Detective Adam Rast stared down at the limp form of the girl in his arms in horror. “Nadiah?” he said, patting her cheeks urgently. “Nadiah, come on—wake up. Please.”
But she just lay there, barely breathing, her lovely deep blue eyes rolled up to show the whites. She looked like a life-sized doll, her head rolling limply from side to side on his arm.
Rast couldn’t figure out what was going on. Nadiah had come down to the Sarasota HKR building at his request to see if she could “feel” anything about the AllFather’s last victim, Elise Darden. In the past, she’d been able to tell the whereabouts of a missing person just by touching her clothes, and Rast had hoped she would be able to do it again.
But he’d be lying if he said the still-open case was the only reason he’d asked her to come down from the Kindred Mother Ship to Earth. He’d heard from Commander Sylvan that Nadiah would be leaving soon, going back to her home planet of Tranq Prime, and he just couldn’t let her go without seeing her one more time.
It was a stupid impulse and he knew it. They’d started off with a bang during the mistaken luck kiss at Commander Sylvan’s wedding, but after that things went downhill fast, thanks to his own stubbornness and stupid pride. To be honest, Nadiah didn’t like him at all—a fact she’d gone to great pains to make very clear during some of their earlier meetings.
Rast didn’t blame her—he’d been a real jerk. First he’d refused to believe in her gift of “The Sight”, as she called it, and then he’d called her crazy to her face. By the time Nadiah had proved to him beyond the shadow of a doubt that she really was experiencing a genuine psychic phenomenon, it was too late. As his mother liked to say, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
But even though he had blown it with the beautiful alien girl with exotically tilted dark blue eyes and long golden hair, Rast couldn’t stop thinking about her. Couldn’t stop wanting to see her again—just one last time. So he’d called on the viewscreen to ask for her help and to his surprise and gratification, she had graciously agreed.
“Should have known something was wrong,” Rast muttered, patting her cheeks again. “I could tell she didn’t feel well.”
It was true—Nadiah had been unnaturally pale as she stepped through the sliding glass doors of the Human/Kindred Relations building. Her skin, always a delicate, translucent porcelain, had been paper white. Her eyes, a deep shade of mysterious blue Rast couldn’t name because they didn’t seem to match any Earthly color he’d ever seen—had been large and haunted. He’d also noticed dark circles beneath them that hadn’t been there during their last meeting.
He’d thought about saying something then—considered asking if she was all right. But he’d assumed she was just having more nightmares. Visions of the AllFather’s victims had plagued her in the past, no doubt turning her gift into a curse. Rast had hated like hell to put her through more of the same, but he genuinely needed her help.
Elise Darden hadn’t had any family step forward to question her disappearance—in fact, all they’d been able to turn up were a few worried coworkers in the Tampa State Attorney’s office. But even though she didn’t seem to have any nearest and dearest, Rast still cared. Cared a hell of a lot that an innocent young woman had been taken and possibly tortured and killed. Something similar had happened to his beloved older sister, Jessie, when he was just a child, and as an adult he’d made it his life’s work to find and rescue such victims if he could. Or to see their remains safely home if he couldn’t.
Nadiah had greeted him in a low, colorless voice and they sat together on one of the HKR building’s numerous gray couches. Rast had noticed that her hands were shaking when she reached for the bag of evidence he held out to her. He hadn’t been able to help himself then.
“Hey,” he said. “Are you okay? You don’t mind me saying so, you don’t look so good.”
Nadiah had brushed his question off. “I’m fine. Just give me the clothes.”
Against his better judgment, Rast had done as she asked. Nadiah had hesitated, then took a deep breath and plunged her hand into the plastic evidence bag as though it contained hot coals instead of discarded clothing.
“Well?” Rast had asked, looking at her anxiously. “What do you see?”
Nadiah had opened her mouth to reply and then everything had happened at once.
One minute she’d been touching the clothes he’d brought from the crime scene—the ones Elise Darden had been wearing on the day of her abduction—and the next minute she had given a cry and clutched at her chest, just below her heart. Then her eyes rolled up and she collapsed like a marionette whose strings had been cut.
It was a good thing he was there to catch her, Rast thought grimly as he shifted his arm to cradle her neck more securely. She would have slid right off the nondescript grey couch they were sitting on and banged her head on the floor if he hadn’t grabbed her. But now what was he going to do?
Several of the Kindred warriors in the HKR building had come to his harsh shout and one of them had called Commander Sylvan on the viewscreen. Rast had wanted to call nine-one-one but apparently Sylvan was a doctor—his instructions were to sit tight until he appeared. But how long is he going to take? Rast wondered, looking anxiously down at Nadiah’s lovely but unconscious face. She didn’t seem to be having any kind of seizure or attack but her pulse was weak and thready and her respiration was light and quick—not to mention faint enough to worry the hell out of him.
Rast knew he should probably lay her down on the couch but somehow he couldn’t bear to stop holding her. He needed her in his arms—needed to keep her safe any way he could. It was stupid but he had a fear that if he stopped touching her she would disappear, that her lovely porcelain skin would melt away to nothing like a princess in a fairy tale and he would never see her again. So he held her carefully but firmly to him and continued to pat her cheeks and murmur her name.
“Nadiah? Nadiah, please…”
“I’m here. What happened?”
Rast looked up in relief to see Sylvan standing there. The tall, blond Kindred had a small silver satchel slung over one broad shoulder—obviously the alien equivalent of an Earth doctor’s little black bag. He pulled a tiny credit card sized scanner from it and began waving it over Nadiah’s face without waiting for an answer.
“She fainted,” Rast said, still holding Nadiah’s still form close to his chest. “The minute she touched the evidence I asked her to look at.” He shook his head. “It’s my fault—I could tell she wasn’t feeling well. I never should have asked her to put herself through that.”
Sylvan finished the scan and put the tiny instrument back into his satchel. “It’s not your fault, Rast,” he said grimly. “This has nothing to do with your search for the missing girl.”
“What does it have to do with, then?” Rast demanded. “Is she sick? Diabetic or something? Is she…” There was a sudden lump in his throat but he forced himself to go on. “She doesn’t have anything…anything terminal, does she?”
Sylvan shook his head. “Not in the way that you mean, no. Though I do fear the long term effects of what is troubling her may eventually kill her.” He sighed. “To form a blood bond in one so young, before the heart’s true desires can manifest is reckless and cruel. But then, no one ever accused my people of being too compassionate.”
“What are you talking about?” Rast felt himself go cold. “She said something about that to me before—something about a bond—but she would never go into detail. What does it mean?”
“Never mind.” Sylvan shook his head again. “Just give her to me. I’ll take her up to the Mother Ship and tend to her.” He held out his arms for the limp form.
Rast started to hand Nadiah over…and stopped. “No.” He heard the stubbornness in his own voice but he didn’t care. “No, I…I can’t.”
Sylvan raised one dark blond eyebrow at him. “What do you mean you can’t? Nadiah is my kinswoman—I am charged with her safety, not you. Give her to me so that I can take her for treatment.”
“I’ll go with you.” Rast held her closer, cradling her small head with its luscious spill of long golden hair close to his chest. “But I won’t give her up.”
“No!” Rast felt something like a growl rise in his throat and swallowed it back down again with difficulty. What was wrong with him? Everything Commander Sylvan said made sense. He was a doctor and related to Nadiah. By all rights he should be the one to care for her.
But Rast found himself completely and utterly unable to give her up. She was helpless in her unconscious state—totally vulnerable. And though he knew that Sylvan would never hurt her, he somehow couldn’t bear to see her in another man’s arms, even her married cousin’s. Something inside him urged him to hold her—to guard and protect her and never let her go. It was an instinct too strong too fight.
“No,” he said again, attempting to keep his voice low and even. “I can’t let her go. We can go wherever you want but I’m going to carry her.”
The big Kindred stared at Rast in evident surprise. He looked like he was going to say something but instead he simply nodded. “Very well. Come with me.”
“Of course.” Rast rose easily, holding Nadiah’s unconscious form in his arms like a baby. “Let’s go.”