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Embry shoved the barely there dress and ankle-breaking pumps into the bag. Good riddance, she thought, far more at ease in the jeans and knit top she now wore. A quick pass through the rest of the room showed that she’d gathered up everything. Her single duffel bag was packed and ready to go.
She wiped the room down for prints. Not that the IED used such primitive methods. If they came looking, they would find the characteristic traces of her magic in the room from when she’d nearly lost control with Gage. That spark would be as damning as a signature to those who knew how to read the scene, and there was no way to wipe that. And there really wasn’t anything she could do about the broken coffee table other than clean up the mess and let the hotel charge her credit card. So it was best that they get moving as soon as possible. Except she couldn’t lug Gage as a deadweight all the way to the car, not without arousing undue attention and suspicion.
Two long, restless hours had passed since he’d taken the antidote. How long is this going to take? The potionmonger from whom she’d obtained the antidote hadn’t said. If Matthias hadn’t recommended him as a source, Embry might be worried she’d given Gage some kind of poison. She moved back to sit on the edge of the bed.
He looks like he’s fighting a war, she thought, watching his face. What was he remembering?
Picking up one of his hands, she was startled at the sight of his palms. They held none of the usual lines but were, instead, covered in smooth, white scar tissue. Burns.
Embry closed her eyes and could still feel the desperate terror of that night. She’d been trying to save him the only way she knew how—by banishing the shadows with light. The dojo and Gage’s quarters were housed in a building with no windows or doors. If she eliminated all shadows, wrapping him in light, they couldn’t touch him, couldn’t take him into the shadows and away forever.
But he’d seen the aurora and mistaken it.
You have to turn it off!
The moment he’d grabbed her, something had changed. The nimbus of light she’d woven condensed and shot into him, slamming him back into the wall hard enough to crack the plaster. Then he’d slid limply to the ground and lay still. So still.
Matthias had walked over, checked his pulse, and shaken his head.
Matthias had lied. He’d let her live for ten years with the corrosive guilt that she’d killed the man she loved, until it suited his purposes to tell her otherwise. The bastard.
With one hand, she reached out, tracing her fingers over the contorted muscles in Gage’s face, as if she could ease the strain. “I’m so sorry.”
“Embry!” The scream burst from his mouth, and her heart jumped into her throat.
She leaned forward, intending to comfort, but he shot up, tackling her backwards.
Her breath whooshed out as they landed hard on the floor, his hands tight around her throat. Power swelled inside her, but she held it in check long enough to see his eyes clear, his face shift from rage to horror. He released her and scrambled back. One hand clutched at his head as he stared first at her, then looked wildly around the room, struggling to get to his feet, to raise his fists.
Embry sat up, clearing her throat. “It’s okay. We’re safe.”
He stumbled a few paces, looking as punch drunk as Archer had, and fell to his knees.
Embry scrambled to him before he could rise again, grabbing at his forearms, “Gage look at me. Look at me.” When he did, she could see the panicked fury in his eyes. She reached out to touch his cheek. “We’re alone. There’s no one here to hurt us. We’re safe. We’re safe.”
“Ember?” His eyes searched her face, and she wondered what he saw.
Her breath whooshed out again as he crushed her to him, almost cracking her ribs with shaking arms as one hand cradled her head. The combination of strength and gentleness all but undid her. It took every shred of self control to hold her body stiff in his embrace when she wanted to stroke and soothe—anything to ease his transition.
At length he stopped shaking. His frantic pulse slowed, and he loosened his grip, seeming to become aware that she was not returning his embrace.
“Embry, what the hell is going on?”
His eyes seemed clearer, more firmly grounded in the now than when he’d first awakened. “I’ll explain everything on the way.”
“On the way to where?”
“I need your help. Can you walk?”
“Probably. Why do I feel like I just went ten rounds with Chuck Liddell with both hands tied behind my back?”
“It’s a side effect of the antidote,” she said, heaving him to his feet.
“Antidote to what?”
“The Lethe potion.”
Gage slumped unsteadily against her. “The what?”
“Lethe. Like the river in Greek mythology. To make you forget.”
“Forget . . . I don’t . . . ” He shook his head.
“It’ll be clear in a while. But we have to move. We won’t be safe here for long.” She snagged the duffel and led him out the door.
They were alone in the elevator, so she asked, “What do you remember?”
He frowned, his eyes seeming to glaze over a bit as he tried to think. “They hurt you,” he growled. “They hurt you, and I couldn’t stop them.” His voice was ragged, and the self-condemnation on his face raked at her heart.
“They didn’t hurt me,” she told him. It wasn’t the sort of lie she minded telling. Not under the circumstances. “You, on the other hand, were another story.” The doors slid open to the lobby. “C’mon. I need to check out, and we have to get going.”
He moved more steadily as they crossed to the counter. To the average observer, he probably just appeared hung over or tired. Embry plastered a bright smile on her face and tucked one arm more firmly around his waist as they approached the desk clerk. “We need to check out.”
The receptionist’s fingers flew over her keyboard. “Will that be charged to the card we have on file?”
“Yes. And um, we needed to let you know we had a little . . . uh . . . issue with the coffee table.” The smile threatened to crack her face, but Embry cuddled up to Gage and hoped they looked honeymoonish or something. “Just charge me for the replacement of that too. Whatever is necessary.”
The woman’s eyes flicked to where Gage had dropped his head and was nuzzling Embry’s neck. Only the fact that she was supporting the bulk of his body weight let Embry know that it was a cover up.
The clerk’s eyebrows rose. “Very well. Please sign here.”
Embry signed the bill.
“Please come again.”
The black Dodge Charger was gleaming with a coat of droplets from the flash summer shower that had blown through an hour or so before. Using the keys she’d liberated from his jeans pocket, Embry opened the passenger door and more or less dumped Gage into it. When he opened his mouth she said, “You’re in no condition to drive,” and shut the door.
She started to circle around to the trunk, but a flash of movement caught her attention just before she was slammed against the back end of the car.
“I knew you was trouble, you,” snarled Mick, eyes glinting a dangerous gold. “What did you do to him?”
Embry drew on the heat of temper, focusing it where the Wylk’s hands dug into her arms. “That’s none of your goddamned business.”
“Mick?” Gage shoved the car door open. “What the fuck? Let her go!”
“Stay in the car. I’ll handle this. Let me go, Guidry.” She cranked up the heat until he pulled his hands away with a hiss.
Gage, naturally, didn’t stay in the car. “Mick, what the hell are you doing here? Did you follow us?”
The irate shifter glanced toward him and Gage’s jaw dropped. “Holy shit, you’re Wylk.” He sagged against the car for support.
Mick’s eyes widened before narrowing and swinging back to her. “What kinda game you playin’, ’tite fille?”
“One you have no place in. Why did you follow us?”
“I know what you are, and I gots to ask myself what some firecaster wants with mon ami, why she smells like anxiety and aggression instead of arousal when she drag him outta my bar. So I follow.”
“Mick, it’s not what you think,” started Gage, trying to steady himself with one hand on the door and the other on the roof of the car.
“Really? Cause it sure the fuck look like she been tellin’ you all kind of things she not supposed to. Not to mention you look like you either drunk off yo’ ass or been beat to shit.”
“She didn’t tell me anything. She filled in the blank.”
“She what?” Mick demanded.
Fuck. Embry scrubbed both hands over her face in frustration. “He was under a Lethe spell. I removed it. End of story as far as you’re concerned. Gage, get in the car, we have to go.”
“Who da fuck is Gage?”
“That was my name before.”
“Enough with the explanations. We don’t have time for this,” insisted Embry. She opened the trunk and tossed the duffel in.
“Who’s after you?” asked Mick.
“No one yet, but they’re going to be if we stand around here lolly gagging. Go away Guidry and forget you ever saw us.”
The Wylk stepped forward. “If you think I’m just gonna let you take him—”
“She’s not taking me anywhere. I’m going willingly. I’ll be fine, Mick. Just let it be.”
“This ain’t over,” he said, but he backed off.
Gage collapsed back in the car. Embry climbed into the driver’s seat and jammed the key in the ignition. The engine cranked with a roar. “Okay, can you tell me how to get to your house?”
“You need to pack a bag.”
“For what?” he demanded.
“An extraction mission,” she said, pulling out into the empty street and leaving Mick standing in the shadow of a streetlight. “We have to go rescue my father.”