“Aw, honey, keep dancing like that, you’re gonna get me killed,” Lor said close to her ear.
“I doubt that,” she said dryly.
“Figure it’s worth dying for. If only to get off on the look on that fuck’s face.”
She didn’t dissemble. Didn’t ask who. She knew who, and he knew she did. Lor was a hammer. He called it like he saw it, pounded words like nails into conversation and didn’t care what anyone thought of him. “And what is the look on ‘that fuck’s face’?” she murmured. “He’s behind me. I can’t see him.”
Lor laughed and spun them so she could see Ryodan standing on the edge of the dance floor, tall, powerful, dressed in dark slacks and a white shirt, sleeves rolled back, cuff glinting. Watching, thunderclouds in his eyes.
Once she’d seen him laugh.
Once she’d watched him fuck. A lifetime ago.
Their eyes locked. He took two steps toward her and she flared her nostrils, cut him a cool look.
Lor slid an arm around her waist, turned her away.
“Then why didn’t he find me?” she said. She wanted to know how hard he’d searched. How he’d reacted. If he’d mounted a rescue and how extensive it had been. She’d had no one to ask that wouldn’t promptly report back to him.
Lor wouldn’t carry the tale. They’d shared secrets in the past.
“Aw, kid, he tried. As soon as he heard you were missing. We didn’t know you were gone for a coupla weeks. Mac didn’t tell Ryodan right away.”
Jada cultivated fluidity, resisting the urge to tense. “Mac didn’t tell you right away that I went into the hall?”
Lor shook his head.
She was momentarily breathless. She’d believed they were all out hunting for her. Worrying. Moving mountains to find her. She’d waited. Living by WWRD: What Would Ryodan Do.
“Boss said Mac was chompin’ at the bit to go after you but Barrons vetoed it. Said if she followed you through you’d just keep running.”
True, she acknowledged. She’d been running as if the hounds of Hell were on her heels that night, determined to outrun everything, especially herself. She wouldn’t have stopped if Mac had followed her. She’d have leapt into the nearest mirror in the hall. But truth, the pernicious bitch, didn’t make her feel better. “Why didn’t she tell Ryodan?”
“Dunno. You gotta ask her that. But, honey, it’s not like those two get along real well. They sure weren’t spending any time together. Maybe she was giving you time to find your way out. Maybe she had her own problems.”
Jada did the math. She’d been gone five and a half years and they hadn’t even started looking for her until two weeks after she’d gotten back. She’d spent those weeks coldly combing the country, amassing her wandering army of sidhe-seers who’d come to Dublin for one reason or another, inspiring their loyalty with her strength and laser focus, implementing the plans she’d made wandering through Hell, trying to figure out how to regain what she’d lost by coming home. Years that felt like centuries had passed for her. It had been a single week for those she’d counted friends.
She closed her eyes, finding her center. The place where she felt no pain, only purpose. When she’d fixed herself firmly there, she opened her eyes, kissed Lor lightly on the cheek and thanked him for the dance.
Then she turned to find Ryodan, deliberately late for their meeting.
He was gone.
“I thought we were having a meeting,” Jada said as she entered Ryodan’s office.
“We are,” he said, not taking his eyes from the monitor he was watching beyond her head.
“I’d hardly call the two of us a meeting.”
“What would you call us?”
Us, he’d said. With interrogative inflection. As if there was an “us.” Once, she’d thought them Batman and Robin, two superheroes, saving the world. “Was that a bona-fide question with proper punctuation?” she mocked.
“Dani needed things to fight. I was the logical choice. Even something so small as improper punctuation kept her distracted.”
“What are you saying? That you’re not really endlessly irritating—you just irritated me endlessly to keep me occupied?”
“No need to go hunting dragons when the one right next to you keeps yanking your chain. And you had so very many chains to yank back then.”
She stared at him, but he still wasn’t looking at her. That was exactly what he’d done, kept her racing from one thing to the next, provoking her so incessantly that even when she wasn’t with him, she’d been fuming about how much he annoyed her, planning how to one-up him the next time.
Or impress him.
Get him to look at her with respect, admiration.
God, she’d hero-worshipped this man! Constructed endless fantasies around him.
He looked at her then. Sharply. Hard. And she belatedly remembered his ability to skim minds, hoped she hadn’t thought that last part loud and on the top of her brain.
On the off chance she had, she tossed him something to throw him off course.
“I hated you,” she said coolly.
“You were an explosion of unchecked desires.”
“You were a complete void of them.” Not always, though. Just around her.
“Now you’re an implosion of repressed passion. Find the middle ground.”
You’re not the boss of me, rose to the tip of her tongue, and she bit it off so hard she drew blood, hating that a mere month in this world could unravel her so much, send her sliding down the slipperiest of slopes right back into who and how she’d once been.
“Never tell me how you think I should be,” she said. “You don’t know a thing about who I am now. You don’t know what I lived through and you don’t know the choices I had to make.”
He inclined his head, waiting.
“Oh, that’s not happening. I’m never going to tell you,” she said.
“Never is a long time. I’ll be here at the end of it.” He stood up, reached in his drawer, pulled out an object, and offered it to her.
She arched a brow. “A phone?”
“I can’t track you on other worlds. If you allow me to tattoo you again, and carry the phone always, you will never get lost anywhere I can’t find you.”