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Authors: Eileen Wilks

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Mind Magic (8 page)

BOOK: Mind Magic
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Lily looked at Rule. “You knew the Great Bitch isn’t behind whatever Sam wants me to investigate.”

“No, I knew Sam couldn’t detect her in his patterns. That’s not the same thing.”

“And you didn’t tell me.” All of a sudden Lily wasn’t mad anymore. Emotion flowed into the vacuum left by the departure of anger, but it was too complex to hang a tag on. Silently she held out his phone. When he took it, she turned and started for the house.

This time he followed her. Neither of them spoke until they reached the rear deck, when Rule broke the silence. “You’re going.”

“Yes. If I can,” she added. “There’s no telling how the mate bond will react.” The mate bond was essentially physical. It was also capricious. Sometimes it allowed them to be miles and miles apart. Sometimes it didn’t, and it let them know that by making them pass out when they crossed some invisible line. “Where is Whistle, anyway?”

“The southwest corner of the state, about four hundred miles from here.”

“Then there’s a good chance you won’t have to worry about Sam’s dictum that you stay here.”

“Since I’ll be with you, the issue won’t arise.”

She stopped, turned, and frowned at him. “What’s going on? Is it you or your wolf that’s being so pigheaded?”

“I am my wolf,” he said, and then, “I don’t know.”

She huffed out a breath. “We need to talk about this. About . . .” She waved a hand vaguely. Rule was protective, no doubt about that. But his reaction today was over the top. Out of balance. As protective as he could be, he was also driven by duty. “Whatever it is that’s making you act so weird. But I don’t have much time. If I’m going to be there by six—”

“We can talk about it on the way there.”

Lily stared at him, frustrated. She could point out that if he went with her, the deal with Nokolai would be invalidated and the clan would get nothing. She could repeat that it would be stupid to ignore the advice of the black dragon, who wanted Rule in D.C. But he knew those things, so why bother?

Stone would be more yielding. Shit, his brother Benedict would be more yielding, and Benedict made granite look like a pushover. She shook her head and went into the house.

Ruben was in the kitchen, sitting at the table in the breakfast nook. Lily had vivid memories of that nook—of the whole kitchen, really. Some of them were not such great memories, but one of them . . . here, she’d passed the Wythe mantle to Ruben. Here, she’d heard the Lady’s voice.

Today Ruben was reading the morning paper. He put it down when they came in. “Deborah said you were discussing clan business. Your faces suggest it’s not good news.”

She glanced at Rule. He didn’t offer to explain, but he didn’t signal any objections to her doing that, so Lily told him about Sam’s proposed deal. “. . . so I need to leave, and pretty quickly, too.”


We
have to leave,” Rule corrected her.

“You’re going with her?” Ruben asked sharply.

“Of course. Sam’s stipulation about my remaining here is unacceptable. Isen will have to renegotiate.”

Ruben’s eyes went unfocused for a moment. “That would be . . . unfortunate.”

“You’ve got a hunch,” Lily said.

“Yes. It’s difficult to read because it involves my own future as well as larger events, but I believe the Shadow Unit will experience a crisis soon. Given our communication problem, I will need Rule here.”

For a long moment Rule neither moved nor spoke, looking like a storm cloud just before it cuts loose and hurls down floods and lightning. Then: “I’m going for a run.” He shot Lily a hard look. “A quick run. You’ll still be here when I return.” And he took off.

Ruben frowned at Lily. “What was that about?”

“I just won the argument,” Lily said. Pity that made her feel like shit.

SIX

JOSÉ
needed more time than Rule to complete the Change back to two legs, so Rule made a couple phone calls while he waited.

The run hadn’t helped as much as he’d hoped. Anger still churned inside him, a dark and roiling mass without a target—or with too many targets. He didn’t want to poke at it. He didn’t want to examine whatever slurry of need and fear fed the compact storm inside him. He’d have to, but he didn’t want to.

He didn’t understand.

Neither did Lily. What had she said? A great many things, he thought with a flash of dark humor as he buttoned his shirt. Some of them reasonable, which had infuriated him. Some of them not so reasonable, which had been both infuriating and satisfying. He hadn’t wanted to be angry alone, had he?

Whatever has you acting so weird
. That’s what she’d said, and she was right. He was acting weird. Unlike himself. It was always a struggle to hold back when Lily hurled herself at some deadly opponent, but his mate was a warrior. He couldn’t shield her from what she was, and trying would only make them both miserable without making her one bit safer. She’d do what she had to do anyway.

As she was today.

He rolled up his sleeves. José was pulling on his jeans now. José’s first Change—the one from two legs to four—had been plenty fast. Also involuntary. Rule had switched to four legs with such brutal speed that he’d pulled José into the Change with him.

Appalled by that lack of control, Rule had been careful not to repeat his mistake when he switched forms this time. With the power of one full mantle and a portion of another, he could have Changed back and forth between wolf and human all morning. He wouldn’t have enjoyed it, and he would have grown extremely hungry, but he could have done it.

José couldn’t do that. Unlike some, however, he could switch from four legs back to two quite soon after making the initial Change. That’s why Rule had been careful not to pull him into Change the second time, though that would have been easier on José. When a Rho or Lu Nuncio forced the Change on one of his people, the mantle helped power it. But doing so would have been an insult. It belittled a man to do for him what he could do for himself.

It belittled a woman to do that¸ too.

Rule’s mouth stretched thin. He was needed here in D.C. He wanted to dispute that but couldn’t, not with Sam and Ruben making the same claim. And Lily would go on Sam’s mysterious errand whether he liked it or not. If he insisted on going with her, he wasn’t just tossing duty aside. He was announcing that he didn’t trust her to handle the situation without him.

Rule gave José instructions as they walked to the house. When they reached it, José split off to get ready. Rule paused in the kitchen. Lily was close enough for him to use their bond’s directional sense without much distortion, so he knew that she was upstairs. His ears told him that Deborah was, too.

Perhaps Deborah heard him as he came up the stairs because she excused herself on a rather flimsy pretext. When she passed Rule in the hall, she gave him an encouraging smile. Encouraging him to apologize, no doubt. He nodded, agreeing grimly that he should.

Rule stopped in the doorway to their room. Lily was tucking her toiletries bag into the corner of the suitcase. She spoke without looking up. “I called Isen.”

Isen had mentioned that when Rule called him while waiting for José to finish Changing. He hadn’t deigned to tell Rule anything about the conversation. “I called Alex. He’ll send a squad to meet you in Whistle. They should be there by eight or nine this evening. Until then, you’ll have José and Carson. José will be in charge of the guards.”

Alex was Lu Nuncio or second-in-command for Leidolf. He ran things when Rule couldn’t be at Leidolf Clanhome—which was most of the time, unfortunately. Rule had brought a number of Leidolf to California to serve as guards, but most of the clan still lived on this side of the country. One of the things on their to-do list for this trip had been spending time at Leidolf Clanhome.

“A full squad?” Now Lily looked at him, eyebrows raised. “That seems excessive.”

“We have no idea what you’ll be facing.”

“Is that why you’re so . . .” She gestured vaguely.

“Weird, I think you said?” His mouth twisted. “I don’t know. And I don’t care to talk about it.”

Lily cocked her head. Then she walked up to him and put her arms around him.

He grabbed her back—grabbed her and held on as if she’d been struggling to escape, rubbing his cheek along the top of her head, trying to breathe in so much of her scent that it would stay with him.

Slowly she ran her hands up his back and down again. Over and over. Soothing him the way he sometimes soothed her. For once, she asked no questions. Slowly, some of the tension eased out of him.

She leaned back to look at him. “Are we still mad at each other?”

“I’m sorry for losing my temper. I don’t want to talk about that, either.”

That made her snort. “You sound like me when I’m being a pain.”

He laid his hands on either side of her face and tipped it up. Her eyes were dark and worried. “I love you. I’m angry, but I love you.”

“And I love you, even when you’re freaking out. I told Isen that you staying here wasn’t part of the deal.”

“You—” He stopped. Knocked the biggest prop for his anger right out from under him, hadn’t she? “I didn’t think that was an option. Sam insisted I stay here. That’s what Isen agreed to. That’s what you wanted me to do.”

“Sam can insist on whatever he wants. Isen can agree. Doesn’t mean I have to agree, and without me there’s no deal. But I hope you’ll stay in D.C. even if it isn’t part of the official deal. Not because I don’t want you with me, but if Sam and Ruben both think you’ll be needed here . . .” She shrugged. “Black dragon. World-class precog. It seems like we should listen to them.”

Rule grimaced. “Yes. Did I say anything unforgivable when we were arguing?”

“It’s never what you say when you’re mad. It’s the way you say it. Did I say anything I should apologize for?”

“There was something me being a pigheaded idiot.”

“Yeah, but that was true. Was there anything else?”

“You didn’t react right.” The words came out before he knew they were true. It hurt. He hadn’t realized that. At the center of the storm in his gut was pain. “You weren’t upset. I wanted . . . I don’t know what exactly, but you accepted our separation so calmly, so reasonably, and I—” His eyebrows snapped down. “Why are you grinning like that?”

“Because for once I get to be the grown-up. It’s downright childish to expect someone to follow your script without having a clue that it exists, then get all pissy when they don’t.”

This time his eyebrows shot up. “Now I’m a childish, pigheaded idiot?”

She just smiled and patted his cheek. “I love you.”

He sighed. The storm hadn’t gone away, but it was less virulent. “I won’t be able to feel you. To sense where you are.”

She nodded. “Which sucks.”

“And I can’t have your back when we’re separated by four hundred miles.”

“For all we know, I’ll get twenty miles out of town and we’ll both pass out.”

“God, I hope so.” Which was pathetic. He took a slow, careful breath, then glanced at the bed. “You’re packed.”

“Packed and ready.”

“Then I’d best be ready for you to go, too.”

*   *   *

THEY
headed downstairs together. Rule carried her suitcase; she had her garment bag. They’d packed for an extended stay when they came here, and she seemed to be taking everything with her. That did not mean they’d be apart as long as the amount of clothing she was taking suggested. He was firm with himself about that. She was just being practical.

When it really mattered, Lily had managed to refrain from asking questions. On the way downstairs, she reverted to normal. “Do you think Sam has some way of knowing that the mate bond will allow us to be separated?”

“I don’t see how he could.”

“If the mate bond does allow the separation, does that mean the Lady approves?”

“I don’t know.”

“Ruben thinks the Shadow Unit’s involved in whatever you’re needed here for. That suggests the Great Bitch is going to try something here, not in Ohio. If so, I’m the one who ought to be worried.”

He had managed enough rational thought to reach that conclusion, which was why he’d suddenly needed to run. When he set his fear of being parted from Lily up against stopping the Great Bitch, stopping the Great Bitch won. Barely.

Ruben and Deborah were waiting outside for them. So was the Mercedes that Rule had rented last night. Clearly, José had hustled. He was riding shotgun with Carson behind the wheel. Lily liked to tease Rule about his fondness for Mercedes, especially when it came to rental vehicles. She didn’t understand why he’d pay that much when he could rent “a perfectly decent sedan” for half the price. Rule didn’t understand why anyone who could afford it would trust their lives to less than the best. The most dangerous places in America weren’t the slums of any city, but the roads and highways where its citizens blithely risked life and limb every day.

Carson popped the trunk. “You’ll need to rent another car,” Lily told Rule.

“Of course.” He tossed the suitcase into the trunk, which already held the rifles and ammo he’d told José to bring. They came from the Georgetown house, retrieved last night. The other addition to the trunk, he assumed, had come from Ruben. “You’ll need to call me. Often.”

BOOK: Mind Magic
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