Hallie, September, New Orleans
“The only reason you want my help is so you can see my girls in a corset,” I said.
“Hallie. Keep it real.” Poe rolled his eyes. “I know those aren’t yours.”
I launched a thigh-high boot at his head but missed, leaving a black mark on my bedroom wall.
Poe Sharpe was built like a spark plug, compact and hard, with an imperfect face that always made girls take a second look. Probably as they tried to figure out why he was attractive. I chalked it up to his smile, his swagger, and an unhealthy amount of leather.
“Why can’t you just pop in and be done with the whole thing?” I asked.
“You have to distract the front man so I can get the job done,” Poe answered, with a fair amount of tolerance for all the bitching I was doing.
“I’m just saying,” I grumbled as I laced up the other boot, “that there’s no point in being able to teleport if you still need a sidekick. I could be doing something more useful.” And more exciting.
“Don’t call it teleporting. It maxes out my geek factor.” He pushed away from the wall. “And I like to think of you as my companion.”
“Only if I get to be Amy Pond.”
I sighed. “How can you call yourself British and not know who—”
“Hurry up. You know how he gets when we aren’t on time.” He was referring to Paul Girard, who didn’t like to be kept waiting by anyone, especially his daughter.
“Out.” I pointed at my door. “I need to finish getting dressed, and I’m not putting on a free show here.”
“Even if I drop a couple of dollars?”
“Not even if you make it rain.”
Grinning, he tossed my boot back and headed downstairs to my father’s office, whistling, “Brown Eyed Girl.”
My eyes were hazel.
Poe and I had started circling each other the day we met two years ago. He carried his sexy in a dangerous way. Bonus, he could teleport right into my bedroom. By the time my dad caught us in a “delicate” situation, we’d discovered we were better friends than friends with benefits. The fact that my dad allowed Poe to walk out of our house alive that night confirmed his worth. A regular guy would’ve left in a body bag.
I continued lacing my boot while staring at my lips in the mirror, concentrating on making them bigger, smaller, wider, thinner. I’d learned how to go chameleon and stay that way when I was twelve. My body was considerably top-heavy for the next couple of years, but there was no one around to impress. No one appropriate, anyway. Holding a different shape for too long made me tired, and the novelty wore off, so now, at seventeen, I looked like me unless I was on a job. Barely a B cup.
I could transmutate, much like Mystique of X-Men fame, but with zero blue skin and much better hair. Of course, her boobs reigned superior. My cells didn’t follow the same rules of time everyone else’s did. They regenerated constantly. I could speed them up or slow them down, manipulate them into different shapes, sizes, even colors. Handy in a pinch. Or in a theft.
Today’s mark was Skeevy’s Pawnshop. All the intelligence I’d gathered—in a different meat suit each time—supported the fact that the shop perfectly fit its name. Dusty glass cases held jewelry, firearms, guitars—the usual pawnshop fodder. They also displayed the forsaken dreams the items represented, but those outlines weren’t quite as clear.
Through the back door of Skeevy’s existed a mysterious space that rivaled the Vatican’s secret archives. Instead of papal secrets, it housed much trashier cousins.
Tonight, Poe and I were responsible for stealing one of its most prized items and delivering it to my father.
Type Paul Girard into a search engine, and you could find anything from white lies to blatant truths. Rumors that he was a mob boss, a drug lord, or an arms dealer.
In truth, he headed up a worldwide conglomerate: Girard Industries. Privately funded, with anonymous investors and elusive headquarters. Or as legit as my father could go and still make the kind of money to which he’d become accustomed.
Girard Industries’ enormous umbrella hid one business in particular.
Add to this the suggestion of my dad’s gangster reputation, the rumors that swirled about how honest his business practices were, and the amount of enemies he’d created in the past twenty years, and the sum equaled bodyguards and fear and my ivory-tower life. The only time Dad let me out of the house without a bodyguard was to do jobs for Chronos, and even then he had a security detail on me 50 percent of the time. No better way to manipulate a daddy than by putting his little girl on the firing line.
More than one hit had been put out on Paul Girard. Only one had been put out on me. My transmutation gene had allowed my body to heal before I bled out.
Others hadn’t been so lucky.
My phone chirped, and without looking, I knew it was Poe texting from my dad’s office, telling me to hurry. I pulled on a T-shirt over my corset and taffeta tutu and headed downstairs.
Once Dad learned about things like time travel, teleportation, remote viewing, and psychometry, it wasn’t a huge leap for him to figure out the best way to use them. He was the leading dealer in the “special” artifacts black market. I could’ve called him a magical mafia boss, but I wouldn’t. Not to his face, anyway.
Poe and I were partners. He could teleport. I could change my appearance, change it again, and change it some more. He could get in and out of places quickly. I could gather intel, ask questions, and cause distractions, all in a hundred different disguises.
There were veils in the fabric of time. Poe once compared them to waiting rooms for wormholes, and they were his conduits to teleporting in and out of places. I could see them, like solid walls of water in the atmosphere, but only Poe could get into them, which meant I had to take a lot of cabs.
I found my ability infinitely more valuable than Poe’s, but my father didn’t seem to agree.
“The guy behind the counter will be alone,” Dad said. “Hallie will distract him. You’ll handle everything else.”
Even though he’d made a point of waiting for me to walk through his office door to go over the rundown of tonight’s activities, Dad spoke directly to Poe, like I wasn’t even in the room.
“Why does Poe always take care of the big stuff?” I asked.
A lesser woman might be too intimidated to speak up, but when you went through puberty with Paul Girard for a father and no mother as a buffer, tough was a by-product. He would accept nothing less.
He ignored me and kept talking to Poe. “You’re the only one I want in the back of the shop.”
“Yes, sir,” Poe said. I’d never seen him be subservient to anyone except for my father, and it was because my dad was a scary mother trucker.
Even so, subservience wasn’t in my repertoire. I resented playing the part of the sidekick again, and Dad knew it. I wanted to make sure he knew it.
Dad continued, “All the scouting work we did—”
I interrupted. “You mean, all the scouting work I did.”
Dad’s dark-eyed stare was created to intimidate, and his mere presence was effective enough to sway most people into going along with anything he said, but I wasn’t backing down.