Clean and stuffed to the gills, Marise weighed her options. She couldn’t stay here. Raine had said she had tonight. She pulled out a decanter, pulled the stopper and sniffed. She drew back, then nodded with satisfaction. This would do.
She poured herself a drink, too large perhaps, but she wanted to enjoy her time. What little of it remained. She didn’t want to be here when he discovered she’d eaten and drunk him dry.
She smiled smugly. “That’ll teach you to be such a soft touch.” She raised the drink and took a swig.
She swayed in the aftermath, barely able to set her glass down before collapsing into the seat at his desk. She tried to hold her breath, fight against the effects, but it only made it worse. She took another couple drinks, only intensifying the effects as she poured herself another. As she sipped the drink, she smiled.
“So Mr. Raine Morgan, Mr. Raine Man,” she slurred, “what makes you a bad bad man?” She tugged at his desk drawers, filtering through the trash. She pulled out a cigar box, finger toying at the loose lid. Placing it on the desk top, she continued to dig, revealing a manila folder. She lifted it out, still lightheaded, and opened the folder.
Feond’s scream cut through the silence.
Marise lurched to the floor. The folder hit the ground, files fanning out into an orgy of battered faces, most barely recognizable as human. Her heartbeat thudded in her head, her thoughts clear once more. Her eyes darted across these images, then pure instinct brought her gaze to her bag, the unfinished drink, all the little signs someone hung about.
She scrambled to a wall panel, jabbed at the buttons until the living area went black, lit only by the blue touch of Oki’s Veins. Shrouded in darkness, the loft held its own demons for her to discover. In the stillness, Feond’s scream echoed in her head.
Light poured out from under the doorway across the wood floor. Shuffling feet cut into the beam.
Panic flooding her, Marise darted to the kitchen, trying her best to stay silent, though the floorboards creaked with her rapid movement. She cursed as she flattened against the cabinets but the loft settled to silence once more.
Reaching up, she slid a knife from its holder. Steel rang out as it scraped against the wood. She tensed, muscles seizing. Her breath escaped through clenched teeth. She clutched the weapon against her chest, the scream echoing amidst the silence.
Edging forward once more to peek under the doorway, Marise saw unadulterated light. She breathed in and sighed. She stood, slipping the knife back in its holder, and put her hands on the counter. Maybe Raine hadn’t given her an accurate account of Feond’s ticks. Perhaps those included screaming like a murder victim at random times throughout the night. She’d known a few Blue Fey users that did far worse things. She let out a pent up breath and laughed softly to herself.
Oki be damned. She’d lost her mind.
The door burst open, spraying chunks of wood into the living room.
Light flooded the room, silhouetting five men standing there. The crunch of footsteps signaled their entrance.
Marise flattened against the counter, her breath rasping. This can’t be happening, she told herself. They’re not here for me, they’re here for Raine. Just get up, walk out. That’s all.
“Spread out boys. That bastard should be here.”
The shouts started, harsh and taunting. Marise shuddered as she heard glass explode across the ground.
“Dwade, Arnon: You guys go upstairs. Lundy, Kaden, and I will check here.”
As the men fanned out, two shadows slunk upstairs. Marise slipped to the left, peering around the corner to get a better grasp of the situation. She had darkness as a cover, the element of surprise. Three men seemed intent on destruction as the cacophony of splintered wood filled the open loft. She eyed her bag, but it’d gone unnoticed for the moment.
The leader had his back to her.
She took three deep breaths. Then left the safety of the cabinets.
Creeping along the tiles, she reached for her bag. A thin line of blue light tinged her shaking hands. Her fingers grazed the fabric.
A sharp whistle hit the open area and one of them, Lundy or Kaden, turned on their heel, facing the kitchen. Marise froze in full stretch, like a squirrel needing an extra half inch to secure its food for the winter. Her breath caught and her body seized.
The man’s eyes seem to catch on her, focusing their intensity as the fire blazed behind him. He stepped forward, diverting around their destruction. His gaze curved to the dirty glass atop the counters. She tried not to breathe as she realized he hadn’t actually seen her. She waited until the right moment.
As he turned, Marise grabbed for her bag. It toppled and she pivoted, caught it. An explosion of glass caused her to jump. She turned to find the man towering over her.
He snatched at her, but she fell back, hit the ground, rolled over and darted. The bag trailed behind her, dragging across the wood floors.
The leader barred the door, his smile dangerous. Marise’s heart pounded. She swallowed hard as she lifted the bag slowly to her chest, gripping it like a safety blanket. Behind her, the footsteps of the two other men surrounded her.
“Why, hello there, darling.” The leader stepped forward, leaving a bat behind. He raised a rough hand to her face, running it along her chin. “You must be Raine’s whore.”
Marise shuddered. Her eyes dropped to floor.
The man pulled in close, drawing in a deep breath. He toyed with her wet hair. Lowering his voice, he growled, “You clean up nice. How’d you like to get dirty?”
The men behind her snickered.
No no no, not like this. Her fingers slipped inside the bag.
“You’re shivering, little girl.” The leader ran a finger down her shirt, pausing at each button. Cold black eyes locked with hers. “Let me warm you up.”
“I—” She struggled to speak.
Her fingers tightened around a solid object.
“Go fuck yourself.” Her features turned hard, ice with plenty of sharp edges. She tugged and the knife came free, slicing in a wide arc across his face.
She darted forward, sending the leader spinning aside. She bounced off the doorway as she ran, her shoulder screaming out in pain, but she couldn’t let that stop her.
In the hallway, she screamed for help, but nothing stirred. She tripped, collapsing atop Raine’s neighbor. Her vacant eyes, lifeless and dead, brought clarity to her scattered thoughts.
A sob escaped as she scrambled to her feet. Someone grabbed her jacket, tugged on it. Twisting out of the coat, she spun on her heels. Three of the five assailants stood there, intent on violence.
The men surged forward, easily stepping over Feond’s body. Marise stepped back, but one of them seized her bag. She roared, digging both hands in. The man pivoted, throwing her into the wall, but still she held on. Ripping fabric filled the air and she threw herself forward, shoving the man. He stumbled back, striking his partner, and they both tumbled to the ground. A sharp crack filled the air, but Marise didn’t look back.
She hit the elevator in a dead run, slipping into the compartment at too fast a clip and slammed into the wall. She frantically pounded the buttons.
The cage didn’t move.
Screaming in frustration, she saw the grate. Gripping the outer metal, she jerked on it. It slid into place with relative ease. She reached for the second grille.
A pair of hands shot through the open space, yanking on her shirt. Several buttons popped free as her shirt tore open. She slammed into the grate, then lost her footing as the man lifted her. The ornate brass grate dug into her face, tearing skin. She tried to pull away, uselessly prying at his hands. She looked up and froze, terror wracking her body.
Blood streaked the leader’s face. Straight through the cartilage of his nose, the cut passed just under his eye.
“I’ll remember you, whore.”
Loose skin flapped as he spoke.
“I won’t let you forget.” Marise brought the knife down in the center of his hand.