“It’s not betrayal. Say it. What will you do, if and when it becomes necessary?”
Cam put his hands over his face for the privacy of dark to make a promise. He would do everything else first before taking this too easy way out. Absolutely everything else first, but this.
“It’s hard, I know. But say it.”
Son of a bitch angel. This was not what he signed up for. Not what he came to Segue for. What the hell was wrong with the world that he, of all people, would be asked this?
Fine. Only if absolutely necessary. “I’ll kill her.”
Ellie saw movement in the crack beneath the kitchen door. Someone was coming to try to get her to change her decision. Of course they were. She got off the floor for a little dignity, but her decision was already made.
There was a knock.
She briskly answered it, finding Cam on the other side.
“How are you holding up?” he asked. He looked unhappy. She was too.
“I’m fine now, thanks.” Now that she had her control back. “And I want to thank you for everything you’ve done. You and Segue and Laurence. I was looking for a solution, and I clearly came to the right place.”
“But it’s not the solution you want.” He stepped inside, closing the door behind him.
“No, I’m afraid not.” It was the solution she had feared. Still, she was glad she had tried. At least she had an answer.
“I’m guessing you already know my argument against your decision.”
“Yep. I know all sides.” All the good, the passions that her shadow promised, and all the bad of her wildness, her shamelessness. Ellie took a deep breath, as deep as she could. “Which is why I’ve decided to go back home. It’s best if my shadow isn’t around other people.” She didn’t elaborate why. He could figure it out. Her shadow was stronger than she, and though her dark half hadn’t yet demonstrated violence, Ellie knew she was capable. Ellie had firsthand knowledge of what her shadow could do. She couldn’t very well allow that madness to possess her. Laurence was naïve to even offer.
“So you’re giving up.”
She stuck out her chin. “I’m being smart.”
“You know it can’t end well, right?” His voice lowered.
“It can’t end well no matter what I do, so I prefer to keep that
outside of me.”
He nodded, though his expression showed he clearly did not agree. “There’s nothing I can say to change your mind?”
“No. I’m sorry.” She didn’t know why she added the last bit, except that she was disappointing him. And she liked him and didn’t want him thinking badly of her, even though it was inevitable.
“What about the danger—”
“I’m fully aware, thanks,” Ellie interrupted.
“Okay,” he said.
He moved so fast that her lips parted in a swift intake of breath. His arms went around her, one at her waist, one high at her shoulders, a hand to the back of her head. And his mouth came down on hers, hot, the texture all male. His body was tense, the length and strength of him evident in the hard planes of his muscle, the expert balance of their weight . . . but not like she’d seen or read in books. Especially the hot ones.
Her first kiss, only kiss. And she wanted to lose herself in it. In Cam, who was wonderful.
His mouth stroked hers, a tease for a response, and she tried to give back, holding on to him, and pressing with all her might. She molded her body to his, but the kiss was still . . . not . . . quite . . .
Ellie saw her shadow step out of the wall, a gleam of
in her eyes. Ellie squeezed her own eyes shut to deny her presence so that she could have this one moment to herself. One chance to kiss and be kissed. One chance before they went home.
But her shadow would not be denied. In a burn of fury, Ellie felt her shadow occupy the same space as her flesh and blood body. Felt the dark want of her self engage in the kiss, and with it a scorching passion that made the kiss
the feel of his body a torment of not quite bliss against her. His tongue rubbed hers, and she and her shadow responded with a slide of her own.
A tight place, low down, beat with need and her body changed in his hold from a clutch to a melding that begged for sex. Sex, she got it now. Cam growled from somewhere deep in his chest, tightening his arms.
Ellie wanted him.
The fever leaped, her vision blanking, her body tensing with a primal knowledge, loosening in preparation. Ready.
Too much! Ellie drew back, gasping for air and blinking hard. She fought her way out of Cam’s grasp and stumbled backward, hitting her head on a cupboard. Stars pricked into her vision, but not so many that she didn’t see her shadow still kissing Cam.
“Stop it!” Ellie yelled, though she didn’t know if she was yelling at herself or at him.
Cam’s eyes opened, flicked to her, a pace from his position. He shoved her shadow away from him, stuttering, “I . . . um . . .” while keeping her shadow at arm’s length.
It wasn’t fair. That feeling. That indescribable feeling. Her shadow got the best of everything. Absolutely everything.
“Ellie—” Cam said.
She cut him off. “Just don’t.” She shook her head, trying to get rid of the drugging feel of his kiss. She pulled her thoughts back together. The kiss had felt magnificent, but her shadow was just too damn strong. “That was a really good try—”
“Better than good,” Cam corrected.
“But you have to see how it won’t work, how she takes over.” Just look how dark, how
her shadow had become.
Ellie turned abruptly and fumbled for a drink of water. Anything to occupy herself.
She pushed the faucet lever full blast. “Together I won’t be me.”
Cam left Ellie to her drink, exiting the kitchen. She’d think it through and maybe come to another decision. The stunt her shadow had pulled had unnerved him too, and Ellie had had a lifetime of it. The kiss was an impulse. If discussion wasn’t going to change her mind, maybe a little demonstration would. Had it worked? Outlook, doubtful. Maybe he was rusty.
No. He’d done a damn fine job. And so had she.
He closed the door behind him, doubting her shadow would follow into the room occupied by the angel. After what had happened in the bedroom, Cam was pretty sure Ellie’s shadow
“Valiant effort,” Laurence said from his stance at the window, a sardonic curl to his mouth.
“Well, I try,” Cam answered back. The commentary was unnecessary.
What to do now? If she took the angel up on his offer, then she’d be cured. She might need counseling, but the threat the shadow posed would be over. If she opted against, then what? Would she be permitted to leave Segue? Who got to decide? Marshall? The angel? Adam Thorne?
“Or maybe you?” Laurence suggested.
“The mind reading thing is annoying,” Cam said. “Can you cut it out?”
“Yes, but I won’t. Not until matters are resolved.” The angel closed his eyes. “Which I think will be very soon.”
He had to be reading Ellie’s mind. “What’s she thinking? Is she going to do it?”
“I’m not in Ellie Russo’s mind, just now.” Laurence said. “I’m marveling at the audacity of the man intending to steal Kathleen O’Brien’s painting.”
Cam had been about to sit, but straightened in alarm instead. “What? Who?”
“The window into the Shadowlands, of course,” Laurence said. “And the thief would be your team leader, Dr. Leonard Joseph Shelstad.”
Yeah, he was prick enough when he wanted to be. Cam remembered the trees, the lushness of the growth. The thick magic in the dark spaces, and the species that existed within. Stealing that painting was beyond criminal—it was corrupt. Someone had to stop him.
“It’s an excellent opportunity, don’t you think?” Laurence opened his eyes. “Wouldn’t you be tempted? You’re a lot alike, after all. Both pledging your intellects to the study of magic.”
Where was security? Where were all the soldiers that were supposed to protect Segue?
“The soldiers were ordered away from this part of the building for my visit,” Laurence said. “The cameras are offline to protect the existence of my kind, the knowledge of which is worth more than any painting. Even that one.”
Angels. “Well, can’t
“I can, but I won’t. It is against the credo—”
“Yeah yeah, I heard that part already,” Cam interrupted. The human interference thing. For pete’s sake, it was ridiculous. The angel would just stand by and do nothing. All right, God damn it, if the angel wouldn’t stop Lenny, Cam would. This whole business was a mess.
“Oh, dear,” Laurence said. “It seems Lenny has
someone else with his intent as well. Can you guess who?”
Well, anybody who’d ever seen the painting.
Laurence flicked his gaze to the closed kitchen door. “Ellie’s shadow felt strongly about it last night, didn’t she?”
“Her shadow is in the kitchen.” But horror bloomed in Cam’s mind. Her shadow didn’t stay anywhere for long.
Laurence pressed his lips together and shook his head slightly. “She’s not there anymore.”
Ellie was just about to open the door—she was steady now and ready to face them—when it flew open before her.
She startled back a step, but Cam grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into the living room. “You’re in trouble. Somebody’s trying to steal that painting, and your shadow is attempting to stop them.”
“What?” But her attention caught on the man at the window. Laurence. His piercing regard made her squirm, but she wasn’t going to do what he asked, so he could just go ahead and look the other way.
“If the blade at Lenny’s throat is any indication,” Laurence said, his gaze never wavering, “you’d best hurry.”
Cam yanked Ellie’s arm. “Are you listening?” he demanded, dragging her toward the door. “Your shadow has got a knife to my boss’s throat.”
Her attention snapped to Cam.
A knife? Her shadow?
Ellie shook her head to deny it. Couldn’t be. Not yet. Ellie had hoped to get away from this place, away from her farm even, far away from people, before she had to face this. It was too soon.
Cam jogged her down the hall, letting her arm go when she followed, with Laurence at the rear. She really wanted to run the other way. The hallway to the stairs was too short, the stairwell halved by the skipped steps on the way down. Cam foundered on the main level, not sure where to go. Laurence tilted his head in a direction, and they were off again, Cam bitterly mumbling
which Ellie didn’t understand at all.
“We’ll be too late,” Cam said over his shoulder as he rushed through connecting rooms. “She’ll kill him before we can get there.”
“We’ll be just in time,” said Laurence, who was not out of breath at all. “I will make certain that what happens is not a factor of a few steps.”
Ellie knew he was bent on making her responsible.
The door to the last room was open, strange, grunting sounds coming from within.
Cam made to enter, but Laurence touched his shoulder, stopping him. Both looked at Ellie.
Ellie didn’t want to go in there. She didn’t want to face the worst in herself—that she was violent, maybe even a killer. For a second she thought to turn her back on the scene, but that would be silly and futile. Part of her was already inside. If she was going to do this thing, damn herself in front of Cam and Laurence and probably her Gran, who’d promised to watch over them, then all of her would be present.
Ellie entered first. The painting of the magical world leaned against the wall, one corner of its canvas cut from the frame and hanging forward in a curl. Nevertheless, the forest was once again alive with gorgeous promise. A man, the one with the long chin, lay on the floor at the painting’s base, his head craning toward the door as he gasped, “Help!” And her naked shadow, opaque and glossy in her solid state, straddled him. Her expression was ugly as she held a box cutter to his throat.
“You hurt the painting,” her shadow snarled.
Cam and Laurence entered and both circled around to view the damage and her shadow monster. Cam held a hand behind his back, as if he concealed something. He stood straight, almost rigid, like one of the soldiers. His skin had gone pasty pale, but he didn’t watch her shadow. Cam kept his eyes on Ellie.
“Now is as good a time as any, Ellie,” Laurence said. “I won’t hold her any longer.”
Any moment her shadow could draw the blade across the man’s throat.
Ellie shook her head. “I’m not strong enough for her anymore.” Years ago maybe, but even then . . .
“Please, Ellie,” Cam begged. He looked ill.
The man on the floor snorted through tears and snot. His face was flushed, sweat glistening. “Help me!” he screamed, though the movement sent a trickle of blood down his neck.
Gran would be so sad, so disappointed that it had come to this.
Ellie lifted her gaze to Laurence. “I’m not nearly strong enough, but I’ll try.”
Cam swayed on his feet, breathing relief. He must really care. His arm dropped to his side, and Ellie saw that he held a gun.
A shiver swept her as the reason for it popped into her mind. She hadn’t considered that he might have been planning to stop her shadow in the only way possible. By stopping
Laurence opened his palm toward the couple struggling on the floor in an invitation. “Quickly.”
Ellie knew what he meant. She had an idea from Cam’s kiss about how this would work. There was no way she could be passive about this merging. She had to take control herself.
She walked toward her panting shadow, whose eyes were wide and wild. With a gulp, Ellie lowered her body, crawling into the same crouch as her dark self. Her knees found the same bend, her thighs the same grip on the man’s trunk. Her hand on the blade.