“Nobody would do business with a House that can’t protect its own employees,” Augustine said.
“If this happens,” Rogan said, “the Houses will look for a scapegoat, and Augustine here was charged with apprehending Adam Pierce.”
“But so is the Houston PD,” Bern said.
“We expect Houston PD to fail,” Augustine said, his voice dry.
“Your record as a top-notch investigative outfit might fool House Pierce, but it wouldn’t stand up to an enraged National Assembly,” Mad Rogan added. “They’ll figure out exactly what Augustine tried to pull, and they’ll tear House Montgomery to pieces.”
Augustine’s face rippled slightly, as if his illusion tried to slide off his features. He bared his teeth. “They’ll try. I’m going after Emmens. We’ll know where the third piece is in twenty-four hours.”
“Have fun.” Rogan rose.
“You too.” Augustine looked at me. “Are you going with him to see Lenora Jordan?”
“Yes,” Rogan and I said at the same time.
“Don’t joke with Lenora, don’t volunteer information, and keep your answers short,” Augustine said. “If you get locked up, you’re responsible for your own bail.”
We exited the building together, Bern, Rogan, and I. Bern and I turned left, Rogan turned right.
“Nevada,” Rogan said. “My car is this way.”
“We’ll follow you.”
“Do you want to meet Lenora?” he asked. “If so, you ride with me.”
I wanted to meet Lenora Jordan. Half of my high school time was spent idolizing her.
“You should go,” Bern said. “I’ll follow you and post bail if I have to.”
Mad Rogan winked at me. Somehow that bastard figured me out and was now dangling Lenora like a carrot on a stick. Must’ve been the way my voice spiked when I said her name.
Control, control . . . I gave Rogan my best business smile and started walking toward him. “Thank you so much for your generous offer.”
Mad Rogan chuckled. A tantalizing, feather-light heat washed over me, dancing on my shoulders, and an exhilarating mixture of warmth and pressure rolled down my neck. I almost jumped. Breath caught in my throat. I quashed the urge to stretch against that phantom touch like a cat.
“Do it again, and I will hurt you.”
The phantom touch slowly melted away and part of me wanted to follow, wherever it was going.
Mad Rogan was walking next to me with that same confident stride that had made me notice him back in the arboretum, and I knew precisely where he was and how much distance separated us. My whole body was focused on him. I wanted him to touch me. I didn’t want him touching me. I was waiting for him to touch me. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted.
“Did you like the carnations?”
I reached into my pocket and handed him a small red card. “Texas Children’s Hospital is grateful to you for your generous donation. Thanks to you, every one of their rooms has beautiful flowers this morning. They think it might be at least partially tax deductible, and if your people talk to their people, the hospital will provide the necessary paperwork.”
Mad Rogan took the card, brushing my hand with his warm, dry fingers. The card shot out of his hand and landed in the nearby trash bin.
My skin tingled where he’d touched me. This was some kind of torture.
A black Audi sat in a parking spot about twenty feet away. A wide, elegant car, it seemed to imply power and quiet aggression. It was the kind of car a rich man would buy when he decided his adolescent-dream Maserati was too flashy.
“Is that an A8 L Security series?” His Range Rover was armored. I seriously doubted the Audi wouldn’t be. Most Houses owned several armored cars. That’s what kept Grandma Frida in business.
“It’s an A8 customized.” Mad Rogan touched the car door and the engine purred in response. “I’ve made some modifications.”
Of course he had. I slid into the leather passenger seat. The cabin was surprisingly roomy, all sophisticated lines and sleek design, clean, elegant, and efficient. Nice.
Rogan pulled out of the parking lot. The car practically glided. The luxury aspect of the car didn’t do that much for me, but the quality was really nice. Grandma once told me that it took almost five hundred man-hours to assemble one of these, and it showed. He drove it well too. No matter what they tell you, a high-performance luxury car didn’t handle like a typical sedan, and an armored luxury car didn’t handle like one either.
“Did you want something more maneuverable for the city?” I asked. Not that there was anything wrong with the Range Rover.
“Yes. You never know, we might encounter squirrels.”
The Audi slid into traffic.
“We should have sex.”
I must’ve misheard. “I’m sorry, what?”
He glanced at me. His blue eyes were warm, as if heated from within. Wow.
“I said, we should have sex. You and me.”
“No.” Alarm made me sit up straighter.
“What do you mean, no?”
“I mean no. Has it been so long since you heard the word that you might have forgotten what it meant?” Okay, that was probably rude. I had to keep this as professional as possible. Calm, just very calm and firm.
“I’m attracted to you.” His voice was confident and assured, as if this whole conversation was simply a formality and he knew he would win in the end. “I know you’re attracted to me.”
Just had to rub it in, did he?
“We’re both consenting adults. Why wouldn’t we have sex?”
Because you’re dangerous as hell, you scare me, and because it would be mind-blowingly good. Which would mean I would want more and more and I really, really can’t afford to fall in love with you. “Because we don’t have that kind of relationship.”
“I’m suggesting we change our relationship.”
“That’s not a good idea.”
He glanced at me again, his face slightly wolfish. He was giving me just a hint of that intensity, a tiny glimpse of what it would be like. It was more seductive than Adam stripping completely naked. I had to be careful, so, so careful . . .
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Mad Rogan said.
“I don’t even know you. I don’t trust you.”
“You trusted me with your life just yesterday,” he said.
“We were in a life-threatening situation and it was in your interests to keep me alive. By the same criteria, the men with whom you served trusted you with their lives daily. Did you all have sex as well? It must’ve been an interesting army unit.”
“So you want seduction? Dinners, flowers, gifts?” His voice hinted at a mild disapproval.
“Seduction is a game,” Rogan said. “You dazzle, entice, and finally seduce. Both parties know what is happening, but they go through the motions anyway. If you pay enough of the right commodity—attention, flattery, money—you will get the desired result. I thought you were above the game.”
“I don’t want to play the game.”
“You want me, Nevada. You thought about it, you imagined it, and you probably touched yourself while you pictured it.”
Oh my God. He just went there.
“Have sex with me, Nevada. You will enjoy it.”
“Do you know what I want? I want a human connection. I want to be in bed with someone who is worth being with.”
“And I’m not?” A dangerous intensity crept into his voice. I might have pushed things a little too far.
We shot out onto Franklin Street. The rectangular tower of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center loomed on our right. Bridge Park, with its iconic Riding Cowboy statue, was on our left. The street was filled with parallel-parked cars. No spots except for the short space between a blue Honda and a red sedan on the opposite side of the street by the park. Rogan couldn’t possibly be aiming for it. We were coming in way too fast. This was an armored vehicle, not a stunt car.
Rogan was looking at me instead of the traffic.
We barreled down the road. The Audi cut into the opposite lane, right in front of a giant pickup. He was still looking at me and not the street.
He braked, his gaze on me. Tires squealed as the car’s rear slid. My heart jumped into my throat. The Audi spun 180 degrees, and we skidded into the parking spot inches from either car’s bumper.
The truck driver laid on the horn, and the massive vehicle roared away in outrage.
Rogan pushed a button, turning off the engine.
“I want an answer,” he said.
“You are the man who kidnapped me, chained me in his basement, and almost strangled a woman he barely met because he found her annoying. That’s your resume.” Okay, that probably wasn’t entirely fair, but I owed him for the car stunt. “I realize that this is strange for you, because ninety-nine percent of the time, your name, your body, and your money do the trick and women fall over with their legs spread if you look at them for longer than ten seconds. I’m not one of those women.”
I got out of the car and started across the parking lot. He caught up with me. I risked a glance at his face. Mad Rogan was smiling. Something I said must’ve been really funny.
“Do I have any redeeming qualities?” he asked. A charming, self-deprecating dragon. No, not buying it. That charm could tear in a split second, and then there would be flame and sharp teeth.
“Not running over the squirrel was in your favor.”
“Mhm. Good to know.” He smiled wider.
“Don’t do it.”
“Don’t do what?”
“Every time you smile like that, someone dies. If you attack me, I will defend myself.”
“Of all the many interesting things I’m thinking of doing to you, killing you or hurting you is not on the list.” He winked at me.
We walked into the justice center and got into an elevator. Two men carrying laptop bags made a beeline for us, trying to catch a ride. Mad Rogan gave them a flat look. Without a word, the men simultaneously changed their direction and angled to the elevator on our left. The doors closed and the cabin slid upward.
This was really happening. I was going to see Lenora Jordan. Lenora who bound criminals in chains. Who wasn’t afraid of any Prime. Who . . .
What if she was just like them? Just like Augustine or Pierce? I wasn’t sure I could handle it. That would be crushing.
I opened my mouth.
“Yes?” Mad Rogan asked.
“If she isn’t what she appears to be, please don’t tell me.”
“She’s exactly what she seems,” he said. “Law and Order is her god. She’s a zealot, and she prays to it sincerely and often. She’s impartial and resolute, and crossing her is stupid.”
The doors slid open. We walked out into a busy hallway. People moved out of our way, almost unconsciously.
“Even for a Prime?” I asked.
“Especially for a Prime. She holds the office with the blessing of the Harris County Houses. We put her there because even we recognize the need for oversight.”
We stopped before a door. Mad Rogan held it open for me. I went through and stopped before the receptionist’s desk. A Native American woman in her forties sat at the counter. She had a wide face with large dark eyes and a full mouth. She looked at Rogan with a kind of get-back stare that would’ve stopped an enraged dog.
“Behave yourself,” she said.
Rogan turned left and opened the door. I followed him into a large office. It was well furnished, with a heavy desk of reclaimed old wood and several comfortable chairs. Behind the desk, heavy bookcases lined the wall. Between the bookcases and the desk stood Lenora Jordan. She looked just like her billboard image: strong, powerful, and confident. She wore an indigo business suit. Her curly black hair was pulled back from her face into a thick, elaborate plait. Her skin was a rich brown, and her face, with big eyes, a wide nose, and full lips was attractive, but what you noticed first about her was the complete assurance with which she held herself. This was her kingdom, and she ruled it unopposed.