Under the Moon (Goddesses Rising), page 14
That was when Quinn forced herself to stop thinking.
Nick actually let her drive when he got tired, and whenever they stopped for gas she woke him up and stayed with him almost every minute. He was in and out so fast when it was his turn to use the restroom, she wasn’t sure he did anything.
They got back to Benton Harbor in record time. The car hadn’t even stopped next to the green sedan in front of the cabin before Sam barreled out the door. He swept Quinn into his arms, her feet dangling, and hugged her tight.
She rested her head on his shoulder and squeezed him, grateful to have him to come back to. Who needed blood family? “Thank Nick.”
“I know.” He set her down but kept an arm around her. “He didn’t give up. You should have heard him when he followed those guys. Thank you, Nick.”
Nick gave him an inscrutable look while he lifted the bags out of the trunk. Quinn knew why. Sam sounded like a grateful husband. She slipped out from under his arm and went to the car for her bag.
“They weren’t trying very hard to hide,” Nick said. “And she escaped on her own. I was just the pickup.”
“Still.” Sam stepped forward to take some of Nick’s load, but Nick sidestepped him and went into the cabin.
Sam looked down at Quinn. “What’s with him?”
“I don’t know.” Fear and relief might have driven Nick to kiss her, but she had no idea what he was thinking now. When he’d first been assigned as her protector and they’d grown close, Quinn tried to talk about the “something more” that filled the air when they were together. Nick had blocked her so sharply he’d left no room for discussion. He was a protector, right to the bone, and protectors did not get involved with goddesses. Even as young and inexperienced as she was then, Quinn understood his conviction came from the heart, not an externally imposed rule. His personal feelings didn’t matter. He would never tell her what he wanted.
She’d accepted it then and hadn’t ever tried to change it, never mind what Nick had come to mean to her. She didn’t think she could change it now, despite his lapse the other night. And if that were so, Nick didn’t have much right to jealousy.
The front door yawned open, the flickering light inside beckoning. Sam watched her, then turned his speculative gaze on the house.
“Tell me about my sister,” Quinn said to head him off as she led him inside.
Sam picked up a sheaf of papers lying on the table. “Her name is Marley Canton and she lives in Maine.”
“Never heard of her,” Nick called from the bedroom.
Neither had Quinn, so did that mean she wasn’t a goddess? Marley. Quinn let the name roll through her head. If Marley wasn’t a goddess, that could mean she wasn’t the attacker. But it also gave a potential motive, if she was jealous of Quinn’s power or considered it demonic or something. Quinn scoffed at a prick of hurt. It was far too early to be thinking of building family relationships.
“How did you find her?” she asked Sam.
“Birth certificate with your birth parents’ names on it. The correct names.” Sam shot Nick a dirty look as he came out into the main room.
“You must have read it wrong,” Nick said.
“If your handwriting was better, I wouldn’t have.” Sam settled at the table in his usual position in front of the laptop. Today he wore a snug T-shirt, and his arms flexed as he worked the keyboard. Quinn sat on the couch and glanced up at Nick. He looked back at her, then at Sam, and chose a chair far from either of them.
Quinn took a deep breath against the far larger ache that didn’t care how much she understood Nick and his motivations. A rejection was a rejection.
Concentrate. She considered what Sam had said about the birth certificate. “Both my birth parents were listed?”
“They’re still married, as far as I can tell.” Sam looked apologetic.
“Did they keep her? Marley?” She couldn’t help asking the question but wasn’t surprised when he nodded. It was what she’d always feared. They hadn’t wanted her, not even enough to find her after she’d grown up.
“She’s a registered goddess, but inactive.” Sam picked up the folder with the database information and stretched to hand it to her.
“What’s her power source?” Quinn flipped open the folder to scan the roster. She didn’t know what she expected. Some kind of zing of recognition when she saw her name in black and white, maybe. An invisible weight pressed on her, and she glanced up to meet Nick’s eyes. Instead of distant and reserved, they were warm, encouraging. Quinn flushed and looked back down, flustered. She wasn’t sure how to interpret that, and she was too raw to try right now.
She forced herself to concentrate on the roster. Sam had highlighted Marley’s listing, the word “crystals” circled as her power source.
“She can pretty much bring her power anywhere she goes,” Sam said.
“Son of a bitch,” Nick growled, clearly taking that as evidence against Marley.
Sam frowned at him. “I don’t know what level her power is. Crystals have been used as a focusing medium for centuries, so—”
“It could be limitless,” Quinn finished. She set the folder down and covered her face with her hands, resting her burning eyes.
“You’re not reacting like I expected,” Sam said. “What’s wrong?”
“She’s not overjoyed that she has a powerful goddess sister who might be evil.” Nick moved to sit next to her and rubbed his hand up and down her back. It went far to negate the pain of his rejection a few minutes ago.
“What are you talking about?” Sam demanded.
Quinn shrugged at Nick to bring him up to date.
“The goons who kidnapped—”
“Abducted,” she corrected from behind her hands. “I’m not a child.”
“The goons who took her from the convenience store said a woman was in charge. They were under orders not to hurt Quinn.”
“She could also have been behind the hotel attack and your car accident.”
“The flash I saw could have been a crystal set in a puddle,” Sam agreed. “She could have been watching and focused her energy through it to flip my car.”
“And used the same energy to control the flip so you didn’t get killed.”
Quinn raised her head to see Sam nodding. “It makes sense. Endanger me, then make Quinn afraid to pursue whatever trail we were on. I thought I imagined the slow motion of the Camaro’s roll, but maybe it actually was.”
“Same thing with the hotel,” Nick said. “The noise and tossing stuff around? Amateurish. But instead of someone who didn’t have control over their power, like the leech…”
Quinn stood and walked to the stainless steel sink. “It could have been someone holding back, giving us time to get out. It would be frightening enough to make us think it was real, without intending to hurt us.” She took a short glass from the plastic drainer and filled it with water, then drank it without turning. Every movement was a struggle against the heavy awareness that her flesh and blood could be working against her. Not simply ignoring her existence but willfully acting, maybe even trying to harm her. They assumed the lack of physical damage was intentional, but maybe it was luck.
“There’s something else, Quinn. Not about your sister,” Sam said, “but I got an e-mail while I was on the road. From Alana.”
Quinn turned. “She e-mailed you? Like she knew I wouldn’t get it?” God, she’d become suspicious of everything.
He shrugged. “No, she copied me on it. Everyone knows I do all your work for you.”
She managed a small smile.
“They found Jennifer Hollinger.”
Her breath caught in her throat. “Alive?”
“Barely. She was on an island in the river. Dehydrated, undernourished, scratched, and wearing torn clothes, like she’d been wandering for a few days. Disoriented, too, but one thing was clear.”
“She’d been leeched.”
“Dammit.” Poor Jennifer. She didn’t know her, but tears stung her eyelids anyway. If they’d moved faster, she might have prevented this. Where the hell had the Society and their security team been? What was the Protectorate doing to keep this from happening? “Not much point in going to Mississippi now.”
“Nope,” Sam said.
“There’s only one thing to do, then.”
“No, Quinn,” Nick warned.
Sam leaned over his laptop, fingers flying over the keys. “You want to go to Maine.”
“I said no.” Nick stood, his hands in fists. “You don’t know enough. She endangered you, whether or not she intended to hurt you. She could be working with the leech. Someone created him.”
Quinn’s stomach lurched. She hadn’t taken her thoughts all the way there. “I know.” As much as she wanted to rush to Maine, and prove them wrong, she wasn’t a fool. “But there’s no way to learn much about Marley from here.”
“I got some more data,” Sam said, “but it’s meager at best. Like I said, she’s not a very active member of the Society.”
“So we’ll go to the next best place,” Quinn decided, hope and a little girl’s optimism dictating her choice as much as logic and determination. “Sam, where are my parents?”
No matter how Quinn argued, Nick refused to fly to Connecticut.
“It’s faster, Nick. Time is important here!”
“Less important than your safety is. With the security since 9/11, there is no way we can get on that plane without leaving a blinking neon sign saying, ‘Here I am! Come and get me!’”
“Right. Security. No one will get to me, and I’m frickin’ sick of driving!” And it obviously wasn’t any safer. Not that she’d say that aloud. Nick would think she blamed him, and she didn’t. But she didn’t argue because she was right and he was wrong, since they both had valid points. She argued because she couldn’t help herself. Too many things crowded into her mind and heart, and she was venting unfairly.
Nick rocked back on his heels, a satisfied smile tugging at his mouth. “Fine. We’ll stay here a few more days. You should recuperate anyway.”
“From what?” She dropped onto the sofa, aware of how long it had been since she had a shower or real rest. Since any of them had. “I’m fine,” she lied.
He ticked off her injuries on his fingers. “Cut arm, cuts on your back, bruises, possible concussion from being knocked out, sprained ankle. Did I miss anything?”
She didn’t mention her sore back from awkward positions in the car and bad motel-room beds.
“Right. And I could use a break, too.” He stalked toward his room. “So you just chill for a while.”
“High-handed tyrant,” Quinn muttered. Nick slammed the door.
Sam, pouring coffee at the stove, turned to grin at her. “You guys fight like siblings.”
Quinn scowled, remembering their last “fight,” and how non-sibling-like it had been. “Well, we’re not.”
“I know.” He brought her coffee in a plain ceramic mug. “He’s right, though. Driving is safer.”
“How? You were in a crash, I was abducted—she has some way to track us. If she’s not trying to kill us, then flying is the best way to get to her quickly, without giving her days’ worth of warning.”
“There’s another reason to wait.” Sam stretched his legs in front of him. They seemed to go halfway across the room. He leaned his head back, looking for all the world like a frat boy whose only concern was tonight’s kegger.
“What, oh wise one?”
He grinned. “’Bout time you recognized it.”
Quinn finally smiled back, her frustration fading. “Brat.”
“I know. Anyway, I think it would be wise”—he emphasized the word—“to wait until full moon.”
Nick’s door opened. He carried a pile of folded clothes and had a towel slung over his shoulder. “Sam’s right. Going in powerless is stupid.”
“Waiting two weeks could be stupider.” It was just new moon now. “The leech could strike how many times by then.” And she didn’t want to wait anymore, dammit. After twelve years of being alone, she wanted to meet her family now. Answer all the questions crowding into her, including whether her parents were her enemies or if she could maybe start relationships that weren’t freaking hopeless and painful.
But all the guys cared about was her physical safety.
“You think seeing your parents won’t threaten Marley?” Nick shook his head. “You can’t be objective about this. Let us—” He cut himself off, and he was lucky, because Quinn knew his words would have been arrogant and pissed her off. She took a deep breath and gave in. They had to compromise.
“We’ll wait a few days, then drive. It will be first quarter by the time we get to Connecticut, and I’ll start to have a feed.”
“Only when the moon is up,” Sam cautioned, “and it’ll deplete quickly.”
She pushed to her feet, annoyed again. “I know my limits better than you do, Samuel. Don’t patronize me. And you.” She pointed at Nick. “Get your ass in the shower so I can take my turn. I’m filthy.”
“Aye, aye, captain,” the men said in unison. Quinn took a turn slamming the door of her bedroom, but amusement slowly overcame anger.
“God.” She sighed and threw herself on her bed, the little room’s walls tilting toward her, feeding her urgency to leave, to surge forward. As frightening as it was to face her birth family, it was going to be more difficult to stay here.
As soon as she closed her eyes, she was up against that tiny cabin door again, Nick’s entire body touching hers. His skin smooth and hot under her hands, his scent filling her up, lifting her to joy independent of the desire he’d ignited in a scant second. Quinn would have let him take her up against the door and rejoiced in it—again, not because of uncontrollable moon lust, but because of passion driven by the love she’d buried for so long.
She rolled to press her face into her mother’s old quilt, her fist closing around the cool fabric. Damn him for breaking open that vault! Sam’s revelation about Marley had given Quinn something to focus on, but now they had a plan in place and no action to take for several days. The need to go to Nick, to make him talk to her, twisted with the fear that he’d reject her again, this time blatantly and maybe even forever. After all this time, after so much mutual denial and silent, deep growth of their friendship, why had he crossed that line? Protectors were loyal to the powerless goddesses they protected but committed to none. What would have happened if they hadn’t stopped and someone found out? Would he be barred from the Protectorate? It was all he’d known his whole life. If he was stripped of it…she wasn’t worth that loss, and whatever relationship they might salvage in the aftermath wouldn’t last for long.
How could she survive losing Nick, especially when she also faced losing Sam? Their relationship had already changed. She could tell he’d finally accepted it, and it was only a matter of time before he moved on. Either the way she wanted him to, by finding someone to love who could love him the way he deserved, or because he couldn’t work for her anymore, knowing he couldn’t have her. In the meantime, she didn’t want Sam to know what had happened between her and Nick. That would be salting the wound, even if it had begun to heal.
If Sam did decide to quit, Quinn could hire another assistant, maybe even someone who’d run her business as well as he did. But no one would understand her like Sam or be the kind of friend he was. He was her rock, her only family, even if best-case scenario brought parents and a sister into her life. They’d stay friends, no matter what he decided to do.
But Nick had infiltrated her soul. If he left, he’d rip a hole in her so dark and deep it could never be repaired.
She closed her eyes and let her mind drift into random memories. Sam working at his desk, a groove carved between his eyebrows when he concentrated. Nick shooting the shit with Quinn’s waitresses, who flirted while Nick kept a subtle eye
Then Sam, interrupting her negotiations with one of the bar regulars, leading her upstairs to one of the empty rooms, and encouraging her to recharge with him because it was safer and easier.
Nick, cold and hard, erecting the wall that had always been impenetrable. Instead of shutting down, Quinn’s feelings had intensified behind that wall, concentrated and simmered until two nights ago, when he’d unlocked a door she’d never known was there.
Hard knuckles rapped her bedroom door. Quinn’s eyes flew open. Her breath rasped at the abrupt leap from deep in her thoughts to full consciousness. She had to clear her throat before she said, “Yeah.”
“Your turn.” Nick’s voice was normal, but it still scraped across all Quinn’s nerve endings.
She rolled to her side and stared at the door. “Thanks. I’ll be out in a minute.”
She gave Nick time to retreat to his bedroom, but Sam would still be out there. A few minutes later, her door rattled under another knock.
“Quinn?” Sam sounded tentative.
“I’m going to the store for supplies for the next few days. You want anything in particular?”
“No, thanks. You know what I like. Ask Nick, though.”
His boots thumped across the floorboards. The front door creaked open and closed. There was silence for a few seconds before the rental car door thudded and the engine whined down the driveway. Quinn figured it was safe to flee into the bathroom now.
But she had no idea how she was going to get through the next few days.
She slept a lot. The new moon didn’t do anything to her but make her as normal as any non-goddess, but she still used it as an excuse to go to bed early, sleep late, and take naps. She didn’t realize how exhausted she was until a few days of that routine, and she felt better than she had in months.
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