Copyright © 2010 Lauren Dane
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Kendra sat up in her bed on a strangled gasp, her hand outflung to ward off the danger she’d dreamed of. Before she could shake off sleep enough to call Renee to check on her sister, her phone rang.
She scrambled to grab it as the dream wore off and set her free.
“Yes? What’s happening?”
“Kendra, can you come over please?”
Kendra shoved her hair from her eyes, getting out of bed and yanking pants on. “Jack?” she asked, recognizing her brother-in-law’s voice. “What’s going on?”
“Renee’s had a dream. She’s upset and she won’t talk about it without you.”
“Give me a few minutes. I’m on my way.”
“Max is on his way to your apartment right now. I’d send one of my men, but he’s closer and obviously capable of protecting you. Don’t leave until you know it’s him.”
“I don’t need an escort,” she managed to say as she pulled on her bra and then a shirt. Max. A delicious warmth pushed away some of her panic. Still, it wasn’t time for adolescent mooning over a boy she could never have. “I’ll be there in five minutes.”
“Kendra, your sister will kill me if something happens to you because you were attacked.” Jack’s voice lost some of its bite. “She’s safe now. I know you’re worried. Just sit tight. Please?”
She smiled, knowing he couldn’t see her and also that he loved her sister with a ferocity she’d only ever seen in a shifter. For such an alpha male to break down and plead only made her more worried about her sister even as it pleased her that he clearly adored Renee.
She sighed. “Fine. Just keep her awake and don’t let anyone inside until I arrive. If he’s not here in five minutes, I’m going without him.”
His sigh was way less tired and more agitated.
“What? Come on, Jack, I’m worried about her and she’s there and I’m here. I can’t wait all night. I’m worried. All right?”
“All right. And Kendra?”
“I love my sister. It’s not a thing.”
She hung up and put on shoes while she brushed her teeth quickly. Max de La Vega was one of the hottest men she’d ever laid eyes on, the least she could do was not look like a hag when he arrived. They’d exchanged some looks. Mild flirting. Renee had told her he was dating a woman, another jaguar shifter, but had broken things off a few months back. Renee seemed to think it was about Kendra. She’d love to believe that, but he was not her normal fare. Like a five-star restaurant with all the dollar signs and she was that little pho shop down the hill that everyone loved because it was good and fit a budget.
Hm. That didn’t necessarily sound right. But whatever, it was an argument she was having in her head, who would judge?
She heard the purr of an engine and looked out to the street where Max had just pulled up. Not bad. Four of the five minutes she’d given Jack. He probably drove like a crazy person, which given the situation, she appreciated as she jogged down the inner stairs and outside to meet him.
He—good sweet heavens—looked soooo good standing there on her stoop she nearly forgot her sister was in trouble.
“Did you look through the peephole before you came barreling out here?” he asked her in that voice, the voice she’d been thinking about since she’d first heard it nearly four months before. A rumble, a growl and sometimes if she was very lucky, nearly a purr.
Still, hello, she wasn’t a five-year-old.
“Nope. I rushed out here with dollar bills pinned to my shirt.”
He snorted, a smile hinting at the corners of his mouth. “Come on then, car’s right there.”
If by car, one meant a sleek, black jaguar. Which, okay, she laughed and he looked at her sideways.
“What?” He hustled her inside the still-running car, and he lectured her about opening her door? “You’re a black jaguar, am I not supposed to notice your car is too?”
Without asking, he reached over and belted her in before squealing away. “Watch the upholstery, you’re going to rip it to shreds.”
“If you didn’t drive like a maniac I wouldn’t have to hold on so tight. Also, you left your car running! You lectured me on opening my door, which yes, I did look out first, I’m not a moron, and your car was unlocked and running on a city street in Boston at three in the morning.”
“Who’s going to steal from me, Kendra? Hmm?”
He had a point she supposed. “It’s not like a thief is going to know you’re some super-dooper alpha jaguar shifter.”
He laughed then. “Oh little witch, you’re so smart and powerful and yet, naïve sometimes. Predators always know other predators. Or they become prey.”
“I’m nearly five nine, I’m not little.”
“You are compared to me.”
Hmpf. If he wasn’t eleven feet tall that wouldn’t be true. Then again, if he wasn’t six and a half feet tall of delicious chocolate skin, he wouldn’t be as ridiculously sexy as he was. Which would be a shame because he was the fodder for many of her best masturbatory fantasies.
“Why are you on guard duty anyway?” She pretended to ignore the way he drove all while fervently thanking the universe for airbags.
“Galen asked. It was you. I came.”
It was her? Really? What did he mean? That she was Renee’s sister and so his relation? Or her specifically because he had fantasy wankfests about her? Gah, okay, she didn’t need to go down that road just then. They turned onto Renee’s street, and she tensed, holding her bag ready.
“Hold on, babe. No need to hurt yourself jumping from a moving car,” he said, screeching to a stop.
“I could call you sexy if you prefer.”
She huffed an annoyed breath, swinging her door open and jumping out. “I’m not that girl, Max de La Vega.”
“Dream on, Kendra. You are and more,” he murmured as he got out on his side, making her all flustered. Several times over the last few weeks he’d turned her into goo with silly things. The way he looked at her, or some tossed-out comment.
At first he’d sort of been wary, but friendly. Slowly though, it had felt as if he’d begun to focus on her in an altogether new and non-related sort of way. His attention wasn’t so much off-putting, but intense. He had a way of looking at her, intimate, as if he brushed her skin with his lips as he stared.
They were all that way, the shifter males, no matter the rank, they were intense beings. They paid attention on a level she hadn’t thought existed.
This one in particular also had a way of moving like there wasn’t a damned thing in the universe capable of scaring him. He owned every single step he took. Simply expected everyone to pay attention and be there when he needed it. Like the way he handed his keys off to Gibson, Max and Galen’s brother and the Bringer of the jamboree, who tossed them to another guy who drove off without a word.
Cripes, there were at least six shifters out in front of the house, all on guard. Their magick filled the area with loam and fur. Her magick always rose in the presence of Weres, it flowed around her like a warm breeze.
Gibson cleared people from the base of the steps and nodded at Kendra. “They’re inside waiting.” Gibson rarely said much, but damn he was pretty to look at.
Two extra-large males flanked them, leading them into the house. She really had no idea how Renee could take all this coddling and manhandling. It drove her nuts.
“Come on up. Renee is waiting for you.” Galen motioned to her and she pushed past the guards to jog up the stairs to her sister.
“She’s in the bedroom,” Jack stood at the door, directing her inside.
Renee was there, sitting in the bed, her eyes wide, glossy from unshed tears. Kendra went to her, hugging her tight. Their connection snapped into place, filling Kendra with the warmth of their like magick.
“Shhh. I’m here. You’re here.” Kendra pushed the hair from Renee’s face. “No one else is.” She knew her sister would always carry the fear that something or someone had gotten inside her. Who wouldn’t be after her experiences in the last several months?
She nodded. “Would you like me to scan you again? And the room too?” She could simply barge in and see herself, but Kendra believed very strongly that it was a violation of her gifts to not seek permission to use her magick on another person in anything other than self-defense.
“You can do that?”
“We have something called othersight. Some of us have more than others. It’s like you with healing, right? Each of us has a unique set of gifts. We talked about this before, and I think you’re coming along so well I can teach you.”
“Then yes, please.”
She stood and went to where Jack guarded the open door. The place had filled up with so much alpha shifter it stirred her blood and messed with her concentration.
“I need to close the door. There’s a lot of energy out there. It’s like white noise. You can stay in here, or just on the other side. All right?”
He nodded once, his gaze returning to Renee, who smiled at him, relaxing the rigidity of his spine a bit.
“Whatever you need.”
She closed the door after squeezing his hand.
“Okay then.” Kendra reached inside herself, unlocking the door to the well of her magick, letting it flow outward to fill the room. Through the eyes of her magick, she saw nothing but Renee’s energy, green and vibrant, connected in a thousand ways with Galen and Jack. Their bond was written all over her, all over the space. That protected her.
There was nothing else inside her sister, but her sister. Though she could see the marks made by Renee’s past and whoever had manipulated her memories. It had scarred her, but Renee would heal.
She opened her eyes, letting the energy swirl back to where it belonged. “It’s just you inside. There’s something outside. A shadow of something. I can’t tell yet if it’s old or new. But what’s in here, it’s not dark like before. The wards will hold.” A shadow was a whisper beyond the wards and Kendra had a feeling that’s what had awoken her from a dead sleep just a few minutes before.
“Thank goodness. I dreamed she knew. I dreamed, no, not dreamed. Kendra, she, Susan, had something to do with Mom’s murder. She knew and they did something to me. They put something in me to make me forget.”
Kendra’s breath gusted from her lips. “Your memory came back?”
“Not all. But parts. I was on the swing set in the backyard and they were talking about Mom being dead. Talking about what to do with me. He knew. He was in on it. Our father had something to do with her murder.” Renee’s gaze had been on the past, but it sharpened, focusing on Kendra’s face. “You knew it.”
“Not for certain, no. But it felt logical. Logical that the way he’d acted pointed to his guilt on some level.” She hadn’t mentioned it because her sister hadn’t been ready to hear it. But the man had abandoned an infant and then had disowned another for daring to ask questions about her own past. That had guilt stamped all over it as far as Kendra was concerned.
“We need to call the police.” Renee sat up, stronger now that she’d been given the all clear.
“The police can’t help us and you know it. You need to drink that tea and go back to sleep. We don’t know where he is yet. Rosemary and Mary have been working on finding accurate locator spells. We’ve tried a few, but they haven’t worked so far. There’s nothing we can do right now but be patient.”
Jack tapped on the door, poking his head in. “Is she all right?”
“Some of our aunt’s spell is working. Her memories are unknotting, rising to the surface. This happens while we sleep a lot because our consciousness is at rest. She’s all right. The house is clear, the wards are holding.”
“What can we do?” Galen came in, pressing a mug into Kendra’s hands before moving to Renee and giving another to her. “Drink it.”
“He was part of her murder,” Renee said softly. Kendra didn’t have to ask who he was. Renee had just told her their father had a part in their mother’s murder. A fact Kendra had long suspected.
Kendra settled in and tried to stay patient.
“The memory… I was on the swings in the backyard. She came out, Susan, and they talked about Mom, how she was dead. They started talking about me. She said Mom had written spells into my skin, into muscle and bone, and they couldn’t kill me. He-he said she should put a pillow over my face.” Renee’s voice broke and Kendra wanted to hurt their father very much.
“He’ll get what’s due him. I promise you that.” Kendra meant every word. What had happened to their mother needed to be avenged. What they’d done to Renee, and to Kendra. They needed to pay and they would.
“Susan told him they could drain me for years. They broke my memories.”
And Susan had been drawing from her since. A chill passed through Kendra at that. “It’s what kept you alive. That and the wards Mom made for you. It also means we know for sure Susan is a mage. She’s stealing magic.”
“We have laws for dealing with thieves and murderers.” Jack took a deep breath as he drew his fingertips along Renee’s temple. “And anyone who dares to hurt those weaker, like women and children, have a special place in hell. I’m going to kill them both to underline that point.”
Kendra patted his arm. “We have to find them first. I’m working on it with Mary, my teacher. It’s a matter of finding the right, um…” she paused, searching for the right word, “…frequency. That’s not it exactly, but it’s close enough.” Her head began to hurt, and she remembered she had to be up in a few hours to get ready for her third day of work. She had been building a normal life and it wouldn’t do to be late to this great new job. “I’m going to go back home. She’s shaken up, but aside from that, she’s fine.”
Kendra leaned down to hug her sister. “I’ll be here after work for our lessons. There’s no reason to be any more vigilant than you were yesterday. But still reason to be on your guard. You’re safe here and safe at work. Don’t let him win.”
“I’m sorry for dragging you out here when you have to be at work so early.”
Kendra laughed at her sister. “You have to be up even earlier than I do. Anyway, that’s what family does. I love you. You needed me and I came. End of story.”
“I’ll walk you out.” Galen looked to Jack. “Get her settled, I’ll keep the guards. Can’t see wasting them since they’re here already.”
“Great. More guards.” Renee frowned.
They couldn’t protect her anyway if the attack was a magickal one done over a distance. Still, Kendra knew despite her sister’s annoyance, she felt safer in the presence of Galen or Jack and the guards. Kendra didn’t blame her either.
“Stop whining. I’ll see you later today.”
“Love you! Hey, how’d you get here so fast?”
“Max brought me.”
Renee looked to her and back to Galen. “Don’t forget she rode over with someone. Make sure she’s taken care of.”
Galen merely stared at Renee for a long moment and she grinned sheepishly. “Right. I’m sure that’s already done because I’m married to the most efficient and careful men on the entire planet.”
“Precisely.” Galen winked and escorted Kendra out to the main room where Max reclined on a chair, very much the king he was in line to be. Relaxed. On the surface. But Kendra had felt his power from the other side of the door in Renee’s bedroom. Even then as he sat on the chair, she saw the tension there, the energy bound up in his muscles, waiting to strike if and when it was necessary.
“No one would ever steal a car from him.” This made her a bit cranky as her car had been stolen just the week before and found totally trashed some sixty miles west.
Galen looked at her askance for a moment. “Max? Hell no. No one would dare.”
She started to laugh, but then the snap of Max’s attention landed on her and all she could do was stare at him as he stared at her.
In the background she knew Galen spoke. Max answered. Other big giant males stalked around looking menacing. Funny how Kendra had found herself used to, even comforted by, at times, the new reality of her life in Boston.