Touch of Promise by Autumn Reed
Answeringa vampire’s summons wasn’t exactly how I wanted to spend my New Year’s Eve.
Well, technically, Grace Morrow wasn’t a vampire. But that woman sucked, and not in the good way.
I instinctively placed a protective hand over my groin, not wanting to even think about what she would do to my man parts, given the chance.
Still shuddering ten minutes later, I parked in front of the Intuition Financial Group offices. Although it was a quarter to three, I spotted four other vehicles in the lot. Not surprising, since the legitimate IFG employees had the day off. Only the Collector portion of the company would bother showing up on a paid holiday.
It still amazed me that Geppetto and his merry band of puppets were able to hide their nefarious dealings in plain sight the way they did. If I didn’t hate them so much, I might have been able to appreciate their business model. They ran a successful investment firm that clearly benefited from the psychics on staff. But they were careful. They lost just enough money to avoid garnering the attention of the federal government.
Forcing myself out of my SUV, I took a wide berth around the side of the building toward the greenspace behind it. I refused to meet with Grace inside. Who knew which psychics lurked within those walls, waiting to read my thoughts or control my actions or sense my powers. Open spaces were always the safest option.
As I approached the fountain where we usually met, I saw Grace emerge from the building. Good. The sooner we started this, the sooner it would be over.
“You do realize it’s New Year’s Eve, don’t you?” I asked when she stopped a good five or six feet away from me. We didn’t need to be any closer, and I was glad that she seemed to be in agreement.
“What? And I’m supposed to believe you have other plans?”
“Yeah, you are.” I gestured vaguely to my body, which was encased in a perfectly-tailored blue suit. “Do I look like I have trouble finding a date?”
“No, you look like you’re too pretty for your own good.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. I was not pretty.
“But, from everything I’ve seen and heard lately, there’s only one woman you’re interested in. And I seriously doubt you’ve got a date lined up with her.”
There was humor in her voice, and I hated it. Grace fucking Morrow didn’t get to be amused with me. She should be relegated to a dimension where demons like her weren’t permitted to speak, much less exhibit amusement.
And what I hated even more was that she was talking about Adele. She didn’t need to be coy about it. I was perfectly aware of the buzz surrounding me and my new “employee.” I didn’t need to hear the details to guess what everyone was saying.
What’s up with Gatsby?
He doesn’t do employees.
And he doesn’t do girlfriends.
He probably just wants to “do” the witch...check it off his bucket list.
They thought they had me all figured out. Truth was? They knew nothing about my life. Nothing.
“Why am I here?” I ground out, not bothering to put on my pleasant mask.
“You still haven’t given me an answer about Adele. Geppetto is getting impatient.”
Geppetto. If there was one person who deserved to burn in a fiery dimension more than Grace, it was Geppetto. The man was despicable. He hid behind a computer while making his minions dance. It made me sick. Yet, here I was, playing his game with the rest of them.
Instead of saying what I really wanted to, I remained cool. Unconcerned. “Adele is jumpy. You can’t blame her for that.”
“Has she forgotten how I cleaned up her mess at the warehouse?”
“That was Fleming’s mess, and no, she hasn’t forgotten.”
Adele was more than aware that Grace was capable of holding the events at that warehouse over her head. Who knew what kind of evidence might miraculously appear to turn the entire murder-suicide theory on its head? The lot of us had undoubtedly left a slew of it in our wake.
“Good.” Her nearly-expressionless face twisted into an almost-smirk. “Then, she should be more than amenable to my offer.”
I bit back a snort. That would be the day. “Why don’t you tell me why Geppetto wants her so desperately?”
I’d been around for a while, and I’d never seen IFG this interested in a psychic. Manipulation and bribery were normal components of their modus operandi when they couldn’t convince a potential to join for money and security alone.
But when those tactics failed? Less talented psychics found themselves homeless and friendless. The more talented ones found themselves on the lifeless end of a tragic accident.
The fact that Grace had laid down the law that Adele couldn’t be touched?
It meant something.
IFG needed her. But, why?
“I’ll tell you what I told Adele the first time I met with her. Geppetto has been searching for psychics who have the ability to access memories for a long time. Beyond that, I don’t know.”
“Don’t you find it odd that he wants that particular ability so much that he’s willing to negotiate with Adele? That’s not like him.”
Her expression returned to its usual blank stare, and I half-wished Noah Greene was here to glimpse her emotions. Was she truly as detached as she appeared? I doubted it. There had to be a beating heart under that icy façade. Even if the blood that ran through it was as black as her soul.
“No, I don’t find it odd. Because it’s not my job to have an opinion on what Geppetto does or doesn’t do. He wants her, and we both know that it’s in her best interest to give in.”
“Oh, so now you care about her best interests?”
“I just care about bringing her on board, and fast. Make it happen, Montgomery. This is your—her—last warning.”
“Fine.” I’d known this was coming, but I’d been hoping to draw it out a little longer. Adele was not going to be happy. “I’ll talk to her.”
“Do better than talk to her. Convince her.”
I wasn’t going to bother responding to that. Convincing Adele to work with the people responsible for her father’s death was about as likely as Grace passing through the Pearly Gates.
“Is there a reason we needed to have this meeting in person?” She could have easily told me all of that over the phone instead of dragging me all the way to Richmond. It wasn’t like we got together to gab. There had to be something else.
“I thought Adele might want that back,” Grace said, handing me a bulky envelope.
I peeked inside, finding a bright pink taser that I immediately recognized as Adele’s. She’d had it that night at the warehouse and must have left it there.
“You thought Adele might want her taser back.” My tone gave away my disbelief, but I went ahead and threw in a “really,” in case she was feeling dense.
Right. That thing was going straight into the trash. Who knew what she’d done to it? At the very least, it was now the proud owner of a top-of-the-line tracking device.
Spotting a black USB drive tucked alongside the taser, I asked, “What about the flash drive?”
“That’s for you. I’ve taken the liberty of going through Andrea Parson’s personal computer files and found some interesting data that she failed to hand over to me.”
My neck muscles tensed. This couldn’t be good. “What kind of data?”
“Names and contact information for a number of psychics with abilities that IFG would find useful.”
“What does that have to do with me?”
“I don’t have time to deal with them, so you’re going to reach out to the ones with the highest potential and broker their IFG deals.”
I laughed. “Now, why would I do that?” That wasn’t how this worked. She only came to me when she suspected that a psychic wouldn’t be amenable to her offer or was already resisting. I wasn’t a goddamn recruiter.
“Because you like receiving your extravagant commissions?”
I shrugged. “We both know I don’t need the money.”
“Okay, fine.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “What do you want?”
Finally. This conversation was getting interesting.
“Drop this thing with Adele once and for all.”
“Okay.” I plucked the thumb drive from the envelope and held it out. “Then, I can’t help you.”
She didn’t take it. “There has to be something else you want.”
There was only one thing in the world I wanted, and Grace couldn’t help me with it. In fact, Adele was the only person I’d found who had even a fighting chance. And that’s why I would continue battling for her, next to her, instead of her. Whatever it took.
“Not from you.”
She sighed and started walking back toward the building. “You’ll think of something, Montgomery. And, when you do, you know where to find me.”
I shoved the thumb drive in my pocket and stalked back to my vehicle. I had a bad feeling about this new development. Andrea Parsons no doubt had a good reason for keeping the list of potentials from IFG. She’d done so even knowing that Abel Turner—IFG’s favorite mind reader—could pluck the information from her mind. So, why take the risk?
Even more concerning was Grace’s decision to place this particular task on my shoulders. Since she wasn’t a people person, it made sense to hand the recruitment over to someone else. But she had minions who would have been happy to take this project on. So, why me?
I wasn’t easy to control, and she knew it.
I turned to find a young woman jogging toward me, her light blonde hair streaming behind her. “Sara, hello.”
Unfortunately for her, the nineteen-year-old was IFG’s newest recruit. I’d helped broker her deal. And as many times as I’d wanted to yell at her to run far away, that wasn’t part of my job description. I’d negotiated the best deal I could for her, but I didn’t get involved otherwise. That was how it had to be.
She stopped a few feet in front of me, her cheeks flushed. “Mr. Gatsby, I just wanted to thank you for the condo. It’s so much nicer than anything I could have imagined.”
I wanted to tell her to use my name. This Mr. Gatsby stuff was ridiculous. First of all, I didn’t particularly appreciate being compared to the fictional character. I liked to believe I was made of stronger stuff than him. And I wasn’t even a decade older than Sara, so the “mister” really needed to go.
“It wasn’t me. IFG purchased it for you.”
“Oh, I know that. But if you hadn’t helped me, I never would have gotten so much money from Ms. Morrow.”
I nodded, hoping that was good enough. I didn’t deserve her gratitude. Not really. Opening the door to my SUV, I muttered, “Happy New Year.”
“Thank you. You too.”
Despite the upbeat tone to her words, I detected something else underneath them. I told myself to turn away, that it wasn’t my problem. But, apparently, I was going soft all of a sudden, because I turned back to her.
“Is everything going okay?”
Sara’s eyes widened, and for the first time, I noticed that the skin around her eyes looked puffy. Not typical for a girl her age. “Of course.”
“Are you sure? They’re treating you well?”
“Yeah.” She glanced nervously around the empty parking lot. “I mean, it’s not that bad.”
“Convincing,” I said with a chuckle, hoping to help her relax.
She nibbled on her bottom lip. “I shouldn’t say this, but I’m glad Mr. Fleming is gone. He was mean.”
Jared Fleming? Sara had only worked for IFG for a week before Grace shot and killed him at the warehouse. With her own gun, I assumed, since I’d taken his with me and later thrown it in the river. So, how had Sara already come into contact with a man who notoriously worked alone?
“Did he do something to you?” It was the vaguest question I could think of to try and get her to open up.
“He made me go with him to block this girl’s powers, and then he took her.”
Sara’s ability was fairly limited, but it was one that IFG held in high regard. She could suppress the powers of almost any psychic when she was within about a block radius. It was impressive. And she was probably wishing it didn’t exist about now. I knew how that felt—I’d been there.
Her eyes filled with tears. “I don’t know what happened to her, or if she’s okay.”
I was pretty sure I did.
“What did the girl look like?”
“A little older than me. Pretty, with dark brown hair and some other colors mixed in.”
Jemimah Drake. Just as I thought. “Don’t worry. I know her, and she’s fine.”
Sara held a hand to her mouth. “Really? She’s okay?”
“Yes. I promise.”
She smiled, now looking younger than her nineteen years. “I’m so relieved to hear it, you have no idea.”
“Happy to be of service.”
Just as it was on the tip of my tongue to say something crazy like, “call me if you need anything,” I climbed into the front seat with a quick “bye” instead.
I couldn’t start caring about the psychics I dealt with on a daily basis. That wasn’t what I was about. I needed to stay focused on my mission. And, right now, the entirety of my mission revolved around Adele Rose.
Did it hurt that she called to me with her soulful gray eyes and unique blend of softness and strength?
No, it didn’t hurt one damn bit.