absolutely could not afford to be without the respite that his art gave him. But as he looked at Christian’s eyes staring at him from the paper on the floor, he knew he couldn’t risk it. He couldn’t draw. Sweat beaded on his brow at the thought of being without it. “No, I can handle this. She can’t control me—” “Hell, man!” Christian ripped the pen out of his hand, and Nigel saw he’d started to draw Christian on his own palm. Christian raised his sword to Nigel’s throat. “I love you, man, but I can’t go back. Not on her terms.” Tension rippled his body. “It’ll haunt me for centuries to do it, but if you try to draw me again, I’ll cut off your hands and pray you figure out how to regrow them.” Nigel swore and bunched his fist. Was he that weak that he couldn’t stop himself from drawing Christian? And who would be his victim after that? Blaine? Jarvis? He was a danger to them all. But without his art, he was an even greater danger. To them, to Natalie, to anyone he cared about. “I can do it. I need to draw—” “I don’t trust Mari.” Christian’s face was hard, but there was sympathy in his eyes. “You’ve got no chance if she’s decided to use you.” Nigel swore. A hundred and fifty years had taught them very clearly the limitations of their power against Mari and Angelica. Christian was right. Christian nodded. “We have to preempt her now.” He tapped his sword against Nigel’s wrists. “Give me permission.” “No.” He shoved Christian’s blade aside. “She wins if you take away my weapons.” Christian hesitated, then slowly lowered his sword. “Get help, then. Someone who can be louder in your head than Mari.” They didn’t have time for this. They needed to get Pascal back fast. Every minute he spent there was hell. “I can outtalk Mari—” “You really want to take that chance?” Nigel swore. Pascal was already gone. Christian was next. Did he dare risk it? His soul needed to draw anyway, and with Mari pushing at him… “Shit.” Christian nodded. “That about sums it up.” Who the hell could shut down Mari’s voice in his head? Alleviate his need to draw? He needed to focus his mind so he could strategize and think of a solution. To give him the peace that art gave him without actually picking up the pen. Natalie’s face flashed in his mind, and Nigel itched with the need to draw her. If he could have five minutes with her image, he could clear his head enough to find an answer. Natalie could help him, she could… Holy shit. Natalie could really help him. And not just by being an image he drew to calm himself. Natalie Fleming had a gift, a special gift that was exactly what he needed. But hell, he couldn’t ask her for help. She was the last person he dared to think about even when he had his art to keep him calm. Without it? Shit. She would be in such danger. He couldn’t risk her. But without her, he couldn’t save his team. He swore and lunged for the door. “I’ll meet you in an hour.” Christian frowned. “Where are you going?” “I gotta go see about a girl.” A girl who should be on her way to a safe haven in the tropics. A woman he’d sworn not to endanger by getting close to her. A beautiful soul that he would put in jeopardy with every second in her presence. He couldn’t afford to turn to her for help. Not for her sake. Not for his. But he couldn’t afford not to. God keep you safe from me, Natalie. But he knew that God couldn’t keep anyone safe. Not from him. Especially not Natalie Fleming.
Chapter 4 Still reeling from her failure with Dick Small and his flaccid rod-o-love, Natalie shuffled numbly across the store and flipped the sign on the door to Closed just as a police officer reached for the door handle. She met his gaze, and she saw the hopelessness in his eyes, the broken visage of a man who couldn’t figure out how to be a man on his own. “Please don’t close,” he said quietly.