Chapter Five
025
She looked too soft with her hair blown dry and loose around her shoulders. She felt too soft, and so Maggie braided it into a rope before leaving the bathroom. Her only clothes were a tank and underwear, but she had no intention of looking down at herself.
Sir Pup hadn’t abandoned his sprawl across the second bed. She studied him, wondering how to maneuver through this. Sleeping had never been an issue before.
“It seems an easy choice, Winters. There’s hardly enough room over there for a child.”
She narrowed her eyes at the hellhound. “He could get up. He doesn’t need to sleep. Or eat. So I don’t need to buy him a bag of sausage biscuits tomorrow morning.”
Sir Pup yawned, exposing three sets of gigantic teeth, and rolled onto his back.
Maggie sighed and crawled onto the bed next to Blake.
“You caved?”
She reached for the light and clicked it off. “He probably wouldn’t let me eat tomorrow, either. It’s a practical decision.”
“And this marks the first time a woman has come to my bed for practical reasons. Usually, they say it’s a mistake.”
“I don’t make mistakes.” She turned on her side, facing away from him. “Not many.”
“You trusted James.”
She stared into the darkness. “Yes, I did.”
“Was that a mistake?”
She hadn’t thought so. But she had wondered, even back then, if caring about James as a person—and as a friend—had given her a blind spot, prevented her from seeing some terrible truth. But, in the end, she’d made her decision and lied about following through on the kill order.
The reasons behind the kill order hadn’t been given—reasons were rarely given—but the kill order itself hadn’t made sense. Operatives didn’t assassinate other operatives. Even if James had been a traitor to the country, if he’d sold government secrets, or come across sensitive information that an operative couldn’t be allowed to possess, the first step would have been to convict him. Perhaps the public would never hear of it—or even most agency employees—but there would have been hear ings. And if James fled custody and posed a security risk—which he hadn’t—Maggie shouldn’t have been the one to take him out. Someone higher up would have done it, very quietly.
And so from the moment her superior had given her the order, her gut had told her something was off. Way off. She’d have bet her life that James hadn’t committed a breach of national security, but had witnessed someone else’s. Someone within the CIA. Someone higher up the chain of command, who could distance himself from the kill by pushing it down through the ranks.
When she’d spoken with James on that final night, he hadn’t verified her suspicions. He’d kept his secrets as well as she did. But she’d worked with him too long, known him too long. And although she wouldn’t stay with the agency and try to discover who had betrayed them—that would have been signing her own death warrant—she wasn’t going to murder James for that person, either. So she’d told him to run.
Behind her, Blake turned heavily over, and she heard the thump of his fist against the pillow as he punched it into a comfortable shape. She could visualize him, on his stomach and his head turned to one side. And though he could be facing either way, she was certain that if she rolled over, she’d find that he’d turned his face toward her.
“No,” she said quietly. “I don’t think it was a mistake.”
As soon as he replied, her instincts were confirmed: Blake was facing her . . . and was closer than she’d thought. Not invading her personal space, but not across the bed, either. “James knew how to contact you. Do you know where he was before this?”
“I wasn’t in hiding. It’d have been easy for him to find me.” She paused, weighed the rest, and decided she could reveal it. “I didn’t want to know where he was. We’d agreed: no contact, ever.”
“Because the agency keeps tabs on you.”
“Yes.” Maybe not deep surveillance, but some. “Not enough that Ames-Beaumont considers my employment a security threat to him.”
“Savi would take care of that, anyway.”
Maggie nodded, the pillowcase cool and soft against her cheek. Then she remembered to say, “Yes.” She heard him thump his pillow again. “Is your sister awake?”
“No.”
“Tell me about her.”
“You don’t already know?”
Maggie thought of the files she’d had a chance to look over on the flight to New York. “I know she’s a police inspector in London. Her cases-solved rate is high.” Extraordinarily high. “She buys her groceries on Wednesdays and Saturdays, usually rents romantic comedies or horror movies—”
“The two genres have more in common than you’d think.”
She smiled and thought about turning over. If she explored him with her hands, her mouth, he’d be warm and solid. He’d kiss her, slide deeply inside her, and she’d wrap herself around him.
And they wouldn’t get much sleep. They’d be tired, and perhaps careless, when they started out again tomorrow. Katherine needed better from both of them.
Silently, Maggie clamped her hand between her thighs, and used the pressure to soothe the burn her imagination had sparked. “It helps to hear from someone who knows her well; memorizing data isn’t the same.”
“No,” he agreed. “It isn’t. Ask away, Winters.”
“She lived with a man for eight years. He moved out a month ago. Did he know about her ability? About you?”
“No.”
“You’re certain?”
“Yes.”
Katherine had been in a long-term relationship—and she’d kept it hidden from her partner? But more than that, she hadn’t even revealed that she was concealing something. How would that affect a relationship? Would that be more difficult than revealing to the other person that there was something she just couldn’t share with him?
It probably depended on the other person.
“What has her emotional state been like?”
“It was a blow when Gavin left her. But this, she’ll look at as she would a job. She’ll keep her head. And she’ll be searching for a way out.”
Maggie closed her eyes. “Hopefully by tomorrow, we’ll give her one.”
 
 
 
Maggie’s multipurpose phone beeped at four a.m. She fumbled for it on the nightstand and squinted at the soft white glow. The text message had come from Savi: “Check your e-mail and finish sleeping on the plane.”
The plane? What plane?
She scrubbed at her face before engaging the encrypted mode on her phone and logging in. God, she hadn’t run on this kind of schedule in years. But back then, she also hadn’t opened her e-mail from bed, warm and comfortable, ensconced in blankets and with Blake’s back and shoulders against her own.
She had to resist the urge to press back tighter against him. Somehow, their position felt more intimate than spooning. And strangely familiar, like going through a door with an operative that she trusted by her side.
She read the message, then stumbled into the bathroom and blasted a hot, two-minute shower. Geoff was using her phone when she came out in her bra and panties, with Sir Pup—sporting only one head—peering over his shoulder.
Sir Pup turned to look at her. Blake’s hands went slack, the phone tilting in his grip.
She glanced at the screen as she walked by the bed, then did a double take. Blake was accessing his own mail, reading a message identical to the one Savi had sent to her . . . but he shouldn’t have been able to get that far. Using it for anything other than a phone call required Maggie’s password.
She lifted her arms and began coiling her hair into a roll at her nape. “Did Savi give you a password for my equipment?”
“You did, a few minutes ago,” he said. A slight frown had formed at the corners of his mouth, and his voice was still rough with sleep. “You look at your fingers when you use the keypad.”
That explained how he’d discovered the embezzlers at Ramsdell Pharmaceuticals. He’d just watched them input their fraudulent numbers, and they’d never known they were being watched.
But she had known what he could do and hadn’t guarded against it. If Blake hadn’t already been Ramsdell security, she could have just compromised Ames-Beaumont’s.
The potential mistake didn’t piss her off as much as knowing that she hadn’t even thought about guarding against it. Taking a risk with her eyes wide open was acceptable. Acting blindly and stupidly was not.
And why hadn’t she thought? Because she’d been cozy.
She jabbed in the pins that secured her hair, then stepped into her trousers and yanked them up. “Why didn’t you read my e-mail when I did, too?”
“That would be an invasion of privacy, Winters.” His brows lowered, darkening his expression. “I have limits. For instance, when you’re in there”—he tilted his head toward the bathroom—“I’ll not look without permission. But if you come out here dressed as you are now, I’ll take whatever eyeful I can.”
“But whose—” No, she didn’t need to ask.
Sir Pup had begun chuffing. His other two heads sprouted from his shoulders and joined in.
Blake weaved on the bed and pressed his hand to his forehead, swallowing hard. Obviously, looking through the three heads didn’t agree with him.
“If I may be so bold, Mr. Blake—you just got what you deserved.” Maggie pulled on her shirt. “You said you couldn’t see through animals.”
“I can’t. And don’t bloody call me Mr. Blake.” He stood abruptly and came toward her. “Are those why you were called ‘Bullet-Eating Brunhilda’?”
“No.” She didn’t look down at the scars scattered over her stomach as she buttoned her shirt. “It’s because I’m blond, and I’m tall, and men don’t use much imagination when they are nicknaming women. Your uncle, of course, is the exception—‘Winters’ is preferable to ‘the Ice Queen’ or ‘the Frost Giant.’”
“‘Winters’ has nothing to do with your hair, Maggie.” His gaze was steady on hers. “Will you turn around?”
Nothing he’d just said was what she’d expected. “Why?”
“Because there’s a mirror behind you. And because you’ve retreated behind that damnable butler’s tone, and so I’m not able to tell if you’re angry. I want to see your face, not mine.”
That was just too bad. “We have a plane to catch, sir.” She shouldered her weapon harness and deliberately swept her gaze down his bare chest, his ridged stomach. “You have five minutes to get ready. I suggest you get started.”
He stepped in closer. Maggie drew in a breath, waited for him to do more. To say something, to argue . . . to touch her.
God, she was looking at his hands again.
Her jacket hung on the chair behind her. She grabbed it, put distance between them. He stared at the spot where she’d been for a moment longer before turning his back to her and moving toward his own clothes. The bullet scar on his shoulder was pale against his tan.
“For the record, Maggie,” he said, “it wasn’t my intention to upset you. I’m simply not in the habit of asking first.”
No, he wouldn’t be. He couldn’t keep his ability a secret if he sought permission to use it.
The tension that had been stiffening her muscles slowly eased away. “For the record, sir—I am very easy to upset when I find myself awake at four in the morning.”
He was facing the other way, so she didn’t know if he smiled. She didn’t mind. He couldn’t see hers, either.
 
 
 
“Now that you’ve forgiven me, I ought not to admit this,” Blake said as soon as they were both settled into the SUV. “But I’ve no idea why we are to catch a plane. I only read half of Savi’s e-mail.”
Because he’d been distracted when she’d come out of the bathroom in her underwear, Maggie realized, and four fifteen in the morning suddenly felt a little brighter.
“The Ramsdell corporate jet is waiting at the Richmond airport,” Maggie told him. “It’ll take us to Charleston.”
“Savi located the RV, then?”
“No. But it’ll get us to the right state faster than we can drive, and we don’t lose the time sleeping.”
Blake’s smile was wry. “Sensible. And very kind of her not to point out that if I could drive, we wouldn’t have needed to stop.”
Yes. Last night, she would’ve slept while Blake drove, and they’d have been in South Carolina by now.
Maggie frowned, her fingers tapping against the steering wheel. “They stopped, too. James and the other one. And not to switch off—they could have done that in a parking lot or beside the road.”
But at a campground, Maggie realized, they could pay for the site and leave the RV. It would be a while before anyone listed it as abandoned.
And they’d drugged Katherine again rather than asking her to locate something. So that it’d be easier to carry her out of the RV, take her to another vehicle?
Blake must have been thinking along similar lines. “So they’ve left the caravan, changed their mode of transportation.”
“With a nearby destination, probably. If she’s drugged, even a hired plane is too risky—and so is taking the chance that she’ll wake up when she’s in a car. She’d get someone’s attention.”
“A local destination,” he repeated, his voice grim. “Where they can start questioning her.”
“Yes.” She glanced over at him. “We’ll be at the airport in ten minutes. You call Savi, fill her in. It’ll be somewhere isolated. Probably a house, rented or leased in the past six months.” The date Katherine had bought her plane ticket to New York. “Have her cross-reference names with the campground registrations and the real estate agent who was selling the brownstone in Brooklyn.”
“She won’t find anything.”
“No,” Maggie agreed. “But it’s better than doing nothing.”
He nodded, and she listened to the one-sided conversation with her mind hundreds of miles south. You can stop me, Brunhilda. But she couldn’t anticipate James, because she couldn’t see why he was doing this.
She lowered her window to let the wind rush past her face and finish waking her up. Even this early, the August air was warm. From the cargo area, Sir Pup whined. She rolled the rear window down, and a moment later one of his heads was blocking the view in her side mirror. His tongue and ears flapped like wet flags.
His eyes were also glowing crimson, but there wasn’t enough traffic to worry about his being seen.
“Demon,” Blake said quietly. “I’ll ring you again in a moment, Savi.”
Startled, Maggie glanced over at him. Was he worried about the red eyes? But she didn’t think he’d been looking at Sir Pup.
“She’s awake, in a bedroom, and there’s a man sitting in the corner who looks like Gavin.”
His sister’s ex. But it couldn’t be him; Maggie knew Ames-Beaumont had put men on Gavin’s tail the moment Katherine had disappeared.
And a demon could shape-shift to resemble anyone.
“Oh, she’s right pissed. Her hands are waving around in that way she has. He’s attempting to calm her. Good luck with that, you bastard.” A moment passed. “And there he goes, out the door. He’s locked it. Come on, Kate, give me something I can work with.”
Maggie’s phone beeped. Seeing that it was Savi, she simply engaged the speakerphone.
“There she goes to the window,” Blake said. “She’s upstairs. It’s dark outside, but there’s a light . . . a lighthouse, I think it is. It must be to the north of her. The water’s on the right.”
Faintly, she heard the clacking of Savi’s keyboard. Already narrowing the search.
“The house is white. There’s a dock, and a boathouse. A good-sized sailboat tied up.”
That meant money, Maggie thought. But with a demon involved, that wasn’t a surprise. “Do you see a name on it?”
“No. She’s searching through the room now. The drawers are empty. No phone. No television. No periodicals.”
“Nothing that gives away their location.” Savi stopped typing. “Do you think they know what Geoff can do?”
“If they did, they’d have blindfolded her.” Maggie took the airport exit. “They probably just don’t want her to feel comfortable, so that leaving the room will be a reward—”
Blake gave a short laugh. “Clever girl, Kate. She’s turned over a lamp on the nightstand. On the base, there’s a label: ‘Laura’s Antiques and Design, Hilton Head, South Carolina.’”
“Which is . . . ” There was a moment of furious clacking. “Right on the water. It’s an island.”
“And a tourist trap,” Maggie said. “Probably not isolated enough.”
“True. I’ll concentrate fifty miles up and down the coast. I’ll also find pictures of local lighthouses for you to look at, Geoff. Once the sun rises, maybe Katherine will be able to see enough that you’ll recognize one. And I’ll have the pilot file a new flight plan that will take you closer to Hilton Head than Charleston is. And, Maggie—I’m monitoring your e-mail, so that if James tries to contact you again, I can get you a location ASAP.”
“Thank you, Miss Murray.”
“Oh my god, I wish you’d stop calling me that. Does she do that to you, Geoff?”
He aimed a grin at Maggie. “Yes, Aunt Savi.”
“And that is a million times worse. You’re six years older than I am.” The vampire sighed. “Okay, I can’t put this off anymore. I’m on my way to tell Colin that a demon has Katherine. And that the demon probably knows what she can do.”
“In other words,” Blake said, “we shouldn’t be surprised if, by the time the sun sets tonight, you and Uncle Colin have arrived in Hilton Head.”
“Yeah, that about covers it,” Savi said. “Be safe until then.”
Silence fell between them after she’d disconnected, until Maggie said, “How much do you want to bet she chartered a plane within a minute of you first saying ‘demon’?”
His agreeing laugh faded too quickly, and he scrubbed his hands over his face. “Katherine hasn’t found anything else. Nothing to write with, either. She’s sitting, waiting.”
Maggie nodded. Unfortunately, that was what she and Blake would be doing, too.