Jaxon’s cheeks burned. He frowned. “Just back the hell off.”
Both men were grinning as they returned to their seats. Jaxon studied them. Even though Dallas was smiling, lines of strain now bracketed his eyes. Jaxon’s frown deepened. “You okay, man?”
“I’m fine. You mentioned a bar a bit ago. You talked to the otherworlder there, yes?”
“Did you happen to get a recording of his voice?”
“No.” Mishka probably had, but he didn’t mention that. At the moment, he doubted she’d be inclined to help them.
Dallas sighed. “Would have made things easier, but we can still work with what we’ve got.” He stood, slid a thin black tracer from his back pocket, and strode to the coffee table.
There, he knelt and flipped the tracer open so that both ends were flattened against the table’s surface. He pressed his thumb into the center and a bright yellow light scanned his print. A moment later, a keyboard appeared just in front of him. Not solid, but merely as bright a light as the scan.
His fingers flew over it, tapping against the wood. “Name of the bar?”
More tapping. “Date and time you were there?”
He answered. Even more tapping. Then a blue screen crystallized over the black tracer, forming a four-by-four square. A map of the city appeared next, followed by eighteen red dots.
“All right,” Dallas said, hands falling to his sides. “Here’s what we’ve got. At the time you gave me and in the vicinity of the bar, there were twenty-nine alien voices recorded. Eighteen are in the middle of a conversation right now.”
Sometime after a group of aliens had first come to this planet through interworld wormholes, it was discovered that most alien voices acted as human DNA did, leaving otherworlder prints behind. Their voices possessed a frequency human voices did not. That’s why there were voice recorders and amplifiers set up all over the city, constantly documenting the different wavelengths.
Those recorders had come in handy during the human-alien war that had erupted all those years ago, helping track down enemy camps and watch certain locations to ensure aliens never breached them.
Of course, that had not been one hundred percent effective. Predatory aliens had quickly learned to be quiet before, during, and after raids, which hid their location as if they were shrouded in shadows and magic. Magic, he thought. Perfect word, reminding him of the way Nolan had simply disappeared through that wall.
If only more was known about their uninvited visitors. Different species, different powers, all kept as secret as possible. The best defense was a good offense and all that shit.
“I’ll call Mia and Eden and let them know what’s going on,” Dallas said. “Each of us can scout a different location.”
Devyn crossed his arms over his massive chest. “Wait. There are only fourteen dots now.”
Dallas waved a dismissive hand through the air. “Don’t worry. The other locations were recorded. We’ll search whether they’re there or not. I anticipate lots of frustration and failure, but right now these are the only leads we’ve got.”
Okay, then. That was settled, which meant the time had come to make a decision about Mishka. She’d made it clear they were to part ways in the morning and that’s what she wanted. Or so she’d claimed. Maybe she didn’t want it; maybe it was being forced on her.
If she defied her boss, she would be punished. If Jaxon forced her to go with him, he would be taking yet another decision from her.
Jaxon wanted her with him, though, whether she wanted it or not and whether she could be tracked or not. He wanted to protect her, wanted to find a way to save her. Deep down, she had to crave those things. But as afraid as she was of her boss, he knew he’d have a hard time getting her to admit it.
Still. He had to try.
He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Release the girl from stun,” he told the Targon.
Devyn frowned. “Are you sure?”
Dallas said, “No. She stays frozen. And that’s nonnegotiable.”
With a shrug, Devyn said, “You take the fun out of everything, Dallas. It is done. She’s free.”
That easily? Jaxon thought, surprised.
Dallas growled. “You traitor! I told you no. She’s dangerous.”
Jaxon expected Mishka to rush into the living room, guns blazing. She didn’t. In fact, a minute passed in silence and calm, and then another.
“Mishka,” he called while Dallas and Devyn continued to argue. “Mishka!”
Finally, she stepped into the room. Relief poured through his veins. Relief and awe. Her glorious hair was tied back in a ponytail. She wore a black shirt rather than the white one he’d left her in, and black syn-leather pants covered her legs.
Her expression was blank, and her hands were shockingly free of weapons. Her gaze remained locked on him, as if the other two men weren’t even present.
Dallas stopped yelling at the Targon and strode toward her, menace in every step.
Jaxon moved in front of him, blocking his path.
“Don’t ask,” Mishka told him. “I’m not going with you.”
Reading his mind now? A muscle ticked below his eye. No longer did she look like a well-loved woman. She was Marie, an assassin, cold and uncaring, beauty carved in stone.
“At least give me a chance to help you,” he pleaded.
She shook her head. “And have one more thing to be disappointed about? No thanks.”
“Maybe I won’t disappoint you.”
Slowly she approached him, her strides graceful and fluid like the machine she considered herself to be. When she stopped, she was only a breath away. And when she took that breath, her ni**les brushed his chest. Behind him, Dallas tried to push him away. Jaxon shrugged out of his hold, grabbed Mishka’s arm, and dragged her into a corner. He could feel his friend’s narrowed gaze boring into his back.
Awareness kindled inside him.
“We both knew this couldn’t last,” she said casually.
So dismissive. Blood roared savagely in his ears. “I did not consider you a coward until just now.”
A flicker of outrage darkened her eyes, but it was quickly extinguished. “Tell yourself that we’re over because I’m a coward if that makes you feel better. But the truth is, I’m not trying to make it work because I’m done with you. You served your purpose. I have no more need for you.”
Though he didn’t believe her, her words still managed to cut deep. But he was used to difficult opponents and refused to back down. For some reason, this battle seemed more important than any he’d ever faced before. “You like me more than you should. You’re scared, probably even think you’re protecting me by walking away from me.”