Viola stared at the scuffed toes of her favorite black boots. She could feel the eyes boring into her but had no desire to meet them. It was taking all her self-control to remain in the chair and not bolt out of the room. She felt like merely being in the federal building was betraying her father.
A large, familiar hand obscured her view of her boots. Fingers snapped in front of her eyes. Startled, she jerked back and raised her head. Her hazel eyes narrowed at the angry face only inches away.
“Are you even listening?”
Viola tossed her head back, wishing for the first time in two years that she hadn’t cut all her hair off, and pursed her lips. “’Your mentor is not just there to train you on how to capture or kill demons but which demons are hostile and which are to be treated as allies. Your mentor must be obeyed at all times. Failure to do so could result in your death or the death of innocent bystanders.’”
Duke wasn’t mollified by her bland recitation. So what if she’d heard him, had she actually listened to what he and Abelardo had said? He smiled apologetically at Abelardo. Viola was his best friend’s little sister and, when she wasn’t frustrating the hell out of him, his friend. Of sorts. He felt responsible for her and for taking her seriously when she’d expressed an interest in being mentored.
He grabbed her by the elbow and hauled her out of the chair. “Come on, kiddo. I’m taking you back home.”
Viola dug in her heels. She wrapped a hand around the arm of the chair bolted to the floor. “No! Wait! Hold on, Toby, I’m sorry.” She huffed in relief when Duke stopped dragging her towards the door. “Look, I’m not a fresh off the street recruit. I’ve spent years studying with Granny and my …,” she broke off, swallowed heavily, “my father.”
Though he silently called himself a naïve fool, Duke’s eyes softened. He knew how hard her father’s disappearance had been on the kid. Six months after Gerard Ashwood had first vanished she still couldn’t say his name without breaking down. “You have to take this seriously, Vi.”
She nodded. “I know.”
“Max Sparks is the best mentor you could ask for,” Abelardo said, speaking up for the first time since Duke had interrupted his speech. “He’ll be hard on you, but he’ll teach you right.”
“Okay.” Viola glanced down at the faded carpet, blinked back tears. Even if Max Sparks was the best Tracker in the history of the Network, he was still her second choice for mentor. She and her father had spent years talking about what he’d teach her when she was old enough. It sucked beyond belief that he’d disappeared before she was considered ready for Network training.
Part of her wanted to wait to start the training. If she held out another six months, her father was bound to show up. She’d give him the cold shoulder for a day or two, forgive him, and then they could start turning those dreams into reality.
The logical part of her, however, realized that if she wanted to search for her father she needed Network training. She couldn’t get Network training without a mentor. Neither Sebastian nor Duke were experienced enough to be a mentor, so she had no alternative but to rely on who the great Network whatevers on high picked out of a hat. Max Sparks wasn’t her first choice for mentor, but she’d wring every ounce of knowledge out of him nonetheless.
“Hey.” Duke lifted her head up with a finger under her chin. His blue eyes were warm with sympathy. “We don’t have to do this now if you don’t want to, Shortcake.”
“No. It’s okay.” She shook her head. Her throat ached, every word felt like ground glass scraping across her throat. She clamped down on her mental shields so Duke wouldn’t see the truth behind her lie. “I’m ready. I want Max to be my mentor.”