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The alien was a vampire. Or, at least, he looked like one with his face buried against his victim’s neck.
His hands were covered in blood and a little was smudged on his face. Now would be the time for Kenzie to run. If she wasn’t so desperate to find her sister, she’d be on the next transport off of Guerran.
But Carise was here.
And Kenzie was more likely to stab the stupid alien vampire in front of her rather than run from him.
“Why’d you have to kill him?” she demanded. If she was just a little more reckless, she might have shoved at him. As it was, she put her knife away and kept glaring.
Mad blinked twice, as if he was confused. “Excuse me?”
“Why. Did. You. Kill. Him?” She emphasized every word, speaking slowly, just in case her translator was working on a delay.
But, no, Mad stared at her in disbelief as he wiped off his axe and placed it back in its holster. “He was going to drag you to Jadirel. I was protecting you.”
“I don’t need protection.” Okay, that was maybe a lie. She hadn’t been confident she could face off against Tyze, but she was willing to try. She found people liked to answer questions when the other option was getting stabbed a lot. “I was going to interrogate him.”
“Before or after he beat you to a pulp?” Mad stepped close. He was cut up and blood covered, and he should have been disgusting.
Why did Kenzie want to kiss him?
She knew how good he tasted, what his body felt like when he was as close as he could be. Wasn’t fucking a guy supposed to get him out of her system? So why did she want to drag him deeper into the shadows and have her way with him again?
This planet was crazy.
“I had him right where I wanted,” she said. A wise woman would have her knife out for this conversation. But she was far from wise when it came to Mad.
“He won’t help you, but I will. Come on. Someone’s going to come for his body, and we don’t want to be here when that happens.” He nodded further down the alley between the tents and took off.
Kenzie followed him. Why did she want to trust him? He was a criminal. She’d had a knife to his throat and threatened him to get information. And instead of trying to get payback, he’d protected her. It didn’t make any sense.
Very little in Kenzie’s life made sense these days. And she needed help.
When she caught up to Mad, he was speaking with a stall owner and handing over a few coins in return for a package that smelled like bread and meat. The vendor didn’t seem to notice that Mad was covered in blood.
This was a fucked up place.
Once Mad was done with the vendor, he turned to her. “Let’s get off the streets for a while.”
She kept following him and was a little surprised when he led her right back to his quarters. “Aren’t the…” Well, not cops, there weren’t cops on Guerran. “Isn’t someone going to come after you for that guy’s death?”
An emotion she couldn’t read danced across Mad’s face, but he quickly hid it. “I’ll be fine,” he assured her. “I may have just given myself a promotion.”
He shrugged. “Tyze’s death upsets the power structure among Jadirel’s people. He may give me more responsibility. Fuck.” Mad set the food down on the table. “Eat, you must be starving. And wait here while I wash off. Your things are on the bed.”
Kenzie didn’t look at the bed. Looking there would remind her of everything they did last night, and that way lay madness. Her stomach was about to stage a revolt, so she grabbed the food and dug in. It wasn’t like Mad could have poisoned it. Besides, she was in his quarters already and a bit at his mercy.
Had he let her get the upper hand?
She chewed slowly as she thought it over. The fight with Tyze had been brutal and quick. Mad used his axe like he’d been born with it, a barbarian exile who lived for violence. He was stronger than her in every conceivable way. And yet he’d let her hold two knives on him. He’d only resisted when Tyze showed up at the door.
She didn’t like the thought that she was being humored. Part of her wanted to march into his bathroom and demand an explanation. But Kenzie wasn’t stupid. She stuffed the rest of the food in her mouth and finished it.
At some point Mad had decided to let her hold a knife to his throat. For the first minute or so, he might have been laying there and assessing the situation, but after that he’d decided that it was better to appease her than to fight. She didn’t know if he was playing a game or if he was really on her side.
It would be foolish to trust him.
But she already did. She’d followed him back to his apartment. She’d eaten the food he’d given her, and she was waiting while he wiped off the blood he’d spilled protecting her.
Meal finished, Kenzie grabbed her clothes off the bed and quickly changed into them. She was thankful to have her shoes back and wasn’t at all disappointed that she was no longer wearing a tunic that smelled like Mad.
Who was she trying to kid?
Mad came out of the shower wearing nothing, and Kenzie had to bite her tongue to keep from making a noise. Did they not have towels on Guerran?
She couldn’t help staring at his tight ass while he picked clothes out of his wardrobe and pulled them on. She forced herself to look away before he turned around and caught her. But from the way he grinned, he knew what he did to her.
“Satisfied?” he asked.
“What?” Her cheeks heated and she hoped she wasn’t blushing. Maybe he wouldn’t notice.
His grin widened. “Your food. Would you like more?”
She shook her head, trying to push aside her nerves. She was almost thirty years old, not some blushing child. “I’m good. Thanks.”
Mad took pity on her and stopped teasing. “As we discussed this morning before we were interrupted, I’ll go to the slave market and check the records. Do you have an image of your sister? Can you give me a description?”
“Yes.” Kenzie stretched her arm out and bunched up the fabric around her elbow. She ran her finger over the sensitive skin over her forearm and tapped out a familiar pattern.
Mad watched the way her fingers moved, but if he was curious about what she was doing, he didn’t say anything. Smart man.
A dark line appeared on her arm, followed by another, then another. A shape started to form, and after a minute her sister’s face was there, tattooed on her arm where she belonged.
“I’ve had to ditch all my things more than once. I used to carry photos of Carise with me, but after I risked my life twice to get the photos before moving onto another planet, I realized I needed a better way to carry her with me. I got a specialist in the Oscavian Empire to make the disappearing tattoo. It’s keyed to a special code. That way I get to choose who sees Carise. Wearing her on my skin all the time could be dangerous. I don’t want her to get hurt because of me. Take a good look.” Kenzie held her arm out so Mad could look his fill.
It was intimate. Too intimate. Especially when he held her wrist in his giant hand and took his time studying her sister.
“She looks like you,” he said. His eyes flicked up, and her heart flipped. Before he let go of her hand, he kissed the inside of her wrist.
Kenzie pulled her arm away as if she’d been burned. “People thought she was my clone when we were little, she looked so much like me. It changed as we got older. But faces don’t lie. Will you remember what she looks like?”
Mad nodded in solemn promise.
Kenzie ran her fingers over her arm, and the tattoo disappeared. “When can you check the records at the auction house?” She needed to move. She’d been sitting around doing nothing for far too long, and she hated the thought that Carise might be suffering at someone’s hands somewhere.
“I need to speak with Jadirel about Tyze. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to get into the auction house tonight. Tomorrow morning at the latest. I’ll try to look through Jadirel’s people as well, just to ensure your sister isn’t there. We can meet tomorrow, but not here.”
“Will your quarters be watched?” Kenzie didn’t look forward to fighting more Kru’dari, but she’d do it if she had to.
Mad shrugged. “Perhaps. There’s a restaurant not far from here. The White Flower. Let’s meet there.”
“Fine. Tomorrow.” Kenzie stood. She had to get out of Mad’s apartment before she did something stupid, like pull him down to the bed to while away the afternoon.
Mad stood with her. They were close, only a foot or so separating them. Their eyes locked, and she was sure he was going to kiss her. If he did, she wouldn’t be able to resist.
She wanted it so bad her heart hurt.
Mad stood between her and the door. Kenzie gave him a nod and backed out until she was on the balcony. She stepped onto the railing and vaulted up, grabbing a drain pipe and hauling herself onto the roof, leaving the same way she’d left that morning.
Mad didn’t follow.
She tried not to feel disappointed.
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