Burn for Me Page 41

Lenora Jordan crossed her arms. “I was about to issue you a formal invitation to visit my office.”

“Really?” Mad Rogan said.

“Really. How long did you expect to rampage around the city unchecked? There must be a very compelling reason that explains why you’re blowing up businesses and dropping buses on people in public. I’m eager to hear it.” She turned to me. “Who are you?”

Lenora Jordan was talking to me.

“This is my associate, Ms. Baylor,” Mad Rogan said.

“Can your associate speak for herself?”

“Yes, I can,” I said. What do you know, my mouth moved and words came out. I hadn’t thought they would. “Nice to meet you.”

Her gaze pinned me down. “My office has been trying to identify a young female who has been accompanying him on his reign of havoc. Are you that female?”


“How are you involved with him?”

“I’ve been tasked by my parent company to convince Adam Pierce to surrender himself to his House.”

Lenora Jordan’s eyebrows rose.

“MII,” Mad Rogan said.

“What are your qualifications for this job?” she asked.

“I’m expendable,” I said.

Lenora frowned. “Sounds like Augustine. Okay, let’s hear it. All of it.”

We sat down, and Mad Rogan and I took turns explaining the situation. When we finished, Lenora held out her hand. Rogan produced the artifact and placed it on her palm. The DA studied it for a long moment.

“Have your people reached any conclusions?” she asked.

“It’s magic. It’s inert. It’s indestructible,” Mad Rogan said. “We dipped it in acid. We blowtorched it. I couldn’t break it.”

Lenora’s eyebrows rose again. “You personally?”

Mad Rogan nodded.

She turned the piece of jewelry in her hands. The diamonds caught the light, glowing weakly. “This doesn’t fit Adam’s MO. He’s impulsive and impatient. Last year he set a bouncer on fire because he tossed Adam out of the club. Then Adam got roaring drunk, high, and partied until dawn so hard that when we came to get him in the morning he barely remembered the incident. What we have here is complicated and done in stages. It took careful planning and preparation. To what end? Ms. Baylor, has he said anything to you?”

“He enjoys setting things on fire and embarrassing his House, his mother especially,” I said. “He didn’t give me the impression that there was anything larger going on, but clearly his actions are part of some complicated plan. He also led me on, because as long as I kept reporting back that he and I were communicating, House Pierce sat on their hands.”

“The attack on your family is the only thing that doesn’t fit.” Lenora tapped her nails on the desk. “And he hasn’t contacted you since in person?”


“Someone is controlling him,” Lenora said. “Why? He could’ve quietly gathered the pieces, but instead he is creating a huge public spectacle every time. For what purpose is this being done?”

“It’s classic destabilization,” Mad Rogan said. “People don’t feel safe, law enforcement appears incompetent, and public sentiment toward the Houses plummets. It reminds people what we can do if we choose to disregard the law. Most people find that uncomfortable.”

That was a surprising analysis, coming from him.

“Nobody is above the law, Rogan,” Lenora said. “Not even you.”

“So you tell me,” he said.

She sighed. “I will check with Homeland Security to see if any of the anti-Houses terrorist groups could be involved. But it would take a hell of a personality to rein in Adam Pierce and make him follow a plan. Many have tried and failed.”

“Lenora.” Mad Rogan leaned forward. “He needs this trinket. He has at least one, possibly both, although I doubt it.”

“He would’ve made another production out of getting the third piece,” I agreed.

“He will be coming for it,” Mad Rogan said.

“Are you questioning the integrity of my office?” Lenora asked him. Her voice was amused, but her eyes weren’t.

If she looked at me like that, I’d probably get out of my chair and hide behind it. Mad Rogan didn’t even blink.

“I’m trying to account for all possibilities. If he gets the three pieces together, he will become a pillar of flame. If his current pattern is consistent, he will do it somewhere public. In front of this building or in front of House Pierce. Somewhere where population is dense.”

“I count on you to make sure this doesn’t happen,” she said.

“But if it does, there will need to be an evacuation,” Mad Rogan said. “You and I both know how difficult it would be.”

“You want me to issue a terrorist alert.” Lenora leaned back. “You do realize that the advisories are not given lightly. There is a great deal of weight and planning that comes with it. I have to coordinate with the Office of Homeland Security, National Guard, and FBI. Not to mention the Houses will lose their collective minds.”

“It’s your call,” Mad Rogan said. “But keep in mind: this is real. It’s happening. I don’t want us to be caught unawares.”

“I’ll think about it,” Lenora Jordan said.

We made it outside without being arrested.

Mad Rogan looked at the building and shook his head.


“The next time we see that trinket, Adam Pierce will be wearing it.”

“I think she’ll take good care of it.”

“Not as good as when it’s locked in one of my vaults.”

We started across the street.

My phone beeped. I glanced at the text message. Arrived in Austin. Checked into hotel. Tell Rogan thank you for escort.

“Did you send an escort with my family?”

“Yes. They’re a target.”

“How did you know they would be leaving?”

“My people saw them load up, called me, and I told them to follow.”

Duh. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I plan to hold them hostage until you sleep with me.”

I stumbled.

He turned and gave me a brilliant, impossibly handsome smile. “Just kidding.”

Damn it.

“Have lunch with me,” Rogan said.


“Nevada, you should have lunch with me. Somewhere public where we could be easily seen. It would also help if you pretended to enjoy yourself. Throw your hair back and smile. Perhaps even giggle girlishly.”

I paused. “Baiting the hook for Mr. Pierce?”


It wasn’t a bad idea. I didn’t mind being bait if it netted me Pierce, not even a little bit. “Bern . . .”

“Do you think your cousin would rather sit in a car, watch you, and risk being fried by that half-baked lunatic, or play with Bug’s new setup in complete safety at my compound?”

My phone rang as if on cue. I answered it.

“Hey,” Bern said. “Do you still need me? I’ve got an invite from Bug, and there are some people here with an armored Range Rover. They’re saying Mad Rogan told them to pick me up.”

I looked at him. Mad Rogan stepped close to me, his big body too near, the look in his eyes too heated. I smelled a hint of sandalwood and vetiver, mixed with an almost harsh, peppery scent. He bent down, arresting, his eyes so blue. My heart beat faster.

He smiled a slow, predatory grin. “Resistance is futile.”

“You are not assimilating me.” I stood my ground and raised the phone to my ear. “Bern, if you want to go with them, go ahead.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.” Mad Rogan already had my family covered in Austin anyway. At least Bern would be protected.

I hung up and looked at Mad Rogan. “I’ll go to lunch with you. But I’m not giggling.”

Casa Fortunato turned out to be a small restaurant at the intersection of Crawford Street and Congress Avenue, only a few blocks from the justice center. It had a small outdoor area facing the Minute Maid ballpark. The day was hot and humid, and the last thing I wanted to do was sit outside. That’s why anyone who had any sense ate underground in Houston’s tunnels. They started out as an underground passage between two movie theaters and grew over the years to connect to just about everything, with their own restaurants and rest areas. On a hot day, downtown looked almost deserted. Unfortunately, if we sat underground, Adam Pierce would have no chance of noticing us. It was highly unlikely he would enter the tunnels, where he could be cornered.

We walked to a table with bright yellow, blue, and white Spanish tile, and Mad Rogan held the chair out for me. I hung my canvas bag on the chair and sat. The canvas bag contained a Baby Desert Eagle, .40SW, with a 12-round magazine. After the last brush with Adam’s crew, I didn’t want to take chances, so I’d upgraded my firepower. I was turning into Dirty Harry. BDE was as big and bad as I wanted to be. Eventually it would all be over and I could go back to my normal business of tracking cheating spouses and insurance fraud. It might be less exciting, but it rarely required me to fire a gun within city limits.

The familiar, sick feeling sucked at my throat. I had killed someone. I really didn’t want to think about it. Eventually I would have to deal with it one way or another.

The waitress appeared with a dish of salsa and a plate of still-warm chips and took our drink orders. Two ice teas, fake sugar.

I pretended to be engrossed in the menu. What to order? Something not messy. Baja tacos with shrimp looked good. I put the menu down.

“What do you think of Lenora Jordan?” Mad Rogan said.

“I think she’s awesome. I want to be her when I grow up.”

“You want to be the DA?”

“No, I want to . . .” I struggled to put it into words. “I want to be where she is professionally but in my own way. I want to be confident and respected for what I do. I want to earn a reputation. I want it known that the Baylor Investigative Agency stands for something. My father started it, and I’d like to make sure the name means competence and quality. What is it you want?”

He leaned back. The sunlight played on his face, sneaking in past a tree on the corner. His skin seemed to almost glow, highlighting the strong lines of his face, the powerful nose, and the hard chin. He shrugged. “I haven’t thought about it.”

The waitress returned with our drinks, took our order—I got Baja tacos and he got crispy tacos with ground sirloin—and disappeared again.

His phone beeped.

“Excuse me.” Mad Rogan raised it to his ear. “Yes?”

There was an odd kind of contrast between a man who crushed people out of existence and the one who had perfect dinner manners. Somehow the raging Prime and urbane millionaire were one and the same, and it completely made sense, except that the mundane part of him made the violent part even scarier.

“When?” Mad Rogan asked. “Tell him to meet me here.”

He hung up and glanced at me. “I’m sorry, I have to take care of some business. It can’t wait, but I’ll keep it short.”

“Not a problem. I’ll busy myself with being seen and tossing my hair. Would you like me to twirl it on my finger while biting my lip?”

“Could you?”

“No, sorry.” I grinned at him.

“Tease,” he said, and my mind went right into the gutter. I dragged it out, kicking and screaming. Professional. At least try to stay professional.

“So you have no goals?”

“No, I have short-term goals,” he said. “They’re not particularly challenging.”


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