Read Honesty (Mark of Nexus) Online
Authors: Carrie Butler
Teresa came through.
Or maybe I should say, terror inspired her to do the right thing. Paperwork for Tits’ and my transfer went through on Monday, granting us five days to say
to Columbus. By the time Friday afternoon rolled around, I was ready to bust.
Since we were presently untouchable, we both slacked off the last few hours of Steve No-dick’s reign. Tits sat around working on God knows what to come up with cash for Grandma, while I crept around the office stealing paperclips. Things were slow until Wallace showed up at the reception desk. I assumed it to be a harbinger of the apocalypse.
“Hey, bro,” I called out. “All set for the big dance tonight?”
He stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked away. “Kind of.”
“Don’t sweat it. I’ll be there to keep an eye on things. If any baddies show up, I’ll rain fire down upon them.” I came around the desk, snapped my fingers, and gave him a thumbs-up. “Hell on earth, I promise.”
“That’s…comforting.” He tugged at the neck of his shirt. “Hey, can I talk to you outside for a second?”
Outside? He wasn’t planning on banging my head off the sidewalk again, was he? Because I could get away this time—being conscious and all.
He looked nervous. Was there another body? Roman West 2.0?
“Just shut up and come.” He pivoted on his heel and headed for the stairs.
“Okay…” I followed him out to the parking lot and took a quick inventory of our surroundings. Nothing too suspicious. “What’s up?”
“Two things.” He leaned against Steve No-dick’s car. “Turns out, Maverick told Gabby everything. She knows about us.”
I pressed my lips together in an effort to remain calm. “Can she be trusted?”
“Yeah, I think so. It took her a few days to wrap her head around it, but she seems loyal.”
“We’ll find out.” I rubbed my forehead. “What’s the other thing?”
“I’m…going to ask Rena to marry me.”
Confetti cannons exploded in my head, but I kept a well-trained expression.
“Before you say anything,” he held a hand up, “let me explain. I know this seems crazy—it’s way sooner than I’d intended—but you have to factor in what we’re up against here. With ERA heading up some kind of global domination campaign and us in the middle, none of us knows what tomorrow has in store.”
I quirked an eyebrow.
“I’m sure about this, Cole,” he went on, widening his eyes for emphasis. “Believe me, I’ve thought long and hard on it. I want to spend the rest of my life with her, and I’m not going to wait around for something this inevita—”
His words cut off when I hugged him, pulling the poor bastard in before he had a chance to react. This was a big deal. Huge, even. And the fact that he came to me beforehand meant we’d regained some standing with each other. My brother was back…finally.
“About time.” I let him go and flashed my trademark smirk, not wanting to leave the situation too sappy. “Just be careful where you honeymoon. I heard that little firecracker’s illegal in thirty-six states.”
“Shut up.” Wallace grinned, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Have you told Grandma?”
“Yeah, I just came from there.” He blew out a sigh. “Next up is Rena’s potentially homicidal father.”
“Well, good luck with that.” I slapped him on the shoulder and turned around. “I’ve gotta go tie up some work stuff. There’s a little surprise in the works. Remind me to tell you about it next week, once this dance proposal settles.”
“Sounds good. Hey, Cole?”
I turned around. “Yeah?”
My lips twitched. “Same to you.”
After that little bomb-drop, stealing office supplies seemed dull in comparison.
I wandered around the office for two hours while Steve No-dick glared at me through the crack in his door. Sure, his hatred added a little pep to my step, but it didn’t detract from the anxiety that’d started to gnaw at my gut. It didn’t make sense.
Wallace deserved to be happy, especially with those freak show abilities weighing him down. That was a no brainer. So, why did his good news kinda piss me off? It wasn’t like I had feelings for Rena. At least, none of that variety. She was my new sister.
I wanted her hanging around, especially if it meant my twin turning up more often. That’s what families are supposed to do—stick together. But what if those two paired off and ditched Grandma and me? They could move to Tahiti or Pittsburgh or—
“How does 150k sound?” Tits leaned into my line of vision.
“Like a wet dream,” I murmured, snapping out of it. “How would that work?”
He adjusted his glasses and grinned. “Plausible deniability, my friend.”
“Titsy, I could kiss you.”
“That’s not the first time you’ve said that.” Tits scratched the side of his neck, tugging at his collar. “I’m starting to get worried.”
“Save your worries for when I replace ‘kiss’ with other verbs.” I held up my hand and leaned in for a one-armed bro hug. “I owe you, man.”
He patted my back. “Yeah, yeah. Let’s just get this shit worked out.”
I pushed my sunglasses down onto the bridge of my nose and looked around. Everything from my desk was already in the Jeep. The only thing keeping me here was honor, and, really, I didn’t have a lot of that.
“I’m gonna cut out a little early. I need to get up north to check on a few things.”
He nodded and ambled back to his desk. “I’ll probably head out soon, myself—right after I make this transfer to our account in the Cayman Islands. Then it’s packing time.”
I knocked on the filing cabinet. “Good man. I’ll see you Monday at the new apartment?”
“Yep, I’m getting a moving truck.”
He must’ve noted my confusion, because he added, “For my servers.”
“You can throw your stuff in there, too, if you want.”
“I’m good. I live a minimalist lifestyle.”
“Suit yourself.” He shrugged and collapsed back into his chair. “You gonna tell Steve you’re leaving?”
“I’ll leave him a message.” I shoved my hands in my pockets and sauntered out the door. It wasn’t a total lie. I’d planned on leaving the guy something all day. Something poetic, something meaningful…
A minute and fifty-seven seconds later, it was done.
I leaned against my Jeep, which I’d purposefully parked away from our building’s security cameras, and turned to appreciate my efforts. Six new bumper stickers adorned Steve’s BMW—everything from “Honk if you’re horny!” to “Proud Member of The Men’s Toupee Club.”
Since the adhesive wasn’t up to my standards, I’d applied an extra coating of epoxy. These stickers, like this last memory of me, would stick around for a long, long time. The excess went on his door handle. “Farewell, my follicley-challenged friend.”
I saluted before getting into the driver’s side of my Jeep and cranking the engine. Supposedly, people feel torn when leaving one job for another. But as I stared at the May Realty sign in my rearview mirror, I couldn’t muster a single twinge of regret.
Must be a human thing.
Wilcox’s dance was a yawnfest.
I’d camped out on a roof beside the Student Union two hours ago, streaming footage from the cameras I’d planted at every door. Aside from the wind occasionally catching some chick’s skirt on her way to the dance, it wasn’t exciting. No ERA minions trying to smuggle bazookas in through the side entrance, no suspicious hazmat trucks backing up to the alley. Boring stuff.
The inactivity should’ve set me at ease, but it didn’t. Faye had forced Corynn to ask Wallace to this dance for a reason. He needed to be distracted and neutralized while they made some kind of move—but what? And with Rena traipsing around with Aiden, who had all the mental stability of a dented aerosol can, I wasn’t exactly comfortable sitting back like this.
Plus, the weather was shitty.
Spring storms weren’t uncommon in Ohio, but the sky had started to look like an apocalyptic movie. My luck, after tempting fate sixty-eight million times, I’d finally get struck down doing nothing. Twiddling my thumbs on some babysitting mission. I heaved a sigh.
Hopefully, Rach wasn’t out in this weather. Hell, if we were putting hopes on the table, I hoped she wasn’t here at all. That would mean she’d let some douche take her to the dance, naively thinking he wouldn’t try to get in her pants afterward. My blood pressure spiked just thinking about it. If he so much as laid a hand on her…
I switched screens to pull up her number, activating the speaker in the process. One ring, two…
“Hey, you.” I could hear the smile in her voice. My shoulders sank.
“Hey,” I answered. “Quick question. You’re not at this dance are you?”
There was a pause. “No, are you?”
“No.” The answer was automatic, if not slightly inaccurate. “Well, kind of. I just need to tell Wallace something.”
“So, you’re at home?” I asked, watching creepy clouds roll in overhead.
Activity stirred on one of my panels—the third one, the one facing the pond. I squinted.
Rena stood there for a few seconds before Wallace joined her, and I leaned in.
A secret rendezvous? Or…
“Shit, he’s asking
I blinked at Rachel’s voice, remembering our ongoing call. “Oh, uh…I just happened across Rena and Wallace, but they don’t see me. I think he’s proposing, so yeah. I’ll hold back for a few.”
“Proposing?” Her voice was small and confused. I knew she’d probably had a thing for my brother at some point—the Blake Boys tend to leave devastated females in their wake—but I’d assumed she’d forgotten it after she met me. Who wouldn’t?
“Looks like it,” I told her, wincing as the skies tore open, releasing shards of icy hail. It bounced off the flat roof and slashed at my face. I threw my arm up. “Listen, Rach, it’s getting nasty out here. I have to go now, but can I see you later?”
Thunder rolled in the distance.
“Sure.” The smile was back in her voice. Just like that.
“I’ll give you a call later, then.” After we said our goodbyes, I pocketed the phone and stepped up on the ledge to look around. The wind had picked up, howling as it rocked my balance. We were definitely in for a storm of some kind.
It’d gotten dark since I’d begun my watch, leaving little light to illuminate the campus before me. If ERA rushed in under this cover, I wasn’t sure I’d detect them. And what if they’d positioned themselves before I’d gotten up here? I’d swept the ballroom and surrounding area twice when I’d arrived, but they could’ve holed up somewhere. What if they had worked up some kind of cloaking device? Anything was possible with these nut bags. I needed to check again.
I whipped out my phone and shielded it against the barrage of icy pellets. No activity where Rena and Wallace had been. At least they had been smart enough to take the lovefest back inside. Two figures decked out in party garb wandered out into the alley, but the lighting wasn’t good enough to discern them.
. I’d look on my way back. Right now, I needed another sweep of the Union.
Looking down, I estimated a steep, forty-seven foot drop to the bushes below. It’d break a few bones, but they’d set in a minute or two. How long would it take me to get back inside and take the stairs? I rubbed my chin.
Movement from the rooftop next door caught my attention before I could consider it any further. A large-ish chick scurried to the edge of the Union and thrust her arms upward, oblivious to my scrutiny.
“Hey, you’re not gonna jump, are you?” I called out. “I don’t wanna be a witness. Do that shit on your own time.”
She didn’t show any signs of hearing me over the gathering storm, which had just seemed to kick up another two notches. Perfect.
I groaned and shoved my phone back into my pocket again. All I needed was another gold star in my behavior book this week. “Hey!”
The woman rose to her tiptoes without acknowledgement. With her eyes closed and head tilted back, she embraced Mother Nature. Seriously. And that was when it connected—she was manipulating atmospheric conditions.
This was Jackie, the Dynari from the roster.
As if to confirm my realization, a thunderclap sounded overhead. If I were the jumpy type, I might’ve taken a four-story stumble. Instead, I leapt back from the ledge. If one of ERA’s known associates was screwing with the weather during this dance, there had to be something larger at play. Something horribly fucking wrong.
Tornado sirens wailed in the distance, about the same time my brother burst out onto the roof behind her.
I needed to move. Fast.
Halfway up the stairs to the Union’s rooftop, I nearly barreled over Corynn.
The girl was a snotty, tear-stained mess, staggering down the stairs in full-blown escape mode. The second our eyes met, she thrust her hands up in a panicked, stopping gesture. “OhmygoshIhavebeenlookingalloverforyou!”
“The virus,” she wheezed, clutching at my shirt. “They made me…they made me release it. They threatened my brother. It’s in the vents. It’s gonna…”
“Gonna what?” I grasped her arms and forced her to meet my eyes. “What’s ERA’s endgame here, Corynn?”
A new siege of tears streamed down her face. “E-Everyone’s in the basement, taking shelter from the tornado. The virus is gonna come through the vents and…”
“Shit,” I cursed under my breath and looked around. “Okay, I read that this strain was being engineered to only affect humans. None of the other races. Is that true?”
She nodded, gasping for breath.
“Good.” I edged around her. “Take shelter with everyone else until this lets up, and then get the hell out of here. I’m gonna block the vents.”
I didn’t have time to wait around for a better idea. “Just go!”
“No! Listen to me. There are two release points. Here and The Rec. The longer this storm goes on, the longer people are gonna be exposed.”
“So, I’ll stop the storm.” I took a step up.
I tightened my fist and pressed my lips together for the second time that day. “
“Faye has everyone set to rendezvous at the parking garage beside the library afterward. You might want to—”
“Storm. Rendezvous. Got it.” The rest of the stairs were a blur, before I burst out into the night. I wanted to rush the weather bitch, but there was no way of knowing what it’d do to the storm. Besides, from the looks of things, she’d just blasted my super-strong brother flat on his back.
“They’ve had warning,” Jackie shot back at whatever he’d said to try and talk her off the ledge—literally.
“Enough warning?” Wallace asked, shielding his eyes as he stood. “I don’t think so.”
Neither seemed to notice as a sudden gust caught my open jacket, causing it to flap behind me. Her eyes flashed. “J-Just stay back!”
“Or what?” I crossed my arms, anchored by the doorway. “You gonna go X-Men on us?”
Wallace spun on his heel. “When did you get he—”
“No time.” I didn’t take my eyes off her. “Corynn already released the virus into the vents. If the power holds and the air kicks on, it’ll go straight into the basement where everyone’s taking shelter.”
“But Rena…” He started past me, but I blurred into his path.
“…isn’t human,” I finished. “It won’t affect her.”
“How do you know?”
“What the hell do you think I did with all of that information I found?”
He held the back of his skull, the way he always did when he tried to think. “Okay, but Gabby, Aiden, Rachel…”
“Rachel’s at home. I just checked. I can round the other two up, but we gotta stop this storm first. Otherwise, there will be nowhere safe to leave them.”
“Isn’t the virus more of a priority?”
“Not when they have two release points.”
He opened his mouth to say something when a scream echoed in the alley below—one that had become way too familiar. His eyes shot wide, and he jerked toward the ledge without thinking. “Rena!”
I grabbed the back of his shirt and shoved him toward the door. “Just go. I got this.”
Was he insane? Did he think he could survive a fall like that? I ran a hand back over my head, surprised at my lack of breath. Shit had gone south fast, and I didn’t know what to do first.
“Don’t try to be a hero, kid,” Jackie warned, hovering inches above the roof. “I know we just met, and our family ties are a little strained, but I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“Are you shitting me?” I held up my forearm to cut through the wind stinging my eyes. “What about the hundreds of other people around here?”
She drew a deep breath and closed her eyes again. “Collateral damage.”
“How about I collaterally damage your face?” I edged forward. This woman wasn’t family; she was blood. Big difference.
“Do you want the same lesson as Wallace?”
“Why bother?” I gritted my teeth and surged through the storm, banking on the fact that my speed was the superior force. “I never learn!”
When I reached her, I didn’t slow. The second my shoulder made contact with her chest, the scenery blurred and fell out from under us—along with my stomach and the empty feeling it’d left behind.
Involuntary panic washed over my body as the ground rushed toward us, hail slicing my neck and face. If it hadn’t been for the rush of wind, her scream would’ve probably destroyed my eardrums. Not that it was warranted. Her unnatural gusts caught us feet from the pavement, suspending both of our bodies mid-air.
A heinous roar sounded in the distance.
Glass shattered; signs flew. I didn’t want to hit a woman, but I felt dangerously close to self-defense. Hell, I’d be defending everyone on campus. Wasn’t that why I did neighborhood rounds? To protect people?
She struggled against me as I made a desperate attempt to find footing. The air was her domain. We needed to get down on the ground.
“I can’t concentrate!” she shrieked, clawing at my back.
“Well, tough shit,” I ground out. “I need to subdue you.”
I don’t want to do this
, I thought—two seconds before I headbutted her.
Jackie’s struggles fell lax as our wind escort rushed away, leaving her to catch the brunt of our fall. Being the gentleman that I was, I rolled off the second we made contact. After all, it’d been my experience that Dynari powers go off kilter with strong emotions or lack of focus, and this woman had experienced both. Her weather powers would be out of commission for a while.
No sooner had the words entered my mind, the wind stopped. All together. Bricks and debris rained from the sky, dragging the scent of ozone, and Jackie started to stir. I took that as my cue to get moving.
Time to find Sis and Wallace.