Home > Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(9)

Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(9)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

“You want some?” I asked, hoping she’d say no.

“Nah.” She flapped a hand toward the kitchen and mumbled, “Imma go make some more.”

When she was gone, Jesse stepped toward me, close enough for me to smell his aftershave. I fought the blush that threatened to creep up my neck. He and I are just friends, but Jesse happens to be the best-looking human person I’ve ever seen in my life, and sometimes my body just kind of chemically reacts to that. Especially in a small room. Especially when I hadn’t “been with” anyone in—

“Are you sure you’re up for this?” Jesse said in a low voice. I just cocked an eyebrow at him. “I mean,” he amended, “how have you been feeling?”

“Fine,” I said honestly. “No more vertigo or anything.”

A few weeks earlier, I’d “cured” a close acquaintance of vampirism. This was the third time I’d permanently removed someone’s magic, and the first two times had been hard on me physically. But this time had been better. I didn’t know if it was because Hayne hadn’t been a vampire for very long or if my abilities were genuinely getting stronger, but instead of lapsing into a coma, I spent a few days in bed feeling weak and disoriented, like the way you feel when you’re just getting over a bad flu. After that, I was fine.

I was anxious to do it again, with Molly’s friends who had been turned into vampires against their will. But Dashiell had put his foot down, insisting I wait at least three months in between “cures,” to make sure my health recovered. I also had to get a complete physical before each attempt, too, which was a pain in the ass. It would be another month before I could try again.

Jesse must have decided I was telling the truth, because he finally nodded, accepting my answer. “What about protection?” he asked.

“You mean like condoms?” I said brightly.

Jesse rolled his eyes. “Do you have your knives?”

“Duh. And my knife belt, for when I can’t wear the boots. I even threw in my bulletproof vest, just to make you, Jesse, personally happy.”

“Good.” He gave me a speculative look. “Are you sure I can’t talk you into taking something with a little more firepower?”

Jesse’s mission in life was to get me to carry a handgun. I could shoot—he’d made sure of that—but the thought of carrying a weapon like that out in the world scared the bejesus out of me. “For the hundredth time, no. I’m not bringing a gun.”

We’d had this argument too many times for him to push me further. “I should let you get moving, then.” He held out his hand. “Keys?”

I reached into my hoodie pocket for the van keys, but then I hesitated, suddenly nervous.

“Scarlett,” he said in a gentle voice, “it’s gonna be fine. I’ll keep an eye on Corry and Shadow.”

That wasn’t really what was bothering me. I knew Jesse could handle my job for a few days, and Corry and Shadow got along like gangbusters. But I couldn’t tell him that I was scared for myself, or that going on this little mission made me feel outclassed in at least three ways. You just don’t say that kind of thing out loud.

So I nodded and dropped the keys into his hand.

Jesse left, and Corry decided to turn on the Nature Channel for Shadow, who gave my face one last lick and settled on her Volkswagen-sized dog bed in the living room. I dragged my suitcase outside just as a big black SUV barreled into the driveway, right on time. The driver parked in front of the guest cottage door and climbed out.

I think I was sort of expecting Cliff to be a stereotype: a big, extravagantly muscled guy who had to turn sideways to fit through doors, kind of like Hayne. But the man who stepped out of the SUV was maybe five ten, with an olive complexion that made his heritage a mystery. He was in his mid or late thirties, and probably did have muscle, but it was hidden under his cargo pants and denim jacket. As he closed the SUV door and moved toward the house, I could see that he moved gracefully, like a ballet dancer or a fencer. Interesting.

I stepped off the tiny front porch to meet him halfway. “You must be Hayne’s guy,” I said. The man nodded, his hands hanging loose at his sides. No effort to shake my hand. “Do you mind if I see some ID?” I asked.

He pulled out a wallet and handed me a California state driver’s license that said Augustin Wesley Clifford. That name was too weird to be anything but real.

I handed the ID back. “What do you want me to call you?” I asked, just to make him respond.

“Cliff.”

The part of my brain that expected stereotypes had also figured he was the kind of guy who mostly grunted his words. But that “Cliff” was clear and matter-of-fact. He could talk, he just didn’t want to.

And we were about to spend the next five hours in a car together. Goody.

Cliff opened the back so I could toss in my small suitcase, and we climbed into the SUV. It looked just like the vehicles that Dashiell kept for his security team, but from the personal touches—a couple of receipts on the floor, one of those organizers on the back of the visor, etc.—I had the feeling we were in Cliff’s personal vehicle. Which made sense, given that this was supposed to be an under-the-radar mission.

As I’d expected, he was silent as we got on the street and skated the freeways out of town. I spent some time playing games on my cell phone, but when we were fully out of LA County and I lost the signal, I couldn’t stand the silence anymore.

“So what’s your story, Cliff?”

He just glanced at me, raising an eyebrow. “You know who I am, right?” I added.

“Yes, Miss Bernard.”

Ouch. So it was going to be like that. “Call me Scarlett. Do you know about our real mission this weekend?”

“Yes, Miss Bernard.”

“Scarlett,” I said again. “If you know all that, and if Dashiell sent you along, you’re not just a human security grunt. You know about the Old World. There are only a handful of humans in the city who know about the Old World but aren’t connected to it in some way, and you’re not one of them. So. What’s your story?”

He was silent for a long moment, but I waited him out. Beatrice had said that this guy used to be a bodyguard in the Middle East, and he also reminded me of Jesse’s friend Lex, who was ex-military. Which meant he was probably weighing my need to know. I gave him a minute to reach his conclusion.

Finally, he said, “My ex was a werewolf.”

“Oh,” was all I managed to come up with. Only ten or fifteen years ago, most werewolf alphas didn’t let their pack members marry humans—or if they did, the human would have to become a werewolf, too. I didn’t know how it worked in other places now, but in LA, Will let his wolves marry whomever they wanted, and he also allowed them to tell their spouses the truth. It had been a point of contention between him and Dashiell, but it was one of the few times Will had put his foot down against the city’s cardinal vampire. All that had been before my time, though.

“Does she live in LA?” I asked, and then his words caught up with me. He had said his ex was a werewolf. Shit. She had died.

“No ma’am,” was all he said, and I let the matter drop. I’d been working with Dashiell, in one way or another, for about eight years, and I couldn’t think of any werewolves who’d died in that time who could be Cliff’s ex. So this had to have been before my time, too. If Cliff had worked as a bodyguard in the Middle East after her death, it would be just like Dashiell to offer him a job when he got back. Dashiell liked to keep humans in the know as close as possible.

At any rate, I was relieved that Cliff already knew about the Old World. This weekend would have been way too hard if I’d had to keep secrets from him, too.

“Beatrice told me your job is to protect the human women on this trip,” I offered. “Is that true?”

He glanced at me quickly, then back at the road. “Yes, Miss Bernard.”

“Scarlett. Do you ever smile?”

“Yes, Miss Bernard,” we said in unison, and despite himself, the corner of Cliff’s mouth quirked, just a little bit.

Encouraged, I tried asking, “Do you like working for Dashiell?”

   
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