Hopefully, the mistake wasn’t debilitating on McKell’s part.

Debilitating. She gulped as guilt filled her. Though what she had to feel guilty about, she didn’t know. Really. If McKell had kept his stupid mouth closed, she would have gotten a blood sample another, nicer way. But nooo. Now he might be incapacitated by blood loss or infection. Or die.

Die. She gulped again as dread filled her—then anger that she even cared. He was nothing, damn it. An assignment.

Scowling, she left the stall, dressed in a tank top and panties and fell onto her bed. Don’t think about him. Relax, rest. She had a big day tomorrow. Namely, she planned to bask in the accolades of her fellow trainees because she had gotten that blood sample. Finally she’d have the respect she deserved. Then, of course, she would research ways to prevent time manipulation.

Would Mia want her to try to capture McKell again?

You’re thinking about him again.

Argh! For hours, Ava tossed and turned, her mind constantly returning to the forest. McKell on his rock. McKell gaping in astonishment. McKell bleeding. A crimson river, shirt soaked to his side. Pain a glaze of frost in those violet eyes.

Stupid McKell. He only had himself to blame.

Realizing the futility of trying to sleep, she got up and brewed a pot of coffee. The sun was out and brighter than shit, anyway, which wasn’t really conducive to a good, or even halfway decent, rest.

Nothing was, to be honest. Not for her. She’d suffered from insomnia forever, and figured she would suffer with it the rest of forever, as well. As a child, she’d known that one of her mother’s “friends” could walk into her bedroom at any time and hurt her, so she’d taught herself to rouse at the slightest noise. Sadly, the skill had come in handy.

Soon, though, she’d stopped sleeping altogether. And even while living in the Tremain compound, as she called it, with the best security money could buy, Noelle in the bed next to her, she hadn’t rested properly.

Some habits were too hard to break, she supposed. Which was a very good reason to finally stop thinking about her vampire. She didn’t want McKell-pondering to become a habit. Or an obsession. But …

Was he okay?

She sank into the cold metal chair in front of her kitchen counter. This time, she didn’t try to clear her mind. Contemplating a man’s ultimate fate wasn’t obsessive; it was considerate. What if she’d killed him?

Oh, God. McKell … dead … The possibility seemed more likely with every second that passed and he didn’t show up to retaliate.

Bile burned her throat as she dropped her head in her upraised hands, elbows propped against the stone counter. Why do you care? And she did. She cared. Because he wouldn’t be able to answer Mia’s questions, and wouldn’t be able to donate more of his blood to the Save a Human from the Schön Queen foundation. Surely. But she couldn’t deny that those very logical, acceptable reasons meant nothing to her.

McKell could have maimed or killed her, but had written on her instead. McKell could have chosen elegant Noelle, but had chosen tiny Ava instead. He could have left her naked and defenseless, but he’d let her keep her underwear, and part of her still suspected he had followed her home, despite what common sense told her. Just to ensure she arrived safely. And last night, he could have attacked her, but hadn’t.

What had she done?

Breathe, you have to breathe.

Even lost to her rage as she’d been, she had managed to avoid all his major organs. Good, breathing. Calming. He would be fine. If the inside of his vampire body was humanoid. Oh, God. Bye-bye, calm. What if it wasn’t? What if she’d damaged him irreparably?

Perhaps she’d overreacted to his slur just a wee bit, she thought now.

Maybe she’d check on him tonight. Mia would want a status report. Right? Would McKell still be in that forest, though? Would he attack Ava this time? He would have every right to do so. She’d have to find a way to protect herself without hurting him further.

Damn him, why hadn’t he frozen her after she’d stabbed him? He could have. Right? Except, maybe when injured, his ability to manipulate time—and people—failed him. If so, that meant … oh … shit. If so, he was in major danger. He wouldn’t be able to protect himself. Especially if Mia sent other AIR agents after him. Real agents, this time.

Knowing Mia, that was a strong possibility.

The new agents might not be as gentle as Ava had been, and the thought of someone else hurting McKell … angered her, she realized as her nails cut into her palms with the same precision they had when she’d thought of him with another woman. Not to the red-haze degree that Noelle-bashing did, but still. Definite anger.

How odd. She’d never cared about anyone else’s well-being. On the streets it was survival first, everything else second. Although, when she thought about it, McKell was her target, so she had a right to be proprietary toward him.

Okay, so. Game plan. She’d visit him tonight. If he was still in the forest, she would subdue him as needed, then protect him from any and all threats. Human, animal, it didn’t matter. And when he healed, she would take him into AIR as ordered. That way, she could feel proud of a job well done. Not embarrassed by a job done just because the guy was weakened. At least, that’s the rational she used.

Except, when he healed, she would face the same problem as last night. No one could make McKell do anything he didn’t want to do. Damn him, she thought again. His ability to manipulate time put a serious damper on her ability to force him to do what she wanted.

A heavy, insistent knock sounded at her door.

Ava pushed to still shaky legs and threw her mug in the sink. Noelle was coded into the ID pad, and loved to enter at the most awkward times, so Ava knew her friend wasn’t the intruder. Mia, maybe? With new orders? Not McKell. He would have kicked the door in.

As another knock sounded, she trudged to her bedroom and tugged on a loose pair of shorts. She didn’t like the way her hands shook. By the time a third knock rang out, this one harder, more insistent, she stood at the entrance, gaping. And still shaking.

She’d been wrong. McKell’s (not so beautiful anymore) face consumed her ID screen. He was here. He was alive. And acting civilized.

He stood in her building’s hallway, fist lifting to once again bang at her door. His other hand was curled into a fist, too—with a long, black whip dangling from both sides. “I know you’re there, Ava. I can smell you. Open. Now.”

Heart slamming against her ribs, she did just that. She opened the door. He towered over her, scowling, fangs bared, clutching his bleeding side. Worse, his skin was red and blistered, and those blisters were oozing. Obviously he’d battled the sun to get here. Which meant he had a specific purpose for seeking her out. Killing her? With that whip?

Tags: Gena Showalter Alien Huntress Science Fiction
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