“Time in the Nether Realm runs at a different speed than here. The last time it took me five hours to get back.”
“Two hours. That’s my deadline. I’m coming for you whether you help me or not.”
She wished she had time to consider how that warmed her heart, but Storm couldn’t go against the Tribunal and win. “No matter how you paint it, coming after me will end in your death.”
“That’s my decision to make and I’ve already made it.”
She couldn’t stand here and argue anymore. If Storm wouldn’t be deterred, she might as well find out what he had in mind. “How would I help you?”
“By making it easier to track you.”
She shook her head at his lack of logic. “I don’t see how you can do that. Sen will teleport me from the park to the Tribunal meeting and wherever they send me after that. You said you couldn’t track someone’s energy through teleportation. How do you expect to find me?”
“I have a way … but you have to agree.”
“Agree to what?”
“To let me use my majik on you.”
Use majik on an Alterant? Who knew what might happen? “I can’t do that. If I lose control and shift into my beast form, the Tribunal would have all the evidence they need to bury me.”
He gave her a steely look that accepted no excuses. “You’re out of time, Eve. You have to get off the fence and make a decision. You don’t trust the Tribunal to give an Alterant a pass and you won’t put Tzader or Quinn at risk. It’s me or them, because they will come for you. And when that happens, I’ll still find you. What’s it going to be?”
Evalle made a habit of not lying to herself. The downside was disappointment, and the upside?
There wasn’t one on days like this.
She had no choice, really. Not if Storm intended to come after her if she didn’t walk away free from the Tribunal meeting. She had to prevent Tzader and Quinn from risking their necks to find her.
Her arms prickled from a sizzle that raced over her skin.
Energy radiated off Storm, pulsing with fury.
She lifted her eyebrows at him. “I didn’t say no yet. What’s got you cranked?”
A humorless laugh escaped his lips. “You.” He shook his head and looked at her as if she missed the whole point. “The only reason you’re considering my proposal is to save your two Belador watchdogs. Your safety and life are important, too.”
She could kill a demon in three moves, but she had no skill for handling a man who said things that gently squeezed her heart. She’d only known Storm a few days, but in that short time he’d come through for her more than once. Enough that she owed him some form of trust, but she’d learned at an early age the dangers of trusting too easily. Her abused heart might want to open the gates for him, but her mind protected that fickle organ behind a fortress of suspicion.
Rather than address his last comment, she said, “Let’s say I agree to do this. How does your majik work?”
“Can’t share that.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
He didn’t answer, which was an answer in itself. Storm had his own trust issues, with that woman behind his father’s death most likely at the center. Evalle doubted he’d share any more about that than he’d tell her how his majik worked.
Still, without getting all the facts she couldn’t allow him to turn her into some kind of spirit transponder. “If you do manage to find me and we both escape alive, what exactly will I have to do to help you find this woman?”
“Like I said, I’ll tell you more after the Tribunal meeting.”
“You want me to agree to something without knowing all the details?”
He crossed his arms. “Tick tock. What’s your choice?”
She didn’t have one and he knew it.
Rolling her shoulders back to vanish any look of a caught animal, she finally gave in. “I’ll take your deal, but I have the option of changing my mind before you do anything to free me if I lose my fight with the Tribunal.”
He struck a thoughtful pose, then nodded. “I’ll go with that.”
Eyeing her watch quickly—forty-six minutes, still okay—she glanced around once more, then gave him an impatient lift of her chin. Please tell me I’m not going to shift and kill him. “Let’s get twitching or chanting or whatever you do.”
“I need you close for this to work.”
“How close?” Call her jumpy, but this whole majik thing had destroyed any comfort zone.
He sighed at some silent thought. “Close enough to put my hands on your shoulders. I’m not going to hurt you.”
She knew he wouldn’t harm her just like he knew that if he did, she’d make him pay dearly. Standing inside Storm’s personal space didn’t bother her, not really.
Not if she didn’t look at his mouth and think about how she could still feel his lips from when he’d kissed her yesterday.
“You’re running out of time, Evalle.”
Handing over control of her body—an Alterant body—to anyone with powers or majik had to be a bad idea on so many levels. She’d been forced to do this recently with a Sterling witch named Adrianna and hadn’t like that one bit.
But Storm wasn’t Adrianna.
She stepped up to him. “Let’s do it.”
His hands settled on her shoulders with a firm but gentle grip. “Shut your eyes.”
“Why can’t I watch?” Her pulse strummed wildly enough without the thought of doing this completely blind.
What if she had a reaction? What if …
“You’ve got twenty minutes before you have to leave for Woodruff Park if you don’t want to run, and I need eight of those to work my majik. The faster we get this done, the sooner you get moving. What’s it going to be?”
“Sure you can do this without turning me into a toad?” she grumbled.
His eyes twinkled with a smile. “If I do, I’ll kiss you and turn you into a princess.”
She had no clever comeback. The only time she’d spent with men had been fighting alongside them or battling an evil one.
All her worst fears surfaced. She might snap and turn into a monster if she allowed him to do this. If that happened, she could kill him in seconds. He knew that, but he just watched her patiently with no more concern than if he faced a meter maid.
She gave up and closed her eyes.
His fingers started massaging her neck and shoulders. “This will go quicker and be easier on both of us if you don’t fight me.”
She let out a long breath and nodded her agreement.
When Storm spoke again his voice came out low and husky with words she didn’t recognize. The cadence rose and fell gently. His fingers moved in rhythm with his voice, weaving touch and sound. Her muscles surrendered every knot. His voice filled her mind and curled around her until her skin tingled as if tiny stars danced along her exposed arms. Needle-sharp points of pain and pleasure pricked her spine too quickly to be defined separately.
Vibrations from his voice smoothed out and spun into a web of sound that wrapped around and around her until she floated within a cloud of his presence … of him. Above the world, surrounded in a warm cocoon of his voice and scent.
The rhythm of his words began to fade. She felt his knuckles skim her collarbone when he lifted the amulet.
Was he taking it with him after all?
She mumbled, “Huh?”
“I’m done. Open your eyes. You have to leave. The Tribunal meeting.”
Tribunal … gods and goddesses … midnight. That’s what she had to do.
She opened her eyes and realized she no longer stood an arm’s length away in front of him. He held her against his chest, rubbing her back lightly.
Heat spread from every place he touched her, warming her skin from the inside out. She shivered at the intimate feel, surprised at how much she wanted to stay here in his arms when she’d barely tolerated any touch in the past.
Was that a side effect of his majik?
What else had happened?
She pushed up from his chest and shook her head. That cleared some of the haze in her mind. When she stepped out of his arms, Evalle blinked until she could see clearly again.
Good news? She hadn’t killed Storm.
Hallelujah for that, but he studied her with worried eyes.
Not the expression she wanted to see after playing voodoo doll for him. “What’s wrong?”
“That shouldn’t have happened,” he mumbled to himself. His cell phone dinged with a text message.
She asked, “ What shouldn’t have happened?”
His face closed down as tight as a bank on a holiday. “Hold on.” He looked at his cell phone. “They need me at Brookwood Station to track something.”
“You’re not going anywhere until you tell me what happened.”
“We’re all set. I’ll be able to find you.”
She’d held a tight leash on her anxiety for hours now and had no patience left for vague answers. “You know what? I don’t feel any different, so I doubt your witchdoctor majik took anyhow.”
That got his attention. “Oh, it took, Eve.”
“My name’s Evalle. Not Eve.” Eve meant “life” in Hebrew. What a crock, since everybody who mattered thought Alterant meant “death” in any language. Crossing her arms, she told him, “Fine. If you’re not going to tell me what’s not right, then don’t expect my help later on.”
She turned to leave.
“Wait.” He hooked his fingers around her arm, turning her back to him, then pulled her hands up to his lips and kissed her fingers. “Nothing went wrong with the majik. You have to know by now that I would never harm you.”
She wanted to think her heart beat like a jungle drum because he’d annoyed her with being evasive and not from a crazy vibration of current that jolted her when his lips touched her skin. He still had explaining to do. “So why did you say, ‘That shouldn’t have happened’?”
His gaze swept over her head and around her shoulders. “The majik affected your aura.”
She didn’t see auras because her DNA had failed to offer that option, but she’d recently been told that hers was silver. She hadn’t realized Storm could see hers. “What? Is it brighter or something?”
“Bright would be a fair description.” He gritted his teeth as if he suffered a moment of pain.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” He drew a sharp breath that made her think he’d hurt himself somehow. He gritted out, “You need to get moving.”
But now she’d have to walk into the Tribunal meeting shining like a chromed-out Harley. “How long will this shiny stuff last?”
“I’m not sure. I’ll try to have an answer when I see you again.”
That could be never. “Don’t you mean if you see me again?” No matter how exceptional Storm was at tracking, she couldn’t bank on anyone saving her.
Storm’s thumb stopped stroking her knuckles and his fingers tightened on her hand. “I will come for you.”
“I got it. You need help tracking this important woman.”
A woman he’d risk his life to find again.
What woman could have been close enough to Storm to have held that kind of power over him in the past and drive him to this point now? A past lover?
And why did knowing that he only wanted to find Evalle for that one reason feel like a paper cut doused with lemon juice?
Because her brain had wandered off into Stupid Land. That had to be the only explanation for this ridiculous feeling of aggravation about what this woman meant to him.
Evalle would thump herself if her hands were free.
She wasn’t dating Storm.
She didn’t date anyone.
He smiled at her. “There is one more reason I have to find you.”
She gave him an incredulous look. “Do I look like one-stop shopping for solving your problems? I’m running out of patience faster than time, so this better be good. What else do you need me to do?”
He let go of her hands, then cupped her face and lowered his head. “This.”
Then he kissed her. He didn’t touch her anywhere else except her face and with those amazing lips.
She’d thought yesterday’s kiss had been pretty spectacular. This one topped that one hands down. And she had a strange feeling he could move into another level that would melt her where she stood. Her thoughts scattered under a deluge of emotion from surprise to hunger to happy. She’d keep happy.
Kissing Storm made her feel like a weed that had never known anything but drought and his lips were a summer rain, flooding her with a life energy that pushed her to grow.
He made her want more, made her want to feel more.
His mouth took her places she’d never visited with a man. She had little to compare kissing him to, but this man could probably win a trophy with his lips.