Cursed(10)

By: S.J. Harper



Finally he answers, “I guess I hoped you wouldn’t be.” He leans forward, forearms on the table. “I remember what you said about not being able to afford anything complicated. I’ve played by your rules. No cards. No flowers.” There’s a long pause and then he asks, “I suppose it’s too much to hope for that you’re pissed because I didn’t send flowers?”

“Way too much to hope for. At the airport we agreed there wouldn’t be any calls, any emails . . .”

He nods. “And there haven’t been. Look, I didn’t come here with the expectation that we’d pick up where we left off in Charleston. You made your feelings perfectly clear.”

I’m not sure I believe him, but I desperately want to. “Then why are you here?”

Zack wears a ring on his right hand. It’s gold and reminiscent of a wedding band, engraved with a pattern resembling a tangle of thorns. He taps it three times on the table. Then the explanation comes out in a rush. “Let’s just say I’ve been struggling with my career path.”

Not the answer I was expecting. It brings a rush of relief right along with a not so surprising flash of disappointment.

“Go on,” I say.

“After the case we worked in Charleston, there was a lot of pressure for me to join the hostage rescue team. It was like at the Academy, only worse.”

“I don’t understand. What happened at the Academy?”

He shrugs. “My marksmanship scores were perfect. They recommended me for sniper training. Wanted me on the HRT then. It’s not what I wanted.”

“Because?”

“I have my reasons. Can we just leave it at that?”

I nod. “For now.” The guys in HRT are a tight-knit group. It’d be tough to hide going furry three nights a month in that environment. That’s reason enough for him to avoid the assignment. But I’m somehow left with the impression it’s more than that.

There’s a moment of silence. I can tell he’s searching for the right words.

“I’ve been struggling to find my place. Then I bumped into your boss at Quantico a few months ago. We had a couple beers. I asked about you. He mentioned your partner was leaving. I think my place is here. You’re the best field agent I’ve ever met. I want to work with you again, Emma.”

“There are plenty of good agents.” I lean forward and lower my voice. “Ones you haven’t slept with.”

He looks away briefly before responding. “You might find this hard to believe, but I don’t generally have trouble finding sexual companionship. Finding a partner that makes me better than I am alone? That’s far more difficult.”

He says the word partner as though it means something special. Having worked alongside him, I don’t doubt it does.

“That month in Charleston,” he continues, “we were good together. Damned good. No one has closed as many cases in as little time as you. You’ve got one of the best clearance records in the Bureau.”

I brush off the compliment. “I’ve had some terrific partners. I’ve been lucky.”

“Luck doesn’t have anything to do with it. I’ve seen you in action. The way you handled the Mason interrogation? It was magic.”

He’s not wrong. It was magic. In part. After all, a Siren is a Siren. Every once in a while I step over the line, help things along, insinuate myself into the mind of someone in order to extract truth or exert influence. I did it with the case I worked with Zack. It was a kidnapping. We had a suspect, Mason. We were sure he was involved. Zack and I had been tag-teaming him and coming up empty. He’d been taking a hard line with the suspect. I suggested he give me a few minutes alone to play the sympathy card. Then I did what I had to do. I unleashed my gift and discovered the truth, the location of the missing child.

Risky? Yes. I never know when Demeter might be watching. She frowns on any use of my gift that might draw attention to an Immortal on Earth. Having power is a burden. Not using it, a constant struggle. Though each use of my magic risks Demeter’s wrath, finding one of the missing, saving them, tips the scales in my direction. A justified risk for the greater good. Necessary so that I can continue with the mission, so that I can bring another victim home, so that maybe, someday, I can go home.

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