The Path, the Veritas Chronicles
Drew excused himself to get more champagne. Shed seemed to like it before. As the office door closed behind him he ran his hand through his hair.
”What am I doing? ”
If she wasn with Pritchard then who was she? There was no way he believed her story that shed come back for him. That was a line and a bad one at that. He meant what hed said that she wasn believable as a party girl. Though what told him that, he couldn say. It could have been the way shed handled the fool on the dance floor. That was more than self-defense at the Y.
Drew fished his phone out of his pocket and dialed his brother. No answer. He didn leave a message. If he wasn with Pritchard then where was he? Drew knew Brandon had secrets. A man with virtually no resume and barely in his thirties doesn inspire the kind of financial generosity it took to build the club without making some questionable deals, but at what personal cost? And why had Pritchard chosen to invest with him?
Brandon and Drew talked about almost every aspect of the business except for how the whole thing started. Drew had the feeling his brother was hiding something, keeping him away from something like hed done since the deaths of their parents. Since that night, Brandon had been overly protective of his little brother, getting custody and taking him from their aunt as soon as possible. Together theyd bounced around, living in hovels at times and yet there had never been a doubt in Drews mind that Brandon would keep him safe.
Then Drew had gone off the deep end at eighteen not to return until only a few years ago. Brandon had taken him in and helped him get his life back together, at the same time developing an uncanny streak of good fortune. In recent years it seemed every deal Brandon touched turned to gold. They should both be settling back and enjoying their success, except Brandon was getting fidgety Drew could sense it. He was itching to move on to his next venture. Doing the deal, the acquisition was where Brandons true excitement lay. Drew just wanted to settle, to feel like he was tied to something instead of drifting through life. He craved an anchor.
Unfortunately he also couldn be without Brandon and when Brandon left Carters, so would Drew. He would follow his brother into a school of sharks, steaks in each hand if he asked though it didn mean that he wanted or liked it. What other choice did he have? Brandon was all he had left in this world.
While Drew was gone Cassie didn have much time. She spun in her chair, scanning the room. There was nothing lying out in sight, everything was off the desk but the phone and monitor showing views of the front and rear entrances. From the cords sticking up through a hole in the glass, she could tell the computer that usually sat there was missing. Damn.
Next to the door sat the black file cabinet. Cassie hobbled over and found it unlocked. Inside were a number of files on employees, no names Cassie recognized until she reached Jaime Trask. Curious if that was the woman who had brought her purse, she flipped open the file and groaned.
Jaime was a perfect employee. Hell she was the perfect woman by most standards. Bartending nights to pay for college, she was a senior at the University of Tampa studying law. It was doubtful she was tied up in any sort of sex magick circle with Pritchard. Besides she seemed to genuinely dislike the guy.
A few more cursory scans of random files revealed nothing suspicious. Defeated, she replaced the files and shut the drawer. Leaning to take weight off her leg, she took in the rest of the office to consider what she might be missing. It was as she stared at the sparseness of the room that she realized what she wasn seeing was what told her the most.
It was the brother. Brandon was the witch associated with Pritchard, Jaimed hinted at as much. The choice in materials in the club and the office spoke volumes. All metals and glass, all organic in nature and nothing else. Brandon was a practitioner too and it was more likely he was the one working with Pritchard, not Drew. Drew was too blocked to be using his power for much more than a few tips and maybe some action.
Shed caught Drews reaction when Jaime mentioned Pritchard. Whether he worked for him or not, he didn like him though it sounded like a one sided dislike. Why was Pritchard sending unwanted gifts to Drew? What did he want from him, did he know about Drews magickal talent and want to recruit him?
Cassie was back sitting in her chair when Drew returned with two glasses of champagne and some ice.
”For you. ” He handed her one glass and raised the ice pack aloft before handing it to her. ”Also for you. ”
Somewhat awkwardly Cassie tried to find somewhere to put her foot up except there was little for elevated surface space in the office aside from the desk and chairs. Both chairs were soon to be occupied and to put her feet on the desk gave him a very good view up her skirt.
Having handed Cassie her items, Drew stepped back and scooped up her feet in his free hand. He swept them both smoothly with him to set them on the desk, and in another instant he had the ice pack resting on the bare ankle.
Clumsily, Cassie started to shift her hands underneath herself in preparation of sitting up and hiding the backside of her thighs and more but Drew picked up his chair and angled it to take himself out of the line of sight.
A little surprised by his unexpected chivalry, Cassie sighed and relaxed, letting her joint cool under the ice pack. Relief was almost instant as the blood began to flow back out of her foot. The throbbing in her purpling toes ebbed. Letting her head fall back she ”hmmmd ” contentedly.
”Better? ” ”Mmm hmm. ”
”I think thats the happiest Ive seen you yet.
” Drew teased.
”Every time I see you either you
e mad or someones mad at you. Its good to see you have another side. ”
Cassie opened her eyes and turned her head. She was temporarily at ease, having both repaired things somewhat with Drew and confirmed that he did in fact know Pritchard who would be returning at some point in the near future.
She was definitely going to have to tell her partners about Brandon. They should spend some time checking into the connections between those two. ”Speaking of which, what is up with your host? Don you usually want someone friendly doing that job? ”
Drew shrugged and took a drink. ”He hates Cubans. ” Cassie snorted, taking a drink. ”Im not Cuban. ”
”Then what are you? Puerto Rican? I see something exotic in there. ” He slouched in his seat stretching his legs to cross his ankles out in front.
”Part Sioux, Sihasapa if you want to get technical. ”
Drews brows rose. ”What else is in there? ” He was thinking of her unique eye color, that couldn be Native American.
”Mom was Welsh. Im mixed. ” Cassie stopped talking abruptly, wishing she hadn shared even that little bit. She hadn given him much, considering he couldn possibly understand the underlying meaning of what shed told him. Mouth pinched, she twisted her neck to check the clock over the door. Ten more minutes. She was going to have to stop drinking or shed tell him everything.
”Why does that bother you, that you
e mixed? ” Drew was watching her curiously. He could see her walling herself off the way shed been when hed first seen her this afternoon. ”This is America, everybodys mixed. ”
”Yeah, but I was mixed growing up on a reservation. Thats different. ” There shed gone and done it again. Cassie smoothed her skirt before raising her glass to her lips. Maybe she did want it after all.
”Theres a story there. ” He tapped a finger on his glass and waited.
”Everybodys got a story, ” she shrugged, ”mines not all that interesting. Tell me about your family. ”
The smile slid from his eyes leaving only a shadow of itself lingering on his lips. ”My parents are dead. All I have is a brother. ”
”Im sorry. ” Cassie sensed the strength of his reaction, only it was fuzzy. Her eyes slid down to his right hand and the ring that rested there on the first finger. The ring was an amulet, it was blocking him from inside as well as outside energies. She could feel it now that her senses had been cleared. That explained his pains when people used their magick near him. He could still feel the energy surge as the stone took it in. ”Was it recent? ”
Tracing the path of the bubbles rising in his glass on the other side Drew answered flatly. ”No, we were kids. ”
They both felt the change in the conversation, discomfort creeping in to fill each heartbeat of silence except neither could do anything about it. Each of them was caught up in their own thoughts. When the phone in Drews pocket buzzed, both jumped and Cassie flinched as her heel dropped off the edge of the glass.
”Yeah? ” He answered without looking to see who it was. Drew sat up, his rigid posture at odds with the casual tone he maintained. ”Hey, hows North Carolina? ” He only glanced at Cassie before rising to get up and face the wall, lowering his voice.
Cassie strained to hear.
”So everythings going okay out there? Hes there with you? ”
She watched the muscles in his jaw working. Piecing together what shed heard and his reaction, she could surmise that Brandon was lying about being with Pritchard and Drew wasn happy.
”Are you still planning on coming back tomorrow? ” He paused for his response. ”Great, Ill see you then. Nope, everythings fine here. Busy but theres nothing wrong with that. ” The laugh was forced. ”Hey, Ive got someone in the office, Ill talk to you later? ”
The tops of his ears went red for only an instant. ”No, its not like that. You take care of yourself out there and Ill see you later. ”
He didn turn around right away. When he did, there was no evidence of upset remaining from his conversation with his brother. It was as if hed hit a reset button, like upstairs after their argument. It wasn normal.
”Your friends will be here soon. Lets get you downstairs, you might take a while. ” He set down his drink to help her.
Somewhat grudgingly, Cassie took her shoe and allowed him to help her to stand and walk. The high nap of the carpet in the office, she assumed was for sound deadening, combined with the lack of any real light to speak of caused her to raise her foot much higher than she wanted and increase the flexion of her injured limb. After a few halting steps Cassies hand was guided onto Drews forearm again and she leaned heavily on him.
Instead of turning left to go back the way theyd come, they went right and down into the blackness of the hall. Absently, Cassie wondered if this darkness was legal though shed been in clubs even darker than this in New York. Briefly her thoughts ran to nights when Pritchard was here raising energy and she thought of what acts might transpire here away from the lights. She was glad she didn have to touch the walls.
”We can have you going down the stairs. ” He said, yet this time Cassie did not automatically assume the worst for his secreting her past the dancers. She had seen glimpses of another man behind the business only, charming for money façade. Drew was essentially two different people. ”There are tons of stairs there, I thought youd do better in the elevator. ” A button glowed on the wall when he pressed it.
e probably right. ” She glanced up at him, genuinely appreciative.
The black doors opened to reveal a polished chrome interior almost blinding by contrast to the darkness all around them.
”Does your designer have a problem with light? ” She asked half kidding.
Grinning, Drew turned with her to face the doors as they closed. ”Brandon read up on it and apparently the darker the better when it comes to restaurants and clubs. People like the anonymity. It makes them feel daring, they do things they normally wouldn , and they like it. It brings them back. ”
Cassie waved a hand at their shiny surroundings. ”Yeah, taking your clothes off in here would feel too much like being at the doctors office. ” Embarrassed to have mentioned nudity because of where her thoughts went, Cassie directed her attention to her feet.
Drew was quiet for the long, painful ride down.
The doors opened on the far side of the purple bar and Cassie immediately let her focus shift to what was outside the glass in front, falling on the sedan parked out front. Patting his arm, she somewhat reluctantly extracted her hand. Walking was a lot easier with a crutch even if the crutch thought she was a fool or a prostitute. She wasn sure which was worse.
”My rides here. Thank you for your medical services and the drink. They both helped. ” She turned to leave and wobbled.
”Where? Let me help you. ” Replacing her hand on his arm he searched the crowd, craning his neck over her head for signs of movement in their direction.
Not wanting her partners to see her so dependent upon their target, Cassie wanted to be shut of him before they came in. ”No really, I can make it. ” She slid her hand more assertively from his arm and he caught her elbow.
”Seriously Cassie, how stubborn are you? Theres no way you
e making it anywhere on your own and you can fall in here, its too crowded. Youll get stepped on. ” He was still scanning the crowd.
At the same time she opened her mouth to argue, Drews arm tightened and he hissed a curse. Following his sightline to the bar and expecting to see Quan, Cassie saw someone else staring coolly at the man beside her. A woman not much younger than Julia hung on his arm with a vacant expression in her eyes. The dark hair fell away from his prominent widows peak in stark contrast to his pale face and brilliant green eyes. As they both watched, he shoved himself away from the bar and strode directly toward them, the woman dragging along on his arm a mere afterthought.
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