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“Thanks for braving the hospital cafeteria with me.”
Jim smiled wryly at his twin and shook his head. “It’s the least I could do for the only sister I’ve got who actually likes me.”
“Kingston’s just angry at the world, Jim. She doesn’t hate us.”
“I wish I could believe that.” Jim drained his cup and seriously considered refilling it when one of the two cell phones sitting between them on the table started to buzz. “Yours or mine?”
“Mine,” Jade McCullough Kanton-Sterling said, snagging her phone and flipping it over so she could see the screen. “Damn. I have to go. They need me in surgery.”
Jim stood with her, tucking his own phone into his pocket. “Better hurry then.”
“Yeah.” She smiled. “Thank you, really, Jim.”
“It’s nothing. Call Bryn later, huh? We’ll have dinner or something. Mom can watch the kids.”
“Mom flew to Chicago this morning,” Jade said, grinning at him as she stood up and headed for the door. “She’s checking up on John. Something about a new boyfriend he wants her to meet, I think.”
“He didn’t say anything to me about a new boyfriend.”
“Ask your wife. She probably knows. Or B.”
“I’m not calling Brigid until she calls me,” Jim said. Jade looked at him askance and he shook his head. “Don’t ask.”
“I don’t have time to ask right now. You know your way out of here.”
“By now, I should hope so. Call Bryn.”
Jade waved over her shoulder and disappeared out the door, her footsteps breaking into a jog once she was in the corridor. Jim shook his head slightly, regarding his empty cup and once again contemplating a refill of iced tea. It was passable today, unlike other days.
I should really just get back to the office.
He caught sight of a familiar face out of the corner of his eye. His head came up and he blinked.
What the hell is Braedon Chandler doing here?
Jim abandoned thoughts of a refill and headed over toward the General of New York, who stared in abject disgust at the paper cup of coffee in his hand.
A quick glance up and Braedon had spotted him just as Jim was heading in his direction. Braedon took a sip of the coffee and frowned, then slipped out the doors on the opposite side of the cafeteria.
So that’s the game we’re going to play? Fine. I know this hospital better than you do, I’m pretty sure on that count.
It took all of four minutes for Jim to catch up with Braedon Chandler, only a little further down the corridor and no closer to an elevator than they’d been when they started.
“You know,” Jim said mildly, “you keep heading in that direction and you’ll end up causing problems for security, Braedon.”
“If I got into too much trouble, I would just buy the hospital and get myself out of it.” Braedon turned, his expression strangely blank. “It would make things easier for me anyway.”
“Cheeky,” Jim said, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Do I want to know what you’re doing here?”
The truth was that he really did, but he was fairly certain Braedon wasn’t going to tell him either way.
“Do you have the right to ask?” Braedon countered. “Or a warrant?”
Games. Always games. Jim quirked a brow, canting his head to one side. “Why would I have a warrant?”
“Why would I have to answer your questions if you don’t have the law on your side?”
Jim shrugged. “Professional courtesy?”
“Right. I forgot.”
Braedon smiled faintly and gave him a nod that felt more like a dismissal. The older man turned away, as if to leave.
Not so fast. “There are monsters in Chicago.”
Braedon paused, his tone caught between levity and mocking. “There are monsters everywhere. What of it?”
I’m being serious and he’s being flippant. Damn, I hope Brigid’s making friends with his son. I really, really hope she’s making friends with his son because we can’t keep playing this little game for the next fifty years. “Stop. Just...shit, Chandler, you should know me by now.” Jim swallowed a sigh. “This wasn’t the normal sort of monster.”
Braedon just stared at him for a moment before glancing at their surroundings and delicately arching a brow.
Jim almost swore aloud and looked around, then shouldered his way into an office with the name “Sterling-Kanton” emblazoned on the door.
Mercifully, Braedon followed him rather than making his escape.
His sister’s office was small, but hardly uncomfortable. Her desk was settled at the back of the room, tucked as close to the wall as was comfortable, leaving ample room for a plush couch and matching armchair. A few medical journals mingled with travel magazines and his nephew’s comic books and niece’s spare sketchpad on the low table in front of the couch, and Jim knew if he decided to look, he’d find colored pencils and the occasional marker under the couch.
Jim snapped on the lights and locked the door once they were both inside. “I’m not playing a game and you know that.”
“I never suggested you were.”
“Not verbally, anyway.” Jim waved toward the couch and the armchair. “Have a seat. Couch and the chair are both pretty comfortable.”
Braedon settled into the armchair, arching his brow again. “That was a very defensive answer, Agent McCullough.”
Jim slumped onto the couch, abruptly exhausted. “It’s been that kind of day.”
Braedon took a sip of his coffee, watching him.
So that’s the way it’s going to be. Jim leaned forward, resting his elbows against his knees. “There was a monster in Chicago chewing on the power grid. Some kind of hybrid...thing. Nothing we’ve seen before.”
“Did you get it?”
“We have a team that’ll be doing analysis on what’s left, yes.”
“Excellent.” Braedon took another sip of coffee.
Bloody buggering hell. He’s not taking this as seriously as I’d like. “It almost sucked the life out of one of my top magi, Braedon, and it’s not anything that we have in the books. It’s like something built it—then let it loose on Chicago.”
Braedon make a quiet, thoughtful sound. “Do you have any idea who made it?”
“There’s been rumblings,” Jim muttered, pushing himself to his feet and starting to pace.
I wish I thought he was taking me seriously—but he almost never does. One of these days, he’s going to come to regret it. I can feel it.
“I’m glad to hear it. You’ll be able to track them down in no time.”
Even that sounded mocking. Jim tamped down his temper and shot for sarcasm instead. “Oh yeah. Just like we were able to take down the Institute in record time fifteen, twenty years ago.” He shook his head. “This might end up being more under the table than some of my colleagues would prefer.”
“I’m not sure what you’d like me to do. Chicago isn’t within my reach.” Braedon paused, tilting his head slightly. “Unless of course you’re asking me to start a war and conquer McRae territory.”
“It’s not that,” Jim said. “Has Chandler Enterprises had any dealings with a company called Prometheus?”
Braedon snorted. “You know we have. I put it out of business a couple of decades ago.”
Around the time the Institute was still alive and kicking. A chill crept down Jim’s spine. They were different, but felt the same—and he didn’t like it one bid. “Then how do you explain it bidding against Kyler Corp for a major contact last week?”
“Someone using an old name,” Braedon said, though there was an undercurrent of steel threaded through his voice.
He doesn’t believe that any more than I do—no matter how much he might want to. “I don’t like coincidences like this.”
“If Gabriel Seymour resurfaced, I would know. He hasn’t. And he was Prometheus.”
Jim paused, staring at him for a moment. “If you say so,” he said quietly.
Braedon caught his gaze and held it. “But if you find him, put a bullet in him. On sight.”
Jim arched a brow. “With an attitude like that, I’m surprised you’re not actively hunting him down.” Or are you, and you’re just keeping it damned quiet? He wouldn’t have put it past the General.
Braedon spread his arms, careful not to spill his sub-par cup of coffee. “I am confined. And I told him to stay out of my territory.”
“Mm. I forgot about that little tidbit.” More like I never really think about it because it usually doesn’t come up. “Am I to assume that your shoot to kill advice should be disseminated amongst my people, too, or was that advice specifically for my consumption?”
“Do what you like with it. I don’t run your organization.”
“No, you don’t.”
Braedon smirked, sipping at the coffee.
Jim barely stopped himself from sighing. “Well, I thought I’d let you know about that monster. Professional courtesy and all.” He moved toward the door, twisting the lock. “Oh. The coffee in the doctor’s lounge is better. My sister brings it in.”
Braedon stared at him for a long moment, cradling the cup between his hands. There was a trace of pity in his expression that Jim wanted to hate him for, but couldn’t.
“I will let you know if I see anything like your monster,” Braedon said quietly.
“I appreciate it,” Jim said, and meant it. “Once we get a decent sketch. I’ll send it over to your office. Hopefully it’s isolated to the Midwest.” He sighed. “Hell. I hope it’s the only one.”
Braedon nodded as he stood up. “I’m sure we’ll manage if it isn’t.”
“One way or another,” Jim agreed, opening the door. “I hope the reason you’re here improves. Whatever or whoever it is.”
“Thank you for the concern,” Braedon said.
Jim just nodded, holding the door for him.
Braedon paused two steps outside the door and glanced at Jim. “Good luck.”
Then he was walking again, not looking back.
Jim sighed. “Right. I’m going to need it.”
He turned and walked in the other direction. He’d take the stairs and probably a walk. Maybe by then he’d figure out what the hell he was going to do about the monster in Chicago and the mystery that was Prometheus.
Chapter 13 is here.