Burning Skies Page 65

When he entered the tent, the tightness in his chest eased a little more and he had the thought that maybe everything would be okay, that maybe this creeping sense of anxiety was unwarranted.

The North End Command Center was an electronic dream. “How many of these do you have up and down the lake?”

“Thirty in all, one on each side, every mile. The grids overlap.”

Marcus stared at an electronic display just smaller than a movie theater screen. It was huge.

“Good. This is good,” he murmured.

Seriffe clapped him on the back. “Every hotel has secure landing platforms as well. All guests have had scheduled folding times. Anyone arriving early or late or not on the checklist undergoes interrogation. No one in or out without our people checking then double-checking.”

Marcus met his gaze but he saw in the warrior’s eyes the same thing he knew. Greaves could get through. Maybe one of his minions, so shit. Neither of them spoke the unnecessary words aloud.

Seriffe took a deep breath. “I have to get back. My second has been beeping for the past ten minutes. But I can bring someone here, one of my aides, to take you anywhere you want to go. Up to you.”

“Thanks, Seriffe, but I’ve seen enough. I appreciate you taking the time.”

Seriffe nodded and smiled, sort of. He looked sad. “We heard about the attack at the villa. Havily Morgan is one of ours, you know.”

He did know. She was beloved among the Militia Warriors. He nodded.

Seriffe entered the dematerialization departure platform, lifted an arm, almost a salute, then vanished.

Marcus took the platform next. He gave Central a call and asked for a fold back to the villa. With Endelle’s repaired mist still intact, he’d need assistance. He asked Jeannie to give Medichi a heads-up. Less than a minute later the vibration began.

* * *

Havily stood in the bedroom doorway as Marcus sank down on the side of the bed facing the window. He still wore full-on battle gear but seemed distracted.

She was frustrated that he’d just taken off without telling her what he intended to do. “Why didn’t you ask me to go with you? I would have appreciated seeing the whole setup from the air as well.”

But Marcus didn’t look at her. Instead he flicked the hilt of his dagger several times with his thumb, his gaze fixed outside. She wasn’t sure he’d even heard her. His hair was every which way from having been flying, and sweat trickled down his neck. He had the smell of the outdoors on his skin. Her nostrils flared as his fennel scent brought a shiver rippling down her neck.


His posture struck her as odd, even deflated. “Okay. What’s wrong? Were you dissatisfied with Seriffe’s security measures? I thought the plan from the beginning was extremely thorough.”

Marcus turned to look at her over his shoulder, one fist planted on his thigh. He scowled. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

She tried again. “From what you observed, do you think Colonel Seriffe has done an adequate job? Do I have cause to be concerned?”

“Concern? No. Oh, hell, no. He’s got fifteen miles of lake and desert locked down like a virgin wearing a chastity belt.”

“Well, that’s certainly an interesting image.” The man had seen some history.

But he didn’t smile. He just stared at her and grimaced then turned once more in the direction of the window.

Okay, something was wrong.

She moved from the doorway of the bedroom to stand opposite him, blocking his view. She crossed her arms over her chest. He looked hot as hell sitting there in a black leather kilt. The traditional warrior harness put his heavy muscled arms on display.

Again … focus. “Marcus, what’s wrong?”

He huffed a sigh. “We need to complete the breh-hedden.”

“The breh-hedden? You’re thinking about that right now? I thought you were worried about security for the spectacle.”

He shook his head. “The entire time I was out there, all I could think was that if Greaves got his hands on you, or that bastard Crace, I wouldn’t be able to find you. So yeah”—he lifted a mulish chin to stare at her, his lips in a grim line—“we need to complete the breh-hedden and we need to do it now.”

Well, how romantic.

She shook her head. “Uh … no. I thought I made it clear that though this has been nice, and at times quite extraordinary, I can’t, I won’t become that involved with anyone again and especially not at the level of the breh-hedden.”

He rose up, his fists bunched at his sides. “Dammit, Havily, we don’t have a choice here. My instincts are firing off grenades right now where you’re concerned. You’re in danger. I can’t explain it, but I know. And if we’re bonded, wherever you are, I’ll be able to get to you, to protect you. Right now that’s all I care about.”

Havily took a step back. She wasn’t going to be pressured into completing the breh-hedden, not by him, not by anyone. “Well, tough shit, Warrior. The hell I’m going to bond with you when I have little doubt you’ll be headed back to Mortal Earth as soon as your ‘instincts’ tell you it’s okay to leave again. Or did you think I’d forgotten about that?”

His face paled and his slash of brows sank low. “So that’s it? That’s the sum total of your opinion of me? Even if I say I’ve returned, you’ll always see me as a deserter, nothing more?”

She had really screwed up. Marcus had more than proven himself over the past few days, as well as the enormous thirty-eight hundred years before exiling himself to Mortal Earth. She wasn’t even sure why she’d dragged all that out again, except that he’d gotten in her face, her heart had started hammering, and she’d met his aggression head-on, the way she’d been meeting Endelle’s aggression for the past four months.

“I didn’t mean it,” she said.

A cold light entered his eye. “You didn’t?” he asked in a way-too-soft voice. “Then what did you mean?”

Thoughts flooded her head—that she was too frightened to complete the breh-hedden, that she was too attached to him already, that if anything happened to him, if he died, she’d have to bury someone else she loved.

Someone else she loved.

Oh. God. She squeezed her eyes shut and put a hand to her chest.

So there it was, the hideous truth she’d been avoiding from the first. She’d fallen in love with Warrior Marcus, head-over-heels, 100 percent, fallen in love.

She felt his hand on her shoulder. When she opened her eyes, he shook his head back and forth. “Don’t sweat it, sweetheart. I think I understand what’s going on in that head of yours. You don’t respect me. Fine. No breh-hedden, no nothing. You’ve been a good lay and you’re right, as soon as I can manage it, I’m back to Seattle One, right where I fucking belong.”

He moved past her and left the bedroom.

Her head wagged as though she had no control over it. What had just happened? How had they gone from congenial to breaking up in the space of about a two-minute conversation?

Great. Just great.

* * *

Two hours later, dressed in a mid-calf, silk sundress against the June heat, Havily stood in the most centrally located of the security command centers. Colonel Seriffe oversaw the entire operation from this tent, which had been set up on the Bredstone Hotel grounds. This command center was the hub and drew in feeds from all the others. It was essentially the control room for the entire operation.

Seriffe sat in a chair and wore a headset.

The main concern involved the fireworks stations set up throughout the White Tanks. The video displays off to the right showed a continuous revolving feed of the various batteries.

Marcus stood near her, off to her left side and back a foot or so. She hadn’t exchanged but a handful of polite words with him since the argument about completing the breh-hedden. Which was just as well. She needed to be focused on the spectacle. Although she didn’t seem to have much cause for concern as her gaze shifted over the vast array of screens in front of her. The colonel had everything in hand.

Spectators had arrived from all over the world. They filled the several hundred grandstands up and down the lake, enjoyed private parties on hotel balconies, and those who couldn’t afford the pricier tickets spread out blankets lakeside. Sporadic cheering erupted from the southern reaches as the spectacle, conducted on and over the lake, reached the various hotels and stands.

The decorated barges arrived first, ten in all. Each barge carried at least eight ambassadors. Thirty Militia Warriors, in full-mount, flew in protective formation around each barge. The vessels moved swiftly over the water and would reach the north end of the lake within an hour. With the sun still present in the western reaches of the sky, every barge was fully visible the length of White Lake.

Havily watched the monitors, her eyes flickering back and forth constantly. The hour seemed to drag from the time the last barge began its journey and ended at the North End Command Center. When Seriffe received the report that the last of the ambassadors had folded back to a secured landing platform, Havily released a sigh of relief. One event down. Two to go.

Cheers coming from the south indicated that the spectacle performers were nearing the Bredstone location.

She glanced at Marcus, forgetting for a moment that they were at odds, and smiled. He seemed to understand since he dipped his chin, a very approving gesture, and smiled in return. He then moved a little closer and whispered, “Sorry I pressed you earlier.”

She turned into him. “I really am sorry for what I said. I spoke defensively and I apologize.”

“Apology accepted.” But he didn’t touch her, not even a brush of his hand against hers. The disconnect hurt.

“This is fantastic,” Seriffe cried. “Havily, you should go outside and watch the show. I’ve got things here. Look at those swans in formation. How the hell do they do that?”

The monitors provided ongoing footage from dozens of stationary cameras all along the route. Images were fed into the command center and managed by three ascenders working from computers.

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