Burn for Me Page 15

“I got a message from my mother,” Adam said. “Emailed to my private address from a public location and encoded with the family encryption. Very cloak and dagger.”

He pushed Play. Christina Pierce came to life.

“I have a plane on standby ready to take you to Brazil,” she said. Her voice had the overtone of a Georgia accent, but there was nothing soft about it. “It’s a non-extradition country. This is the house.” A picture of a mansion replaced her image: white walls, tropical greenery, and an infinity pool, dark blue silhouetted against the lighter blue of the ocean. Christina reappeared. “While you’re gone, someone else will take the blame. You can return in as little as a year to a clean record and a tide of public support and sympathy for you being wrongfully accused. A year in paradise, Adam, with your every need attended. You have my word that you won’t spend a single minute in jail. Think about it.”

I’d asked Augustine for reassurance. House Pierce had obliged.

“My mother says she loves me.” Pierce studied her image. “Love is control. People say they love you when they want to run your life. They wedge and pound you into a shape they find comfortable, and when you try to escape, they hog-tie you with guilt. My family figured it out years ago. We’ve been marrying and breeding for profit for over a century. No love involved.”

“I don’t see it that way.”

“The only reason you’re sitting here under this tree is because my mother twisted Montgomery’s arm, and he twisted yours by threatening your family. If it wasn’t for them losing their house, would you have taken this job?”

“Probably not. But in the end the choice was mine.”

“Why? You don’t owe them anything. You didn’t ask to be born. They dragged you into this world kicking and screaming, and now they expect you to conform. Well, I say f**k ’em.”

You didn’t ask to be born . . . In some ways he was still fifteen years old inside and as volatile as the fire he made.

“Look, at least you have your parents,” I said. “My dad’s gone. Nothing can bring him back.”

He tilted his head. “What is it like?”

“It hurts, still. He was in my life for so long and now he’s just not there. My mother loves me. She’d do anything for me. But my dad was the one who got me. He understood why I did things. We tried so desperately to keep him alive, but he still died, and our world collapsed. I was older, but my sisters were young, and it hit them really hard.”

Adam shrugged. “I have a father. I never had a dad. He’s diligent. If my mother explained to him that a football game or a piano recital needed to be attended, he would make sure to show up. He was present but not there. I don’t know what he loves, but I know he likes money. My oldest brother works for the company. My other brother is in the military, building those vital business connections. My father talks to both of them. He starts taking an interest in his kids when we start making money. Until then we belong to Mother.”

“At least she cares enough to worry about you. She must love you.”

“She indulges me. There is a difference. Indulgence implies tacit disapproval. The House is doing well. Her professional life is healthy; she has an IQ of 148 and could do her job in her sleep. Our finances are robust, and my father would never embarrass the family by a scandal. I’m her excuse to be emotional. Every time I do something that shakes their palace, she can grab the lion’s share of attention with her dramatics. If it wasn’t for me, what would she bitch about? I make it a point to be a disappointment as often as I can.”

Wow. “Have you ever just accidentally stumbled into meeting their expectations?”

“I went to college. When I started my master’s, I realized that it would never be enough. All my life the House would expect me to climb the ladder of their expectations. Get a degree. Make money. Marry right. Produce intelligent, magically gifted children. Make more money. They had me for twenty-four years. That’s all they get.” Adam leaned toward me. “Look, bottom line is, parents and sisters is something you do when you’re five. I’m giving you a shot at being free. Shoot your family the bird and come away with me.”

I’m a known fugitive who likes to set people on fire. Come away with me so we can have hot sex while the entire city is trying to shoot me in the head. If I get bored, I’ll barbecue you for my amusement. Sure, let me get my shoes.

“It’s not a good idea.”

“What if I pretend I’m in love?” Adam flicked his fingers and a tiny flame flared above his hand. He held it like a candle to my face. His eyes, fringed in thick eyelashes, were so dark that they turned into two bottomless pools. “I guarantee nobody would find us. The cops can look for a thousand years, and they still won’t get me.”

He was really pushing the whole run-away-with-me thing. I played dumb. “Are you just leading me on?”

“Me? No.”

Lie. He was lying to me. Why?

“I really am in lust, I mean, in love, with you.”

Well, the lust part was true. I had to play it cool. “Do you have any intention of letting me bring you in?”

“I’m considering it.”

Lie. Damn it.

“Nevada,” he purred. “Come on, sunny girl. Live a little.”

Cornelius’s words came back to me. Adam takes what he wants, and if you tell him no, he will hurt you. He wanted acceptance. He wanted to be reassured he was special. If I outright rejected him, the sting of that rejection could turn into hate in a blink. I had to bring him in and not end up like that security guard.

“Forget your family and jump off the cliff with me. We’ll fly away.”

I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Not tonight. Maybe one day, if I grow wings.”

I got up and walked toward the warehouse.

“They’re pulling you down and you’re letting them,” he called after me.

“Don’t get killed, Adam,” I called over my shoulder. “I still have to turn you in.”

Chapter 6

Mad Rogan and I stood on the edge of a cliff. Below us, the ground plunged so far down that it was as if the planet itself had ended at our feet. The wind tugged at my hair. He was wearing those dark pants again and nothing else. The hard muscle corded his torso, fueled by an overpowering, almost savage strength. Not the mindless brutality of a common thug or the cruel power of an animal, but an intelligent, stubborn, human strength. It was everywhere: in the set of his broad shoulders, in the turn of his head on a muscular neck, in the tilt of his square jaw. He turned to me and his whole body tightened, the muscles flexing and hardening, his hands ready to grip and crush, his eyes alert, missing nothing, and blazing with the brilliant electric blue of magic. I could picture him getting his sword and walking alone onto the drawbridge to defend his castle against a horde of invaders with that exact look on his face.

He was terrifying, and I wanted to run my hands down that chest and feel the hard ridges of his abs. I was some special kind of idiot.

Magic roiled about him, ferocious and alive, a pet monster with vicious teeth. He moved toward me, bringing it with him. “Tell me about Adam Pierce.”

I reached over and put my hand on his chest. His skin was burning hot. The muscle tensed under my fingers. An eager electric shiver ran through me. I wanted to lean against that chest and kiss the underside of that jaw, tasting his sweat on my tongue. I wanted him to like it.

“What happened to the boy?” I asked. “The one who destroyed a city in Mexico? Is he still inside?”

“Nevada!” My mother’s voice cut through my dreams like a knife.

I sat straight up in my bed.

Okay. Either I was way more messed up inside, or Mad Rogan was a strong projector and could shoot images straight into my mind. Either way was bad. What happened to the boy . . . I needed to have my head examined.


“I’m up.” I got out of bed and swung the door open. My mother stood on the landing. “Your grandma brought her specialist over. You’re really going through with this?”

I raised my chin. “Yes.”


“Would you go to war without your gun?”

“Is it war now, Nevada?”

I sat on the stairs. “Okay, so you were right. It is a little bit about Dad, and it is a lot about keeping a roof over our head. This is our home. I will do almost anything to keep it. Also I negotiated with MII, and if I die, you get the name of the agency back for one dollar.”

Her face twisted. “I don’t care, Nevada. Sweetheart, I don’t care. I want you to be okay. None of it is worth losing you. I thought we were a team.”

“We are.”

“But you didn’t tell me. And you got Bern to cover it up.”

I sat on the steps. “I didn’t tell you because you would do exactly what you did last night. You’d order me not to do it. We are a team, but you’re my mother. You will do everything to keep me safe, and there is a point where it’s my decision to stay safe or not.”

My mother considered it. “Okay. Point made.”

“He came here last night,” I said. “Adam Pierce.”


I nodded.

“What did he want?”

“He wanted me to go away with him. He’s playing me somehow, and I don’t know what his game is yet. We need to make sure the alarm is set every night. I don’t trust him.” I rubbed my face. “I’m really deep in this mess now.”

“By choice,” Mother said.

“Does it really matter? I don’t think I could get out even if I wanted to. It’s scaring me. Mom, I can’t even . . . Mad Rogan was . . .” I raised my hands, trying to make the right words come out.

“Like standing in a hurricane,” my mother said.

“Yes. Like that. I just want a level playing field. I love you. Please don’t be mad at me.”

“I love you too. If you think you need a level playing field, then go for it. You’re an adult. It’s your decision. But I have a problem with it. With all of it.”

She walked away. Great. She was still mad at me.

I found Grandma and her “specialist” in the garage part of the warehouse. Makarov turned out to be a sparse, fit man in his early sixties. He had started balding, and his silver hair was cut short. He sat in a folding chair talking to my grandmother, a heavy metal box about two feet by two feet sitting next to him, while a dark-haired man my age, who looked like a carbon copy of Makarov forty years ago, waited nearby.

Grandma saw me and waved me over.

“So this is the kandidat.” Makarov’s voice was spiced with a Russian accent. “How old are you?”



“Five feet five inches.”


“One hundred and thirty pounds.”

“Heart problems?”


“Blood pressure, migraines, any of that?”

“I get a headache once in a while, but migraines not that often. Maybe one every six months or so.”

Makarov nodded, smart green eyes appraising me. He tapped the box with his foot. “This is murena. Means ‘moray eel’ in Russian. It’s not a fish. Some say plant, some say animal, a really primitive one. It’s a thing. We call it murena because of what it does. The moray eel will hide in its lair. You never even know it’s there. It sits quietly underwater until a fish swims by, and then pow!” He grabbed a fistful of air. “It shoots out and bites the fish. It has a second mouth inside its throat, and that mouth shoots out and sinks onto the fish with hooked teeth.” He raked the air, holding his fingers like talons.

Prev Next