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Authors: Kim Harrison

Trouble on Reserve

Trouble on Reserve

A Hollows Adventure

Kim Harrison

 

T
he guy waiting across from me was meaty, but the way his eyes moved in a calm study of the dockyard showed that the thickness about his middle didn’t extend to his head. He would be fast and unforgiving, but if you were allowed only one piece of security, you usually took your best.

My foot ground the grit between my low flat and the dock, and the man’s eyes darted to me—answering my unspoken question. Smiling, I shifted to show off my curves a little. I didn’t expect any trouble, but why not use all my resources? “Whatcha packing?” I asked, trying for some small talk. Trent and this guy’s boss had been here only twenty minutes, but this hadn’t been on the agenda, and I was fidgety.

The man’s lips quirked. Pulling himself straighter, he lifted the hem of his coat to show a Glock tucked right where I thought it would be. He was proud enough of it to like what he did, and casual enough to be a good shot.

I bobbed my head, again trying for arm-candy-with-a-gun. In the distance, a train hooted as it crossed the Ohio River. The dampness was beginning to rise, and I hoped Trent would finish up soon. Impromptu, sunset meetings on an empty dock smacked of illegal dealings, even if the three-story boat they were on was shiny, extravagant, and probably under more cameras than the Mona Lisa.

“That’s nice,” I said as I pulled my shoulder bag off the retaining wall behind me and slowly, so there’d be no misunderstandings, found the smooth, cool metal of my own weapon. “Me, I got myself a splat gun,” I said, hefting it in the buzzing haze the security light was making. “No need for a permit. No ballistics on record. If I have to shoot it—and I do shoot it—it’s quiet and untraceable.” The untraceable part wasn’t entirely true, but the quiet was since it ran on compressed air. “What’s that you’ve got? A Glock?”

He nodded, uneasy and off balance—just the way I wanted it. Splat guns were basically paint ball guns with the dye removed and spells added. What kind of spells was up to the practitioner. Mine was not a toy but a precision instrument, heavy and cherry red so the FIB would quit trying to take it away from me.

Satisfied doubt would make him a shade slower, I dropped it back in my bag. Like I said, I didn’t think there’d be any trouble, but a little intimidation is good for the soul. Leaning back, I put my elbows on top of the retaining wall and looked past Trent’s floating status icon to the Hollows beyond. Behind and above me, Cincy woke up as the sun went down. Something felt off, but I was chalking that up to Trent’s change in plans.

Despite my better judgment, I’d taken a one-night security job filling in for Trent’s usual security. I’d said yes to the hospital fund raiser, not an after sunset meeting at a boat. If I’d known it was something this slimy, I would have worn my leather to keep from leaving skin grafts on the pavement, not security-black cotton pants and jacket. The thought that this had been Trent’s idea all along was simmering—pissing me off. I did not like being used. I decided who I worked for. I chose who, where, when, and most importantly, why.

A light clicked on in the stern of the boat, dim and battery yellow. Voices grew louder,a and I pushed up from the wall. Mr. Glock did the same. Clearly the meeting was over, as two men moved onto the covered back deck, still talking. They were both in suits, one slightly overweight, the other slim with youth.

More blah, blah, blah ensued as they finished up. Trent looked as calm and collected as always, the dim light glinting on his fair hair cut in the latest style. The shiny dress shoes that he’d been wearing had been exchanged for something softer that wouldn’t scratch the deck. The canvas looked odd peeking out from under the hem of his three-thousand-dollar suit, but Trent was all about the shoes in an understated, never-discussed-way. The briefcase he’d taken from the trunk was in the other man’s grip, and I frowned.

Mr. Glock hurried forward as the two men shook hands and parted. Trent’s raised, almost musical voice seemed to skate over my skin, raising goose bumps in the darkening evening, and I stifled a shiver. Still talking, Trent gestured for the man to go before him, turning off the light and locking up the boat himself before he followed. His steps were silent on the dock, and it wasn’t until Mr. Glock accompanied his slightly overweight charge to the black Lincoln parked next to Trent’s new convertible that Trent’s eyes finally landed on mine.

Wincing, he looked away.

My frown deepened.

Silent, our steps slowly evolved into a matched pace as our paths converged on his car. Ticked, my arms began to swing. Damn it, this had been something illegal.

I forced my jaw to unclench as the Lincoln drove off, tires popping on the gravel. It was an upscale marina, but we were in the service area and gravel gave under the weight of the boats being put in and out whereas concrete might crack. Trent unexpectedly took several jogging steps to reach the passenger-side door first, opening it up and gesturing for me to get in.

Suspicious, I came to a hip-cocked halt, looking at him before turning to the lights of the Lincoln now flashing over empty boat cradles. We were probably on camera somewhere, but with them gone, I could be a little freer with my opinions. I was filling in for Quen, not replacing him. Trent was not my boss in any way shape or form, especially after this.

“I’ll drive,” he said, door open in invitation. His voice was one of his easiest tells, and he was angry and a little flustered. Angry at me? The man in the Lincoln?

“It’s my
job
,” I said, allowing anger to color my voice and hopefully draw him out.

Trent shifted his feet a bare inch, his long fingers never letting go of the open window. “I’ve been taking defensive driving classes.” His eyebrows rose. “Have you?”

No, I hadn’t, and he knew it. His reflexes were probably as good as mine, if not better, and if he was driving, I could keep a more secure eye on the road. But the reason I handed him the keys was because I knew Trent loved his freedom, loved it so much he was already mourning its loss when the girls came back from Ellasbeth’s and Quen resumed Trent’s everyday security.

“They come in handy I bet,” I said tightly as the leather seemed to fold around me and I settled myself in the scent of money. “Especially when you’re out doing
illegal
stuff.”

My door shut with the solid echo coming back from the flat water. His hands were still on it, and I looked up, squinting at him in the darkness. “Well?”

Trent’s long fingers slowly slid from the car. Motions veneered in calm, he went to the driver’s side, his steps silent on the gravel. I should have expected nothing less than this, and I was as mad at myself as I was with him. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know he was a drug lord and dealer in illegal genetic medicines. The entire world knew it. Hell, the best brimstone on the streets was known as Special K. The proof, though, was elusive. Too many people needed what he offered in a standardized, clean form, so naturally no one knew where it came from.

I settled my bag on my lap as he got in. It was a nice car, not his usual one, but nice. I could smell the wine and cinnamon of him over the new-car scent already, and it felt close when he got in, even with the top open. The engine started up with a precision hum that made me ache in envy, and I froze when he put his arm over the back of my seat so he could see to back up.

Unexpected tingles made their delicious way from my shoulder to my neck. I didn’t move as the car swung into reverse, my breath catching when his arm trailed along my shoulder as he drew it back to himself. Expertly working the clutch, we started for the gate at a slow crawl.

Uneasy, I put an elbow on the open window and held my hair out of my eyes. Trent had touched me before. This wasn’t the first time I’d worked with him, and he was a tactile person—even if he was somewhat aloof—but ever since a half-drunk confession and not one but two mutually consenting and poorly thought-out lip locks, even his casual touch zinged through me.

I’m not going to do this,
I thought, head down as I dug through my bag for a scrunchie.
I am not going to get involved with a man ten times my tax bracket who deals in brimstone to fund his illegal genetic studies.

Easing around a stand of empty boat cradles, Trent looked at me. “It wasn’t brimstone. I wouldn’t ask you to do that.”

I hated it when he seemed to read my mind, and I turned the vents to try to drive the damp out of me. “Yeah?”

He sighed, slowing to almost a crawl when he saw the car ahead of us still working through the unattended gate. “Diabetes runs in Amos’s family. Why shouldn’t his children and grandchildren grow up free of it?”

I frowned.
Because genetic medicines are illegal? Because only the wealthy can get them? Because if it was found out, he’d be railroaded through the system and executed?
The Turn wasn’t that long ago, and people were still scared.

“Rachel,” he prompted, and I quit fiddling with the vents. I wasn’t his employee and I wasn’t his girlfriend, but he cared what I thought of him—which made me uncomfortable even as it flattered the hell out of me.

“What did he give you? Votes?” I said bitterly. Damn it, why did every man I like end up to be dirty or too scared to put up with the crap my life could dish out?
I do not like Trent. Why am I doing this?

“He gave me his silence,” Trent said flatly.

Exhaling, I slumped where I sat. It was more than likely that Trent was being blackmailed, even if he did seem to like the man. Part of me was all for walking away, but another knew how vulnerable Trent was. A lot of good came out of Kalamack Industries too.

I’m too tired to figure this out right now
, I thought, feeling like a hypocrite. “I don’t like being tricked into doing something illegal.” I looked across the car at him, my eyebrows high. “You should have asked.”

His hair shifted in the wind off the river, and he brushed it aside as I smothered the urge to do it myself. “You wouldn’t have done it if I had asked,” he muttered. “And to say otherwise is both insulting and ridiculous, but if it means anything, I’m sorry.”

My air puffed out, and I looked over the dark dockyard as it passed. “Not for the right reason, you aren’t.”

“I said I was sorry. What more do you want me to say?”

The tension in his voice pulled my attention back to him. “Look. Reading people is my job. If I do it wrong, I might end up on the pavement, and you, Trent, are not sorry.” He frowned and I added, “Okay, maybe you’re sorry that your evening was marred by some unexpected blackmail, but you’re not sorry that you used me to watch your back when you knew damn well I wouldn’t have said yes if you had asked me flat out.”

“Then you admit you would have said no,” he accused, his hands white-knuckled on the leather-covered wheel.

“If you were sitting in your office, yes! I’m not naive, Trent. I know things happen, things that need to be taken care of immediately, and I’m not so callous that I would’ve walked off and left you to fend for yourself in the middle of the street!”

He turned to the gate, the expensive car bouncing over a rut. “I’m not helpless.”

“I never said you were, but working the Hollows with no one watching your back is dumb. Dumber than not
asking
me to
help
.”

The car jerked forward as his foot slipped off the clutch. His eyes were narrowed in the scant light coming off the dash, and something in me liked seeing him like this. He was always so calm, so in control. It was nice knowing he was as human as the rest of us. “Then what are you mad about!” he exclaimed, and my elbow slipped off the window.

“You didn’t ask,” I said, giving him an up and down look. “You assumed, and I’m not your employee.”

“Ah, technically . . .”

I pointed at him. “I’m
not
your employee,” I said again, louder. “If you would’ve told me what had happened, I probably would’ve agreed just so I wouldn’t have to look Quen in the eye and tell him I left you alone at the docks. But you didn’t. You
used
me with as much consideration as if I was one of your horses or secretaries. You took my ability to make a decision just because it made your life easier. And you’re not sorry. Not for the right reason.”

He was silent. Before us, the Lincoln crept through the security gate, taillights flashing as they took a left turn and were gone.

“Never mind,” I said, head propped up on my hand as I put my elbow back on the open window. “This is my fault, not yours.”
I should have known better.

Trent’s jaw tightened as we came to a gravel-popping halt at the automatic gate. “I am sorry,” he breathed, a glimpse of frustration showing as he leaned to reach the keypad. “Tonight was unavoidable, and it wasn’t my intent to engage your services for anything other than the fund raiser. I am
sorry
that I didn’t ask for your help, especially . . .” His eyes met mine, and something in me fluttered. “I’m sorry, and you have my assurance it won’t happen again.”

“Thank you.”
I’m still never going to work for you again—cookie farts.

As if knowing my thoughts, he punched in a number using more force than necessary, jerking back at a jump of static when he hit enter. “You okay?” I asked as he rubbed his fingertip and settled into the seat.

“Short in the wire.”

But his concern was far more than a poke of electricity would warrant. “You’re not immune to a sniper spell,” I grumbled suspiciously as the bar rose. Unease growing, I waved sourly at the camera as we drove through. Backroom, illegal deals. Nice. My mom would freak out. At least it was over and nothing had happened.

Working the pedals like a professional driver, Trent picked up speed as he swerved through a maze of boat cradles. We were still on the marina’s property, but gradually the cradles became empty, older, and covered in weeds until they were gone. The road began rising, and slowly the tension of our discussion was pulled away in wind of our passage.

That is, until he drove right past our turnoff. I spun in my seat, hair flying into my face when I looked back. “You missed the turn,” I said, and he shook his head, grim as he rubbed his fingertip.

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