Amadhay almost left without checking on Atlas, but at the last moment, she decided it couldn’t hurt.
After all, Mayday probably needed to pee. She didn’t want cat pee in her room because she hadn’t let the kitten out to do his business.
So now she was standing outside of her door, wanting to go in and be sure that he was still there and that her room wasn’t a mess, but also extremely wary. There was something weird going on. How had she captured Atlas and why was he staying? Why was he ordering her to capture more of his people? Was he planning on throwing a coup while here? That wouldn’t work. Even the self-serving members who weren’t loyal to her uncle, Punishment, or some other important member were still with the Phoegani because it worked in well with their plans. Did he need the others to break out? Hardly. She snorted. He had walked out of the interrogation room, talked to Phoegani members, and come right to her room without any problem. No, he was staying here for a reason, and she wasn’t simply going to believe that it was because she amused him enough that he wanted to answer more of her questions.
Except, it was looking a lot like that actually might really be the point. Either that or he was culling his herd, knowing that she was more likely to kill his agents than to bring them in. Well, if that was the plan, she was outdoing him because she had two, so far, out of the three he had told her to get, and neither were dead. Pretty badly hurt when she had last looked at them, but not dead. So even if he was planning something with them, it wasn’t looking good in his favor.
There was that chill again. Atlas was in there all right, she decided without even having to open the door. He was inside and touching the barrier. She let out a soft moan before she caught herself and knew he heard it when she heard him chuckle and felt him stroke the barrier again, which told her that he knew full well what he was doing when he touched it. Amadhay had to lean forward, with her head touching the door when the stroking continued, spreading the chill from her center and through her limbs. She nearly lost her footing when it abruptly stopped.
It was as if it had never happened. All of the cold, comfortingly arousing tingles disappeared. Unlike the first time, when it had faded slowly, this time she felt nothing. If anything, it made her feel lacking. That was what scared her so much, and anything that scared her inevitably led to her taking action.
She swung her door open and walked right into the barrier. She had never done that before and, honestly, it didn’t occur to her until the sheer power of the barrier slammed into her skin that maybe she shouldn’t have. The barrier wavered and for a moment, everything in her vision was tinged the same purple of her aura. She felt the power surge through her, as if recharging and felt a boost of some unfamiliar power, one she knew wasn’t her own, one that felt so good that she closed her eyes, tilted her head back and enjoyed the ecstasy. Then, just like with the chill from earlier, it all left her and she stood there, feeling naked.
The barrier didn’t fall though, and that was all that was truly important in that moment. She could feel it at her back, making her hair rise into the air as the magical currents moved forever up and into the center of the bubble. She almost swore that she could hear it, which she had never been able to before. It felt stronger than before, strong enough to hold anyone, Atlas Palnoki being no exception.
It was that thought that suddenly reminded her she had come to check on Atlas and his cat, not be aroused by strange magic, and certainly not to let him see her in such an incredibly intimate and vulnerable moment. She opened her eyes to look for him and didn’t have to look too far, because he was standing right in front of her, bent at the waist and leaning forward so that he was looking her directly in the eyes. She would have flinched, but there was such unbridled curiosity, such impassioned want in his eyes that she frowned instead. He grinned.
“Nice to see you back, beautiful,” he flirted with her. It did nothing to diminish the slight fear she was beginning to feel. What did he want?
“Why are you here?” she whispered.
“You brought me here,” he countered.
“Not to my room,” she replied, strength returning to her voice as she narrowed her eyes and took a small step forward so that there was even less space between the two of them. “I brought you to the Phoegani. You let me bring you here. And then, when you had an easy way out, you came to my room. Maybe you’re still here because I bound you here, but I don’t think so. You’re more powerful than that.”
“Am I?” he asked with a grin, standing up straight so that she was forced to look up at him.
“You are,” she decided. “So now I’m trying to figure out what kind of game you’re playing. You let me bring you here. You told me some bit of your plans so that Lord Phoeganis would have me continue to interrogate you. You made sure Darach knew you were here. You sent me after three of your operatives. You sent me and Benjy out into the field when he wasn’t needed and could have been permanently killed.” His eyes narrowed at the words ‘could have been,’ and she knew she was on the right track.
“You got free and instead of leaving, sought me out. You stayed here, in my barrier, in my room and didn’t try to get free, or I would have known.” The look Atlas was wearing was not the bored, not the amused, not even the curious ones he had been wearing interchangeably all day. No, the one he was giving her this time was pure danger.
“So I’ll ask again. Why are you here? And why me? What game are you playing, Atlas Palnoki?”
Instead of answering, he moved slowly, reaching his arm out to her. She didn’t move, staring at him, challenging him. His hand made it to her face and slowly, gently, so lightly that it was barely a touch, he stroked her face with the back of his pointer finger. Starting at the bottom of her ear, his finger moved from there to her cheek, where he traced her left spoor before trailing down to her mouth.
His finger brushed her bottom lip first, tracing under it before touching the reddened flesh of her lips, tracing between her two lips before going back down to her bottom lip, to the undercurve between her lip and chin and finally, to her chin. He grasped her chin lightly with all five fingers of that hand and tilted her head farther up until she was positive that he was going to kiss her. He leaned down again, this time his eyes focused on her lips until he was only centimeters away from her, almost kissing her.
“You ask too many question,” he told her, staying close. She could smell mint on his breath mingling with what she was beginning to recognize as his natural smell of fire. “I may be playing a game, but you hold all the pieces.”
Amadhay was barely breathing when his eyes moved from her lips and up, instead to her eyes. She knew they were too wide from surprise, but didn’t look away from him.
“Mitch will be in his safe house in Ridden. It is a tavern called Byrd’s Pub. He’s in room 12. You look enough like your sister that you can use a glamour to cover your spoors and fix your eye color and he won’t know the difference. Lead him far enough away from the tavern that you won’t have to deal with any of his associates and it will be easy for you to detain him and bring him back. Do that and everything will be up to you.”
Amadhay nodded slowly, feeling a strange sense of purpose. If she had the winning hand, she could get back on everyone’s good side. She could seriously collapse the Palnoki even if she was playing right into Atlas’ hands. All she had to do was kill the three Palnokians if something went wrong.
Atlas grinned at her, pulling back so that he was no longer in kissing range. “Go on then. I’ll still be here when you get back.” She didn’t doubt that for a click.
As she was going, she couldn’t help but wonder what game she could be playing where she had all the pieces, but he had all the knowledge.