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TA White

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A bag full of donut holes, five giant chocolate bars, and three cases of Diet Coke were going to be the death of me. Not literally—we vampires were a little more difficult to kill than that—but emotionally? Financially? Definitely.

I looked up from the assortment in front of me to the customer radiating impatience.

“The sign said free snacks with purchase,” the woman explained again.

My gaze shifted from her to the sign—the bane of my current existence. I don’t know how it got out of the storage room—again—but I was going to take a pair of very sharp scissors to it as soon as I got rid of this woman.

It did indeed say, ‘free snacks with purchase’, but it wasn’t meant to be used the way the customer intended. The deal only applied to one free item, not eight. My only saving grace was the date tacked on the bottom.

“Ma’am, that deal expired at midnight.” My cheeks hurt from the polite smile I kept pinned on my face. It had been stuck there, becoming increasingly strained, for the last five minutes as we went over the same argument again and again.

The sign’s promise expired two hours ago, which was when I’d moved it to the storage room, thankful to be done with it. It had caused nothing but trouble since I’d come on shift. Whoever wrote the stupid thing made it needlessly vague. All night I’d had to explain its true meaning so customers didn’t succeed in clearing out the store of all valuable merchandise.

I was done with the whole issue. Done. And one annoying woman who didn’t know when to quit wasn’t going to force me to surrender.

“Then why is the sign still out?” she argued. “That’s false advertising.”

I kept my frustrated sigh internal, the polite smile turning even more strained. “I’m so sorry for the confusion, ma’am. We haven’t had time to take it down.”

That was a lie. I’d already taken the stupid thing down. Twice. Each time it somehow found its way back into the front of the store. At this point, I knew there was someone or something messing with me. As soon as I got rid of this customer, I planned to hunt them down and show them exactly why irritated vampires should be left alone.

The woman’s mouth pursed in a frown as she looked around the empty gas station as if to call me on the lie, her expression clearly stating she thought laziness had more to do with my predicament than anything else.

“Whether you had time or not, the fact remains that you have a sign promising me these things for free. I expect you to live up to that promise.” Her expression soured and she lifted one perfectly groomed eyebrow as if daring me to argue.

Unfortunately for her, I could outstubborn even the most persistent of customers. My sire would be only too happy to inform her of the depths to which I could sink.

The woman was a few inches shorter than me. Her youth was far behind her and the years had softened her middle and face. She compensated for that with hair styled into a sleek bob, not a strand out of place, and a perfectly made-up face, complete with foundation and blush, despite the sweats she wore.

She was a study in contradictions, not the least of which was her passion to get twenty dollars’ worth of junk food for free. It baffled me. You would think it was a supersaver deal worth hundreds of dollars, given the amount of grief she’d heaped on my head since walking into the gas station ten minutes ago.

It might have been different if I thought she couldn’t afford it, but I’d seen the car she’d driven up in—a tricked out MDX, not an inexpensive car. There was no way she couldn’t afford twenty dollars, not when she was riding in a car that could have been a down payment on a house.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I can’t give you the reduced price. The system won’t let me,” I said, my smile stretching my cheeks. I tried to infuse it with some sympathy, a token of empathy—hard to do when I made minimum wage and didn’t have twenty dollars of my own to waste.

It was quickly becoming clear this job was not for me. When I lost my position with Hermes Courier Service, I’d known it would be difficult. I’d known things would be tight. I just hadn’t known how difficult and tight they would be.

Working at a gas station hadn’t been part of my five-year plan. It wasn’t the worst job I’d ever had, but it was definitely not where I thought I’d be at this stage of my life. It had quickly reinforced the knowledge that I wasn’t cut out for customer service. I needed a place where I could be my grumpy, antisocial self, not somewhere I had to smile on command and pretend I didn’t want to whack people on the back of the head sometimes.

Hermes had given me a certain autonomy that I very much missed. Employees were left to do a job unsupervised as long as pickups and deliveries were accomplished. Not quite the case at my current place of employment.

Despite that, I was lucky to have anything. Jobs that let you work only at night were few and far between, and since most of the spook world wouldn’t touch me with a five-foot pole given my status as a clanless vampire who’d been fired by Hermes, it meant my options limited.

I reminded myself that I needed this job. Rent was due in a week, and I was down to the last of my nest egg. If I wanted to keep a roof over my head, I couldn’t afford to alienate customers and risk getting fired.

“I want to talk to your manager,” the woman proclaimed in a ringing voice.

That’s what I was afraid of.

“Unfortunately, I’m the only one here right now,” I said in as polite a voice as I could muster.

This shift was the least busy, and as a result, the owners only staffed the gas station with one person. Me. The manager wouldn’t be here until mid-morning. That meant I was flying solo and all customer complaints went through me.

Lucky me.

The woman’s face turned cruel as a self-satisfied smirk twisted her lips. “How fortunate for me.”

I stiffened, the smile slowly falling from my face. Some instinct had me switching to the othersight of my left eye. I’d gotten better at controlling it, seeing the magic overlaying the world when I wanted, as opposed to when my eye felt like it.

Sure enough, the woman had a haze surrounding her, beautiful lights that twinkled and flared.

She definitely was not what she appeared. This was no housewife on a midnight binge or a mom desperate to get last minute supplies for a child’s party. She belonged to the same shadow world I did. A dangerous place, full of things that often posed as their more harmless counterparts.

I let my hand drop from view below the countertop and inched it toward the gun hidden by a “don’t look here” charm, even as I glanced up at the cameras pointed in our direction. Surely, she wouldn’t be so stupid as to try something in a place where normals could see and record the evidence.

There weren’t many rules in this shadow world, but one of the biggest was “don’t let the humans find out there were more things that went bump in the dark than they’d ever imagined.” It was the quickest way to earn your way onto a kill list.

Before I could do more, her hand flashed up as she threw something at me. My eye saw it as a dark blur that filled me with a sucking feeling of dread. I flinched instinctively, a shield of white flashing into existence between me and whatever it was. The dark blur struck it and boomeranged back to the woman, hitting her in the chest.

She staggered back with a grunt as the darkness slowly absorbed into her chest. She touched the spot where it had disappeared with an uneasy look on her face.

I don’t know which of us was more surprised over the turn of events. I blinked dumbly at her chest, grateful whatever she’d thrown hadn’t touched me.

Pain tightened the corners of her mouth and eyes as she glared at me over the chaos of the rebound. One of the cases of Diet Coke had exploded while the candy bars had melted into a pile of goo, escaping their wrappers to pool on the counter. The change dispenser was now on its side and the newspapers kept in a rack by the door were strewn everywhere.

“You need to go.” My voice was strong and rang with an authority I didn’t necessarily feel. “Now.”

She straightened, her back ramrod straight as she shot me a glare worthy of a grand lady from a period drama, one filled with haughty scorn and dislike.

She snatched her purse off the counter in an abrupt movement, tucking it under her arm. I watched her gather her stuff, my hand still on the gun, which was now aimed at her under the counter.

“Leave it,” I ordered when she tried to grab the donuts and the remaining intact cases of Diet Coke. My smile turned nasty. “Unless you’re planning to pay full price.”

Her expression grew livid. “You’ll get what’s coming to you, parasite.”

She lifted her gaze to the same cameras I’d glanced at earlier. Her smile turned sinister. She didn’t wait for my reply before turning and flouncing out of the gas station.

I released the breath I’d been holding and set the gun back into place. Things could have been worse. They could have been better too, but at least I was still alive.

I cast a resigned glance over the mess. I had quite a bit to clean up before dawn.

Not for the first time, I said a prayer of thanks for the charm Dahlia had given me to protect me against such unsavory encounters. I lifted the necklace with its thumb-length pendant from under my shirt.

To my left eye, it gleamed with a soft silver glow. That same glow was infused along the entirety of my own faint aura. This wasn’t the first time it had saved me from a magical attack, though it might be the last. A hairline crack ran through the middle of the stone.

I dropped it back under my shirt with a sigh. Jerry, the owner of Hermes, hadn’t been kidding when he said I’d become the number one target in town once he withdrew his protection. Over the last two months, it had become evident how many spooks had an axe to grind with vampires.

As the youngest vampire in the area, and the only one I knew of without the benefit of a clan’s protection, I was considered an easy mark. Where they wouldn’t dare challenge the vampires who were both stronger than me and possessed the full might of a clan at their back, they seemed to think killing me would settle whatever score they had, while resulting in the least amount of danger to themselves.

I’d like to say they were wrong, but they weren’t. Not entirely. As a baby vamp, I had very little personal power, except for a strange ability to see magic and a frustrating talent for finding trouble in the least likely of places. All things considered, I was significantly weaker than the weakest of spooks and all alone with no one to watch my back or avenge me should I fall. Not a good place to be when you were part of a species both envied and hated.

I sighed and looked up at the camera again. It had caught the entire confrontation on its recording. I’d have to watch it and see if the magic had shown up. Sometimes it didn’t. Magic was tricky. It didn’t always act the way you expected. If it did show up, I’d have to figure out an explanation for why an entire night’s recording was deleted.

But, first things first, I needed to deal with the dratted sign, in a way that meant it wouldn’t come back to cause me problems later.

I groped around under the counter, pulling out a box cutter before heading to the sign. It wasn’t a pair of scissors but would hopefully get the job done.

I rounded the counter and only made it a few steps before the lights flickered, the world around me darkening as if a thundercloud had invaded the postage stamp-sized store.

The dry rustle of old paper surrounded me. I realized with a start it was laughter. “Poor little vampire. Such trials you face. What’s she going to do now, I wonder?”

“Cry.”

“Surrender.”

“Bleed.”

“Die.”

Other voices echoed as they threw out their guesses.

“Perhaps we should put her out of her misery,” another voice suggested.

The theatrics were meant to be ominous, to inspire dread and fear. I remained unmoved, my expression unchanged. It seemed my tormentors had decided to make themselves known. Finally.

It was all very dramatic and might have worked had I not known an expert at this type of intimidation. The sorcerer was many things, showman included. Now there was a guy who could work a room. These punks were amateurs compared to him.

I focused, taking a look at the magic around me. Sure enough, the sign had little red prints all over it. Ones that appeared to be a cross between a small animal’s paw and a hand. That at least was vaguely creepy.

In the aisle, the shadows under the shelves deepened, becoming more dense than they should be under the fluorescent light. A normal would ascribe the shadows to a trick of the light. I knew better. Especially since I caught the impression of eyes and pointed teeth in the depths of some of those shadows.

Goblins.

I suppose it could be worse. Goblins weren’t typically considered dangerous, not unless they were part of a swarm or one of the higher goblins. These weren’t.

Thank all the gods.

I counted only five, three of whom were no bigger than my hand. Annoying but not deadly.

Sometimes it was the small wins that kept me going.

“I suggest you move along,” I told them, my smile widening to show my fangs. “My patience with your antics is fast disappearing.”

“Stupid vampire. We know you’re bluffing. You’re too weak to scare us.”

One goblin grew bold, drifting out from under the shelf and dropping some of its glamour.

The creature was no bigger than a house cat, slinking forward on all fours, its back rounded. Its skin had a dark green bordering on black tint to it.

I expected its form to be grotesque, as many folktales depicted it, but the little goblin wasn’t. It was sleek and streamlined, its face containing some human characteristics as well as something alien—something that made it all the more interesting to look at.

Its eyes were large pools of black, and sticking out of its forehead were tiny protrusions that might have been considered horns had they been a bit longer.

Like me, goblins were denizens of the night, even more susceptible to damage from the sun than a vampire.

There were many types of goblins, some powerful, some not. These looked to be minor goblins, the kind that could irritate and annoy but weren’t really dangerous.

I had to wonder if their presence here was a crime of opportunity or if someone had pointed the little assholes my way. Vampires weren’t really their preferred targets and I hadn’t done anything to draw their ire that I knew of.

“Are you sure about that?” I asked with a bravado I didn’t necessarily feel. “Because I know a couple of harpies who enjoy trying adventurous new foods. I’ve heard goblin blood is considered a delicacy among some circles.”

The goblin reared back as cries of “monster” echoed from the rest.

I leaned forward and gave them a sinister smile. “You leave me alone, and I’ll do the same for you.”

There was a dry rattling hiss as the goblins slunk away, the shadows they’d used for cover fading, until only the one who’d dropped his glamour remained.

“You’re more like your kind than you pretend.” The words were not a compliment.

“You think so?” I asked. “I don’t. Had another vampire been here, they would have killed you all without giving you the nice warning, just because you irritated them.”

I turned toward the sign. “Now me, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect peace in my place of business. I’ve got a lot of patience, but I won’t stand for you lot putting my job in jeopardy.”

I turned back to where the goblin should be, only to realize I was addressing an empty store. I sighed. Figures. At least I’d earned a little peace. That threat should keep them away for the rest of the week. After that, we would see.

I set about returning the store to its normal state of untidy orderliness. The first thing to go was the sign. I unhooked it from its stand and dragged it outside. The thin poster board was about the same height as me. It was awkward more than anything, as I carefully carried it around the side of the building.

Cutting it into small, jagged strips was harder than I’d thought. The box cutter didn’t want to slice through the thick paper, the blade dull and useless. Eventually I tossed it aside after checking to make sure there were no prying eyes or cameras watching. Finding myself alone, I grasped the sign in my hands before ripping it apart piece by piece.

Having a vampire’s strength came in handy sometimes. This was one of those times.

After reducing the sign to about twenty small pieces, I threw it in the dumpster and turned back to the interior of the station. I’d like to see them reassemble that, I thought with an evil smile.

Next, I gathered up the burst soda cans and carried them to the dumpster along with any other un-salvageable items.

I tried to save what I could, tidying the newspapers strewn about and returning the change dispenser to its normal position. A stray case of Diet Coke and a few candy bars probably wouldn’t be missed. Much more than that, and the owners might try to take some of the damaged goods out of my paycheck. I couldn’t afford the loss of income. I just had to hope and pray no one did inventory for a while.

The rest of my shift was uneventful. Only two more customers ventured inside—both human—both content to pay and go about their business without even a grunted word of greeting.

After an interminably long time, five a.m. finally rolled around.

My replacement dragged in muttering, “Good morning,” around a wide yawn.

“Tough night?” I asked Josie as another yawn cracked her jaw.

“The best kind,” she said, before making a beeline for the coffee machine.

For a gas station with ninety-nine cent coffee, its flavor wasn’t half bad. At least, that’s what I’d been told. Food and I were on a break at the moment, and beverages like coffee were one of the many things I couldn’t have.

Josie had dark circles under her eyes that said she’d probably been out partying until the early morning. Her hair was a snarled mess, barely restrained in a messy bun at the top of her head.

“Any problems?” she asked.

I shook my head. “Pretty quiet.”

By some miracle, the cameras hadn’t caught anything from my earlier encounter that might reveal the spook world. I looked mildly crazy at one point talking to myself, but that was about it.

“I don’t know how you stand that shift. I would go insane,” Josie said with a shudder.

I shrugged. “It’s not that bad. I get to catch up on my reading at least.”

Josie did a faceplant on the counter. Her words came out garbled, but I thought she said something like, “Books, bleh.”

I revised my earlier opinion regarding the dark circles being a result of partying.

“Studying not going well, I take it.”

A muffled response came along the lines of, “Studying sucks.”

Josie was in college, studying to be a nurse. She worked here for rent and spending money.

She raised her head off the counter, a crease mark on her cheek. “It’s pretty dead in here. I don’t think we’ll pick up again until closer to rush hour. You’re welcome to take off if you’d like.”

I hesitated, glancing outside and calculating how much time I had left until sunrise. It was early September and the sun wouldn’t be up until nearly seven. Plenty of time to bike home and be under the covers of my own bed before the pesky ball of fire in the sky put me out for the day.

As a baby vamp, my tolerance to the sun was a lot less than a vampire a century or so older. It meant I had to be careful, always keeping one eye on my watch. The sun probably wouldn’t kill me, not as long as I was topped up on blood. Death from sun exposure was a myth, one created after a few starved, weakened vampires caught fire after exposure. For vampires at their peak strength, it was a pesky irritant capable of giving you the worst sunburn of your life. For me, it would put me into a coma-like sleep—the kind you didn’t wake up from easily—no matter how much someone shook and slapped you.

Still, I was torn. The extra money would be nice. Summer was killing my wallet. Reduced hours of dark meant limiting my working hours, leaving me to get by on the bare minimum. I was looking forward to winter and increasing my hours and paycheck.

Accurately reading my hesitation, Josie propped her cheek on a hand and gave me a sleepy smile. “Here’s a tip. If you check out at the forty-minute mark, you still get paid for the entire hour.”

“Really?”

She nodded. “I’m not supposed to share that because they don’t want people taking advantage. Owen let me do that a few times when I was prepping for finals.”

Somehow that didn’t surprise me. The manager, Owen, had a huge crush on Josie and let her get away with things the rest of us couldn’t.

“Alright, I’ll stay until then,” I agreed.

She slapped the counter and straightened, her face brightening. “Great, now I don’t have to suffer through the next hour by myself.”

The remaining time passed quickly. Josie, it turned out, was pretty funny and made a good work buddy. She kept a running commentary on the customers who stopped to pump gas or come inside.

Before I knew it, I was clocking out and wheeling my bike from the storage room. I took a moment to look it over, not trusting the goblins had left it alone. Surprisingly, they hadn’t touched it; something I was grateful for.

As my only means of transportation, I was serious about the bike’s care and upkeep. Had they messed with it, I might actually have made good on my threat.

Or maybe not.

There was still an hour before I needed to be home. Plenty of time to bike there. The stars were beginning to fade as the sun prepared for its ascent. First light, which typically began half an hour before true sunrise, was still thirty minutes away.

The normal lethargy that plagued me during first light was still absent, but it wouldn’t be long now. It was a reminder of my limits. I could feel the sun in my chest as it lingered just under the horizon. The sensation would steadily grow stronger as sunrise approached.

Home was a second story walk-up on the outskirts of the university district. It was a plain, two story brick building composed of townhome style apartments. Mine was on the second story. I’m not sure if my place had originally been intended to be a one room apartment since the rest of the units were 2 story units, or if someone had gotten greedy for extra rent and turned the second floor into a stand-alone apartment.

When I’d first settled here, the entire complex had been little more than a slum. Since the new owner had taken over, they’d begun renovating the place, bringing everything up to code.

You’d think I’d be happy about that. Unfortunately, the new owner happened to be my sire, Thomas—a vampire I would gladly avoid for the rest of my undead life. Such was not to be, given his propensity for interference.

The cracked, unusable parking lot had been replaced and was now smooth, with sharp white lines delineating parking spots. One of them held the black Escalade my sire had given me as a gift. I still hadn’t touched it or figured out what I was going to do with it. Not that it mattered anymore, since I couldn’t even afford the gas it would take to fill it.

Gifts from vampires, I’d learned, always came with a set of strings attached to them. My sire seemed determined to get his hooks into me by any means possible, and I was just as determined to steer clear of them.

Everything to do with my sire involved hidden agendas and things not always being what they appeared. I couldn’t trust anything he did or said. I didn’t like being used, and I preferred to control my own destiny. It left me in a precarious predicament.

It didn’t help that he wasn’t afraid to use his power as my landlord to fuck with me either, as evidenced by the partially completed set of stairs to my unit.

It was not lost on me that construction on them halted right around the time I refused to use the mansion as my temporary lodging. I liked having my own place. Say what you will about the building’s condition, but I’d turned it into a home. I wasn’t willing to give that up. Not even for the opulent lodgings of the mansion.

Thomas thought by taking away my stairs he could force my hand. Not the case. As with everything in life, I adapted, and I overcame. Granted, it wasn’t easy and was growing increasingly annoying, but until my sire bored of this game, I was stuck finding new and inventive ways to access my own apartment.

I pulled a harness out of my backpack and slid into it. Once done, I shifted my backpack to my front before attaching the hooks in the back of the harness to the bike. I would have loved to leave my bike down here, but a couple of the college kids liked to play pranks. I couldn’t trust it would be here when I got back. That left me in the unenviable position of having to lug it upstairs every night.

I set one hand on the wall and began my climb, taking advantage of the easy handholds formed by the half-built stairs.“You’re just making things worse. He’ll find another way to get to you until you stop being so stubborn,” a voice said from below.

Liam’s bright blue eyes danced as he gave me a fierce grin, the sort of happy expression a dragon might make right before it chomped on you. It was all the warning I got before he swept my leg out from under me. I hit the mat with a grunt, surprised and startled at his speed.

When would I learn?

I sat up, frowning, even as I rubbed the offended spot on my backside. It was the exact same butt cheek on which he’d dumped me three times so far.

“What were you saying about old men?” he asked, not showing an ounce of repentance for my pain.

I grumbled as I leveraged myself to my feet again, debating the odds I’d land a worthwhile blow before this session was done. Not good, I was thinking.

In the two months since these training sessions had become a regular occurrence, I’d only landed a legitimate punch—not glancing or blocked—a handful of times. Worse, was the suspicion he was still holding back with me.

“They should know when they’ve become fossils and find a deep dark hole to crawl into,” I fired back.

His grin flashed. “When the children prove they’re good for blowing more than hot air, maybe they will.”

I couldn’t help my amused snort.

Much to my surprise, I was starting to enjoy these weekly sessions with Liam. He was growing on me—like fungus.

He knew it too and took full advantage whenever he could, pushing my boundaries just a little bit more each time, making his interest obvious.

It was an interest I returned, enjoying the flirting and banter these nights inevitably brought.

“Have you given any more thought to my proposal?” he asked as I started stretching out my kinks.

He hadn’t yet indicated the match would resume. Until he did, I was going to give my poor, abused muscles the care they deserved.

“Let me think. Being at your beck and call with a bunch of enforcers—half of whom dislike me—as my bosses. Not sure how I feel about that,” I said, wincing as a particularly tight spot protested the movement.

“Becoming part of a team and getting paid a living wage. Not really sure what the issue is,” Liam shot back.

I frowned at him. He’d gotten good at finding arguments that would have the best chance of influencing me. It demonstrated an understanding of what drove me and was slightly disconcerting, given his inclination towards manipulation.

Much as I hated to admit it, he had several valid points. The money especially, would be welcome.

“I’m still waiting for you to show me the bright side in all this,” I complained.

“Be here Friday night and I will.”

Oh. A field trip—that sounded interesting.

“Will you make it worth my while?” I asked, a playful note entering my voice.

His smirk turned seductive, his eyes half-lidded as he gave me the look a man gives a woman he’s attracted to. “Show up Friday and find out.”

I couldn’t contain my small laugh, choking it back before he took it as a sign of encouragement. Until I knew which direction I wanted to go, I found it best not to give the vampire any bright ideas. He took every opening as an invitation to push harder, displaying a distinct resemblance to a battering ram.

Avoidance and ignoring the charge between us wouldn’t work much longer. I needed to make a choice.

I frowned at him as I remembered all the reasons he and I were not a good idea—starting with the fact his loyalty to the vampires would always outweigh anything he felt toward me.

Then there was his age. He wasn’t just a few decades older than me. He was centuries. Three to four hundred years older, at least. Some of the things he’d let slip made me think he could be even older. Thinking about it was enough to make my teeth hurt.

His gaze flickered as his attention fastened on something behind me. I turned to see Eric standing at the edge of the gym, the normally reserved enforcer appearing even more intense than normal.

That was odd. Liam’s enforcers didn’t typically interrupt during our training periods.

Whatever message he brought must be important.

“We’ll end here for the night,” Liam said.

My eyes lingered on Eric for a beat longer as I tilted my head in question. Yes, whatever this was about, was very important.

Curiosity took hold. I shook my head, mentally rejecting the urge. As tempting as it was to ask questions and pry into matters that most likely didn’t concern me, that was a good way to get drawn deeper into vampire politics. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that step yet.

“And here I thought vampires were supposed to have stamina for days,” I said as I bent to grab my shoes from the edge of the mat.

Liam stepped closer and trailed a stolen touch across my shoulder. Goosebumps skated down my spine. I stilled.

“I would be glad to show you just how long my stamina can last,” he said, a seductive smile edged with sly humor taking over his face. “On the mats, of course,” he added as an afterthought.

Amusement invaded and I cocked my head, taking pleasure in the game. “Another time—perhaps when dreams become reality.”

Appreciation at the jab passed over his face as he inclined his head.

I sauntered away, saying over my shoulder, “See you Friday.”

*

I bounded up the steps of the clan’s mansion Friday night, anticipation and eagerness giving me urgency. I had a good feeling about tonight.

Drinks with Caroline had cleared my head and given me much needed perspective when it came to what I wanted out of life. I’d been stuck in survival mode for so long that sometimes I forgot the other things in life. Maybe it was time to loosen up and live again.

Liam could be the beginning of that, starting with my taking him up on his proposal of a field trip.

Afterwards, we’d see where the night led. Either way, I was tired of fighting this attraction between us.

I walked into the gym with a smile on my face. “I’ve thought about what you said and I’d like to take you up on it. You were right.”

Nathan straightened from his stretch, looking up in surprise. “What am I right about?”

I ground to a halt and frowned. “What’re you doing here? Where’s Liam?”

“He’ll be gone for a while. He asked me to take over your training in the meantime.”

Everything in me went still. “For how long?”

Nathan shrugged. “Don’t know. The mission is hush-hush. Until then, you’ve got yours truly.”

My nod was slow. Liam had left.

All the anticipation I’d felt moments before drained away, leaving behind ice.

“Something wrong?”

I was quiet.

“Nope.” I gave my head a slight shake.

Nothing. Nothing was wrong. Liam had a job. He didn’t owe me any explanations.

“What was Liam right about?” Nathan asked, his eyebrows climbing in question.

I jerked my attention back to Nathan. It took a second for me to form words. “He said my form needed work and my endurance was still lacking.”

Nathan pursed his lips, as he gave me a slightly disbelieving look. He shrugged his broad shoulders a second later. “Don’t you worry, cupcake. I’ll get you into top shape. He won’t ever complain about your endurance again.”

My smile was strained. “Sounds good.”

When he returned to stretching, my smile faded, and I rubbed my forehead. My excitement had turned to ash in my mouth. I should have known better.I was alone in this. Liam and Nathan felt a duty to help someone who’d gotten a rotten start. That was all. They were free to come and go as they pleased. It’d be best not to forget that or form attachments that wouldn’t last.Type your paragraph here.

Dawn's Envoy

Chapter One

Prologue

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