Her guy could have easily gotten control of his panic, faked a pass-out, meaning to leap up and attack her the moment she let him go.
Rather than hit him, she jiggled his broken nose. No reaction. Still not taking any chances, she moved the blade tip to his belly, where his shirt rose above his pants, revealing a strip of flesh. “I’ve got a knife at your gut, so I’d be careful if I were you.”
Warning issued, she balanced on her knees, intending to pat him down. Of course, that’s when he erupted into motion. Yep. A fake-out. His determination must be great, to have ignored that jiggle.
The action caused her blade to slice his stomach, but he didn’t seem to notice or care. Bleeding, he slid out from under her, jumped to his feet, and ran. Just ran.
“I am not chasing you!” Noelle jumped up, too, and tossed the knife. It whizzed through the air. The length embedded in the back of his calf, where he had just placed most of his weight, and he went down like a brick in water, screaming in agony. Heart thundering in her chest, she stomped over to him.
He’d cracked his cheek on the concrete when he landed, and a pool of crimson seeped from his mouth. He writhed, twisting, trying to reach the blade to remove it. Maybe she’d never gotten the mercy gene because she stepped on the hilt, digging the weapon even deeper.
“I told you not to run, asshole,” she said. And damn it, she didn’t have a pair of cuffs on her.
She bent down anyway and grabbed his wrists, pinning them behind his back and straddling his waist, so that her weight pinned him down. Tears leaked down his cheeks, joining the blood.
Gasps echoed behind her. Shuffling footsteps. The pounding of boots.
Noelle turned her head—and spotted Hector shoving his way through the crowd and stalking toward her. Big and muscled and so sexy her heart skipped a beat.
Puffing up, she said, “Bagged him,” sounding so damn smug, he’d probably fume.
Dressed in his usual black shirt and slacks, he looked menacing and without a hint of warmth. As always. His tattoos looked different, though. The circles more jagged, the lines thicker. He’d grown his hair out, too. A Caesar cut, the messy, darkened strands adding an air of savagery to him.
Sweat glistened on his brow, dripped from his temples. He wiped the droplets away with the back of his hand, his golden gaze sweeping over her. His pupils expanded. “You okay?”
She’d heard his voice these past few months, of course. When he’d spoken to Dallas or Mia, or anyone else in AIR. But right now, with that gravelly timbre directed at her, she felt her body respond. Her blood heated, and her nipples tightened underneath the leather top.
Oh, hell, no. Not going there again. Lesson learned. No need for a repeat.
“Better than,” she replied, and prayed she sounded breezy. She relayed everything the guy had said, and for a moment, Hector actually looked impressed. With her—or the info-hold-out perp? “Got a pair of cuffs on you?”
One of his brows shot into his hairline. “You chased him without a pair of cuffs?”
“Yes. Mine are still hanging from my bedposts.”
No reaction. “What did you plan to do with him when you tackled him?”
“Duh. Exactly what I did. Hurt him until he caved.” Frowning, Hector reached behind him. Next he extended a pair of cuffs in her direction. She managed to take them without allowing her fingertips to brush over his skin.
In two point two seconds, she had the human bound, the laserbands wound around his wrists, lit up to a pretty gold—though not as pretty as Hector’s eyes—and bonded to his skin.
And yet, still the guy writhed.
She said, “You pull at them too much, and you’ll lose your hands. Or so I’ve heard. I’m more than willing to use you as a test subject and find out for real.”
That got his attention. At long last, he stopped fighting.
Did you see that, Hector? I won this round. Noelle climbed off the perp, but kept a boot pressed into his shoulder blades to remind him that she was there. “Where’s your car?” she asked Hector.
“Right there.” He hitched his thumb to the street beside them, and sure enough, she spotted a standard AIR sedan.
He didn’t seem surprised that she knew he’d traded in the Porsche, even though they’d never run into each other outside of work. “No. I’m on the clock.” His gaze swept over her a second time. Another flare of his pupils. “But you’re not. Where have you been?”
“I was out on a date with my newest lover, the insatiable Don Carlos.” She wanted to believe Hector liked what he saw, but … She’d gone that road with him before, hadn’t she? A girl never forgot a burn like that.
Her lips pursed. How had he known she was lying? “Do me a favor and carry the perp to your car,” she said, ignoring his question.
A moment passed in silence, then he shook his head. “Bastard clipped your chin. He doesn’t deserve a carry.” As he spoke, he withdrew a pair of familiar gloves and slipped them on.
Her gaze immediately slid to his arms, and yep, for the third time in their acquaintance, she spotted that slight, barely noticeable azure glow. A glow that remained even after he donned the gloves, just above the top edge. She only detected it because she knew to look. And okay, because she was staring. Most people would probably think his tattoos were colored that way. She wasn’t most people, and besides that, she had a picture of him seared into her memory. She had forgotten nothing about the way he was made, and always spotted any changes in his appearance.
She wished she knew what the glow meant, though. She’d even done some online research—because she’d been bored and not for any other reason—but had learned nothing.
Without looking at her, Hector closed the remaining distance, reached down, and hauled the guy to his feet, holding him by the scruff of his neck when his knees collapsed. Then he practically dragged the guy to the sedan, stuffing him in the backseat with as little finesse as possible, even letting his head bang into the top of the door.
Three other agents finally appeared on the scene, and they did crowd control, moving everyone back and out of the way, blocking off the pool of blood.
Hector faced her, still unwilling to peer into her eyes. “You want a ride to the station?”
No enthusiasm in his voice. Only dread.
Why do you dislike me so much? What did I ever do to you? Besides throw herself at him, time and time again.
“No, thanks,” she forced herself to reply. “I’ve got people to do, and things to see. Besides, I abandoned my car a few blocks away. Behind our boy’s.” Our. Wrong word. Her heart skipped another beat.
An abrupt nod as his nostrils flared in—anger? “Mia and Dallas were there a few minutes ago, so …”
So get lost, he was saying. Bastard. “Next time put some hustle in your step and you might actually be first on the scene. Or maybe you couldn’t help yourself. Old age is a bitch, I hear.” Grinning as if she’d never been happier, she turned to walk away. One step, two. Three. Every inch farther away caused an ache to intensify in her chest.
“Noelle,” Hector growled, stopping her. “You caught him, so you get to question him. I’ll text you after medical’s cleaned and bandaged him.”
Without looking back, she responded, “Don’t worry, I’ll try to keep my blades to myself during the next round of my interrogation.” She waited a moment, but he said nothing else, so she kicked back into motion. Totally not disappointed.
Soon as she rounded a corner and Hector couldn’t see her, she lost her fake grin and hailed a cab, hauling ass back to the other scene. Mia and Dallas were still there, talking to witnesses. The pale, shaky girl Dallas was chatting up spotted Noelle and pointed.
Electric blues found her, and Dallas smiled in greeting. And yet that smile lacked any hint of amusement. Like Hector, he’d been careful to keep his distance from her these past few months. As if there were something toxic about her.
“She’s one of the good ones,” he said.
“Oh,” the girl responded, clearly frustrated that she hadn’t helped nail a suspect. And clearly hating on Noelle. Her eyes narrowed before she returned her attention to Dallas and placed a proprietary hand on his bicep. “As I was saying …”
There was her car, no worse for wear. She’d had the foresight to shut down the engine before diving outside, and someone would have had to know how to bypass her very extensive security system to start it up again.
She stopped, and Mia Snow jogged to her side.
“How are the females?” Noelle asked her.
That petite face scrunched in anger. “My source said we’d find three, but we only found two. Not sure where the third is, but the other two were drugged, so they didn’t know anything. They might have been pegged with a tracker, too. We’re looking into it.”
“Just one. We sent both to New Chicago General with two agents in each ambulance and lasercuffs on the girls so they couldn’t be teleported away. There will be two agents at their bedsides the entire time. Until they’re well enough and we can move them into AIR HQ, where no one will be able to teleport them elsewhere, no matter what. This time, I will find out what the hell is going on with these abductions.”
So much determination in such a tiny body, which reminded Noelle of Ava. A pang in her chest, razing that hollow place. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
Mia nodded, dark bob swinging around her chin. “Hector texted me, told me what happened. You did well.”
Pride unfurled wings and fluttered inside her. How pathetic was she, that she wanted to twirl a strand of hair around her finger and ask what, exactly, Hector had said? “I always do.”
“Home to shower.” And most likely to replay every change in Hector’s expression, his every word, his every glance.
Yep. It was official. She was pathetic.
Mia gifted Noelle with one of her rare smiles. “See you at the wedding tomorrow, then.”
Tomorrow her life changed forever. And not in a good way.
“Graduate Camp Hellhole—check,” Noelle muttered. “Hired by AIR—check. Complete my first mission successfully—check. Kick Hector’s ass at a foot race—check. Lose my best friend—check, check, fucking check, and scribble and crumble the notepad and slam it into the trash.”
She leaned against the bathroom stall, clutching her two favorite men: a bottle of Jack and a bottle of Jim. She was trying not to cry. She hadn’t felt this vulnerable since that terrible night at camp, when Hector had given her a figurative finger. Had thought she’d prepared herself for this life-changing moment last night, staying up to watch holo-vids of her and Ava.
Well, she wasn’t prepared and never would be! Noelle banged the back of her head against the wall over and over. For once, she wished she could feel physical pain. A terrible, gut-wrenching pain. Anything to distract her.
Ava was about to marry her vampire boyfriend McKell, and Noelle would forever be alone.
At least I look good, she thought with a bitter laugh. As the maid of honor, Noelle wore a gorgeous red sheath dress that conformed to her curves. Spaghetti straps, a scooped neck that revealed ample cleavage. The material flowed to the floor, flirting with her amazing diamond-encrusted red stilettos.
Her hair was curled and now waved down her back, dancing with her every motion. Her makeup, perfectly applied. Her skin, glowing with health and vitality—or was that sickly dread?
Ava, her best friend, her only true friend, had fallen in love. Deep, abiding love.
Today Ava would abandon Noelle to tie herself to a vampire warrior.
Tonight Ava would give up the daylight and become a vampire herself.
Trying not to fall into a spiral of panic, failing, Noelle drained Jack and tossed the bottle in the toilet. Still trying not to fall into a spiral of panic, failing, she drained Jim and tossed the bottle in the toilet. She had to get herself under control. She couldn’t let Ava see her like this.
This was Ava’s day. Noelle would not ruin it. No matter how much she wished Ava would change her mind, tell McKell where he could stick his fangs, and sprint from the chapel. That way, things could return to normal. Just the two of them, kicking ass and forgetting names.
Alone, alone, alone. The word echoed through her mind, tormenting her.
Wasn’t like she could call her mom and sob out all her problems. Madam Tremain disapproved of her more than ever.
Isn’t it enough that Jaxon has tarnished the Tremain name? the blasted woman had sneered during their last phone conversation. Why couldn’t Noelle act like a lady for once and do something with her life? Like charity work for one of their many causes?
No support from her brothers, either. She was more than welcome to silently sit on the board of Carter’s firm. More than welcome to fly to Third World countries with Anthony and help the poor. More than welcome to seclude herself in Tyler’s Italian villa while he partied.
As long as she stopped embarrassing everyone with her “wildness” and her “wayward mouth” and her “blue-collar job.”
Wasn’t it time she grew up?
A tear threatened to burn a path down her cheek, but she managed to blink it back. Oh, Ava. I miss you already. There would be no more ditching work to go shopping and have their nails done. No more midnight pillow fights. No more five-hour-long phone conversations about their hopes and dreams.