trio of words into her ear over and over again, I wanted to kiss her senseless, I wanted to toss her over my shoulders and get the hell out of here until I found the closest vacant island to claim for our own. I wanted it all so badly I was an aching ball of damn emotion.
So I went with, “You need to get back to your dorm.”
She took a step back, like now she was certain I wasn’t just a mirage.
She didn’t move any more than that one step though.
“Now,” I whispered.
Her eyes trailed down, for a moment or for an hour, I didn’t know. I didn’t stay long enough to find out.
It was the most painful teleportation I’d made to date. The only one that made me wish I’d never been given such a gift.
“What dumbass Scarlett brother was on Emma duty tonight?” I shouted an instant later, driving my palm into the living room wall of Joseph and Cora’s place.
Joseph shrugged, unphased. My sudden outbursts, just like my appearances, were something that could be depended on like the rising and setting of the sun. “Austin,” he answered, inspecting and cleaning the items in his doctor bag. “What’s got your boxers in a twist?” Smoke could have just billowed from my nostrils. When I’d assigned, without a loophole to veto, Joseph to scheduling Emma’s four brothers to ensure one of them was with her round the clock, I’d expected him to take his duty as seriously as he would if it was Cora’s life that depended on it.
“What’s got my boxers in a twist, brother,” I spat back, giving him every degree of a terse look I could muster, “is Emma was about to become victim to whatever the hell two Immortals on steroids wanted to do with her tonight.” Not that any one Scarlett brother, or all four combined, could have taken on two Immortals, but that was beside the point.
The stethoscope in Joseph’s hands fell into the bag with a thud.
“Had I not been there to show them messing with another man’s woman comes with a meet and greet with the death penalty, I don’t even want to imagine what could have happened.” I rammed my palm into the wall again, just hard enough it would feel cathartic without punching a hole in the drywall.
“Who were they?” Joseph asked, setting the black bag aside.
“Other than Inheritors, I don’t know,” I said, trying to add, subtract, multiply, and divide the possible reasons a couple of dudes on the evil side of Immortality would be following Emma. My equations didn’t wield any answers.
“How do you know they were Inheritors?”
Joseph and his giving the other guy the benefit of the doubt, innocent until proven guilty mumbo-jumbo was not going to fly with my mood tonight.
“Because I know,” I enunciated, giving him a don’t-challenge-me look.
He was familiar with that look and went with it.
“I’ll round up a few guys and have them do a little recon work. See if they can catch a whiff of who these guys are, where they’re from, and what they want with Emma.” He was already sliding his phone from his pants pocket when I interrupted.
“No, I don’t want some guys on this,” I said, hitching my hands on my hips. “I need my brothers on this. I trust you all implicitly—everyone else not so much. I need you guys on this. The three of you are the only ones I can be certain of who possess the hacks and damn Hayward determination to get it done.” I knew I was asking a big favor, asking not one, but three of my brothers to put their lives, stations, and plans on hold to get to the bottom of this, but since I was locationally impaired and had a bit of a trust issue when it came to anyone other than a tight circle, I needed them. And I would have done it for them without a single question or thought. I had done the same for them before.
“You got it,” Joseph said, not missing a beat. “We’ll get it done.” Everything inside me exhaled. “I know you will, brother,” I said, feeling everything else loosening with my shoulders. “And I know you’re not babysitters, but since Emma’s shit-for-brains brothers are incompetent, as evidenced tonight, I need you guys to work on rotating shifts. Again, I’m not comfortable trusting the safety of my girl to anyone else but my brothers.” It seemed I couldn’t trust her safety to her own brothers either. “Will you do it?”
“Done,” Joseph said, rising. “Since we don’t have this great nightly prison escape gift of teleportation and actually have to use a means of transportation that requires hours and not seconds”—the little punk was smirking at me—”we’ll each take seventy-two hour shifts. Since I’m the lucky one you happened upon tonight, I’ll take the first shift.”
He shouldered past me, smiling, as he pulled a backpack from the coat closet.
We all had the same thing, in varying colors and sizes of luggage, in our own houses. We called them our 911 packs, and they got more use than the luggage we used for R&R. Our existences, and career fields, meant emergencies were the norm, and we packed accordingly.
“I’ll hoof it over to William’s and see if he can jet me down to Stanford, and then I promise, I won’t take my eyes off of Emma once I’m there,” he said, sliding both arms through his backpack.
“Lucky bastard,” I muttered, jealous he was watching over her because I couldn’t.
“Green isn’t really your color, Patrick.” He shot me an obnoxious grin as he started up the stairs.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go explain to my woman why I have to spend the next three days with yours.”
“Joseph,” I called out as he climbed the last step. He tilted his head back. “Thanks. I owe you one.”
“No, you don’t,” he said, looking at me. “You’ve watched over Cora, Abby, and Bryn more times than any of us can count. It’s nice to be able to return the favor.” Flicking me a wink, he loped down the hall towards his sleeping wife while I teleported west a few states to a sleeping cell mate named Mr. Rogers.
If anxiety was a lethal disease, it would have killed me by now.
It took every rope of restraint and wrap of willpower to keep me from teleporting to Emma, to make sure she was safe, Joseph had made it there, and a new bunch of Inheritors weren’t tailing her.
Disappearing in the cover of darkness and sleeping inmates was one thing; vanishing into thin air sliding my tray along the chow line at breakfast was something entirely different.
So my better judgment had a hell of a day beating my anxiety into submission. It was winning the war by a margin so narrow it was next to nonexistent. Of course, modern day essentials like email, texting, or even a damn phone call were a rare luxury when you stood on the other side of the judicial line in an orange jumpsuit, so there was no way for me to know with absolute certainty Joseph had everything I’d entrusted to him under control.
So I waited.
And waited some more.
By the time afternoon arrived, I was convinced I was five minutes away from combusting from the nerves, so I worked to outlet some of the worry into a rip-roaring set of bench press. I was busting out my fifth set, not even close to winded as I racked four hundred pounds, when a shout blasted my way.
“Hayward!” The prison guard who seemed to hate me just out of principle that I was better looking than him motioned at me. “You’ve got a visitor.”
I sprung off that bench like it was a vat of hot lava, untying the arms of my jumpsuit at my waist and sliding it back over my arms. The nerves wilted down; someone was here to give me an update. I didn’t care which brother it was, even if it was stick in the mud Nathanial, I was going to kiss them square on the face next time I saw them when a pane of glass wasn’t separating us.
I was all but skipping down the hallway while the grim faced guard followed along behind when I felt it. The shock that originated at the core of me and zapped down every last nerve I owned.
I felt her.
A burst of excitement was dampened by an internal, oh, crap.
Emma came every Saturday during visitor hours, exchanging flirty, longing, desperate, and—when it came time to say goodbye—sad looks and words. I lived for those ten minutes every Saturday afternoon.
For those few minutes when she was aware I was near her and able respond when I told her I loved her.
However, given today was a school day and technically a no visitors allowed day, and given what had happened and what or who she’d seen last night when he should have been locked up miles away, I knew exactly the reason for today’s impromptu visit.
Even at that—knowing I’d be dodging impossible questions and inadequate answers—I was looking forward to seeing her. My stride lengthened until I found myself staring at the prettiest face I’d seen in two hundred years of looking. Nothing but five feet and a plate of glass separating us.
Something in my DNA made it incapable for me to exude anything that resembled shyness, but right now, as her eyes took me in with a mixture of wonder and confusion, my smile felt kind of shy.
I slid into my seat and picked up the phone, automatically pressing my hand against the glass like I could let myself puncture through it and feel her warmth instead of its chill.