“Brilliant. Let me give you a medal.”
He scowled at her. Going to win one day.
“But the difference is,” she added, “the names I give you are steeped in truth.”
“Well, then, why don’t I just call you Judgmental Bitch from now on? That’s about as truthful as I can get.”
No response from her.
But it felt kind of hollow.
He gave her the code to his security gate. “Park in the garage and close the door, sugar tush,” he said in an attempt to lighten the mood. Any spying neighbors . . . or hiding paparazzi . . . or lurking bad guys . . . would just assume she came looking for him or even her father, the owner of the Invaders.
She obeyed without protest—or another smart remark. A true miracle.
Problem was, he was actually . . . disappointed.
“Tomorrow,” he said, exiting the vehicle.
“Tomorrow,” she confirmed.
Was that anticipation in her tone?
“By the way,” she called. “Your new nickname for me? I like it. Because you’re right. It fits. But I think I prefer JB.”
And this round goes to Honey Badger as well.
He waited until she pulled out of the garage—why did it feel like he was losing an appendage?—before he slipped into the backyard, remaining in the shadows as he checked for tracks. He found none. His heart rate jacked up and his muscles tensed when he unlocked the back door and turned the knob.
Hinges creaked, but nothing exploded.
Still he didn’t relax. He inspected the inside of the house for any signs of tampering. He’d always liked the place. It was three times as large as Evie’s—stop obsessing about her, moron—and decorated with dark browns, like Evie’s eyes, and pure whites, like her skin, and deep reds, like her lips, and if he didn’t wipe that girl from his mind, his temper would get the better of him and he would start ripping the brick from the walls.
At least there was nothing out of the ordinary; the house was exactly as he’d left it.
He took a heated enzyme shower, the mist cleaning him more thoroughly than water, and studied his reflection in the full-length mirror. His skin had grown back, but he was now without any of his tattoos. He’d liked those tattoos. More importantly, women had liked those tattoos. For some reason, they’d enjoyed tracing the edges with their tongues.
To do: Get new tattoos.
What would Evie like? he wondered, then promptly cursed. What did he care what she liked? Wasn’t like he’d ever give her a peep show. Or a taste.
Yeah. He wanted her to taste.
After he dressed in a black tee and slacks, he sat at the desk in his office to watch the security feed. Pagan had come to the door about a thousand times and had even tossed a rock at the (unbreakable) window during her final visit, but the alarm had scared her off. No one else had so much as approached the property line.
So, again, the person responsible for the explosion either thought he was dead or never really had a beef with him.
He thought back. While lying broken and bleeding in the rubble of Michael’s home, he overheard bits and pieces of a conversation. He hadn’t recognized the speakers.
—with this one?
—fetch a decent price.
He’ll fetch a decent price. Where, though? On the black market? As a sex slave?
Finish ashing him. That was Blue, no question. For sure, he was thought to be dead.
I’m keeping him. Or maybe: We’re keeping. Or even: They’re keeping him.
That meant one of Blue’s friends had been sold and one had been kept.
Solo was unnaturally tall and cut with the kind of muscle earned only on the bloodiest of battlefields. When he was angry, his skin reddened and his bones thickened. He became the monster of grim fairy tales.
John was Rakan, like a priceless work of art come to dazzling life. He was just as tall as Blue, just as muscled, but exquisitely golden from head to foot. And, truth be told, he was the only man in this world or any other capable of making Blue look hideous in comparison.
Why yes. Thank you. Blue was certain his ego was as lovely as the rest of him.
Anyway. The culprit might have hoped to tame the gruesome Solo, perhaps use him as hired muscle. He definitely would have considered John the better sex slave.
John, who hated being touched.
Rakans were so rare, they were always top sellers.
Blue closed his eyes against the horrors his friends might even now be enduring. He had to find the pair. Soon. Then he had to punish the man responsible.
What did he know for sure?
AIR thought Star was involved. But was he?
There weren’t many men with enough connections or cunning to bypass the security Solo had set up at Michael’s. There weren’t many men rich enough to pay someone to set a bomb in such a high-ranking commander’s house, either, without fearing the consequences. Blue still figured that “someone” had to have used someone else—someone like Michael’s former assistant, because that was the only way such a plan could have worked.
Star fit each instance. But then, so did a handful of others. But then, only Star had been a target for potential elimination.
What exactly did AIR have on the man?
Only one way to find out. Blue hacked into the AIR data system for information about Star, the explosion, Michael, the assistant’s death, any recent black-market auctions for a Rakan male, as well as a male matching Solo’s description. To his fury, he discovered a whole lot of nothing. Agent Gutierrez hadn’t even logged his interview with Evie.
It was suspicious.
What was the best way to handle this?
If Blue returned from the dead to confront him, he could be placing a target on his back and giving up a very clear advantage. Although . . . the bomber might not even know Blue was involved. Michael had most likely been the main target, maybe even the only target. Then, when those two men had stepped into the scene—probably to ensure Michael was actually deceased—Blue was already unrecognizable.
But could he put his hopes in, well, hope?
No. So, for now, Blue would stay dead. There would be no confrontation with the AIR agent. Evie, though . . .
Yeah. Having a partner might actually come in handy.
One last task before he worked on a disguise. He deposited a million dollars in the account of the charity he secretly spearheaded, Safe Haven for Otherworlders, using one of his aliases. SHOW was a place where children living on the street could go for long-term food and shelter. The money should last until he returned to the land of the living, and could continue his weekly support.