Under the Moon (Goddesses Rising), page 5
The attendant began her demonstration while the plane backed from the gate and taxied to the runway. A few minutes later they were taking off. Quinn watched the world zip by, conscious of Nick’s tension. Sure, he wasn’t afraid. But teasing him about his reasons for hating flying didn’t seem fair at the moment.
As soon as they were airborne, Nick opened his book. “Nighty-night.”
Annoying as he was, he was right. She hated the boredom of travel and always fell asleep, no matter how hard she tried not to. The drone of the engine and general white noise of the cabin helped her doze until they approached Logan Airport two hours later. Her dreams were vague and jumbled, but all of them incorporated an awareness of Nick’s proximity. She knew when he stood to remove and stow his coat overhead, when he ordered orange juice from the attendant. She sensed when he watched her sleep, and she tightened her arms around herself when he got up to go to the restroom or do another walk-through.
She kept her eyes closed when she reached full awareness, not wanting to leave the state of comfort being near Nick gave her. A simple state that would disappear as soon as he knew she was awake, old barriers going up automatically.
He touched her arm. “Quinn. We’re about to land.”
She lifted her head and yawned. “You sleep at all?”
“Yeah, right.” He drew the blanket off her to fold it. “You drooled on my shirt, you know.”
“I did…not.” There was a wet spot on his shoulder. Her cheeks flamed with embarrassment. “Sorry.”
The captain announced preparation for landing, and they lapsed into silence. They didn’t say much until they were in the rental car, a Taurus Nick wrinkled his nose at.
“Where to?” he asked, starting the engine.
Quinn rolled down her window an inch to let in the crisp evening breeze. “Sam booked us rooms at—”
“Rooms? Plural? No.” He shook his head. “We’ll have to change that.”
“Fine.” She wasn’t going to argue with him, plus it would be cheaper. “We’ll get a suite. Turn up here.” Half an hour later, Nick left the car with the hotel valet and followed Quinn inside. She signed for the new room and handed Nick his key card.
Once they were alone in the elevator, she said, “I want to freshen up and then head over to the Society to see if I can catch Alana.”
Nick glanced at his watch. “It’s after seven.”
“She might still be there. If not, we can try her at home.”
“You could call first.”
“I don’t want to alert her.” The way she’d acted, she was likely to run and hide if she knew Quinn was coming.
When they arrived at the brick building housing the Society office, Quinn used her officer ID card to activate the elevator. When they got upstairs and emerged in the main reception area, she turned off the alarm with the code given to all board members and staff. The light flashed green.
“They haven’t locked you out yet.”
She shrugged to hide her relief. “I guess they didn’t expect me to fly here.” She surveyed the dark reception area and looked down the hall. With the exception of a small lamp behind the front desk, no lights were visible, not even cracks under doors.
“Doesn’t look like she’s here.” Nick opened the door to leave. “How far’s her house?”
“Hang on.” Quinn went to the wide white desk and sat down at the computer.
“What are you doing?”
“They leave the computers on for backup. Or they did the last time I was here.” She flipped on the monitor, which faded into a desktop image of a white-robed ancient goddess with dark hair down to her ankles.
“She’s hot.” Nick leaned over her shoulder.
Quinn ignored him. She accessed the hard drive and skimmed through the contents until she found the main database and opened it. With a few clicks, she sorted for the information she needed, hit print, and exited out of the server.
“Sweet.” Nick pulled the first pages off the printer. “You don’t think she’d give you this if you asked in person?”
Quinn didn’t want to find out. “Just a precaution.” She glanced through the files and folders again but found nothing with a label as obvious as “leech” or “Quinn Caldwell.” She closed all the open windows onscreen, found an empty file folder on the shelf beneath the printer, and took the sheets Nick had gathered.
Nick checked his watch as they exited the building. “Still want to go to Alana’s now? It’s getting late.”
“She’s not far, and we won’t stay long. She should be home, at least.”
They drove in silence the few miles to Cambridge. It was nearly nine o’clock, but when they pulled up in front of Alana’s condo, lights shone in the front window.
Nick parked at the curb, his gaze on the house. “One car in the driveway, garage closed. Company?”
“Maybe. I don’t know anything about her social life, except she’s not married.”
“Okay.” He pulled the keys from the ignition and opened his door. “I’ll let you do the talking.”
The neighborhood was quiet. No traffic, no movement. Most windows had lights shining behind drapes or sheers, some flickering with changing TV imagery. A dog barked somewhere down the block. It was the type of idyllic scene Quinn hadn’t been a part of since her parents died and she moved in to the bar. A pulse of longing took her by surprise. Sam could have given you this.
She banished the insidious whisper as Nick’s strong hand rested on the small of her back. They went up the short walkway together, and Quinn’s longing twisted into something deeper, more intense, and less attainable.
Quinn skipped the bell and used the knocker on the red-painted door. Less than a minute later, Alana yanked it open. When she saw Quinn, her eyes widened, and she backed up a few steps before she caught herself.
“Do you know what time it is?” she barked, but Quinn wasn’t fooled.
“Why are you afraid of me?” Quinn stayed on the step, not wanting to provoke her. But anger quickly overshadowed hurt feelings.
“I’m— I’m not afraid of you.”
“Yeah, that’s why you’re stuttering,” Nick scoffed from behind Quinn, who shushed him.
Alana shifted sideways and angled the door in front of her. “You flew seven hundred miles and are knocking on my door at nine o’clock at night. Why wouldn’t I be afraid?”
Quinn sighed. “I have no idea. Can I come in? I just want to talk to you.”
Alana stared at the floor a minute. The muscle in her forearm stood out as her grip on the doorknob tightened. But finally she nodded. “For a minute.”
“That’s all I want.”
Alana backed up a few inches and Quinn stepped into the ceramic-tiled foyer, but when Nick made to follow, Alana blocked him.
“She doesn’t leave my sight.” His voice was a low growl, his amusement gone.
But Alana had recovered herself and held firm. “And you don’t come in my house.”
“It’s all right,” Quinn told him. “If I’m not out in three minutes or signal that I’m okay, you can bust in.”
He compressed his lips and narrowed his eyes but gave a short nod. “Three minutes.” He took his cell phone out of his pocket and held it up. Quinn nodded, and Alana shut the door.
“What do you want, Quinn?”
“Can we sit?” She looked down to set her watch timer, and when she looked up, Alana had folded her arms and leaned against the simple white wall.
“Why bother? We might as well stay by the door your watchdog is itching to break down.” Her animosity was palpable. “Let’s get it over with.”
“Okay. You said the board was taking care of the leech. But I’m on the board.”
“So why did I have to hear about this from Nick?”
Alana’s chin came up, and her mouth stayed closed.
“Is Barbara upset with me about something?”
“Well then what, exactly?”
Dammit. Quinn loosened her jaw and tried a different angle. “Has anyone checked on Jennifer Hollinger?”
Alana’s eyebrows rose. “Checked on her for what?”
“She sent a message to the loop and said she was going to follow up directly with me and didn’t.”
Alana shook her head. “So?”
“The leech has gone after two goddesses who draw from water. Jennifer draws from water. Now she’s not answering her phone or checking messages.”
“It’s only been four days…” Alana trailed off. Quinn knew she didn’t need to point out that it had only been four days between Tanda and Chloe.
There was a subtle shift in the air. “I’ll call Barbara in the morning,” Alana said, her tone softer. “The security team may already be down there. I don’t know what they’re doing. But thanks for pointing it out.”
That wasn’t the reason Quinn was here, though. “I don’t know what everyone thinks, but the goddesses are as important to me as they are to anyone.”
“It’s not that.” Alana’s demeanor was more sympathetic than antagonistic now, but she wasn’t any more forthcoming.
“Then what? Why do I feel ostracized?”
Alana looked torn. “I can’t—”
“Can’t what?” Quinn ground her teeth in frustration. “What is going on?”
Her watch beeped. She crossed the few feet to the door and opened it. Nick faced her, leaning one arm against the jamb, his jaw tight and his eyes blazing.
“I’m fine,” she told him.
“I’m not. I don’t like this, Quinn.”
“I know. A few more minutes, I promise.”
Quinn smiled. Nick waited a few beats, then smiled back. “Get outta here.”
She closed the door and turned back to Alana.
“I think we’re done,” the other woman said.
“No, we’re not. Not until you tell me why the board is marginalizing me.”
“Quinn, I can’t. I’m not even supposed to talk to you or Nick. Please stop pushing me.”
“Because it’s not polite?”
“Tell me something. With all I’ve given to this organization, I deserve a little consideration.”
Alana bit her lip.
Encouraged, Quinn pushed a little harder. “I’ve sacrificed a lot and never asked for anything. And with the meeting next week—”
“Stop it!” Alana launched herself away from the wall. “I know it’s not fair, but they have to protect the Society. Family ties are always stronger than—” She stopped, looking stricken.
Quinn leaned toward her, almost holding her breath. “Family ties? What family ties?”
“Nothing. Please go. I’ll check on Jennifer tomorrow.” She turned Quinn and pushed her toward the door. “We’ll see you at the meeting next week, if you decide to come. No one will blame you if you don’t.” She yanked open the door and shoved Quinn hard.
“Oof.” Nick caught her. The door slammed behind them. They stood, Nick looking wry, Quinn stunned. Family? She had no family. Her parents had been only children and…
Oh my god. The thought struck her hard enough to leave her breathless again. But the implications were too complicated to consider, and her brain pulled up another, even more wrenching possibility.
“I have no idea,” Quinn managed to answer.
Nick hooked her elbow with his hand and strode them to the car. “That whole thing was weird. She was scared of me.”
“No one’s been scared of me before.” He half shrugged. “You know, who wasn’t supposed to be.”
“She wasn’t scared of me.” Quinn slipped into her seat and closed the car door. Nick roared away from the curb before she even had her seat belt on. “But she was scared of something that has to do with me.”
“Like what?” He braked at the stop sign but didn’t stop. She wanted to tell him to slow down, but she shared his desperation, the need to get away. It didn’t make sense—no one was chasing them, and it was a sharp contrast to her eagerness when Alana had first mentioned family—but she felt it nonetheless. She’d assume Alana’s fear was infectious, but the last person Quinn would ever be afraid of was Nick.
“Could we be related?” she blurted.
Nick slammed on the brakes. The tires screeched.
Quinn flew forward and caught herself on the dash. “What the hell?”
“What makes you think we’re related?” Nick’s eyes blazed.
Had she just thought she’d never be afraid of him? “Nothing.”
“No, but—” She took a deep breath. This was what she was trying to run from. It threatened to skew their entire relationship. “Let’s get back to the hotel, okay? I want to be inside. Then we’ll talk. Don’t worry, I don’t keep secrets from you.”
“Damn right, you don’t.” He accelerated again, his speed and abrupt movements telegraphing his impatience.
As soon as they were inside the hotel room, Nick cornered her.
“What makes you think we’re related?”
Quinn didn’t intend to stall, exactly, but his reaction gave her the excuse. She circled him and backed toward the sitting area. “Why does it bother you so much that we might be?”
He hesitated. Then his shoulders relaxed. He tossed the keys into a thick glass dish on the spindly table behind the couch. “It doesn’t.”
“C’mon, Quinn, tell me what’s going on.”
Quinn removed her jacket and dropped it onto a narrow stuffed chair, then dropped herself onto the hard cushions of the ultra-modern couch. Muscles all over her body protested, then eased out their knots and tension. “Alana said something about family ties. That seems to be the reason the board is keeping me out of the loop on the leech. Since there’s the whole thing about you going rogue…” God, what if he was her brother? She pressed a hand to her stomach as nausea churned.
“It’s logical they wouldn’t trust the goddess related to the rogue protector.” Nick pulled two beers from the minibar next to the particleboard dresser, popped the tops, and sat on the couch with her, handing her one. “But I guarantee you, we aren’t related.”
Quinn took a pull of the ice-cold beer. “How do you know?”
Pink flared across his cheekbones, subtle but there. “I checked.”
“You checked?” she repeated, incredulous. “What, you hired a PI to make sure we weren’t secretly brother and sister?”
“Not exactly.” The flush faded and he grinned with his usual cockiness. “I had an aunt into genealogy. She made this big book that goes back, like, twelve generations. I looked for your name.”
That didn’t ease her mind, the reason for her shock rolling over her again. “I’m adopted, Nick. Caldwell is my adoptive name.”
His expression didn’t change. “I know.”
“You know my original name?”
She stared at him, caught in that numb state when something so surprises you, your emotional center can’t react. He didn’t seem to notice.
“And I looked for both. By the time we met I had nephews in the book. Aunt Phyllis was thorough. There’s no one in there who could have been you or your blood family.” He drank, and Quinn watched his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed. After he wiped the sleeve of his flannel shirt across his mouth, he continued. “I memorized six pages of the damned book, okay?”
“How did you know who my birth family was?”
Nick leaned forward and set his bottle onto the glass coffee table. “It was part of my training.”
She raised one eyebrow. “To investigate me?”
“Of course not. It was investigation in general. You were one of my study assignments.”
Now that Nick h
It was far easier to talk about Nick.
“What did you learn?” Almost out of habit, she swallowed some more beer before setting her bottle down, too. She didn’t need a fuzzy head, and she was already tired after being up all night and getting less than two hours of sleep on the plane.
“Surface stuff. The names of your birth parents, adoptive parents, their parents, where you grew up, went to school, worked. You know.” He twisted to lean against the arm of the couch. Quinn kicked off her shoes, pulled her legs up onto the couch, and faced him from the opposite end.
“Did you get assigned to me later because I’d been a training assignment already?” Her heart thumped a little harder as she waited for his answer. It came in a curl of his lips, a tenderness she’d rarely detected in his eyes.
“Something like that,” he said, the curl lifting into a smile. “We get info for every goddess we’re assigned to. When your mother called for a protector, I was available and they knew I already had the background on you.”
Quinn watched her knee rock back and forth, a little lost in the past. He’d been so confident and strong, even as new as he was to the Protectorate, and that had allowed her to turn away from her fear and be strong, herself. Maybe he’d been that confident because he already knew her. Maybe he’d even cared about her.
Dangerous territory. Nick watched her steadily, as if he knew what she was thinking and wanted her to think it. But why? She already knew she meant more to him than a standard assignment. He didn’t talk about his other goddesses much. She knew he traveled all over the country to be wherever he was needed, and he protected other goddesses not even half as often as he protected her. But she also knew he wouldn’t take his relationship with her any deeper because his duty to those goddesses was just as strong as his personal feelings. No, stronger.
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