Syn was three minutes late.
Scanning the crowd, she saw no sign of a tracer and Vik had already confirmed that he saw nothing, either. So where was Syn? What was he doing?
Had they captured him?
Or worse, killed him?
Terror went through her so viciously at the mere thought of his death that it almost dropped her to her knees. What if he died because of her? Could she handle it?
She’d never really considered the possibility. But right now it stared her straight in the face and slapped her with cold reality.
He might not make it back. And it would be her fault.
She tried to calm herself, but the agony of trying to imagine going back to a life without him was unbearable. How can I love such a surly ass**le?
Yet she did. And if he died trying to help her . . .
Tears welled in her eyes. She couldn’t keep standing here, waiting for him to join her when he might be bleeding and needing her help.
She waved Vik down from the tree where he was perched so that he could keep an eye out. As soon as he was on the nearby fence, she made up her mind. “I’m going back for Syn.”
He cocked his bird head. “That’s not what he said to do.”
“I don’t care. He’s out there alone and—”
“Can’t you ever follow instructions?”
Relief tore through her as she heard that deep, sexy baritone. Before she could stop herself, she turned and pulled Syn into a tight hug. Vik shot to the sky with a loud noise of protest at human displays of affection blinding him.
Syn was stunned by her unexpected reception. But what floored him was how tight she held him and the fact that she actually trembled in his arms. Like she’d been afraid something had happened to him.
Gods, it felt good. Too good. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and let the scent of her hair shake him to the core of his being. If only he could stay here like this, but he knew better.
They had a job to finish.
“I’m getting blood on you, babe. As much as I’m enjoying this, you might not want to hold me too close.”
She pulled back with a gasp. “What?”
He held his hand up to show her where one of the trackers had cut him with a knife. “It needs some sutures, but I’ll live. It just hurts like hell.”
Shahara was horrified by the way the blood dripped from his hand to the sidewalk. Syn had wrapped a piece of cloth around his hand, but it was already saturated. “Are you sure you didn’t open a vein?”
He gave her a droll stare.
“Sorry. I forgot you were a doctor. It just looks bad.”
“Well, it’s not a scrape. But it’s all right. Let’s finish this and tend the wounds later.”
She pulled him against her again and held him for a minute longer.
He tightened his arm around her and reveled in the heat of her body against his. “You keep this up and I’m going to think you were worried about me or something.”
“I was worried about you, ass**le. Don’t do that again.”
He sputtered. “Excuse me, but I didn’t do this. You need to leave that blaster in its holster. I mean, damn, woman, I now know where Caillen gets his impulsiveness from.”
She tugged at his ear. “I don’t like worrying about the people I love. Now do we need to get you to a hospital and tend your wound?”
“No. We don’t have time.” He dropped his uninjured hand from her face and activated his link. “Vik, eye-dog for me. We’re going in.”
“Will do, boss.” He flew higher to get a better vantage point.
Syn took her hand and led her across the busy street to the university’s main campus.
Shahara felt a little uncomfortable as she glanced around at all the students. Some were rushing to class while others sat either alone or in groups on the ground where they studied. A part of her wished that she’d been able to do that. She would have loved to have gone to school like this. Because of her family, she hadn’t even finished regular school.
But Syn had. And she couldn’t help noticing how many female students paused to stare at him as they passed them. Or worse, nudge each other to show him to their friends. It made her wonder how much of a playboy he’d been as a student, especially since he seemed oblivious to the stir he was causing.
“Did you enjoy school?” she asked him.
“Why not? It looks like it would have been fun.”
“I was too afraid of being exposed as Idirian Wade’s son—remember, my father hadn’t been dead all that long when I started college. His way-too-public trial and execution had been hotly followed and constantly discussed on my campus. Not to mention I didn’t really fit in with the kids I went to school with. Most of them came from nice, relatively normal families. Being around them just brought home to me how bad I’d been shafted by my birth and parents. So I avoided them as much as I could.”
“It’s nothing for you to be sorry over. It is what it is.”
Perhaps, but it was still unfair. “You think they know how lucky they are?”
“Some do. Most take it for granted and think their parents owe it to them. They have no idea what the rest of us have to go through just to eat. I remember this one girl I knew in med school had a meltdown over the fact her father wouldn’t pay off her debit card after she bought a new wardrobe. When I asked her why she didn’t get a job and do it herself, she looked at me like I’d grown another head.”
He entered a large white building that looked ancient and oppressive. Too sterile for her tastes, she followed him to the directory kiosk that was fashioned after a real human woman. She was pretty in an emotionless computer-generated kind of way. “May I help you?”
“I’m looking for Dr. Whelms’s office.”
“Dr. M. Whelms. Art Department, top floor. 516. She’s currently receiving. Please check in with her secretary upon your arrival. Have a nice day.”
Shahara led the way to the lifts. They entered the lift and he pushed the button for the floor. There were two other students in the lift who eyed them nervously.
Their actions amused her. They had no idea just how dangerous she and Syn really were. And the students bolted out of the lift as soon as they could.
As soon as the doors opened on the top floor, Shahara hurried to the secretary’s desk. They were so close now she could taste it, and she was eager to get that chip and save her sister. For the first time, she was really feeling optimistic.
The secretary, a pretty woman who didn’t appear any older than the students here, looked up from her electronic appointment book. “May I help you?”
“Right behind you.”
They turned around in unison.
Syn paused as he saw the professor inside her office, leaning over her ledger on her metal desk. He couldn’t see her face, but there was something oddly familiar about her mannerisms that nagged at the back of his mind. He knew her, he just couldn’t place it.
Don’t go in there . . .
He didn’t know what caused that feeling, but his body literally seized up in rebellion.
Shahara didn’t wait. She headed straight for the professor. “Dr. Whelms?”
When she looked up, Syn could have sworn someone had just knocked him a debilitating blow straight in the gut. No wonder his body had rebelled.
Fate, you are one serious f**king bitch . . .
And so was the woman in front of him.
Her beautiful brow was marked by shock and disdain—a unique combination only Mara could carry off with such consummate skill. “Sheridan?”
Shahara froze as the professor used Syn’s real name.
How did she know . . .
And then it dawned on her. Though the beauty before her was older, there was no mistaking the eyes and hair of the elegant woman who’d been in the picture with Syn and his son.
This was his ex-wife.
Her stomach drew taut and for a moment, she thought she’d be ill. In person, Mara was even more gorgeous and graceful. Her photos definitely didn’t do her justice.
Syn didn’t speak as his eyes shot venom at her.
“What are you doing here?” Mara demanded as she shot to her feet.
He motioned to the hideous statue that rested on top of her bookcase. “I need to see that for literally one minute.”
Mara rushed around her desk to confront him. Disgust bled from every pore as she raked a disparaging glare over his body. “Get out of here. Now!”
Shahara stood back awkwardly as she watched the woman she would have killed to have been. A woman who had squandered the most precious thing in the universe and thrown it into the face of the man who’d given it to her.
You’re not a woman, Mara.
You’re a manipulative bitch.
Syn tried to step around her. “Just let me see it for a minute and I’ll be gone.”
“Why? Are you going to steal it? I should warn you it’s not worth much. Probably about as much as your life.”
A tic worked in his jaw. “I don’t want to get into this with you, Dr. Whelms.”
She lifted a haughty brow. “You didn’t expect me to keep your alias, did you? Or worse, your real name. I wanted a fresh start and so I took it.”
“I don’t really give a damn what you do or don’t do.”
While they argued, Shahara stepped around Mara’s back and picked up the statue. It was a heavy piece, about thirty inches in height, carved of stone. And so ugly that it defied description. Surely only a blind person could have carved it.
Maybe carving it was what made the person blind.
No wonder the artist had never bothered signing it. She wouldn’t have admitted to creating it, either.
As she searched the chiseled crevices, she realized there was no place for anything to be hidden.
Except for . . .
She looked at the black base. Someone had glued felt onto the bottom . . .
It had to be there. It was the only place he could have hidden it. Using her fingernails to pry back the fabric, she hurriedly searched.
“I heard you killed some poor woman. Raped her, too, didn’t you?” Mara continued to rant at Syn. “You’re just like your pathetic father. Two Wades in a pod.”
Shahara looked up and saw the hurt those words caused him.
To his credit, it only showed in his eyes. The rest of him was coiled in fury. “You always knew just what to say to thoroughly piss me off.”
“You’re nothing but low-bred, gutter trash.”
Shahara gripped the statue tighter and tried not to listen to any more. Just when she was sure she could fight the urge to bash Mara in the head with it no longer, her finger touched a small round disk about the size of her fingernail.
With a gasp, she pulled back the felt and found it. Relief tore through her with such ferocity, she wanted to shout.
Finally . . .
He met her gaze.
She held the chip up. “I’ve got it!”
Mara turned on her with a sour glare. “Got what? What kind of contraband is that?” She reached for her link on the desk.
“You always were a lethal bitch,” he snarled, pulling her hand away from the link and shoving her back. “You alert security and I swear on my soul that I’ll rip your cold heart out with my bare hands.”
“That’s what your father would have done, isn’t it?”
He penned her between him and the desk as he raked her with a snarl. “You better be glad I’m not my father. He would have cut your throat the day he found out what a lying piece of shit you really are. But lucky for you, I didn’t want to deprive my son of his mother.”
“He’s not your son. Thank the gods. He hates every breath you take.”
“You couldn’t even let me have that much, could you, you whore?”
Mara slapped him. Hard. “How dare you insult me. Your kind of filth doesn’t even deserve to breathe my air. Now get out!”
And in that instant, Shahara saw the truth in Syn’s eyes. Mara truly meant nothing to him at all. He hated her.
His gaze turning dead, he stepped back from Mara and held his hand out to her. “C’mon. Let’s go get your sister.”
Shahara started to take his hand, then stopped. Syn might have developed breeding by going to school and having money, but she never had.
Before she could rethink her actions, she slugged Mara as hard as she could in her perfect face. And even that was a light punishment for everything she’d done to Syn.
Mara fell to the ground, sobbing.
But she took no pity on her. “Syn may be too much of a gentleman to hit you, but I’m not. I’m not only ashamed to call you human, I’m completely disgusted that we share the same gender. You want to know the truth? The only filth in this room is you, and you’re the one who doesn’t deserve to breathe our air. Decent’s got nothing to do with birthright. It’s all about actions, and trust me, you’re the lowest form I’ve ever met and I’ve taken in the worst scum imaginable. But I’d rather sit at the table with them than you any day.”