Shades of Memory
A Diamond City Magic Novel, Book 4
Bell Bridge Books (November 3, 2017)
ebook ISBN-13: 9781611948226
print ISBN: 9781611948370
print: coming soon
Praise for Shades of Memory:
UF fans are in for a treat as Pharaoh Francis returns with the fourth installment in her original and gripping Diamond City Magic series. Any “wins” her protagonists’ have managed in their fight against a corrupt government and dangerous Tyet’s have come with terrible costs. Keeping the storytelling pace quick, Pharaoh Francis tracks events happening both to heroine Riley Hollis and Tyet boss Gregg Price. Dark times may be heading towards Diamond City so the intensity level of this book is off the charts! Make sure you don’t miss out on this stellar example of UF!
–Jill Smith, Romantic Times, four star review
This book is a real game changer. Riley must make some hard decisions and will need a little help from both her family and friends. Things in Diamond City are about to change in a big way and Riley will be in the middle of it all. Relationships will be tested, lives will be put on the line, and a new threat will enter into the fray making for a highly intense, compelling, and gripping read.
I couldn’t help but give this one 5 out of 5 roses. I love this dynamic duo and the world Ms. Francis has created. The chemistry between Price and Riley is off the charts, and I love the way they banter back and forth. Price gives as good as he gets from Riley which keeps her on her toes. Be forewarned, however, that this one ends abruptly in a huge cliffhanger. Gah! (If you heard someone screaming loudly last night that was probably me shouting, “NOOOOOOoooooooo!” **smirk**) On the Lisarenee Romance Rating Scale this one earned a FAN rating–the temperature in the room seems to have suddenly gone up a couple of degrees and a fan would be nice. I highly recommend this series. This series is destined for my keeper shelf.
—Seduced By A Book
Riley’s lost the last damned thing she’s willing to lose. She’s declaring war and prisoners are optional.
After escaping the FBI, Riley and her family have become fugitives, and not just from the law. Every bad guy on the planet wants a piece of Riley. Gregg has been kidnapped. Worse than that, Price’s newly discovered magic is dangerously out of control, and her own is trying to kill her. She has little time to worry about any of that before all hell breaks loose in Diamond City, and she finds herself smack dab in the crossfire.
With the clock ticking down, Riley gathers her friends and family to execute a Hail Mary plan that will pit them against seven of the most dangerous thugs in Diamond City, a serial killer, Riley’s psychopath father, and a mysterious billionaire with plans of his own. If she succeeds, she makes herself an even bigger target. If she fails, everybody she cares about dies.
But the shadows hold danger even Riley will never see coming . . . .
Read An Exerpt
WINDOWLESS WHITE walls, white floors, white toilet, white sink, white table. The room was unrelentingly white. Though Gregg assumed he was being monitored, he saw no signs of cameras or microphones. His rival in crime—Savannah Morrell—had imprisoned him in this incessantly white box and left him to stew. Stripped of everything but his clothing, he had no idea how long it had been since he’d been kidnapped.
The room offered no weapons. The bed was bolted to the floor, as was the table and the lone chair. The toilet had no seat or lid, and the faucet was motion sensitive. Only his mattress, the toilet paper, and the white cup could be mobilized, and while he could make a knife of the latter, it would have done him little good. No one came.
Nulls or binders deadened his traveller magic. Food came periodically. It arrived inside his table, which was attached to the wall. The tabletop rose, and within was a compartment accessible through a narrow panel along the wall. The meal arrived, and warned by the smell, Gregg ate, then shut the table again so that the panel could open to permit the removal of his dirty dishes.
Though plentiful, the food tasted like rehydrated camp slop. Gregg counted meals, even though he knew it meant little to the division of the day or night. He paced and performed a regimen of muscle-building exercises to keep himself ready. He slept in short bursts only when forced to by exhaustion. Mostly he spent his time staring at the sterile walls, mind spinning helplessly.
Somewhere outside this prison, his brother, Clay, was being tortured by the FBI. Or maybe the long week had passed, and he’d been released. Or maybe he’d broken, and they’d locked him in a supermax for the talented.
Gregg knotted his hands in his hair and let out an agonized moan. If he could, he’d kill Savannah for getting in the way of his saving Clay. God, he hoped Riley had made it clear of the trap. His brother’s girlfriend had been with him when Savannah’s thugs had closed in. He’d sent her running into the night. She was smart and had skills. Surely if Savannah had captured Riley, she’d have taunted him with it already. He had to take comfort in that. He had no other choice.
Thirty-six meals later, he received the newspaper. It came folded beside his paper plate. All the dates had been blacked out. He flattened it on the table and read the headline: Marchont Research Facility Annihilated. His chest exploded like he’d been punched. He knew that place. It was a secret FBI facility, and the one he figured housed Clay for interrogation. His breath coming in short pants, he scanned the article.
A magical explosion had not just leveled the compound, it had left nothing more than a black hole in the ground. A grainy picture of the scene splayed over the entire top half of the paper, with insets of blackened bodies and melted debris. The burn extended up the surrounding hills, leaving behind ridges of slag and ash. One hundred and twenty people had been declared dead or missing.
The article explained that the place had been attacked, though no one knew who might have done it. The reporter speculated that the explosion pointed to domestic terrorism or a Tyet hit.
Gregg stared at the pictures. Surely Clay had escaped. A scornful laugh wedged in his throat. God, how naïve and stupid! Clay had been held as tightly as Gregg was being held now.
Unless—maybe this had been a rescue. If Riley had escaped Savannah, if she’d organized an escape mission . . .
It wasn’t possible. Resourceful as she was, she didn’t have the means. Hell, she didn’t even know Marchont was an FBI compound. She was practically a babe in the woods when it came to Tyet business.
He found himself sliding to the floor, rolling onto his side as he curled into a ball. Scalding tears ran down his face as he wept, the sounds he made ugly and harsh.
No one came.
Later he read the article again. Then again. Three more times until he noticed the little box on the back page in the “Too late for regular publication” box. It listed an update. A helicopter discovered abandoned a few miles away. It belonged to Hollis Aviation. Investigators were following up.
Gregg crumpled the paper in his fists, hope lighting in his gut. Taylor’s helicopter. That meant she’d been there, with Riley. That meant it was possible they’d got Clay out before—
For the first time in hours, his brain shifted into gear. Had they caused the explosion to cover their escape? Had Clay done it himself? But up until the FBI had arrested him, he hadn’t known he even had a talent. And even if he had known, he didn’t make fire. At least, Gregg didn’t think he could. His brother had moved a mountain as a child, before trauma had sealed that memory away in his brain. He hadn’t created one lick of fire. Neither could he imagine Taylor or Riley sacrificing so many lives. It wasn’t their natures. So what had happened? Who had wanted that building demolished beyond recovery? And why?
He paced. More food came. Another sliding panel opened, revealing a small shower. How long had it been since it last opened? He’d guess at least three or four days by his smell. He went inside gratefully. He washed and put on the clothes left for him inside the table. This time he was given a pair of gray sweatpants and a red Denver Broncos tee shirt.
More food, several more showers, no news. No contact. He fought to keep sane. He stretched and did exercises until his body shook with exertion and sweat ran in runnels from his skin. He made himself perform math equations out loud, if only to hear his own voice, if only to break the crushing silence.
He could do nothing about the smothering white.
And then, when his beard had grown nearly an inch, a different panel slid open to reveal a hallway with a pale blue carpet and flowered wallpaper between white Greek pilasters. Graceful tables held vases of bright flowers. Mirrors reflected the light of small crystal chandeliers.
A slender, dark-skinned man waited with two bruisers at his back. His mouth curved an unfriendly smile. He held up a heavy silver cuff. “Mister Touray, I am Dembe Heinu. Put this on, if you please.”
Gregg eyed it balefully, then snapped it around his wrist. He didn’t have to ask to know it was a null.
“If you’ll just raise your arm, now?” Dembe held a small padlock.
Gregg did as requested, watching as the other man slid the shank through the loop on the cuff and clicked it home.
“I am to tell you that should you attempt to escape, the Micha Center will be destroyed. A large high school cheerleading competition happens there today. The death toll would be eight thousand at a minimum. You should also know that explosives have been placed at two dozen other sites throughout the city. Should you successfully escape, every hour will see further deaths until you return to our custody.”
“You suppose I care about other people’s lives,” Gregg said tightly.
“I suppose nothing,” Dembe said. “If you will follow me.”
He turned and strode away down the wide corridor. Gregg fell in behind, with the two bruisers bringing up the rear. Tentatively, he reached for his magic, but as he suspected, the cuff nulled his power. Not that he’d dare an escape.
He didn’t doubt for a single second that Savannah would follow through on her threat. She didn’t mind blood on her conscience. He snorted inwardly. As if she even had a conscience. She was cold-blooded, ruthless, and devious as hell, not to mention ambitious and greedy for power. She liked holding other people’s lives in her hands. She liked knowing that they depended on her to keep breathing. She liked it when they knew it, too. Most of all, she liked wielding that power. She’d left a lot of corpses in her wake over the years and wouldn’t shy from adding to the body count.
They passed a number of doorways, then took a set of white marble stairs upward to a wide gallery scattered with clusters of furniture and capped by a coffered ceiling. An enormous fireplace dominated one wall, with floor-to-ceiling windows revealing a gorgeous view. The lights of the snow-covered city clinging to the side of the caldera below glimmered like stars against the velvet night.
On the other end of the gallery, Dembe led Gregg around a wall and through a wide archway. Here was a comfortable salon, with white couches and a fully-stocked bar along one wall. The windowed walls rounded outward and rose to curve overhead. He sighed as his deprived senses drank in the world.
“Welcome, Gregg. Would you care for a drink?”
Savannah Morrell rose from her wingback chair. She stood no more than five feet tall, though silvered pumps lent her at least four more inches. Blond hair curved around her face in a smooth cap. Her pale face was flawless, her clothing chic. She smelled of expensive French perfume.
Gregg hated her with all his soul. For weeks before his capture, he’d been hunting her, trying to find a hole through her security to kill her. Now here he stood within a few feet, and he might as well be on another planet, as much good as his proximity did.
He made himself relax. He needed to play the game if he wanted to find an escape. “I’d take a scotch.”
“That’s right. You like a good single malt, if I recall. Dembe, pour him a Macallan, if you please. It is quite good, I’m told. The usual for me.”
She motioned for Gregg to sit in a chair and sank gracefully back into hers. Her legs were clad in silk stockings, her body sheathed in a long-sleeved cashmere dress the color of blood rubies. She said nothing, waiting as Dembe prepared their drinks and set them on the table between them.
“Leave,” she said with a wave of her fingers.
In a moment, the two of them were alone. Savannah picked up her glass and sipped, making a pleased humming sound. “It’s lovely outside, is it not? The new fall of snow makes the world seem fresh born.”
“And yet we both know the world beneath the snow is crawling with maggots,” Gregg drawled, swirling his scotch.
“We must take it as we find it.”
“Or change it to suit ourselves. Is that not what you’ve in mind?”
She shrugged, a liquid movement full of feline grace. “You must admit that you plan the same.”
“Except I want to save the city. Shut down the violence and the corruption.”
She laughed. “Call it what you want, it’s still running the city to suit yourself.”
He forced a half smile, lifting his drink to his lips and taking a large swallow. The whiskey tasted smoky and woodsy, running down his throat in a delicious burn.
“You didn’t kidnap me to discuss our competing views for the city,” he said. He wanted to ask for news of Clay, of the explosion, but refused to give her the satisfaction. That, and she’d use it against him. Savannah could spot weakness a mile away, and she never hesitated to take advantage. When she went to war, she left nothing on the table.
“Direct as usual,” she said with a curve of her red lips. “Very well. I want the Kensington artifacts in your possession, including the vial of his blood. Turn them over to me and no one will be harmed. Don’t turn them over, and . . .” She shrugged and looked out the window, lifting her glass to her lips.
Fire bloomed in the night. Orange, red, and yellow swelled and burst into bright flowers. A few seconds later, another explosion, then another, and another. Six in all. Gregg leaped to his feet, coming to stand inches from the window, shocked horror yanking the air from his lungs.
He whirled. “What the fuck have you done?”
“I’ve made a point. Sit down. We’re not done negotiating.”
“HOW THE HELL am I going to help you if you won’t even stay in the same room with me?”
I was yelling. I don’t know if it was more from fear, frustration, or fury. With incredible restraint, I did not pick up the chunk of petrified wood sitting on the shelf beside me, and I did not sling said hunk of rock at Price’s head. I did stay in reach to keep my options open.
“If I stay in the same room with you, I’m going to kill you. Is that what you want? What will you do then? Haunt me?”
Price’s voice emerged through clenched teeth. He faced me from the doorway across the room. As usual since we’d come to the safe house, he was in the middle of running away as soon as I came in the room. This time I’d tried sneaking into his bed in the dead of night, but the instant he became aware of me, he was off like he had a dog biting his ass.
“You can kill me from a football field away,” I pointed out, quite reasonably. “Probably a lot farther. Your logic is completely stupid.”
“God dammit, Riley. This isn’t a fucking joke,” he said, plowing shaking fingers through his shaggy black hair.
I wasn’t sure when he’d combed it last. The rest of him looked about as bad. He’d always been lean, but now he looked gaunt. He’d lost a good twenty or so pounds in the last couple weeks, and his sapphire eyes looked bruised and sunken. His cheeks had hollowed, and his lips pulled flat in an angry line. He wore a pair of low-slung pajama bottoms, exposing his chest. I could count his ribs. It hurt to see his pain, to see him struggling so hard. The FBI had arrested and tortured him, and though they hadn’t broken him, they’d done unspeakable damage to his mind and soul.
I loved this man so much I’d risked my life, my family’s lives, and committed a dozen felonies to break him out of FBI custody. He could push me away all he liked, but I’d be damned if I’d let him take a road trip into hell without me. That meant tough love.
I lifted my chin and glared back at him. “I never said it was a joke. But you clearly aren’t getting anywhere with your strategy, and we’re running out of time. Aren’t you the slightest bit worried about finding your brother?”
The last was a low blow, but I was getting desperate. I felt like he was slipping through my fingers and no matter how hard I tried to hold on, he just kept getting farther and farther away.
It didn’t help my anxiety that I felt less than useless. I couldn’t help him, and I couldn’t leave him, not without taking the chance that his worry for me would drive him over the edge. That meant sitting on my hands while both of my brothers and my sister, Taylor, risked their lives to find Touray, who’d been kidnapped while Price was in prison. Price’s obnoxious brother had sacrificed himself so I could get away when we were both being hunted by the Tyet bitch-queen Savannah Morrell. But since going back to the city nearly two weeks ago, neither Taylor, Jamie, or Leo had been able to find him.
But I could, if I were there.
Everybody leaves behind a unique trail of energy wherever they go. As a tracer, I can see it. I can even see nulled trace, which most tracers can’t. In fact, I can do a lot of things most tracers can’t. Or I could before I overloaded my magic channels saving Price and escaping afterward. In the two weeks since, I’d recovered a lot. I figured I was maybe at sixty to seventy percent of normal. I probably couldn’t go jumping into the spirit world or do any major magic tricks, but I didn’t need to. Right now, I only had to locate Gregg, and looking at trace didn’t hurt that much. It wasn’t just for Price. I owed the bastard. Plus, finding him meant taking my family out of the line of fire. For the moment, anyhow.
At my words, Price flinched like I’d punched him in the gut. His face went gray. I held myself still, just barely. God, but I wanted to wrap myself around him and hold him tight. But even if he’d stay in the same room with me, he wouldn’t risk letting me touch him. Not after last time, when a simple kiss had turned into a roof-ripping storm. Luckily, Jamie and Leo had still been here and used their metal magic to fix it.
Price’s newly rediscovered talent was immense. And seriously scary. He could control wind and air. But it seemed like he was always wrestling for control of it. He was terrified it would get away from him and cause a disaster. When he was a little kid, he’d been kidnapped, and that’s when his power first flared up. He’d knocked half a mountain down, destroying villages and killing who knows how many people. After that, he’d blocked his talent and his memories of it. Until the FBI had tortured him, he didn’t even know he had a talent.
“Christ, Riley! Don’t you think I’d be turning Diamond City upside down to find him if I didn’t think I’d end up wiping it off the map in the process?”
“Then let me try to help you—” That’s all I got out before he cut me off.
“I won’t risk hurting you.”
“And I get no say? That’s not going to work for me. I’m a grown-up. I get to make my own damned choices.”
He glared, his jaw jutting stubbornly. “Not this one. This one’s mine.”
“What if you never find enough control? Where does that leave us?” My chest ached with unshed tears, but I kept my voice even. He didn’t need to know how scared I was of losing him. It already felt like he was halfway out the door.
Anger flushed his cheeks red and glittered in his eyes. “It leaves you alive. That’s all that matters.”
It wasn’t, but he wasn’t going to listen. My stomach tightened into a ball of lead. I only had one card left to play. It would piss him off. No, it would devastate him.
I squeezed my eyes shut. I didn’t want to force him. I didn’t want to push him where he didn’t want to go, even for his own good. Who was I kidding? What right did I have to tell him or anybody else what was good for them? I didn’t even know what was good for me most of the time. But the cold hard truth was that if I wasn’t doing any good here, I needed to go back to the city. Without him. I could help there, and here I was useless.
I let go of a long breath and squared my shoulders, opening my eyes. I gave a decisive nod. I could do this. I opened my mouth, and my phone buzzed in my pocket. Saved by the bell. I grabbed for it. I checked the caller ID. My best friend, Patti. Her diner served as my unofficial office, so people came there or called when they needed me.
“What’s going on?”
“How are you?”
Silence. “I see you’re still a crappy liar. Are you going to tell me about it?”
I made a sound halfway between a laugh and a sob. I glanced at Price and then turned and went back through the kitchen and up the stairs, out of earshot. “Things here are rough.” Understatement of the century.
Frustrated. Obnoxious. Frustrating. “Dammit, Patti, I don’t know what to do. Every time I try to get within ten feet of him, he takes off like his ass is on fire, afraid to hurt me. How long can we keep doing this?” I gritted my teeth and took a breath. “Never mind. I’ll figure it out somehow. How are things there?”
“A young couple came in a little while ago. Names are Emily and Luis. They were pretty flipped out. They’ve got a missing teenager and need you to find her for them. Said you knew them.”
I didn’t even think about my reply or what Price would say. Emily and Luis had risked their own lives to save mine the night that Touray was captured. If not for them, I’d be locked up somewhere and Price would still be in prison. I owed them, and I wasn’t going to let them down.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
After freeing Price, I’d overloaded my magic so bad that just tracing hurt. I’d only tried something more demanding once, and that had dropped me like a sack of onions. I’d stayed unconscious for a good hour. Luckily, Price didn’t know about that little hiccup. But I could trace, and that’s what they needed from me.
“What about Price?”
Now that was a problem. I’d been about to threaten him with leaving in the hopes that his worry for me would convince him to let me help him, but I’d never meant to go through with it. Now I had no choice.
She snorted. “Right. Good luck with that.”
“I’ll call you when I’m coming into the city. Can you let Emily and Luis know I’ll meet with them later tonight at the diner?”
“What the fuck was that?” Patti’s voice turned razor sharp.
“What? What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. Ground shook and it sounds like a bomb went off. I’ll get back to you.”
She cut the call before I could ask anything else. For a second I froze, uncertain what to do. Then I shook myself. Whatever had happened, I could find out on the way back. Right now I had to tell Price I was leaving and get on the road.
I sent a quick text to Taylor, Leo, and Jamie to make sure they were all right, and then went to confront the lion in his den. Again.
I started back downstairs, then veered off toward our bedroom. Well, my bedroom, because Price refused to share it with me. I wasn’t dressed for outside. Hopefully, by the time I was, I’d have figured out how to break my news to him.
I strode across to the spacious walk-in closet. Inside, I stripped off the comfortable fleece pants and tee shirt I’d worn to bed, exchanging them for clean underwear, a pair of jeans, and a long-sleeved henley. None of the clothes were actually mine. Jamie and Leo, who’d built the safe house, had stocked it with a variety of sizes in men’s and women’s clothing in case guests hadn’t had time to pack. I had definitely not had time, and even if I had, my stuff would still be somewhere back on the mountain near what used to be the FBI facility.
I pulled on a pair of heavy wool socks, then grabbed a lightweight gray Patagonia jacket guaranteed to keep me warm down to minus thirty degrees, along with a pair of snow pants made of the same stuff.
I returned to the bedroom. Price stood in the doorway. His body was tense, like he was burning for a fight. He probably was. Curls of air swirled restlessly around me. His control was slipping.
“What are you doing?” He jammed his fists into his pockets.
I hesitated. He was riding a knife edge between control and nuclear meltdown. Was I really going to push him off that edge? I had no choice.
“Getting ready to head back to the city.”
His face hardened, and his sapphire eyes turned nearly black. “That’s not funny.”
“It’s not supposed to be. Patti called and Emily and Luis need me to trace a missing girl. You remember I told you about them. They were at that restaurant when I got trapped by Savannah Morrell’s thugs. If not for them hiding me and helping me to escape, I’d be at her mercy right now.” I hesitated. “There’s something else. Just before Patti hung up, something happened. She said it sounded like a bomb went off.”
His jaw worked. The slow curl of air around me quickened. He swallowed convulsively.
I answered his protest before he unlocked his jaw to make it. “I’ll be fine.”
“You don’t even know if the FBI is hunting you.”
“The Marchont compound was wiped out, and Leo and Jamie shut down communications before anybody knew we were breaking in. Nobody knows it was us.”
“They found your sister’s helicopter. Do you really think the entire Hollis clan disappearing at the same time doesn’t look suspicious? Then there’s your father. What’s to keep him from saying something? He’s got no reason to keep quiet.”
My father. The man who’d messed with my brain and set bombs inside my head to kill me if I started trusting anybody like Price with the secrets of my talent. The bastard had abandoned me and the rest of the family ten years before and then popped back into our lives the night the FBI arrested Price. I still didn’t think it was a coincidence.
“He’s got no reason to say anything,” I said, pretending I believed it.
His brows rose, and he gave a harsh bark of laughter. “You don’t know that.”
“And I can’t sit on my ass doing nothing because the world’s a scary place. Emily and Luis need me and I’m going to help them.” I scraped my teeth across my lower lip. “You can come with me.”
“You know I can’t.” His voice was strangled.
I nodded. I did understand. His time with the FBI had given him a serious case of PTSD. Well, the FBI and the recently recovered memories of when his bitch of a mother had taken him to South America at the ripe old age of three to exorcise the magic out of him. The result had been a lot of dead people and Price suppressing his magic and all memory of it. Now he fought bad guys in his dreams. That’s what had driven him out of our bedroom at first. One night he gave me a black eye and a couple of bruised ribs before he came out of it. He’d moved out that night.
Of course I’d ignored him. We had heal-alls to fix the damage. No harm, no foul, and I could take a little pain. I’d suffered a lot worse.
The next night I’d crawled into bed with him, which makes everything that happened after that my fault. At some point he realized someone was with him, and not expecting me, he went into a primal “stranger danger” mode. Caught up in his memories, fears, and hatreds, he hadn’t been responsible for what he did. And that was to suck the air out of my lungs with his magic and then seal up my nose and mouth so I couldn’t breathe.
Luckily, he’d come to his senses before I died. Not before I passed out, though, and that had sent him spinning into overprotective land. Now he wouldn’t stay in the same room, much less touch me. Anytime we crossed the physical boundary, his magic broke his choke hold of control. The last time we’d kissed, all the furniture and windows in the room had ended up shattered. I told Price that was because he rocked my world. He was not amused.
“It’s okay,” I said, which was a total lie, and we both knew it. It wasn’t okay for either of us, but that couldn’t be helped. It was time and past time for me to get back to Diamond City. Emily and Luis just provided a handy excuse to hit the road now.
“Dammit, Riley—” Price snapped his teeth together, the muscles in his jaw flexing as he looked up at the ceiling. White dents bracketed his lips and nose. The air in the room tightened, coiling and knotting until it felt like it had to explode.
“I should go,” I said finally, when he didn’t say anything more.
He didn’t move.
“Price, you have to get out of the way.”
The words opened a yawning pit of black fear inside me. It felt too much like we were breaking up. But then, maybe we already had. I couldn’t help the resentment and bitterness that washed through me. It wasn’t fair, but the last two weeks with him constantly pushing me away felt like he didn’t care. Not enough. He feared hurting me. I got that. In the meantime, he was killing me, and he hadn’t even noticed.
When he just kept standing there like a giant stump, I lost my temper. “What exactly do you want me to do? You won’t let me help you. Fine. Your choice, but you don’t get to tell me to stay here when I’m needed in Diamond City. Now, let me by. If I leave now, I should be able to make it home by early afternoon.”
I held up a hand to stop him when he started to speak. “I know the spiel. This is when you say you aren’t willing to hurt me and blah, blah, blah, round and round and we come back to where we started. That horse has been beaten to a pulp. The poor carcass can’t take any more and frankly, I’m not feeling much better.”
“Did Patti really say Emily and Luis needed you?”
I blinked. It took a second for the words to percolate through my skull and make sense. My mouth fell open. I considered sticking my fingers in my ears to see if they were working properly. Instead I stepped back, my chest hurting like he’d punched me. “Are you fucking serious? You think I’d lie about that?” My voice rose, and my eyes burned with tears of frustration and hurt. “You think I’d play mind games with you?”
He winced but didn’t look remotely apologetic. “Riley, calm down—”
“Fuck you! I’ve got every right to be pissed. You push me away and then when I’m actually going to listen and go away and leave you the hell alone like you keep telling me to, you accuse me of lying just to get away from you.” The words ratcheted out like bullets. “I do not lie. But you know what? I don’t have to lie in order to leave. I can just go. Wanna see? Watch me.”
I started toward him, fully intending to do whatever was necessary to make him move. At the moment, kicking him in the balls seemed like a fine choice.
“Don’t do this to me, Riley. I can’t—” His voice broke. “You mean everything to me. Hurting you rips me apart.”
I made a sound of frustration and rage, stopping when the air around me firmed into the consistency of Jell-O. One way or another, Price was going to keep me away from him. Even as his magic escaped his control, it answered his primitive feelings.
“Watching you suffer is no picnic, either, but you know what? As long as we were swimming in the deep shit together, I was okay. But we aren’t in it together anymore. You made your choice, and now I get to make mine. So get the fuck out of the way and let me go.” Despite my anger, the words nearly broke me.
“You could die,” he choked, and now the winds broke free. A gale roared up, spinning through the room, knocking the pictures from the walls and flipping the blankets from the bed. I dropped my coat and snow pants and walked toward him. The clothing whipped through the air. Price’s hands remained jammed in his pockets. A white film covered his eyes. When he was totally submerged in his magic, his eyes went altogether white. I wanted to keep him as far away from that as possible. At least until he had control.
“I can’t watch them put you in a hole, too.” His gaze skewered me with agonized desperation. The white in Price’s eyes thickened until I could only see a shadow of his blue irises. I knew he was remembering the funeral we’d had for Mel only a few days after arriving at the cabin.
In rescuing Price from the FBI compound, my stepmother, Mel, had been killed. It had been an accident, one that Price had caused. None of us blamed him. He’d been tortured past the point of reason and simply wasn’t responsible. But every time he thought about letting me help him, I knew he remembered Mel’s broken body as we carried her out and her cold, white face as we lowered her into the ground.
My stepbrothers have metal talents. They were able to dig through the frozen, rocky ground to make a grave. Taylor, Price, Dalton, and I had built a coffin for her out of a supply of lumber in the basement. The whole thing had been a nightmare, and yet after, I was glad I’d had a part in laying her to rest. It gave me a chance to grieve and share my sorrow.
For Price it had been an unending nightmare. He was always going to feel responsible for killing Mel. Nothing any of us said could change that. And now he was imagining me in the wood box, me being lowered into a hole, me being covered by a mound of rock and dirt. Me being the one he’d killed.
Deep grooves fanned his mouth and eyes. All around us, the wind kicked higher. The window rattled, and the doors slammed and shuddered in their jambs. The two lamps on the nightstands turned into kites. Their cords gave way one after the other, and the ceramic smashed against the walls, the shards and cords whipping into the air with shoes, soaps, pillows, blankets, towels, and every other loose bit in the room.
I hardly felt the pain of things pelting my body. A trickle of warmth dribbled down my neck as something sharp cut just below my jaw. I reacted without thinking, driven by the knowledge that Price hovered on the brink of total meltdown. If he noticed he was hurting me, I didn’t know what he’d do. Was there such a thing as a land-based hurricane?
I did the only thing I could think to do. The only thing that I wanted to do. I flung myself at him and wrapped my arms tight around his neck, pulling myself up to press my lips against his.
His body was all angles and stone against mine. At first, he remained stiff, his mouth pressed tight, as if his entire being refused me. Then in a convulsive moment, his arms clenched me in a brutal embrace. I could hardly breathe. I didn’t care. For the first time in weeks, I felt like I was where I belonged. A heavy weight fell from me. I’d worried Price would never let me close again. That I’d never hold him or be held; that I’d never taste him again or feel him inside me.
His mouth opened. His kiss was desperate with need and hunger and want. Mine no less so. Not to mention a healthy dose of fear on both our parts. I clutched his head. Our teeth ground together, tongues jabbing and sweeping. Desperation is too little a word for what we felt.
My body felt electric beneath the sweep of his hands as they ran over my back and hips and back up. Abruptly he lifted me up. I wrapped my legs around his waist, pulling myself as close as I could. I wasn’t going to let anything separate us.
All around us the wind whirled and grew more violent. The window shattered, and its glass thudded against the walls and ceiling, flung like ninja stars. We both stood in safety at the center of the vortex, a calm eye in the storm.
We continued to kiss with all the fury of our primitive needs. Crazy as it sounds, I wanted nothing more than to strip away our clothes and get down and dirty. I ached to feel the intimacy of it, to feel us be together the way we were supposed to be, skin to skin, soul to soul.
It wasn’t to be. He twisted away, jerking his head back. His eyes had turned entirely to milk now.
“Help me, Riley,” he said, his arms clenching around me. “Help me. I can’t—” He broke off, his eyes squeezing shut. Then they sprang open again. “You can’t go without me.”
Tremors shook him as wild emotions crashed through him. He’d not dealt with anything since his talent woke. Every little emotion brought on an uncontrolled eruption of magic. He’d bottled up everything—his fear for his brother, his guilt for Mel, his worry for me, his terror of his own power—but now they were ripping free. I’d helped tear away the dam, and now I had to help him find a way to manage his feelings so he didn’t tear apart the world.
I only knew one way to do it. One way that had succeeded before. Unfortunately, I’d died that time. Price had barely managed to revive me.
I pulled his head close, pressing my forehead to his. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ve totally got this.”
One thing I knew for sure—I’d be damned if I was going to die before I made sure he was going to be okay.
Realization must have struck him. An electric jolt ran through his body, and his eyes widened. He opened his mouth to protest. I didn’t give him the chance.