That lack of knowledge kept agents on edge around Sen. You couldn’t even look at him and tell his genetic origins. He was like an amalgam of all races. Almond-shaped blue eyes, mahogany brown hair and possibly Nordic bone structure.
As the Belador Maistir, Tzader commanded the North American contingency, answering only to Brina and Macha. He considered Sen a peer at best, regardless of Sen’s position in VIPER. He didn’t care why Sen was stuck in this role or how much he hated it as long as Sen didn’t treat any Belador—including Evalle—unfairly.
Which meant Tzader had his work cut out for him most days.
Working his way through the tunnels, Tzader reached the checkpoint at the entrance to the cave where Jake, their resident troll, stood guard. At five feet tall, the repulsive troll might look unimpressive, but he was a dangerous beast. A ragged, unkempt beard covered the entire lower half of his face.
Tzader paused upwind from him—something everyone with a brain did. “Anyone call for clearance recently?”
Jake held one side of his headphones against his ear as he shook his square head, disturbing the shaggy gray-brown hair that’d been shaped into an unattractive bowl cut. “Got one call a minute ago, but it didn’t come through … broke up.”
A bad feeling went through Tzader. The troll was always screwing with Evalle. Jake used a façade of incompetence to cover a mean streak so wide the other trolls swam in it. But Tzader wasn’t fooled.
Jake was out to get Evalle as much as Sen was. “Thought you had the comm unit fixed.”
Jake wiped at his nose. “I did, I thought. I mean, it worked fine when everyone else came in this morning, but something isn’t syncing now. The new hydraulic door got stuck a few minutes ago, so I closed it. I can’t do anything about the audio breaking up until I get the door to function properly. Sucks really.” Jake lifted a slim voice recorder to his lips and made a couple of notes, then fumbled with the digital settings and the keypad on a black electronic box supported by his enormous gut. “Wouldn’t have this problem if Sen would trust me to use my powers. What’s he afraid of? I’ll fart and take out his office?”
Uh, yeah, that was the concern. “Didn’t you once use your powers to conjure a pen and instead took out the entire northeast corridor?”
Jake bared his teeth, looking more like a hairy hog posing for a family picture than a dangerous troll from his native Jotunheim. “I can control them, I—” He stopped and angled his head to listen, then frowned.
If he was screwing with Evalle again, Tzader was going to eat troll balls for breakfast. “Put it on speaker.”
“Calm down.” Jake hit a button on his little box.
A female voice came through the static intermittently. “VIPER 66—” The next part skipped, then Tzader heard, “—caid.”
“Call sign not clear,” Jake responded in a voice washed with boredom. “Repeat—”
There was no mistaking who it was anymore when Evalle’s fury-ridden voice yelled, “Open the wall … now!”
Tzader saw red. “Cut the shit, Jake. That’s Evalle and you know it.” And she was in mortal danger. The longer she was out there, baking in the sun, the closer to death she came. “Open the door, Jake.”
Jake’s eyes turned completely black. “It’s jammed again. I can’t.”
Tzader felt his knives rattling against his thighs as his fury mounted. The bastard could have kept the door open long enough for Evalle to get inside out of the sun. “Open the damn door!”
“I. Can’t!” Jake roared. “Why don’t you use your powers and open it?”
For the same reason Jake couldn’t.
No one was allowed to use powers here … except Sen.
“Get down here, Sen!” Tzader shouted, sending his voice straight into the bastard’s head. “Kincaid is coming in hot and the door’s jammed tight. If we don’t get it open, we’re going to be scraping her off your new door.” Or worse, scraping her boiled ooze off the pavement.
Sen appeared at Tzader’s side and lifted his hand, flexing his fingers at the entrance forty feet away.
The whine of a high-powered engine screamed ahead of the motorcycle that pierced the dense fog hanging in place of the rocks.
Evalle came in like the Ghost Rider hell-bent for his contract holder. The front tire squealed when she engaged the brakes, laying a strip of rubber across the hard rock floor. The rear tire lifted off the ground, rising chest high, while the bike skidded the last fifteen feet, then stopped eight feet in front of Tzader. It swung around and slammed down on the rear tire in a one-eighty Enduro finish, complete with the side stand down.
Evalle ripped off her full-face helmet and pitched it at Tzader like a sideways pass. He caught it without hesitation. She shoved a pair of dark sunglasses on her face, hiding her scary luminescent green eyes. But the glasses did nothing to conceal her fury, which pulsed through the room in sonic waves.
She snarled in Jake and Sen’s direction. “Which one of you bastards was trying to kill me?”
Jake went rigid. “Let’s not get into questioning each other’s parentage, shall we? After all, you’re the one with a faulty bloodline.”
Tzader cringed at what had to be the most blatant act of suicide he’d seen in awhile. Even a troll should know the limits of his stupidity.
But obviously Jake had flunked Survival 101.
Wet strands of black hair clung to Evalle’s neck and face where the Georgia heat had boiled her inside that insulated black suit she was forced to wear to keep the sun from searing her skin.
“Alterant,” Sen warned softly when she slammed a boot to the ground and stepped off the bike.
She pinned him with an acid-lined glare and a curled lip. “Don’t ‘Alterant’ me.” Tzader could swear he heard a “you prick” in that tone. “What took so long to open the wall?” She stormed across the twenty-foot space between her and Sen.
“Alterant,” Sen cautioned again.
Jake swallowed hard. “We’re evaluating a new door system and it’s got a flaw … or two.”
“Of course it does. One conveniently programmed to only act up when I’m coming in during daylight hours.” Evalle stopped inches from Jake. Standing almost six feet tall in her riding boots, she stared down the guard, whose snarly attitude waned.
He shrank under her blistering glare and flinched when she lifted her hand.
She pointed her index finger at him. “You ever hesitate to open the wall for me again when I’m treading daylight and I’ll rip off your balls and wear them for earrings.” She turned away, taking wide steps on those toned legs.
It was all Tzader could do not to smile. But he couldn’t fault her for her anger. They’d come close to ending her days, and if anyone had a right to be pissed, it was definitely her.
“Like this was my idea,” Jake mumbled.
She strode to her bike. “What lazy moron thought hydraulic doors were a good idea when there’s enough psychic juice in here at any given time to move an entire mountain?”
Sen cleared his throat and narrowed a deadly look at her. “I would be the moron who came up with that idea since I’m the one stuck opening it most of the time. Not like I have better things to do than play butler to VIPER.” His nostrils flared. “Good thing for you I was here so promptly, but don’t rush to thank me.”
She lifted a shoulder with indifference. “You the same person I should thank for hauling my ass in here during daylight?”
The look he gave her said it all. I don’t answer to you and you better remember that … bitch. “Get to the war room.” Sen vanished.
Evalle curled her lip at his departure, then smoothed out her expression as she looked at Tzader. “Thanks for getting the door open, Z.”
He inclined his head to her. “Don’t thank me too soon. I just didn’t have time to waste picking out caskets today. And speaking of your blatant death wish … could you stop antagonizing Sen?”
“Why would I ever want to do that? I’ve had no sleep in two days and he calls a red alert, knowing I’ll cook all the way here.” While Evalle kept protective motorcycle gear on her bike, it was black to help her blend in with the night, which was when she was out and about. Not the coolest color to wear in full sun. And she couldn’t ventilate it, because any bit of daylight on her skin bubbled it.
Unzipping her black jacket, she discarded the suffocating outer layer, leaving on her soaked BDU shirt and damp jeans. “So what crawled up Sen’s ass and died?”
“I don’t know. I saw Trey and Lucien here, but I haven’t been to the war room yet.”
Digging a towel out of her tank bag, she wished she could trust talking to Tzader in this place—even telepathically—but he wouldn’t want to risk Sen overhearing anything they discussed.
She whispered low to Tzader. “We need to talk …”
“Find something?” Tzader leaned heavily on the last syllable. He meant the second Cresyl she’d been hunting.
“Sort of.” She looked over at Jake, who acted as though he wasn’t tuning in to every word, but she knew better. One of his jobs was to spy for Sen. “Not here.”
Tzader nodded. “I’ll swing by your place tonight, but I’ve got to leave right now.”
She scowled at that. The last thing she wanted was to be stuck in a meeting without him. “What about Sen’s powwow?”
“I already told him that I’m tracking a lead on Noirre. I could stay, but I’ve got a window of time for finding someone.” He put emphasis on “someone,” clueing her in that Tzader meant his informant.
Ah, that made sense.
Far more lethal than black majik, Noirre majik was the most ancient of all and thought to be practiced only by a few covens. The Medb being one of them.
She put her towel down. “I got you. Is Quinn privy to this mission today?”
Tzader stepped close and lowered his voice. “Yes, which reminds me of something. Keep your head down in this meeting. And you better get going. You’re about to be late.”
“Don’t worry. I’d hate to cause Sen to stroke. Then again …” Wrinkling her nose at him, Evalle grabbed a bottle of water from the nylon MotoFizz bag strapped to the back of her seat. “So why should I keep my head down? What are you worried about?”
“You. Sen said Trey would fill me in later, as if he thought I wouldn’t hear about it from you. That makes me nervous.”
Yeah, her too. She didn’t like the sound of that at all, but she dismissed it. “I’m sure Sen was just pointing out that Trey is available any time, not just at night. Like everyone else, he finds me lacking. Thinks I’m only good for intel and grunt work, nothing more.”
“Not everyone thinks of you that way.”
“I know you and Quinn don’t.” The rest of them …
She might as well be called Fido.
“Brina considers you a valuable member of our tribe.”
Yeah, right. Evalle groaned silently. Replying to that honestly would only open a debate neither of them would win. Holding Tzader and Quinn’s respect mattered more than being shunned by Brina. Evalle pulled her shoulders back and tried to sound at ease over Tzader leaving when she couldn’t entirely dismiss his concern.
He was intuitive when it came to others.
“Don’t worry, Z, I’ll be fine.”
“If not, have Trey get word to me.”
She hated that, but she wouldn’t be able to reach Tzader herself once he left. No one could break through this fortress telepathically. That always left her with a sense of unease whenever she had to come up here.
Inside mountains no one could hear you scream …
Cue the scary music.
“You’re down to two minutes. Don’t be late.” Tzader stepped away from her and raised his voice. “I’m ready to leave, Sen. Don’t forget my truck.”
By the time Evalle chugged the last of her water, Tzader had vanished. Teleported by Sen. The only thing worse than riding through the sun in full gear was teleporting. Sen had done it to her once and she’d thrown up on him when she’d arrived.
Might be one reason he didn’t like her. But it’d been a great day for her. Not often she got the last word where Sen was concerned.
She kicked off her boots and slipped on a pair of sandals before heading to the war room. The temperature this deep within the mountain was even cooler than back at the entrance. The upside of being in damp clothes was the quick chill that slid over her skin.
Reaching the war room with a minute to spare, she scoped the team assembled so far. Three men lounged around the room, all positioned to face the door with their backs to a wall. The only other Belador present was Trey McCree. He’d stretched out on a leather sofa the color of sand. Since he lived in the Atlanta area like her, he couldn’t be much happier about the run up here than she was.