“What’d you do?” Daniel watched as Rosa and Anna looked over the tarot cards.
It was some time before Matthias answered. “Her father was a wolf. Part of a pack I ran with for a time. He, uh…” Matthias took a deep breath. “I killed him.”
“Oh.” Daniel swallowed. No wonder she’d met him at the door with a shotgun.
“He was an asshole. A murderer among other things. But I killed him because…” Matthias shrugged. “Because he wrecked my car. Not for the bad shit he did, to her among others, but because he disrespected me and I was Alpha.” He glanced at Daniel. “I told you, I’m no angel.”
“A monster would be selling us to the cabal.”
“I thought about it,” Matthias said softly.
“You did?” Daniel blinked.
“Think about it every time your sister starts singing.” Matthias glanced at him. “That kind of money buys a lot of ear plugs.”
“He doesn’t break contracts.” Daniel turned to find Rosa behind him. She shrugged. “It’s one of the few scruples he has. Once he’s hired, he stays that way as long as you’re holding up your end. Lie to him about the job or otherwise break your end, and all bets are off.” She gave him a look. “Hope you never get a headache.”
“He’s, uh…” Daniel swallowed. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, kid, that as long as he works for you he quite literally owns your ass.” Rosa shook her head. “You’re too nice a kid to stay mixed up with him. I’ve got some contacts —”
“He’s been good to us.” Daniel shook his head. “Better to Anna than our parents ever were, and…” He glared at her.
Her face was sympathetic. “Do yourself a favor, kid. That part of you that’s falling for him? Lock it away. You’re not his boyfriend. You’re his whore. You might as well be his sex slave. Don’t get emotions tangled up in it, because all you are to him is a fuck.”
Daniel folded his arms and narrowed his eyes. “You don’t —”
“I’m a seer, kid. And I’ve known Matthias all my life. He’ll break your heart. And if you’re not careful, he’ll break more than that. You want to know what kind of man he is?” She met his eyes. “Ask him about Tran Cu Lien.”
“The ritual worked.” Anna nodded. “They can’t use blood to find us without finding us some other way first.” She held up a box. “Rosa gave me my own set of cards.”
“Can she teach you?” Matthias raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, but she said you can’t stay. And I still need you to help me find the broken angel.” Anna frowned. “He scares Rosa.”
“Why does he scare Rosa?” Daniel blinked. “I mean, Matthias doesn’t even scare Rosa.”
“She will die the day she meets him.” Anna shivered a little. “She doesn’t want to die.” She looked up at Daniel. “Knowing what’s going to happen sucks.”
“Alright, so, if we find this guy, we keep him the hell away from Rosa.” Matthias nodded. “We should get moving again.”
“Before she shoots you?” Anna raised an eyebrow.
“She thinks you’re an asshole.”
“Anna.” Daniel glared.
“What?” Anna looked back at him. “She does.”
“And she’s right.” Matthias shrugged. “Get in the truck.”
Daniel chuckled as he looked into Anna’s little alcove. His sister had fallen asleep with her headphones on. He slid the door closes before rising. “It’s like a pink bird nest in there.” He shook his head. “I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon. Think it would be safe to stop for a few hours?”
“Was planning on holing up for a few days, actually.” Matthias closed the laptop. “Figure out the next steps. Like this ‘broken angel’ thing of hers.”
“What do you suppose she means by that?” Daniel frowned. “She’s pretty adamant we won’t be safe until then.”
“Damned if I know.” Matthias finished his drink. “Wish she could tell me where to start looking.”
“Not even a cryptic hint?” Daniel sighed. He opened the camper door and stepped out into the night. The air was a little crisp, but not quite enough to be cold. The desert was pretty in its barrenness, and all but perfectly silent. He smiled when Matthias closed the camper door behind them. His smile only widened when Matthias casually picked him up and tossed him over his shoulder before heading away from the camper. “Where are you taking me?”
“Here.” Matthias tossed the sleeping bag he was carrying down into the small alcove in the rocks. They were close enough to keep an eye on the camper, but the position afforded them a little privacy. Matthias set him back down. “Take off your shirt, and give me your wrists.”
He obeyed, putting his hands behind his back to let Matthias bind his wrists to the opposite elbows. A box tie, he called it. His arms provided Matthias with an excellent handle for… Daniel began to feel a slight rush of anticipation. Rosa’s words drifted back into his mind, and he tried to shove them away again. They stubbornly refused to go away. He took a deep breath. “Who is Tran Cu Lien?”
Behind him, Matthias went still. Then he was spun around and shoved into the rock face. Matthias’s eyes were furious, and even more frightening, they were showing hints of gold. “Who the fuck…” His eyes narrowed. “Rosa.”
“She said —” Daniel shook his head. I should ask you if I —” The rough stone was digging into his back. “You’re hurting —”
“If you what?” Matthias glared.
“Wanted to know who you really were.” “Please, Matthias. You’re hurting me.”
He was yanked away from the stone and tossed down onto the sleeping bag. The motion knocked the wind out of him, leaving him gasping for breath. He coughed, and managed to roll over to look at Matthias. The big man was looking away from him, his fists clenched. And for the first time since he’d had a gun pointed at Daniel’s head, Daniel was afraid of him. Finally, Matthias turned to look at him. “She was a spy.”
“What?” Daniel blinked.
“Vietnam. She was a whore that got close to an idiot general’s aide who was careless with intel. She fled when she got outed, but the brass had no idea how much she knew and the aide was somebody important’s kid. Our orders were to track her and eliminate her at all costs. She hid in a little village, one that contained a lot of her family. They were inclined to protect her. All we had to ID her was a grainy photo.”
“And you…” Daniel swallowed, a chill running down his spine.
“I was a soldier. I was given orders. I followed them.” Matthias took a deep breath. “We…” He shrugged. “Contained the situation.”
“You killed them.” His eyes widened.
“Twenty-three men. Thirty-eight women.” He met Daniel’s eyes. “Fourteen children. Couldn’t risk word getting out, anyone knowing about the intel leak. Full cover up operation.” Matthias looked down at his hands. “A girl almost made it out. She wasn’t much older than your sister. She crawled into a tunnel to hide from us, and we all knew better than to try to follow someone into one of those tunnels. So, I just tossed a grenade in after her.” He looked back at Daniel. “That’s who I am.”
Daniel shrank back a little as Matthias came toward him. “Matthias?”
“Those weren’t the only innocent lives I’ve taken. I was born on a battlefield, midst cannon fire. I have picked human flesh out of my teeth. Make no mistake, Daniel.” Matthias’s eyes were fully golden now. “I am a monster.” He smirked. “And as long as you keep your end of our contract, I am your monster. Do you understand now?”
“I’m a monster. You’re a whore. Best neither of us pretend anything else.”
He was miles away from anyone, his hands tied behind his back, and a werewolf was looming over him. His sister was asleep in a nearby camper, and this monster was all he had to protect her. “I guess you’re right.” Daniel narrowed his eyes. “So, are you going to fuck me or keep talking?”
It was strange, waking up alone in the bed. After Matthias had finished, he’d untied Daniel and sent him on his way with a rough shove. Then he’d tossed the sleeping bag down in front of the camper and spent the night there. Daniel sat up and winced. Usually the bruises felt a little bit like trophies. Matthias had reminded him that the initial offer still stood. All he had to do was say he was done, contract terminated, and Matthias would drop them off at the nearest bus station with two tickets and five hundred bucks.
But there was nowhere for them to go. He could have taken Rosa up on her offer, but he had no idea if her ‘contacts’ could protect them. Matthias had already proved he could. And they wouldn’t last on their own. Anna was all that mattered. Rosa was right. He never should have let his emotions get involved.
He started to get up, and Matthias entered the camper. He tossed a bottle of aspirin onto the bed. “Take two.”
“I said take two.” Matthias shook his head. “I’m an asshole.”
“Yeah, you made that pretty clear.” Daniel grabbed the bottle.
“Well, it’s day time now.” Matthias took a deep breath. “What do you want to do today, boss?”
“Boss?” Daniel blinked.
“I work for you, remember?” Matthias stared at him. “We’re two hours from the canyon and assorted tourist traps.”
“I’ll make breakfast.” Daniel swallowed the pills. “And see what Anna wants to do first.”
“I’m holding…” Anna’s eyes were wide. “Dinosaur poop.” She held the item in her hands out to Daniel. “Touch it.”
“No.” Daniel shook his head.
“Smell it.” She turned to Matthias.
“No.” Matthias actually took a step back.
Anna giggled. “Dinosaur poop.”
“You know…” The woman behind the display was clearly trying to hide her amusement. “They actually have some pieces for sale in the gift shop.”
“Matthias?” Anna turned back toward him.
“No.” Matthias began shaking his head.
“I have a dinosaur poop necklace.” Anna twirled the pendant through her fingers. She was practically skipping.
Daniel smirked a little at Matthias. Matthias just shook his head. As acts of vengeance went, he could handle this one. He certainly deserved worse. Besides, the girl’s good mood was starting to be a little infectious. Daniel was starting to smile again, and some of the tension was easing. They were on their way to the parking lot when Daniel grabbed his arm. “Matthias.”
He looked in the direction the kid was looking. Two men were looming over a woman in a gay pride T-shirt. They were clearly threatening her. He raised an eyebrow at Daniel, who glared at him before nodding. “Sic em.”
Matthias sighed before walking over. “Problem here?”
“Freak tried to use the wrong restroom.” The first man glared.
“Wasn’t talking to you.” Matthias nodded at the woman, noting the visible adam’s apple. “Ma’am?”
“I just want to get to my car.” Her voice was shaky.
“You boys want to let the lady through?” Matthias smiled.
“Who the fuck are you?” The second man glared.
The first man reached to grab the woman’s arm, and Matthias stepped forward and caught his wrist. He squeezed hard enough to grind bones together, making the man yelp. The second man turned and swung his fist. Matthias simply pulled the first man into the path of the blow. The second man’s punch connected with his buddy’s nose. “Jesus…”
“Shoo.” Matthias drew himself up to his full height.
The two started backing away, then fled. The woman started laughing. “You alright?” Daniel asked her as he and Anna walked over.
“I’m fine.” She smiled. “Thank you.” She waved as she got to her car, then again as she drove off.
Daniel snickered. “That was awesome.”
“Sic em?” Matthias turned and raised an eyebrow at Daniel.
The kid just grinned.