High Voltage

Page 3

But the idea that I would never see Dancer again was more than I could stand. All I had left of him were memories and we’d not had time to make nearly enough.

My gaze drifted to the headstone east of his marker. JO BRENNAN. We’d laid another of my friends to rest beside him. I smiled faintly, remembering her breaking into my dungeon cell to save me. We hadn’t always gotten along but she’d been a genuine, good constant in my life and didn’t deserve to die the way she did.

ALINA MCKENNA LANE. Mac’s sister was buried beside her. There’d been so much death in my life.

“All the more reason to live,” came the deep, exotically accented growl from behind me. I could hear traces of many languages in it, a consensus of none.

I bristled. Not many people can sneak up on me without my preternatural senses kicking into high alert. Ryodan defies the odds in countless, irritating ways. “Stay out of my head.”

“I wasn’t in it. Didn’t need to be. When humans stand at graves, they brood.” He was beside me then, in that sudden, silent, eerie way of his.

Humans, he’d said. Whatever Ryodan was, he wasn’t one of those and he’d stopped making any effort to conceal it from me. Whether urbane, sophisticated man or black-skinned, fanged beast, he was all the supers I was, plus an awe-inspiring, aggravating assortment of others. When I was young, I’d felt like Sarah from the movie Labyrinth, dashing around Dublin having grand adventures. Ryodan was Jareth, my Goblin King. I’d defied him at every turn, defining myself in opposition to him. I’d studied him, incorporating his ideologies and tactics into my own. Silverside I’d functioned by the code: WWRD? I’d never tell him that.

I turned and scowled up at him. Beautiful, cool, aloof man. Two things always happen to me whenever he shows up. I get an instant jolt of happiness, as if every cell in my body wakes up and is glad to see him. It pisses me off because my brain rarely agrees. Ryodan and I are enthusiastic foes, wary friends. I tell him things I don’t tell anyone else, and that offends me, too.

The second thing baffles me. I often feel like crying. I’ve wept on his flawless, crisp shirts more times than I care to remember.

“Because I understand,” he murmured, staring down at me with those glittering silver eyes. “And I can take it. I wasn’t sure about the happiness, though. Nice of you to clear that up.”

“What part of ‘stay out of my head’ didn’t you understand?”

“Your face, Dani. Everything you feel is on it. I rarely need to delve deeper.”

He’d glimpsed such raw emotion in me recently that I’d been avoiding him. As Jada, I was respected, feared. As Dani, I sometimes felt like I vied with Shazam for Hot Mess Poster Child of the Month.

I could only hope what happened last night was nowhere to be seen on my face. I’d never before experienced what an average woman with average strength contended with on a daily basis: physical vulnerability to the opposite sex. It had been humbling and horrifying and awakened a fierce compassion in me, making me even more protective of my city, especially women and children.

In bed with a stranger, my heart felt like it was going to explode. I’d tried to leave the man and that empty thing I was doing but the intensity of my emotions shorted out my sidhe-seer strength, leaving me a frighteningly normal five-foot-ten woman who weighed in at 142, in a locked room with a six-foot-four, 240-pound man.

Who’d called me a cock tease and turned violent.

I hadn’t killed him. I’d wanted to. If he’d succeeded in raping me, I’m not sure what I would have done. “No” is “no,” no matter when it’s said. As it was, I’d be watching him from a distance to make sure he never crossed that line again. And if he did, well: violate other’s liberties, lose your own.

“Ah, Dani.” Ryodan touched my cheek, brushing a stray curl back and tucking it behind my ear. “Men can be bloody bastards. But not all of them. Don’t let it shut you down. Be fearless. Don’t be afraid to fall. Taste it all.”

My eyes flashed mutinously. Not because of what he’d said but rather what he hadn’t said. It was there in his voice. Mac and Barrons left two weeks ago to deal with the revolt happening in Faery. She’d reminded me time moved differently there; a week for her might be as much as a year for me. He was leaving, too. “That sounds suspiciously like goodbye.”

He smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes. There’s a palpable coolness, a distance in Ryodan’s gaze most of the time, a thousand-yard stare that’s seen and done things that change you forever; a big picture view. I understand it. I see the same look in my own eyes sometimes.

“There’s something I have to do.”

I knew it. I said coolly, “Great. Me and Shazam will come with you.”

“You can’t.”

“Sure, we can. They’ve elected a council for the abbey, gone back to popular vote like old times. I’m merely a consultant.” I wanted it that way. Freedom to come and go as I pleased.

“Not this time.”

“You just told me to taste it all. I’m merely taking your—”

“Nothing. You’re taking nothing,” he cut me off harshly. “I can’t take you with me now. You don’t belong with me now.”

Gone was the polished, sophisticated man. The black-skinned beast he sometimes became stared out at me through cold, incalculably ancient eyes, flecks of crimson glittering in their depths. The beast’s atavistic presence reshaped the planes and angles of his face, changing and elongating his jaws to accommodate the sudden appearance of fangs.

Once, I’d kissed him, felt those fangs graze my teeth as pure high voltage had arced between us. Once, I’d offered him my virginity. He’d rejected me and I’d vowed he’d never get another chance.

His gaze shuttered and he was Ryodan again, a man with even white teeth and the clearest gaze I’d ever seen. A man who played the long game and suffered no conflicts being what he was. Ruthless. A prick. My friend.

“Remember the cellphone and the tattoo,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if the cell towers are up or not. IISS will always work. Use it only if you must.”

IISS, code for I’m in Serious Shit, was a number programmed into my phone that would activate the spelled tattoo Ryodan had inked at the base of my spine at my request. According to him, he could find me anywhere, virtually instantly. “I know the rules. Only if I’m dying.”

He was leaving. This was really goodbye. My hodgepodge family pieced together of extraordinary friends was falling apart. I took comfort in knowing he was near, in my city, and I could see him anytime I chose. Not that I had lately but I liked knowing the imperious king was holding court eternal in his glass kingdom high above the rest of us, that Chester’s nightclub was open and it was business as usual. I may not have gone inside over the past few months but I’d certainly made a point of passing it frequently. I keep an eye on the things that matter to me.

My heart chilled and I let it. Dancer, Jo, Mac, Barrons. Now Ryodan.

“Don’t do that,” he growled.

“Don’t tell me what to do,” I growled back. “You’re leaving. You don’t have a say anymore.”

“I always have a say. I don’t need your permission.”

I clipped, “Clearly.” He was leaving Dublin without it. Did he think I would beg him to stay? Never. People had to want to stay, choose to be with you, or it meant nothing. There were physical cages and there were emotional ones. Holding onto someone too tightly made it hard for them to breathe, and eventually, inevitably, they’d do one of two things: suffocate or run, leaving you feeling like hell either way. I waved a dismissive hand. “What are you waiting for then? Go.”

His nostrils flared and a muscle twitched in his cheek. Moonlight silvered a face I’d once thought uncaring and remote. I’d traced the sharpness of those cheekbones with my fingers, the shadow beard of his jaw, the scar that bisected the thick column of his neck. I’d experienced the rare emotional ferocity of the man. He made me uneasy in ways I didn’t understand. I sighed and said, in spite of myself, “When are you coming back?”

“It’ll be a while.”

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