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He was a little surprised Michael even let him inside. There had been a few occasions when Thad came to get Merri, but Michael left him locked outside. Ten minutes would go by with Thad waiting on the front step before Merri realized he was out there.
This time, however, Michael answered the door, said she wasn’t back yet, then held it wide open and walked away. Thad took the gesture to mean he was welcome inside, and stepped in the house. Michael went upstairs and Thad headed for the couch.
He checked his watch. Twenty minutes had gone by, yet still no sign of Merri. She said she’d be back by seven.
Cade kept the girls late some evenings. A lot of evenings, actually. Sometimes a week went by without a date and the lack of contact with her weighed heavily on him. He’d loved her for his whole life, it seemed. The Seer. He’d heard stories about the Children of the Apocalypse growing up, and had always been drawn to the woman who saw things others didn’t. Something about her abilities fascinated him, and when he first saw her, he was even more captivated. She was beautiful. She tried to hide, sure. Fade into the background. David used to tell him that was common for someone like the Seer—she likely would have grown up knowing she had special abilities and would try to blend in. But something in her eyes spoke to him immediately and he knew he loved her.
And then, learning all the things she’d been through...God, it was a miracle she survived. But survived she had.
His cell phone rang. His heart clenched a bit, hoping it was her. His expression sank, however, as he recognized the familiar number.
Should he answer? He didn’t want to on a good day, let alone now, here at Michael’s. What if Parris was listening in? But he seemed to have retired to his loft bedroom, so maybe there was nothing to worry about...
“Hello?” Thad said as he picked up.
“Just checking in,” she said. His annoyance with her melted a little at the sound of her voice. God, he loved her voice. All four of them were extraordinary. “How are things going?”
“Fine, I suppose.”
He couldn’t be sure how much Michael was listening to, so he had to tread carefully. “I was supposed to go out with Merri tonight, but she’s not here yet.”
“Here...she’s coming to your apartment?”
“You’re at Michael Parris’s?” she guessed.
“She hasn’t found somewhere else to live yet?”
“Pity. And I suppose you’re not talking to me because Parris is there?”
“Possibly in the area.”
“He’s staying out of things, though?”
For whatever good that’s doing, he thought. From what Merri said, all three girls infinitely preferred Michael’s company to Cade’s. But he didn’t tell Natalya that. “Seems to be.”
“They don’t suspect you, do they?”
They will if you don’t stop calling me, he thought. But he’d never raise his voice to her. It was against his nature. “I don’t think so.” He felt guilt welling within him. He hated lying to Merri more than anything, but confessing that he was in regular contact with Natalya would be a betrayal of everything he’d ever known. Still, it wasn’t as though he was keeping anything too important from her or the others. It wasn’t a life or death situation. Sure, he had been telling The Immortal about things going on with the girls, but she was concerned about their safety. He had to trust that she would keep their best interest in mind.
“You’ll tell me if there are any problems?”
He heard footsteps behind him. Thad swung around suddenly to see Michael striding toward him. Oh...shit. He half expected the other man to hit him with something, but instead he moved to the kitchen.
“I have to go,” he said into the receiver.
“Fine, but be careful around Michael Parris,” she warned.
You don’t have tell me that, he thought as he hung up. He honestly thought that, given a reason, Michael would probably kill him on the spot.
“What time was she supposed to be back?” Michael said as he stopped in front of the fridge. He rarely spoke to Thad anymore, so he was caught a little off guard.
“About half an hour ago,” he said.
Michael opened the fridge, pulled out a beer, and tipped it over his shoulder. “Want one?”
He’s offering me a drink? Maybe Gen’s right, and humility has mellowed him a bit.
Thad rose and walked to the kitchen, accepting the beer and taking a seat on the barstool. “Thanks.”
Michael took one for himself and remained in the kitchen. “She comes and goes so I can’t tell you for sure when he’ll let them leave.”
At least Natalya’s fears seemed unfounded—Michael didn’t know any more than he should about Cade and his work with the girls.
“I’d call, but they’re doing important stuff. Not that spending time with my girlfriend isn’t important, but it’s not like saving the world important.”
“At least you’ve got that through your head,” he muttered.
“Yeah, you always kept the mission in mind when they were with you,” he said. “That was good. I think Cade does too, but I’m not sure he passes it on to them. Gen’s gone, uh, a little nuts. Skips out on half their classes, I think.”
Michael’s expression darkened a little, but he didn’t say anything. Thad wasn’t sure what was wrong, but clearly he said something the other man wasn’t interested in hearing. He tried to change the subject.
“How about them Jays?”
Thad sighed. “The Blue Jays. I don’t actually follow them, but I thought you might. I’m a hockey man.”
“Talking about sports isn’t endearing you to me or anything.”
Thad shifted uncomfortably. He sometimes felt like Michael was Merri’s father and he had to impress him, somehow. And he always felt lame about it.
“Well, okay, I’ll get all serious instead. Thanks for not skipping out on Mer and leaving her with nowhere to live. I know you have no reason stay here now, but I’m glad you’re here for her. Also, thank you for never giving me the ‘hurt her and die’ speech.”
“Oh, you don’t have to hurt her to have me kill you. She just has to say the word and regardless of what you’ve done, you’re dead.”
Thad started to smile, but when he didn’t see Michael grin, he sobered. “For real?”
“Yes. It’s not my good side you need to stay on.”
“Duly noted.” He sipped his beer in silence.
“You might as well call her,” Michael said after a stretch of silence.
“But if it’s interrupting them, it’ll piss off Cade.”
So maybe he was interfering a bit. But that didn’t seem like something he needed to tell Natalya. Might as well do some snooping while he had the chance, though, so Thad didn’t bring out his cell phone yet. “Do you know anything they’re doing with Cade? I mean besides just training?”
“They’re not hunting down monsters, for one thing.”
“Actually, I kinda liked that. It was one thing I didn’t agree with Natalya about.”
“You mean there was something you did agree with?”
Shit, he messed up there. Better watch what he said. “Well, I mean, she’s worried for their safety, so I agree with that. But I don’t think you should have been fired.”
“Since I wasn’t being paid, I don’t technically think I was fired, so don’t worry about it.”
“Yeah, where do you get all your money from? I mean, no one’s ever seen you work, but Merri says you’re loaded.”
“Remember how I said it’s not my good side you need to stay on?”
“Well, I’m changing my mind about that.”
Thad gulped down the rest of his beer before he could say something else stupid.
The front door opened and closed. “Sorry, sorry, sorry!” Merri called as she approached. She hurried to Thad’s side, stood up on her tiptoes, and kissed his cheek. “I didn’t mean to run so late. We had to recharge this—” she held up the crystal she carried to help mask her identity so she wouldn’t be seen as Belle Swanson anymore, “—and we had a new version of the spell that Cade wanted to try... Oooh, do I get a beer?”
“You’re a minor,” Michael reminded her.
“According to your forged birth certificate, no, you’re not—you’re seventeen and that’s still under age.”
“Get over it.”
“Is it too late for dinner?” she asked, gazing up at Thad. He reached over and brushed the strands of hair from her forehead. He couldn’t help himself—sometimes he just had to touch her.
“We could order in?” Her gaze flickered to Michael. “Okay?”
“I don’t fucking care—I’m going out.”
“None of your business.”
As he left the kitchen, Merri turned to Thad and mouthed the word, “Krysta.” Moments later, the front door opened and closed as Michael left.
“Well, at least we’re alone,” Thad said. He leaned down to kiss her, but she frowned. He paused just inches from her face.
“I’m worried about him, you know,” she said.
Thad leaned back again and stifled a sigh. So she’d rather talk about Michael...big surprise. Irritation rose within him, but he pushed it back down—he couldn’t be mad at her for anything, let alone that. He loved that she cared about people, even if they were people who supposedly didn’t deserve her pity.
“So should we follow him?” Thad asked. “Maybe try a stake-out? We could get disguises. I don’t want to wear a dress though—I’m just not secure in my manhood enough for that, even if it’s for the purposes of spying.”
A faint smile danced across her lips. “I think he might also notice you dressed in a skirt standing across the road staring at him.”
“Well, I am pretty cute, regardless of what I’m wearing. I’d notice me too.”
Her smile widened. She moved onto her tip-toes to reach him, and he leaned down to meet her partway in a kiss. Just as their lips met, her cell phone rang.
With a sigh, Merri pulled back and removed her phone from her pocket. She glanced at the number, but rolled her eyes and turned it off. “It’s Cade. I was just there—I don’t care what he wants, because I’m otherwise occupied.”
She shouldn’t shirk her responsibilities. He knew he should say something to her about calling Cade back...Natalya would want him to, after all. But he failed to care about that when he felt her mouth on his again.
Though their making out had started in the kitchen and ended up on the living room couch, Merri dragged it back to her room, insisting between giggles that Michael would probably kick her out if he came home and caught them.
Moments after reaching the bed, both were startled at a banging on the front door.
“Would Michael have forgotten his keys?” Thad asked with a grin. “Maybe we could leave him out there and teach him a lesson?”
Seconds later, someone pounded on the door again. Merri met his eyes. “We’d better check.”
Merri slipped her T-shirt on and went to the front door, trailed by Thad. She flipped back the lock and heaved open the heavy industrial door to see Gen outside, blue eyes annoyed.
“Okay,” Gen said. “First of all, why aren’t my spells working to unlock the door?”
“Michael had something done to it to prevent magic tampering.”
“Bastard. Second of all, we need to go. Now.”
“Why and where?” Because I’m clearly otherwise engaged, Gen. After dating for nearly a year, she and Thad still couldn’t get enough of one another, and she didn’t appreciate being interrupted yet again.
“Cade is why, or Cade is where?”
“Both! No come on!”
“I just came from—”
“Someone tried to kill him.”
The girls sat in the apartment Cade owned above his store after Merri sent Thad home. The ever-detatched Sage stood off to the side, arms crossed at her chest. Merri sat on a hardback chair, gaze darting back and forth around the room. Gen lounged on the arm of the sofa.
“So why would someone try to kill you?” Gen asked, facing Cade, who stood in the kitchen. A bloody gash across his forehead had been stitched up neatly, and aside from a bruise on his cheek, he looked okay.
“Why not?” Sage said dryly before quickly glancing away.
Merri detected an unintentional level of hostility in her voice. “Snarkiness aside, she’s got a point. Why wouldn’t The Brethren try to kill him?”
“Natalya said they’re disorganized,” Cade corrected her. “That doesn’t mean some can’t find us.”
“But they never tried to kill Michael,” Sage said. “They were more concerned with us.”
“First of all, they shot and stabbed him on two different occasions,” Merri said. “And second, maybe Cade is seen as more of a threat.”
“Pfft, right.” Gen rolled her eyes.
Cade raised a brow.
“Well, really. You’re hardly more threatening than Michael. He threw a knife at me.”
“And the odd book,” Merri said.
“And you usually deserved it,” Sage added.
“Whatever. My point is that Michael is scarier.”
“So what happened?” Merri asked.
“Someone entered the store with a gun and pointed it at me,” he said.
“It is a convenience store,” Merri said. “Are you sure it wasn’t a robbery?”
“Robbers don’t usually announce that they’re looking for the Children of the Apocalypse.”
“Unless they’re on smack,” Gen said. “Then they might.”
“I would have been dead if a customer hadn’t come in. With that distraction, I slipped downstairs, locked myself in, and phoned the police.”
“You’re not worried about more people knowing where we are by calling the cops?” Sage asked.
“Of course not.”
Meredith suspected Sage was biting back another comment about the virtues of Michael.
Cade continued before she could. “But the police aren’t equipped to handle this sort of thing and there’s the chance that this person could return, either for me or one of you. Or, of course, for your families, which has happened before.” Although Cade didn’t seem to direct his words at any of them in particular, Merri still glanced Sage’s way to see her friend keep a neutral expression.
“So...what?” Merri asked. “Are we to wait until we’re attacked again?”
“I had in mind a slightly more permanent solution.”
The girls exchanged glances. Gen spoke up first, echoing all their thoughts. “Wait, you want us to kill...?”
“We’re not assassinating anyone,” Sage said.
Cade sighed, as if they had completely lost their minds. “Of course not. Not that I think a discussion would work terribly well. But for now, we need to track this person down, and who else knows about your location.”
“How?” Merri asked.
“We’ll start tomorrow. It shouldn’t be hard to do some tracking, and it’ll allow me the opportunity to evaluate your problem solving skills.” After sliding his gaze over each of them, he took a step back toward the kitchen. “If you three would like to discuss it, by all means go ahead.” He left so that the girls could speak privately, and they immediately grouped together.
“I hate problem solving,” Gen grumbled.
“I don’t think we should risk leaving one of The Brethren running around here,” Sage said. “We should go as soon as possible. Cade, Natalya, and Michael have always said that these guys are focused on killing us.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Gen said. “Mer? Thoughts?”
Merri wasn’t sure exactly what her thoughts were on the subject. Reconnaissance made sense, and was a lot safer than the pre-emptive attack that Michael would no doubt have proposed. Perhaps if she encountered the space where this member of The Brethren had been, she might get into his head a bit and better know what to do.
“Yeah, we have to check this out. Although I’m not a fan of doing it while we’ve got school and I don’t want to cancel on Thad again.”
“We’re in,” Gen called quickly to Cade, grabbing both girls by the arms and yanking them towards the door. “We’ll be by the store tomorrow afternoon.”
“Uh, Gen, I think I just said we don’t want to do it tomorrow,” Merri said once they were outside the apartment.
“Duh. That’s why we’re doing it tonight.”
“But we don’t even know—”
“Where he is, I know.” Gen sighed. “I wish we had Michael’s contacts. I don’t suppose we can ask him.”
“How about logic?” Sage said. “New person in town equals hotel, more than likely.”
“So we check out the newbies, room by room?”
“It’s Newhaven, Gen,” Merri said. “There can’t be that many people who are new in town, staying at a hotel.”
As it turned out, there were only three new people who had arrived in the past week that were still staying at the hotel in downtown Newhaven.
“This would have been so much more easy with Michael,” Gen said as she, Merri, Sage, and Raji slipped out of the hotel lobby and down a corridor toward the nearest room, belonging to an Alex Gardner. “Though I loathe to admit it. Michael would have come up with fake I.D.’s or something.”
“What movie have you been watching?” Sage asked. “Michael would have just bribed the guy at the desk. End of story.”
“Yeah, my Jedi mind trick was much cooler.”
“You’re such a nerd sometimes,” Raji said, quickening his step to walk at Gen’s side.
“Janine has a thing for Princess Leia. Anyway, I guess it wasn’t really a mind trick—I can’t do that kind of thing. I’m just really good at being irritating.”
“I’ll say,” Sage muttered.
Merri still wasn’t sure how they did it. Gen cast the spell to interfere with the security cameras. Then she, Sage, and Raji made up something about being on the prom committee, distracting the man at the desk with their over-enthusiasm and stupid questions long enough for Merri to slip onto the computer.
After memorizing the list of three people and their rooms, the group left the lobby. Merri doubted they’d find the mysterious person that night, and there were several other places to check just outside of Newhaven. Another alternative included the motel where Finn was murdered, and everyone—Gen especially—grew silent at the prospect of heading there. Merri hoped, for her friend’s sake, that they wouldn’t have to visit that place. Raji didn’t comment on the obvious tense air at mention of the motel, and Merri wasn’t sure how much Gen had told him. She trusted Thad wouldn’t have said anything, so it was entirely possible he was still in the dark about Finn.
“So Michael gets fired for apparenty putting us in danger, and what does Natalya’s supposed confidant do?” Sage said. “Put us in danger.”
“You’re such a whiner,” Gen said. “And we’re not in danger yet.”
“Let’s just get this done.”
They moved down the maze of hallways, up a set of stairs, and hunted down the first name on their list. The place wasn’t exactly high-class—three star, maybe slightly less—but at least it wasn’t totally sleazy. At that late hour, they didn’t encounter anyone lurking in the corridors.
“Any vibes yet, Mer?” Gen asked as they paused next to their first door.
Merri didn’t say anything as she stared at the door. She hadn’t been sensing anything at all, really—normally she had to block things out. Now, however? Though she reached out, she came up with nothing.
With a casual shake of her head and shrug, Merri tried to seem nonchalant about it.
Sage turned to Gen. “So what’s the plan?”
“Why the hell are you asking me?”
“Because for some completely bizarre reason, in the absence of our mentors, you seem to take over.”
“I don’t want to be the leader!”
“Then don’t be so bossy.”
“I’m not bossy! Shut up!”
“Typical only child. You’re not only bossy, but you fail to realize you’re bossy.”
“Merri, do you have a plan?” Gen turned her hopeful gaze Meredith’s way.
“Like Sage said: you’re the bossy one.”
Gen gave an exaggerated sigh. “I’ll make us wear costumes if I’m in charge.”
Merri thought of Thad with a faint smile. He and Gen got along fairly well, and it was easy to see why—they seemed to have the same sense of humour, which usually referenced something they’d seen on TV before. It was a pity Thad couldn’t have joined them, but he had an early class the next morning.
“So where are we going to get costumes?” Raji asked.
With a roll of her eyes, Sage nudged them all out of the way and pressed her ear to the target’s door. “I don’t hear anything.”
“Maybe he’s asleep after a hard day of trying to kill people.”
“So what do we do?” Merri asked.
“Break the door down?” Sage said with a shrug.
“Please don’t ever marry Michael.” Gen shuddered. “We don’t need your tiny, violent babies unleashed on the world.” She knocked on the door, then swiftly grabbed Sage and Raji by the arm and dragged them off to the side, leaving Merri in front of the door by herself.
“Gen!” Merri hissed.
“Make something up,” Gen whispered. “You’re a better liar than us.”
Merri glanced down at her T-shirt and jeans. Hospitality representative wouldn’t be too believable. Nor would “prostitute with the wrong room.”
Minutes ticked by, but no one answered. She knocked again. Still no answer.
“What now, Miss Bossy?” Sage turned to Gen with her arms crossed and brow raised. “Ready to break in?”
All of their eyes went to the lock at the same time.
“So we need a keycard,” Gen said. “This is like a bad video game.”
“Nerd,” Merri teased.
“Shut up.” She turned to Sage. “Can’t you just break it open?”
“I’m not breaking the door!”
Neither of them were too swift when it came to anything illegal, and Merri doubted Raji would be either. With a sigh, she took over. “We go around the back.”
“This is the second floor,” Gen said. “I can’t fly. Yet.”
“Ever,” Raji said with an elbow into her side.
“Sage can get up to the balcony. Raji can go with her. Then they can open this door.”
“But why do I—” Sage started.
Gen grinned. “You’re the spry on.”
“I hate you,” Sage muttered as she jogged down the hall towards the stairs. Raji followed with a little grumbling of his own.
“I can’t believe we’re going to all this trouble and it probably won’t even be this person,” Gen said.
And this is assuming we’ll find the guy to start with, Merri thought. She figured he would have just left town after failing to get anything from Cade. And what kind of evidence should they be looking for anyway?
If Michael could help... Merri tried not to sigh aloud. If Michael were there, he’d be with them as armed back up. Maybe they relied on him too much... As it was, she wanted to call him to meet them there.
Part of her wished Thad was there too. He could have helped with reconnaissance, but she worried about him. Everyone else could pretty much take care of his or herself. But Thad? What if something happened to him? Same with Levi.
Sure, Meredith’s abilities weren’t exactly offensive either, but she still knew she could kill. She had killed. She might not be much use without a gun—which she refused to carry on her own because she worried about the cops catching and fingerprinting her—but she could still help.
After about ten minutes of tense silence, the door opened to reveal Sage and Raji on the other side.
“What took you so long?” Gen asked with a smirk.
“Shush,” he said without meeting her eyes.
“Epic fail trying to unlock it with a spell, right?” Gen guessed.
Raji held up a small set of tools. “I had to manually do it. I’m so glad my brother’s a locksmith.”
Sage elbowed him in the ribs, and his noticeable wince suggested to Sage that the action hadn’t been done playfully. “We agreed not to tell her ‘cause it would make her enormous head even bigger.”
“Hey—” Gen started.
“Maybe we could have this argument at Tim Horton’s later on when we’re done breaking into a room?” Merri suggested. She and Gen ducked into the room and shut the door behind them.
Both Genevieve and Raji had access to the light spell, and each cast it rather than use flashlights, which they could lose, or the room’s lights, which they might forget to turn off.
“What are we looking for again?” he asked in a hushed voice.
“Um...evidence,” Gen said.
“Who sent the guy who attacked Cade. And...stuff.”
Merri moved to the desk off to the side and knelt next to the wastebasket. Nothing in there except for a few wrappers. Either the maid didn't come yet that day, or the room's occupant had been there a short while ago. Atop the desk sat a pad of paper, pen, and a phone.
"Gen, do you have any pencils or something?"
"Um..." Gen dug through her bag and pulled out a small, flat kit. "Graphite?"
Meredith took the kit, flipped it open, and pulled out a piece of graphite. It would do.
The light around her brightened as Gen walked closer. "What are you doing?"
Merri shrugged. "This works in the movies." She ran the graphite lightly over the paper until various letters emerged from writing on the papers torn off the top. Words were crossed over one another, since many people had stayed there over time and used the paper. She held up the sheet and squinted to read.
Everyone turned her way, and she held up the paper. "The address on here? Cade's store."
"We need to get out of here," Raji said. He might talk a tough game to impress Gen, but Merri knew he was no more interested in facing off against someone than the rest of them were. Save for Sage, maybe, who probably looked forward to the prospect.
"This isn't much, though," Gen said. "We still don't know who sent him or how he found us—"
"I doubt he had that info just laying around," Merri said. She felt weird arguing but truthfully she didn't feel up to the usual snooping. They were right there, in the room belonging to an enemy, and yet she didn't sense a thing. Didn't notice anything at all. Normally she'd get a feeling of someone being there... But now? Nothing. But this is a hotel room, she thought. It was possible that the number of people who had stayed there over the years just overloaded her mind. And it wasn't that out of the ordinary—the same thing happened at school. Still...it would be nice to sense something.
"It's not like his social insurance number will be lying around," Sage said. "And we don't know when he's coming back."
"Five more minutes," Gen said. As she moved toward the end table, she gestured vaguely over her shoulder. "Raj, go watch the door."
She sent him a glare. "Do it and let us do our thing."
Merri was a little glad she didn't have to worry about the door. Not that she trusted Raji as a scout...
Gen rifled through the end table drawers while Sage took the bathroom.
Seeing nothing else at the desk, Merri moved to the closet. The big brown door slid open. A suitcase was tucked in the corner, so Merri hauled it out and popped open the lid.
For a moment, she suspected she felt as Gen did a year ago when she showed up at Michael's and first saw the weapons cabinet. Dread and worry filled her gut. Instinct warned her they were in a bad situation, though she couldn't pick up any specifics.
"Guns," Merri called. "Do we really need any more information? I don't like this—we're under prepared. And since Gen can't do a fireball yet—"
"Ever," Sage said. "She'll never be able to—"
"Shut up!" Gen said.
"Really, we can't do that kind of offensive magic," Raji said.
"The bossy one told you to guard the door," Gen said.
Merri reached for her head, a slow ache beginning to form at her temples. "Let's just go back and tell Cade." Her gaze trailed to Sage, who got that, "But Michael!" look. No doubt she wanted to call him right away. It was their first time being in possible danger without him. Merri's inner voice told her to get him too...and maybe they could all discuss it later when they were able to regroup and talk.
Merri shoved the suitcase back in the closet, closed it, and stood. "Let's head down to the car."
"Are you getting something?" Gen asked.
Merri nodded. She tried not to lie to either of the girls, but in this instance it seemed like the best idea. "Yeah. We definitely need to go."
Gen looked as though she might argue some more, but at last common sense won out. "Fine."
They moved as a group toward the door where Raj waited with his back against the wall. "It's about time," he said as he opened the door.
Merri saw the woman standing in the doorway a split second before she raised a gun and fired.