“I still think that should be our last resort. Shooter won’t go for the kill himself. He’ll send his Arcadian or Bruiser, and I’d rather not go against the Arcadian just yet. Not until we’ve got precautions in place to counteract any ability he might have. Good news is, we’re close. That handheld I found at Marks’s place? Our tech hacked through the security program and discovered info on the sex ring.”
Her eyes widened. “We were right, then.”
“Looks like.” A flicker of rage, quickly contained. Sex crimes pissed him off. Hector had never been raped, but his will had been disregarded countless times. He knew the total devastation of feeling helplessness, the terror of being trapped in your body as other people hurt you. “Devyn was right. Someone will be after Margarete Marks. The guards watching her said there haven’t been any disturbances yet, but Mia’s adding a few more just to be safe.”
“You know, this is bad of me to say, but I really hoped Brenda Marks did it. I would have loved to lock her away. But okay, she didn’t do it. A flesh peddler did. How has he stayed in the shadows so long? Why hasn’t someone talked? Like a resentful wife who’s been cheated on? Or children who walked in on their dad banging the weird chick in chains in the basement?”
“Fear. Bobby was keeping a journal. He bought Margarete for a limited time. Fell in love with her. Time was running out, so he bought her for a little while longer. He never met with the seller directly, everything was online and by phone. But there’s no website.”
“If there’s no website, how’d he learn where and how to buy her?”
“From a friend, but he didn’t put the friend’s name in his notes. Maybe to protect him.”
So that was a dead end. For now. “How was Margarete delivered to him? She wouldn’t have willingly walked to his door.”
“Marks wrote that a tall guy with more muscles than should be legal delivered her. Again, he didn’t mention a name. My guess is he didn’t know it, that the guy was there as more than a deliveryman, but to intimidate the buyer into staying quiet.”
“Also, there’s a caveat to every buy. If you want to tell a friend so he can get a female—or male—of his own, you have to get permission. If you tell anyone without permission, or how or where you got your companion, you die. You tell anyone about the transaction, you die.”
“So who’s disappeared in the wealthier circles, like that up-and-comer Devyn mentioned? As quiet as this entire operation has been kept, there have to be more than two victims.”
“Meanwhile, let’s deconstruct the night of the murder. No one could teleport into Bobby’s house. So someone had to either come to his door,” Noelle said after swallowing another bite of cheesecake, “or sneak in. Since there’s no sign of a break-in, I’m guessing the door.”
“I’m with you.” Wrong words, he instantly realized. He gulped, trying to swallow back his sudden rise of renewed desire.
Oblivious, she licked her fork like it was a lollipop. Or his cock. At the sight of that gorgeous pink tongue, Hector experienced full-on arousal, no more of that almost/maybe/could be shit—and there was no stopping it. That tongue had given him those same kinds of so-delicious strokes, and he wanted to feel all that wet heat between his legs again. And again.
He shouldn’t have messed around with her, he thought darkly. Resisting her had become a whole lot harder. In every way.
Heat sizzled along the veins in his arms, and he set his food aside.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, reading his approaching panic before he did.
He shook his head. “Nothing. I’m fine.” Mind, out of gutter. “So someone comes to Marks’s door and, late as it was, Marks had to know him or he wouldn’t have answered. The journal doesn’t mention an Arcadian, so it had to be Bruiser.”
“Maybe the Arcadian was with him, though.”
“No, wait. Bruiser was waiting with the shooter, remember? So Bruiser couldn’t have been the one to pick Marks up. The Arcadian appeared with Marks, so the Arcadian was the one to go and get him.”
“Could this Arcadian be so powerful that he can teleport past Bobby’s shields?”
He’d never heard of such a thing, but then, wasn’t he living proof that the impossible was always possible? “I’ll have our techs look into it.”
Interruptions were standard; someone had something to ask at least once an hour. Hector didn’t bother checking his ID screen. Frowning, he punched the code to allow the intruder inside.
The block slid open, revealing a smoldering Dallas. The agent didn’t enter. He took in the intimate scene and stiffened.
“You’ve got a visitor,” Dallas said. “And you’re not going to believe who it is.”
His frown deepened. “Who?” He wasn’t expecting anyone.
A tall otherworlder Hector recognized but had never met stepped beside Dallas. He was eerily handsome, with pale skin and violet eyes. Strength radiated from his leanly muscled body, an electric pulse seeming to waft from him. An Arcadian. A football star.
Noelle might have claimed to like a man in uniform, but there was no way she would scoff at the perfect lines of the perfect pinstriped suit the perfect bastard wore. I will kill him.
“If you’re here to file a complaint about the rumors,” he growled, “you can—”
“I’m not.” That violet gaze remained on Noelle, probably memorizing every luscious detail.
“Oh … shit,” she muttered, sitting up straighter. Hector’s hands curled into fists. Maybe Corban wasn’t here to complain, but he wasn’t here to thank her, either. One harsh word uttered in Noelle’s direction, and Hector would lash out, no matter that he could lose his job. When it came to Noelle’s protection, he was finding that there were no lines he wouldn’t cross.
“Good to see you again, Elle.” There was so much husky promise in the guy’s voice, the air practically thickened with sensuality.
See her … again? When had they last gotten together? And who the fuck did the ball player think he was, using a nickname with her? They were broken up. And why the hell was she uncomfortable? Nothing made Noelle uncomfortable.
He opened his mouth to question the Arcadian, but when Corban shouldered Dallas aside to crouch just in front of Noelle, Hector’s mouth snapped closed. His questions could wait. Rage blistered through him. He stood, intending to physically force the man to back off. Mine, she’s mine, and I do not share.
Corban grinned, unconcerned by the animal he’d provoked. “So. I hear we’re having twins.”
DALLAS PASSED HECTOR A few fingers of scotch before downing his own. They both needed the alcohol. For different reasons, yeah, but need was need.
The pair of them sat in a shadowed corner of Wonderland, Hector’s favorite bar. The tables were made of metal, but they were painted to look like tree stumps. Evergreen-scented bubbles sometimes cascaded from the ceiling and floated through the air. Weird music always played in the background, the beat fast and erratic, and when you studied the walls hard enough, you could see little fairies peeping out from lush green bushes. Fairies with fangs, always a nice combo.
“So what do you think she’s doing?” he asked, miserable in a way he’d never been. And he’d been pretty damn miserable throughout his entire life!
“Well, I can guess.” Hector slammed his glass on the tabletop with enough strength to crack the iron. Noelle had left AIR with Corban Blue, oh, about six hours ago. No one had heard from her since.
A soft glow emitted from his bare arms, and the scowl he gave Dallas could have slain an army. “She better not still be with that Arcadian.”
“Dude, calm down. I’ve never seen you act that way.”
No one had. Except Noelle. She’d seen every side to him. Harsh, aroused, teasing, cruel. She’d liked him anyway. Until he’d pushed her away that last time. And now that he’d confessed about his past, she wouldn’t want him no matter how hard he tried to win her back.
Not that he could try to win her back.
“Usually you’re the guy with complete control of his emotions,” Dallas said. “Now you’re like Dragon Man, able to spew fire and burn an innocent man to ash.”
Closer to the truth than he probably realized. Hector pulled gloves out of his back pocket and stuffed his hands inside them, hiding his skin, his tats.
“So have you slept with her yet?” Dallas asked.
His scowl returned. “Came close before you told me about … Anyway, there’s hardly been the time since, has there? We’ve been working a case since the moment we left your place. More than that, I haven’t forgotten Devyn’s threat on her life. And most important, you’ll die, remember?”
Dallas’s shoulders sagged. “I’m sorry. I really am. I know you want her.”
Want. Too tame a word for what he felt for Noelle.
“Do not go there, Dallas,” Hector said after tossing back the rest of his scotch.
Possessiveness was like a spiked collar around Hector’s neck. He wanted to hold the memories of what he’d shared with Noelle close. Especially since there could never be a repeat.
“What about your arms?” Dallas asked. “How’d they react to the stimulation?”
“Poorly. Which is why I ditched her the morning after”—this morning, to be exact—“and told her we could never do anything like that again. So I’d ruined things with her even before your little announcement.”
For the best and you know it.
“I’m sorry,” his friend said again.
“Clearly, you’re the better man for her.” He’d thought that very thing before, but saying it aloud rankled. His throat clogged up with a mix of fiery rage and sorrow.
Dallas heaved a heavy sigh. “No, I’m not the better man for her. She never wanted me, and that’s a fact. She even tried to set me up with a friend of hers.”
It was stupid how much delight he took in that. “Really?”
“Yeah. Don’t get me wrong, I want her, but not as intensely as you do. Besides, I’ve never had a relationship last more than a few weeks. Being with her might save my life, but it would ruin yours and probably hers.”
Yeah, because if Dallas slept with her then tossed her aside, breaking her heart, Hector would probably flip out. Violently.
“I won’t touch her,” Dallas added. “You have my word. I just … I can’t hurt you like that.”
His head snapped up. “But your vision—”
Electric blues dulled. “If one vision has to happen, it’s going to be the one of you and Noelle. Hell, maybe that’s the one that will save me.”
Or maybe not. Guilt ate at him, but he couldn’t deny he experienced a flood of relief. “Thank you. I—”
“Nope. You don’t have to go there. We’re friends. And I’ll take care of Devyn, don’t worry. He won’t go after her.”
“Thank you,” he couldn’t help but say again. He should let the subject drop at that, but couldn’t. “Tell me everything you saw in the vision. Before the waking-up-naked part. Please.”
A shrug. “Nothing else to tell. You were naked, she was naked, and you were both asleep. She woke up, sat up, and said, ‘Thank God. Not a dream.’”
So … Dallas hadn’t seen the act itself. Which meant, there was a chance the act had never even happened. Maybe, as Hector had previously suspected, he and Noelle had merely fallen asleep beside each other.
“Then I still can’t be with her.” He worked his jaw back and forth. “I can’t risk harming her.”
Dallas signaled the waitress for another round. A few minutes later, she delivered.
She wore a short skirt that stopped just under the curve of her ass and flared out at her hips like a ballerina’s tutu. Her red hair was split down the center and swinging over her ears in pigtails, and there was a heart painted in the center of her lips.
“Anything else?” she asked Dallas with an eagerness that had nothing to do with the tip she hoped to get. Well, not the cash one.
“How about your phone number?” the agent asked huskily, as if trying to prove to Hector that he wasn’t going to pursue Noelle.
She grinned, the heart blooming like the petals of a morning rose. “Already ahead of you, gorgeous. Check your napkin.” With a wink, she sauntered away.
“Way to get over your heartbreak,” Hector groused.
“I know, right. But if everything goes according to plan, I’ll be getting under it.”
Hector downed one of the shots, emptying the contents in a single gulp.
“Listen,” Dallas said. “I’ve been working with Kyrin, learning how to deal with my own abilities. He says it’s all about control. Mind over matter, that kind of thing. Maybe that’s all you need to do to keep yourself leveled out when you’re with Noelle.”