In his keeping, p.8
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       In His Keeping, p.8
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         Part #2 of Slow Burn series by Maya Banks

  Zack gets here, take Ari and leave me. The police and ambulance will be on scene shortly. They’ll have to pull me out and the last thing Ari needs is more media attention. Better for you—and her—to be as far away from this as possible. It’s obvious who was at fault here and I doubt those idiots are going to volunteer much information to the police. I have enough contacts with HPD that I won’t have an issue.”

  “Damn it,” Beau swore. “You know that’s not the way we operate. We don’t leave a man down.”

  Brent’s piercing gaze sought Beau’s. “And you know this is the way it has to go down. You and Ari can’t be involved in this. You have to get her away from here before the cops show up as well as the media if it’s suspected or discovered you have any link to her.”

  Brent made a solid point but that didn’t mean Beau had to like it.

  Before he could argue, though he knew his arguments would fall on deaf ears because Brent, as well as most of the DSS operatives, were headstrong, stubborn as hell and tended to do things their own way, he heard a vehicle roar up and brake hard behind the wreckage of their vehicle.

  He sighed because those under him always managed to get the job done, and he had left them largely alone and had instructed Dane and Eliza to do the same.

  Zack stalked up, anger smoldering in his deep green eyes.

  “Sitrep,” he demanded.

  Beau quickly brought him up to speed even as they hustled Ari into Zack’s waiting vehicle. They didn’t have time to stand around while Beau gave Zack the rundown from start to finish.

  Suddenly Ari shoved both men aside, catching them off guard so that they stumbled. Beau watched in horror as one of the men crawled from the wreckage Ari had caused and pointed a gun in their direction.

  “No!” he roared, his shout immediately echoed by Zack as they both lunged for Ari, trying to cover her.

  A shot rang out and the two men stared in bewilderment as the bullet slowed, enough that they could see it whizzing in Ari’s direction. Even as much as she was able to slow it, and direct it away from the men, it clipped her side and she sank to her knees, her hand going to the wound that was already seeping blood.

  Beau was furious. He was pissed that Ari had taken a bullet meant for him or Zack. He was pissed that he was supposed to be protecting her and yet she’d stood in the way while he and Zack had been shoved out of the line of fire.

  Ari was bent over, pale, blood streaming from her nose, mouth and ears and now her side where the bullet had grazed her.

  He and Zack immediately formed a protective barrier around her and Beau scooped Ari up and all but threw her into Zack’s armored car, where no more bullets could penetrate the vehicle and especially her. His mind was a haze of fury. He wanted to take those sons of bitches out right here and now.

  But in the distance, the wail of sirens could be heard. As much as it ate at him to leave Brent, his driver was armed and capable of defending himself and the ones capable of fleeing had already left the scene. With police and rescue en route, he doubted the idiot who’d shot Ari would chance another shot, and if he did, Brent’s aim was deadly, even if he was trapped in the wrecked vehicle.

  Beau settled Ari in the backseat and slid in next to her. He fumbled underneath the seat and dug out a first aid kit. He needed to clean the blood from her face and ears. She looked as if someone had beaten the hell out of her, with the older bruises and the fresh blood. But his first priority was seeing how much damage the bullet had caused. He hoped to hell it was only the graze it appeared to be.

  “What the hell happened back there?” Zack demanded as he glanced in his rearview mirror. “Do I need to take her straight to the hospital? She’s bleeding from more than the gunshot.”

  Ari was vehemently shaking her head even as Beau vetoed the idea.

  “Psychic bleed,” he explained to Zack. “She’ll need to be monitored to ensure she didn’t do permanent damage to her brain or if there was a severe hemorrhage.”

  Zack scowled, his expression causing Ari to scoot even closer to Beau as if she were afraid of the other man. Beau instantly put his arm around her like it was the most natural reaction in the world.

  “Psychic bleed?” Zack questioned. “Is she psychic then? Is that what happened to those other vehicles who tried to run you off the road?”

  Ari stiffened, going rigid in Beau’s arms. Her respirations were shallow and he didn’t know if it was from blood loss, fear or a combination of both.

  “He can be trusted,” Beau whispered against her ear. “He works for me and there’s no one I trust more than my brothers.”

  She gave a short nod, but she still regarded Zack warily as they drove as fast as they could without gaining the notice or attention of a cop setting a speed trap.

  “You going to fill me in on what the hell is going on and who our new client is?” Zack asked impatiently.

  One corner of Beau’s mouth quirked upward. How like Zack to automatically insert himself right into the thick of things. His hands were wrapped firmly around the steering wheel, his knuckles white as he performed swift lane changes to weave in and out of the busy traffic on the 610 loop.

  “Later,” Beau said shortly. “Right now I need to get her to safety and make sure she’s okay. And I’ll need you to get on the horn and figure out who’s free to help out on this assignment. I know Dane and Eliza are tied up with another job at the moment.”

  “I’ll handle it,” Zack said simply.

  “Where are we going?” Arial asked in a quiet voice.

  She seemed in shock, the blood a stark contrast to the paleness of her features. Beau fished in the first aid kit and then slowly lifted her blood-soaked shirt so as not to alarm her.

  In answer to the unspoken question and the wariness in her eyes, he soothed her as best as he could. He wasn’t a smooth-talking guy. He was too blunt and abrasive to know how to calm a woman’s fears. Especially a woman he was currently stripping free of her shirt.

  “I need to see how bad this is,” he said with calm he didn’t feel.

  Inside he was a seething caldron of fire, furious that she’d deliberately put herself in the line of fire to protect him and Zack. That was his job. To protect her. Not the other goddamn way around and it pissed him off no end that she’d put herself at such risk. It would not happen again, and as soon as he was assured she was all right they were going to have a serious come-to-Jesus meeting about the way things would be going forward.

  She winced when he carefully prodded the two-inch-long gash in her side. But what pissed him off further were the purple bruises that were already present on her rib cage. Evidence of her last run-in with the bastards after her.

  “It’s not too bad,” he murmured. “It needs stitching, but we can take care of that when we get to a safe place.”

  Her eyebrow rose in question.

  “When you have more money than God, as is the case with Caleb, doctors come to him, not the other way around,” Beau said with a shrug.

  “And not you?” she queried. “Don’t you share in the Devereaux fortune?”

  He shrugged again, uncomfortable with discussing his financial status. Most of the Devereaux fortune was tainted money. Inherited from their parents, who had most certainly been involved in shady dealings. At least his father had. He had no way of knowing whether his mother had knowledge of his father’s dealings or was directly involved herself.

  They’d put the money to good use and had made their fortune the old-fashioned way. By earning it through hard work and smart investing. People no doubt thought all their money had been inherited when, in fact, their parents hadn’t left them much, considering their net worth when they’d been murdered.

  “Where are we going?” she asked, more firmly this time as if she’d shaken some of the numbness she’d experienced up to now.

  “Someplace safe,” Beau said grimly. “Somewhere I can be sure of your safety so you don’t go off half-cocked in search of your parents. You hired me to do
a job and that’s precisely what I intend to do. But you’re staying put where I stash you. The last thing I need is to have to worry about you when we’re trying to track your parents’ whereabouts.”

  “I won’t get in the way,” she said softly. “If you believe you can find my parents, then you have my full cooperation.”

  Satisfied with her promise, he carefully began cleaning the blood from Ari’s nose, face and ears. Some had even slithered in long trails down the sides of her necks to her shoulders and even lower onto her chest.

  He did his best to preserve her modesty, leaving her bra on even as bloody as it was. The last thing he wanted was to embarrass her or make her self-conscious.

  “I’ve never bled before,” she said in obvious confusion. “I don’t understand. You called it a psychic bleed. How could you possibly know what that is?”

  Beau gently scrubbed the last of the blood from her face and inspected her to see if she’d incurred more bruising. He frowned when he saw thin cuts to her arms and hands, no doubt received when she’d crawled out of the overturned vehicle.

  He set to work cleaning and then putting antiseptic on the cuts before covering them in light bandages.

  “I’ve had experience with people with psychic abilities,” he said calmly. “The bleeds seem to occur when the psychic is concentrating very hard on an object or mental thread. It can be overwhelming. Sometimes it can seriously harm them.”

  She shivered, her arms going around her body in a measure of self-protection. He nearly drew her back into his arms, like she’d been before, but he forced himself to maintain a professional distance. Chill bumps danced over her skin either from shock or worse. With the mental strain she’d undergone, her brain might be temporarily unable to regulate her body temperature. It firmed his resolve that as soon as they had her safely tucked away he was going to have her thoroughly checked out by a physician he trusted. One who had experience with psychic bleeds.

  “I’ve never used my powers like that,” she admitted. “I had no idea if I could do something of that magnitude. In the past I’ve floated objects. Small things. My parents said that from the time I was an infant I would summon my two favorite stuffed animals to my crib. It freaked my mother out until they realized it was me doing it and not someone in the room with me without their knowledge. I was told never to use my powers and so I didn’t. It’s been years. And then the incident at the school. I didn’t think about it. It just came naturally. Automatic almost, as though I’d been using and honing my skills my entire life. And just now. Did you see those cars flip?”

  There was incredulity in her question as if she didn’t quite believe it herself.

  Beau nodded. “Indeed I did. Very impressive.”

  “I had no idea,” she said in a grave tone. “I have to find a way to control it now that it seems to come so naturally to me. I don’t want to hurt someone or, God forbid, kill someone by using my powers.”

  Beau tucked his hand underneath her chin and turned her face so she looked him in the eye. “You’ll get it under control. What you did today seemed very controlled to me. You didn’t blow up anything. You just made it so they were incapacitated.”

  Her face wrinkled in silent question. Then she flashed those mesmerizing eyes as she looked up at him.

  “Do you think I could blow something up? I mean if I pictured it in my mind?”

  Beau was hesitant to answer. Ari on a mission could be a serious wild card and impossible for DSS to do their jobs if she chose to go out on her own, confident in her ability to do anything. And maybe she could. But he’d be damned if she went after the bastards who held her parents alone.

  “Is that how you caused them to flip and crash?” he asked calmly. “By picturing it in your mind?”

  She slowly nodded. “It was hard, because I had to hold the image and focus solely on it. I couldn’t allow any distraction; otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to flip the car like I did. I haven’t practiced, haven’t used my powers since I was a child. So I’m not entirely certain what I’m capable of. Simply because I’ve never had the chance to measure my abilities in a controlled environment.”

  “I’d say you’re pretty damn powerful, especially for someone who has barely used her talents and only when you were a child. I’m thinking if you practice any more then the world had better watch out.”

  He said the last with a quirk of his mouth, a hint of a smile hovering on his lips.

  “You forget I saved our asses,” she said tartly.

  “Yes, you did, and I certainly thank you for it, but in the future, if you ever pull a stunt like that again, I’ll spank your ass and tie you to a chair so you can’t go anywhere. And I’ll make damn sure that there is nothing in the room for you to use to free yourself. Are we clear?”

  She blinked in surprise. “Why on earth would you want me not to use telekinesis when we rescue my parents?”

  He took note of the fact that she said when, not if, they rescued her parents. While he wanted her to have hope, at the same time he didn’t think he could bear her grief were she to discover they were already dead. It was obvious that she was extremely close to her parents and that they, in turn, loved her just as much.

  “There is no we. I don’t want you involved, Ari,” he said bluntly. “Your father sent you to me for a reason. Because we’re the best at what we do. You’d be a liability because our focus would be split between protecting you and ensuring they don’t get their hands on you and rescuing your parents. Trust me to do my job and be patient. We—meaning me and my men—will find them.”

  Relief was stark in her eyes, as if she’d shouldered a heavy burden for some time and now found it suddenly lifted.

  “I believe you,” she said honestly. “And yes, I’ll stay out of your way unless you fail to find them soon. Then we do it my way and I turn myself over to them for the safe return of my mother and father. That’s all I can and am willing to promise.”

  TWELVE

  AFTER the initial surge of adrenaline wore off, pain snaked through Ari’s head and her side where the bullet had grazed her. She clenched her jaw, determined not to make a sound or allow Beau to know how much pain she was in. He had his own injuries from the wreck and the last thing he needed was to have to babysit and coddle her.

  She’d been pampered, catered to and sheltered her entire life and it was time to take control of her own destiny, be proactive and grow a spine. It was time to become the independent woman she’d planned to become when she’d taken the first step in her bid to remove herself from the bubble her parents had surrounded her with, by taking a teaching job.

  It was a job she loved but now she faced a very uncertain future since she’d been attacked by a student and defended herself using telekinesis.

  She let out a soft sigh and then promptly sucked in her breath and held herself completely still, hoping she hadn’t betrayed herself to Beau. She should have realized he’d pick up on the slightest noise.

  He instantly glanced her way, his eyes narrowing in concern. His gaze raked up and down her body almost as though he could see right through her clothing to the bruises, scrapes and cuts.

  “We’re almost there,” he said, surprising her by not commenting on her condition.

  She appreciated the fact that he was all business and treated her like a real . . . person. Not some helpless, useless little doll who would break if touched.

  Mentally, she reprimanded herself because she sounded ungrateful and resentful of the care her parents had taken with her. The lengths they’d gone to in order for her to lead a somewhat normal life.

  She had no regrets for the way she was raised. She loved her mother and father dearly and wouldn’t trade those years or their closeness for anything. It was merely time for her to step out of the shadow of her parents and lead her own life. Make her own choices. Face her own consequences. Most people did so long before the age of twenty-four.

  There had never been any consequences for Ari, because he
r father had always ensured that any issue she encountered simply disappeared. It was who he was, but now she had to be who she was. Powers or not, she had to enter the world and face her problems head-on.

  They turned into a winding driveway that snaked over terrain that sloped gently toward a heavily wooded area surrounding the house on all sides. She blinked because she hadn’t even processed them driving out of the metropolitan area. She’d been too absorbed in her thoughts, worries and trying to keep Beau from seeing how much pain she was in.

  Zack pulled to a stop and instantly got out, opening the door on Ari’s side. Beau started to get out and then stopped, suddenly moving slower as he gripped the door. She glanced at him in alarm, but his expression was unreadable.

  He walked around as Ari began to scramble from where she was seemingly rooted to the seat. She couldn’t contain her wince and instantly closed her eyes when agony shot straight down her spine and ricocheted back up to the base of her skull, causing her neck to spasm.

  She slid her feet down to the paved carport and her knees instantly buckled. Beau and Zack both made a grab for her and caught her just before she face-planted on the cement.

  Zack simply hooked his arm underneath her knees and hoisted her up, cradling her against his chest. Beau looked as though he were going to protest, but Zack leveled a hard stare at him.

  “You both look like shit,” he said bluntly. “You’ll be lucky to get yourself inside much less her.”

  “I’m fine,” Beau bit out.

  But he didn’t argue further, and heat crowded Ari’s cheeks as Zack strode purposefully into the house. It humiliated her that she had to be carried like an invalid. She hadn’t been prepared for her body’s reaction when she’d tried to move.

  Even now the dull throb that had persisted the entire ride home had blown into jagged pain, like shards of glass scraping the inside of her skull. Thankfully Zack had picked her up so that the injured side of her faced outward and wasn’t pressed against his body. But he’d probably been cognizant of that. He didn’t seem like a man who missed the smallest details.

  The wash of cool air raised chill bumps over her skin as soon as Zack carried her through the door. She began to shake in his arms and she had to clamp her jaw shut to prevent her teeth from chattering.

  Zack looked down at her and then at Beau, frowning.

  “She’s in shock. You need to get a doctor here to see to the both of you.”

  “I said I’m fine,” Beau snapped. “Ari is the one who needs medical attention. She bled from her nose and ears and then she was shot. All I got was a few bruises from being knocked around in the accident.”

  Zack shrugged, his expression indifferent.

  “Where you want me to put her?” Zack asked.

  She hadn’t thought it possible to be more embarrassed than she was already, but having the two men blithely discuss where to “put” her, like she was some inanimate object, just made her feel even more helpless and damn it, she was tired of feeling that way. She was tired of being so dependent on others. She wanted to be self-sufficient. But the fates were obviously working against her, because if she had any hope of seeing her parents alive and well and safe she had to depend on Beau’s promise that he’d find them. Because she certainly didn’t possess the skills to track down an unknown enemy or even find out why her parents had been taken and why someone wanted her badly enough to use her parents as leverage.

  Was it her powers? It was the only plausible explanation. Before that damn video had gone viral, her existence had been peaceful. Sheltered, yes, but she’d finally spread her wings.

  Her father had not been pleased when she’d refused his infusion of cash into her bank account. She’d gently but firmly told him that it was important to her to make her own way. To live as most other young women lived. A job, modest housing and an economical car. To her, those had all been signs of her achieving independence. It was a need that burned inside her, one that had bloomed and grown until it was all she could think about. It had become her sole focus and her goal. Not to run to her parents for every little thing. To do what most other adults did. Live within their means and make it work. Make life work. Meet normal people. Flirt, date, have a relationship without her father running a background check on any guy who so much as looked her way.

  And now everything she’d worked to achieve had vanished because of one moment of panic when her survival instincts had taken over and all rational thought had fled. Not only was she paying the price, but her parents were paying dearly for her lapse in judgment. If they died because of what she’d done, she could never live with herself, could never forgive herself for doing the only thing her parents had ever asked of her. Never tell. Never use. Never reveal.

  She closed her eyes against the sting of tears that had nothing to do with physical pain. Zack gently set her down on a plush sofa, propping pillows around her so she didn’t fall sideways. And she would have, because she was utterly boneless and sagged into the softness of the couch, keeping her eyes closed and inhaling through her nose so she didn’t give in to the urge to cry.

  Crying did nothing to help her parents. They needed her to be strong. To have a level head and come through for them. Just as they’d come through for her time and time again. Always there when she needed them. Now they needed her and she’d be damned if she failed them.

  “Ari, you’re bleeding again.”

  Beau’s softly spoken words jolted her to awareness. She opened her eyes and blinked to bring her surroundings into focus. Beau and Zack both stood directly in front of the couch where she sat, their features etched with concern.

  She lifted a hand to her nose, and it came away stained with fresh blood. She frowned because she hadn’t been using her powers. But she had been focusing very intently on her thoughts. Painful, terrifying thoughts.

  Zack hurried away and Beau knelt on the floor so he was eye level with her. He reached up to thumb away more blood that trickled from her nose and then wiped his hand on his jeans.

  “You need to calm your thoughts,” he said. “Find a good memory or image and focus on that. Try to blank your mind to everything else.”

  Zack returned with a warm washcloth and Beau took it, gently wiping the fresh blood and then the remnants of her earlier bleed from her ears and neck, spots he’d missed in his haste to see to her injuries on the drive here. Wherever here was.

  She glanced nervously at Zack, self-conscious that he was witnessing her at
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