Burning Skies Page 57

“Yes,” Parisa said, her gaze fixed to the untouched pasta. “Havily explained everything to me.”

“Good. And don’t worry, we’ll get all this sorted out at the committee meeting tomorrow.”

Parisa released a heavy sigh.

* * *

After lunch, Marcus leaned an elbow on the mantel of the fireplace on the west wall of Endelle’s office. He looked his woman up and down. She wore a mid-calf gray silk dress and a dappled scarf, tall gray leather heels. Dynamite. And so at odds with the skunk-lady.

What a contrast between the women, at least from a fashion viewpoint. One thing about Havily, she set an excellent tone for the administrative offices.

But in the past hour, as Endelle barked her way through the coaching session, Havily had made little progress. Though she reclined on the chaise-longue intended to encourage her darkening abilities, Marcus felt certain, given what he understood of Havily’s temperament, that her concentration was fogged by the fact that she had a meeting in less than an hour with her committee heads.

“But I can’t even feel,” she said, “anywhere in my body or in my mind or over my nerve endings, a sensation that remotely resembles splitting myself into two parts. It makes no sense.”

“It’s not supposed to make sense,” Endelle cried. “What are you, a fucking moron? How many times have I said this is an ability, a power, just like dematerializing. You can’t think yourself into a self-split, you just have to feel it.”

“But I can’t feel it,” Havily shouted. She swung her legs over the side of the chaise-longue. “I can’t do this. I know I need to, but there’s nothing there, no sensation, nothing. Every time I think of the darkening, swoosh, I’m there.”

“Then stop thinking!”

Marcus tried not to smile but there was something perverted in the male psyche that liked to see two women, two beautiful women fight, maybe with the hope that they’d get physical and start wrestling. The thought of Havily on the ground wrestling with another woman did him in.

Havily turned toward him very slowly, her mouth agape. “Why am I smelling fennel?” she cried, her temper now raging in his direction as she rose to her feet.

He could only shift and rest his back against the mantel. He crossed his arms over his chest. He shrugged and said, “I was just hoping this was going to turn into a catfight. One of my favorite things.”

Havily hunched her shoulders, narrowed her eyes, and growled. “You’d better be careful, oh-grinning-bastard, or you’ll be dead meat in about two seconds.”

Okay, he was enjoying this way too much and completely at her expense. He turned away and tried to compose his face but he couldn’t keep from smiling and chuckling. When from his peripheral vision he could see that she had now planted her hands on her hips, he said, “I’m sorry.”

“You are no help at all,” she cried. “Maybe you should leave the room. Or help us out here. Do you have any suggestions?”

This time Endelle chuckled. “You know, Morgan, for a minute there, with all that sarcasm and the wag of your head when you said that, you sounded just like me.”

Havily gasped again and whirled. “And you,” she cried, her light green eyes blazing as she shot a finger sword-like in Endelle’s direction, “You’re the worst!”

Endelle, instead of throwing the woman to the floor and planting her stiletto on Havily’s neck, threw her head back and laughed, not a simple trill, but the full-throated, deep-chested laughter of a woman who had seen and done everything.

The room calmed down and Havily once more sat on the chaise-longue, her knees together but her feet splayed to the side. She looked like she was about ten except that her gaze moved back and forth over the zebra skin in front of the desk. Her lips worked and her brow crinkled. The funny thing was, she didn’t seem all that upset. She was like Endelle in that once she gave vent, the moment passed.

Marcus watched her and put his mind to the difficulty. He wanted to help but he’d never done anything split-self. He couldn’t imagine the difficulty involved. Finally, he said, “I know I don’t have a basis of experience from which to offer advice, but Havily maybe this is more about you than about the skill itself.”

“What do you mean?” Her brow was still wrinkled.

“I’m going to get into so much trouble saying this, but I think it might go to the issue here.”

“Just say it,” Endelle snapped. “Havily’s not as delicate as she looks.”

Endelle was both right and wrong on this one. Havily was a helluva lot stronger than she looked, than she presented herself. But she could be wounded … easily. Still, he knew he was on the right track when he said, “You don’t trust yourself, you don’t trust life, and I don’t blame you. So how can you even think about splitting yourself into two pieces when you’ve spent the last century holding yourself together?”

The room got very quiet.

Havily rose once more from the chaise-longue. She looked like he’d slapped her, hard, right across the face. She rubbed her forehead and shook her head. “If that’s the case then we’re done here.”

She moved around the bottom of the chaise and headed to the door.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” Endelle cried. “We’re not finished! We’ve just gotten started.”

Havily kept moving. “I have a meeting I need to prepare for. We can practice tomorrow if you want.”

“Get the fuck back here.”

“Endelle,” Marcus cried. “Let her go. This is enough for one day and she has the Reception tonight.”

Endelle turned on him just the same. “But you’ve felt it, too. I’ve seen it inside your head. She has to figure this out … now. Her life depends on it.”

“I know,” he said. “Damn, I wish we were both wrong about this but I’m going to the meeting. I want to talk to the head of security.”

“Ten heads of security won’t matter if Greaves gets involved tonight or tomorrow, you know that.”

“Then I’m just going to have to stick damn close so that if he messes with Havily, I can be the physical shield she needs.”

* * *

At six in the evening, long after Marcus and Havily, as well as Parisa, had returned from the administrative offices, Medichi approached the library, his tread slow and measured. Marcus and Havily were dressing for the Ambassadors Reception while he had orders to stay with Parisa at his villa, serving as her goddamn guardian.

He’d accepted his new orders from Endelle but only after he’d shouted at her for about ten minutes, paced her office a dozen times, then cursed her for laughing at him. He’d almost lost it when she’d spoken the word breh-hedden.

He had never hated her quite so much as in that moment.

But if all that hadn’t been enough, he’d actually suggested she assign guardian duty to Santiago. But the moment the words had left his mouth he’d started listing all the parameters he would require for his brother warrior to be around Parisa, to wit, a female Liaison Officer would have to be brought on board to stay twenty-four/seven by Parisa’s side, she must sleep in Parisa’s room, she should be someone Santiago could neither seduce nor manipulate, and Santiago should be required, required, to sleep in a tent on the villa grounds and not inside the house.

Endelle had laughed so hard she’d started to cry. And so his rant had continued in its completely irrational way until Her Supremeness, eyes streaming, had actually fallen on her ass in front of the fireplace, exclaiming that she’d just peed her skunk skirt and would he please get the hell out of her office.

So here he was, rattled as fucking hell. The worst possible thing had befallen him in having been assigned to guard Parisa Lovejoy until she completed her rite of ascension, which, if he understood, still hadn’t started, which meant that he couldn’t even say he had to do this for only three more days.

So … shit.

He stood at the threshold of the library and there she was, so beautiful sitting in her cloud of tangerine, curled up in a chair near the south wall. His heart fucking hurt just looking at her. She wore a silk tank top, turquoise this time, and jeans, clothes she had borrowed from Havily. He wondered if he should make an attempt to get into her house just to bring her something to wear. Well, there was plenty of time to sort that out. Better she was safe first.

He called to her softly, not wanting to startle her. “Parisa?”

She had a book open on her lap and looked up at him. She smiled and said, “Did you know that Luchianne ascended all by herself, that somehow she passed through the Trough on her own power, and that she never felt the smallest effects of the second dimension? She’s really amazing.”

“And you share that quality with her since you’re not feeling the effects of this dimension, either.” Just looking at her, he felt as he did when his wings needed to release: on edge, hungry, his body humming with energy.

She nodded. “Yes, that much is true,” she said. There was something reflective in her expression, as though she was weighing his words and her thoughts. “I know that part of my experience is similar to hers, but I don’t think I could have handled what she went through, always being the first to do these incredible feats. I’m just getting to the part where she discovered the existence of and fought the first death vampire. I feel so … inadequate next to her. I could never wield a sword.”

He glanced at the book. It was the one he’d recommended to her, a large tome filled mostly with anecdotes of the history of Second Society. Kerrick had once hunted through the same book looking for references to the breh-hedden in his hopes of finding a way to deflect all his possessive, jealous, and protective urges toward Alison.

Now here he was, Antony Medichi, ascended out of Italy some thirteen centuries ago, and caught so hard by the breh-hedden that visions poured through his head of crossing the room, picking Parisa up in his arms, carrying her to his bedroom, and taking her in every possible way.

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