Black Magic

Chapter 4

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"You think?" she retorted.

"Come on," he said, taking her hand and pulling her toward the SUV. "Let's go. We'll have somebody come and get your car later."

She shook her head, tugging him in the direction of her car instead. "The beastie slashed one of the tires on the Escalade. We'll have to take mine."

"Goddammit." He sighed. "Nick's gonna shit monkeys."

"It's not your fault some ugly-ass bat decided to try and eat me for dinner! Hell, if you hadn't come to fetch me home, he would've succeeded!" She actually felt the shudder that went through Kalen.

"Don't remind me. Keys?"

"Right-oh, crap. My purse."

During her getaway, it had gone flying. Kalen found it near one of the SUV's back tires, where it had no doubt fallen when she'd dived under headfirst. He handed it over and she found the contents intact, including the keys, which she handed to him.

After retrieving his duster from the ground, he shrugged it on and opened the passenger's door, waiting for her to climb in before closing it. A normal thing for a man to do, but it made her feel warm. Cared for. Just like him coming to her rescue, battling the deadly creature. She shouldn't read anything into it, though-any of the men of the Pack would do the same for a friend and comrade.

Was Kalen a friend? At the very least, she hoped so.

He pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward the compound. The drive would take almost half an hour, and she selfishly wished it was longer. She stared at his profile in the darkness, drinking in the gorgeous man beside her.

"Jesus, I can't believe nobody heard the noise and came out back, or just happened along."

"Well, the music is pretty loud in there," she said thoughtfully. "Besides, the whole thing lasted maybe five minutes, tops."

"I guess you're right. We got damned lucky, all around."

They had, and the close call hit home, making her shiver.

A hand found her knee. "You want my coat, honey?"

The softly spoken question, the endearment tinged with no little concern, made her heart do a funny flip. He's just being nice. "No, I'm okay. I'll feel better after a hot shower and a couple of ibuprofen."

He shot her a look rife with concern, and he didn't need to voice what they were both thinking-Melina Mallory, the other doctor at the compound, might want to throw in a rabies shot and a whole kitchen sink full of other vaccinations as well.

"We both need these scratches looked at," he said.

"How's yours?" She couldn't have seen the slice on his left arm from here, even if he hadn't been wearing his coat.

"Not too bad."

He didn't seem inclined to elaborate, so she dropped the subject. For now. The doctor in her was much more worried about his wound than her own, and she would examine it, whether he wanted her to or not.

Unwillingly, her mind turned back to the moment she'd seen the creature standing there, death in its eyes. God, she'd been so terrified. And then Kalen had rushed right in, taking on a monster many times his size, placing his life on the line.

For me.

That thought led to another one.

"How did you know that thing was around? Or did you just come there to see me and-"

"Wait a second," he interrupted. His back straightened and his hands tightened on the steering wheel as he slowed the car a bit, looking around. Beyond the headlights there wasn't much to see. Just thick, impenetrable forest draped in a cloak of gloom.

And whatever waited beyond that had him spooked.

"What is it?" she blurted.

After a few moments, his mouth thinned into a grim line. "There's something else between us and the compound. Something bad."

Oh, shit. "Is it another one of those creatures?"

"I don't know," he said quietly. "But I think it's looking for us. I've got to turn the car around and find a place for us to hole up. See if you can reach Nick on your cell, tell him what's going on."

On a side road, he pulled in and turned the car around, pointing it in the direction from which they'd come, while she fished her smartphone from her purse. She woke up the screen and found Nick in her list of contacts, punched his name, and hit Send.

Nothing happened. No ring.

She glanced at the screen again. "Damn. The call failed."

"Try again."

She did, three more times. "I can't get a signal. Now what?"

"Try mine. It's in my coat pocket on your side."

Digging in the pocket at his hip, she retrieved the phone that Nick had assigned to Kalen. She knew because they all carried the same type, and Kalen hadn't had much to his name when Nick had hired him. Certainly not a phone.

But it was of no use, either.

"Crap! What's the plan?" she asked him.

"There's a motel not far from the Grizzly. I'll head there, get us a room. I can place wards over our location that'll conceal us from whatever this fucking thing is that's stalking us, until we can reach Nick or one of the others."

"You can't do that now, if I pull over and drive?"

He shook his head. "I can cloak the car, but then we'd still be a moving bubble of nothingness on the radar, so to speak. A big tipoff to whatever is out there that we're the ones he's after. A stationary hideout is best so I can blend us into the surroundings."

"Oh. Makes sense."

She just wanted to be off the road and out of sight. They were way too exposed out here in the middle of nowhere, in the dark surrounded by forest. Kalen was a powerful Sorcerer, but his hands were on the wheel, his attention split between the mysterious danger and the road. Anything could ambush them, and it could be all over before the vehicle came to a stop.

They rode in silence, past the bar, and her eyes strayed toward the building where she'd been having such fun just a short time ago. Despite the trouble with Billy and his buddies, she was happy to see Kalen. She'd let herself hope for . . . what? Getting to know him better? Kissing him, for sure. More would've been fantastic.

And now they were running from danger, unable to reach their team.

"Did you tell Nick where you were going?"

"No, I borrowed the keys for the SUV from Jax. I told him I was going to the Grizzly to meet you, but I didn't say why. Dammit!" He was obviously kicking himself for that oversight.

"That you had some sort of bad vibe?"

"Exactly."

She hesitated for a few seconds then decided what the hell. Go for it. "Is that the only reason you came?" she asked quietly, studying his reaction.

After a long moment he spoke, his voice low. "No. That's not the only reason."

Again, to her frustration, he didn't elaborate. The man was one part sexy as hell, two parts mystery, and damned if he intended to clear up the mystery part for her any time soon.

But the Sorcerer won't be able to hide from me. Not for long.

Mackenzie jumped, pulse leaping. She swiveled her head, scanning the inside of the car, expecting to see a strange man, one who'd just spoken directly in her ear. Or was it only in her head?

Kalen glanced at her. "What's wrong?"

"I thought I heard . . . Nothing."

"What?" His voice was sharp.

"I-I heard a voice in my head." God, that sounded crazy.

"A voice? What kind?"

"I don't know." She sighed. "Could've been my imagination."

"Going by the odds so far tonight? I'd guess it wasn't. Was it a male voice?"

"Yes, but I didn't recognize him," she said thoughtfully.

"What did he say?"

"He said the Sorcerer-you-wouldn't be able to hide from him for long."

His eyes widened. "Why the hell would he talk to you and not directly to me? I-shit, never mind," he spat. "I know why."

When no explanation seemed to be forthcoming, she waved a hand. "Care to enlighten me?"

"Later." At her scowl, he patted her leg. "I promise."

"Fine." She sighed, rolling her eyes. Squeezing information out of the CIA had to be easier than getting it from Kalen.

A few minutes later, they pulled up at the Wallace Motel, which the locals affectionately called the Wall-Banger. Reportedly for good reason, though she wouldn't know. She'd never had a desire or a good reason to stay at the aged motel, until now.

Kalen ran inside and got them a room, then returned to the car less than five minutes later with two card keys in hand. "Room 121, on the end."

They parked and hurried inside, eager to get out of sight. Kalen flipped on the light and then closed the door firmly behind them and engaged the locks. Without wasting one second, he moved to the center of the small room and closed his eyes, holding his arms out from his sides. He chanted a few words, and then dropped his arms.

"It's done. The wards are in place, so we should be safe until we can reach Nick or one of the team."

"Why don't we just use this phone?" She gestured to the one on the night stand.

"We can't risk using public phones to discuss our business," he said. "The lines aren't secure."

"Oh, right." She felt like a fool. "I should've known that."

"No big deal. You're used to patching us up, not being involved in the action." Stepping close, he squeezed her hand. "Let's go in the bathroom and see if we can't get your cuts cleaned out. Don't want them to get infected."

"Sure." The word emerged as a croak. Lord he was standing so close, smelled so freaking fantastic. She wanted to wallow in him, wrap him around her like a blanket.

Instead she settled for being nursed. Quite a change for a doctor, and she didn't hate the attention. He led her into the tiny bathroom, positioned her next to the sink, and unwrapped a complimentary bar of soap. Next, he grabbed a plain white wash cloth and turned the water on warm, wetting it.

"This place is shabby, but it's clean," he observed.

"Thank God. I'd hate to avoid being killed by whatever that beast was, only to be brought down by some weird bacteria I caught at the Wall-Banger."

For the first time, he laughed, and the timbre of the husky sound shot straight to her toes. And other places, too. She stared at him, transfixed by how his full-fledged smile transformed a tragically beautiful face into a stunning, drop-dead, cream her panties one.

"The Wall-Banger?" he repeated with another laugh.

She blinked, attempting to focus. "Um, yeah. That's what the locals call this dump. They rent rooms by the hour, thus the nickname."

"That's too funny. Here, let me see your hands."

Pulse racing, she held them out, palms up. They were abraded from her baseball player slide, the skin angry and raw.

"Not too much blood," he observed. "Mostly a lot of dirt."

Taking one wrist, he moved her hand under the water, letting the warm stream wash away the loose grime. Then he lathered the soap with his own hands and gently began to wash hers. She hissed at the sting and he murmured soothing words about how brave she was, both before and now. Coddled her. Nobody had done that for her since her dad when she was little.

But from Kalen, the action took on a whole different intimacy.

Whether he noticed how the tiny room seemed to close in she wasn't certain. He simply worked slowly and carefully, until her hands were clean and patted dry. They didn't look so bad now.

"The scratches will fade some by tomorrow, but . . ." He trailed off, frowning at the small wounds. Before she could ask what was wrong, he whispered another of his incantations.

To her amazement, the scratches faded until they were almost nothing. "Oh my God! How-you're a Healer?"

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