And, here's the truth.
“What time are you coming home?”
Duke paused, one hand on the refrigerator door, and pulled the phone away from his ear. He scowled at it as if the woman on the other end of the line could see him. “The hell?”
“Stop glaring and check the calendar, dork.”
The laughter in Viola’s voice did nothing to soothe his rattled nerves. He walked around a dozing Finn and squinted at the calendar tacked to the side of a cabinet. He wasn’t used to calendars. Aside from Network rotation scheduling, he’d never had to keep track of where he was going or what he was doing. The calendar was Viola’s idea, which made him laugh because she the most chaotic, impulsive person he knew. She’d insisted, though, on jotting down every appointment in tiny letters and nagging him until he did the same.
‘Dinner with A’ was written in the small box for that day. His scowl deepened. Why did she have to rely on the calendar? Couldn’t she simply have told him about her dinner plans? Who was ‘A’ anyway?
“Who’re you having dinner with, Vi?”
Duke exhaled noisily, counted to ten. He reminded himself that throttling his wife was a no-no. “Who?”
“Aaron Montemayor,” she said. “My best friend in high school. My one Network recruit.”
“Blue Mohawk dude!”
“Yeah, you know he got rid of that right after graduation, right?” Viola paused, hummed under her breath. “I guess he didn’t figure it would go over well in El Paso.”
Duke flushed and clamped down on their mental link. If Viola knew that he’d been the one to banish her best friend, the kid who’d clung to her like a puppy, to the other end of the state she’d kill him. It didn’t feel right to claim that jealousy had prompted him to assign Aaron to El Paso, but something had urged him to get the kid as far from Viola as possible.
“I guess not,” Duke responded once he’d cleared the lump from his throat.
“Anyway, it’ll be good to see him. We’ve kept up through e-mail and phone calls, but it’s been a couple of years since our last face-to-face convo.” Viola’s happiness was evident in her tone. A flare of jealousy burned in Duke’s gut. He was the only one supposed to make her sound that way.
“Sounds like you miss him.”
“Yeah.” Viola sighed wistfully. “I guess I do.”
Duke’s fist clenched, the phone’s plastic casing creaked. A growl rumbled in his chest. “Vi…”
“Hey, wow, it’s later than I thought. I need to run up to my apartment and change clothes before I meet A. I’ll call you on my way home, okay?”
“Whatever.” Blown off for a friend. A guy friend. A guy friend who’d had a crush on her so evident Sebastian had commented on it. Duke briefly considered using the GPS tracker in her phone to follow her and spy on her ‘dinner’ with Aaron the potential wife stealer.
“Hey,” she snapped, having caught his last thought. “I love you.”
That made him feel marginally better. “I know.”
“I love you, too.” Duke grinned. Take that, Mohawk boy! “Brat.”
Three hours later, he was ready to act on his earlier idea. He had to sit on his hands to keep himself from reaching for his laptop. A blast of cold air across his face distracted him from clock’s ticking second hand. His heart sank. His father had stopped by to visit, but the ghost-to-human translator was out. With her friend.
“Sorry, Dad. Vi’s not home.” He sighed dejectedly, before inspiration struck. He turned his head towards the lingering cold spot. “You could go see her, though. Just… check up on her, you know.”
Icy air whipped across his face. He frowned. “She’s having dinner with a friend, Dad. A male friend. An old male friend.” Another shockingly cold blast of air stung his cheeks. “Please?”
The air disappeared. Duke didn’t know if his father had gone in search of Viola to spy on her or to tattle. Knowing his father, his money was on tattling. Duke sank deeper into the couch cushions. He might as well get used to the couch. It would undoubtedly be his sleeping spot for the next couple of days.
Two hours after his father’s short visit, Duke’s phone rang. He scrambled for it with a haste that, had anyone been home to see it, would have been embarrassing. Viola’s name flashed on the screen. He pressed the button to accept the call and held the phone up to his ear braced for a tongue-lashing.
“Tobias,” Viola gasped.
Duke’s heart shot to his throat. He couldn’t tell if it was a good gasp or a bad gasp. Was she injured? Hurt? In a car accident? Being mugged? Being kissed breathless by her former friend?
“Get to the corner of Crosstimbers and 45 right now,” she instructed, voice raspy with a tinge of giddiness.
“Why?” Duke shot out of the chair. He shoved his feet into his boots, quickly tied the laces, and grabbed his jacket off the rack beside the door. He snatched his keys off the small table as well as his favorite gun. It would do for demons and wife-kissing old friends.
“Dliains. Three of them. Come on!”
They weren’t on rotation, but he knew the pair on schedule had been called out to a sighting in Galveston. He wasn’t sure how Viola had known that, but he didn’t care. There were demons near his wife. She could take care of herself, but… “I’ll be there in a few.”
He found her perched on her SUV’s rear bumper. She held out her gloved hands when he was within arm’s reach and tilted her face up for a kiss. Gentleman that his father had raised him to be, he obliged his lovely wife. She tasted like dark chocolate and pinot noir. His lips thinned. Dessert and wine? What happened to friends meeting over pizza or hamburgers? And why was she wearing a skirt?
Oblivious to Duke’s mounting anger, Viola pointed towards a dark side street. “They went down there. There are three foreclosed houses at the end of the block. I think that’s where they’re hiding out.”
“Aaron’s a Tracker and is probably closer. Why didn’t you call him when you spotted them?”
Viola cocked her head to the side and arched an eyebrow. Was he upset that she’d called him? “I saw a demon and I called you.” Perplexed, she shrugged. “Instinct, I guess.”
The knot in Duke’s stomach eased. Her first instinct was to call him. He could work with that. “How was your dinner?”
“Absolutely wonderful.” A bright smile lit up her face. She rested her cheek on his shoulder. “I didn’t realize just how much I’ve missed A until I saw him. It was as easy to talk to him as it was when we were kids. We could have sat there for hours.”
The knot tightened. He was easy to talk to, wasn’t he? They had conversations and comfortable silences and their own private jokes. Aside from questionable fashion-sense and horrid taste in music, Aaron didn’t have anything Duke couldn’t offer Viola.
A small hand slapping his shoulder snapped him out of his reverie. He glared down at his wife. “What was that for?”
“Telling your dad to come spy on my dinner with A.”
“Oh.” He winced when she hit him in the same spot again. “What the hell was that one for?”
“Sending A to El Paso. He didn’t know anyone out there and his family lives here. We always need Trackers in Houston. What was wrong with you?” Her hazel eyes narrowed in suspicion. “It wasn’t because of me, was it?”
“He was in love with you!” The words burst from Duke’s lips before he could stop them. He kicked himself for sounding like a jealous idiot. The last thing he needed to do was give Viola ammunition to use against him.
“Yeah.” Viola wrinkled her nose. “He got over that towards the end of senior year. It was a good thing, too. I hated hurting him like that.” She chewed on her lip and stared at him through her lashes. “You were worried about me having dinner with him tonight?”
“You two were best friends. You brought him into the Network. He… you ran track together, and you had all your little goth jokes, and he listens to the same music you do. I might have been a little concerned. Justifiably concerned.”
“You are such a dork.” Viola chuckled as she playfully punched his arm. “Don’t you know that I’ve been yours since you hit that demon with the baseball bat and pulled the Lefla spike out of my toe?”
Duke flushed guiltily. He did know that. At the time it had made him slightly uncomfortable, but looking back he felt flattered and a tad ashamed. Viola hadn’t bothered disguising her feelings while he’d ignored what was right in front of him. “I’m sorry, sweetness. For now and then.”
Having followed his leaps of logic through their link, she shook her head and patted his cheek. “Don’t make me sound like a saint, Tobias. While it’s always been you, I can’t say I haven’t been tempted a time or two.”
“Charlie,” he guessed, remembering that the deceased Tracker had been her prom date.
“Mmm-hmm,” she agreed, smile growing. “And there was that summer Jeremy Whittier trained with Max before going overseas. I was totally in lust with him. Those abs and that rich, bad boy vibe? Yum-my.”
She giggled happily. “Oh, please. I had to live through your Candis and Mandys and Lisas and Jennys. Don’t be a hypocrite.”
He growled, but didn’t complain. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her lips to the warm skin behind his ear. “I have never, in my life, loved anyone more than I love you, Tobias Duke, and I never will.”
Duke nodded. He wanted to respond, but couldn’t get his vocal cords to work. He hoped she felt his overwhelming love through their link. He turned his head and captured her lips for another taste of chocolate and pinot noir. The combination was growing on him.
“Now,” he murmured against her lips when they broke for oxygen, “about those demons…”