Under the moon goddesses.., p.2

Under the Moon (Goddesses Rising), page 2

 

Under the Moon (Goddesses Rising)
 



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  “Who else?” He spread his hands and looked around. “Where are you going to find a guy like me? Available whenever you need him, able to take what you give—and give what you demand—and be safe? Not in here, I’ll tell you that much.”

  Quinn didn’t respond. He was right. She’d tried before. She’d figured one-night stands were every guy’s dream, so it would be easy. But too much got in the way. Locals wanted her to do it on their schedule. Basic standards, like avoiding disease and not having sex with attached men, were impossible if she targeted travelers. Most of all, though, was the compulsion that grew as she got older and used more power. The sexual need for mental and physical balance wasn’t something she could rein in once unleashed. Sam was the only man who had managed to withstand the intensity long-term. The only one who hadn’t called her a freak.

  Sam sprawled in his chair in front of her, his long legs so close, the frayed cuff of his jeans brushed her ankle. To keep from moving away, she gripped the edge of the table until her knuckles cracked. Retreat would be an admission that she couldn’t handle it. “I’ve managed fine so far.”

  “Have you?” He held out a hand, a knowing in his eyes that she couldn’t refute. The moon had risen hours ago, close enough to last quarter that she could do only the smallest tasks, but it fed her passion.

  I have. The words caught in her throat. Her palms itched, wanting her to reach out and touch him. Take in the smoothness of his hot skin, get her close enough to breathe him in again. She’d climb onto his lap with the friction of denim on denim, his hard thighs between her legs, the rails of the chair digging into her knees. For an instant, the image was so real she thought she’d done it, given in. She blinked and found herself still standing, the involuntary ache almost unbearable. She curled her fists harder around the table edge until her knuckles ached, determined not to make the hallucination reality. She finally managed a nod to answer his question.

  “Really.” He pushed out of the chair and slowly unfolded his body to stand inches away, deliberately testing her. She held herself still, hoping he couldn’t see the pounding of her heart beneath her white button-down shirt. She closed her eyes as he gathered her in to him, his arms loose around her back.

  Her hands rose to rest against his chest. Her fingertips dug in to the resistant muscle, and her breath came out almost as a groan. Tension eased out of him as her body gave in, relief sending tingles head to toe as it curved toward him. “Dammit, Sam.” Her thoughts blurred under the intensity of Sam’s body heat. She couldn’t fight it anymore. Fight him.

  “Tell me what you want, Quinn.” His voice rumbled through the swishing, thumping pulse in her ears. She dragged her focus back from the soft fabric beneath her palms, the delicious pressure of his hardness against her belly.

  “What?” she managed to gasp.

  “I’ll do what you want. Whatever you want.” His lips brushed her ear. Tingles erupted and danced across her skin, but what he’d said, what he was doing, penetrated. The offer wasn’t just for wild sex. Though he could take advantage of the lust raging through her, he respected her decision. Which brought home all the reasons he didn’t deserve the wrong choice.

  She leaned back, unable to look at him, her arms trembling with the effort of denying them both. The guilt almost overwhelmed the need. “I’m sorry, Sam.”

  He eased away, his hands sliding from her back to her upper arms, making sure she was steady, and then dropping when he’d put a foot of space between their bodies. “You’re sure.” Not a question.

  Quinn nodded and finally met his eyes, regretting the sorrow she’d put there. “I have to do this. Please, please understand.”

  He sighed and twisted to replace his chair on the tabletop. He stood with his back to her for a long moment, one hand still on the leg of the chair, before facing her again. “I won’t push anymore. Just…promise me you won’t…” He waved a hand. “You know. Get yourself into trouble.”

  Her voice squeezed past the burning thickness in her throat. “I promise.”

  They worked in silence to finish closing, their usual easy tandem punctuating the finality of her decision.

  When they were done, Sam nodded and looked around, hands on his hips, clearly at a loss. “Okay. I guess I’m going home, then. You’re all right?”

  Nick had told her to stick close to Sam, but there was no way she could ask him to stay now. She wished she knew how much longer Nick would be.

  “I’m fine,” she lied. “Thanks.” She nudged him toward the door, turning him away from her so he couldn’t see the tears filling her eyes. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

  “Lock up after I leave.”

  She closed the door hard behind him and twisted the lock so he’d hear it, then pulled down the blind. Sobs pushed upward from deep within her and she sank to the floor, covering her mouth to keep the sound from reaching Sam, whose presence she still felt on the other side of the wood. Finally, his boots crunched on the gravel, growing fainter with each step. When the familiar hum of his Camaro faded, she allowed herself to break down.

  …

  Quinn slept late the next morning. Her night had been full of erotic dreams, interrupted by abrupt waking to check the clock and try to call Nick, to no avail. Hoping some combination of rest, nutrition, and physical exertion would purge her system of the moon lust, she followed a workout with oatmeal and a shower. She was relieved, when she was done, to find herself less hungry. It wasn’t gone, but she could distract herself with work and by this time next week, maybe she’d be back to normal.

  She took a deep breath before heading down the rickety staircase hugging the side of the building. Sam’s schedule had him there by ten or eleven most mornings, but she wasn’t sure what to expect after last night. Maybe he’d call in sick, or have cleaned out his things and left a letter of resignation on her desk. Maybe, in trying to preserve the most valuable thing in her life, she’d destroyed it.

  Bracing one hand on the rough wood planks of the outer wall, Quinn yanked on the warped back door, taking a moment to prop it wide and let in the sunlight and crisp October breeze. Not stalling. Just…setting up.

  She paused on the threshold to let her eyes adjust to the dim office. Her desk was how she’d left it the night before, with piles of invoices and orders to approve, checks to sign, and client files to review. Dust floated in the beam of sunlight that hit the floor in front of her feet. Quinn forced herself to look deeper into the room to Sam’s desk, usually as full as hers, if more neatly organized. She held her breath as her vision sharpened, and movement turned into Sam’s hand making sharp notations on a printed spreadsheet. He flipped open a file and tapped a few keys on his keyboard without looking up at her.

  “How long did you sleep?” he asked.

  Breathing was suddenly easier than anything she’d done so far today. Sam asked her that every damned morning. “Eight hours, thirty-three minutes.” Her perfect internal clock had amused and delighted him at first, then became nagging when he used it to manage her, whether over how long she’d slept, gone without eating, or focused on a client. But that was what he was paid for, after all, and she welcomed the symbol of normalcy. He nodded his approval and kept working. Quinn went to her desk and booted up her computer.

  Sam said, “You hear from Nick?”

  “No.” The ongoing lack of contact after the urgency of his call scared her. “Sam, I—”

  He shoved to his feet and headed out front. “We’re low on vodka. I’ll pull some up.”

  Quinn sighed and slumped. So much for normalcy.

  It didn’t get better. Sam worked out front while she stayed in the office. When she went into the bar, he retreated to the back. She stopped trying to talk to him, hoping the space would be a buffer both for their personal and professional relationships, and for her fading moon lust.

  There was still no word from Nick.

  Finally, Quinn settled herself in a corner of the bar with her laptop to handle stuff that had piled up o
ver the week, hoping her full e-mail in-box and the routine work, the easy decisions, would keep her eyes off the clock. Requests for appointments and vendor info she forwarded to Sam. Most of the rest was related to the Society. Quinn served as the board’s secretary, and many of her personal e-mails were about the annual Society meeting next week. Those she moved into a folder to address later. The official Society list e-mail was full of political posts, with elections coming up in November, but she skimmed and deleted most of them.

  She’d gotten into such a rhythm that when Nick’s name appeared, it was a moment before her reaction caught up. The words were innocuous at first, so she didn’t understand the fear filling her until it merged with her ongoing low-level anxiety over last night’s phone call.

  I plan to ask Quinn to put this on the agenda for the meeting, but I thought you should all know ahead of time, so you can be careful.

  Nick Jarrett’s gone rogue.

  Quinn pulled her cell phone out of her pocket to try to reach Nick yet again. This had to be why he was coming here—but what the hell did it mean and what did it have to do with her?

  A crash on the other side of the room redirected her alarm. She was on her feet before she’d even spotted the source of the disruption.

  “I’ll goddamn keep drinking if I wanna keep drinking!” An old man, greasy gray hair hanging below a dingy trucker cap, wobbled in front of his overturned chair, arms flailing. Despite his obvious intoxication, his aim was good enough to hit Katie’s tray and send glasses flying. Quinn stormed across the room, glaring at anyone who looked like they might want to join the fight. None of her regulars moved. Most had seen her in action, and they didn’t want to get involved. A few strangers half rose but subsided when they saw her striding to the rescue.

  Not that Katie needed rescuing. Nearly as tall as Quinn’s five feet ten, the young woman had honed her manner and strength in New York City. By the time Quinn reached them, Katie was quietly telling the drunk how he was expected to behave in Under the Moon.

  Quinn’s heart rate and footsteps slowed, ready to back up her waitress but also willing to let her handle it. Then the drunk fumbled a switchblade out of his pocket and flicked it open.

  Shit. She lurched forward, but she was still too far away to do anything, and Katie hadn’t noticed the knife. Reacting on instinct rather than thought, Quinn snapped her fingers and opened her hand as the knife soared to it. Relief flooded her. Concentrate. This isn’t over yet. She squeezed the handle of the knife so no one could see her shaking.

  The drunk waved his hand, then frowned when he realized it was empty. “What the—” He looked up and blinked at Quinn. “How’d you do that?”

  Quinn signaled a white-faced Katie to step away. She glanced around to be sure everyone was out of reach and then faced the drunk.

  “You want to leave my establishment,” she told him with forced calm.

  He scowled. “T’hell I do. I ordered a beer! And I’m not leavin’ till I get it!”

  “Yes you are.” She jerked back as the man lunged at her, flicking her fingers at him. He slammed into an invisible wall but only grew angrier. Quinn swallowed hard. She didn’t have the power for more than this, and she couldn’t risk her staff getting hurt. Summoning the knife and stopping the drunk’s movement required only a little access to the waning moon. But because it had already passed the zenith of its arc, even this drained her.

  She had enough for one more act. Please let it be enough. She thought heat and pointed at the sleeve of the man’s denim jacket. A second later it caught fire. He yelled and slapped at it, extinguishing the flame almost immediately, but it had done its job.

  His eyes wide, he tried to back away. The overturned chair tripped him up and he stopped. “What are you?” His voice quavered.

  Electric awareness alerted Quinn to the presence of the man two feet behind her before she heard his voice, a slight Texas drawl mellowing the deep rumble that always made her think of his perfectly tuned muscle car.

  “She’s a goddess.”

  “Goddess,” the drunk scoffed. “Them’s just a myth.”

  Nick Jarrett stepped past Quinn, standing between her and the drunk without making it look like he was getting in her way. The hunger that had been easing all day flared, but because she’d never recharged with Nick, she was able to stamp it down more easily than she had last night.

  “You don’t believe your own eyes?” Nick said to the drunk.

  The drunk scowled at them, then at the tiny wisp of smoke rising from his sleeve. He blinked blearily and stumbled toward the door, grumbling under his breath.

  “That’s what I thought.” Nick swung around to look at her, a hint of a smile on his full lips and welcome in his green eyes. “Nice parlor tricks.”

  Quinn snorted, covering how happy and relieved she was to see him, and turned to her busboy. “Catch that guy and call Charlie to pick him up in his cab, will you?”

  “Sure.” He pulled out his cell phone and hit speed dial on his way out. Everyone else dispersed, leaving Quinn relatively alone with Nick. Adrenaline drained out of her, and she would have sat, if showing weakness in front of him wasn’t so unappealing.

  “So what’s going on?” She tucked her fingertips into her jeans pockets. The anxiety buzzing in her all day disappeared, allowing the alarm triggered by the e-mail to resurge. “You’re never early.”

  “We’ve got a problem.”

  Quinn watched him scan the room, cataloging her customers and staff, lingering on her computer in the far corner and the closed door to her office. His face tightened, and he moved a step closer.

  “I know we do,” she said.

  He whipped his head around, his eyes sharp. “You do?”

  “I just found out. Come here.” She led him to the table where her computer slept, its screen dark. “I read this e-mail not five minutes ago.” They sat down, and she tapped a key to wake the computer while Nick signaled for a beer.

  They waited for the wireless connection to reestablish. “You getting a lot of trouble like that guy?” he asked.

  “No more than usual.” She glanced at him. “Why? Is someone else?”

  “Nah.” He stood to pull off his battered, hip-length brown leather coat and hang it over the back of the chair, then rolled the sleeves of his flannel shirt up strong forearms. A waitress sashayed over to set an amber bottle on their table. She looked at Quinn, who shook her head, but Nick made a face and dropped the money on her tray. “Don’t listen to her.”

  Quinn didn’t bother to argue. They had the same argument every time he came. Sometimes she won, sometimes he did. It balanced in the end.

  Nick sat back down and took a pull of the beer, his strong throat working with the swallow. Light from a nearby candle picked up glints of gold in his short-cropped, dark blond hair. “Where’s Sam?”

  Quinn cleared her throat. “In the office.” She diverted her eyes to the computer screen but heard his small snort of derision. “I had it under control, Nick.”

  “The moon’s waning, Quinn. I don’t care how powerful you are at peak, you’re tapped out by this time—”

  “Not completely. And protecting me isn’t Sam’s job.” She winced, realizing too late it might sound like criticism of Nick, and she hadn’t meant it to be.

  He froze, the bottle halfway to his mouth, then set it down. “I told you to stick close. He should be out here. Or you shouldn’t. And I’m not listening to you argue with me. What have you got?” He turned the computer toward him, ignoring her exasperation.

  She twisted to read the e-mail with him, now more confused by the words on the screen than anything else. “Well?”

  Seconds passed while his eyes tracked over the words. “Fuck me,” he said softly. “That’s not the problem I was talking about at all.”

  Chapter Two

  The power harnessed by goddesses is a connection to the energy generated by all life in this world—energy that is absorbed by, altered by, or resonating
in non-living objects, as well. A goddess’s power is capacity. She is like a vessel, using her source to access, manipulate, and channel energy into and through herself. This ability allows her to do amazing things.

  —The Society for Goddess Education and Defense, New Member Brochure

  …

  Quinn dropped back against her chair, staring at Nick. Being accused of going rogue wasn’t what had brought him here? “What’s the other problem?”

  His eyes flicked toward her, then back to the screen. He scrolled down to read the signature on the e-mail, then back up to the top. “There’s a leech out there. He’s hit two goddesses already.”

  Fear twanged deep inside her, like a plucked cello string—a completely different kind of fear than the routine rush of facing a drunk with a switchblade and more concrete than an undefined “rogue” accusation. “So when you said ‘we,’ you meant me.”

  His mouth curved on one side. “Well, yeah.” He waggled a finger at the laptop. “This, though, this is definitely ‘we.’”

  “Who did he hit?” she asked, and his smirk dropped.

  “Tanda and Chloe.”

  She closed her eyes, her heart weeping for her friends. Why hadn’t she heard about this before? It hadn’t been that long since they talked, or at least e-mailed. She didn’t see them often, living so far apart, but she had been looking forward to getting together at the upcoming Society meeting.

  She couldn’t imagine how they must be feeling right now. “Goddess” wasn’t only a job description—it was a state of being. When the leech took that away, he would have destroyed their essence.

  Quinn clenched her fist and let heat coalesce in her palm, just to connect to her source, to her core. It came slowly, the moon nearly out of her reach, and panic flirted at the edges of her consciousness until her fingers flinched open, stung.

 

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