Marked by Midnight (Midnight Breed #11.5) - Page 9
As much as Mathias hated that she’d used her ESP gift to try to identify Ozzy’s murderer, he had to admit he’d been hoping the vision would have given him something useful to go on in his pursuit of the bastard.
He hadn’t wanted Nova to do it. He tried to stop her, knowing what that horrible glimpse would cost her. The experience of Ozzy’s death would be one she’d have to carry with her forever.
She’d already known enough pain and ugliness in her life. Mathias wanted to shield her from any more. Difficult to do, when she wasn’t even speaking to him now.
He cursed and sent his fist into the nearest wall.
He’d failed her tonight.
If he hadn’t been so caught up in his enjoyment of Nova’s body, of her sweet but fiery passion, maybe he would have heard the confrontation taking place in the shop two floors down. Maybe he would have scented the blood in the air before Eddie came to the door. Maybe he could have stopped Ozzy’s killing and spared Nova the grief that was tearing her apart now.
Fuck. All he had was maybes when it came to that woman.
To his astonishment, he realized he couldn’t think of Nova in any other way.
He was about to turn around and tell her when the Order’s black Range Rover rolled up to the curb outside the tattoo shop. As Thane and Deacon jumped out, Sloane blazed in behind them in an unmarked vehicle with its dashboard LED flashing, another JUSTIS unit pulling up behind him. Not a few moments later, Callahan emerged from somewhere in the darkness and came jogging up to the shop.
Mathias walked out to greet the arriving warriors and his friend from JUSTIS.
His talk with Nova would have to wait.
Right now, he had a killer to hunt down and destroy.
Nova had done her best to clean up Eddie and herself in the shop’s small restroom.
There wasn’t enough water in London to wash out all of the blood that stained the shell-shocked kid’s shirt and trembling hands. She’d tried to scrub it off her too, from her fingers and bare feet, the knees of her dark sweats gore-soaked from when she’d knelt down beside Ozzy to relive his last moments of life.
The sink had run red down the drain for fifteen minutes straight before she’d finally given up. Nothing to do for their clothes but burn them.
She dropped Eddie’s ruined T-shirt in the restroom trash bin and gave him a tender look. “You okay?”
He nodded weakly, then shook his head. His eyes were still puffy and moist from his tears. His mouth quivered as he spoke. “What are we gonna do, Nova?”
She offered him a smile, but it felt wobbly and uncertain on her lips. “We’ll figure it out.”
The same words Mathias had spoken to her earlier that night, when she’d finally admitted to him that she didn’t have her shit together at all, that she was scared.
She was still scared, even more so now. Not only because Ozzy was gone, and she didn’t know what her life was going to be like without the old man being part of it, but because she had somehow let another man into her life.
Into her heart.
How had she been so careless as to let her guard down with him, after a lifetime of keeping herself safely closed off, her wants and desires sealed up behind steep, unbreachable tower walls?
How had he managed to crash the gate, when she’d barely had time to prepare for the battle?
As much as Nova wanted to blame herself--blame him--for Ozzy’s suffering tonight while they’d been so blissfully, selfishly unaware, there was another part of her that wanted nothing more than to open the door and run to Mathias. For his comfort, for his strength.
And yes, for his love.
She needed all of those things from him, and she wasn’t afraid to admit, if only to herself.
Looking at Eddie, standing there half-dressed, his scrawny chest and shoulders shuddering under the weight of his shock and fear, Nova knew that she also needed Mathias’s protection. For the kid.
For herself as well.
Amid all of the horror and anguish tonight over the loss of Ozzy, she couldn’t afford to forget that there was a killer searching for her.
A savage Breed male who’d shown very clearly that he wasn’t going to let anyone get in his way of finding her.
Not even an innocent boy.
So much the worse, if Ozzy’s killer knew that Eddie had been nearby the whole time, close enough to hear him, and to know what he’d done to Oz.
What if the killer decided to come back to the shop?
What if he was somewhere outside, watching, waiting for a chance to make another move?
What if it was someone sent by her father--someone worse than Doyle or his other human thugs?
Each possibility seemed more awful than the next. The one thing she was certain of, was that the shop was no place for Eddie to be right now. Mathias had offered to take them somewhere safe tonight. Maybe she should let him.
She wrapped her arm around Eddie. “Let’s go talk to Mathias, okay?”
The boy nodded, and she started to guide him toward the closed door leading out to the studio.
Started to, but stopped.
Mathias was no longer alone in the shop.
And as the din of male voices grew louder out there--Mathias’s colleagues from the Order and JUSTIS, all now arrived--Nova’s heart froze in her breast.
A glance over at Eddie confirmed her dread.
His freckled face had gone ghostly white, his eyes wide with fear.
“You hear him too?” she whispered.
Eddie nodded, silent.
The voice Nova heard when she relived Ozzy’s death. The voice that had terrified Eddie from inside the cabinet where he’d hid during the murder.
The man it belonged to was in the other room with Mathias now.
He had to be warned. But how could she do it, without exposing herself and Eddie to Ozzy’s murderer at the same time?
Nova pushed the boy back, away from the door. Then she gently, soundlessly, opened it just the tiniest crack. Her heart lurched, dread like ice in her chest.
Mathias was conversing in low, serious tones with the other men. He was obviously friendly with them all.
Friends with them all.
Including the one whose voice went through Nova as sharp as the blade that had slashed Ozzy’s throat.
That man and a few others now broke away from the others with Mathias and started heading for the back room.
Were there more than just the one involved? Could Mathias possibly know?
And then, a sickening, worrisome thought: Is that why he had tried to stop her from touching Ozzy? Because he was afraid of what she’d see through Ozzy’s eyes?
She didn’t want to think it.
She wanted to believe her trust in him was well-placed, that it was real.
But Mathias was still approaching, leading Ozzy’s killer right to her.
No. Oh, God...no.
She couldn’t let him see her. She couldn’t let him get near Eddie.
Nova retreated from the door.
“Come on,” she whispered, barely making a sound. “We have to get out of here. Now.”
Mathias was more impatient than anyone to begin the hunt for Ozzy’s killer, but before he could even think about hitting the street with his team and the JUSTIS officers who’d arrived to assist, he had to make sure Nova and Eddie were safe.
He’d tasked Callahan with taking them back to the Order’s command center in the heart of London. Although it was rare--almost unheard of--that civilians were permitted into Order compounds, Mathias was willing to bend that rule for Nova.
If he had anything to say about it, she wasn’t going to be merely a civilian for long, anyway. He wanted her in his life. Hell, he wanted her as his mate, if she’d have him.
The Rover was still idling at the curb. All Mathias needed to do was convince Nova that she needed to trust him, that she needed to do what he asked for once and let him take care of her.
He walked to the back room with Callahan and a few other men. Mathias knocked on the door at the same time he started to open it. “Nova, I’ve made arrangements for you and Eddie at--”
She was gone.
The back room was vacant. The rear door letting out onto the alleyway behind the shop was partially ajar, admitting a thin draft of night air inside.
Nova had left, taking Eddie with her. The reality of it raked over Mathias with cold claws.
Fuck. She was out there on her own right now, while Ozzy’s killer was still very much at large.
She had to be aware of that danger. And yet she’d chosen that risk over staying another minute under Mathias’s watch.
“Damn it, Nova.” He turned to the three warriors behind him, an odd chill blooming behind his sternum. “She won’t be coming back.”
“Where do you think she went?” Callahan asked.
Mathias lifted his shoulder. “I don’t know. She could be anywhere in the city.”
“If she’s on foot, she can’t be far,” Deacon said.
Thane nodded, his black brows knit together over dark eyes. “You want us to go after her, Commander?”
“No,” Mathias said after a moment, the word heavy on his tongue.
Every particle of his being pounded with the need to bring her back to him. But if he sent warriors after her now, it would only make her run farther.
Nova was a smart woman and a proven survivor. He had to trust she’d find a way to keep herself and Eddie safe.
The best thing he could do for her was make damned sure the Breed bastard who killed Ozzy wasn’t permitted to breathe for much longer tonight.
Sloane stood behind Deacon and Callahan at the door. The JUSTIS officer shot Mathias a disapproving look. “You’ve got a body lying in a lake of blood out there, a missing woman and kid, and no one here to explain what happened tonight except you, my friend. I think you’d better tell us what’s going on.”
He had filled them all in briefly when he’d called them to the shop, alerting them to the murder and the fact that the killer had been looking for a woman who worked there. It hadn’t seemed the best time to mention that he’d been at the scene when the assault took place, let alone that he’d been in an upstairs apartment making love to the very woman the attacker had come in to find.
Although Sloane had demanded the answers, Mathias spoke to his team. “I met Nova here at the shop two nights ago, during our search for the tattoo artist who’d left the unfinished work on the last guy fished out of the Thames.”
“A lucky break,” Deacon remarked. “We searched a dozen shops and came up empty.”
“Yeah, well,” Mathias hedged. “As soon as I got near Ozzy’s shop, I sensed something was off. I could tell there’d been an altercation here, a pretty bad one. It made me curious, so I stopped in, asked a few questions.”
“What did you find out?” Thane asked.
“That our dead scarab had, indeed, been in the shop. He came in the night before, and Nova was the one who did the tattoo.”
“But she didn’t finish it,” Callahan said.
“No. The guy was drunk, belligerent. There were words exchanged, then threats. Things turned ugly, and Ozzy killed him to protect Nova. They dumped the body in the river.”
“Jesus Christ,” Sloane muttered.
Mathias went on, holding his old friend’s rightfully indignant look. Sloane wasn’t going to like anything else he would hear now either. “I realized there were things she wasn’t telling me. I suspected some kind of connection between her and the man who came into the shop...and I was right. She knew him. She didn’t know the others in the morgue, but she was scared enough to go there and find out what she could about them.”
Now, Sloane’s hissed curse was even more profane. “You lied to me earlier today, Rowan. You acted like you had no goddamned idea who woman in the morgue video was. Yet all along you knew.”
“I knew,” he admitted soberly. “I’m telling you now, lying to my friends--to my teammates--goes against everything I am. But when it comes to this woman, when it comes to Nova...”
“You care for her,” Thane said.
Mathias nodded. He glanced to Sloane. “When you told me she had been at the morgue to see the other dead men, I didn’t know how deeply she might be involved in any of this. I didn’t know if she had been part of the other killings too. I didn’t know if she’d been lying to me about what she knew. I only knew I had to give her the chance to tell me first. So, as soon as the sun set, I came here to talk with her.”
“You’ve been here all night?” Callahan piped up. “You were here while the killing took place?”
“I was upstairs, in Nova’s apartment with her.” He didn’t have to elaborate on what he was doing up there. The looks he was getting from all four men said they understood plainly enough. “I didn’t know about the attack until after it was over. The boy, Eddie, was in the shop when the killer arrived. Eddie hid back there, in the storage room. He ran upstairs to Nova’s afterward, in a state of shock.”
“He didn’t see who did it?” Deacon asked.
“No, but Nova did.” At the round of confused glances that fixed on him, Mathias explained. “She’s a Breedmate. Her gift lets her see the final moments of someone’s life when she touches them. When she touched Ozzy, she saw a Breed male in a hooded jacket. She saw this male slash open her friend’s throat.”
Mathias now looked to Sloane. “That’s what Nova was doing at the morgue this morning, when she touched the dead men with the scarab tattoos. She saw that there was some kind of meeting taking place between those men and a group of Russians. The thug who confronted her here in Ozzy’s shop the other night was there too. She saw him execute his own men.”