With Mad Rogan.
My mind conjured him na**d on dark sheets. I slammed the door on that thought so fast that my teeth shook.
I pulled two twenties out of my pocket and put them on the table. “I don’t have any reason to trust a word you say.”
He leaned forward. His body tensed, his muscles flexing under his clothes. His face turned predatory. All of that civilized veneer tore, and here he was, a dragon in all of his terrible glory.
“Do not walk away from me.” His voice vibrated with power. “You’re in over your head. Adam Pierce, House Pierce, and MII are out of your league. I’m offering to become your ally. Don’t make me into an enemy, or you will regret it.”
“And this is exactly why it’s a no.” I rose. “And the next time you choose to project into my dreams, do keep your clothes on.”
He smiled. It was a very male, self-aware smile, not just sexual but carnal. The predatory look in his eyes turned ravaging. I felt the need to grab a napkin and hold it in front of me like a shield.
“I can project, but I would have to be next to you to do it.”
His voice turned smooth and sensual. A man had no right to sound like that. “Tell me, what wasn’t I wearing in your dreams?”
I rose, turned my back to him, and walked out.
The sound of his laughter caressed my back, almost like a sexual touch.
Keep walking, keep walking, keep walking. That was dumb. I just had to get that last word in. Would it have killed me to keep my mouth shut?
My phone beeped. I answered it.
“Drawbridge Security,” a brisk female voice said into the phone. “We’re showing a fire alarm at your residence.”
Grandma set the fire alarm off again. She’d test fuel or use some tool, and the alarm service called in a panic every couple of months. I had left them standing instructions to let the phone ring for at least a minute before calling the fire department. Sometimes Grandma took the time to put the fire out before answering.
“Did you let the phone ring?” I was almost to the door.
“We did. We’re registering two separate alerts, the workshop and the front door.”
Front door. The hair on the back of my neck rose. “Call the fire department now!”
I sprinted out the door and across the parking lot.
The van was already idling. I jerked the driver’s door open and jumped inside. “Our house is on fire!”
My mother snapped the rifle case shut, dropped into the passenger seat, and buckled. I stepped on the gas, and the van shot out of the parking lot. Mom dialed the house.
“Anything?” I took the corner too fast. The van careened and fell back in place, the springs screeching.
She put it on speaker. Ring . . . Ring . . . Ring . . .
“Is it the workshop?”
“The front door.”
We turned onto a side street. A slow-moving Prius blocked the lane. The line of cars in the opposite direction made it impossible to pass. Screw this.
I turned the wheel to the right. The van jumped the curb with a thud. I tore down the sidewalk.
Ring . . . Ring . . .
The Prius flew by. I dropped the van back into the lane.
Ring . . .
I made a sharp left. The warehouse loomed in front of us. It looked intact.
I screeched to a halt before the front door.
My mother swore. A huge chain blocked the door. Someone had cut holes in the walls and the door, strung an industrial-size chain through it, and locked it with a padlock. What the hell?
I stepped on the gas and drove around the warehouse to the workshop side. An identical chain blocked the back door. Damn it. I mashed the garage door opener attached to the visor. The massive door didn’t move. Disabled.
We had no tools that would cut the chain. Everything was inside the warehouse.
“Smoke,” Mother said.
A puff of black smoke escaped from the vent near the roof.
Grandma was inside. She could be burning to death.
“Go.” My mother braced herself.
I reversed, speeding backward down the street. The garage door would be the weakest point. It was an industrial garage door, reinforced from the inside, but it was still weaker than the walls. I’d have to hit it pretty hard. I aimed for the pale rectangle of the door and stepped on the gas. The van rocketed forward, picking up speed.
Mad Rogan stepped between the van and the garage door.
I slammed on the brakes, but there was not enough time to stop. I would hit him. I saw him with crystal clarity—his body, turned sideways to me, his striking face, his blue eyes—as the van skidded at him.
He raised his hand.
The van hit a cushion of air, as if we plowed headfirst into viscous honey. We slid to a soft stop a foot before his fingertips.
Mad Rogan faced the garage door. It clanged and crashed to the ground. Smoke billowed out, black and oily.
I jumped out of the van and ran inside. The smoke scoured the inside of my nose and scraped against my throat like fine-grade sandpaper. My eyes watered. The acrid stench choked me. I coughed and stumbled, trying to see through the dark curtain.
A human shape lay prone on the floor. Oh no.
I lunged forward and fell to my knees. Grandma Frida lay on her stomach. I flipped her, grabbed her by her arms, and pulled her across the floor. Mad Rogan congealed from the smoke, picked my grandmother off the floor, and headed for the exit.
The smoke ate at the inside of my mouth. It felt like someone filled my throat with crushed glass, and it was cutting into me. My head swam. I stumbled after Rogan, trying to find the exit. Suddenly the smoke ended and I shambled into fresh air. My lungs felt like they were on fire. I bent over and coughed. It hurt like hell.
Mad Rogan lowered my grandmother to the ground. Mom dropped by her. We couldn’t lose her. Not yet.
“Grandma,” I croaked.
“We’ve got a pulse, but it’s weak.” My mother pulled my grandmother’s mouth open and began doing CPR.
Please don’t die. Please don’t die, Grandma.
My mother began chest compressions. Tears rolled down my cheeks. Grandma Frida was always there for us. She was always . . . What would we do . . .
A fire truck rolled into the street.
Grandma coughed. A word came out, creaky, like an old door. “Penelope.”
Oh God. Oh thank you. Relief washed over me like a cold shower. I exhaled.
“Mom?” Mother asked.
“Get off of me.”
My stomach constricted. I crouched, trying to get a hold of myself. Mad Rogan’s shoes came into view. Mad Rogan. The man who told me I would regret it if I walked away from him and who now conveniently showed up to be the hero. The fear and nausea boiled together into anger inside me. We almost lost Grandma Frida. Someone came into our house, someone chained our doors shut, and then someone tried to kill her. Someone did this, and I would make them pay. The fury drove me up. I stared into Rogan’s eyes. Something broke inside of me like a chain falling apart. My magic shot out, savage and raging like an invisible thundercloud, and locked onto Mad Rogan.
He strained, his teeth gritted. I felt him fighting me, but my anger was whipping my magic into a frenzy. I had questions. He would answer them, damn it.
I spoke and heard my own voice, inhuman and terrible. “Did you order someone to hurt my grandmother?”
His will fought mine, steel-hard and unyielding, but I was too angry. He refused to bend, so I chained him in place and squeezed.
He unlocked his jaws. The answer was a growl. “No.”
I compelled him to answer. I had no idea how I was doing it, but I would do it some more. “Did you order someone to set this fire?”
“Did you set it yourself?”
My hold was slipping. He was too strong. It was like trying to twist a railway tie into a knot. “Do you know who did?”
I released him. He moved. His strong fingers fastened on my wrist, sending an electric shiver of alarm through me. His face was terrifying. His voice was suffused with quiet, barely contained aggression. “Don’t do that again.”
I should’ve been scared, but my grandmother had almost died and I was too furious and too tired to care. “Don’t like when the shoe is on the other foot? Let go of me.”
He opened his fingers.
There were only two people in my life right now who could have done something like this arson, and I had just eliminated one. Parents and sisters is something you do when you are five. They’re pulling you down and you’re letting them. No. Adam couldn’t be this stupid, could he? Did that bastard actually try to kill off my family?
Paramedics loaded my grandmother into an ambulance. It must’ve come while I’d been interrogating Mad Rogan. The first responders tried to keep the oxygen mask on my grandmother’s face. She wasn’t having it. My mother walked over to me.
“The last thing she remembers is getting the lug wrench. There is blood on the back of her head.”
“Someone hit her.” I would make them pay.
“Looks that way. I’m going to ride with her to the hospital.”
“I’m good,” I told her. “Go.”
She gave Mad Rogan an evil eye and climbed into the ambulance.
A fireman emerged from the workshop. The smoke had mostly dissipated. The fireman nodded at the inside of the warehouse. “Looks like someone left a lit cigarette near a can of gasoline. Ought to be more careful.”
“Thank you, we will.” I turned away from him to hide my expression. Unfortunately that put me face-to-face with Mad Rogan. An unspoken question hung in the air as the fireman walked away.
“My grandmother doesn’t smoke,” I said quietly. “All gasoline is stored in the metal cage. All munitions are stored in the other cage. Before I left for lunch, the warehouse had no chains on its doors.”
An SUV pulled up. Two men in dark pants and dark polo shirts exited. One was in his forties, dark-skinned, his short hair barely touched with grey. He was carrying a large, dark suitcase. The other man looked Latino and was about ten years younger. They moved like soldiers. I’d been around enough of them to recognize the walk, the unhurried but efficient stride of people who had a definite objective and had to get to it. They halted a few feet away.
“These are mine,” Mad Rogan said. “They’re arson specialists. If you give them permission, they will examine your warehouse.”
I nodded. I still didn’t trust him, but he had nothing to do with the arson.
“Go ahead,” he said.
The two guys went inside the warehouse.
I was suddenly so tired. My eyes were burning. My throat still hurt.
Mad Rogan raised his hand. A bottle of water landed into it. He handed it to me. “Rinse your mouth and eyes. Don’t swallow.”
I opened the bottle, gulped, swished the water inside my mouth, and spat. The scratching subsided.
The younger of the men reappeared in the warehouse door and nodded to us. We started toward him.
“Thank you for saving my grandmother,” I said.
“You’re no good to me if you’re burying a relative instead of looking for Pierce. I did it for a completely selfish reason,” he said.
We walked inside. The older of the men was kneeling by the melted gasoline container. Soot covered the concrete floor. The suitcase lay open in front of him. Inside, vials and test tubes rested in a protective cushioning of foam.
Mad Rogan took in the canvas-covered vehicles. His eyebrows rose. “Is that a tank?”
“Technically that’s a gun on tracks. Mobile field artillery. That’s a tank in the corner. His name is Romeo.”
Mad Rogan shook his head in disbelief.
We reached the older man. He held up a test tube so I could see it, then used a small wire tool to scrape some of the soot off the floor. He lowered the tool into the test tube and shook it. A small clump of soot fell into the glass. The man added a few drops of a clear solution in a plastic bottle. The soot turned blue, then slowly changed color to pale purple.