“What does that mean.”
Xhex stared up at the male. Putting her hand on his heart, she opened herself to fully read his grid. It was the kind of thing she hadn’t been able to do before now, and not because he locked her out. She loved him like a brother, and his loss was so painful that getting too close to his emotions, in the way of her kind, was agony.
Like putting her entire body on a red-hot grill—
Sucking a breath in through her teeth, Xhex trembled. His pain was a tidal wave that stung her very marrow, and she had to brace herself to absorb the enormity of it. But she owed him this.
Before she spoke, her eyes skipped to that corner of the club, to the shadow that was present, but couldn’t technically exist.
“Do you know what you feel in here?” she whispered as she rubbed over his heart.
“In here.” She pressed in. “Here in your core.” When he started to shake his head, she talked over his questions, his desperation. “Listen to me. You can trust this. Do you understand what I am saying? You can trust what is in here.”
Trez swallowed hard. When his eyes went to the roof high above, she knew he wasn’t looking at anything. He was trying to keep tears from falling, here in this public place, with so many humans and staff around.
“How do you know what I can trust?” he asked without meeting her eyes.
“I don’t have a good answer for that, and not because I’m keeping anything from you. I just know… you can have faith in yourself. Even if it feels… impossible.”
There was a long moment of stillness and silence, even as others in the club moved around and talked and even shouted. But she gave him all the time he needed to assess her aura and her expression. And she knew the moment he believed in what she was trying to tell him without actually telling him: Her old friend’s arms shot around her and pulled her in tight, the strength that he put into the embrace nearly crushing her.
“Thank you,” he gritted out.
Xhex’s eyes returned to that far corner, to that inexplicable shadow that was created by magic. “Don’t thank me. It’s not my doing.”
With a quick curse, Trez stepped back and tucked in his silk shirt. Like he was trying to tuck in his emotions.
“I, um… yeah, well,” he said, “if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to head up to my office where I am totally not going to lose it all over the fuck.”
“Good plan.” Xhex smiled at him. “I’ll handle everything down here.”
“You always do.”
Trez gave her shoulder a squeeze and then he strode across the empty dance floor, a tall figure with a powerful body and a terrible heartache that had, unexpectedly, been relieved by a miracle.
Without warning, unease rippled through her, and she crossed her arms over her chest. Had she done the right thing? Had she said the right thing?
Big Rob, her second in command, approached her. “Hey, you gotta minute? That cop wants to talk to you.”
“One sec. Hold him in place.”
Turning from her bouncer, she walked over to the shadow, and then pivoted around so that her back was to the corner, as if she were making some kind of measurement of the dance floor.
In a quiet voice, she said, “Why can’t I just tell him? I don’t get it. If you’ve given him this gift, shouldn’t he just know that she’s back?”
Xhex waited. And just before she was about to give up, a disembodied answer entered her brain directly, bypassing her ear canals.
He is in the midst of his destiny the now. There are no shortcuts, even when there are gifts.
She twisted around and looked at the dense darkness. “What about John. John is the same as her, John is—”
That was before my time. I have no standing to rearrange the arrangements of my predecessor.
“So it’s real?”
The shadow disappeared, but as it left, she felt a warmth come over her. Shaking her head, she had to smile.
Lassiter working magic, and taking names. As best he could.
It almost made you forget his taste in TV shows.
* * *
Trez did not have a breakdown, as it turned out. Instead, he stayed up in his office until everyone, including Xhex, had left. Then, close to dawn, he went down to the club proper and stood in the huge, empty space. Slowly, he pivoted in a circle, taking in the bar, the sound booth, the interrogation rooms, the bathrooms where the fucking happened, the stairs to his private area.
He’d bought the old warehouse for a song, torn out the interior compartments, and painted all the old glass in the blocks of windows around the upper quarter of the space. He’d also built out his office space, as well as the locker room for the working girls, and those one-person, but never used that way, loos with the drains in the middle of the floor and the hose hookups behind the toilets.
He had never really thought of his business as dirty. He’d just been in it for the money.
But the idea of Selena being here? And almost getting shot?
Bringing up his hand, he placed it upon his heart, right where Xhex had put her own. You can trust what is in here.
Yes, he thought. YES.
His prayers, his desperate prayers that had been sent up to thin ether because he had believed in nothing spiritual at all, not even the distant stars, had been answered. Xhex had proved that tonight.
She had told him, tonight, everything he had wanted to hear.
With a fresh wave of gratitude and relief, he pictured Selena in her new incarnation. Remembered them being together. Recalled the feel of her core, the taste of her lips, even the sounds she made.
His shellan was back to him.
His joy was so great, he could contain it no better than he had handled his grief, his emotions over-spilling. Overcoming. Overtaking. Except now, he didn’t mind it. He took out his phone and called up his brother’s contact. He needed to tell iAm, he needed to tell the Brothers, he needed to—
A flash down on the floor caught his eye.
Frowning, he walked over and bent down. The ring of keys was nothing unusual, exactly the kind of thing that could be found any night of the week after the lights went on. There was something out of the norm, however. The unadorned ring held, in addition to a silver key of unremarkable distinction, a copper one.
The soft metal was old, utterly lacking the mellow, rose gold-like sheen of fresh copper.
So it was from a vampire house.
Bringing the thing to his nose, he breathed in deep—and caught the familiar scent of his female. These were hers. They had fallen out of her purse when her money had been taken.
Rubbing the slip of copper between his thumb and forefinger, he thought of his reincarnated Selena. Of the fact that she didn’t recognize him in person, even though she knew him from her dreams, knew him from the feel of his body on hers, in hers.
This key, which warmed to his touch, was not to the door to her flat in that fucking awful rooming house. It was to another house—a home. Where she had evidently come from.
Except… how had that worked? How had she, as a Chosen, come from anywhere but the Sanctuary?
As much as his soul was singing, and as fervently as he wanted to proclaim to the world his queen had come back unto him, his logical side couldn’t square up the past she had had without him. She was through her transition. Well through it. So how had that happened? How had his Selena died so recently, and yet been returned unto him in the body of a mature female?
There was no reconciling the two timelines. No way to make that equation add, subtract, multiply, or divide. And yet Xhex wouldn’t mislead him. No way. Even though she was a symphath, history had proven that he could trust her, and she had very clearly confirmed what he had known all along, what had captivated him—and given that what he felt now was infinitely better than the suffering? He would take it and run with it. After all, wasn’t that what faith was all about?
You believed what your soul told you even if the fallible mind struggled with the implications.
Peace. All he wanted was peace. And if he had to stop questioning and just believe to stay here in this relief? Then he was on that train, goddamn it.
Staring at his brother’s contact on the screen of his cell phone, it felt all wrong not sharing this with iAm. The other male suffered as he did. Hell, maybe that was why the poor bastard had let that sauce burn on the stove tonight. He was newly mated, to a female he loved with everything in him, but he had a basket case for a nearest blood relation.
The last thing iAm needed was a crazy-ass phone call from said basket case that was full of happy tears, proclamations of reincarnation, and suggestions that they double date. This was especially true given that the guy’s party line on his newest waitress was that the female was not in fact Selena. To iAm, she was Therese. From Michigan. Come to Caldwell to start a new life independent from whatever family she had left behind.
Any news flash to the contrary was not going to go well.
And iAm wasn’t the only one who didn’t need a conversation like that. Trez was not interested in anyone talking him out of this happiness. Trying to prove him wrong. Attempting to “reason” with him.
He was liable to go batshit, and not in an insane way. In a combative manner.
As he stared at his phone, he found such irony in the fact that his good news alienated him as much as his bad news had. He had a secret he knew he couldn’t share, and that made him lonely.
Maybe even when it comes to the owner of this key, he thought to himself.
His female had seen him in her dreams… but again, she did not recognize him in real life.
Before he became frustrated with the whole situation, he deliberately remembered the way he had felt as he had stood in front of that funeral pyre, those flames consuming the remains of his queen. How many times, during the burn, and then after it was all embers and ashes—hell, even before then, when his female had been on the lip edge of death, lingering, suffering… how many times had he begged for a different destiny? Promised all kinds of things, both within and without of his control, for her to come back, for his life to return to normal, for them to have years, decades, centuries ahead of them.