Hunger for something she didn’t want to name crept through her. He held her mouth captive, her lips unwilling to escape.
Then he lifted his head.
For a fleeting moment, she wanted to ask him to do that again … until she met his eyes. Dark embers burned hot with desire to do far more than kiss her.
His cell phone buzzed again and he released her face. “You better leave now, while I’ll still let you.”
His gaze dropped to where she twisted his shirt in her grip.
She let go and jumped back. The blasted meeting! Had the majik he’d used on her wiped out brain cells?
To be fair, even she couldn’t blame her lapse of attention on the majik. “If I’m late—”
“Don’t be,” he warned. “You can make that mile in plenty of time.”
Fast as her heart slammed the wall of her chest she should have been able to take a giant leap and land in the park, but she didn’t have that ability either.
Storm walked with her to the stairs that led to the upstairs parking deck facing the CNN building. He told her, “See you soon,” and took off up the steps, disappearing into the dark.
Evalle continued on in the opposite direction. She had nineteen minutes left to cover the length of the parking deck, cross the tracks and reach Marietta Street, then zip down to Woodruff Park … in the opposite direction.
Piece of cake. She could make it easily without breaking a sweat because of her Belador speed, but she’d have to be careful not to allow a human to see her.
She’d still arrive in enough time to see Tzader and Quinn.
Frigid air rushed past her face and arms. Out of survival instinct, she paused to determine what energy had approached her.
Unintelligible words murmured and hissed through the chilly whip of air.
Ah. A Nightstalker trying to make contact with her.
One she didn’t know. These ghoul informants traded intel on supernatural activity for ten minutes of human form. All it took was a quick handshake with someone who wielded power, like her, for the ghoul’s form to solidify.
But this one hadn’t yet mastered basic communication skills without being in a corporeal form. Evalle could burn twenty minutes she didn’t have just trying to figure out how to communicate with the ghoul.
A sense of duty thumped at her conscience, but she said, “I can’t help you right now, but I’ll send someone else soon who can.”
The minute the energy quieted she took several steps and hit another wall of cold air.
This Nightstalker swirled around Evalle’s face, temporarily blurring her vision. He whispered in a wobbling voice, “I have a warning. Shake now.”
She hated passing up a chance for information if something significant was going down in Atlanta.
Especially if they knew anything about another Alterant turning from human to beast.
But even an experienced Nightstalker could take time she no longer had to share. That’s why she liked to work with one Nightstalker named Grady, whom she could make get to the point when necessary.
But Grady hung out over by Grady Hospital, the origin of the nickname she’d given him, and she could not shake hands with him anytime soon again.
Not after helping him out last night.
What could have the ghouls down here so stirred up? This couldn’t wait, but she had no business slowing down to spend time on something she had no control over.
She’d tell Tzader.
Pushing past the cold zone, she called him telepathically. Z? You at the park?
Where are you? he snapped at her. You got something more important to do than make this meeting? You know how close you are on time?
Yes! Give me a little credit.
Silence filled her head. Tzader had a way of making loud statements without a word. Do you really think I’d risk ticking off a Tribunal?
Not intentionally. The wry chuckle in his voice softened his dig. What do you need?
Freedom and peace of mind, but someone else had gotten that fate. Two people cared what happened to her, Tzader and Quinn. Well, three, if you counted Feenix.
And what about Storm?
That was complicated. She knew he cared, but she didn’t know why.
She told Tzader, I’m walking past a lot of agitated Night-stalkers in the lower parking deck near my apartment. Something’s up.
Don’t slow down over there.
She caught the warning in his voice, which had more to do with her safety than being late. I’m not exactly defenseless, Z.
Quinn and I wish you’d realize you’re not exactly indestructible either. I’ll check out the Nightstalkers after you get to the park.
What if it’s important?
It’ll wait until I know you’re at the Tribunal meeting.
No point in arguing with Tzader when he clearly had his mind made up. I need you to do me a favor and return the amulet I have to Nicole.
Tzader grumbled something low and dangerous, then said, You making out a will, too? You are coming home after this meeting. Brina will be there for you and she’ll make this right.
I know. Not really. Evalle had her doubts about their Belador warrior queen convincing the Tribunal to leave even one Alterant free to roam the streets. Rather than address that, Evalle told Tzader, Taking the amulet off my hands would make facing them easier if I’m not thinking about anything else.
The amulet warmed against her skin. She glanced down to see it glowing in the shadowy darkness.
What was up with that?
Another Nightstalker wavered in and out of form, trying to waylay her. What threat had entered the city?
Tzader relented with, Fine. Just get here.
I’ll be there soon, but what if …
What if what?
This Nightstalker activity has to do with an Alterant attack, like the ones on the West Coast?
I was going to tell you about that when you got here. Where’d you hear?
She hesitated at the idea of punking out Storm, but then she remembered where he’d gotten the intel. Storm told me. He heard the news from VIPER. Think the Night-stalkers are worked up over another Alterant in the city?
We’ve got everyone on alert and no one has heard of any Alterants shifting here yet.
Okay. I’m on the way.
One more thing, Evalle, since we won’t have much time when you get here. Do us both a favor and don’t give Sen any grief tonight, okay? It won’t help your case.
I hear you. I’ll be the perfect little prisoner.
She could have sworn she’d heard Tzader sigh, but she didn’t need a reminder tonight.
If she wasn’t standing in that park when Sen showed up to escort her to the meeting, she was toast. As the VIPER liaison, Sen would teleport her from Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta to the Nether Realm, a parallel universe where the Tribunal convened. He’d like nothing better than for her to step into the park five seconds past midnight.
He hated her.
Right back at ya, Sen. Although hate required an emotion. He was more like a boil on her life she’d like to lance with a sledgehammer.
He was dreaming if he thought she’d miss this meeting.
A cry ripped through the air.
Evalle had just crossed a section of the old railway tracks covered by the parking structure. She slid to a stop and turned in the direction of the shout. Several box trucks had been left in the bottom level of the parking area near loading docks.
The scuffling of soles against gravel reached her. It sounded as though two people fought.
A sharp scream cut off midstream raised gooseflesh on Evalle’s arms. If not for her exceptional vision, she might have missed the brief image of two figures struggling.
Was that a pair of drunks settling a dispute, or was it gang related?
Evalle opened her senses. No unusual energy wafted through the air. No preternatural creature involved.
Instinct to protect a human pushed her to step that way before she stopped. She couldn’t get involved. Not tonight. If she called Tzader, he’d send the police to deal with the two humans.
Someone else would have to save the world tonight.
Turning away, she started to call Tzader when a pain-filled, high-pitched wail wrenched her attention back to the fight.
This time, she saw the smaller figure more clearly.
A woman … being beaten by a large man.
Evalle glanced at her watch. She had fourteen minutes.
She could pass up intel from Nightstalkers and give up time to see Tzader and Quinn, but she could not allow some monster to hurt a defenseless woman.
Not after what a man had done to her at fifteen.
Evalle took off toward the pitiful whimpers and begging of a woman under attack. Adrenaline surged through her blood at the memory that sound raised, a dangerous thing when handling humans. She’d just have to be careful when she kicked the attacker’s worthless butt, because she was not letting him harm that poor female.
Worst case, she might only lose a minute or two dealing with a human. That still wouldn’t put her late reaching the park.
Dealing with a human male would be quicker than hitting speed dial on her phone.
Calling the police, or even Tzader, would be futile. Evalle doubted this woman would survive the wait for police to arrive, and Tzader would order Evalle to leave while trying to convince her he could get here in time.
As she rounded the corner of the chain-link enclosure beneath the street-level parking deck, she passed through an open gate. A crack of flesh against flesh rocked the air when the behemoth of a man slapped the woman. He dragged her toward one of the delivery trucks.
Evalle gritted her teeth to keep from throwing a blast of kinetic power at that two-legged snake, but he’d end up in a thousand pieces if she did.
A bright spot in her day, but VIPER agents weren’t allowed to play smash-a-rama with humans.
She ran forward, wishing she could do more than knock the guy away long enough for the woman to escape. Evalle had nothing to tie him up with to leave him for the police.
Too bad she couldn’t give him a dose of her cure for jockstrap bullies. That bastard was lucky she’d sworn an oath to Macha not to use her powers to harm a human, or Evalle would hand him his head while he was still talking.
The closer she got to the altercation, the stronger the female victim’s fear reached out, begging for anyone to save her. Fisting her hands, Evalle forced calm into her voice as she closed the last fifty feet.
She called out, “Let her go and I won’t hurt you.” Much, she should have added.
The bastard laughed. “Come on, sugar. I can handle two wildcats.”
Oh, yeah? Can you handle a beast? She wished.
Twenty feet out, she slowed to a walk but kept moving forward. Could she get away with crushing his knees so he could never get to another female?
Keeping his eyes on Evalle the whole time, he swung the woman in a backhand motion against the truck. Her head bounced with a sickening crack. Knocked her out cold. He grabbed his crotch and gave Evalle a smile lacking upper teeth on one side of his mouth. “Keep coming, sugar. I’ll make you beg for it.”
Evalle fisted her hands so hard the burn of cartilage rippled along her forearms in advance of shifting into battle form. Beladors stopped changing at that point, but for her battle form was just the first step in morphing into the Alterant beast state. Can’t do that.
She had to calm down and not let him bait her.
She held all the power cards. He was just a human.
With one deep breath, she pulled her body back under control and gave him a cocky lift of her eyebrow. “No, I think I’ll make you beg for death instead.”
His kneecaps would be the first to go. That should slow him down for the police.
He continued grinning at her as if she was the idiot here. “Not the way I see it. They said I could—”
The guy’s eyes bulged and he doubled over, mouth sucking for air, then he collapsed on top of the woman.
Heart attack? Nice to have some good luck for once. She muttered, “Adios, you miserable excuse for a human.”
Now she could leave this for Tzader to handle.
Something dropped over her head and shoulders.
Everything went black. The stench of rotten limes clogged her next breath. Noirre majik.
Evalle struck out at the spongy sack that covered her head and shoulders. Worming her forearms up to her chest, she pushed her hands out, shoving whatever covered her away from her body.
The sack stretched but didn’t loosen.
What was this stuff that wouldn’t rip or break?
With Noirre involved, she had the freedom to shift into battle form with some cartilage and muscle change that would allow her more strength. But as an Alterant she’d have to take care not to just keep on changing until she turned into a ten-foot beast with fangs and claws.
Nonhumans had ambushed her. Gut feeling? Medb, the Beladors’ most fierce enemy.
She called forth her Belador warrior form and clenched her fists against the pain as cartilage jutted a high ridge along her forearms and back.
Wait until this bunch got a load of what they’d caught.
Clenching her jaw, she put the brakes on any further change.
“Well, well, well,” a raspy male voice said, his words getting louder as he approached. “That cloaking spell was worth the money, wouldn’t you say, boys?”