Burned, p.27

Burned, page 27

 part  #7 of  Fever Series

 

Burned
 



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  Dressed.

  I decide to stay a little longer and leave with Lor. Who knows what I might learn next?

  “Sit,” Ryodan barks.

  Lor moves to the desk and drops down into a chair, shoving his blond hair back with a hand, looking wary. I don’t blame him. Ryodan is unpredictable as hell. They don’t call his way of dealing with things the “gavel effect” for nothing. He’s famed for biding his time, gathering information, processing it, then when he makes a decision, the gavel falls and everyone that pissed him off or offended him or just breathed wrong dies.

  “What’s up with Dani?” Lor says.

  Ryodan lays the knife on the desk. “Remember Fade telling us he’d found a kid who could move like us and was blowing through the streets, pretending to be a superhero. ”

  Lor laughs. “Fuck, yeah. We all accused each other of breaking covenant and making her. Skinny redhead with balls the size of mine. I’d go watch her even when it wasn’t my turn just to see what she’d do next. Kid’s better than Netflix. ”

  “I didn’t give her a second thought until I found a warded house where Rowena did her dirty work. Old woman kept journals Hitler would’ve enjoyed. Book after book of notes about the experiments she performed. Dani wasn’t her only unwilling subject. She recorded every detail. The drugs, the black arts, the manipulation and coercion, how she caged her, dehumanized her, turned a child into an animal, watchdog, fetch-it girl, assassin. Made her grateful for any crumb of kindness. Completely controlled her mother until—” Ryodan breaks off, a muscle twitching in his jaw.

  Lor growls, “Until what?”

  “Doesn’t matter. Point is, the headmistress was in Dani’s life long before she remembers it. There were a dozen volumes, filled cover to cover. When I finished reading them, I went hunting. ”

  Ryodan—an avenging angel? Knock me over with a feather.

  “What happened? Mac killed the old bitch. ”

  Now that I’m hearing this, I’m sorry I didn’t kill her sooner. And make it last longer.

  “Not Rowena. ” Ryodan says. “I went hunting Dani. It was the kid I meant to kill. First. ”

  There goes the feather. This is the man I fight with incessantly.

  “That’s fucked up, boss. That’s beyond fucked up. ”

  I nod vigorously, scowling.

  “You went hunting Dani instead of Ro? You don’t kill the victim. You kill the perp. ”

  “I thought the kid’s life was like that of another child I knew. Grown men can withstand things children can’t. For centuries I took care of Barrons’s son while he searched for a way to end his torment. For an eternity I shared their fucking pain. I couldn’t put my nephew out of his misery, but I could spare the girl a hellish existence. ”

  Page 103

  I’m slammed by a one-two punch of shocks and my mouth drops open. Nephew? Freaking nephew? Is he serious? Ryodan and Barrons are brothers? I study his face intently, looking for similarities. So, when Ryodan called him “brother” earlier, he really meant it. I’d thought it was just guy-bro-talk. Brothers in arms or something like that. I narrow my eyes with a scowl. That makes me and Ryodan almost like … family or something. Ew. The second shock is more palatable: there was something of avenging angel in his actions, after all. Mercy from Ryodan. Who’d have thought.

  “Why the fuck are you telling me this? And why now? Figured you’d be chewing my ass over Jo not telling me shit you never talk about. ”

  I was wondering the same thing. Ryodan doesn’t explain himself. Ever.

  “I’m telling you because for some unfathomable fucking reason Dani likes you. That means you may prove useful in getting her back. The more you know, the more you can help. ”

  “Getting her back from where?” Lor demands. “What did the bitch do to her? Where are those journals? I want to see them. ”

  “It wasn’t just Rowena. And I suggest you leave it. ”

  “I suggest you go fuck yourself. ”

  “Once you called me king. Now you lie, fuck my ex, and tell me to fuck myself. Tread lightly, Lor. You may have changed. I have not. ”

  “You’re talking about my favorite human. I want names. Details. I’ll rip out their hearts. I’ll flay their fucking hides. ”

  “I already took care of them. ”

  My hands are fists, nails digging into my palms. I force myself to unclench them so I don’t drip blood on the floor. Other people abused Dani? Who? I want to kill them, too.

  “Yet you let the old bitch live after you found out. What the fuck’s with that?”

  Something inhuman rattles deep in Ryodan’s chest. “The moment Barrons got the Sinsar Dubh, I planned to lock Rowena away in a dark, hellish pit. Keep her alive so that if one day Dani remembered, she could exterminate her. Some crimes are so personal, blood-vengeance belongs only to the one who suffered them. It was the only gift I could give her. ”

  “Dani doesn’t remember? How’s that possible?”

  “She fragmented. Not sure if the old bitch managed to intentionally cause it or if it had already happened to some degree before she came on the scene and she just drove wedges in the door to lodge it open. When I chained Dani up in the dungeon, it wasn’t because she’d killed Unseelie in my club. I was trying to discover what she recalled of Ro’s experiments. I’d begun to suspect it was little. Skimming her mind was time-consuming and tricky as hell. Kid’s got more locked doors in that megabrain of hers than a high-security prison. Dani remembers some of it but it seems the worst memories were embedded in her other personality’s psyche, or never fully absorbed. It was difficult to read her, even unconscious. There are things she may never remember. If we’re lucky. Our super-girl carries her own kryptonite, right there in her head. ”

  “You gotta be kidding me. My little darlin’s a split personality?”

  “Not so little anymore. And she calls herself Jada now. She’s the survivor, aware of Dani. Jada has ledgers and objectives. Dani has hopes and dreams. Dani doesn’t know about Jada. She has what she thinks of as an ‘Other’ but doesn’t realize it’s a fully formed persona. ”

  Lor shakes his head. “How the fuck did I miss it?”

  How did I miss it? I narrowed my eyes, replaying memories, searching for clues.

  “They’re hard to tell apart. Nearly identical, but one feels, the other doesn’t. One’s on fire with life, the other’s cold as ice. One butchers the English language. The other obeys it to the letter. Not a flicker of emotion, not an ounce of humanity. Their posture is subtly different. I’ve watched her change four times. She pulled back a fifth time, recently, outside the club while she was trying to figure out what the Hoar Frost King was after, as if she’d dipped in a toe but pulled out quickly. Each time she changed, she was unstoppable. The other has double her talent and abilities. You never saw it, then. ”

  Lor rubs his jaw. “No. You ordered us to stay back, out of sight. We just thought she was a helluva fighter. Stone cold at times but that’s my little honey. Couldn’t be more proud of her. ” He grins but it quickly fades. “You said you went to kill her. Why didn’t you?”

  “The memories Dani retains are enough that she should hate the world. Kevlar her heart. Never trust anyone or anything. ”

  Page 104

  “Sounds like someone I know. ”

  “I feel. ”

  “With your dick, maybe. ”

  “Hands and tongue, too. ”

  “So, why didn’t you kill her?”

  “I found her standing outside Temple Bar, watching street mimes. Eyes brilliant, up on her tiptoes, at the back of the crowd, one hand shoved in a pocket, the other cramming a cheeseburger in her mouth. Bouncing from foot to foot trying to burn off some of that excess energy she always has. There were guts from a recent Unseelie kill in her hair. Never had friends, went to school, celebrated a birthday or Christmas, none of those rites of passage by which humans mark their time and so highly p
rize. ”

  I blink. Ryodan is talking about human experiences like he understands them? Like he’s actually given one ounce of thought to a moment of it?

  “Alone. Living on the streets. Dirty. Torn jeans. Two black eyes, bruises everywhere. Not one person in the world gave a bloody damn she was alive except to use her. And she knew it. ”

  “That’s why you didn’t kill her? Because she was young and dirty and a beat-up, unwanted kid? World’s fucking full of ’em. ”

  “It was what she did next. ”

  What could make the implacable, imperious Ryodan change his mind? This was a man of steel who made rules and enforced them without question.

  “What?”

  His face changes, eyes distant on a memory, and he smiles faintly. I realize I might not know him at all. Perhaps no one does.

  “She threw her head back and laughed. The kid fucking laughed, eyes shining. Like there was no greater adventure she could possibly be on. Like life was turning out to be the most exhilarating, fantastic roller-coaster ride she could ever have imagined. Fuck the pain. Fuck the misery. In the middle of the hopeless, brutal hell her short existence on this Earth had been, that girl laughed,” he finishes on a near whisper.

  That was Dani. Nothing broke her. Ever. Not even if it meant splitting herself into pieces to deal with things, so she could laugh and want to go on living.

  “You don’t snuff a life like that,” Ryodan says softly. “You honor it. You take measures to protect it, even from itself when necessary, and keep it alive. ” The ghost of a smile vanishes and his face is once again a smooth, urbane mask. He clips, brisk and businesslike, “She was reckless, convinced of her own invincibility. She’s no longer reckless and far more powerful. We currently have two primary objectives: stop the cosmic anomalies that threaten to destroy this world, and get Dani back. Not necessarily in that order. I expect your full attention on those two matters. Nothing else. I’ve others addressing my secondary concerns. ”

  Ryodan stands up and walks around the desk, a signal even I can read for Lor to get up and leave. I’m surprised he’s letting him. Lor’s got hell to pay, and Ryodan is the devil that collects.

  Taking his cue, Lor rises. “Sure, boss. ” His brow furrows like he’s hunting for words. After a moment he adds, “Like I said earlier, I didn’t go looking for Jo. ”

  “But you plan to fuck her again. ”

  Lor rubs his jaw, sighs but doesn’t answer.

  Ryodan changes into the beast faster than I believed possible. One instant he’s a man—the next his clothing is in tatters on the floor.

  A nine-foot-tall, horned, black-skinned slathering monster with feral crimson eyes slams his fist through the wall of Lor’s chest and rips out his heart.

  The beast holds the bloody thing up—God, it’s still beating!—narrows its eyes then licks it, forked black tongue unfurling with grace around the delicacy.

  Then he looks at Lor, who’s jerking convulsively, gushing blood from a huge jagged-edged hole in his chest, framed by an explosion of bone fragments, taps him lightly on the shoulder and pushes him over.

  Despite enormous fangs distorting his words, I have no problem understanding them.

  “Never. Fucking. Lie. To. Me. Again. ”

  Lor crashes to the floor, dead.

  The beast drops Lor’s heart on the floor where it lands with a wet splat, turns and swipes the wall panel with a prehensile, taloned claw, and stalks out.

  I stand staring dumbly, then realize my chance to leave without risking exposure is leaving. As I race through the door after him he changes back into a man as quickly as he became the beast.

  A naked man.

  I close my eyes.

  Well, most of the way.

  29

  “It’s who we are, doesn’t matter if we’ve gone too far”

  MAC

  We’re halfway down the hall and I’m hot on his heels, wondering how Ryodan manages to change so swiftly from beast to man, when it takes Barrons a full minute or two to complete the transformation. Then I move on to wondering exactly where Ryodan plans to go naked, thinking maybe I’m about to see the man’s private quarters, which I’m admittedly anticipating, when my hair suddenly shoots straight up in the air, blasted by a brisk wind.

  Page 105

  I know that gust of wind.

  It’s Dani, passing me in freeze-frame.

  Ryodan recognizes it, too. She’s got balls exploding in here when she knows he’s around.

  We spin instantly to follow her (me much more slowly, I’m beginning to despise my lack of speed compared to theirs) and I barely get out of the way in time to keep from being flattened by a very large, very naked man.

  I skid back into the office a split second before the door hisses closed.

  The room appears to be under siege by an army of poltergeists. Drawers are flying open, papers exploding everywhere.

  I’m stunned to see Lor’s body is already gone. I knew they vanished when they died, I just didn’t know how quickly it happened. It’s as tidy as the way vampires “poof” on Buffy, which I never watched before in my life until a few months ago when I got obsessed with paranormal TV shows, as if I might glean useful clues from them. I frown. But Barrons’s corpse didn’t vanish that quickly in Faery the day Ryodan and I killed him. Then again, that shouldn’t surprise me, nothing works the way you expect it to in Faery.

  “If you’re looking for the contract,” Ryodan says, “I put it away where you won’t find it. Give me Dani back and I’ll tear it up. ”

  Jada materializes in the middle of the study, cool and remote as ever. She has a long curved knife strapped in a sheath to one of her thighs, a Glock tucked in the front of her waistband, an automatic machine gun slung over a shoulder, pushed behind her back, and rounds of ammo draped across her chest. She looks fierce, savage, stunning.

  Dani used to sport bruises from freeze-framing. Looks like Jada got that under control. The way she moves that sleek, long-legged body, grace could be her middle name. In black leather pants, combat boots, and a black tee, long auburn hair swept up high in a sleek ponytail, she reminds me of Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, her face chiseled-porcelain beautiful, strong and icy. Besides a thin silver chain belt, her only other adornment is a silver and gold cuff. I stare fixedly at it, trying to remember where I’ve seen it before. Or one very similar to it.

  Her gaze sweeps down over Ryodan’s nude body, a muscle flexes in her jaw. She yanks her gaze back up and trains it on his face.

  I press back against a wall, studying her, grateful she’s no longer freeze-framing. It’d be far too easy to get smashed if they both start doing that Tasmanian devil thing again.

  My heart sinks.

  Jada is Dani.

  There’s no question in my mind. I can see the teenager in the woman’s face now. It’s there in her bone structure, in the way she carries herself, in the fiery hair she must flat-iron every time she washes it or gets rained on (which means she must be flat-ironing constantly, considering how much it rains in this city).

  I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.

  Actually, yes I can. Not only did I have no reason to expect Dani to abruptly age four or five years in a few weeks, the years from fourteen to nineteen or twenty are enormously transformative. Ugly ducklings become swans, sometimes swans lose their youthful beauty and become ducks. Fourteen to twenty is the most transfiguring rite of passage a man or woman completes, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

  I press a hand to my chest, as if it might somehow ease the pain in my heart.

  I did this.

  I chased her through the portal and she lost years in there, where whatever she had to do to survive forced what was once a temporary split to become permanent, burying Dani pretty much the same way the Book would like to bury me.

  I have to get her back. Unfortunately the only thing Jada
wants to do to me is lock me up next to Cruce.

  “The one that signed that contract is no longer here to honor it. ” Jada’s gaze takes an involuntary dip over Ryodan’s body again and her face tightens. I get that. His body is surreal, powerful, perfect. I see his kinship to Barrons now. Criminy. He’s not hard—yes, I’m frigging looking, and I’m not about to feel bad about it because you try not looking at a hot, naked man standing in front of you when you’re twenty-three, perfectly healthy, and full of a lot of aggression you’d like to vent. I think men don’t realize women think dicks are beautiful. Not all dicks. But some men get the mother lode, just the right length and thickness covered with beautiful olive-toned, velvety skin that has a luscious pink undertone and makes the head of their dick look like a succulent lollipop, and since Ryodan is totally waxed or lasered or trimmed recently—

  I catch myself about to audibly clear my throat. I glue my eyes to his face, where they will remain until I leave this room, so help me God. I’m staring at Barrons’s brother naked. It makes me feel vaguely unfaithful somehow.

  Page 106

  Ryodan stalks across the room, stops a few feet from her, close enough to unnerve, not so close that she won’t—if there’s as much red-blooded woman in her as I think there is—have as hard a time keeping her eyes locked on his face as I am.

  Great, now I have to not look at his ass. With a distant part of my brain I admire that Jada/Dani doesn’t comment on Ryodan’s nudity, ask where his clothes are or demand he put some on. Ignoring it makes it irrelevant. No man wants his nudity to be irrelevant.

  “One would think you wouldn’t bother to come looking for it, then. ”

  “It offends in letter only, not verse. ”

  “You know it has power. Over even you. Should I choose to exercise it. ”

  “Should you choose to exercise it, you’ll die more quickly than I currently plan. ”

  “You admit you’re Dani, then. ”

  “It would be inefficient for me to continue to deny that which we both know was once true. ‘Was once’ are the key words there. Dani is dead. ”

  “You’ve got that wrong. You’re the one who’s dead. ”

  “I’m alive. She was never as alive as me. She was in constant pain. I terminated it. ”

  “By terminating all emotion. ”

  “I feel. ”

  “Bullshit. The currency of life is passion, and as with any coin, it has two sides: pleasure, pain, joy, sorrow. Impossible to slip a single side of that coin into your pocket. You take all or nothing. ”

 
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