"Did you ever go out with her?"
"Never. Dark-Hunters aren’t allowed to date, and I knew I had nothing to offer her. I just liked being in her company. She was good people, and there’s not a lot of those around. I left big tips, and she threatened the life of anyone who dared try and wait on me anytime she was working."
"Then why was my father angry at you?"
He was a psychotic idiot.
But Jess didn’t say that. "I made the mistake of giving your mother a butterfly necklace that I’d seen in a local shop on her birthday. I thought it was pretty, and the blue diamonds in it reminded me of her eyes. I meant nothing by it, but your pa didn’t see it that way. Even though I’d known her long before she met and married him, he accused her of cheating on him with me, and I left before I physically hurt him."
Abigail searched her mind for some memory to either refute or sustain his words. All she could remember was the loud sounds of shouting voices. Her parents didn’t fight a lot, but it’d been enough that she knew to hide whenever they did.
Her hiding over it was the very thing that had saved her life.
Sundown sighed. "I went out on my patrol, but I couldn’t shake the bad feeling I had. I didn’t want to leave her with him so mad. But I knew if I’d stayed, I’d have rearranged a few of his organs, and that would have only upset her more. I figured if I left, he’d calm down and everything would be all right…. At ten, I tried to call and got no answer. That worried me even more. So I headed back and…" He hesitated before he spoke again. "The police were already there and they wouldn’t let me in. I looked around for you and asked about you, but there was no trace. They assumed that whoever killed your parents took you as well. We searched for you for a long time, but no one ever saw you again." He scowled at her. "So what happened to you, anyway? Where did you go?"
Abigail tried to recall when her adoptive father had shown up. But all she saw was Sundown walking out of her room. And then it’d seemed like forever before she heard a familiar voice call her name. "My adoptive father took me home with him. I don’t remember seeing the police or really anything much about that night except you."
"What made you think I killed them?"
"I saw you in my room."
"I wasn’t there, Abigail. I swear to you." There was so much conviction in his tone that he was either the best liar in the world …
Or he was telling the truth.
"He looked just like you. He even had on cowboy boots."
"A pair of shit-kickers in Reno is normal footwear. That don’t mean nothing."
That much was true. Still …
"My adoptive father confirmed it. He said you slaughtered my parents because they were allies to the Apollites."
"I had no idea they even knew what an Apollite was. It’s not something I normally talk about to anyone outside of the Dark-Hunter network, you know?"
That made a little too much sense. Abigail rubbed her forehead as she tried to discern the truth. Her feelings were so conflicted.
"So what do you believe now?" he asked.
Overwhelmed by everything, she lay back against the headboard. "I don’t know, Sundown. I don’t." Oh, how she hated being this tired. It made her an emotional wreck, and everything was so much worse right now. Tears started streaming quietly down her cheeks as everything crashed in on her. Her life had never been simple or easy.
But all of the past was like a ride on a merry-go-round compared to what it was right now. It was confusing and terrifying.
And if Choo Co La Tah was right, she only had an extremely short amount of time left to live.
Or the world would end.
What have I done?
What was she going to do?
Suddenly, Sundown was there, sitting on the bed. "Don’t cry, Abby. It’s all right."
It wasn’t and they both knew it.
He gathered her into his arms and held her close. Something no one had done in a very long time. God, it felt so good….
Abigail buried her face into his chest. His heartbeat was strong and sure, and in this moment, she needed that reassurance that she wasn’t completely alone-even if it meant cuddling against her enemy. "I’m so sorry. I don’t normally do this."
"Don’t apologize. My ma used to say that crying is good for you. Tears are the path that free your mind of sorrowful thoughts."
"You sound like Choo Co La Tah now."
He nuzzled his face against her head while a gentle laugh rumbled deep in his chest. "He is kind of like Yoda…. ‘There is only do or do not. There is no try.’"
That actually succeeded in making her laugh through her tears. "You’re a Star Wars fan?"
"Oh yeah. May the Force be with you."
She sobered. "If what Choo Co La Tah said is true, I think we’re going to need something a lot stronger than the Force to win this."
"Don’t worry, we’ll find a solution. There’s always a way."
His positive attitude amazed her. "How can you be so sure?"
He shrugged. "You’re talking to a man who came back from the dead just to even a score. You think I’m going to let something like Coyote win this? Hardly. One thing about Bradys … We don’t run and we don’t lose. Come hell or high water, no one gets the best of me. And I’ll be damned if I let them take you. We’ll find a way to keep you safe and save the world. You have my personal guarantee on that, and that’s not something I give lightly."
His conviction stunned her. "Why do you even care? A few hours ago, I was trying to kill you."
"And not that long ago, you saved me from stepping into daylight. I haven’t forgotten that either. Besides, I understand wanting retribution. Spent my whole human life in search of it. I won’t hold that against you or anyone else."
That was so different from the things she’d read about him. Was it possible he wasn’t as soulless as they claimed?
"But," he continued. "I would ask that if we do manage to save your butt and the world’s that you find another hobby besides killing us."
How easy he made that sound. "Do you really think they’ll let me live after what I’ve done?"
Jess paused as he considered it. She was right. The final decision wasn’t his to make. The Powers were even more vengeful than his brethren were. Blood for blood. Tit for tat.
Still, things happened all the time that didn’t make sense. And the Powers …
They were downright unpredictable.
"Have faith, Abigail. Sometimes the world surprises you."
Abigail swallowed at his words, wishing she could put her faith in them. "Yeah, but it’s never done so in a pleasant way. At least not for me."
And deep in her heart, she knew the truth. This wouldn’t end until she’d paid for her actions.
She was going to die, and not even the infamous Jess Brady could stop it.
Abigail woke up to the sensation of someone cradling her against an impressively hard chest, as if she were unspeakably cherished. She honestly couldn’t remember the last time a man had held her like this.
He was wrapped completely around her. Warm. Seductive. Inviting. Protective. It was the kind of sweet, loving embrace people dreamed of finding themselves in, but seldom did. For a full minute, she lay there in complete satiation.
Until she remembered who he was.
Outlaw. Dark-Hunter. Killer.
She jerked involuntarily, which immediately caused him to awaken and push himself up on his arms to look around, as if expecting more coyotes to leap out of the walls and devour them.
When he didn’t see an immediate threat, he scowled down at her. "Everything okay?"
Yes … He was so incredibly sexy in that pose. His h*ps were pressed intimately against hers, and his arms bulged with his raw strength. It made her ache for the very thing she would die before she gave him.
"No, you’re on top of me." She pushed at his chest.
He rolled off her and onto his back with a taunting grin as he wiggled his h*ps to settle into his new position. "Now, that’s not normally the way a woman reacts when I’m on top of her. I usually get a little more enthusiasm and welcome than that."
She gave him a withering stare to mask how incredibly yummy she thought he was right then. No need in feeding that ego. "Well, that’s what happens when you pay women for sex."
To her surprise, he laughed good-naturedly. Damn, he was devastating when he did that, and he made it hard to remember she was supposed to hate his guts.
Stretching like a languid cat, he yawned. "Sorry about crushing you all morning. I think we fell asleep in the middle of a conversation."
They had. One she could barely recall now. What she did recall was how comforting he’d been while she’d cried, and that was the last thing she needed to think about. "Yeah, but I’m not sure which of us fell asleep first."
"I’m pretty sure it was you."
She had a suspicion he was right, and this was getting a little too familiar for her tastes. She wanted to keep a gap between them. A nice safe chasm that protected her from caring about anyone, especially him. So she changed the subject. "Your gun’s still on the floor."
He scratched at the manly shadow on his cheek in a way that was boyish and somehow endearing. He was so nonchalant with her and she should be aggravated by that, not charmed. "Glad I didn’t need it, since it’s all the way over there."
No kidding. That could have been a bloody disaster. "So what time do you think it is?"
"Feels like it’s still daylight. Not sure of the exact time, though."
"What do you mean it feels like daylight?"
He yawned before he answered. "Wicked power we have. We can sense when the sun’s up. Which it still is."
No doubt they’d been given that to help keep them alive, since Apollo would kill any Dark-Hunter or Apollite he found in his domain. The Greek god was a real bastard that way.
And you killed two of Jess’s brethren by trapping them in daylight. She didn’t even want to think about how the others died.
Please, please don’t let me have killed a protector….
Trying not to think about that either, she got up and went to the bathroom.
Jess didn’t speak as he watched her plod across the room. She had the most seductive walk he’d ever seen on any woman. Slow and sensual and full of sass. It was the kind of walk that made men turn and stare. Most of all, it made him ache to take a bite out of that hot little body of hers, especially that well-shaped ass.
Man, to have that nak*d and wrapped around him …
Uh, hello, cowboy? You’re not supposed to have those thoughts about a human who’s been offering your friends up as sacrifice to the dark gods.
Maybe not, but he was a man, and his body wasn’t about to listen to his brain, especially since all the blood was now gathered into the part of him that craved her most. It wanted what it saw, and she was definitely worth an ass-whipping or two dozen.
Pushing that out of his mind before it got him into some serious trouble, he closed his eyes and used his powers to sense Ren. He knew the moment he made contact. Ren pushed back with his own telepathy.
He shook his head at Ren’s surly tone in his head. He didn’t like anyone near his thoughts-not the Jess blamed him. Mind readers weren’t his favorite thing either. "Wanted to see if you were awake yet."
"I’ve been awake and meditating. And to answer your next question, it’s almost four, so you have plenty of time to grab ass if you want."
Jess quickly blocked the image in his mind that those words conjured. Grabbing Abigail’s ass was a lot more appealing to him than it should be. "Stay out of my thoughts."
"Believe me, I’m trying to. I don’t want to throw up right after I brushed my teeth."
"By the way," Ren continued, ignoring the insult that questioned his parentage, "I’m about as weak as I’ve ever been. Other than the telepathy, which I obviously know is working, how are your powers doing?"
Jess winced as he realized his were down, too. "Probably drained as much as yours are."
"Guess we’re going to pretend we’re human for a bit."
Jess snorted. There were many folks, including Abigail, who would say that he’d never been human. "Can you shape-shift at all?"
"Never a problem."
Now, that was interesting. "Care to tell me why that one isn’t malfunctioning?"
"It likes me best."
Jess shook his head. Smart-ass.
His attention shifted as he heard the water in his bathroom come on. Abigail was taking a shower….
"I’m going to leave you to the thoughts of her nak*d, since I have no interest in being a voyeur to your fantasies, especially with a viper. Check in with me when you’re focused on fighting and not-"
"Gotcha, Ren. I’ll powwow with you later."
Jess lay alone on the bed, listening to the water run in the other room. In his mind, he had a perfect image of what Abigail would look like as she soaped her nak*d br**sts. His body roared back to life with a vengeance. His hunger for her was unlike anything he’d ever experienced before. And it wasn’t just because she was a beautiful woman.
There was something else. Something he hadn’t felt since the first time he met Matilda. It was a deep-seated ache. An urge he had to be near her. To protect her.