Dev didn’t believe in wasting time and he didn’t believe in questioning instinct.
This time, it was somebody else’s instincts—or whatever he’d call some weird psychic shit—but it didn’t change the rules of the game.
That had been fear in Nyrene’s eyes and fear required a response. This time, it was flight.
He wanted, more than anything, to stay and fight, but as long as he was watching over her, then she came first. Before his need to inflict vengeance, before his need to track down whoever was hunting her.
He’d find a way to make her safe and then he’d deal with everything else.
They pulled out of the parking lot less than ten minutes after Nyrene had told him they had to leave, and every second of the time between he’d kept one eye on the door.
Almost five miles lay between them and the motel before he spoke.
“Are we okay?”
She stared ahead into the darkness. “How would I know?”
With a short laugh, Dev said, “How would you not at this point? You’ve been right every other time.”
She sighed and looked away. “Yeah, right. Lucky. Luck doesn’t last. What are we supposed to do, Dev? We can’t just run forever.”
He ran his tongue along his teeth and then reached into his shirt pocket. “Here.”
Nyrene glanced at him and the card he held, but she didn’t take it.
“She wrote something on the back.”
“She wants me to call her,” Nyrene said. “That’s insane.”
“None of the stuff going on right now makes a lot of sense, and you need to find somebody who can help you make sense of it. She seems like a damn good bet, if you ask me.” He paused and then added softly, “This seems like a lousy thing to try to handle on your own.”
Slowly, she took the card. “I was looking for answers, you know,” she said, her voice reluctant. “I’d been doing some digging around online the night you…”
Tightening his hands on the steering wheel, Dev muttered, “The night I showed up and scared the shit out of you.”
There wasn’t any response, but he didn’t see much of a need for one. They both knew what he’d done.
“Did you have any luck finding anything?”
Nyrene scraped the tip of her nail over the simple black font on the card. “I don’t know. I’d found this one site—they called it The Psychic Portal, but everything went crazy before I could really talk to anybody. Honestly, I’d rather talk to somebody from there than Taige Morgan. She’s…”
“Strange,” Dev said when Nyrene hesitated yet again. “And yeah, I understand. But look at it this way. She’s a known quantity. She works with the FBI and has…” He grimaced, because he still couldn’t believe he was actually talking about this. Once you eliminate the impossible, he reminded himself. And they’d pretty much done that. “Morgan has closed who knows how many cases. Seems to me she’s a safer bet than talking to people you don’t know.”
When she said nothing else, he turned over the throwaway cell phone and waited for her to take it.
Slowly, she did.
* * * * *
Oman came out of the motel room, struggling to keep his cool.
He was damn glad he hadn’t put together any sort of team for this, but there was no way he would have risked that. How could he, considering he was dealing with an unknown in this equation?
The clerk at the motel had recognized a picture that Oman had shown to him of Deverall, although he claimed not to have seen a woman.
The strange female who had approached Oman out of the blue had walked around the room, the clicking of her heels muffled on the thin, fraying shag carpet. He’d overheard her talking to the three men who’d been in the truck with her.
“They’re gone. We barely missed them, but they are gone. Find me something.”
Then she’d turned and focused a broad smile on him.
“We were close. We’ll do better next time, but I need to know if you can help me with something.”
Oman’s gut said to stay the hell away from the woman.
But somehow, she’d managed to track down Deverall to this motel when nothing Oman had done had panned out. She wasn’t a cop, so he had no concerns she might be working with the federal agent who’d almost busted his very much deceased partner, but she had an angle. He just needed to figure out what it was.
“I might be able to help. I might not.”
She continued to watch him with that bright, winning smile.
“You’ve got a cop watching the house of the woman your boy is with. I just need him to…not be quite so alert for a few hours. I need one of my people to slip inside that house for a little while.”
“And just why do you need that?”
“You don’t need to worry about it,” one of the men with her said, coming up from behind him. When he spoke, he clapped a hand over the back of Oman’s neck. “Now do you?”
Oman’s brain went hazy. He blinked as he studied the woman in front of him, his thoughts falling out of place. Did he? “Do I what?” he asked.
“Lieutenant Oman,” the woman said, swaying closer, “we need your help to find this cop…and we really need your help to find the woman he’s with. She’ll cause you a lot of trouble. Why don’t you just let us get her out of your hair?”
“It’s a good idea.” The man behind him squeezed Oman’s neck gently.
“Yes.” Oman nodded. “It is a good idea.”
He never even thought to question his easy acquiescence or why he so suddenly felt like it was just a good idea to trust the woman in front of him. He, who tended to trust people about as far as he could throw them, would have happily turned over his weapon to the pretty, smiling blonde in that moment, had she asked him.
It did occur to her, but they would benefit more having somebody around who could answer questions or maybe clear the legal tape if any arose.
Besides, these cops had made such a mess already, killing another one just might be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Giving him a coaxing smile, she nodded at the phone on his belt. “Why don’t you call that cop who’s watching her house? We’ve got a guy in place who can take care of what we need and we’ll be that much closer to getting out of your hair then.”
* * * * *
The man’s smile was just as easy as it had been a few days ago. Nyrene couldn’t help but notice that.
His gaze slid from her to Dev and then back before he pushed off the car and came toward them.
Before she could figure out what to say, Dev was already talking.
“You.” The menace in Dev’s voice would have given her pause.
The man, with his heavy shoulders and roughly cut features, just lifted a brow.
“Me,” he replied, his tone just as easy as his smile. He dipped his head in Dev’s direction, then nodded at Nyrene. “The name is Crawford. Special Agent Joss Crawford, FBI. I’m a friend of Taige Morgan’s. She’s aware that you’ve got a…situation going on. I’m a little more mobile right now than she is, so…here I am.” He held out his arms and offered a cocky smile. It faded quickly, though, and he slanted a look at Nyrene. “How is your head?”
She blinked. “My head?” Then she remembered, reaching up to touch the still-aching bruise that bloomed on her face like an ugly flower. She’d all but forgotten about that. Impossible as it was to believe, the pain from being struck had paled in comparison to everything else.
Considering how bad things could get, she guessed it wasn’t a surprise.
With a shrug, she said, “It hurts. I’ll live.”
“It hurts…” He studied her face for a long moment and then nodded. “And yeah, you’ll live. I was talking more about the mess you’ve got suddenly brewing up there, though.” He tapped his forehead.
Nyrene flushed. Mess seemed too simplistic a description. “I don’t know,” she said. “Part of me is just hoping this is some bad dream and I’ll wake up normal.”
“What in the hell is normal?” He shrugged off the idea. “So…you talked to Taige. But something tells me that didn’t do much other than bring about more questions.”
Nyrene nodded, looking away from him to stare at the bustling, crowded parking lot. “Yeah. We only had a few minutes. We’ve got these…” She licked her lips and looked over at Dev before meeting Joss’s eyes once more, uncertain how he’d react if she told him that they’d had to leave the highway and Taige had been the one to abruptly shout, Turn left! “We didn’t have long,” she finished lamely.
Joss eyed her appraisingly as she thought about the short, terse interval she’d had with Taige Morgan—a woman known pretty much throughout the entire country at this point. They called her the Psychic of the South. There had been a TV documentary done on her, not that she’d participated or appeared on it, but it was all about cases she’d solved, lives she’d saved. Some of the stories went back to when she’d been little more than a child.
The conversation had ended abruptly with Taige’s demanding shout—Turn left! Instinct had kicked in and Dev had done that, while Nyrene’s brain went into overdrive.
Her heart had been racing, her head spinning, but everything had gone eerily, icily cold in the next moment as the loud, staccato blasts filled the air.
Somebody had started shooting at them.
They’d been found—again.
As though he knew exactly what she was thinking, Dev reached down and caught her hand, squeezing gently.
She squeezed back and when he went to pull away, she didn’t let go.
Joss continued to eye her narrowly for a long, tense moment. “She warned you about the Portal, right? You need to stay away from there, not talk to anybody who tries to contact you from there.”
“Yeah.” Rubbing the heel of her hand over her chest, Nyrene wished she could undo the past few days, or even those few minutes when she’d gone poking around on the website. “How can they be tracking me? I didn’t tell them anything.”
Joss was quiet so long, she didn’t know if he’d answer.
But then, slowly, he held out a hand.
She stared at his broad palm and then slowly accepted it.
Immediately, all the clamor in her head faded away.
Just like that.
There was no noise—she’d lived with nothing but noise in her head since these headaches had started right after the wreck. She’d thought that window trick had been helping, but…no. It was like using a paper bag to block the rain.
For the first time in days, she had silence in her head and no pain.
“How…” She sucked in a breath. “How did you do that?”
“Practice.” He squeezed her hand when she would have pulled back. “You’re already figuring it out, aren’t you? What are you using?”
Confused, she stared at him.
“You block out the voices you hear,” Joss said, clarifying. “How?”
“A…um, a window,” she replied, glancing at Dev before looking back at Joss. This was all insane. How could she be standing here with him like this, talking about this as if it was…real?
“You need something stronger.” His mouth went tight. “A window that you can open and close isn’t bad…if you’re run-of-the-mill, but Nyrene, you light up like neon. You’re not run-of-the-mill. Taige said you were in a wreck, right?”
Numb, Nyrene nodded, trying to understand what he was getting at.
“Chances are you’ve always had…we’ll call it good instincts. You know when to take an umbrella even on sunny days, for example, don’t you?”
Mystified, she asked, “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“If the weatherman says no rain, and the sky is blue, why are you taking an umbrella?” He waited for a response. “And when you do, does it rain?”
She held up her hands. “How should I know? I don’t count rainy days versus sunny days!”
“But it’s happened.” He nodded, looking satisfied. “I’d bet you know when to get off the highway, and you find out after you got off there was a bad wreck a few miles up, right?”
Nyrene swiped her hands down her pants. Okay, so maybe she could recall a few times when that had happened. Maybe. “That doesn’t mean anything,” she said, her voice shaking.
“Not by itself.” Joss squeezed her hand again and she wondered why it didn’t feel odd to be standing there in a parking lot with a strange man while he squeezed her hand and asked her asinine questions. Or odder. “But if you pair it up with other things?” He leaned in then, voice intense. “You know what I think?”
She swallowed, unable to speak.
“You were always like this, but it was…quieter. You knew certain people were just…no good, didn’t you?”
“No!” she fired back. “My ex-boyfriend was a two-timing son of a bitch— No, a three-timing son of a bitch. He’s married for crap’s sake! With kids!”
“Being psychic doesn’t come with a guarantee,” he said, lips crooking up in a smile. “Some people are just harder for us to read. Especially somebody untrained. Can you honestly tell me that there was never anybody who you just knew you should stay away from?”
Licking her lips, Nyrene thought back and she had to shake her head. “No.” There actually had been any number of people who had filled her with such…loathing, she’d steered far clear of them. Then, as a rush of understanding hit her, she flinched.
“What is it?” Dev and Joss both asked at once.
“I…” She licked her lips. “I used to call CPS. At my job. We had a couple of parents that I knew were hurting their kids, but we had no proof.”
Heat flooded her cheeks and she looked away, clearing her throat before speaking. “I’d report them, but without any logical evidence…” Her voice trailed away as she thought about what she’d done.
Finally, she cleared her throat. “I called on the one who bothered me the most, finally. I called and I lied and said I’d heard screaming—a little boy’s—coming from the house, begging for help. I lied and said I’d heard it several times.”
“And…?” Joss asked.
“We didn’t see him for almost a year, but he came back in…with foster parents. They were planning to adopt him.” Eyes burning, she looked at Joss for a long moment, then finally over at Dev. “His dad used to touch him. I’m not sorry for what I did. It saved him.”
Dev gave a short nod, saying nothing.
“So, you’ve always been like this,” Joss said again. “But this wreck…it broke something open inside you. A gate, or maybe a window.” He crooked a grin at her. “And now you’re wide open.”
“You’re too strong, or your gift is. We’ll get into that later. For now, can I?” He squeezed her hand again.
She went to ask what and then jerked back, feeling something nudge her…inside her head.
He still held her hand and she tried to twist away at the alien sensation.
“Let her go,” Dev said, his voice a growl.
“Not yet.” Joss didn’t even look away from her. “I’m not hurting you, Nyrene. I won’t look at anything—”
Dev went to grab him.
Nyrene saw him moving—
And then freezing. Midstep. His face went red, and to her horror, she could see his throat move—inward.
Like some unseen hand had grabbed him. “Ease back, Sherlock,” Joss said, his voice grim. “I’m not going to hurt her, but she can’t function if she doesn’t get some sort of hold on this.”
Dev’s eyes bulged as he clawed at his neck, leaving scratches that soon grew red with blood as he fought his way free.
“What are you doing?” Nyrene demanded. To her shock, she’d fisted the man’s shirt in her hand—her free one—and she was shaking him.
“Holding him off for a minute so he doesn’t beat my ass.” Joss’s eyes glowed. “I don’t have time to coddle you through this. Now are you going to let me…”
She sucked in a breath when he nudged her head again, and that unseen touch was his. With a groan, she let him…although she didn’t know what she was allowing.
In the next moment, Dev hit the floor, his breath sawing in and out. He was up on his feet a second later, but Nyrene held up a hand. “Don’t,” she whispered bleakly. She couldn’t understand why, but this was something she needed.
“That’s it,” Joss murmured. “Now…pay attention. Feel what I’m doing.”
She couldn’t do anything else. It was as if he was laying bricks in her mind.
“A wall,” she whispered. “A wall, not a window.”
“Exactly. You decide what comes through. But for now, you have to block out almost all of it, Nyrene. You practically glow in the dark.”
Bit by bit, everything inside her mind seemed to…change.
But it wasn’t just mentally. There were physical changes, too.
She breathed easier.
She felt lighter.
When he finally withdrew that light mental touch, she swayed, then sagged.
Dev caught her, wrapping one arm around her waist. She braced automatically for the onslaught of memories and images, but nothing was there.
“I can’t feel anything from you,” she said wonderingly as she looked up at him.
Dev’s confusion was clear on his face. But she didn’t explain. She was too confused, herself. Turning her head, she met Joss’s gaze. “How did you do that?”
“It was more you than me,” he said, shrugging. “Once your mind realized what I was doing, it sort of took over. I was just guiding things. You needed better shielding. I just helped you figure it out.”
His gaze flicked to Dev and he cocked a brow, tossing the man an arrogant grin. “Now, maybe the three of us can get out of here and talk shop?”
* * * * *
Joss’s version of getting out of there meant relocating to a popular chain steakhouse that served peanuts in the shell and had the warm, yeasty scent of bread drifting out the door.
It had Nyrene’s stomach rumbling and she pressed a hand to her belly, hoping to quell the noise. It didn’t work. But then again, she and Dev had been a little too focused on staying alive the past few days to worrying much about eating.
“This isn’t smart,” Dev said as they went through the doors. “There’s a BOLO out on me, and probably here, too, at this point.”
“Oh, those are being dealt with,” Joss said, his voice unconcerned.
But Dev’s question went unanswered as they passed through a busy crush of people in the waiting area and on into the bar where they found, miraculously, an empty booth.
Joss took it, settling in the middle of one bench while waiting for them to take the other. Waylon Jennings wailed on the radio and Joss gestured to the room in general. “It’s loud,” he said, leaning forward. Voice pitched so they had no trouble hearing it, but low enough Nyrene had no doubt that nobody else would hear him, he continued. “And it’s Friday. People here are enjoying a drink after the end of the week, getting ready to go home. Nobody is likely to be paying attention to you guys. Except maybe cops, and nobody is getting off shift any time soon. It’s the middle of the evening.” He tapped his watch, then looked up just as a woman stopped at the end of the booth.
They placed orders for drinks and when the server came to Nyrene, she said, “Whiskey. Whatever you got, a double. Straight up.”
Normally, she wasn’t a drinker, but she needed some damn alcohol right then.
Joss gave her a sympathetic look. “It’s a lot to take in,” he said after the woman made her way back into the crowd.
“Excuse me,”—Dev gave her an apologetic look—“but I need to know. What the hell did you mean by ‘it’s being taken care of’? BOLOs don’t just disappear because some FBI agent shows up.”
“Nah, that has nothing to do with me. There’s a bigger fish than me pulling strings and I imagine he’s putting some weight behind it.” Joss gave a thin smile. “It probably has something to do with the fact that your department is dirtier than a couple of contenders after a bout of mud wrestling.”
Dev arched his brows then, leaning back as he studied Joss appraisingly. “They’ve caught federal interest.”
“They have now.” Joss gave him a shark’s smile. “They fucked with me and that caught my interest. I did some digging around. An awful lot of cops die in your neck of the woods, do you know that? And the murder rate in your little city…it’s kind of crazy.”
“I’m aware,” Dev bit off.
The words sounded jagged and rusty to Nyrene’s ears.
“I’ve sent a report to the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation, but who the fuck knows how long it will be before they get to me?” Now Dev just sounded frustrated. “And good cops keep dying. Decent people die when they end up stumbling into something they shouldn’t.”
His eyes flickered and she knew he was thinking of Meredith and her fiancé.
“I suspect the LBI will find your file much sooner than you think. They’re getting a call from Taige,” Joss said softly.
From the corner of her eye, Nyrene could see the way Dev’s mouth tightened, but then, to her surprise, he gave a short, stiff nod. “From what I hear, she makes a phone call and people jump to attention,” Dev said softly.
“That’s because when she makes a call, she has solid-gold information.” Joss shrugged. “I’m a cop, too, Deverall. I like closing cases just as much as you do. Once some agent at the LBI takes a look at this, realizes cops are getting killed, innocent citizens dying…? You’ll be the next one to get a phone call. Don’t be surprised if you end up getting a job offer to get you out of that armpit of a town, either. LBI’s always looking for good cops.”
There was another lull in the conversation as the server reappeared, distributing a round of drinks and asking if they needed any food. Joss answered for them all with a polite, “Can we just flag you down when we need you?”
Once they were alone again, he leaned back over the table. “In the meantime, the good mayor of Clary is getting a call from my boss. He’s going to be told that we’re aware that some…odd information is being passed around about an informant of ours, one Benjamin Deverall. We’d be mighty upset if anything happened to one of ours, you know.” His eyes caught and held Dev’s. “The BOLO is going to be dropped, probably within the hour. If not, I’ll be in touch so you know to keep watching your backs on that front.”
“The men after me aren’t going to stop just because the mayor got goosed by the FBI. For all I know, the mayor is in it up to his neck.”
“He’s not.” Joss shook his head. “Before the head man in charge got on the phone with him, one of our empaths spoke with the mayor. He’s a self-serving bastard, but he’s not dirty. Also, your captain has her suspicions about what’s going on in the department. She’s safe to talk to.”
Safe to talk to.
Bewildered, Dev looked at the man sitting across from him. He didn’t know what to make of any of this. He knew all about trusting his gut, which was where he was going to file what Nyrene could do—she just had seriously sharp instincts and he was going to make himself be okay with that.
But now he had a man he didn’t know from Adam telling him something that his gut had suspected for a long time, but to his knowledge, Joss Crawford didn’t know the lieutenant. “I’m sorry,” he finally said. “How do you know any of this shit?”
“We’re the FBI,” Joss said soberly. “We know everything.”
But the joke fell flat. Not just for him, he realized, but for Nyrene.
“How do they know about me?” she asked, her voice urgent. “I don’t understand any of this. How did Taige know about me? How was anybody from this so-called Psychic Portal able to track me? Because I…what? You say I glow in the dark? And because of that, they sent you here? Why? Why do I matter to the FBI?”
Joss studied them both, irritation stamped on his features. He blew out a breath and finally he reached for his phone. “I need you two to cooperate with me if I want anything accomplished, and I want several things accomplished. One, I want your laptop, Nyrene. You’re our first solid lead on the Portal in a while and we need that lead. Two…” His eyes flicked to Dev and he shrugged. “Dirty cops piss me off.” He tapped something out on the phone, then put it face down on the table. “But I’m not going to get much cooperation if I don’t garner some trust.”
The phone buzzed almost immediately.
“So I’m going to attempt to garner some trust.” He picked up the phone. But he didn’t look at it immediately. “But I’ll tell you this now—if you fuck me over or do anything to upset the person you might be getting ready to meet? You’re going to be dealing not just with me, you’ll deal with somebody a lot scarier.” He looked down at the phone and his mouth tightened. “She said yes. Come on, we need to pay and get out of here before she changes her mind.”
“What are you talking about?” Dev asked.
But Joss didn’t answer. He was fishing bills out of his wallet. After a cursory glance at the table—Tallying up the tab, Dev thought—he tossed down a few bills, then added another ten. “Come on,” he said again, sounding impatient.
“I’d like to know where first.” Dev stayed stubbornly where he was.
“I think I know,” Nyrene said weakly.
Dev looked over at her and saw she’d fisted a hand by her head.
“Keep that wall up, Nyrene,” Joss said, his voice hard.
“I am. This…it’s just there.” She held up a hand, as if grasping for an explanation in thin air. She looked at Dev, then back at Joss. “You’re taking us to meet Taige, aren’t you?”
Joss’s mouth tightened.
“Taige,” she whispered. “And her daughter.”