Alterant (Page 21)

Alterant (Belador #2)(21)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

Tzader had also considered what had happened two years ago. He owed his life to Quinn and Evalle, who had been linked to him when they’d battled the Medb to escape. He’d suffered a fatal wound, which he’d survived only because neither Quinn nor Evalle would unlink even though they could have died with him.

Nodding, Tzader said, “I’ve thought about that. Conlan has the ability to split his image. He could have left a lifelike replica at his home while he traveled to the Salt Flats the day we were captured by the Medb. The only way we’d have known was if we’d sent someone capable of telling the difference to interact with the copy at his home. None of us suspected him of anything back then, so that didn’t happen.”

“Good point.”

Tzader wished he had Quinn’s mind lock ability so he could be the one taking the risk. He’d been hunting the traitor every minute he could spare from his Maistir duties. When he did find that rat bastard he was going to make him regret the day he was born.

Quinn flexed his hand. “It’s been a while since I probed someone’s subconscious this deeply, and, if you recall, the last time ended in less than ideal results.”

“That’s a diplomatic way to say the guy stroked out during the session,” Tzader joked. “He was a troll convicted of eating a human family. If you hadn’t gone that deep we’d have never found where his sidekick was hiding. Saved a pile of lives with that get.” Tzader scratched his chin. “And imploding his brain wasn’t your fault either.”

“If I hadn’t opened a path for the demonic spirit hunting the troll to reach through and take control of his mind, the troll would have survived.”

Tzader started to question his friend’s barometer for justice when Quinn added, “Don’t get me wrong. I have no sympathy for a psychopathic predator. I just believe he deserved a far less humane punishment than a quick death.”

But something had Quinn more contemplative than usual. Tzader asked, “You think something is hiding in Conlan’s subconscious?”

“Not really,” Quinn said, still sounding distracted. “He’s a decent man and a loyal Belador. He’s … I don’t know. Just thinking out loud.”

“I know. I don’t like either one of you doing this.” Tzader turned to peer out the window at people scurrying along Peachtree Street, oblivious to the potential threat. He hated not being able to warn the public, but humans couldn’t contain the fog if VIPER couldn’t.

Panic would only add to the crisis.

If the traitor was tied to the Alterants in any way, Brina was right to push for an answer now, but Tzader wanted to give Quinn one last chance to step aside. “It’s your decision, but keep in mind that I need you out in the field helping us fight this fog and beasts more than I need you in here taking this gamble.”

Quinn held up his hand. “I couldn’t allow someone else to try this. We’ve never had a druid who can match my ability to mind lock. And even if a druid searched Conlan’s mind first and didn’t find anything, I would still have to probe a second time. That would force Conlan to endure the mental plundering and risk twice. Besides, there’s only danger if we’re wrong about his being innocent.”

Tzader understood all that on a logical level, but the “what if” factor still hung in the air. Evalle wouldn’t forgive him if Quinn came out of this with scrambled brains … or dead.

And he wouldn’t deserve forgiveness.

Thinking of her, Tzader asked, “Have you heard anything on Storm once we split up last night?”

“Can’t be found.”

Tzader cut a sharp look at Quinn. “You mean like not-in-the-city gone?”

“Yes. You said Evalle learned about the Alterants shifting from Storm. I’m thinking they spoke on her way to the Tribunal meeting last night. I touched base with Devon Fortier this morning before I left for D.C. He’s investigating a troll operation tied to the local sting I’m running and had a team following a lead at the Amtrak station last night. They needed a tracker. He tried reaching Storm for almost two hours before Storm appeared close to midnight.”

“Any chance Storm mentioned seeing Evalle, or if he knew about her being attacked on the way to the Tribunal meeting?”

“I did inquire. Devon said Storm tracked down one troll in record time, then disappeared. Storm didn’t say a word about anyone. No one has seen or heard from the chap since.”

Tzader slammed his fist into his palm. “That had to be why Evalle was running late coming to Woodruff Park. She probably got waylaid by him.”

“True, but she’s a big girl even if we think she’s still that skinny little warrior we had to force to stop using a storage room as an apartment.”

“She’s naïve when it comes to men.”

“Inexperienced, maybe,” Quinn argued, then his voice dropped into a solemn tone. “But I doubt she’s naïve.”

Tzader understood Quinn’s meaning. Having observed Evalle for the past couple of years, they’d agreed that she might have suffered beyond being locked in a basement for eighteen years.

Someone had harmed her physically.

She was powerful enough to defend herself against any human, but humans weren’t his concern at the moment.

“I see your point,” Tzader admitted, grinding his fist harder. “But that doesn’t mean she’s ready for someone like Storm.”

Quinn gave a bark of laughter.

He spun around. “What?”

“You sound like an overbearing father. We can’t protect her from everything.”

Tzader muttered, “We can from a few hard tails—”

Quinn turned serious. “I’ve watched him the few times he’s been around her. I think the greatest danger is to someone who threatens her. Which reminds me, did Sen indicate he knew anything about the attack on Evalle, since he had to have shown up at the same time?”

“No, the prick stonewalled when I asked. Said he couldn’t discuss Tribunal business.”

“One of these days …,” Quinn started, eyes thinned with malice.

A knock at the door turned Quinn’s attention. “Come in.”

Conlan O’Meary entered the room, first nodding at Tzader, then noticing Quinn. The young man had filled out his lanky frame with whipcord muscle. His half-inch-long light brown hair stuck up on top, similar to styles on most of the young businessmen Tzader had passed coming into the building. Wireless glasses warmed his gray eyes and toned down the lethal air he’d exhibited in training.

Right now those eyes were doing a jam-up job of hiding the debate that had to be going on inside Conlan’s mind at his realization that no druid was present.

Any Belador would expect a druid to normally perform a mind probe, but druids could occasionally be fooled.

Not Quinn.

With a hint of regret in his voice, Quinn offered Conlan, “You may withdraw your consent to do this if you’d like.”

But all three of them knew that would mark Conlan as highly suspicious.

Shaking his head, Conlan broke out a grin that screamed innocent. “I got nothing to hide. Knock yourself out.”

Tzader hoped he was telling the truth and was not the same type of brilliant actor Conlan’s father had been for all those years. So brilliant that no Belador had realized he’d been selling out his people to the Medb.

SIXTEEN

Storm wanted the ability to teleport. Evalle had never been this responsive or allowed him to hold her so long. Good thing the spinning was ending and their feet touched solid ground. He couldn’t keep his body from reacting when he had her in his arms.

If he had any doubt about when she transitioned back to reality in Atlanta, Evalle cleared that up when she shouted, “Suuunnn!”

He twisted his neck to see what was behind him.

Her sensitive eyes hadn’t adjusted as quickly as his. That bright light bearing down on them was not the sun, but almost as bad. “A train!”

He shoved her up against a concrete wall seconds before a MARTA subway train barreled through the narrow tunnel just inches behind his back. The wheels clacked against the tracks in a deafening roar, and a torrent of wind sucked in behind when the last car whizzed past.

But, hallelujah, they had arrived in a dark tunnel. Underground, where the sun couldn’t harm Evalle.

Might take a few minutes to get his heart back under control, though.

He should have been prepared for landing in any location. Like broad daylight on a Friday afternoon or in the middle of a train track.

She’d distracted the hell out of him, but catching her with her guard down long enough to taste those sweet lips had been … damn fine.

Her hands came up between them so fast that Storm didn’t have a chance to move before she shoved hard enough to send him flying across the tracks.

His back slammed the concrete wall on the far side and he slid down. Out of fighting instinct, he landed in a crouch. He twisted his head back and forth to clear the stars in his vision and groaned.

She was damned strong when she drew on her powers.

He shook off his aches, stood up and headed back to her.

“Uh, Storm, that was sort of an accident.” She didn’t move, but she’d also taken a battle stance and had her fists cocked.

Always expecting to fight.

He kept coming at a steady pace, but he dropped his hands loose at his sides to show he was no threat.

Her wary tone switched to the angry one she pulled out whenever he made her nervous. “Served you right, though. If you didn’t want to get hurt, you shouldn’t have pinned me down.”

He could sense a lie faster than any man-made device.

She’d just told the absolute truth.

Someone had pinned her down at one time … and hurt her.

His jaguar roused, ready to hunt. Storm forced himself back under control, but if he ever found out who had hurt her, he would … what?

He knew what. That person would only live long enough to beg for her forgiveness. He had a connection to Evalle he didn’t understand beyond the fact that she was under his protection for as long as he could stay.

When he reached the other side of the tracks, he stopped in front of her, heartened to see she didn’t back away. Her pride wouldn’t allow it, but he hoped that also meant she knew he’d never harm her.

His past could hurt her, though.

The woman he hunted still presented a deadly threat to Evalle if his visions were correct. They’d never been wrong yet. He intended to keep Evalle close while he found a way to stop that bitch who had killed his father.

Lifting his hand slowly to Evalle’s face, he ignored the surge of hostility that sheared off of her. He understood defense mechanisms a person turned to for survival. Sunglasses hid her green eyes, but he’d seen the glittering jewels set in an exotic shape. Makeup had probably never touched her honey-colored skin, and she didn’t need any. Straight black hair slid along her shoulders and halfway down her back.

And don’t get him started on her soft lips.

A natural beauty, but prickly as a cactus.

Carefully placing his palm on her cheek, he barely touched her.

That took the steam out of her hostility and replaced it with a blanket of confusion. Better. He liked her to be a little out of step at times, but he hated to see that haunted look in her eyes. “Sorry I crowded you. No harm done. Besides, you can’t hurt me.”

“What are you … bulletproof?”

“Maybe.”

“You might be bulletproof, but are you Alterant proof?” she tossed back.

Hearing her sassy confidence back in place gave him the opening to spin her off balance again. “The only thing in question is whether I’m Evalle proof.”

Her lips parted and curiosity skittered through her eyes before she clamped her lips together.

Smiling right now would probably get him knocked back over the tracks.

He didn’t care. He grinned.

She gritted her teeth then crossed her arms, tapping her foot. Thoughts pummeled her face, shifting her eyes with something she finally accepted with a shrug. “I get it. You’re being nice to me so I’ll help you find that woman.”

His throat muscles tightened against a growl of irritation. He had used that reason to convince her he needed her help. He did have to find the Ashaninka witch doctor who’d killed his father and still possessed both Storm’s and his father’s souls. His ability to determine if someone was lying or not originated with his Ashaninka roots.

The counter side of that gift was incapacitating pain that would stroke through his whole body if he told a lie.

He’d learned to be clever about his words when stuck between telling the truth and withholding information, such as a few days ago when he’d had to report to Sen about Evalle while they’d hunted the Kujoo … and this morning when she’d asked about her aura.

Shading the truth still hurt, but he could hide those aches. Blatantly lying brought on excruciating pain.