Comfortable? The memory of his magic was still burning my brain. There was no such thing as being comfortable where he was concerned. I could meet him in the middle of city hall, surrounded by SWAT, and he could nuke them and me without breaking a sweat. But I would have to talk to him. He wanted to meet me, and he would get what he wanted one way or the other.
“Hold on. I’m trying to figure out a place where nobody will recognize us.”
“If you prefer, I can acquire a windowless creeper van, and we can huddle in it and have greasy takeout.”
Huddle? “Tempting, but no. Takara, in an hour . . .”
He hung up.
I rolled my eyes.
“Is this a good idea?” Mother asked.
“I don’t know. He mentioned exchanging information, so he might have something to trade. I don’t think avoiding him will work. He won’t take no for an answer. I can meet him on my terms or on his. I’ve tried his and I don’t like them. Besides, Makarov said not to use shockers on anyone with low magic. Mad Rogan is a Prime.” I made grabbing motions with my fingers.
“Mom?” Mother turned to Grandmother.
“She’s going to lunch with her kidnapper!”
“Take a picture for me,” Grandma said.
“This family will put me into an early grave,” my mother growled. “I’m coming with you. Mother, lock the doors and set the alarm. We’ll take the van and the Barrett.”
“Would the Barrett be enough?” Grandma Frida asked. “Isn’t he supposed to bounce bullets off of his chest?”
“It fires .50 cal at twice the speed of sound. It will hit him before he ever hears the shot.” My mother crossed her arms. “I’d like to see him bounce that off his chest.”
Takara’s website described it as an Asian bistro, which in reality meant that they specialized in beautiful sushi and had a couple of traditional Chinese and Korean dishes on the menu. It occupied a large, modern building, all heavy brown stone and big windows. As I walked through the door, an eight-foot-wall fountain greeted me. The color palette was creamy beiges, soothing greens, and rich browns with a touch of metallic bronze here and there. The colors, the gentle sound of water, and the tasteful decor were soothing, yet the hostess in front of me and the three sushi chefs behind the counter looked distinctly freaked out.
I looked over the dark brown tables and saw Mad Rogan, wearing a grey suit over a white shirt opened at the collar. He sat toward the back, by the oversized bamboo shoots in a tall black floor vase. I knew the table. It let you look outside through the window, but the passersby couldn’t really see you clearly. It was the least noticeable table on the floor, but now it might as well have been in the middle of the room. Mad Rogan was extremely difficult to ignore. The place was empty, except for two young women and a middle-aged couple, and all four pretended their hardest not to watch him.
My mother was parked across the parking lot, barely two hundred feet away. Her Barrett sniper rifle had an effective range of just over a mile. Her magic ensured that she didn’t miss. My knees were still shaking. This was a dumb idea.
A hostess in a tight black dress forced a smile at me. “Ms. Baylor? Right this way, please.”
I followed her. All this adrenaline primed my magic, and I could almost feel it pouring out of me like an angry swarm of electric bees ready to buzz. I was wearing old jeans, a charcoal blouse, and my best pair of running shoes. If I had to run for my life again, I was all set.
Mad Rogan rose to his feet, a fluid motion. A waiter appeared, as if by magic, and held the chair out for me.
Mad Rogan didn’t touch my chair. He should’ve pulled it out, but he stayed right where he was. It could have been deliberate because he felt I didn’t deserve the courtesy, but members of Houses lived and breathed etiquette.
“Did you do something to my chair?”
My magic snapped like a whip. Lie.
I turned to the table by the window. “I like the table over there better.”
The waiter froze, petrified, unsure what to do.
I stepped toward the window table, pointed to the chair facing the parking lot, and looked at the two of them. “I’m sitting here.”
Mad Rogan moved the fingers of his left hand half an inch. Faint red smoke puffed out of the carpet, forming a shape of a magic circle centering on my former chair, and dissipated into the air. He had laid a trap, and I had almost sat down into it. Bastard.
I pulled out my new chair. The rules of politeness dictated that he sat across from me, which would put the back of his head to the window and give my mother a lovely target. Mad Rogan took a step toward my chosen table. It slid back across the carpet out of the window’s view as other tables glided aside, making room. The chair jerked out of my hand and followed. The three other chairs chased mine and arranged themselves around the table. He put his hand on the chair that let him watch both the door and the window, then invited me with a casual gesture. “Your table.”
Grrrrr. This wouldn’t go well.
I sat down.
He did also.
We glared at each other across the table.
The waiter hovered next to us, a nervous look on his face. “Welcome to Takara. What can I get you to drink?”
“Unsweetened tea with lemon,” I said. “And could you please bring me some fake sugar with it?”
“Same,” Mad Rogan said. “No lemon.”
“Appetizer?” the waiter asked.
Mad Rogan glanced at me. “Your pick.”
“Great, I’ll get that right out.” The waiter took off, visibly relieved.
The Scourge of Mexico and I resumed our glaring. His eyes seemed to change color depending on the light. Yesterday, when he was in the circle, they were dark, almost indigo. Today they were a light, clear sky blue. My mind flashed right back to the cliff in my dreams. I stomped on that thought. I had no idea what sort of telepath he was. The last thing I needed was to have him pluck an image of his half-naked glory out of my head.
“Do you have any ID?” I asked.
“You told me you were Mad Rogan, but how do I know you are who you say you are.”
He broke apart his pair of chopsticks, rubbed them against each other, and held one at eye level, thicker end toward the ceiling. He opened his fingers. The chopstick remained suspended above the table. Impressive. I knew this game. We all played it in elementary school to identify our magic. If you could move the chopstick off the table, you were telekinetic. If you could lift the chopstick and hold it steady, you were a high-precision telekinetic and people would come to talk to your parents and offer scholarships for the commitment to future employment. They would pay for your education, and you would work for them for a decade or two in return.
Mad Rogan casually unrolled his napkin. A paper-thin slice of wood, so thin it was translucent, shaved itself off the top of the chopstick and floated down. Holy crap.
Another slice peeled off. The middle-aged couple stopped eating. The man’s mouth hung slack. The woman visibly strained to swallow. Shivers ran down my spine. This couldn’t be happening. Moving a table was one thing. It was bulky and heavy and required a lot of power to move, but this was on a different level. No telekinetic had that much control.
Mad Rogan placed the napkin across his lap. The chopstick spun in place. The wooden slivers rained down, landing in a perfect circle around it, like a ring of tiny petals.
The waiter came out of the back, carrying our drinks, and froze in the middle of the floor.
The first circle filled up with wooden shavings, and a second ring, wider, formed around it. The remaining half of the chopstick landed in the center of the two rings and split into four slivers with a loud crack.
I remembered to breathe.
The man from the middle-aged couple pulled out three twenties, tossed them on the table, and grabbed the woman’s hand. They hurried out at a near run.
That was the scariest thing I had seen in a long time. How was it even possible that he could do this? If he did that to a human being, it would be horrifying.
Mad Rogan looked at me.
I had to say something, do something. Anything.
I pulled out my phone and took a picture of the table.
His eyebrows crept up a tiny bit.
“For my grandmother.” I put the phone on the table and smiled at the waiter. “He broke his chopstick. Could you get us another set?”
The waiter nodded, hurried over to the table, set our drinks and carpaccio down, and escaped without saying a word. Mad Rogan picked up a tiny white dish usually used for soy sauce and casually swept the wooden slivers off the table with his hand.
“I would’ve settled for a driver’s license.” This was so not a good idea. He was freakishly powerful.
“A driver’s license can be counterfeited. Nobody in the continental United States can duplicate this.”
And so modest too.
The shorter of the women with auburn hair rose, walked over to our table, and placed a card on it. Her fingers shook a little. “My name is Amanda. Call me.”
She walked back to her table, aggressively swaying on her heels.
I snagged a pink slice of rare New York strip drizzled with tangy sauce. Mmm, delicious. “That was ballsy. You’ve chased off two diners, caused the other two to lose their minds, and scared our waiter. Would you like to go in the back and terrorize the kitchen staff as well?”
“You started it with the table.”
“Was I supposed to sit down in your trap?”
His face was completely serious. “Yes. It would’ve made you more agreeable and let us both get out of here faster.”
“Well, I didn’t.” I almost slapped myself. How was that for a clever comeback? Not.
The waiter reappeared with chopsticks. “May I take your order?”
“Bulgogi,” Mad Rogan said.
I ordered a simple salmon roll, and we both tore identical pink packets of fake sugar and dumped them into our drinks.
“Here is what I know,” Mad Rogan said. “Your name is Nevada Baylor. You’re the only licensed investigator in a small firm, which is currently a subsidiary of MII. MII runs security for several venues owned by House Pierce. House Pierce hired MII to bring their prodigal son home, and you drew the short straw.”
I stole another piece of meat and chewed. It was delicious, and it kept me from talking and saying anything I might regret later.
“I’m not interested in Adam Pierce,” he declared.
True. “Could’ve fooled me. Now I’m insulted. You kidnapped and tortured me for someone you’re not even interested in.”
The dragon refused to be amused. “I’m interested in finding Gavin Waller. Preferably alive.”
True, but I had figured it out already. “Gavin has vanished off the face of the planet. His Twitter is inactive, his Instagram hasn’t been updated, and there have been no sightings of him since that night. He’s either hiding or dead.”
Mad Rogan nodded. “Agreed.”
“But Adam is loud and flashy, so you decided it would be easier to find Adam and make him tell you where Gavin is. I understand all that. Explain the kidnapping part.”
“It’s not relevant.”
I paused with the slice of carpaccio halfway to my mouth. “You do understand that you grabbed me off the street like some serial killer? I thought you might seriously hurt me. It made me scared and upset. I was in fear for my life. This is extremely relevant to me.”
Mad Rogan sighed. “Fine. I looked into Gustave’s shop and found a series of large deposits from House Pierce.”
I nodded. “I did as well.”
“I came to discuss the deposits when I saw you inside. You’re young, attractive, and blond. Adam’s type.”