Before that got out of hand again, Evalle broke it up. “I say we get out of here before anything else attacks us.”
Storm asked in a wisecracking voice, “What? Didn’t enjoy the way he was mauling you? And who let him out of his cage?”
“He wasn’t mauling me …” Her voice fell off when she caught the cold fury in Storm’s eyes. She wasn’t about to admit she had unintentionally helped Tristan escape. “We were on our way back to Atlanta and—”
“I was protecting her.” Tristan moved closer to Evalle.
Storm eyed her knee where skin hadn’t covered all the raw areas still healing. “Impressive job of protecting her. If I hadn’t shown up she’d have been dead before she reached the next town.”
Tristan hooked his arm around her in a possessive way that slid under her skin like sharp needles.
Unable to move away, she hissed at him, “Let go of me.”
“Let go of me or I’ll hurt you,” she whispered.
“You didn’t mind me carrying you into the lake for a bath.”
She couldn’t believe Tristan had said that and clearly for Storm’s benefit. If she hadn’t still been so unsteady on her one leg he would be sprawled on his butt. “Get your hands off me.”
“Do as she says,” Storm warned.
“Or you’ll hurt me?” Tristan chuckled.
“I won’t hurt you.” Storm smiled with evil intent. “Well, maybe when I snap your neck, but you won’t feel it for long.”
A strong emotion from Storm reached her. He was angry … no, not exactly.
He was … jealous? Really? That brightened her day.
The stupids must have set in again.
Tristan grinned, taunting Storm with, “Come on. I’d like a jaguar rug for my next apartment.”
Evalle jerked away from Tristan, keeping herself turned slightly away from Storm or she wouldn’t be able to think. “I don’t have time for a testosterone battle. And neither do you, Tristan, if we’re going to find those three Alterants.”
“So you’re working with him now?” Storm asked.
Tristan’s smile widened.
Evalle glared at Tristan to cut it out, then looked over her shoulder at Storm. “We have an agreement.”
The look of disappointment on Storm’s face crushed her. He had come for her just as he’d promised, but would he understand why she had to stick with Tristan?
“Not so fast,” Tristan told her. “We had an agreement that did not include him.”
She swung back around. “What do you mean?”
Tristan raised his hands, palm out. “If that tomcat found his way here, then he can find his way to the next town. Storm goes or I go.”
Storm said nothing, which worried her a lot more than his anger. What did he think? That she’d been allowing Tristan to touch her body … that way?
Evalle couldn’t afford to lose Tristan, but neither would she abandon Storm after he’d come all the way down here to find her. She told Tristan, “You’re not going anywhere without me if you expect me to speak to the Tribunal for you.”
Tristan’s eyes moved from Storm to Evalle, making a decision. “Remember when I told you gods and goddesses could be tricky? You said Loki’s exact words were ‘Let the one who returns the three escaped Alterants to VIPER be cleared of prior transgressions.’ I don’t need you to talk to the Tribunal. All I have to do is show up with those three to negotiate for my freedom. And finding them shouldn’t be a problem, since I’m the one who told those three where to hide in Atlanta.”
Tristan was going to snake her deal with the Tribunal. “You son of a—”
He shook his finger back and forth. “Uh-uh. Brina doesn’t like her minions to curse. Make up your mind if it’s me or him if you want to continue our partnership.”
“It’s not technically a partnership,” she said for Storm’s benefit. “Just an agreement.”
Tristan wouldn’t relent. “You with me or him?”
“You know I need your help.” The disgusted sound that erupted behind Evalle lowered her expectations of smoothing this over soon with Storm. Surely he realized she would not leave him here. Nobody was going anywhere until she got things straight with Storm first.
Not that she should care what he thought with so much at stake, but she did. His disappointment ate at the happiness that had bloomed over seeing him here.
She said in a firm voice, “I’m not leaving anyone here.”
“Can either of you teleport?” Tristan asked.
“No,” Evalle snapped, losing patience. “What’s your point?”
“I can.” Tristan vanished.
“Blast it!” She turned to Storm, saying, “I can’t believe he can still tele—”
Storm was gone, too.
Evalle shut her eyes, then opened them again, willing Storm to still be standing there.
Nope. No Storm. No Tristan.
Nothing but vine-strangled jungle surrounded the small clearing near the lake where she stood.
Where had Storm gone? Had Tristan taken him … or harmed him?
Nobody could have luck this crappy but her.
She raised her fist to the heavens. “I have had it! Just kill me now and spare me all this crap!”
“What’s your problem?”
She jumped and lowered her arms to find Storm standing right in front of her. Pain, aggravation and frustration balled in her chest. He’d just made her crazy by disappearing. “Where in the blazes did you go?”
“To put on real clothes. I had a canvas bag I can hook my neck through to carry clothes with me for shifting back into human form.” He wore a pair of faded jeans and a dark brown T-shirt.
Her heart did that weird dance it had been perfecting every time this Skinwalker was around.
Which she was not letting him know after he’d glared at her and acted as if she’d allowed Tristan to grope her. What had all that posturing between him and Tristan been about?
He was still glaring at her. “Back to why you were asking to be struck down where you stand? What’s your problem?”
“I’ll tell you what my problem is, Storm. First you change my aura to gold, then you act like I was committing a crime with Tristan.”
“Letting him out of his cage and allowing him to touch you are crimes.” The fierce edge in his voice had a ring of possessiveness.
The steamy air between them shuddered with awareness.
She’d consider how she felt about that later when she didn’t have to find a way back to another continent. “I didn’t let him out, not intentionally.” She was not going into detail about how Tristan had grabbed her and lunged through the invisible barrier. “Tristan had agreed to help me.”
Storm made a sound that couldn’t have been construed as flattering. “Help you do what? Practice for a wet T-shirt contest?”
Out of a knee-jerk reaction, she looked down to see her soaked shirt clinging to her br**sts. Her ni**les puckered. She crossed her arms over the damning mammaries and glared at him.
She refused to feel guilty about any of this. “Demons attacked us. One of them ripped up his arm.” That didn’t faze Storm, whose eyes still narrowed with dark thoughts. She added, “And they crushed my knee. Tristan carried me here with his only good arm so we could wash the demons’ saliva out of our wounds.”
The swift change in Storm’s face from anger to concern trimmed the edge off her irritation, but his face closed down again just as fast. He eyed her leg suspiciously. “Doesn’t look crushed.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. When you walked up, he was showing me how to heal myself.”
“What exactly did Dr. Tristan show you?”
Sarcasm did nothing to improve her mood. She should be getting frostbite from his cool reserve, but Storm didn’t seem as angry as before.
She huffed out a long breath and tried once more to clear up Storm’s misconception. “Tristan has more experience than me at being an Alterant and knows how to control the change to his beast. He taught me how to tap levels of power before shifting so I could heal safely.”
Feet apart and arms crossed, Storm might as well have had a Not Sold sign hanging from his neck. “So you shifted.”
“No, of course not. That’s the great part. I only drew on my Alterant powers.” She couldn’t get past his stony exterior. Or that suspicious glint in his eyes. “What’s with you? Ten minutes ago I faced losing my leg … and probably my life. Never mind.”
She took an angry sidestep and grimaced at the pain still streaking up her leg.
Concern broke through his hard gaze. “Your leg was really crushed?”
Storm squatted down, studying her exposed knee and bloody jeans where claws had clearly ripped open the material. He lifted shredded flaps of material aside and touched the swollen skin gently until she hissed. “How bad is it?”
“Tolerable, but it’s healing by the minute.” She avoided putting more weight on her leg, and shrugged. “It’s sore, but I can walk through the pain.”
His shoulders relaxed when he stood. He lifted his fingers to her face. “I don’t like seeing you hurt.”
Her heart squirmed under the look he gave her, as if he wanted to maim anyone who harmed her. “I need to get moving to figure out where Tristan went. How’d you find me?”
He scanned around them while he answered. “I had some help. I gave it an hour once I left you around midnight, then I contacted Nicole and asked her to locate the amulet.”
Evalle hadn’t wanted to involve Nicole, especially since Nicole’s life partner, Red, didn’t like Evalle and hadn’t been happy about Evalle bringing Storm in jaguar form around Nicole two nights ago. “You woke up Red? She’ll give Nicole grief over this.”
Storm’s gaze stopped wandering around and met Evalle’s. “I’d have dragged Sen out of bed to find you if I’d thought I could make him tell me anything.”
How was she supposed to hold onto any anger when he said things like that? “But Nicole only put a temporary invisibility spell on this amulet when we borrowed it. I don’t understand.”
“I put a protection spell on the amulet the last time I saw you.”
That’s why the thing had been warming and glowing right before something had attacked her. Storm had been trying to protect her from a distance. “But how did Nicole determine where I was this quickly?”
“She used a scrying bowl to narrow the location of the amulet to this region, and I had access to a private jet.”
Who did he know with a private jet? But she didn’t want to waste time by interrupting.
Storm shrugged, saying, “I grew up in Chile and roamed all over this country. Once I got here it was just a matter of tracking you by the majik I used on …”
When his voice drifted off, his lips tightened into a frown of remorse.
But she’d caught his slip, which reminded her that she had a serious beef with him. “Speaking of the majik that changed my aura—what’d you do? It’s gold!”
He heaved a sigh. “I don’t know.”
“Wrong answer. Fix it.”
“Not sure I can, but you don’t have time for that right now anyhow if you intend to find Tristan. I’m assuming you had some plan in mind while traipsing around with him.”
That blasted Tristan.
Sure, he’d patched up her leg, but he could have teleported the whole time they’d been together. If he’d spirited them away from the demons, she wouldn’t have suffered a crushed knee.
And he hadn’t shifted. Had he been saving energy to teleport?
She let that go in favor of getting on the move. “Tristan knows where the other Alterants are in Atlanta and agreed to help me locate them.”
“He was lying to you.”
“Maybe about helping me, but I believe he was telling the truth about the Alterants being in Atlanta.” Even though Tristan had lied by omission he hadn’t taken her dagger again or left her stranded, when he could have. She hadn’t figured that one out. Why had Tristan stayed with her? No time to waste on that right now. She glanced around, defeat closing in on her with too far to travel in little time. “Any chance you’ve figured out how to track teleporting?”
“No. If he was headed back to Atlanta, call Tzader or Quinn so they can start looking for him while we head back.”
“I can’t ask anyone for help, especially them. The Tribunal forbade it.” Then a thought struck her.
She hadn’t tried any of the gifts because she could only use them for the explicit reason of finding the escaped Alterants and bringing them in.
“The Tribunal gave me three gifts.” She got excited. “I think I know how to track Tristan.” In her mind, she had to find Tristan to locate the missing Alterants, therefore she could call upon a gift.