Otherworld Attendants: An Open Heart|
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Copyright ©2012 RaeLynn Blue
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The darkness came hurtling back in the wee hours of the morn. A single snicker, malicious and intent on evil, caused Jet Watanabe's heart to freeze in his chest. He wouldn't let anything happen to his girlfriend, Felicia. And that snicker hinted at something dangerous.
That had been his only thought as he slipped from beneath the thick blanket and away from Felicia's sweet warmth. Jet dropped to a crouched position and reached beneath the bed for his sword. He wrapped his hand around the worn hilt. The smooth, sharp weapon whispered from its hiding place to join the heavy quiet. It held memories of battles past. He'd heard the snicker slither from the guest bathroom. After years of training, his hearing sharpened at night, just like his eyesight.
Through the gloomy shadows and hazy remnants of sleep, Jet caught a quick glance of the intruder. When Jet had left Japan, he'd thought he'd left his demons behind him, yet here was one, creeping into his normal life. With his heart heavy, Jet, naked, crept into the hallway, following the faint scent of leather polish.
It had to be him. Qualey.
"Come out," Jet said to the shadowy hall and guestroom. "I know you're here." English always felt clumsy on his tongue. So he switched to Japanese and repeated himself. "Speak or you will taste my cold blade and be forever silent."
The shadows shifted and out stepped Qualey. Dressed in leather boots, army fatigues and an ebony muscle shirt, the sometimes bounty hunter grinned at him. Jet wanted to punch it off his face. He thought of how the violence would frighten her. He scowled all the more at the intrusion.
"Is that any way to talk to your former work associate?" Qualey asked with a smirk, his hands behind his back. He eyed Jet's nude body and added in fast Japanese, "Hope I didn't interrupt anything."
Jet didn't like that. He lifted his sword higher because he knew Qualey's powers. He'd already seeped into the apartment and could blow a hole through the wall if prompted. Felicia could forgive the blood on the carpet. He'd buy her a new one.
Qualey's small dark brown eyes narrowed at his silence.
Let him think it over. No clothes, no matter. I will kill him where he stands if he threatens Felicia.
"So solemn. Nothing to say after all this time?"
"I have no words for you. Get out." Jet frowned and gripped the handle harder. He would defend his home. His place.
Qualey's grin widened. His inky black hair hung lank against his shoulders, spilling over their narrowness. He'd lost weight -- a lot of it. Perhaps Orion had been bleeding him, like he had done to others. No wonder Qualey had risked coming here. Maybe he wanted to die rather than go back to the alternative -- being a vampire's sippy drink.
"You make me," Qualey snarled, sounding more like a beast than his human persona allowed.
Jet had to move him into the living room. If he swung now, he'd only lodge the sword into the hallway's wall. So instead Jet lowered the blade's hilt, shot forward and slammed upward into Qualey's upper torso. He heard Qualey grunt as the hilt slammed home.
Hardly a breath later, Jet swept Qualey's booted feet out from under him, bringing the other man crashing to the floor. With a stone punch to the jaw, Jet forced Qualey to bark in pain. Snatching him by the hair, Jet dragged Qualey into the living room.
"Get. Out," Jet repeated.
Through a bloodied smile, Qualey puffed out, "There... will... be... others. You can't... can't survive." With that he passed out.
Others. Jet clenched his teeth.
"Jet? Jet, what's going on?" Felicia called out from the bedroom. "Is everything all right?"
He cleared his throat. "Yes, I'm... I'm just restless."
"Come to bed. I'll fix that."
"In a minute." He suppressed a smile. He lifted his sword and stared down at Qualey. "What do you want?"
He slapped Qualey hard across the face. Jet used his other hand to catch the sound. Being a Shade, Jet could bend the shadows to his will, and he did so now to cup the sound waves and smother them before they reached Felicia.
Waiting half a breath, he listened to see if Felicia said more or came out of the bedroom. When she didn't, he put his full attention back on the crumpled man on the floor. Years ago Qualey would've been a real challenge for him, but this -- this disappointed Jet. "Wake up. You are truly a weak outline of your former self."
At this, Qualey rose up on his elbows, rubbed his jaw and glared at Jet. "I didn't come here to fight. I came to deliver a message. Orion is calling in his favor. So you can kill me here but there will be other messengers. Or Orion will come himself."
Orion. Jet had thought he'd put Orion in his past and had intended to leave him there. He let the sword fall by his side.
Jet clenched his jaw in disgust. "Tell him not to send more. I will come to him."
Qualey got clumsily to his feet, weaving a bit, and spat out in English, "The woman has made you weak."
He managed to shoot a shit-eating grin before he took a step and faded into the gloom. Jet watched him leave, drifting through the door without even turning the lock.
Jet turned away and lifted his left hand. There at the base of his wrist, a small tattoo inked with magic and blood reminded him of a life he thought he'd left behind.
With regret boiling inside him, he walked back into the bedroom, got on his knees and placed the sword back in the shadows beneath the bed. It vanished into a whisper of black smoke. Only he would be able to remove it from that hiding spot. Only he had the ability to walk between worlds, to become one with the shadows -- a Shade. Like Qualey, Jet could shift between light and dark -- death and life -- a skill most useful for assassins and bounty hunters.
When he rose, he found Felicia's green eyes pinned to him. Her scattered brunette curls across the crisp ivory pillowcase looked gorgeous but dangerous, like dark blood in the snow.
Concern wrinkled her normally porcelain fine features. "You know the bed is too big without you in it," she whispered.
"I will correct that."
Her green eyes sparkled and burned with a familiar heat. One his body responded to at once. He went to her arms and there found sanctuary. When he left Japan, he'd never thought he'd feel at home again. Part of him wanted to put his life in Tokyo far behind him, and he had. Still, it had been his home and a bit of his heart ached for it. Each time Felicia hugged him, held him, spooned herself into him in the middle of the night, he knew he'd found home again.
And he would have to leave it to save her.