This couldn’t be happening. Not one to dance around a target, he finally asked, “Have your feelings for me changed?”
Waiting for her answer took an eternity according to his heart, which slowed to a painful thump … thump … thump.
She looked through him and plainly stated, “You can’t pass through this warding and I can’t risk leaving. We have … no future.”
What had crawled up her backside since the last time they’d talked? “We have nothing but future. We’re immortals. We have forever to figure a way around the obstacles our parents accidentally put in our way. They wanted us together. I want us together.” He stared at her, willing her to show him more than that dead gaze. “Do you still want us together?”
The question hit a nerve, if the tiny muscle that jumped in her neck was any indication, but her words held no emotion for him. “You have time to wait, but I must produce an heir—”
“Not right this minute,” he muttered.
“—to ensure the future of our tribe,” she finished. “You want to know what the Tribunal said? That Evalle is not to contact you or anyone else. As for doing your duty, you should be working harder to find the traitor.”
First she rags him about the Alterants shifting and now the traitor? She was just pissing him off. He didn’t need anyone to remind him of his duties. “We are working to find the traitor.”
“You know what, Brina. You want a rundown of everything we’ve been up to for the past three months?”
“I want to know the identity of the traitor.”
“We all do.” Tzader clamped his jaw tight enough to crack the bones. He and Quinn had gotten close several times in the past couple years, but they had come up empty. They’d spent any free minute searching for the individual who had more than once put Beladors in danger through information that only a Belador should have known. Brina had been kept abreast of all this. “I obviously don’t have a name yet, but—”
“But you have time to devote to one Alterant? What about the rest of our tribe, Tzader? We cannot afford to overlook the safety of the entire tribe for one Alterant.”
“Now wait a minute.” He had never put Evalle’s interest ahead of other Beladors.
“What about O’Meary?”
“Last I checked, Larsen is still dead,” Tzader said more clipped than he’d like, but what was going on with her? Why was she asking about that traitor?
“He’s not the only O’Meary.”
It took Tzader a minute to follow her abrupt switch to talking about the current O’Meary generation. “What about Conlan O’Meary? He’s shown us no reason to suspect him. What are you saying?”
“That when there are two Beladors in a family like that there’s a strong connection between father and son.”
“Larsen O’Meary abandoned Conlan when the kid was seventeen, or did you forget why we brought Conlan in early to train?” What the devil? Larsen had been the Belador traitor who’d lured Brina’s father, her brothers and Tzader’s father to their deaths at the hands of the Medb Coven. O’Meary’s son Conlan had been born with Belador powers and a few unusual gifts.
Larsen had supposedly died in battle, but Tzader doubted a traitor would actually step into danger, so he speculated that the Medb had killed him once they’d been done with him.
Tzader put his personal issue with Brina’s attitude aside and got down to business, since that seemed to be all she wanted from him today. “Conlan has proven himself to be trustworthy and an asset.”
“Then he should be willing to have his mind probed for buried memories or a connection to his da. Macha wants results, and so do I.”
“What do you expect to find from having a druid probe his mind when Conlan hardly even knew his father?”
Brina’s gaze belonged to everything but him. She said, “I’m not talking of using a druid. Have Quinn do the probe. We know Quinn can tap anything Conlan’s father might have sent telepathically to him … or might still be sending him.”
“Still? You think Larsen is alive?”
“I would have expected you to consider that possibility, since we’ve never seen a body.”
“But we did have a druid search for Larsen’s spirit. The druid said the spirit was no longer functioning in a body in the human world.”
“All the more reason to have Quinn probe Conlan for any repressed memories that may aid us in our search or information deep in his subconscious that might be shielded from the young man’s consciousness. I don’t like to do this either, Tzader, but we need to find out if Larsen is truly dead and, if so, Quinn can reach out from Conlan to tap Larsen’s spirit.”
“To go that deep would risk harming Conlan and Quinn if Quinn runs into something unexpected in Conlan’s subconscious mind … like a trap.”
Brina lifted her hands to her waist, heat searing her gaze. “First you defend Conlan as a loyal follower, then you suggest he could be a threat. Which will it be?”
He had no reason to suspect the young man. “I just disagree with putting Quinn or Conlan through this without being convinced it’s necessary.”
Brina crossed her arms and really looked at him this time, but not with love in her eyes. “You come here asking for information on the Alterant who has me spending more time at Tribunal meetings than taking care of Belador business, but you hesitate to pursue a danger to the Beladors … and me?”
How had she mangled his words to make him sound as though he was letting her down? “My first concern is always to protect you and our tribe.”
“Then consider this. The Alterants are an unknown entity. Almost a hundred have shifted into beasts in just two days. Does this sudden change, or what is causing the change, not concern you?”
“Of course it does, and I expect a report by the time I return to VIPER headquarters, but it’s unfair to point suspicion at Evalle when none of the beasts seen so far have green eyes. And we’ve even heard of one Alterant intervening to save a teenager’s life. If Evalle was here she could help us.”
Brina’s gaze narrowed in doubt. “You’re sure? How do you know whatever is causing this outbreak wouldn’t affect her ability to control herself?”
“Because I know Evalle. She can control her beast.”
“Are you allowing your relationship with her to blind you to a potential threat from Alterants as well?”
“Of course not.” Was he? No. He didn’t think so. He asked, “What does all this have to do with the traitor?”
She lifted a hand, counting off fingers with each point. “You believed Larsen O’Meary was involved with the first Alterant incident. You met Evalle when the traitor tricked you into a Medb trap. You got a tip on the traitor because of the Alterant who shifted in North Carolina nine weeks ago.”
“I’ll concede that you have a point, but why are you so angry with me? What do you want from me?”
She scowled. “What do I want? For you to carry out my orders for the mind probe and deliver me the head of that traitor. And for you to accept that I have a responsibility to the Beladors. It’s best we stop pretending that our relationship will ever work out so that we may both move on with our lives.”
He heard her message loud and clear this time, every word slashing what they’d shared in the past to pieces.
“You got it, Your Highness.” He couldn’t enter without her invitation, but he could sure as hell leave without her permission. He lifted his hands and withdrew his hologram from the castle in the brittle seconds before she could dismiss him.
She should have let Tristan kill her.
Evalle sat on the fern-covered ground, knees propped up, facing the tangled jungle growth ten feet away that had been ripped to shreds and beaten to pieces by a beast. Tristan. The same Tristan-beast that stood glaring down at her with the promise of reprisal in his hollow black eyes.
The only thing preventing him from killing her was that invisible spellbound wall between them, which he’d failed to destroy in the past three hours.
Sunrise had to be coming soon, even though it was hard to tell with this dense cover of greenery and thick clouds constantly shedding rain and holding the dark close. At this point, she honestly didn’t care if her skin fried.
Like fatback on a hot skillet, as her Nightstalker buddy Grady would say.
Evalle had no way back to Atlanta, no weapon and no ally here.
Tristan turned away and made two steps when the air around him distorted, the way heat warped away from an explosion. His body started changing, shrinking from the ten-foot-tall creature to a just-over-six-foot human, arms and legs returning to normal size.
Which meant his jeans no longer fit.
They fell down around his feet, then he stepped out of them and walked away as nak*d as the day he was born.
She stretched her neck, looking for him, then gave up.
Why would he come back, when he couldn’t get his hands on her? He’d left her dagger right where he’d kinetically stuck it in the ground—inside his protected area.
Probably using her dagger as bait to lure her back inside.
Evalle dropped her head onto her arms, which were crossed over her knees. Failure would be easier to accept if no one else paid the price but her. She didn’t want to be locked away like Tristan, but at this point she’d accept that over leaving Brina to face down the Tribunal.
Not to mention disappointing the entire Belador race, including Tzader and Quinn, who had to be out fighting Alterants.
Now she was letting down all humans as well.
“Thought you wanted to talk.”
Tristan? Evalle jerked her head up and there he was, still inside his area, but now he wore a pair of khaki shorts with pockets everywhere. His body was clean, his blond hair slicked back as if he’d taken a quick dip in water.
And his eyes were chameleon green again.
“Yes, I do want to talk.” She pushed to her feet, dusting off her mud-crusted jeans. Something bit her neck. She slapped at the bug and brought back a bloody smudge on her palm.
Just great. Vampire bugs.
Tristan moved forward and she took a step back.
But this time he didn’t ram his body against the invisible force keeping him walled in. He sat on the ground and leaned against a gigantic tree that appeared to be growing half in and half outside his prison. His left arm pushed against a flat surface she couldn’t see, which must be the wall of the enclosure.
If he wanted to kill her, he could have done it inside his area. Maybe he wanted some company after all, but she wasn’t stepping back inside with him to test that theory.
In a show of camaraderie, she eased over and slid down on the left side of Tristan against the same tree. But she kept a few inches of separation from him even if he couldn’t touch her.
What do you say to a man you’d sent back to hell? “How you doing, Tristan?”
He ignored her, looking up into the canopy of tree cover. His lips moved with whispered words she couldn’t hear. She waited for him to say something to her next, but he sat quietly for a few minutes, then a monkey high above them screeched.
Tristan couldn’t leave his area, but any animal could.
She tensed and glanced up in time to see a yellow bomb falling at them.
Evalle dove away to her left.
Tristan didn’t even flinch.
He caught a large bunch of bananas that filled his hands. Snapping one free, he placed the rest of them on his right and said, “So what do you want?”
Could he direct an animal on her side of the wall to do his bidding, too? Like sending a predator to get her?
She sat back up and kept an eye on her surroundings while she considered how to answer him. What was the point in searching for a diplomatic way to put this when she’d already told him the same thing once? “I was sent here to find the three escaped Alterants.”
Tristan bit the banana and smiled briefly around each chew. “You ask Brina where she had them caged?”
Evalle could see no reason to shade the truth, not if she had any hope of Tristan answering her questions honestly. “Because the Tribunal forbade my asking her and she’s sworn to secrecy about the Alterants for some reason.”
“Doesn’t matter. Brina doesn’t know where those three are right now anyhow,” Tristan said, smug with knowledge. He finished the last bite of the banana and tossed the peel aside.
Then why ask me if Brina knew? Evalle would not lose her temper with him. “But you know where those three are, right?”
“Would you tell me?”
“Why would I do that?”
“I know you’re not going to see this my way at first, but give me a chance to explain.”
Tristan snorted and broke off another banana. “The same way I got a chance to explain before you used the Ngak Stone to send me back here?”