Mad Rogan slipped it off and passed it to me. “Hold this for a second.” He leaned over Adam’s prone body and shook him by his shoulder. “Hey, buddy.”
Adam’s eyes opened. “Hey,” he said, his voice hoarse.
“Sit up.” Rogan helped him up, a smile on his lips. “You okay? Everything working as intended?”
Adam stared at him, confused. “Sure.”
“You know who you are?”
“You know what happened here?”
“Yeah.” Adam got to his feet. “I burned it down.”
“And you’re not hurt? Nothing’s broken?”
“Oh good.” Mad Rogan sank a vicious punch into Adam’s jaw. Adam fell to his knees, his mouth bloody. “How about now, Adam? Anything hurt now?”
Adam surged from his feet and swung at Rogan. His fist whistled by Rogan’s face. Mad Rogan hammered a punch into Adam’s gut with his left hand, while his right landed a hook to Adam’s face. Adam went down.
“Have some more.” Rogan punched him again, hard, his fist like a sledgehammer. Adam threw his arms in front of his face.
“You whiny little piece of shit,” Rogan growled. Another punch. “We don’t kill civilians. We don’t show off in public and scare people.” Another punch. “We don’t abuse our power, you f**king moron. You’re a disgrace.”
“Rogan! That’s enough.” I grabbed him and pulled him off Adam.
Adam rolled to his hands and knees. I kicked him as hard as I could right in the stomach. He fell and curled into a ball.
“You almost killed my grandmother. You used kids to deliver a bomb to my house.” I kicked him again. “Flirt with me now, you sonovabitch! See if I’m impressed.”
Behind me Mad Rogan was laughing his head off.
Adam staggered back up. I swung, turning my body into it, the way my mother taught me. My punch connected with his gut. Adam exhaled sharply and rolled down. I kicked him again. “Bet you wish you wore a shirt now, huh? Need something to mop up the blood with?”
Mad Rogan picked me up and carried me a few feet away from Adam. “Okay, that’s enough. You have to have something left to turn in to his House.”
“Let me go!”
“Nevada, you’re still under contract.”
I pulled away from him and marched over to Adam. He jerked his hands up.
“Get up,” I growled. “Or I’ll get Rogan to beat you and then drag your body to your family by your hair.”
Adam got to his feet.
“Hands in front of you, wrists together,” I barked.
He put his hands out. I slapped the handcuffs on him, and we marched him across the flooded street to the gap in the wall.
We walked through, Mad Rogan first, then me dragging Adam. The street outside was crowded. People stood with cameras. I saw Lenora Jordan. Next to her stood a tall, prim woman with a haughty expression on her face. Christina Pierce, Adam’s mother. Perfect.
I hauled Adam in front of her and kicked the back of his knee. He went down to his knees. I pulled the keys out of my pocket and dropped them next to him. “Adam Pierce, surrendered alive to his House, as requested. MII will expect prompt payment.”
She stared at me. If she’d been a spitting cobra, my face would be dripping with venom.
I turned around and walked away, from the wall, from the crowd, heading down the street amidst the rubble. Most of downtown was still standing. I could hardly believe it.
A familiar figure squeezed through the crowd and ran to me. I opened my arms and hugged Bern as hard as I could.
I sipped my Angry Orchard cider and tapped a lug wrench against my leg. The garage doors were open, and Grandma Frida’s workshop was flooded with bright morning light. The big industrial fans created a cooling breeze.
A week had passed since Adam Pierce had tried to turn downtown into a burned-out wasteland. I knew that MII had received a payment from House Pierce, because they’d applied our fee against our loan balance. Augustine hadn’t returned my phone call acknowledging the receipt of paperwork. He was probably still sore because Mad Rogan had outmaneuvered him on our contract. I had spoken with his secretary. Her name was Lina, and she’d passed along a message: the third eye of Shiva had been returned to India, where it belonged. Professor Itoh had been right. Stealing another nation’s treasures never turned out well.
I’d had several requests for interviews, all of which I’d turned down. A couple of people had proved persistent, and I’d referred them to MII and its lawyers. They’d stopped calling. I wasn’t looking for fame, nor did I want to drum up clients by hitting the talk-show circuit. I would much rather Baylor Investigative Agency be synonymous with quiet professionalism.
There had been a formal inquiry. I had no idea how it had gone, because I hadn’t been required to testify. Whatever testimonies House Rogan, House Montgomery, House Pierce, and Lenora Jordan had provided must’ve been sufficient. I still had no idea who was behind all those people helping Adam. All I knew was that they’d locked him up in Ice Box, a subterranean, maximum-security prison somewhere in Alaska. It was designed to hold magic users. He was awaiting trial. I probably would have to testify at that proceeding, unless he pled guilty.
Gavin Waller had been found. The news reported that Adam Pierce had stashed him away in a motel room with a week’s worth of food and drugs. Gavin spent the week terrified that he would be found by authorities and executed on the spot. Twenty-four hours after the events downtown, Mad Rogan had brought him to the police station. The leading detective on the arson had publicly speculated that the only reason Gavin had survived at all was that Adam had been busy with his end-of-the-world plans and had simply forgotten the boy.
I hadn’t heard from Rogan. All in all, that was a really good thing.
It was Saturday, and I was helping Grandma Frida with her latest project. One of the Houses had commissioned a hover tank from one of the other armored car garages. The tank neither hovered nor tanked very well. They’d sunk a lot of money into it and had finally ended up selling it for scrap. Grandma Frida had bought it, and we were pulling it apart for spare parts. She’d gone into the house to get a sandwich, and she’d been gone for ten minutes. I sipped my hard cider. She’d probably gotten distracted.
Someone stepped through the garage doorway. I squinted against the light. Mad Rogan.
He wore a dark suit. It fit him like a glove, from the broad shoulders and powerful chest to the flat stomach and long legs. Well. A visit from the dragon. Never good.
He started toward me. The track vehicle on his left slid out of his way, as if pushed aside by an invisible hand. The Humvee on his right slid across the floor. I raised my eyebrows.
He kept coming, his blue eyes clear and fixed on me. I stepped back on pure instinct. My back bumped into the wall.
The multiton hover tank hovered off to the wall. So that was the secret to making it work. You just needed Mad Rogan to move it around.
Rogan closed in and stopped barely two inches from me. Anticipation squirmed through me, turning into a giddy excitement spiced with alarm.
“Hi,” I said. “Are you planning on putting all of this back together the way you found it?”
His eyes were so blue. I could look into them forever. He offered me his hand. “Time to go.”
“To go where?”
“Wherever we want. Pick a spot on the planet.”
He leaned forward slightly. We were almost touching. “I gave you a week with your family. Now it’s time to go with me. Don’t be stubborn, Nevada. That kiss told me everything I needed to know. You and I both understand how this ends.”
I shook my head. “How did this encounter go in your head? Did you plan on walking in here, picking me up, and carrying me away like you’re an officer and I’m a factory worker in an old movie?”
He grinned. He was almost unbearably handsome now. “Would you like to be carried away?”
“The answer is no, Rogan.”
“No,” I repeated.
“This is a long explanation, and you won’t like it.”
“I’m all ears.”
I took a deep breath.
“You have no regard for human life,” I said. “You saved the city, but I don’t think you did it because you genuinely cared about all those people. I think you did it because Adam Pierce got under your skin. You hire desperate soldiers, but you don’t do it to save them either. You do it because they offer you unquestioning loyalty. You rescued your cousin, but you had been content to ignore the existence of that whole branch of your family. Had you stepped into Gavin’s life earlier, perhaps he would’ve never met Adam Pierce. You don’t feel that rules apply to you. If you want it, you buy it. If you can’t buy it, you take it. You don’t seem to feel bad about things, and you offer gratitude only when you need to overcome some hurdle. I think you might be a psychopath.
“I can’t be with you, no matter how crazy you make me, because you have no empathy, Rogan. I’m not talking about magic. I’m talking about the human ability to sympathize. I would matter to you only as long as I had some use, and even then, I would be more of an object than a lover or a partner. The gulf between us, both financially and socially, is too great. You would use me, and when you were done with me, you would dismiss me like a servant and I would have to go back to pick up the pieces of my life, and I’m not sure there would be anything left of it or of me by that point. So no, I won’t go away with you. I want to be with someone who would if not love, then genuinely care, for me. You are not that man.”
“Pretty speech,” he said.
“It’s the only one I’ve got.”
“I know what’s really going on here. You’re scared to step into my world. Afraid you can’t hack it. Much better to hide here and be a big fish in a very small pond.”
“If that’s the way you see it, fine.” I raised my chin. “I have nothing to prove to you, Rogan.”
“But now I have something to prove to you,” he said. “I promise you, I will win, and by the time I’m done, you won’t walk, you’ll run to jump into my bed.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” I told him.
All of his civilized veneer was gone now. The dragon faced me, teeth bared, claws out, breathing fire. “You won’t just sleep with me. You’ll be obsessed with me. You’ll beg me to touch you, and when that moment comes, we will revisit what happened here today.”
“Never in a million years.” I pointed at the doorway. “Exit is that—”
He grabbed me. His mouth closed on mine. His big body caged me in. His chest mashed my br**sts. His arms pulled me to him, one across my back, the other cupping my butt. His magic washed over me in an exhilarating rush. My body surrendered. My muscles turned warm and pliant. My ni**les tightened, my br**sts ready to be squeezed, ready for his fingers and his mouth. An eager ache flared between my legs. My tongue licked his. God, I wanted him. I wanted him so badly.
He let me go, turned on his toes, and went out, laughing under his breath.
Aaargh! “That’s right! Keep . . . walking!”
I threw the wrench down.
“Now that was a kiss,” Grandma Frida said from the doorway behind me.
I jumped. “How long have you been there?”
“Long enough. That man means business.”
All my words tried to come out at once. “I don’t . . . what . . . ass**le! . . . screw himself for all I care!”
“Aww, young love, so passionate,” Grandma said. “I’m going to buy you a subscription to Brides magazine. You should start shopping for dresses.”