“I’m sure, Gus,” said Lexi. “Just let us go in peace. We won’t bother you again.”
Now she was talking. He wanted to kiss her for defusing the situation before it could escalate and complicate things further.
Hell, he just wanted to kiss her, period.
Unfortunately, that would have to wait until he got her out of here. At least until he got her to his truck.
“You got my cell number?” Gus asked Lexi.
“Use it. Call if you need me. I’ll keep it on all night.”
“Thanks, Gus. Sorry about the floor. Keep whatever you owe me.”
Gus’s eyes narrowed and he scowled at Zach. “You make it sound like you’re not coming back.”
Lexi looked up at Zach and there was a deep sadness darkening her eyes. He wanted to wipe it away, destroy it so it could never come back to haunt her again. Problem was, he was convinced that most of that sadness was somehow his fault.
“I’m not. Good-bye,” said Lexi, then led Zach through the door out into the night.
The night air was warm and thick, and filled Zach’s lungs with the scent of earth and asphalt. A pair of aging lights high overhead drew a cloud of bugs, and lit the cracked parking lot just enough to destroy his night vision and create deep pockets of shadow around the few remaining cars.
Lexi headed for her beat-up Honda and Zach was hot on her heels. He hadn’t quite forgotten just how pretty her ass was, or the way it made his mouth water with the need to feel his hands cupping her cheeks while he kissed her senseless. As much as he hated it, he ripped his eyes away from the lovely sight and scanned the surrounding area for Synestryn. He wasn’t about to let one of those snarlies take them by surprise and ruin his chances of fulfilling every one of his fantasies with Lexi.
And after so many weeks, he had a lot of those. Now all he needed to do was get her to go along with his plans.
“I’m not riding with you,” she announced on her way to her car.
She didn’t know that the bracelet she now wore prevented her from getting more than a few yards from him, but he didn’t think it was diplomatic to bring it up just yet. If she tried to run, then she’d know. And if she tried to run, she deserved finding out the hard way.
“Why not?” he asked.
“I don’t trust you.”
Her words hurt, but he ignored the pain. He was good at that. “Why not?”
“You know why.”
Zach grabbed her arm and gently pulled her to a stop. “No. I don’t.”
She stared up at him for a long moment. Anger tightened her mouth, making him want to kiss it away.
She poked a finger into his chest. Hard. “You put your mark on me and chased me all over the country, making it nearly impossible for me to stay in one place long enough to find work. Do you have any idea how much gas costs? I had to pawn nearly everything I own just to keep my car moving so you wouldn’t catch up with me.”
The thought of her suffering like that made him sick. That hadn’t been his intention. She ran; he followed her. How could he not follow her when he needed her so much?
“Why did you run?” It was a question he’d been dying to ask. Why was she so afraid of him? He’d never hurt her.
“Why did I run? Are you serious?”
“You kidnapped Helen. And Miss Mabel. I didn’t want to be next.”
“Kidnapped?” Well, Zach figured it probably had looked like that now that he thought about it. “Drake needed Helen. And we couldn’t leave Miss Mabel behind to fend for herself once the Synestryn showed up.”
“They showed up because of you,” she said, poking him again.
At this rate, he was going to be bruised. “Well, yeah, but it’s not like we can help that.”
She rolled her eyes and shoved her hand into her apron pocket to retrieve her keys. “Whatever. Just tell me where we’re going, and I’ll follow you.”
“That’s not going to work.”
“I’m sick and tired of running, Zach. It’s over. You’ve won. I give up.”
He reached for her, wanting to smooth away the pain he saw lining her face. The weariness. In the dimness of the bar, he hadn’t been able to see just how tired she looked, but now he did. She had dark circles beneath her eyes, and they were red, like she hadn’t slept for days.
Zach knew how that felt. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d slept. He’d been too busy searching for Lexi ever since that terrifying phone call.
Before he could touch her, she flinched away and took a big step back, bumping into her car.
“Get whatever you want to bring with you, and I’ll put it in my truck,” he told her.
“No. I’m driving.”
Zach didn’t want to fight with her. They were a team now—or at least they would be once he got Lexi alone and explained everything to her. Surely she wouldn’t deny him. He needed her too much to even consider the possibility.
“Your car looks like it’s going to fall apart.”
She lowered her head and stared at the cracked asphalt. “It’s my home,” she whispered.
Zach looked into the back window and saw a pillow and blankets. Tucked in the back window was a ratty teddy bear with one missing eye. Taped to the back of the passenger’s seat were half a dozen photos of a woman Zach guessed was her mother. Lexi was in some of them, young and smiling. Her mother hadn’t been smiling in any of the photos.
She meant it literally. She lived in her car.
Zach’s heart broke. How long had she been living like this? And how much of that was his fault for not finding her sooner?
There was no place for her to move away from him now with the car at her back. He could have hugged her and given her comfort, but he worried it would only bruise her pride. So, he pretended that he didn’t feel sorry for her and said, “Fine. You drive. I’ll ride with you.”
Her head shot up and she gave him a skeptical frown. “You will?”
Zach shrugged. “Sure. I don’t mind. It won’t kill me to leave my truck here overnight.”
Lexi’s car wouldn’t start. She used every trick she knew, and none of them worked. Twelve years and nearly two hundred thousand miles and this was the first time her faithful Honda had ever failed her when she really needed it.
Maybe the thing knew she was planning on blowing it up.
Lexi pounded her palm against the wheel and let out a frustrated growl.
“It’s okay, honey,” said Zach, his deep voice steady and soothing. He reached over from the passenger’s seat and cupped her shoulder, stroking warm, gentle circles over her bare skin. “I’ll get someone to tow it back home. I have a friend who knows how to fix damn near anything. He’ll have her up and running again in no time. You’ll see.”
He was trying to make her feel better. Why was he being so nice when he was planning to kill her eventually? It didn’t make any sense, and made Lexi want to scream.
“I’m not leaving my car,” she stated.
“It’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”
Lexi had too much C-4 in the trunk not to worry. She repeated, more emphatically this time, “I’m not leaving my car.”
“Well, it’s not moving and I’m not about to let you sleep in it. It’s not safe.”
She snapped her head around and glared at him, thankful for a reason to be angry—to vent some of her frustration and fear out on him. “You don’t get to tell me what to do. I’ll sleep in my car if I damn well please, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”
Zach blew out a resigned sigh and nodded once. “I can see you’re not going to make this easy, are you?”
Lexi just glared at him.
“Okay, fine. Have it your way. I can’t exactly say I’m surprised.” He got out of the car and strode toward a shiny black truck parked about fifty feet away.
When he was ten feet away, Lexi started to fidget. She felt restless and twitchy. She wanted to get out and go after him, though she had no idea why. Maybe it was her sense of duty bugging her—if she didn’t go with him, he couldn’t lead her to the Sentinel compound. She would never find Helen to rescue her.
By the time he was twenty feet away, she felt like her insides were covered in mosquito bites, and it was getting harder to breathe. She itched all over, but couldn’t figure out where to scratch to make it stop. Her eyes kept going back to Zach and his long, powerful strides.
She needed to follow him. Get closer.
At thirty feet, Lexi gave up caring about why she needed to go to him and just went. She jumped out of the car and grabbed her suitcase from the floor of the backseat. Every step she took toward him made some of the itchy restlessness inside her ease.
She looked at the gold bracelet dangling on her wrist and scowled. He’d done it again. He’d marked her, only this time, there was no way she could cover it with a tattoo to mask its power, the way her mother had taught her to do.
Lexi tried to unclasp the thing, but it wouldn’t budge—like it was welded shut. She tugged at it, but all she managed to do was scrape some of her skin away. Damn it!
Zach waited by his truck, holding the passenger’s door open for her. He had known this would happen. She could see satisfaction glowing in his eyes.
“You did this to me, didn’t you?” she demanded.
“You gave me no choice.”
“You could have stopped chasing me.”
His strong fingers pried the suitcase from her hand, and he set it in the bed of the truck. When he leaned past her, she caught the scent of his skin, warm from the night air. He smelled spicy and completely delicious. Her head spun and she resisted the urge to grab his massive shoulders to steady herself.
“No. I couldn’t have,” he said.
“Liar,” she shot back.
It was a big mistake.
Zach whirled around and grabbed her by the waist. He lifted her up onto the high bench seat and he didn’t let go. He held on to her, his big hands nearly spanning her waist. His fingers curled into her flesh, and his green eyes glowed with anger and something else she couldn’t name. Something dark and desperate.
“I need you, Lexi. And I don’t mean that in the sense of I need you so I won’t be lonely or some shit like that. I need you to live. I need you to help me keep the rest of my people alive. I’m running out of time fast, and you’re the only one who can save me from becoming a monster. I’m not taking any chances that you’ll get away again, even if it means chaining you to me.”
Wow. Okay. She hadn’t been ready for that kind of confession. Nor was she ready for the way it made her feel . . . important. Necessary. She had no family and few friends, and she’d always been sure that if she disappeared no one would really notice. Maybe she’d been wrong.
Then again, maybe this was the way the Sentinels got to their victims, telling them what they wanted to hear.
Lexi straightened her spine and stiffened her resolve to stay immune to his charms. She lifted her wrist and the gold links glinted under the security light. “You already have chained me.”