Cursed(2)

By: S.J. Harper



For him.

“I’ve got to go.”

I click off, the sound of Liz’s protests ringing in my ear, and concentrate on the familiar six-foot-plus werewolf coming toward me. Deputy Director Jimmy Johnson emerges from his office. “Here’s the memo I promised you about your new partner. Better late than never.”

He may be chronically behind with paperwork, but otherwise Johnson’s tenacious about his job, a real pit bull. And, despite being only five foot six, he’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever met.

I snatch the sheet from his hand and drop it on my desk. “Why didn’t you tell me it was Armstrong?”

“I thought I did.” His look is quizzical, but it doesn’t stay that way for long. “Zack! Good to see you again.”

The two men greet each other with a hearty handshake.

“Good to see you again, Deputy Director.” The Southern accent is smooth; the cadence of his voice is, as I remember, low and lilting. It was the first of many things that got to me about Zack Armstrong.

Johnson dives in without preamble. “Emma Monroe’s your new partner. I don’t have to waste time with introductions. What’s it been, a year since you worked on that case together?”

“Just over,” Zack answers, flashing a sideways glance in my direction.

What Johnson couldn’t possibly know is that we share more than a past case. We both have secrets—supernatural powers we’ve managed to keep hidden from the Bureau, the world, and, as far as Zack is concerned, each other. Unbeknownst to him, I sensed what he was the instant we met. We never discussed it. He’s never revealed it. But of course he wouldn’t, not to an outsider.

And then there is the other secret we share. Zack and I slept together.

Once.

It was during our last night in Charleston. We’d celebrated wrapping up the case, indulging in a good meal and too much wine. The attraction had been building for weeks, the sexual tension as thick as the South Carolina air. I wish I could say that one thing led to another. That I was impulsively swept away. But I’m not impetuous when it comes to sex. I can’t afford to be. The potential consequences are too high.

We agreed that after, we’d go our separate ways. There would be no telephone calls. No texts. No emails. No contact. Period. With twenty-four hundred miles between us, it seemed safe.

Johnson startles me with a slap on the back. “Show him the ropes. He’s all yours.”

I offer my hand. “Good to see you again.”

Zack takes it.

A woman can tell a lot about a man from his handshake. Zack’s hasn’t changed. It’s confident, firm, and friendly. It’s the handshake of a man who has nothing to apologize for and no regrets.

Johnson is already on his way back to his office. Zack doesn’t seem to notice. His eyes are on me.

“I’m pleased to be working with you again, Agent Monroe.”

Is he? The handshake. The demeanor. Both seem genuine. But, despite the old-world charm, I can’t shake the feeling that something is off.

Maybe coming here isn’t something he wanted at all. Maybe it’s strictly a Bureau-initiated transfer. Maybe he’s merely worried about how I’m going to react. My curiosity has gone into overdrive. The possibilities ricochet through my mind like bullets in a steel barrel. I want to know how he feels. To taste the truth, whatever that may be. And I could. All it would take is lowering the dampening spell that keeps my powers in check. But giving in to temptation like this would be uncharacteristic. Using my gift comes at a price.

“I thought we’d moved past you calling me Agent Monroe,” I say finally. “Emma or Monroe will do fine.”

Zack releases my hand, then subtly breathes in my scent before stepping back to continue his appraisal. His gaze, now cool and calculating, sweeps the length of my body. He’s searching for a reaction, sizing me up. He sees what I want him to see, what he saw when we worked together before, a no-nonsense professional who is dedicated, capable, all about the mission. Denying my powers and disguising my beauty has become second nature to me.

Over the centuries I’ve become an expert at blending in. My dark hair may be long, but it’s never loose. I wear sunscreen. No mascara. No lipstick. No makeup. Period. Today’s suit, like all of my suits, is black and tailored. The white cotton twill blouse is classic, conservative. I don’t accessorize. I don’t wear jewelry. I don’t wear silk where a man can see it.

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