The otherworlder reached her a split second before Hector did. Her instincts were well honed, and when the guy slammed into her, knocking her down, attempting to sink the blade into her kidney—a kill shot—she twisted and rolled, and Hector soared over them both.
He popped to his feet a heartbeat later, whipping around, rage red flickering in his line of vision. Rage red, and blood. Despite Noelle’s maneuver, the tip of the blade must have slicked over her dress and into her, because there were splatters of blood soaking the material to her waist. She held her side with one hand as she unfolded to a stand. In the other, she clutched a dagger of her own. It, too, was bloody.
She’d managed to stab the guy, and maybe that was why he hadn’t yet teleported away… why he was lumbering to a stand, stumbling from her, escaping the old-fashioned way.
“You okay?” Hector demanded, so damn furious he felt engulfed by flames. He hadn’t gotten to his woman in time. If she hadn’t reacted as she had, she would be dead. Could still die… that blood… his burning, itching hands began to singe through the material covering them.
“I’m good, I swear,” she said with surprising force. “Now go get him.”
Hector needed no other prompting. He propelled into motion, giving chase. This man. Had hurt. Noelle.
Didn’t take Hector long to catch up. He dove a second time, made contact. Both of them were flung into the huge oak in Noelle’s front yard before rolling to the ground.
Hector grabbed the guy by his jacket. Or tried to. His hands destroyed the rest of the gloves and ghosted straight through the man’s body, hitting the cold slab of dirt beneath him. The otherworlder spasmed once—then never moved again.
Against his forearm, Hector felt the sizzling of the guy’s heart. Knew the organ was in the process of cooking. He jerked free, the guy burning to ashes and scattering in the wind. That quickly.
Not sorry. Anyone who hurt Noelle deserved what they got.
Fear and fury battled for supremacy as Hector straightened the rest of the way. At the same time, flames sparked in the grass, where the body had been, catching, growing, then reaching the flowers, catching, growing, then slithering toward Noelle’s house. Shit!
Hector swung around, searching for any other threat against his woman. No one else stepped from the shadows. He focused on Noelle. She held a phone to her ear with one hand, was still clutching her side with the other.
Pale and shaky, she disconnected from the call and took a step toward him. “Whole crew is on the way. Firemen, medics, AIR.”
“Stay back, sweetheart. I don’t want you burned.” He held out an arm to ward her off, saw a mist of crackling blue, glowing so brightly his eyes teared. His jacket, gone. His shirt, vaporized. Skin, muscle, bone, vanished. Only that mist remained.
He’d completely atomized. Anything he touched would be razed the very instant of contact.
Horror swept through him, but he didn’t give in to that emotion, either. Behind him, the fire continued to grow and rage. He could hear the crackle of flames, feel the smoldering of the bricks.
“Let me help you,” Noelle said, silver gaze on him rather than her ruined home.
“Listen to me, sweetheart.” Smoke wafted around him, thick and black, and he coughed. “You can’t get close to me. Not right now.”
Though she looked like she wanted to argue, she leaned against the car, maintaining distance. Was his proud, strong girl trembling?
“Not very. A few stitches and I’ll be fine.”
Stitches, a needle being threaded through her precious skin. Another spark of anger caused the azure to pulse. He grit his molars.
Finally, the medics arrived and converged on Noelle to patch her up. When one of them tried to approach him, shock and terror in his eyes, Hector issued a harsh threat that kept him and everyone else at bay.
The firemen arrived next, bustling around to douse the flames with whatever enzyme spray they used. They even sprayed him, but the blue didn’t dissipate in the slightest.
He could have run, could have tried to keep his identity under wraps, but he wasn’t leaving until someone he trusted stood next to Noelle.
As if summoned from Hector’s thoughts alone, Dallas arrived, sprinting onto the scene like the hero he was. He checked on Noelle, who erupted into a speech Hector couldn’t hear over the chaos of the sirens.
Hector turned to view the charred remains of Noelle’s home. Nothing would be salvaged, he realized, fucking hating himself. His chest hollowed out, his fears flooding him. He could have torched Noelle, could have done that to Noelle.
That easily, he made a decision. They were done. In every way. No waiting to see if he could learn to control himself. No working together. No back and forth seduction. No hoping he would change. He’d just proven to himself that he could never be trusted around her.
A frowning Dallas approached him slowly. “What can I do to help you?”
“Shoot me with the strongest damn tranq the medics have. Twice.” Without his emotions to fuel him, his arms would go back to normal. “Then take me home and make sure no one—fucking no one—comes over.”
FUCKING DALLAS, HECTOR THOUGHT two days later as he strode through AIR. Conversations tapered off. Eyes of every color watched him warily. No one said a word to him. He didn’t care.
The tranq had worked, returning his arms to normal and knocking him out all night and most of the next day. Except the bastard hadn’t taken Hector home. He’d woken up in the hospital, tubes and electrodes hooked to practically every inch of him.
He’d been utterly shocked that no government officials were waiting to bag and tag him. Shocked that reporters hadn’t swarmed the place.
Shocked that a bandaged Noelle lay in the bed next to him, sleeping peacefully, lovely and alive, and breaking his goddamn heart because he couldn’t hold her. He’d checked her file—thirty-eight stitches in her side, a small blood transfusion—and left her there.
A very worried—and very pale, befanged, and pissed off—Ava had been in the hallway, talking to Dallas, who’d been giving her the scoop. They’d tried to stop him, launched questions at him, but he’d kept going, hadn’t looked back.
You know what you have to do.
He found Mia in her office, the door open. She sat at her desk, her dark head bent over an electronic file. A soft rap of his knuckles against the frame, and her attention snapped up.
Astonishment filled her baby blues, followed by concern and resolve. “Didn’t expect you in until tomorrow,” she said. “But, okay, we can do this now. Sit down.” She motioned to the chair in front of her desk with an imperial wave of her hand.
After closing the door with the press of a button, he plopped down. “Wanted to give you my report.”
One brow arched as she studied him. Leaning back, she crossed her arms over her middle. Same pose she’d adapted when he and Noelle had been here last, requesting permission to attend the party. I don’t like it, she’d said then. Now he got, “Okay, then, let’s hear it.”
“I told Phillips I was coming after him. He sent an Arcadian assassin to Noelle’s home. That Arcadian stabbed her, and I gave chase. I caught him and killed him with my hands.”
“Hands that glowed a bright blue,” she said.
A jerky nod. No reason to deny it. People had seen. People had to be talking.
“Those hands of yours also turned Tremain’s house into a bonfire, without the use of a match.”
Another nod. He didn’t wait for the questions, just tossed out the answers. “Any time my emotions get too volatile, my arms react. They heat. They burn things. Anything. Anyone.”
“Explains a lot,” she said. “So … are you an otherworlder?”
She rolled her eyes. “That’s a bit self-deprecating, don’t you think? We all have things we have to deal with. Look at me. I’m half Arcadian.”
Took a moment for her words to sink in. “Impossible.” Half-breeds, hybrids, whatever scientist wanted to call them, were … entirely possible, he decided. In this day and age, anything was. He’d even suspected—hoped—that’s what he was, though he now knew better. He was a mistake, plain and simple.
“Anyway, we aren’t here to talk about me,” she went on blithely. “You went too far the other night.”
Understatement of the century, but okay. Like he’d really correct her. “Yes. I did.”
She arched a brow, the picture of curiosity and pique. “Is that something you’re going to do again?”
“Good. If you ever feel yourself nearing the danger zone, come to me. Talk to me, and we’ll take measures to ensure you get back on track safely. And just so you know, everyone who was there that night thinks you were doused with a toxic chemical, and that’s why you were glowing. It’s a miracle you survived, yada yada. Only you, me, Dallas, and Tremain know the truth. Also, Tremain claimed the Arcadian started the fire. I only know the truth because Dallas filled me in.”
Just before passing out, he remembered telling Dallas to talk to Mia, to explain. He should have said something to Noelle, too. He despised the fact that she’d been put in a position to lie for him. He appreciated what she’d done, yeah, but he just wished she hadn’t been backed into that corner.
“Casewise, Dare was right. If the guy Noelle spoke to was indeed Dare.” Mia’s eyes glassed over, as if she were fighting a sudden bout of tears. A second later, the glassiness vanished and she continued, her tone brisk. “We found bones at the location he gave us. Another abandoned field. Gerard Hendrick. Buried there for a little over a year.”
“No. And we can’t prove the Arcadian who attacked you was one of the ones with Phillips at the party, either.”
“But you can’t prove it. He’s been burned beyond recognition.”
Anger had his hands fisting. Calm. “So Phillips gets away with having an agent stabbed?” My agent.
No, not yours. Not anymore.
“No. We’ll get him. The problem is, humans, wealthy humans, surrounded him at the time of the stabbing. We’re asking around, hoping someone heard him order the hit, or saw the Arcadian leave, but so far no luck. And it doesn’t help that he acted so quickly against your threat, or that Arcadians can only teleport to places they’ve previously been. The one who stabbed Tremain couldn’t have followed you, or known you were going to her place—in theory.”
So the bastard had been to her place before.
“Dare told Tremain that Phillips had you guys looked into the moment you were assigned to the Marks case, that he was watching your progress.”
So Noelle was still in danger. Would be in constant danger until this was done. Until Phillips was dead.
“I quit,” he said. He’d thought about this since the moment he’d woken up, and had planned to quit after closing the case—if Mia hadn’t fired him first. Even though Mia seemed to accept him, seemed to think he could do a decent job from now on, he wasn’t taking a chance.
As soon as he took care of the Phillips problem, Hector was leaving New Chicago.
As long as he remained near Noelle, he was a hazard to her continued health. That’s where the true danger lay with her—the temptation of being with her. He’d known it, had fought against it, but now there was no denying it. His desires were his downfall. He wanted her more than he’d ever wanted anyone else.
He couldn’t control his passion, and he couldn’t control his fury. So he was disappearing.
Several minutes passed in stunned silence. “No,” Mia said, shaking her head to emphasize her denial. “Unacceptable.”
“I quit, Mia.” He wasn’t working with the law on this one. He was going to kill the bastard in cold blood and end this. Today. Nothing and no one would convince him otherwise.
“I’m giving you a few days to think this through,” Mia gritted out. She wasn’t used to flat-out refusal.
“Don’t need them. I quit, effective immediately.” Next up: Phillips.
NOELLE LEANED AGAINST THE side of Hector’s Jag, waiting for him. Since her arrival in the parking garage, several agents had checked in and several agents had checked out. Each had wanted to speak to her, but she’d waved them on their way, not willing to deal with any distractions.
Hector had bailed on her at the hospital, while she was too drugged to notice. Bastard! He should have considered the possibility that Ava would wake her up, they would hack into the AIR GPS, and drive to wherever he was.
Ava, who made one hell of a gorgeous vampiress. A little paler, but all the lovelier for it, with sharp, white fangs and adorable claw-tipped nails.
Upon seeing her, Noelle had groggily said, “You’re so cute, I want to stuff you in my pocket and carry you around forever.”
Ava had replied, “After the scare you just gave me, the only thing likely to be stuffed is your face—with my fist!” And miracle of miracles, she hadn’t had a lisp.
Then they’d hugged and if they’d been emotional pansies, they would have cried. Noelle had had something in her eye, that was all. They’d talked about Noelle’s decision not to turn into a vampire herself, and Ava had understood. That didn’t mean she’d been gracious, but she had understood. Noelle’s heart belonged to Hector. She had to remain human, no matter what happened between them.