Authors: Kim Harrison
To the man who knows what makes the perfect date night
I'd like to thank my editor, Diana Gill, for her fabulous insights that make the Hollows the most it can be, and my agent, Richard Curtis, for seeing it before I did.
ow does the man make checkered shirts and pastels look good?
I thought as Trent lined up his drive, head down and feet shifting, looking oddly appealing outside of the suit and tie I usually saw him in. The rest of his team and their caddies were watching him as well, but I doubted they were rating the way his shoulders pulled the soft fabric, or how the sun shone through his almost translucent blond hair drifting about his ears, or how the shadows made his slim waist look even trimmer, unhidden beneath a suit coat for a change. I found myself holding my breath as he coiled up, exhaling as he untwisted and the flat of the club hit the ball with a ping.
“Yeah, the elf looks good in the sun,” Jenks smart-mouthed, the pixy currently sitting on the bottom of my hooped earrings and out of the moderate wind. “When you going to put us all out of your misery and boink him?”
“Don't start with me.” With a hand held up to shade my eyes, I watched the ball begin to descend.
“All I'm saying is you've been dating him for three months. Most guys you date are either dead or running scared by now.”
The ball hit with an audible thump, rolling onto the par-three green. Something in me fluttered at Trent's pleased smile as he squinted in the sun.
Damn it, I'm not doing this.
“I'm not dating him, I'm working his security,” I muttered.
“This is work?” Wings humming, the pixy darted off my earring, flying ahead to do a redundant check of the area before we walked into it.
Jenks's silver dust quickly vanished in the July heat, and I felt a moment of angst as Trent accepted the congratulations of his team. He looked relaxed and easy out here, the calm he usually affected true instead of fabricated. I liked seeing him this way, and feeling guilty, I dropped my gaze. I had no business even caring.
As one, the rest started to the green with a clinking of clubs and masculine chatter, undoubtedly feeling pushed by the next team waiting just off the tee. The big guy in the lime-green pants had been talking loudly the entire time, trying to throw Trent's game off, no doubt, but Trent had outplotted corporate takeovers, evaded genetic trafficking charges, slipped murder accusations, and survived demon attacks. One overweight man huffing and puffing for him to move faster would not break his cool.
Sure enough, Trent needlessly fussed over the divot as the rest went on ahead, refusing to relinquish the tee area until he was ready. Smirking, I hoisted his bag, the three other clubs he used clinking lightly as I came to take his driver. I wasn't a caddie, but it was the only way they'd let me on the course and there was no way that Trent would ever be in public without some kind of security.
Even if he could take care of himself,
I thought, smiling as I took his club and our separate paces became one.
My God, it's nice out here.
“Subtle,” I said as we found the manicured grass, and he snorted to make me flush, not because I'd seen through him, but because I was one of the few people Trent would drop his mask around. It shouldn't have been that important. But it was.
What am I doing?
“Watch the guy in the green pants,” he said, looking over his shoulder. “He has a tendency to drop his ball into the players ahead of him.”
“Sure.” Head down, I paced beside Trent, his clubs banging into my back, feeling as if I belonged there almost. I'd been working with him the last three months while Quen, Trent's usual security adviser, was on the West Coast with the girls. This new feeling of .Â .Â . responsibility, I guess, bothered me. Jenks's words, though crass, had been echoing in my thoughts in quiet moments, and I looked at Trent's hand, wishing I had the right to take it.
“Are you okay?”
I looked up, almost panicking. “Sure. Why?”
Trent's eyes ran over me as if searching for the truth. “You're quiet today.”
I was quiet today? Meaning we'd been spending enough time together that he knew the difference. Forcing a smile, I handed him his putter. “Just trying to stay in the background.”
He took it, eyebrows high, and I'd swear I heard him sigh as he turned away. Head coming up, he stepped onto the green and joined in the light banter between the other CEOs. My heart was pounding, and I dragged my melancholy ass out of the way to rest under the shade of the storm shelter.
“Just trying to stay in the background,” Jenks said in a high falsetto. “My God, woman. Your aura is glowing. Just admit you like him, bump uglies, and get on with your life!”
“Jenks!” I exclaimed, then wiggled my fingers apologetically at the man lining up his putt.
Smirking, Jenks landed on the storm shelter's rafters, his hand carefully going over a small wing tear to even out a raw edge. “That's how pixies know we're in love,” he said as he folded his dragonfly-like wings and wiggled out of his red jacket, wincing as something pulled. “If the girl has glow, she won't say no.”
“Nice.” Arms over my middle, I set the bag down and watched Trent, glad the girls were coming back tomorrow. With Quen taking up security, I'd be able to wrap my head around reality. I was confusing my work with everything elseâand I was done with being confused.
“How's Cookie Bits's game?” Jenks asked. “He looks as distracted as you.”
Frowning, I raised my hand as if to bop him, but it would never land. Cookie Bits. That's what Jenks had been calling Trent ever since he caught us sitting in his car outside the church after a job. I'd only wanted to hear the end of the news, but try telling Jenks that.
“Tink's little pink rosebuds, the local pixies are more stuck up than a fairy nailed to my church's steeple,” Jenks said, giving up on getting a rise out of me since it wasn't working. “I'm wearing red for a reason, not because I look good in it. Look! Look what they did to my coat!”
Disgusted, Jenks held up the bright red jacket Belle had made for him, poking his finger through a hole just under the armpit. I stiffened, suddenly seeing his small wing tear in a new way. A pixy wearing red should've been given free passage. I'd been seemingly everywhere in Cincinnati with Trent the last couple of months, but the country club was the worst. I hadn't known Jenks was having issues. He'd probably been too proud to tell me. “You okay?”
Jenks froze, his pale face becoming red and making his shock of curly blond hair look even more tousleable. His wings hummed, sifting a pale yellow dust that colored him from head to toe in working black. He looked like a theater guy, but the sword hanging from his belt was real enough, having had deterred everything from bees bothering his children to assassins bothering me.
“Yeah, sure,” he said, embarrassed. “I just don't like dodging arrows when I shouldn't have to. We're cool as a breath strip.” He squinted at me, head tilting. “You sure
all right? I'm serious about your aura glowing. You got a temp or something?”
“Jenks, I'm not in love,” I replied grumpily, ignoring the odd tingle rising through me as Trent crouched to line up his putt. Cincinnati's ley lines were faint but discernible, the upwellings of power usable even at this distance if not for the course's ward of no-magic, in place to prevent tampering with the game. I'd found a way around it weeks ago. But it almost felt as if there were a line the next hole over, and I looked back the way we'd come.
That big man in the lime-green pants was standing between the markers with his club. We were too close for them to be teeing off, but even the practice swings were making me nervous. It was only a par threeâas in “on the green in one drive.”
“Ah, Rache?” Jenks rose up, hovering by my ear as Mr. Lime-Green Pants swung. There was the crack of a ball, and my heart jumped. “Oh no he didn't!” Jenks said, and I stiffened, tracking the ball's path.
“What do you think?” I whispered, skin tingling as if I'd tapped a line already.
“I think it's going to be a problem.”
“Fore!” I shouted, lurching out into the sun. Heads turned and Trent remained crouched where he was. Instinctively I sent out a ribbon of awareness, easily bypassing the no-magic ward and tapping the nearest ley line. Energy flowed in with an unusual sharpness, burning the inside of my nose as it seemed to come from everywhere, not just the line, as I filled my chi and forced the energy back out through the pathway of nerves and synapses to my hands.
My eyes widened as I tracked the ball's path, energy burning as it flowed in smaller and smaller channels until it reached my fingertips. Shit, it was headed right for him.
” I shouted, hand moving in the simple gesture that harnessed the ley line charm and gave it direction. It was a small spell, one I'd been using for weeks to tweak Trent's ball to make him slice as I practiced getting around the course's no-magic ward. It wasn't much, but it would divert the ball's path from the green. I didn't even need a focusing object anymore.
My intent sped from me with the surety of an electron spinning. I watched, breath held, as it headed for the ball arching down. Men were scattering, but Trent stood firm, confident that I had this.
And then the charm hit the ball, pain flaring simultaneously from my gesture hand.
I yelped, clutching my wrist as a thunderous boom shook the air, flinging me back to land on my butt. Shocked, I stared as chunks of sod and dirt rained down. Men were shouting, and Jenks was swearing, tangled up in my hair. My lips parted, and I blinked at the car-size crater ten feet off the green and in the fairway. “That wasn't there before, was it?” I said, dazed.
“No fairy farting way!” Jenks said, my tangled red curls pulling as he worked his way out. “Did you have to explode it? My God, woman!”
My hand burned, and I didn't dare rub at the stinging red flesh. Dirt and grass were still coming down, and people were running in from all points. From the nearby clubhouse came an irritating hooting. “I think I broke the course's ward,” I said, awkward as I got up and brushed myself off with my good hand.
“You think?” Jenks sifted a glittering silver dust as he darted in excitement. “A little protective, are we?”
Peeved, I frowned. My control was better than this, much better. I shouldn't have tweaked the no-magic ward, much less exploded the ball, even if I had shouted the word of invocation. The men in their pastels and plaids were clustered together talking loudly. The other caddies were in their own group, staring at me. Arms swinging aggressively, Mr. Lime-Green Pants strode forward, distant but closing the gap. The rest of his team stayed on the tee.
Calm and relaxed as always, Trent meandered over, squinting at me from under his cap. “Are you okay?”
Embarrassed, I brushed a chunk of dirt off him. “Yeah,” I said, hand hurting. “I mean, yes. Does my aura look funny to you?”
“No.” My head jerked up as he took my hand, turning it over to look at my red fingertips. “You're burned!” he said softly, shocked, and I pulled away.
“I am so sorry,” I said, hiding it behind my back, but I could feel the sensation of pinpricks as Jenks, sifting dust down on it, checked it out himself. “I only tapped it. It shouldn't have exploded. I didn't use any more line strength than any other time.”
Jenks snickered and I froze, mortified as I watched understanding cross Trent's face.
“You .Â .Â .” he started, and I flushed. “All last month?”
“Now it's out, Rache,” Jenks said, then darted away to check out the crater.
Wincing, I nodded, but Trent's expression was one of amusement, almost laughing as he touched my arm to tell me he thought my messing with his game was funny. That is, until his gaze went past my shoulder to the man in the lime-green pants stomping down the fairway. Trent's hand fell from me with a reluctant slowness, and his attention shifted to his team, waiting to find out what had happened. “This isn't going to be pretty.”
The guilt swam up anew. “I'm really sorry. It shouldn't have happened. Trent, you know I'm better than this!” I said. But it was hard to argue with a ten-foot hole in the ground.
Jenks hummed close to drop the twisted mass of rubber and plastic into Trent's hand. “Dude, it looks like a giant spider scrotum. Damn, Rache! What did you do to it?”
Trent held the thing with two fingers. “I'll take care of it,” he said, making me feel small. “Don't worry about it. No one got hurt. They can use a sand trap on this hole anyway.”
“Yeah.” Jenks landed on Trent's shoulder, looking right there somehow. “It could have been an assassination attempt, and your charm prematurely triggered it.”
I jerked upright, embarrassment gone. “Excuse me,” I said as I snatched the ball away, wanting to do some postinvocation tests on it later. Eyes narrowed, I turned to Mr. Lime-Green Pants, his pace slowing as he huffed red-faced up the slight rise.
“Rachel .Â .Â .” Trent said in warning, and I got in front of him, the ley line humming through me, prickly through the course's no-magic ward. The alarm had stopped, and the ward was back in place. Not that it mattered.
“He doesn't look like an assassin,” Jenks said.
“And I don't look like a demon,” I said, pulse fast. “Do another sweep, will you?”
“You got it.”
“Rachel, it was an accident,” Trent said as Jenks darted away, but there was a new slant to his eyes that hadn't been there a second ago.
“It blew up,” I said tightly. “Don't let him touch you.”
Worry crossed his face, satisfying me that he was taking it seriously, and together we turned to the man, puffing and sweating as he stormed closer. “Where the hell is my ball?” the big man shouted, clearly enjoying that everyone was watching him.
Calm as ever, Trent smiled soothingly. “I am sorry, Mr. .Â .Â .”
“Limbcus,” the man in the green pants said, and I pulled Trent back a step.