Authors: Emma Raveling
Copyright ©2012 Emma Raveling
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form by or any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author or publisher.
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
For readers new to the series, this work is not the place to start. If you have not read the first two books in the series,
will not make sense.
I highly recommend reading the Ondine Quartet books in order:
Whirl (Book one)
Billow (Book two)
Chevalier (#2.2: Julian POV novelette)
Warrior Prince (#2.5: Collected scenes from Tristan POV)
The uptown express rattled like a giant metal beast on its last breath.
My chest brushed against hers for the eighth time.
"LeVeq. Stop it."
"There are a lot of things I can do, sweet iris." The train jerked and my arm circled her waist. For balance, of course. "Controlling the New York City subway isn't one of them."
Sharp pain flared up my leg as she ground her boot into my toes.
"Loving couple," I reminded her.
She glared. Instead of breaking our cover, the pissed off look blended in with the other New Yorkers.
Rush hour crowd pressed against us, a sea of chaotic humanity swaying with each jostle. She leaned against the closed doors, eyes darting around the car. One arm braced above her, other hand lingered on the small of her back.
Heated pressure built low in my stomach and I imagined my hands running over those curves mere inches away. Shifting, I forced myself to run through multiplication tables instead.
At Penn station, a wave of new passengers squeezed in, pushing us closer. Her smell enveloped me, that tantalizing combination of sunshine and the clean air after a spring storm.
I lifted my eyes to the window and a stranger's reflection looked back. My Projection Virtue kept us unrecognizable out in public.
Shaggy, honey-brown hair framed serious brown eyes and a round, nondescript face. Worn jacket, jeans, and a plain sweater transformed me into just another broke grad student.
Her caramel locks were now a wispy dirty blonde. I filled out some parts of her body - that really pissed her off - but left her eyes and voice untouched.
I couldn't bear changing them.
The biggest difference was in her aura. She needed Empath to fight and track. Unlike Nix magic, my Virtue couldn't block it.
But I could create an illusion masking its strength.
According to the Chief Gardinel of Rivelleu, the elemental community in Manhattan, her aura dimmed enough that she looked like an ordinary ondine. Not the
With a deafening screech, we stopped at Times Square. It didn't seem possible, but the crush of people increased. I was now fully pressed up against her.
Chest. Hip. Thigh.
I started counting backward from a thousand.
She tensed. "We got one."
Finally. I needed to get some kind of action.
"North end of the car. Male, early thirties. Dark brown coat."
Since our arrival four days ago, we'd scoured the city to locate an Aquidae. Spending the month here provided a perfect opportunity to infiltrate the local cell and investigate the Shadow.
This was the first lead we found.
Tilting my head forward, I pretended to whisper in her ear and surveyed him.
Tall, six-one, six-two. Athletic, medium build. Black wool hat. Closely shorn head. Espresso-colored wool coat, suit and tie. Briefcase.
He barely glanced up, completely absorbed in his cell phone. Even if he noticed her aura, he wouldn't do anything. Too many humans.
Subway approached the Seventy-second Street station, but he showed no sign of exiting.
A large number of people got off, creating a bit of breathing room. Remaining passengers shifted to more comfortable positions in the cleared car.
Doors clattered shut and the train jerked forward.
She cleared her throat. "Move."
Was she gnashing her teeth?
"Exactly," I murmured. "Don't attract attention, darling."
Her hair brushed against my cheek. Sparks of heat ignited in my blood and there was that endless hunger again. The fascination whenever I was near her.
I was suddenly aware of the creamy soft skin at the base of her throat. If I leaned forward, just a bit, I could taste its warmth…
Another jerk as the train slowed. The Aquidae put away his phone and moved to the exit.
Damn. I'd hoped for a few more minutes.
Doors opened on to Ninety-sixth Street station. We waited a few seconds, then followed him up the stairs from the platform.
She punched my arm. Someone behind me snickered.
"What the hell was that for?"
"For not moving."
The indignation in her eyes was adorable. "It was work-related."
A group of rowdy high-schoolers got in front of us.
"Uh-huh," she said dryly. "And I suppose making my chest two sizes bigger also had to do with work."
Target headed left, toward the northwest exit.
"Of course." I passed through the turnstile and decided to push a little further. "It's important to create a pleasant work environment."
"Huh." Eyes narrowed, like she was picturing strangling me. "Then I'd like to file a complaint."
This should be good. "What is it?"
"If you're judging the quality of a workplace based on the view, then this is a disaster." She shot a pointed look at my pudgy torso and the bulging stomach hanging over the front of my jeans. "I want washboard abs. A tight ass. Perfectly muscled chest."
Her eyes dropped to the front of my pants.
"And I'd also like a bigger…size," she said sweetly.
Laughter burst from my lips. Unfortunately, part of my disguise was a voice that matched the external sloppiness.
A wheezy cackle echoed in the concrete stairwell.
"You sound like a hyena with a cold."
She was too much fun. "Management will take your complaint under consideration."
We climbed out into the night just as the tall, black-capped figure turned west on Ninety-seventh.
New York's bitter winter chill barreled down on us. Our breaths fogged the air as we weaved through fast moving crowds on Broadway.
Maintaining half a block's distance, we followed him across West End Avenue toward the river. Halfway down the street, a doorman stepped out to greet him and he entered the building.
We casually walked past, continuing to the entrance of Riverside Park.
Shivering, Kendra pulled her coat tighter and settled on a bench with a direct view of the building entrance.
"What's the plan?"
We knew where an Aquidae lived. Now it was a matter of gathering the necessary information.
"It's a Friday night. He'll probably go out soon." Once he did, I'd approach. I took out my phone to make the call. "You should go back to the brownstone."
The wards around the building would keep her safe while I was gone.
"I'm coming with you," she said.
"You already did your part."
I paused. The glint in her eyes suddenly reminded me of the Governor.
"So why do I need you?"
"I can track them." She crossed her arms. "Useful skill to have."
True. But her imperious expression left me irritable. Even on the opposite side of the country, Haverleau's influence was everywhere.
"Can you be a good tracking dog and heel when I tell you to?"
"I don't know." She flashed a deadly smile. "Can you walk around the city after I break your leg in two places?"
My mouth twitched. "You'll need to stay hidden. Your aura is less visible, but it's still there. I don't want him to notice you."
A light snow began to fall, delicate drops landing on our clothes and hair.
"I have no problems defending —"
"I'm meeting him as an Aquidae. My only objective is convincing him I'm one of them. If we spot you, I have to look like I want to hurt you." I gently brushed a flake off her brow. "That's something I'd like to avoid."
Worry briefly flickered across her face. But it disappeared as quickly as the snow melting on her coat.
"Fine. So what's next, Lieutenant?"
I wondered if her concern was for the investigation or me.
The purple velvet sofa enveloped me like a throne.
Reclining on the plush upholstery, I stretched my legs and observed tonight's setting.
An assortment of clientele packed the two levels of Inferno, a club in the Meatpacking District of the West Village.
Giddy young models enjoyed their first taste of city nightlife. New Jersey players with money to burn came for a wild night on the other side of the Hudson. A few B-list actors and musicians lounged, accompanied by the usual bullshit entourage of hanger-ons and wannabes.
House music pulsed with a hypnotic beat. Red splashes of light painted the walls and floor, combining with dark purple and black furnishings to create a carefully cultivated look of hellish hedonism.
It was my kind of place.
A brunette danced in my line of sight. Tight, glittery mini-skirt rode up her thigh, showing off long legs wrapped in dark tights and knee-high boots.
A little drunk. Maybe on something else, too.
She gazed at me with half-closed lids, invitation clearly written across her pouty face.
Her position on the center of the floor was convenient.
I sauntered over. She smiled, the way women did when they knew how much power they had over a man.
I indulged her with the frankly appreciative look she wanted. Placed hands on her hips, pulled her close.
Eyes swept the club's darkened corners as she enthusiastically rubbed against me.
She was tracking his location. But I wished I could keep a visual on them.
Brunette shoved herself against my chest, demanding my attention. This close, the amount of make-up she'd caked on seemed like a hardened mask in palettes of red and smoke.
I pulled away, giving a small smile to ease the rejection. Disappointment cut across her face and her mouth fell.
She was hurt. Nothing I could do about it.
Restless, I made my way to the bar on the far east wall. "Absolut. On the rocks."
I turned back to the main floor, elbows propped on the countertop.
Preliminary background info came in as we waited outside the Aquidae's building. Our target went by the innocuous name of Barry Lewison. On paper, he was a respectable citizen who'd lived in that apartment for ten years and owned an art consulting company in downtown Manhattan.
Aquidae cells had their hands in a wide variety of illegal activities to sustain their immortality. Barry and his dummy corporation were likely involved in art smuggling.
Bartender handed over my drink. I took a long sip, hoping the alcohol would warm my insides.
It was too much waiting.
Waiting meant being aware of what was lacking.
I knew there should be something more. Some fundamental spark normal people had that made them appreciate their mortality, value their connection to others.
But for me, there was nothing else.
Only an icy ball of boredom and mock amusement constantly driving me to the next adrenaline rush.
A few other things helped. Reading. Art. Uncomplicated human women. Temporary things that distracted, made me feel, gave me something to hold on to.
But what eased it the most was the company of an intriguing ondine whose destiny bound her to everything I despised.
So I trained her. Spent time with her. Came to this city with her.
It wasn't enough. I needed to get closer.
I didn't even know where she was in the club because I couldn't see her aura like the gardinels.
Irritated, I swallowed the rest of my drink. The vodka blazed a fiery trail down my tight throat.
Mr. Fucking Perfect Warrior Prince.
The person I'd always fail in comparison to, even if he couldn't give her a future.
Ultimately, it didn't matter whether I was a Redavi or a chevalier. Who the hell could measure up to a prince?