Phoenix Freed, page 10
“Easily? You mean tripping a hidden latch in a secret storage room and finding an invisible object in the even more concealed space? That easy?”
Okay, he might have a point.
She shrugged. “So it might be the Orb.”
“How do we find out?”
Above them the shrill shriek of Cody’s cell echoed down. She glanced up again, saw the open door they’d fallen through. The small rectangle of light was too high for them to have any chance of getting out.
The phone cut off and immediately started ringing again.
“Someone really wants to get a hold of you,” she said, clutching the object to her chest, feeling oddly protective of it. Magic pulsed within its concealed depths, a type of power that called to her.
That thought was so unnerving that she gave the object—hopefully, the Orb—to Cody, who tucked it into the pocket of his jeans.
“I’m sure it’s not serious,” he said. “Probably Tyler hoping to interrupt something good.”
It took a second for her to understand his meaning, the smirk stretching his lips. She gave him a mock-glare. “Ten minutes ago and he would have.”
Cody chuckled. “True.”
“So now what?” she asked, ignoring the little jolt of smug satisfaction creeping across the bond. Because she was satisfied, but knew damn well that he was too. “Can you fly us up there?”
“Possibly, but I’m worried I might run out of juice halfway up.”
“I can help—”
A vibration trembled through her, shaking her legs, and making her feet unsteady. She didn’t realize she was so exhausted. Though it had been awhile since she’d eaten. Add in the emotional turmoil—
Except that it wasn’t her body.
It was the floor.
The tremor flowed through the room—rattling the shelves, knocking debris around the room, making her scramble for a few heartbeats. Then Cody grabbed her and pulled her to the floor. He covered her with his body, shielding her from the unknown.
“I thought you didn’t have earthquakes in Kansas?” she teased, after the rattling had ceased. An earthquake that small was nothing to a true Californian.
“Consider this me eating my words.”
She stood when he slid off her. “Now what?”
“Now we use our emergency backup and hope to hell that he can find us.” Along the bond, she sensed Cody settling his mind, preparing the information about their location so he could send it mentally when he contacted Dominic.
“He’d better bring a rope.”
“The damn kitten in the damn tree,” Cody muttered half an hour later as Dominic and John pulled the pair of them up and out of the hole.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the rescue from Dumb and Dumber up there.” It was a grumble, a pout whose purpose was to keep her talking, to draw her focus from the fact that they were currently dangling twenty-plus feet in the air. “We’re the dumb-ass cats stuck in a tree, waiting for the firefighters to come save us.”
“Will they wear uniforms?” she asked, playing along.
He made a sound of disgust though his amusement coursed along their connection.
“You’re cute when you complain,” she said instead of calling him on his diversionary tactic. They were both anxious about what they’d find on the surface.
The earthquake had done more than shake the floor, it had sent Daughtry’s instincts into the red zone.
“Almost there,” Dominic grunted.
She looked up and saw that he was right. The hole through which they’d fallen was just a few feet above their heads.
When they got close enough, Cody grabbed her waist and shoved her through into the storage room. Strong hands closed around her arms.
“Got you,” John told her.
“Thanks,” she said, her stomach clenching slightly at the sight of him.
It was an impossible standard that she was holding him to—she knew that—and yet it was difficult to let go of the hurt.
His grip loosened, a flash of regret passing across his face. Backing up a step, she watched Cody emerge from the hole.
He glanced from John to her. "Okay?"
“Just your friendly neighborhood reminder: I’m still here and I can still hear you,” Dominic said.
Cody ignored him. "Okay?" he asked again.
Daughtry sensed his need to argue then his decision to let her terse explanation slide. No doubt he’d interrogate her later.
For now, she took advantage of the reprieve.
“Why didn’t you use magic to pull us up?” she asked.
John shrugged, a glance passing between him and Cody. When he looked at her, a trace of mischievousness had entered his eyes. “A rope is simpler. Using magic is too slow. Too imprecise. Too much work.”
Daughtry studied him. “And also less manly?”
John shook his head, “Of course not—”
“Of course it was,” Dominic said at the same time.
“But more importantly,” John said with a glare. “Dante wants us to save our magic.”
“What are you talking about?” she started to ask.
Cody had already begun a line of questioning that she scrambled to keep up with. “How many?”
“How many points of attack?”
“Did they get through?”
“No.” A pause. “But the shield is weakened.”
“Fuck.” "The Dalshie are coming back."
“Seems so,” Dominic said in response to Cody’s thought.
The weight of her father’s necklace seemed to grow heavier around her throat as a sense of dread filled her. If the Dalshie were coming back, and if the shield was weakened, every innocent in the Colony was at risk.
John spoke, seeming to read the direction of her mind before she had even grasped it herself. It was so similar to how things had been before—before Cody, before Caroline—that it buoyed her despite the circumstances. “Dante’s already begun prepping the evacuations.”
“Is there even somewhere safe to go?” she asked.
“Morgan and Mason have gone to scout out several possibilities.”
“We need to hold the Colony,” Cody said.
Daughtry turned and studied his face, startled by the savage determination on his face. It shouldn’t have surprised her—that vehemence—because the Colony was Cody’s home, the single place where he’d been able to carve out a niche of acceptance.
Her fingers found his and squeezed hard. “We will.”
The floor beneath her feet began to vibrate again, the artifacts on the shelf rattled, but this time it was terrifying because she knew it wasn’t a rogue Kansas earthquake, but an assault.
Her eyes shot to Cody’s and she studied the fierceness of his expression, the warrior calm that had extended throughout his limbs. He was poised, ready for attack.
Which was precisely what the Dalshie were doing to the place they called home.
“It won’t be easy,” John said, once the floor had stopped rolling.
To save themselves, the Colony, the lives of their people.
“I know,” she said. “But I’m willing to do what it takes.”
Because, dammit, if everyone was going to fight to save her, to save the Rengalla and the Colony, then she was going to do her part.
Find the Orb, if it wasn’t currently in her pocket. Figure out how it worked and also . . . try Bond Magic.
Her fears hadn’t completely disappeared.
There was still a small part of her that worried her powers would overwhelm her, that she might hurt someone she cared about, lose herself behind the mask of immorality and cruelty that was to be a Dalshie.
But those worries didn’t dominate her mind any longer. She was capable. Strong—
Another tremor rocked the floor, but Cody caught her before she could fall. The approval she saw on his face, the confidence across the bond helped her to push the last of those fears aside.
If they were going to succeed at this, it would be together. They’d figure out how to combine their magic and protect their people.
The room stopped shaking and John started toward the wall they’d entered through.
She frowned. “Um, John. How are we going to get out? The entrance—”
Her words were cut off as he simply stepped through the wall and back into the hallway. Dominic followed suit.
Daughtry and Cody exchanged a long look.
“Seriously?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Apparently now that we’ve found what we needed, the room is prepared to let us go.”
“You make it sound like it’s sentient or something.”
Cody tugged her to the wall. “Not exactly, but someone must have prepared the magic in advance.” His fingers pressed at the seemingly solid panel of stone in front of them . . . and passed right through.
“Do you think—?” Could her father have been the one who’d done it? Had he set it up so that she’d receive the box with its note inside, and come searching? Had he known the Orb, if that was what it was, was beneath their feet?
Her kidnapping had messed up the timing of that but—
Soft fingers brushed across her cheek. “Yes,” Cody said softly. “I think your father has been at play here more than we realized.”
She touched the note tucked safely in her pocket. It was written in her father’s hand, an expression of unconditional love that she’d tried so hard not to want, but had desperately desired anyway. Her throat was tight, but in a good way for a change. Someone had cared enough about her to take precautions for her future. Had believed in her ability to be good, had faith that she would fight on the right side.
Cody took a step toward her and cupped her cheeks in his palms. “Oh, cowgirl. You—”
John’s head popped back into the room. “You’re not playing kissy-face in here, are you?” He took in the pair of them, standing close, touching thigh to chest. “Oh jeez, you are.”
Daughtry laughed, a small chuckle that did everything to relieve the tension from her body. Hearing the six-foot-plus, muscled block that was John say kissy-face was ridiculous.
“Not exactly,” she said.
"Only because we got that out of our systems before they got here."
"That might be true." Except for the out of their systems part because her body was so hooked on Cody that it seemed impossible she would ever be fully over him.
"La. La. La," Dominic thought.
“Come on,” she said aloud. To Dominic, she thought, "You really know how to cramp a girl’s style."
"Smutty thoughts aren’t appropriate for work time."
"If you knew how to shield then my smutty thoughts wouldn’t be your issue." She stopped and winced, thinking that she’d crossed the line between suggestion and pushy. "Sorry. I know you can’t help it."
The single word held a wealth of information. It was tinged with irritation, laced with relief, filled with frustration. Six little letters combined to tell Daughtry that there was more to Dominic’s story than there appeared. Enough that she was going to drop the entire thing.
Because she knew what it was like to be pushed.
The wall passed over her like a second skin as she walked into the hallway. A glance up at Dominic assured her that he wasn’t too irritated at her, then Cody was behind her and she knew it was time to focus.
The Dalshie were coming.
And she was about to attempt magic that might kill them all.
Caroline stood in the hall when she and Cody emerged.
Daughtry’s feet slid to a stop, her first instinct was for her to use Cody as a human shield, her second that she could stand up for herself.
She settled on something in between.
Standing next to Cody, she waved John and Dominic on. “What do you need Caroline?” Look at that. Her voice was completely neutral. A foreign expression—or foreign to Daughtry, because she’d never seen such a breadth of emotions cross Cody’s sister’s face. Regret was tinged with frustration. Worry mixed with anger. And guilt. Remorse did not look good on Caroline.
“Can I talk to you?” she asked.
Daughtry nodded and started to move off, ready to let Cody talk to his sister.
“No,” Caroline said. “Not Cody.”
A frown pulled down her brows. “You want to talk to me?”
“Should I frisk you for knives?”
Cody chuckled along the bond even as Caroline sighed.
“You sure you want to do this now?” he thought.
“No better time than the present.” Daughtry thought back, having decided a long time before that she didn’t want to be the cause of dissension between herself and Caroline—
“She did that all on her own. Cowgirl—“
“Go ahead,” she said aloud. “I’ll talk to Caroline and meet you at Tyler’s.”
They needed to talk to him now that they’d thought they might have found the Orb—see if he’d remembered anything further about it or what the Dalshie’s plans were.
“Will you make sure that Brigette and Laila get out safely?” she added along the bond. Brigette wasn’t helpless, exactly—she was a strong, capable woman—but she didn’t know how to fight the Dalshie and Daughtry didn’t want her hurt.
“Of course,” Cody murmured then leaned in and kissed her. It wasn’t a soft press of his mouth, nor one remotely appropriate for a public place—let alone in front of his sister, but by the time he’d pulled back, she’d decided she didn’t care.
“I love you,” he murmured. To Caroline, “You’ll be nice or—”
Caroline touched his arm. “I know.”
Cody stared at her for a long moment then nodded. “Okay.”
“If you need me,” he thought. “I’ll be here.”
A second later he disappeared around the corner and Daughtry was left alone with Caroline.
Who just stared at her and didn’t speak.
It didn’t take long for the silence to become uncomfortable. She shifted from foot to foot, glancing between Caroline and the muted murals. Just when she was about to fill the silence with unnecessary babbling, Cody’s sister spoke.
The two words were so completely unexpected that Daughtry felt her mouth fall open.
“You don’t have to look so shocked,” Caroline snapped.
Daughtry recovered. “I do. Really, I do.”
“Look. I was wrong about you,” Caroline said. “I understand that now. Cody is happier with you.”
“He’s important to me.” Actually, he was everything, but Daughtry didn’t feel the need to share that with Caroline.
“I know.” Caroline’s chin dropped. “I don’t want to like you.”
Amusement filled Daughtry and she felt her lips tug up. “You don’t have to.”
“I kind of do,” Caroline said. “We’re family now.”
Daughtry’s heart skipped a beat and her eyes stung. It wasn’t like a two-minute conversation could erase everything, but it was a start. “Just think of me as the annoying older sister. You know, the one who won’t share her clothes? Or let you use her makeup?”
“You do realize that I’m almost ninety years older than you, right?”
Caroline smiled and it wasn’t laced with hatred or sarcasm or whatever else she’d felt toward Daughtry in the past. “You’re all right.”
Cody was already in Tyler’s cell by the time Daughtry got there.
“All of the women and children have been evac
“Do you think they’ll be safe?” she asked.
“It’s our best hope.”
Her eyes flicked to Tyler, who lay prone on the bed. His hand lay palm up on the crisp cotton sheet, seeming very dark against the white fabric.
“How’s the wound?”
“Completely healed,” Cody said. “He’ll be in the next round of evacuations.”
“Not good.” Tyler’s eyes flicked open. “I should be here fighting, not herded off like a damn child.”
“You’re in no shape to fight,” Daughtry countered.
“And you’re such a warrior yourself?” he snapped.
“Tyler,” Cody warned.
“It’s okay,” she thought.
It only took a few strides for her to cross the room, to pick up Tyler’s stained hand.
He recoiled and tried to pull back.
“Stop it,” she murmured, holding tight. “And you’re in worse shape than you’re trying to pass off if you can’t even get free from me.”
“You have freakishly strong hands.”
A laugh escaped her. “Oh Tyler, you’ll be okay.”
Some of the fight left him and he relaxed against the bed. “I guess I’m not in the best shape to defeat an army of Dalshie. Is this what it was like for you when you were recovering?
Daughtry remembered the bone-deep fatigue, the phantom pains and, worse, the nightmares.
He extracted his hand with a grin. “Trickery and guile, Dee. You should know better.”
“You’re an idiot,” she said, but the happiness practically bubbled in her veins. Because this laughing, joking man was her friend. Impulsively, she leaned down to hug him. “I’m so glad you’re back. You have no idea.”
His arms came up, and gave her a light squeeze. “I always knew you’d fall for me.”
Cody made a sound that could only be described as a growl.
“Better back up before he takes my head off.”
“He’d never hurt you,” she said.
“Yes, he would—“
“Yes, I would—“
“Seriously, sometimes that Y chromosome makes you guys stupid.” She paused. “Have you remembered anything else about the Orb?”