Lost to the Gray
A Shaede Assassin Novella (A Penguin Special from Signet Eclipse)
Did he do the right thing?
No one loves Darian like Tyler does. Not her friends. Not her fellow Shaedes. Not the Shaede king who wants her for himself. Tyler is the only one who sees beyond the swagger and swordplay that make her the most fearsome Shaede assassin in the world—the only one who recognizes her loyal heart and vulnerability. But her evolving powers and compulsion to finish every job no matter the stakes fills him with fear. For he knows it's only a matter of time before he loses her.
When that moment nearly comes—and Tyler discovers a trail of deceit that prevented him from protecting Darian—he snaps. He breaks. And he leaves.
Now he must learn to live without her, even as they remain bound to one another. And when a friend of Darian’s faces an unknown threat, Tyler must find a way to enter the fray without crossing paths with Darian.
Gods. Was I seriously walking away from the one woman I didn’t think I could live without? In a word: Yes.
Instinct tugged at my senses, the urge to return almost too strong to resist. I’d been without her for four agonizing months. Months full of worry and despair. Darian was mine to protect, my Charge, and it went against my nature to leave her without a safeguard. Fuck it. She was not calling the shots anymore. I’d been jerked around one too many times to let this slide. She was on her own.
Who in the hell was I kidding? If she needed me, I’d be at her side before she could finish the words I wish.
The expression on her face when I left her standing alone in my apartment was as good as branded on my frontal lobe. She’d wished me virtually useless, leaving town for months with a less-than-trustworthy asshole named Faolán, hell-bent on finding Raif’s daughter. In her defense, she had no idea he was the Enphigmalé she’d failed to kill months ago, and likewise, she hadn’t realized that he was using her for his own evil machinations. She’d apologized, and in return I’d kicked her while she was down.
Darian was tough. She’d pick herself up again without anyone’s help, least of all mine. And why did that hurt more than anything? More than her wish to keep me trapped in this damned city until she saw fit to come home, more than her total disregard of my protection and love. More than the fact that she’d called Raif before she’d even bothered to let me know that she was safe. Gods damn it, I needed her to need me. But the past four months had only managed to prove one thing: She didn’t.
Frost coated the brass handle, and the window fogged in a spiked, icy pattern as I pulled open the door and walked into The Pit. I couldn’t suppress the anger that instantly connected to the seat of my power. Every last particle of my being is made from magical energy—my emotions have a tendency to manifest in a physical way. I shouldn’t have let mine get the better of me. Gods, how that woman got to me.
“’Sup, bossman?” Levi greeted me from the bar and I gave him a look. He knew better than to call me that in public. The Pit was a nice front for my other, less law-abiding businesses, and I’d worked hard to mask my ownership of the bar through several small dummy corporations and a false name or two. The kid was the only one who knew who really paid his salary, and I wanted it kept that way.
“I’m not here,” I grumbled as I strode past the bar toward the back room. Levi opened his mouth to speak and I cut him off. “For anyone.”
I didn’t plan on staying in Seattle longer than it took to tie up a few loose ends. After that, I was out of here. The door to the soundproof room slammed behind me and I set the suitcase beside an old, worn-out couch before flopping down on the too flat cushions. Fucking suitcase was a pain in the ass to lug around and I didn’t actually need the damn thing. I could manifest anything I wanted out of thin air. No, it had been nothing more than a prop. Something to jar Darian into realizing that I’d had enough of her childish behavior. I’d thought . . . hell, I don’t know what I’d thought.
Arm slung over my eyes, I listened to the muted sound of the bass pumping through the bar. The room was soundproof, but my supernatural hearing still picked up the low register beat as it reverberated through the walls. My last conversation with Darian ran a loop in my mind and my gut churned with the hurt and anger I tried not to feel, feelings it had taken all of my willpower to suppress. Even in my anger, I couldn’t be harsh with her. Couldn’t shout, throw things, blow the windows out of my penthouse . . . have the proper temper tantrum she’d wanted me to have. Darian had been on the receiving end of too much violence in her life already. And no matter how angry I was with her, I wasn’t about to become one of those violent memories.
The tiny space heater in the corner of the office kicked on, the fan purring softly in the back of my mind. If I didn’t calm the fuck down, the walls and everything else in here would be coated with ice in minutes. Since I wasn’t interested in dropping the cash necessary to replace the thousands of dollars in electronics—my security system, the computers, control board for the sound system, for starters—I let my thoughts wander to a more pleasant memory. I could still remember the way I felt the first time I saw her. The first time I sensed her. As Jinn, the urge to bind ourselves to a Charge can be overwhelming. With Darian, I felt it a thousandfold.
A familiar sensation tugged from the center of my chest as if drawing me toward something. How long had it been since I’d felt it? Three hundred years? Four? Hell, it could’ve been a thousand. The urge to protect was second nature to me, but I hadn’t felt compelled to bind myself to anyone—thereby creating a Charge whose protection I’d be responsible for—for a very long time. I looked around the bar at the many creatures: both human and as far from human as you could get. One of them had triggered it, and, Jesus fucking Christ, either I’d completely forgotten how it felt, or my new Charge had a shitload of trouble ahead of her.
The timing couldn’t be worse. I was meeting a potential employee in a few minutes and didn’t need the distraction of the life force that called out to me like a million voices begging for protection. How in the hell was I supposed to ignore something so powerful?
Over the din of music and voices, I heard my name like a whisper on the wind. Supernatural hearing definitely had its benefits. Turning toward the sound, I noticed a woman leaning over the bar, her mouth close to Levi’s ear. He pointed in my direction and gave her his you’d-look-great-stretched-out-naked-on-my-bed smile. And for some reason, when she walked away without so much as a grin in return, I felt a strange surge of satisfaction.
Oh, man. Was I in for a world of hurt with this one. Her head-to-toe black outfit made a definite statement. And the duster. . . . Someone was a fan of the Underworld franchise. It suited her, though. On anyone else, it would have looked satirical, but she pulled it off. As she sauntered toward me, she brushed a curtain of loosely curled reddish-blond hair away from her face.
Jesus, she was beautiful. And not by any stretch of the imagination was she human. In fact, she appeared more like a mirage than anything real. Her green eyes glowed faintly against the backdrop of the dark club, almost indiscernible to anyone with a less than keen eye. Shaede. Not common to Seattle, for sure. But it did pique my curiosity. A perfect assassin. I could use someone who could become an invisible shadow on the payroll.
With each step she made toward my table at the back of the bar, the more my unease mounted. No. No fucking way. I kept my ass glued to my seat even when my body wanted to bolt out of the chair and go to her. My Charge was making a beeline for my table, and apparently, she was also my newest employee.
Well, if this didn’t just complicate the hell out of things. Exactly how was I supposed to protect her while simultaneously throwing her into dangerous situations? And why would someone who could obviously hold her own need my protection? Her name had been given to me by an associate who’d hired her for a freelance job a few months back. All I’d been told about her was that her name was Darian, and she was worth every penny. As for what I didn’t know about her . . . I guessed I was about to find out.
“You Tyler?” she asked when she got to the table. Her voice was a little deeper than I’d expected. Almost husky. Like she’d just been made love to for hours. Lazy and sated. The sound shot through my system in an exciting rush, settling deep in my stomach. I shifted in my seat, sitting a little straighter. My palms flattened out on the table, itching to reach out and touch her, to make that essential connection. . . .
She quirked a brow and tilted her head as she waited for me to answer. Great. Way to make a first impression. The damned bonding urge had me completely wrapped up in my own thoughts. Say something, you dipshit! “Yeah, I’m Tyler.” Gods, even my voice sounded uptight. “Have a seat.”
“I’d prefer the bar.” Her eyes darted from side to side, and she shook out her hair so that it partially hid her face. Feelings of unease pulsed around me. Darian’s unease. In fact, her fear was palpable—at least to me. What could she possibly have to fear?
Palm out in invitation, I motioned for her to head toward the far end of the bar. She didn’t budge, too wary to turn away and have me at her back. The protective urge spiked inside of me again as I calmly pushed my chair out and led the way to the quietest end of the bar. The focus it took just to put one foot in front of the other damned near exhausted me. But I wasn’t ready to commit myself to her, no matter what my instinct dictated.
Not until I touched her first.
The rest of the night passed in a blur. I tried to keep the conversation on business, but my eyes strayed to her soft lips too often and I leaned in close more times than I should have to inhale her scent. Orange blossoms and cinnamon. “You’re not just a good-looking daddy’s girl, are you?” Good gods, had I actually just said that? Way to go, smooth talker.
She gave me a strange look, and for a fleeting moment her eyes shone with such sadness that it caused a deep ache in my chest. “Nope. But I’ve got skills, and from what I hear, they’re the kind you need. The kind of skills that could earn us both a lot of money.”
I couldn’t help but find her bravado amusing. She obviously thought she was hot shit. Or at least, she pretended to believe it. “What do you know about my business?”
“I know people pay you to solve their problems.”
How could someone so in need of protection possibly protect others? I only took on certain clients. I had to be able to depend on her. “How do you solve problems?” I asked, my tone daring her to impress me.
In what was nothing more than a dark smear of motion, she pulled a dagger and drove it into the bar between us. “I take them away. Permanently.” The glint of the silver blade reflected like a spark in her luminescent green eyes. Her expression was hard, a contradiction to her porcelain complexion and soft features. This Shaede was made of fire, and steel, and cold, hard determination. And she was the most beautifully wild thing I’d ever set eyes on. There was no doubt I was in for a shitload of trouble with this one.
I had no choice but to hire her on the spot. If she got too far away from me, the bonding urge would drive me insane. As it was, keeping my shit together was damned near impossible. It felt as though a hurricane was trapped in my brain, raging against my senses in an attempt to break through. I clenched my hands into fists. In order to know for sure if the bond would be strong, I had to touch her. If the way I felt now was any indication, we were more than compatible. But I had to be certain this wasn’t some sort of fluke, maybe an effect of being without a Charge for so many years.
“I don’t take clients indiscriminately,” I warned her. “I’m not about killing innocents.”
Her expression softened, as if in relief, and she said, “Good. Because I don’t kill indiscriminately.”
“Then you’re hired.” I held my hand out to her, hoped she didn’t notice the slight tremor as the anticipation of touching her nearly brought me to my knees. Protect her! Instinct screamed at me. Bind yourself to her! Now! Not yet. Not until I touched her. Not until I got a glimpse at her soul.
Darian looked at my outstretched palm as if a handshake would cause her to burst into flames. So guarded, this one. She didn’t have enough trust for simple contact? The urge to take her hand in mine intensified. I raised a dubious brow, gave her a look that dared her not to back away from me. That did it. Refusing to back down, despite her misgivings, Darian reached out warily. I didn’t give her the opportunity to snatch her hand back, as my palm pressed against hers, holding her delicate hand tightly in mine.
The handshake lasted only a couple of seconds, but for me, if felt like years. Our connection ran deeper than any skin-to-skin contact. Scenes from her life flashed in my mind: She’d been human once. Disdainful parents sneered down at her as a child, ignored her pleas for attention. And then, a glimpse of Darian as a beautiful young woman in a silk gown. A man’s fist slammed into her jaw. Another vision of her lying naked in a puddle of water on the bathroom floor, bruised, bleeding, and sobbing. My heart ached for her as I witnessed years of abuse, emotional and physical, culminating in her near-death, and then a man, a Shaede came to her aid, taking her away from the pain of her human life. He made her what she is now. Or . . . did he? It was hard to tell, the vision in my mind blurred, the images raced by too quickly for me to fully comprehend her transition. Years of happiness followed on the heels of her abuse, and then a sorrow and loneliness so intense caused my breath to stall as it consumed her completely.
The words resonated in my mind over and over. The only one. No others. Alone. Alone. Alone!
My eyes met hers and for a moment we just stood there, our gazes locked. The connection was undeniable. In order for a bond to be strong, the souls of the Jinn and the Charge have to be compatible. On a scale of one to ten, we were about one hundred on the compatibility scale. My soul yearned for hers. I damned near ached with the need to be close to her. I wanted to pull her into my arms, hold her tight and kiss her. Hard. Over and over until I erased every ounce of pain she’d ever felt.
“Can I have my hand back?”
Before I managed to make an already awkward moment worse, I released her hand. It was no small feat, either. Another moment of physical contact and it would have taken the fucking jaws of life to pry me off of her. While I stood there like a slack-mouthed idiot, she let her gaze wander over the nearly empty bar. Darian rocked back on her heels and another wave of unease rolled off of her like a breaker at high tide. “I’m ready to work,” she said. “So call when something comes up.”
Darian turned on her heel, the tales of her black coat fanning out around her. The bonding urge screamed through my body, again at hurricane proportions. But I wasn’t giving in. Not yet. This bond would be different. I knew that this would be the last bond I’d ever create, and I wanted to be certain that it was also the strongest. “I’ll be in touch soon,” I called after her. She raised her hand up to acknowledge she’d heard me and without looking back, she disappeared through the door, out of my sight.
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