She could handle this, Ava told herself. Anything to win McKell his get-out-of-jail-free card. And that’s what this was. If she got hurt, that was a small price to pay.
With that thought, realization sunk deep. She wasn’t just in this relationship for the short term. She more than liked the man, the vampire. And oh, shit, that stung. Panicked her all over again. Because with the knowledge, she knew she had a lot of decisions to make. Life-and-death decisions.
And the outcome might not end in her favor.
To Ava’s surprise, injecting Johnny with a vial of McKell’s blood proved uneventful, almost anticlimactic. Especially after all that fuss. Her one-time-only former flame hadn’t moved as she rushed in and out, hadn’t even breathed, until the door closed behind her and McKell released him from the time-stop. Then his eyelids had popped open and he’d flung himself against the window, screaming in pain. Screaming Ava’s name, too, as if he could scent her, see her, and wanted to eat her alive. But Mia hadn’t allowed them to stick around and watch what happened next.
And to further the surprise, Mia escorted them to the part of the building Ava was very familiar with, the interrogation wing, as promised. Without any added fuss. She waved them to their seats, then settled across from them and fired off three questions. Three. That was it, which was yet another surprise.
“Will you help us hunt and kill the Schön queen? Off the record and without pay, of course, because you’re, you know, a fugitive.”
A quick “yes” on McKell’s part.
Ava began to relax.
“Good. And if you succeed, will you stick around and work for us on the record and with pay? Because, as my employee, your crimes will be expunged.”
“If that’s what Ava wishes.”
Mia arched a brow at her. “Ava?”
Work with McKell? “Yes.” The thought gave her a small thrill, as well as another dose of that panic. Together … always … Wonderful, exciting. Addicting, doomed.
Mia nodded with satisfaction, crossed her arms, then unleashed the final question. “McKell. You know I’ll murder you dead if you harm another AIR agent, right?”
“Yes,” McKell replied, as unconcerned about that as he’d been about everything else.
“Good.” Mia grinned, a rare, genuinely amused grin. “Then we’re done here.”
Just like that, he’d been given a second chance. A real second chance, something that was as rare as Mia’s smile. Ava didn’t know whether to laugh, cry from sheer relief, or (accidentally) force McKell’s face to interact with her fist. All that worry, suddenly wiped clean. Thank God the need for his services had superseded the need for his punishment, otherwise this would have ended a lot differently.
Finally she decided. She laughed, a hysterical sound.
Mia and McKell shot her a strange look before Mia stood and motioned to the door. “Oh, and Ava,” she said before leaving. “You and Noelle are now officially on my team. Don’t disappoint me.”
Wait. What? Ava barely made it to her feet. “On your … team?” Maybe Mia had said “seam.” Or “beam.” Or even “cream.” Seemed too presumptuous to assume Ava had heard correctly.
McKell stood, as well, and wound an arm around her waist to hold her up.
“Yeah,” Mia said. “You passed your trainee test, so you’re hired. Now go. Get out of here. You two have a queen to find.” She paused. “Word of warning, though, Agent Sans. You’re in charge of McKell. Which means if he messes up, hurts a civilian, you’ll take the brunt of the blame. Cool?”
McKell stiffened, but the reaction didn’t really register.
Agent Sans. Freaking Agent Sans. “C-cool.” She could only gape as Mia walked away, her mind still whirling. She was an agent. A real agent. No longer in training. This was a dream come true. Because she’d done it; she’d proven herself worthy.
“I have to tell Noelle,” she squeaked, turning in McKell’s arms to face him. She was trembling uncontrollably.
“Congratulations.” At first, she thought he meant to kiss her. Then he canted his head to the side, his expression becoming pensive, his gaze faraway. “Apparently Mia called her earlier. Noelle’s even waiting for us outside, a few of the trainees with her. They’re supposed to help us hunt the queen.”
Still in shock, head now buzzing, feeling as if she were floating, Ava fisted his shirt. “How do you know?”
“I just heard Mia inform the guards.”
“In the hallway?” Ava listened and heard … only that annoying buzz in her head, she realized. When would it stop? When would her feet settle back on the ground?
“Nice trick.” She’d just have to remember to watch her mouth whenever he was nearby. No way she wanted him to overhear her telling Noelle how sexy he was. Or anything else she might wax poetic about him.
He leaned down and nuzzled her cheek. “Well, your blood makes me strong.”
The reminder sobered her, and the buzzing faded. Her feet hit cold concrete. She suddenly wished they hadn’t.
One of her dreams had just come true; she’d just realized how much she liked this man, maybe even wanted some kind of future with him; and yet, she still wasn’t complete. With just a few words, he’d put her back in her place. Blood donor. He might like her, defend her, protect her, even enjoy her, but in the end, that was the string that held them together.
Not true. You’re just looking for reasons to dump him now that you know he means more to you than anyone else ever has. You’re trying to find a way out of those decisions you need to make. Like turning from human to vampire. Like trusting him with her eternity. Like sharing all that she was, all that she would be. Like letting go of her fears, trusting him with not just her eternity but her heart and her concerns, believing that he felt the same and would never leave if, say, her blood no longer sustained him.
A lump grew in her throat. Maybe she was looking for reasons to dump him. Maybe not. Now wasn’t the time to ponder. “Let’s get this hunt started, then.” Suddenly cold despite the heat he radiated, she pulled from him. “We have a lot to do.”
He frowned. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
Sweetheart. He’d never called her sweetheart before, and she fell a little harder for him. What’s wrong? he’d asked. The truth wouldn’t appeal, but neither would a lie suffice. “Come on. We’ll talk later.”