Burn for Me Page 30

“It’s coming back,” he said. “I’m not helpless.”

“Can you stay the night?” I asked.

“I can,” he said.

“And if Pierce shows up or something happens . . .”

“I’ll take care of it,” he said.

True. He meant it.

“Thank you,” I told him. “I’ll see you both in the morning.”

I left the kitchen and went to my room, almost running. I closed the door, sat on the bed, and pulled my knees to my chest. There was a big, gaping hole inside me. It was growing bigger, and I didn’t know how to close it.

A knock sounded on my door. It was probably my mother. For a moment I considered pretending that I didn’t hear her. But I wanted her to come in. I wanted her to hug me and tell me everything would be okay. “Who is it?”

“It’s me,” my mother called.

“It’s open.”

My mother walked in carrying a tablet. She was moving slower than usual. Her leg was really hurting and I felt it because she climbed the stairs. She sat beside me on the bed and swiped her hand across the tablet. A video clip came on. It had been taken with someone’s phone. On-screen, Adam Pierce, his phantom spikes and claws glowing, belched fire. The side of the tower where Rogan and I had our little adventure loomed on the right.

The front entrance of the tower blew out with an ear-splitting thunder. The building shook. A man gasped, “Holy shit!”

The video switched to a view of a hand. Whoever had been filming had grabbed his phone and hightailed it out of there.

“Were you inside?” Mom asked.

I nodded. “Adam was a diversion. While he was spitting fire, a team went into this building to retrieve some sort of trinket hidden in the wall. We stopped them.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Mom asked.

I shook my head.

“Can I help?” she asked softly. “Can I do anything?”

I shook my head and leaned against her. She put her arm around me. I wouldn’t cry. I was twenty-five years old. I would not cry.

“Rogan’s people are analyzing the jewelry we found,” I said, my voice sounding dull. “I sent a picture of it to Bern. He’s looking too. There is something really big and nasty going on, Mom. I feel like I’m on the edge of it. It scares me. I scared myself today.”

“You’re doing what needs to be done,” Mom said and hugged me to her. “Remember the rules: we have to be able to look ourselves in the mirror. Sometimes that means doing terrible things because there is no other choice. Are you doing the right thing?”

“I think so. It’s just spun out of control so fast. Pierce was willing to burn down a building to get that thing. He gave a bomb to a kid Leon’s age. Who does that?”

“Someone who needs to be stopped.”

“I keep thinking, if MII didn’t get involved and call me into their office, this would be happening to someone else. We would be watching all this on TV and going, ‘Oh my God, isn’t that crazy?’”

“You can’t go there,” Mom said. “That’s how you’ll drive yourself nuts. Trust me on this: wondering, What if this didn’t happen? never helped anybody. It just drowns you in self-pity and makes you less alert. There is no backing out now. Nevada, view it as a job. As something you have to do. Get the job done and come home.”

“I think Rogan is using me as bait,” I said.

“Use him back,” Mom said. “Throw him at Pierce and let him take him down.”

“What if he kills Pierce?”

“Bigger problem if Pierce kills him,” Mom said. “But if he kills Pierce, it becomes a matter between House Pierce and House Rogan. Let them sort it out. Your primary objective here is to survive. Then to bring Pierce in, if possible.”

I rested my head on her shoulder. “I’m going to need more ammo.”

“How was the Ruger?” my mother asked softly. She’d figured it out.

“I hit my target,” I told her.

Chapter 11

I awoke early. The sun hadn’t risen yet, but the sky had turned a pearly, pale color. I peeled Band-Aids off my face and arm, shook a few drops of lavandin and rose geranium into the oil warmer, lit a candle under it, and took a long shower. I was still clean, but a shower usually made me feel better. I stood under the cascade of hot water, hoping to wash away the remnants of yesterday. I’d dreamed of shooting people. In my dreams I killed them again and again, each bullet punching their heads in slow motion, the blood blossoming like a revolting red flower. It hadn’t been like that at all. The whole firefight had probably taken three or four minutes, if that. In the dream, my gun had sounded like thunder. In the lobby, it had sounded dry, like a firecracker. Boom-boom. A life ended. Boom-boom. Another one down.

I let the water run over me and tried to figure out how my mother survived it. How could she look through the scope, squeeze the trigger, and end someone’s life and do it again and again and still hold it together? I wanted to ask her about it. Was there some secret to it?

But two years had passed since my mother went to her last group meeting. She was better. Stirring up old demons wouldn’t do her any good. I had to deal with it on my own.

I stood under the shower until the guilt got the better of me. Using up all the hot water wouldn’t be cool. My sisters and cousins still had to shower. I got out, wrapped a towel around my hair and another around my body, and looked at my reflection. The shallow cuts on my face and arm had survived without bleeding. The cut on my ribs was worse. I smeared an antibiotic ointment on it. Wincing and making sucking noises didn’t seem to make the pain any less. I slapped a Band-Aid on the gash and another one on my arm, just in case that cut decided to open up and make a mess.

If only I’d had some paper towels and duct tape lying around. I rolled my eyes. What the hell had he been thinking? He was what, a multimillionaire? And he bandaged himself with a paper towel and duct tape. How did he even know what duct tape was? Maybe he had his own Prime version at the house, stitched with gold and studded with diamonds, just in case he gave himself a paper cut.

I laughed under my breath, snorted, and laughed some more. Standing here, dripping wet, and laughing like a loon. Perfectly mentally fit.

I pulled the towel off my hair, reached to put it on the hook by the window, and stopped. My bathroom window had a view of the motor pool, and from this angle, I could see the entire expanse of Grandma Frida’s kingdom. Vehicles covered with canvas and racks with parts stood by the walls. In the middle of the polished concrete floor, Mad Rogan was drawing a magic circle with chalk. It started as a large pentagon, with a two-and-a-half-foot-wide circle at each corner. Lines sectioned the pentagon into separate parts, with glyphs running along the border of the design. It looked flawless, the pentagon sides straight, the circles round. It must’ve taken him years of practice.

Mad Rogan finished the last glyph and straightened. He was wearing the same Henley and pants he had on last night. He stretched, raising one leg, than the other, and hopped in place, as if jumping an invisible rope. For a moment he stood, barefoot, in front of the pentagon, then he stepped across the line and stopped, facing my side of the warehouse, his eyes closed, his arms at his sides.

The Key. I’d read about it. It was a ritual some of the greater Houses used to recharge. Mad Rogan had expended all of his magic, and now he would try to get it back. Somewhere Adam Pierce was probably doing a very similar thing. People had different opinions on what the Keys actually did. Some said they replenished magic, some said they just realigned the magic user to make the best of it. I’d seen some YouTube videos of it, but none of them were of good quality. The Keys were a well-guarded secret. Each was unique to the House that had developed it.

Mad Rogan raised his arms, his elbows bent, his hands wide open, his eyes closed. I leaned against the side wall. A variation of the mage pose. Okay. So far not that exciting.

Rogan turned his right arm to the side, flexing his back, stretching his chest, simultaneously stepping sideways into the circle with liquid grace, as if his whole body suddenly opened. He spun within the chalk boundary, shockingly fast. His foot shot out, hammering a devastating high kick to an invisible opponent. His hands sliced through the air, right, then left, like blades ready to cut down an attacker.

The outline of the circle began to glow pale blue.

Mad Rogan turned, leaped, spun, and moved into the second circle. His rigid fingers rolled into fists and blades transformed into hammers as he threw quick, hard punches. His long kicks turned short and vicious, his speed and strength melding into pure power. He was graceful, like a dancer, but brutal and efficient, like an assassin backed into a corner.

The second circle glowed. Sweat broke out on Mad Rogan’s face, yet a serene, calm expression claimed his face. He rolled into the third circle. His right hand shot up, fingers bent. I’d seen this exact move yesterday when he’d hit the fake firefighter in the face. He must’ve stopped short, because if he had done it the way he was doing it now, he would’ve driven the cartilage of the man’s nose straight into his brain.

There was a fluid, magnetic grace in the way he moved. All those muscles I had been admiring yesterday were just a by-product of his journey toward his goal. And the goal was power. Raw, lethal power. All of him, his incredible strength, his blinding speed, his flexibility, dexterity, and stamina blended together to achieve an almost feral savagery. Tiny hairs stood on the backs of my arms. It was like watching a god of primal human violence dance, and I couldn’t look away. If only I could have him all to myself. What would it feel like to walk up to him, put my hand on his shoulder, and see all that condensed violence turn into lust?

All five circles glowed now. He landed in the pentagon, back in the same mage pose. The glow flared brighter, then vanished, as if sucked into him. Mad Rogan stepped out, wiped the sweat off his forehead with his forearm, grabbed a bottle of water sitting on the nearest covered vehicle, and drank.

I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding and shivered. My left foot sparked with tiny points of pain—it had fallen asleep. I hopped, grabbed my towel before it slid off me, and leaned back to glance through the window. He still stood there. The sun had risen, and golden light spilled into the warehouse, drawing long rectangles on the floor. It washed over him, making his tan skin glow. I couldn’t see his face, just the sharp angle of his cheek, warmed by the sun.

If I’d been next to him right now and he’d reached for me, I would have let him do anything he wanted right there, on the hood of some tank.

I was in over my head. I exhaled and tried to drown out the need pulsing through me. Mad Rogan was off limits. He was from a different world, he had different standards, and he promised to make me an orphan if my mother threatened him again. Okay, that last one did. I was all good now.

I moved away from the window.

I had to get a grip. Nothing but trouble would come from messing around with Mad Rogan. He and I needed to catch Adam Pierce, bring him to his family, and go our separate ways.

When I came downstairs, Mad Rogan was nowhere to be found. I tracked Grandma Frida in the garage. She was leaning against the track vehicle she’d been working on and drinking her morning tea.

“Something else, wasn’t he?” she asked me quietly.

“You saw me watching him?”

She nodded, reached over, and brushed a strand of hair from my face. “When did you get so grown up? When did I get so old?”

“You’re not old, Grandma. You could probably kick my butt.”

She sighed. “Be careful, Nevada. That’s a very dangerous man.”

Tell me about it. “I’m not planning on hanging out with him one second longer than necessary.”

Grandma Frida gave me an odd look.


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