Magic In Disguise - Chapter 3 Sneak Peek

MAGIC IN DISGUISE

AGENTS OF A.S.S.E.T. 3

KATIE SALIDAS

CHAPTER THREE

Grey dropped her by the gate to her apartment complex and sped away. She wasn’t sure if she should envy or feel sorry for the guy. Sage might be on house arrest, but Grey was truly in prison. Being tethered to Ava wasn’t something she’d wish on her worst enemy.
Though her fate hadn’t been much better. She unlocked the gate, silently praying her domestic situation – as Ava had called it – would be drama free, and took the path toward her building.
A small win – after the crushing defeat she’d had back at ASSET – would be a welcome change. Her day had not gone as planned at all.
Sage looked down at her palm. The black mark had grown again. She nearly made a cardinal sin of asking “How could things get worse?” but stopped before the words tripped off her tongue. Still, just thinking of tempting fate was enough.
Right on cue, Sage spotted Josh banging on the door as if he meant to bring it down. She sprinted to the apartment, cursing her luck.
“Matt! Open this door!” Josh demanded.
“You can’t go in there right now.” Anxiety kicked her heart into overdrive, testing her Terra immortality. A normal human might have stroked out. She wasn’t that lucky.
Josh had never looked so angry and scared. A vein throbbed near his temple. He glared at her, eyes glistening on the edge of tears, and gnashed his teeth so hard Sage could hear the soft grinding.
She had his attention, but words caught in her throat, refusing to pass the safety of her lips. How the hell does someone tell a regular human guy that his boyfriend has been turned into a vampire? The phrase sounded ludicrous. The truth, not so much.
The harsh reality of those words had far-reaching implications neither Sage nor Matt had had time enough to comprehend. Why did it have to fall to her, then, to be the messenger? Damn it! Sage could hardly stand to be in the room with Matt in her current condition. The seed painfully craved the magic animating their bodies. And Josh… Humans and newly turned vampires don’t exactly mix well.
“I’m losing my patience, Sage.”
“I know. I’m…okay. He’s fine.” Understatement of the year there. “I’m fine. We’re all fine.” She’d have struggled less for breath if she’d run a marathon. Her chest ached as her heart threatened to punch its way out. “How are you?”
“Either step aside, or I go through you.” Josh balled his fist. He wouldn’t strike her. Even if he did, she kind of deserved it. More than likely he’d beat his fist bloody trying to take down the door. “I want to see my boyfriend.” His voice cracked with strained emotions.
“Let me explain. No. Wait. Let me sum up.” Sage took hold of the handle, placing herself between the door and her very psychotic-looking friend. “He had an accident. But he’s alive-ish. Probably not ready for visitors at the moment.”
“What are you trying to say?” Tears began to trickle from the edges of his puffy eyes. “Spit it out. Truth.”
“You can’t handle the truth.”
“Stop it with the stupid movie quotes!” He reared back with his fist balled tight.
“I don’t know what else to do.” She faced him head-on. If he wanted to let loose his fury, so be it. “I can’t let you see him right now. For your own safety.”
“Zack?” Josh dropped his hand and let out a growl. Sage knew the sound well as she’d made it plenty of times herself – defeated anguish. “It was that damn vampire you invited into our home, wasn’t it? You promised you’d keep Matt safe from your new…crazy! Where’s a stake? I’ll kill the bastard myself!”
“Okay. First of all, keep your voice down.” She looked to the apartments across from her building. No lights in the windows yet, but they were bound to earn a few noise complaints if he kept this up. “Second…that’s my job, and a stake isn’t going to solve your problems. Third… Zack saved him when I failed to do it. You owe him. If you want to be mad at someone, take it out on me. Go ahead. Rail away. I deserve it!”
Josh’s breath came in stuttering waves. He balled his fist again and sent it straight at the door with all the power of his rage, bloodying his knuckles against the wood.
“I’m sorry.” She couldn’t blame him for acting out. She’d been beating herself up for days since it had all gone horribly wrong. “I truly am. I don’t know how to make things better. But we’re trying to get him through this.”
“Is he in there, with Matt?”
The door opened behind Sage. She nearly toppled backwards but caught herself in the doorframe.
“Unless you would like to make a donation, listen to killer here.” Zack kept his voice low enough to avoid the neighbors hearing, but quiet did not diminish the seriousness of his words. “Your man is safe and under my care. Should you choose to enter this apartment, you do so at your own peril. Baby vampires aren’t trustworthy around humans.”
“You…violated my boyfriend, monster!”
“Yes,” Zack replied with unusual calm. “You next?”
Of course Zack couldn’t be the adult here and calm Josh’s fears. That task again fell on Sage. And she’d already failed once at diffusing the situation. “Stop it, both of you!” She maneuvered within the doorframe so she could give both men the stink eye for acting like jerks. “You want someone to hate, Josh? I’m right here. It’s my fault what happened, and I’m doing my best to make it up to everyone.”
“How did this happen?” Josh’s nostrils flared like an angry bull, ready to charge.
“I was the target of a power-hungry kitsune with a djinn in her pocket,” she admitted. “Matt was the bait.”
“And Killer went in guns blazing with no backup,” Zack said, eagerly throwing her further under the bus.
“Thanks. Didn’t feel crappy enough. Why not drive the knife deeper before you twist it,” she grumbled.
“As you wish,” Zack replied with a devilish smirk she’d love to smack clean off his smug face.
“And the kitsune creature thing?” Josh asked. “Whatever the hell that is? What did you do to it?”
“She’s been neutralized. Along with the djinn,” she replied confidently. If nothing else, she got that part right. “They will not be a problem again.”
“And you?” Anger still tightened Josh’s jaw, but his words came out with a surprisingly softer tone. “Are you okay?”
Sage lifted her hand to show him the consequences she’d endured. “Had a bit of an accident myself.”
Josh gasped.
“Don’t worry. ASSET is helping me sort it out,” she reassured him.
“Does it hurt?”
 “A lot.” She refused to sugarcoat that fact. He wouldn’t take her admission as weakness like the other guys.
“And she can’t touch anyone magical now without killing them. Something of a backfire with that amulet she broke,” Zack filled in the gaps Sage had intentionally avoided revealing.
“Not funny.” She’d only told the vampire enough to prevent further questioning, never once admitting it was the Weapon of Magical Destruction she’d been carrying. Per ASSET, that was strictly classified information. Still, she had a sneaking suspicion he knew the truth. Zack’s currency had always been information.
“Poetic, though, isn’t it?” Zack giggled mischievously.
She’d have words with him in private later. Sage hadn’t been home five minutes, and already he was pushing her buttons. “I know you’ve always wanted me to put my hands on you.” Sage pointed a finger at his crotch. “How about now?”
“Rain check?” His impish smile never faltered as he quick-stepped backwards into the apartment, putting himself just out of harm’s way. “Would you look at the time? Junior should be waking from his nap, and he’ll want a snack. They throw such temper tantrums when they’re hungry.”
Josh cleared his throat. “How long do I have to wait to see Matt?”
“Let me make sure he is fed and washed and cleaned his room,” Zack answered. “Maybe, if he’s been a very good boy, we can arrange a little play date for you two kids. How’s the tenth of never?”
“Keep with the baby talk, and I swear I’ll smack that stupid grin right off your face,” Sage grumbled at Zack’s over-the-top impression of a doting parent.
“You owe me, remember?” Zack waggled a finger at her.
“One swift kick in the butt,” Sage snarked at him. “Yep. And I’m ready to pay up.”
“She loves me. It’s just all this stress getting to her,” Zack assured Josh. “New parent troubles and all. She’s busy all day, and I’m here slaving away with the newborn. We’ll work through these issues, I’m sure. Love will out, as they say.”
“One more word, Zack. Just one.” She narrowed her eyes threateningly at him.
“Love you, too, baby!” Zack blew her a kiss as he backed away and closed the door before she could stop him.
As annoyed as she was at Zack’s antics, Josh matched her with anguish. He didn’t need to say anything; it was there etched into the lines across his forehead and the slight quiver of his lips.
“I’m truly sorry. Hate me if you need to, but please understand I tried to save him. You know how much I love Matt. He’s family.”
“I don’t know what to do.” Josh hung his head and turned away. “How can I have a relationship with him this way? What if he…? What if I…?” Hunched over with defeat, he paced the small patio in front of her door. “I don’t know how to deal with this.”
“You have love.” She reached out and took Josh’s shoulder, reeling him in to face her.
They were both in pain. She desperately wanted to hug him, so they could share in a good ugly cry, but she was responsible for his anguish. She had no right to pretend her pain equaled his.
She swallowed her emotions. Brave face time. Make him feel all will be well. That’s what Josh needed. “There is no reason to make rash decisions right now. He needs time to adjust, and so do you. Think of it like one of your business trips. You’re gone for months sometimes. Now the shoe is on the other foot. You can still call him. Talk to him when he’s up and moving. You’ll see. He’s still the same Matt you love.”
“How long do I have to wait to see him? To hold him?” Josh shrugged free of her grip and turned to kick the concrete staircase that led to the upstairs apartments. “I miss him so much already.”
“Remember that. Remember how much you love him. Because no matter what has changed him, he is still the same guy. He will still love you.”
“But he’ll love blood more.” Zack’s voice came muffled through the thin walls.
Sage growled loud enough for the neighbors to hear. She definitely owed Zack a swift kick in the pants for that ill-timed comment.
“Don’t listen to him,” she assured Josh. “Love is powerful. You’ll see. He’s just got to learn control.”
“What if he doesn’t?”
It broke her heart to see Josh in such pain. They were all helpless to do anything but wait and see how Matt managed his newly enhanced state.
“If that jerk in there can manage to control his urges, so can Matt.” She put as much conviction in her voice as she could. “He’s ten times the man Zack is.”
“I want to believe you.” His chin quivered as he took a steadying breath and gulped down the air.
Sage admired his control. Even if Josh didn’t feel he was controlling himself, she recognized the immense strength he was employing. She’d been a blubbering mess for days after it all went down.
“A week ago, I didn’t know vampires existed. A week ago, you said you’d keep your work away from our home. And now…” Josh jabbed a finger toward her apartment. “This.”
He had her there. “I got nothing. I failed us all. I have apologized, and I will continue to apologize for all eternity. But, even if you have lost faith in me, don’t lose faith in Matt.”
“Faith,” Josh scoffed and turned on his heel. “I don’t know what that word means anymore.” He walked away without another look back, leaving the fate of his relationship in the air.
As if Sage didn’t have enough to deal with. No way was she telling Matt his boyfriend might not want to continue dating him as a vampire. So much for the power of love.

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