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Authors: Carrie Butler

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BOOK: Honesty (Mark of Nexus)
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Girls confused the shit out of me.

In the past however many months, Rena had been held captive, nearly killed by her possessed boyfriend, and threatened by an old bat with smoke pouring out of her eye socket—major shit that I was only partially responsible for. And yet, somehow, breaking up with my dumbass brother had been the thing to
her. It didn’t make sense.

She rode shotgun in the Jeep, trembling arms wrapped around her knees while she stared straight ahead. Tears slid down her cheeks, like steady drops from a leaky faucet. One by one, without fail.

“My friends are at a diner on Green Avenue,” she stated without emotion, clutching her phone. “You can just drop me off there.”

I pressed my lips together until I was sure the blood had retreated, forming a thin white line. Today was a never-ending shitfest. I hadn’t been able to drag the truth out of her, I hadn’t been able to make her feel better, and despite my freakishly altruistic intentions, I hadn’t been able to keep my family together. Now she wanted to ditch me?

“Sure,” I said. “Talk to outsiders about it.”

“They’re not outsiders; they’re my friends.”

“So, what am I?” I bumped my signal and turned onto the next street. Noise from the engine filled the silence.

“The place is right up here,” she pointed out, ignoring my question to gesture toward a greasy dive.

I pulled in.

She made it a point to thank me for the ride before barreling into the restaurant, but I wasn’t ready to ride off into the sunset. Not until I knew she was safe. So, I put on my stoic mask, shoved my hands into my pockets, and trailed after her.

The second she hit that black and white checkered floor, she made a beeline for the corner. Her facade had cracked again, causing an uncomfortable display of waterworks as she reached their table. Thankfully, some cute little Latina chick caught her and did the female thing.

Instead of interrupting, I opted to take a seat next to the scrawny ginger kid with glasses. “Hey, you mind scoochin’ over, pal? I’m babysitting.”

He blinked a few times, like I’d asked for his wallet, before moving to the inside of the booth. “S-Sure…”

“Thanks,” I told him, plopping down. “So, are you guys just hanging out or what?”

Confusion etched between his brows as he looked between me and the girls. “Uh…yeah.”

“Sorry, where are my manners?” I ran my hand down the leg of my jeans and offered it to him. “Cole Blake.”

He slid a clammy palm into my grasp for about half a second before retreating. “Aiden Ross.”

I nodded. “Well, I’m here to tell you, Aiden Ross, not to get caught up in this woman shit.” I jerked my chin toward the other two, leaning back. “They do not want to hear from you. They do not want to be enlightened by your opinions. And if you try to comfort them, they’ll freakin’ cry.”

“But…I don’t even know why she’s upset.”

I picked up a knife and started fiddling with it. “I’ll tell you why she’s upset. She just broke up with my brother.”

“What?” He sucked in more than his fair share of oxygen. “Are you serious?”

No, this is an elaborate hoax. Look for the cameras.

“Serious as a heart attack,” I told him, poking the blade against my chest. “It’s complicated as all hell, though, so don’t try to understand it. Just stay out of her way and make little listening noises when it’s appropriate.”

“I’m sorry,” Rena rasped, sniffling as she turned to the table. “I just…” She shook her head and held a hand up. “Never mind. What’s going on?”

“What’s going on?” Aiden repeated, incredulous. “You—”

I shot him a warning look.

He swallowed and looked down at his water. “Nothing.”

Rena laughed as she sat down, though her eyes were still red and watery. “Aiden, you’re a horrible liar.”

His face turned an unsettling shade of red. “Really?”

“Really,” she teased. “I know I look like shit. You don’t have to tell me.”

I made crimson tally marks across my arm with the butter knife, marking every time I wanted to kill myself or someone within a six-foot radius. “Don’t respond to that. It’s a trap.”

Latina chick raised her eyebrows as she took a seat. “So, you’re Ace’s…” She cringed and shot a glance at Rena. “I mean, you’re

“Yeah,” I responded. “I’m

“Cole,” Rena got my attention. “You really don’t have to stay here. I’m okay now.”

I shot her a look and made another slash at my forearm. “Yeah, you look okay.”

That got me a glare.

Aiden opened his mouth to say something, but froze when he caught sight of my arm. “How did…?”

Great. An observant type…

I turned to face him with the knife pointed in his direction. “Something on your mind, Aiden Ross?”

He leaned back. “N-No.”

“Cole,” Rena warned. “You know I can’t deal with this today.”

“Fine, fine.” I dropped the knife and held both hands up, scooting to the end of the booth. “I have to go check on a listing, anyway.”

It was a lie, but from the lovefest I’d just witnessed, I knew she was in good hands. When I stood, I made it a point to meet her gaze. “You know how to get a hold of me, if you need me.”

“I know.” Rena’s lips pulled back, but her heart wasn’t in it. “Thank you.”

I grunted and threw a wave over my shoulder.
Thank me after I sort this mess out.


Since I was already up north, I took a forty-minute detour to Cleveland.

ERA headquarters, currently masquerading as R.S. Tobler Laboratory’s free clinic, was the kind of building you’d see on the cover of an architecture magazine. Sleek and modern, an instant landmark. Too bad it was full of crazies.

I did my usual routine—a sweep of the underground labyrinth via their ‘secret’ ground level hatch. Of course, no one noticed me. Not even the motion-detecting security cameras. I’m too fast.

And it didn’t matter whether or not they
catch a shot, really. I wasn’t wearing a mask, because they
it was me. They just couldn’t stop me.

Maybe people are right. I am a cheeky bastard. Oh well.

I went around to every laser printer I could access, re-printing the last dozen items in their logs. Less noticeable than stealing, and it eliminated the possibility that they were feeding me false information. Plus, I liked to waste toner. Torch the budget, torch the company, I always say.

Let’s see what’s cookin’ here…

I sped-read anything in layman’s terms. It looked like virus preparations were still on schedule. Faye’s specifications called for some kind of juiced-up flu strain, the scarier the better, but she also indicated that it was to be engineered as a non-threat to DYN, AUG, and NUL profiles. I assumed that meant this thing was aimed at humans and not us, but why? Because she already had plans for the gifted types?

It also begged the question of how many humans were being kept in this loop, and how she was containing their knowledge of the situation. Was Gail, her mind-hijacking granddaughter, capable of this level of manipulation? Or were the science nerds being kept here against their will until they were no longer of use?
Things to ponder…

On my way out, I shifted the stack of printouts and swiped a newspaper off someone’s desk. If I was going to move up here, I’d need to peruse the classifieds. That apartment wasn’t going to rent itself.

First things first, though. I had to procure Rachel’s phone number, run a few perimeter checks back home, and then head out to recreate a sex tape.

. Yeah, my life was definitely complicated.


Back in college, I’d hung around with a computer enthusiast—okay, hacker—named Larry. He’d showed me how to access our professor’s account for a side project of mine, and I’d taught him how to get laid even though he looks like a grizzly bear. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.

Then I graduated and got a job at May Realty. We needed an administrative assistant, and Larry—whom I’d taken to calling Tits, thanks to his massive jugs—needed an easy nine-to-five to pay for his night classes. Our symbiotic relationship continued.

Now, I needed him to use his powers for good. I dialed his number and hooked on my earpiece.


“Yo, Titsy. Missed you at work yesterday.” I started stretching on the sidewalk outside of my apartment, like any other evening jogger. Assuming, of course, the other joggers had gloves and a mask lined with infrared LEDs in their pockets to blind security cameras.

Tits snorted into the phone. “Didn’t sound like it. I was on the pot, trying to drop a deuce. Couldn’t have been ten minutes. But by the time I got out, the interns were buzzing about the fact that you’d brought donuts, gotten into a fight with Teresa, and then walked out. Scared the shit out of me, man. I thought you’d quit.”

“You think I’d leave without a kiss goodbye?” I teased, leaning into my extended leg. “Not even money on the dresser?”

“Yeah, yeah.” I could almost see him shaking his head. “What’s up?”

I trotted in place a few seconds before taking off at a snail’s pace. Jogging was all about appearances, especially when you needed an alibi on this side of the city. “I need you to dig up some information on a chick I met today.”

He chuckled. “Would this chick be what sent Teresa over the edge?”

“‘Fraid not. That was more about her plans to transfer in a few weeks and pawn us off on Steve No-dick. Keep it under your hat, though. I don’t need more grief from her right now.”

“Shit, man. Are you serious?”

I sped up a little as I rounded the corner, headed toward the industrial district. “Why does everyone ask me that? I’m always serious.”

“Lemme guess. You want to go with her.”

“Not for that reason.” I spotted a shady-lookin’ guy leaning against his car a block or so ahead. A teenager even closer than that, looking over his shoulder every few seconds. “I want to move closer to my brother and si—stuff.”

There was a pause. “What about me?”

“You can take online courses, can’t you? Just come with me.”

“Teresa’s gonna let us tag along?”

“Let me handle that,” I told him. “You just concentrate on getting me this chick’s phone number.”

The kid slowed his pace as he approached the car and pulled a wad of bills from his sleeve.

“Oh, hell no.”


“Hold on, Tits.”

I ducked into one of my six favorite alleys in the city and did a quick sweep for witnesses and recording devices. When none stood out, I stopped to tug my mask and gloves on. To any CCD camera I’d encounter for the rest of the night—assuming they were fast enough to detect me—I’d be nothing more than a sexy streak of lightning.

With a little concentration, my world slowed down. I felt the air thicken, lending an almost fluid barrier, and it propelled me into action. The kid came into view, nearing the baggie-clutching man I’d correctly assumed to be a drug dealer.

His expression remained the same, barely interested as they met on the trash-laden sidewalk. A few feet now.

I darted between them, grabbing the dirtbag’s sleeve as I breezed past.

He was helpless to fight the momentum, not that he ever saw it coming. His body twisted, and his feet dragged the ground. I thrust forward with all of my might, and before he even realized what’d happened, his nose had made a blood smear on the sidewalk.

I didn’t stop moving, because I didn’t want to get spotted, but I did circle to make sure the kid took off. By the time I made my third round, he was headed in the direction he’d come from, eyes huge with panic.

Our friendly neighborhood dealer shared that expression—not that it bothered me. He whipped his head back and forth, barking shaky curses to goad his invisible assailant, but you could tell he was one boo away from pissing himself.

Choices, choices…

Beating his face in would send a message, but he was already pretty ugly. Maybe I’d take it out on his mobile office, instead.

A boot—or in this case, an athletic shoe—to the window made an instant glass mosaic. Then I snatched a broken bottle from the curb and jammed it into the tire so hard it nearly cut through my glove.
Who says I don’t recycle?

Druggie McDrugerson was just turning to follow the sound of breaking glass when I sprinted out of there, shoving him in the process.

“Sorry about that, Tits. I’m back.”

“What happened? Sounded like you got in a fight or something.”

“Me? Nah, just had to take a detour. They have this sidewalk closed, so I had to wedge through a crowded area. Didn’t want to be that dick on my phone.”

“I hear ya. So what do we know about this chick?”

I took a second to think about her as I ran. “Well, her name is Rachel. I’m pretty sure she goes to Wilcox College and attends a church called Campus Fellowship with Wallace.”

“That’s it?”

“I didn’t take a blood sample.”

“Why don’t you just ask your brother for her number?”

I headed toward downtown, barely panting thanks to my body’s constant need to be in top form. “He’s dealing with some shit right now. It wouldn’t go over well.”

Tits sighed into the phone. “All right, well, I’ll see what I can do with this.”

“Bless you, you giant cherub.”

“Yeah, yeah. Just see what you can do about getting me on that gravy train to Cleveland.”

“Will do, man. Later.” I pressed a button on my earpiece through the mask, taking a sharp turn into my adopted parking garage. Sure, it was a ways from my apartment and I never used it, but it was a great source of vandalism. Sometimes even the odd assault. That’s why I left a few cameras there.

I used to get bored on my days off, and since the feed went straight to my phone, I was never more than a few minutes away from citizen intervention—or vigilantism, as Wallace likes to put it. I tried to get him on board last winter during his break, but he wasn’t down with using his abilities for the greater good. Total duty shirker, if you asked me.

I jumped over the gate and tore up the ramps, stopping at the second level from the top. If I recalled correctly, the nearest camera was on the north end, fixed to a mirror bubble. The investment had provided hours and hours of people-watching entertainment. I almost hated to let that go.

Sadly, the small device was needed for a new purpose—to film my recreated sex tape. Speaking of which, I needed to get moving. The costume shop was across town, and I still needed a Teresa lookalike wig. It sucked being a responsible adult.


I gave myself one last glance in the mirror, tilting my chin back and forth. Strong jaw, smoldering eyes, killer smile. If I were a religious man, I’d be tempted to write the Man Upstairs a thank you note.

As it was, I gave myself a mirror five.

The bedroom camera was in place and set to record with one tap of my phone’s screen. I’d even found a dark wig and cut it to approximate length. The only thing left was to consult my shadow box.

Yeah, that’s right. I’m crafty.

It hangs in my closet, so visitors don’t draw any unsavory conclusions. I don’t know why they would with a colorful display of panties, but whatever. People are judgey.
Let’s see…

The last time I’d banged Teresa was in February, meaning they’d be in the second row, but which pair? I remembered it was a weekend hook-up, because she wasn’t in a hurry. Hubs was in Brazil on business. I crossed my arms.

It stood to reason that I could eliminate the multi-colored pairs and anything with a granny cut. Chicks only bust out the sexy stuff when they know there’s a possibility someone will see it. So, that left the black, the sequined, the—

Red lace panties. That jogged my memory. Perfect. Now all I had to do was hit the lingerie store on the way home with my convincing actress, and we’d be all set.


Were they running on mall hours? If so, I’d have to snag someone early—not a lot of time to get her drunk. The selection wouldn’t be that spectacular either.
Damn it.

Okay, I’d pick up panties on the way there. Play the fantasy angle. Throw in the wig. Then as long as I kept her on top, her back to the camera for that little cheetah-stalking thing Teresa did, I’d be gold. I could cut the film after foreplay. All I needed was enough to be convincing.

God, I was brilliant.

BOOK: Honesty (Mark of Nexus)
10.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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