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He insisted on driving. It was his car, he said. And he drove the speed limit. As if they had all the time in the world or were taking a fucking road trip. When she complained, he said it was best if they remained under the radar of both the human and Mirus variety. So Embry sat in her seat and seethed until somewhere south of Dallas, when he pulled into a roadside diner for breakfast. She remained silent, picking at her eggs and toast while he plowed through a tall stack, a western omelet, hash browns, and half a pot of coffee.
“Okay, you’ve had eight hours to sulk that we’re not doing this your way right now. You done yet?” he asked.
“I’m not sulking. I’m pissed. It’s not the same thing.”
“Semantics. Eat, you’ll need your strength.”
She narrowed her eyes and nibbled at a slice of bacon.
“Ooo, sarcasm by body language. That’s a step toward getting over yourself and getting to work.”
“Stuff it, Dempsey.” Embry scowled into her coffee. Christ, I’ve regressed to being a teenager. Irritated—with herself, with him—she put the coffee down and stabbed a fork into the eggs. “The intel came from the senior member of Dad’s team. They were on a clean-up mission trying to eliminate some traces of a—” Her eyes flicked around to check the distance of the waitress. “—an illegal hunting spree. Werewolves. Idiots. Right in the military’s back yard. The mission was get in, destroy their evidence, get out. Dad was lead, as usual. There were two others. Senior officer and a rookie. They got split up. Mission accomplished. But when they reconvened, the rookie didn’t make the check in. Dad went after him and got caught. The rookie was killed.”
“Can I top that off for you, hon?”
Embry looked up at the forty-something waitress, who didn’t wait for a reply before filling the tiny cup to the brim, thus totally ruining the concentration of sugar. Embry wondered if the woman would have noticed if she’d covered the cup with the saucer.
“Thanks,” said Gage, flashing a charming smile as his own coffee was topped off.
Simpering, the waitress sauntered off.
“Okay, so the senior officer made it out, reported back.” Gage blew on the fresh coffee. “Then what happened?”
“The Council sent a small recon team of other Walkers to find out what happened to him. They tracked him to a little known military base in Montana. The entire facility is lined in iron.”
“Iron?” Gage’s dark brows drew together. “I can see how that would limit spellcasting, prevent teleportation, keep the shamans from being able to get the layout via astral projection. But it shouldn’t limit Adan. Why can’t he just Walk out?”
“Because they apparently light every inch of the facility, twenty-four hours a day. No shadows, no Walking. Someone knows more than they should. Or suspects anyway. But the same thing that prevents Dad from getting out kept the recon team from getting in. Without being able to gather any more intel, the Council deemed the risk was too great to send an extraction team. They ruled it would be less threat to the Races to leave him in the military’s custody to be tested or executed. Better they think him some kind of genetic aberration than one of many.” Embry tore into the last slice of bacon.
“You didn’t take that well, I bet.”
The Council certainly hadn’t appreciated the massive scorch mark left on the ceiling of the meeting chamber by her reaction. “I took a leave of absence.”
“And decided to come find me.”
“No, actually.” Because you were dead. “I was going off on my own. Matthias intercepted me.”
At the sound of the name, Gage’s face darkened and a muscle twitched in his jaw. “He was there. That night.”
“Yes,” she said quietly.
“What happened after they took me out?”
Part of me died. “They took you away.” Embry’s throat felt thick as her mind conjured up the image of his limp body being hauled away by the wraith for disposal. The dojo had burned out to a shell before she stopped screaming.
She waited until the strain eased and continued. “I had to be . . . contained while they did. Eventually they took me home.” Where she’d been heavily sedated. “They waited around for Dad to get back from his mission. I wasn’t supposed to be there when they confronted him.”
“Always had a rebellious streak,” he murmured.
Embry rubbed at the tension in her temple. Rebellion had been the last thing on her mind that night. She’d stuck around hoping her father was going to make it right, make the nightmare go away. “They tried to be reasonable. Throwing cold, hard logic at him. If the Council found out about you, about the fact that he’d not only rescued you, but that he’d trained you, taught you to Walk—he’d have been executed. And you would have been tested. Poked and prodded . . . and probably eventually dissected. Because people like you aren’t supposed to be able to do what you do.” She saw from the look on his face that he knew that by people like him, she meant human.
“Nothing they said swayed him. I’ve never seen him so angry. It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t have my specific . . . abilities. I don’t think there would have been anything left of the team, let alone the house. But what did they expect? For all intents and purposes, you were his son. You were what I couldn’t be.”
“Ember, your father adores you. He’s always adored you. He never wanted the life of a Walker for you.”
“He wasn’t keen on me going into the IED either.”
Gage held up his hand. “Wait, wait. You went into the Investigation and Enforcement Division. The fucking paranormal FBI? You?” He shook his head. “You hate rules.”
“Yeah, that hasn’t changed. But my being IED is neither here nor there. By then it was done and you were gone. Nothing was the same after. He wasn’t the same after. They thought that getting rid of you would teach him a lesson, curb his habits. If anything, Dad got more reckless. He was censured a few times, but nothing permanent. He’s too valuable to the Council to take off active duty. Or he was.”
She fell silent again, idly swirling her finger in the cup to reheat the coffee that had gone cold.
“Did you ever look for me?”
Embry looked up at him. Gage’s face settled into the carefully blank lines usually reserved for interrogation, but it wasn’t hard to guess what was going through his mind.
Distant, professional, she reminded herself. Stick to the plan. “No.”
The stone facade cracked just a little as a muscle began to twitch in his jaw. “I woke up looking for you.”
Startled, Embry caused the coffee to boil over the rim and jerked her finger out. “What?”
“I didn’t know it was you. I couldn’t remember. Not your name or your face. That was gone, just like everything else. But the potion or spell or whatever the fuck it was just erased memory. All the feelings were still there. I just didn’t have the right context for them.”
Embry couldn’t fathom what that would be like. “Where were you?” she asked softly.
“Nevada. In a shitty motel north of Vegas. I’ve got no fucking clue why they left me there of all places.”
He’d have been bruised and battered, she remembered. And burned. “What did you do?”
“Drove to Vegas. Matthias was decent enough to leave me with my Charger.”
Embry looked out the window at the pristine muscle car. “I didn’t think his taste was that good.”
“Oh it was a piece of shit before I restored it. But it was the only thing I had when I woke up, so I’m kinda sentimental about it. Anyway, I got in touch with the authorities, who were happy to slap a big ‘Solved’ on my missing person’s case. The social worker assigned to me kept assuring me that my memory would come back. Came up with all kinds of theories as to why it didn’t. Nothing was near the truth.”
It wouldn’t be.
He hadn’t mentioned it, but she couldn’t stop herself from asking, “What about your burns?”
“Funny thing about that actually. Matthias must’ve done something to make them heal faster. When I woke up in the motel, I had seriously charred hands. By the time I made it to the hospital, they were down to blisters.”
“I’m so sorry, Gage.”
“I don’t want your apology, Embry. It isn’t your fault. You’re not the one who did this to me. No matter what else happens, you’re the one who dragged me out of the Purgatory of not knowing. No matter what I may have to leave behind of my life in New Orleans, it’s worth knowing. Who I am. Where I come from. You don’t know how important that is until you don’t have it. So thank you for that.”
But it was my fault. The certainty of it settled in her belly, transmuting what little breakfast she’d managed into lead. He certainly wouldn’t be thanking her for anything if he knew. But that was on the list of things she would continue to lie about. She wouldn’t risk her father’s life by telling him the truth.