Burn for Me Page 28

I walked into the kitchen and found Mad Rogan in it. He sat at the table, dressed in a blue Henley shirt and jeans, sipping coffee out of a mug with a little grey kitten on it. His dark hair was combed back from his face. His jaw was once again clean shaven. I am a polite, nonthreatening kind of dragon with excellent manners. Horns are hidden, tail is tucked away, fangs covered. I would never do anything cruel, like stab a man with a knife about ten times to get him to answer a question.

Somehow this new, on-his-best-behavior version was scarier than witnessing him calmly breaking a man with his bare hands. After what we’d been through, I would’ve expected him to hole up somewhere dark, eating raw meat, chain-smoking, guzzling some sort of ridiculously tough drink, like whiskey or kerosene or something, and thinking grim thoughts about life and death. But no, here he was, charming and untroubled, sipping coffee.

Mad Rogan saw me and smiled.

And my mind went right into the gutter.

How was it that he was sitting in my kitchen?

My mother turned away from the stove and held out a plate of pancakes. I took it from her and set it on the table next to a platter of bacon. Mad Rogan pushed the second mug of coffee toward me. It had an orange kitten on it.

Grandma Frida strode into the kitchen, followed by Lina and Arabella. “I smell bacon! Penelope, did you know there is a handsome man in our kitchen?”

Oh Lord, here we go.

My mother made some sort of noise halfway between a cough and a grunt.

“Well,” Grandma Frida said, “introduce us, somebody.”

“Grandma, Mad Rogan. Mad Rogan, Grandma,” I squeezed out.

Arabella’s eyes got really big. She grabbed her phone and started texting. “Leon’s going to pee himself.”

“Quit it,” Lina growled and sat in the chair next to me. Grandma took a chair next to Rogan.

“How are you feeling?” he asked her.

“Fine, thank you.” She gave him a big smile.

I passed a plate to Rogan and sat across from him.

Leon ran into the kitchen and stopped, his gaze fixed on Mad Rogan. Bern bumped into him, nudging him into the room. “If you’re not getting bacon, get out of the way.”

Arabella grabbed three pieces of bacon from the plate. “Mine!”

“Bacon hog,” Lina told her.

“Settle down, there is more bacon.” Mom pulled another broiling pan full of bacon out of the oven. I grabbed a pancake, wrapped bacon in it, and bit. It was fluffy and delicious, and for no apparent reason it made me want to cry.

“By the way,” Arabella said, “you might get a call from school. I forgot to mention it before.”

Mother paused. “Why?”

“Well, we were playing basketball and I guess I pulled on Diego’s jersey. I don’t even remember doing it. And Valerie decided it would be a good idea to snitch on me. I mean, I saw her walk over to the coach and pull on his sleeve like she was five or something. I even asked Diego if he cared, and he said he didn’t even notice. It’s a sport! I was into it.”

“Aha,” Mother said. “Get to the call-from-school part.”

“I told her that snitches get stitches. And Coach said that I made a terrorist threat.”

“That’s stupid,” Lina said, pushing back her dark hair. “It’s not a threat, it’s just a thing people say.”

“Snitches do get stitches.” Bern shrugged.

“Your school is stupid,” Grandma Frida said.

“So he said I had to apologize and I refused, since she snitched on me, so I got sent to the office. I’m not in trouble, but they want to move me to third-period PE now.”

Well, it could’ve been worse. At least she didn’t hurt anybody.

Silence claimed the table. Across from me, Mad Rogan was cutting the pancake into precise pieces and devouring it with a familiar efficiency. When my mother had come home on leave, she’d eaten like that. She was leaning against the island now, watching him.

“You’re Mad Rogan!” Leon burst out.

“Yes,” Mad Rogan said, his voice calm.

“And you can break cities?”


“And you have all this money and magic?”


Where was Leon going with this?

My cousin blinked. “And you look . . . like that?”

Mad Rogan nodded. “Yes.”

Leon’s dark eyes went wide. He looked at Mad Rogan, then glanced down at himself. At fifteen, Leon weighed barely a hundred pounds. His arms and legs were like chopsticks.

“There is no justice in the world!” Leon announced.

I giggled and almost choked on my pancake. Mother cracked a smile.

“Can you play guitar too?” Leon asked. “Because if you can, I’ll go kill myself right now.”

“No, but I can sing a little,” Mad Rogan said.

“God damn it!” Leon punched the table.

“Calm yourself,” Bern told him.

“You shut up. You’re the size of a Sasquatch.” Leon pointed at Mad Rogan. “Are you seeing this? How is this fair?”

“He’s fifteen,” I told Mad Rogan. “Fair is very important right now.”

“You have time,” Mad Rogan said.

“Yeah . . .” Leon shook his head. “No, not really. I can’t sing for sure, and I’ll never look like that.”

“I’m a product of calculated selective breeding,” Mad Rogan said. “I was conceived because it would be good for my House to have an heir and because my parents’ genes ticked the right set of boxes. You were probably conceived because your parents loved each other.”

“According to our mother,” Bern said, “he was conceived because she was too wasted to remember a rubber.”

Mad Rogan stopped chewing.

“I was conceived because my mother skipped bail. Her boyfriend at the time threatened to call the cops on her, so she had to do something to keep him from doing it,” Bern said helpfully.

Awesome. Just the right kind of information to share.

“Aunt Gisela isn’t the best mother,” I said. “There’s one in every family.”

“What do you do?” Leon leaned forward. “You left the Army and disappeared. How come?”

“Leon,” Mother warned.

“Is it because of the war?” Lina asked. “People on Herald say you have PTSD and you became a hermit like a monk because of it.”

“Either a hermit or a monk, not both,” I corrected out of habit.

“Herald also said he was disfigured.” Arabella made big eyes.

“Yes, I’m a hermit. Mostly I brood,” Mad Rogan said. “Also I’m very good at wallowing in self-pity. I spend my days steeped in melancholy, looking out the window. Occasionally a single tear quietly rolls down my cheek.”

Arabella and Lina snickered in unison.

“Do you also brush a white orchid against your lips?” Arabella put in.

“While sad music plays in the background?” Lina grinned.

“Perhaps,” Mad Rogan said.

“Do you have a girlfriend?” Grandma Frida asked.

I put my hand over my face.

“No,” Mad Rogan said.

“A boyfriend?” Grandma Frida asked.


“What about . . .”

“No,” Mom and I said in unison.

“But you don’t even know what I wanted to ask!”

“No,” we said again together.

“Party poopers.” Grandma shrugged.

“It’s nine o’clock,” Mom said. “Go on.”

Leon pointed at Mad Rogan. “But Mad Rogan!”

“But you have a sixty-seven in French,” she said. “You’ll regain your staying-up privileges when you pass.”

“But!” Leon waved his arms.

“Don’t make me carry you,” Bern rumbled.

“Dibs on the shower,” Arabella jumped up.

The girls left the room and dragged Leon with them. Grandma Frida, Mom, Bern, Mad Rogan, and I remained.

My mother leaned forward. “Nevada is going after Pierce because we have no choice as a family. I don’t know what this is about for you. I don’t know if it’s pride, or if you’re just bored. I know you kidnapped Nevada. You scared her and tortured her. If you hurt my child again, I’ll end you, Prime or not.”

Nice, Mom. I’m sure he’s scared.

Mad Rogan smiled without showing his teeth. The familiar cold, predatory look slid into his eyes, the dragon waking up and showing his true colors.

“Thank you for inviting me into your lovely home and offering me this delicious meal.” His voice was calm and measured. “Because I’m your guest, I feel some small degree of obligation to you, so I’ll make it perfectly clear, Sergeant. I know who you are. I’ve seen your service record, and I consider you to be a potential threat. If you threaten me again, I’ll change your threat status to definite, and I’ll act on it.”

He’d seen my mother’s service record. His House had run a background check. That meant his question about my father being in the military had been complete bullshit. He probably knew the whole history of my family. He’d manipulated me, and I’d played right into it. Stupid.

“I prefer not to kill children,” Mad Rogan continued. “But I have no problems with making them orphans.”

True. Every word. He meant it.

Bern blinked.

Mad Rogan drank from his grey kitten mug. “Besides, considering your daughter’s skill with a firearm, she’s likely to shoot me before you do.”

My mother turned to me. “What happened?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said. I was trying very hard to pretend that it hadn’t happened.

“Nevada . . .” she began.

“No,” I said quietly.

A dark stain was spreading through Mad Rogan’s Henley over his ribs. “You’re bleeding.”

He looked down at himself and frowned.

“Let me see.” I got up.

“It’s nothing.”

“Rogan,” I said. “Lift up your shirt.”

He pulled his Henley up, exposing his side. A folded paper towel covered his lower ribs, held in place by duct tape.

“What is this?” I demanded.

“It’s a bandage,” Bern said.

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is,” Grandma Frida said. “Sometimes you cut your finger and you wrap the paper towel around it real tight, slap some duct tape on it, and good to go.”

“Your father used to do this,” Mom told me. “I swear, it’s like every man is born with it, or they must take some secret class on how to do it.”

I waved my hand at them. “It’s a paper towel. With duct tape! Where did you get the duct tape?”

Mad Rogan shrugged. “In the cabinet under the sink in your bathroom. I thought it stopped bleeding.”

“Well, it didn’t. When did you even get this?”

“I got hit by some debris during the blast,” he said.

“Did you clean it?”

“I showered,” he said.

“Right.” I glanced at my mother. “Okay, the two of you will have to postpone trying to figure out who is the harder hardcase until I fix this.” I got up and pulled a med kit out of the kitchen cabinet.

My phone vibrated in my pocket. I pulled it out and flicked it on. A text from an unknown number. I sighed. Of course.

I put the phone on the table and tapped the text message. A picture of me and Mad Rogan circling the tower. In the picture, my face was pale, my mouth pressed into a hard line. I looked like I was trying not to cry, which was so strange, because at the time I wasn’t anywhere close to crying. Mad Rogan’s face was turned away from the camera, his head tilted as he looked up at the second-story windows.

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