Cassies skin tightened sending the hairs on her arms straight up.

”Can I help? ” Drews voice held no trace of the confusion or suspicion it had when shed left him moments ago.

She opened her eyes letting her gaze fall on the set of his jaw before wandering up, surprised by what she saw there. Or rather what she didn . Drew was entirely unaffected by the budding violence in his club. His smile was no different from when he was drawing women in. Underneath that however, she felt another stirring of something, a disruption in the energy around her. She felt its pull.

A twitch of his hand drew her eye and the light caught the silver on his finger. It was the ring. It shared the same Earth element as Cassie and its energy called to her, the scent of damp dirt and fresh grass played at the periphery of her senses.

Cassie felt her attentions shift as she recognized the power in the way that the element called to her and, at the same time, the way it repelled a part of her. It was a battle she would normally have attributed to her dual nature only this time, Salters words popped into her mind. The timing or situation, whatever it was, gave her clarity and she heard him, ”you know how to clear stored energy, don you? ”

Sudden understanding exploded in her mind and Cassie felt the burning heaviness of stored energy in her body and mind, this time breaking it down and feeling it for what it was. Almost tearfully she reached for it, knowing even as she did so that shed identified the primary source of her problem at long last.

Whereas previously she had been grasping blindly in the shadows for the energy inside her, not seeking or calling it by element, her attempts to cleanse herself had left her frustrated and empty. Perpetually seeking release with no promise of real satisfaction, this time was different. She felt the burning inside her ease as she guided the newly identified offending masses of separate energies through her arms, on fire with the sheer volume, into the palms of her hands facing the floor. Taking a steadying breath to be sure she didn lose control of it, Cassie sent the roiling energy in one solid push from her body, returning it to the Earth. The water filtered through its cousin to find its home as well.

At once lighter and less conflicted, Cassie felt shed lost a burden she hadn known shed been carrying for longer than she could remember and saw that she was closer than ever to figuring out her magick. Buoyant both in mind and body, cleared of the subversive energy, Cassie longed to be nearer to the ring and the source of her tranquility. Cautious, she held herself in check fearing the sudden draw she felt to the powerful object. The strength of its power disturbed her.

Meanwhile, the woman was left blinking as Drews simple words began to influence her and she fell under the spell of his allure. Her grip on Cassies arm loosened and she took a step back returning Cassies ability to breathe.

The shadow of suspicion had passed from his features and, grinning benignly, Drew nodded at Cassie before shifting his attention back to her attacker. ”I saw the unfortunate little run in you two had back there on the floor. Why don you head on over there to my bartender and tell her your drinks are on me the rest of the night. Well give you and your party the real VIP treatment. Im sure we can turn your evening around. ” He finished with a genial smile.

”Thanks. ” She winked hazily. ”Would you like to join us? ”

”Unfortunately, I have work to do. Maybe next time. ” He flirted back.

Suddenly amicable, she made her way over to the bar without argument or a sideways glance at her party who Cassie could see was watching their interaction with great interest. They would think she was getting the apology from the management she thought she deserved and she got to be the hero that upgraded their night. Crisis averted.

With drunk chick no longer in her face, Cassie tried to stand up off of the glass wall and faltered. The ankle was not yet ready to bear her weight and even in the dim light she could tell it was getting puffy. The remnants of Drews exuded charm dropped from his face and she watched him study her curiously.

Calmly, he held out a bent arm for her to take hold of. Cassie stared at it, biting her lip as she considered her options. She doubted she could walk well without him, but with as much pain as she was in, her protection spell had faded and she couldn bolster it. Her ability to block any leaking from him through her defenses would be severely limited. And then there was the call of the ring. She could only guess at how long she could resist a call of that magnitude should she get too close.

An image of Quan having to come in after her made the decision clear. Taking a deep breath she held out a hand and gingerly threaded it through the crook of his arm.

At the first touch, Cassie felt her shoulders ease. The ring not only blocked him psychically it blocked him physically as well. She didn need her protections spells. If he had any magick of his own, it was well masked as long as the ring was on his finger. Its power was all she could feel and it made her dizzy.

Her human cane, Drew guided her back in the direction of their table then turned right to go down the dark hall. At her hesitation to go into the darkness with him he explained.

”I have an office down here with a first aid kit. We can have an obviously injured woman hopping out of here, its bad for business. ”

Cassie bristled at his unfeeling explanation for what shes assumed was compassion. ”Thank you, thats very kind. ” She replied crisply before she caught herself. Whether she was liked or not by him didn matter, being in his office gave her a chance to get the closer look she needed. Maybe even find the reason Pritchard was drawn to this place, see if there was a connection linking the two men. That would be important should Pritchard come to trial for his actions.

They moved at a slow but steady pace. Cassie gave up being proud in favor of relief, leaning gratefully into his solidness. The entire time she was touching him she felt the pull of the ring, its elemental energy calling to the similar element within her.

The hall was dark, the only break in the blackness coming from the purple running lights along the floor and the exit sign above. In the middle of the wall on the right side her guide stopped, his hand pushing open a door she hadn noticed in the dimness. Drew flicked on the light and released her arm to let her through first.

The office was simple. Straight ahead sat a large glass desk with a phone and what looked like a small television set offset by two black leather chairs, their backs to the door. Along the walls she saw several framed prints that must have been the original designs for the club; she recognized the layout in the black and white etchings easily.

”I share the office with my brother. ” Drew informed her, ushering her to the chair nearest them and swinging the door partway shut. ”Have a seat. ” When Cassie was off his arm, he disappeared into a small alcove previously hidden behind the door and she heard some rustling. Reappearing momentarily, he held a small red tackle box in his hand.

Plopping it down on the desk, he reached across and picked up the phone. That it was only a few buttons told Cassie the call was internal.

”Yeah, hey Jaime. Ive got a mess and some broken glass out on the dance floor. Can you get someone out there to clean it up? ” He waited for the other party to answer. ”Great, I figured youd already be on it. ” Another pause and he turned his head to eye Cassie. ”I know who it belongs to, just have it brought back to the office when you can spare somebody. ”

He hung up and went to work digging in the bag. ”Theyve got your purse at the bar. ”

”I heard. ”

Her flat tone brought his eyes around. ”What, not interested in playing anymore? ”

”Injury kind of takes it out of a girl, you know? ” Cassie pointed at her legs. A good amount of blood, dried and fresh, marked her leg from an inch long puncture below her left knee continuing to drip onto an already purple and swollen ankle.

”Hmm. ” Drew removed her shoe and touched the puffy joint making Cassie jump. ”Sorry. ” He flicked his eyes up and grimaced in sympathy before resuming his tentative examination. ”It looks like you twisted it pretty good. We can wrap it up and get you on your way as soon as I get this blood cleaned up but you should see a doctor. ” His hands were sure as he finished his exam and opened the tackle box to extract what he needed.

”What are those for? ” Cassie eyeballed the tweezers he wielded over her knee.

”Theres still a little piece of glass in there. ” Drew pointed and Cassies eyes followed seeing the small clear shard protruding from the blood source.

Cassie held her breath and clenched her fists on her thighs. When the piece slid out, she let out her breath with a small noise.

He regarded her through a clump of hair that had fallen over his eye.

”It hurt. ” She fumed defensively.

He snorted and put a folded gauze pad on her knee. ”Here hold this with some pressure. ” He unwrapped an alcohol wipe hed extracted and went to work efficiently cleaning up her lower leg, then grabbing a flesh colored plastic bandage large enough to cover the wound. Next, out came an ace bandage and he propped her leg on his thigh, the better part of his back to her so that he could have free access to the ankle and foot.

As Drew moved her foot to wrap it, it tweaked the injured area and Cassie let out another sound before she could bite down on her lip to silence it. Amused, he turned with his mouth slightly open and she glowered at him to stop him from earning himself an elbow to the eye.

A knock at the door halted any further snide comments or impetuous actions.

”Come on in Jaime. ”

Jaime, a leggy blonde, strode in. Her snug black tank top, a female version of the hosts, hung loose barely brushing the top of her short black shorts. In her hand was Cassies little black clutch purse containing nothing more than an id, lipstick, a cell phone, and her aforementioned twenty dollars in cash.

”Yours? ” She held it out pleasantly.

Nodding, Cassie reached for it only to be halted by Drews tightened grip on her calf to keep her from moving her leg.

Catching the look she gave him, Jaime laid it atop the small black metal file cabinet beside the door. ”Ill just set it here while Drew plays doctor. ” She winked at Cassie and nodded to the tackle box laying open on the desk. ”We don have much need for that here, not like my last job. ” She smiled admiringly at Drew, making a conscious effort to keep his head down. Cassie watched a hint of color climb over his shirt collar. ”This guy can mellow anybody out. Hes our good luck charm. ”

”Yeah, I saw him in action. It was impressive. ” She agreed, studying Drew and wondering again what the stone was in that ring.

”What happened out there? Did she fall? ” She took a step in to get a better view. Catching sight, she pursed her lips and sucked in. ”Ooh, that looks painful. I saw a scuffle but who can hear anything out there? ” She laughed and rolled her eyes. ”Did you trip or something? ” Her big blue eyes were open and friendly.

”Im clumsy. I ran into a gal with some drinks and then slipped in the mess. ” Cassie answered her honestly.

Drew dismissed Jaime who was not appearing to want to leave any time soon. ”Thanks for bringing her bag Jaime. Can you mind the store while I take care of this? ”

Happy mood intact, Jaime dipped her head. ”Sure thing Boss. ” She turned to leave and paused in the doorway. ”Hey, any idea when Brandons coming back? I got a call today from one of Pritchards girls asking if you or Brandon were here. It sounded like he wanted to come by. ” She frowned. ”I don like the idea of having him here. I don want to have to deal with the guy or his zombies. ”

”What are you talking about? Hes with Pritchard. ” Drew stopped himself short shooting Cassie a quick glance. ”Was it you? Were you waiting to catch me alone? ” His eyes once more turned accusatory.

”What are you talking about? ” Cassie could sense that things were about to turn and she had to find a way to stick around. Mention of Pritchard and his ”girls ” had her full attention.

”Are you another gift? ” He snorted, disbelieving her shock. ”Come on, its not like he hasn sent girls in before. You
e obviously one of his, ” he gave her a once over and shrugged, ”a little classier this time, but lets face it. You came on a little strong out there and then there was that older lady, classic Pritchard material. ”

”I have never met this guy Pritchard and neither has Julia. ” She caught herself before she said partner. ”Nobody sent me, I came of my own free will. ” Okay, that was a lie.

He watched her through narrowed eyes while Cassie worked hard to keep her cool. She was not leaving here without hearing more about Terry Pritchard and how Drew and his ring fit into all of this. Finally Drew spoke to Jaime over his shoulder. ”Ill be back on the floor as soon as I take care of this situation. ”

Jaime laughed nervously. ”Don take too long Drew. You know how Thursdays are, worse than Saturdays if you ask me. Anything can happen. ”

”Almost done. ” His eyes stayed with Cassie, not blinking until after the door clicked shut and then he was on her. ”Who are you and why did Pritchard send you? ”

”Cassie Porter, and you? ” She managed to not sound sarcastic. There was no harm in giving her real name. They did it all the time. Agents gave their real names because Veritas supplied post office boxes and answering services, relaying any information along to protect their identities. All agents of Veritas lived in corporate owned condos and apartments all over the world. It was a carefully crafted method by which employees were kept safe and somewhat isolated.

”Drew Carter, my brother and I own this place but then, you already knew that. ” He cocked his head, brow creasing again. ”Why did Pritchard send you? ” His hands had stopped working and her foot lay forgotten on his thigh.

”I told you already… ” She began and he jerked his hand up to cut her off.

”Stop it. We both know you
e no good at this. ” He actually smiled when he saw her offense. ”Seriously, you
e too obvious. It doesn suit you. ”

”Is that supposed to be a compliment or an insult? ”

”Im not sure exactly. ” His good nature was peeking through and Cassie watched the heat fade from his expression. Being serious almost seemed a challenge for Drew. He pressed on, minus the intensity. ”You
e good but you
e not getting out of here without answering my question. Are you going to tell me or not? ”

Cassie rested her hands on either side of her on the chair, looked him in the eye and sighed before shaking her head deliberately. ”Im just a girl trying to live a life Im clearly not cut out for. ”

It was a true statement. Something that Drew seemed to recognize as well because he recommenced wrapping her leg without any further questions, giving it a final smoothing over before lowering it to the floor. Standing, he stretched his back, lifting both arms before reaching to get her shoe from the floor and hand it to her. Moving toward the door, he let a hand fall on the knob. Plucking the purse off of the file cabinet with the other, he looked back at her.

”Do you have a car or should I call you a cab? ” He aimed his chin at her bandaged limb. ”You
e not walking anywhere. ”

”If you hand me my phone I can call a friend to come get me. ” She reached out to take her purse from him. His stopping just as her hand closed on it. Cassie looked up expectantly.

”Have a drink with me. Itll take a while for your friends to get here. ” He proposed impulsively, seeming as surprised by the request as she was.

Cassie blanked, uncertain of his intentions or of her safety with him. Injured she would have a limited capacity to defend herself. Regardless, he was offering her exactly what she needed. An opportunity to get face time with him that carried with it an opportunity to go fact finding.

”Sure, one drink wouldn hurt. ” Her hand found her phone no problem and she dialed Julia. When she answered, Cassie steered the conversation. ”Hey. ” She gave Julia only a second to give a one word answer. ”I twisted my ankle dancing so I was wondering if you could pick me up here at Carters. What would it take maybe fifteen minutes do you think? ”

”Are you in danger? ”

”No, Im okay with waiting if it isn too long. ” She flashed a friendly smile at Drew. ”I don want to wear out my welcome with the management. ”

”Fifteen minutes exactly Cassie. ”

”Thanks, Ill meet you in the bar downstairs. ” She hung up and slid the phone back into her clutch.

”We have fifteen minutes, huh? Well, Id better hurry and get those drinks. ”

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