S ilence met my pronouncement, stretching until the room filled with a tension that was almost palpable. I had to give Madigan credit where credit was due, because whatever he was thinking remained secluded behind a now blaring rendition of the same catchphrase. Don’s brows drew together in confusion.
“What does that have to do with anything?” my uncle wondered.
I spoke the next part for his benefit. “That’s right, I can read minds. Handy little unexpected perk; not many vampires have the ability.”
Don looked stunned. Oh, right, I hadn’t told him of my ability before. It wasn’t like I’d been hiding it from him, it just hadn’t come up. Madigan already suspected Bones was telepathic and had been treating me with the same caution, so volunteering the information was a necessary sacrifice in order to keep him from discovering the real bombshell about ghosts.
Finally, Madigan spoke. “I could charge you with an unauthorized breach of security for attempting to glean classified information from my thoughts.”
I snorted. “I’m not trying anything. The ability’s there whether I want it or not. If someone told you unauthorized classified information, would you be guilty of a security breach for not willing yourself to go deaf so you couldn’t hear it?”
Bitch, he thought, and I was sure it was no accident that this came through loud and clear over the fifteen minutes mantra.
I just shrugged. “Sticks and stones.”
“Is that what this is to you?” he asked sharply. “A game? Is national security just something that amuses you now that you’re no longer a member of the human race? Oh, I forgot.” His voice vibrated with barely concealed venom. “You never really were a member of the human race, were you, half‑breed?”
I was across the desk in a blink, my face so close to his that our noses would’ve touched if I moved a fraction more. “How much of your own blood have you shed for humanity or national security? Because I’ve lost gallons of mine trying to protect lives, or, failing that, making sure that murderers and threats to humanity got what was coming to them.” I sat back in disgust. “I bet the only blood you’ve ever shed was after a paper cut, so don’t lecture me about national security and protecting humanity unless you’ve even once put your life on the line for either of them.”
Two new, bright spots of color on his cheeks highlighted how Madigan had paled when I first lunged at him. His scent radiated the distinct, rotten fruit smell of fear over the stench of way too much cologne, and stray thoughts leaked out between his now‑deafening roar of what fifteen minutes could save on insurance.
Dangerous . . . can’t let her see . . . too much at stake . . .
“Get out,” he said curtly.
I strained my mind to hear past the commercial jingle that I now hated with the fire of a thousand suns. What was Madigan hiding? Something I already expected, like plans to boot out all the undead team members? Or something more sinister?
“Get out, ” he repeated, pressing a button on his phone. “I need security,” he barked. “Now.”
I glanced at the door. Should I risk trying to mesmerize him before they came? Someone with Madigan’s mental shields might require biting before I could crack his mind, and, frankly, I’d never bitten a human. What if I did it wrong and pierced his jugular? That would leave telling splatters of blood on both of us, not to mention he could die of an embolism in seconds if any air bubbles got to his heart. Both would be hard to explain away when security arrived.
“Don’t do anything, Cat,” Don urged, sensing my wavering. “These guards don’t know you. They’re new recruits handpicked by him, and they’re all armed with silver.”
Being staked or shot with silver bullets by Madigan’s pet soldiers was last on my list of concerns, but it was too risky for other reasons to attempt to mesmerize any secrets out of him. I’d have to let Don do the digging for me, and, thankfully, Madigan still had no idea that he was being shadowed by the very man he’d maneuvered himself into position to replace.
I rose with deliberate slowness, almost strolling to the door. “Congrats again on the promotion.”
Footsteps thudded down the hall. Madigan’s new security detail, running to his aid too late to help him if there had been an actual threat from me.
“You are not to return here unless I summon you,” Madigan snapped. “Do you understand? You show up, and I’ll have you arrested on sight.”
With great effort, I restrained myself from replying with the sentences that sprang to my lips. Like, you and what army? Or, I’d like to see you try it. But Bones’s admonition rang in my mind. Let him feel like he’s won this round. It’ll only be to our benefit. I hadn’t managed to stop myself from rising to Madigan’s taunting before, but I could let him believe he had the power to keep me away from here if I wanted to come back, and believing that only made him more vulnerable.
“I hope you spend some time in your new capacity reading up on Don’s reports about me,” was what I said, in such an even tone that Bones would have applauded. “He didn’t trust me either at first, but then he found out that half‑vampire didn’t equate to bad guy. Neither does full vampire. We don’t have to be at odds with each other.”
The helmeted, armed entourage arrived, one of the guards roughly taking my arm.
I let them manhandle me out of the room with Madigan watching. Don floated after me, muttering something too low for me to catch above the staccato of thoughts from the guards and Madigan’s endless barrage of fifteen minutes . . . fifteen minutes . The next time I saw that commercial, I’d probably open fire on my TV.
I’d just been hustled into the elevator when a shout pierced the din.
I had my hand holding open the elevator doors before the guards even realized I’d moved. “Stand down!” one of them ordered, raising his rifle at me.
“That’s my mother,” I snapped, refraining from breaking the barrel off by sheer force of will.
Her appearance cut off whatever the guard had been about to say. She pushed past them into the elevator none too gently, several strands of dark hair escaping from her ponytail. The sharp blue gaze that still had the power to intimidate me lasered on the group surrounding us.
“Are you going to shoot her, or push the button so we can leave?” she demanded.
I stifled a laugh at the instant consternation her words elicited. The guard who had his weapon pointed at me didn’t know whether to lower it and look like he was following her orders or keep it aimed at me and look like an idiot. He chose the idiot route, and I pushed the button for the top floor, my lips twitching.
“What are you doing, Justina?” Don asked warily.
She glanced first at him, then at me. “I’m quitting,” she stated. “I heard what he said about arresting you if you came back, and no one’s going to forbid my daughter from seeing me if she wants to.”
Her words hit me right in the heart. I knew how much my mother had wanted to make the team despite my strenuous objections. She’d argued that going after murderers was her chance to avenge the lives she’d been unable to save–hers and that of the man she loved. For her to give it all up because Madigan pulled a power play made me want to hug her and punch his lights out at the same time.
Since he was now three floors away, I put my arm around my mother, squeezing gently.
“Thanks,” I whispered.
Pink shone in her gaze before she blinked, glancing away. “Yes, well, I’m sure your husband has missed me terribly,” she replied with heavy irony.
My laughter startled the guards so much that another one of them prodded me with his gun. Again I resisted the urge to snap off the tip and bean him with it. The doors opened on our floor, and I got out, biting my lip as my arm was grasped in a hard grip once more.
“Seriously?” I muttered under my breath. My mother glared at them, green glittering in her gaze, but a low “don’t” from me kept her silent. For once.
“Thanks so much for the assistance, boys,” I drawled once they all but pushed me onto the roof.
The reply I received would’ve resulted in their instant massacre if Bones were here. Once again, I thanked God that he’d stayed back in Ohio. He might be coolly logical under most circumstances, but Bones had an irrational streak when it came to me. I couldn’t point fingers about that because I was the same way with him.
“Anything interesting happen since I last saw you?” I asked, but the question wasn’t directed at my mother. It was to Don, who hovered right behind her.
“Somehow Madigan knows he’s being watched,” my uncle replied, frustration clear in his tone. “Even at home, he doesn’t let his guard down. All the computer files he accesses are the usual classified material, and if he’s on the phone, he talks in code so I can’t figure out what his real meaning is.”
My sigh was swallowed up by the churning of the helicopter’s rotor blades as the engine was started. No time was being wasted in getting me out of here, it seemed. I would’ve liked a chance to talk to Tate and the guys before I left, but that clearly wasn’t happening. I’d have to settle for Don’s relaying a message from me later.
“I don’t like him at all, but is it possible that he’s nothing more than what he appears–an arrogant, prejudiced suit who’ll step on anyone to climb up the government ladder?”
That might make Madigan a dick and incompetent for this job, but it didn’t make him the menace Don thought he was.
“You don’t know him like I do,” Don said flatly. “He’s hiding something. I just need more time to find out what it is.”
“The boys are going to be so upset when they find out that Madigan’s not letting you come back,” my mother remarked. “Morale is already low after what happened to Tate.”
I had to shake my head. Hearing my mother talk about team morale was just too weird for my brain to handle.
“You need to come with me,” I said to Don, with an oblique look at the various personnel waiting for me to climb into the chopper. Even if someone heard me above the noise from the craft powering up, they’d think I was talking to my mother.
Don hesitated. “But now is the best time for me to shadow Madigan,” he said, backing away from me. Actually backing away. “You rattled him, Cat. I could be missing out on important information as we speak. Whatever you have to tell me, it can wait!”
Then he vanished, leaving me staring at the spot he’d just vacated with my jaw dropped open. He couldn’t even take a few hours away from shadowing Madigan to be updated on what was going on? What if I’d found a way for him to skip merrily into eternity? Was that no longer a concern of his?
I had to make sure to badger him to tell me what happened in their past for Don to have such a one‑track mind when it came to Madigan, but that would have to wait until the next time I saw him.
But thanks to Madigan’s proving that he was every inch the suspicious bastard I’d initially pegged him as, the first thing I’d have to do would be to uproot everyone from my old house in Ohio. I didn’t doubt that in the time it took to fly me here, Madigan already had a surveillance team staked out around the perimeter, ready to record any incriminating action or word. I’d have to call Bones and tell him not to bring the crew back there. So much for all the groceries and amenities we’d just bought.
“Ready, Catherine?” my mother asked, jumping into the chopper.
I shook my head at Don’s behavior as I climbed in after her. Family. If one member wasn’t being a pain in the ass, another one would be guaranteed to fill the slot.