Knight – Karen Lynch

“HEY, WATCH IT!” “Sorry,” I called over my shoulder. I leaped over a basket of silk flowers that had been overturned by the elf I was chasing and sped down the row of tables. Déjà vu hit me when I passed a display of banti dream catchers. Two and a half weeks ago, I had run through this same flea market after a different elf, and that visit hadn’t gone so well for me. The elf ahead of me now was faster and more agile than Kardas, and he lengthened the distance between us with every stride. By the time I cleared the tables, he was already at the rear door that led to the parking lot. He opened the door, paused long enough to shoot me a victorious smirk, and ran outside. Gritting my teeth, I put on an extra burst of speed and reached the door before it closed all the way. I dashed out into the bitter cold, my breath coming in steamy puffs as I locked my eyes on my target and set off after him. The parking lot was covered in snow and ice from a recent storm, which made running impossible. Fortunately, elves didn’t handle ice any better than humans, and my quarry floundered when he hit an icy patch. Unfortunately, I hit one, too, and did my own impression of a dancing marionette. I righted myself in time to see the elf take off again. I swore because there was no way I could catch him on foot now. But I’d be damned if I was letting this one get away.

I glanced around and spotted a family watching me from a few feet away. I ran over to the little girl, who held a pink plastic toboggan, and gave her my ID. “Hey, can I borrow that to catch a bad guy?” “Sure!” When she handed me the toboggan, I grinned at her and took off running on a stretch of snow. I threw myself onto the toboggan and tucked my body low as I flew across the icy parking lot after the fleeing elf. He looked back, and his eyes bulged when he saw me rapidly closing the distance between us. He tried to outrun me, but he hadn’t spent his childhood winters racing Violet in Prospect Park. I ducked my head and slammed into his legs. His weight landed on top of me, but I was braced for it, and I rolled to the side, tipping him off me. He tried to scramble to his knees, but I was on him too quickly. He swore and ranted at me as I shackled his hands behind his back.

“I have friends, and they won’t take lightly to this.” “If they’re anything like you, I’m sure you’ll be seeing them in Faerie soon,” I said, rolling him over. The second I released him to stand, he tried to kick me in the head. I blocked the kick and flipped him onto his stomach. Kneeling on his back, I bent low to speak into his ear. “Try that again, and you’ll be getting ankle jewelry to match your bracelets.” I grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet. Clapping and cheering behind me had me turning to face the dozen or so people standing outside the building. The elf hadn’t made any friends here after he’d robbed so many people. Picking up the toboggan, I gave the onlookers a tight smile and walked the elf to my Jeep.

He balked at the sight of the iron cage in the back, but I was a little short on sympathy. These days, I wasn’t particularly fond of elves who broke the law. Every time I saw a male elf, I thought it could be Rogin or Kardas, who were probably on the other side of the world by now. I hated that I was letting those assholes get into my head, but I didn’t know how to stop it. Once I had the elf secured in the cage, I shut the rear door and carried the toboggan back to the girl. “Thanks. I couldn’t have done that without you.” “That was the most amazing thing I ever saw!” She glowed with excitement as she handed me my ID. “I’m going to be a bounty hunter just like you when I grow up.” I glanced at her mother, who looked horrified by the idea.

Some of my favorite people in the world were hunters, and I was tempted to speak up on their behalf. Instead, I said, “I bet you’ll be a great one.” I walked back to the Jeep. I was about to open my door when I spotted a lone figure watching me with an unreadable expression from the other side of the street. A knot formed in my stomach as anger and a dart of fear went through me. What the hell was he doing here? My cold gaze met Conlan’s. This was the first time I’d laid eyes on him or any of his friends since that morning in Rogin’s basement, and I wasn’t foolish enough to think this was a coincidence. If I’d learned anything about Lukas and his men, it was that they did nothing without purpose. Whatever the reason, I wanted nothing to do with it or them. They’d gotten what they wanted, and in the end, so had I.

As far as I was concerned, Prince Vaerik and his royal guard were a part of my past, and that was where they were going to stay. Breaking our stare, I got into the Jeep. I didn’t cast another glance in Conlan’s direction, but I could feel his gaze on me as I drove out of the parking lot. It wasn’t until I was a few blocks away that I was able to breathe normally again, but I couldn’t stop worrying about what his sudden appearance meant for my family and me. At the gym, later that afternoon, I was so distracted my trainer kept yelling at me to keep my head in the game. Maren was an ex-MMA fighter who’d gotten two world titles under her belt before she’d had to retire because of a spine injury. She was my parents’ trainer and in high demand, but she had agreed to take me on when I’d called her two weeks ago. She said I was a natural like my father, but I had a lot of work ahead of me. “You call that a high kick?” she taunted. “My great aunt Franny can do better.

” I scowled at her and resumed my attack on the bag with renewed vigor, despite the fact I’d been going at this for almost an hour. If I didn’t put a hundred and ten percent into each workout, she would tack on something extra, like fifty pushups or a plank challenge. She was sweet like that. I finished up the bag routine with a series of jabs and then rested my wrapped hands on my knees to catch my breath. Maren handed me my water bottle, and I gulped the water greedily. “Ready for round two?” she asked. I glared so hard at her she burst out laughing, her teeth a brilliant white in contrast with her dark skin. She tossed me a towel. “Good job, kiddo.” “Thanks.

” I wiped my sweaty face and neck as I watched two regulars sparring in the ring. It reminded me of the times I’d come by the gym to watch Dad working with Maren, and I wondered how long it would be until he could step into the ring again. Maren unwrapped my hands. “Your Mom and Dad are strong, Jesse. They’ll be back on their feet in no time.” “I know.” I met her understanding gaze as my phone rang. I rarely let it out of my sight these days in case there was a call from the hospital. I snatched it up, and my heart thumped when I saw the hospital’s number. “Hello?” “Jesse, this is Patty,” said a woman’s voice.

No last name was necessary because I’d spoken to the nurse almost every day in the last two weeks. “Dr. Reddy asked me to call you and let you know your father is awake.” “He’s awake?” I shouted. Dr. Reddy had told me they would start to wean my parents off the sedation drugs this week, but I hadn’t expected either of them to wake up this quickly. “Thank you! I’ll be there as soon as I can.” I smiled so wide at Maren my face hurt. “Dad’s awake! I have to go.” Laughing, she grabbed my arm as I spun toward the exit.

“Maybe you should shower and change first.” “Oh.” I looked down at my sweaty sports bra and leggings and made a face. “That might be a good idea.” I showered in record time, and ten minutes later, I waved goodbye to Maren as I ran out the door. The bitterly cold air stole my breath, and I was glad for the wool cap I’d pulled on over my damp hair. It seemed to take forever to get to the hospital, and I nearly plowed into two people as I ran from the Jeep to the hospital entrance. Instead of waiting for the elevator, I raced up the four flights of stairs and emerged on the floor, panting from my mad dash. Nurses smiled and waved at me as I hurried past them. I was a daily visitor, and they all knew me.

Even the agent stationed outside my parents’ room greeted me with an austere tilt of his head. Two days after my parents had been admitted to the hospital, they were moved to a private room, and an agent had arrived to stand guard outside their door. I’d wondered why the Agency would place a protective detail on two bounty hunters until I had gone in to give my full statement about what had happened. They’d questioned me for hours, and they had been particularly interested in hearing about the Seelie royal guard’s involvement in my parents’ disappearance. I couldn’t tell them why the guard had taken my parents, and the Agency was hoping to get answers when they woke up. Having an armed agent on guard did little to ease my worry about my parents’ safety. The Seelie guard weren’t just any faeries, and if they wanted to get to my mom and dad, no agent was going to stop them. I’d reached out to Tennin because I’d learned it was he whom my parents had trusted to ward our apartment, but whenever I called him, his voice mail said he was in Faerie, with no mention of when he would return. Dr. Reddy was in the room, which had been rearranged to accommodate two beds.

He looked up from checking on my father and came over to meet me at the door. My gaze was fixed on the man in the hospital bed. He was lying on his back, and from here, I couldn’t tell if his eyes were open. “Jesse,” Dr. Reddy said in a low voice, drawing my attention to him. “Your father’s awake, but I want to remind you he is very confused. Don’t be alarmed if he doesn’t respond to you at first. That might take a day.” I peered around him at my father. “He hasn’t spoken yet?” “No.

But that is normal in a case like this.” “Has anyone told him what happened?” I asked. The doctor shook his head. “He’s too confused to process much right now. You can tell him if he asks, but keep it simple so you don’t overwhelm him.” “Okay.” I let out a breath. “What about my mother? Will she wake up today, too?” “She hasn’t shown any signs of waking. It could be another day or two.” The doctor adjusted his stethoscope around his neck.

“I’ll stop by after my rounds to check in.” “Thank you.” I walked over to my father, who appeared to be asleep. He looked the same as he had on every other visit, except for the noticeable absence of the feeding tube. I laid my hand over his cool, dry one that felt nothing like the strong, warm hand I was used to. “I’m here, Dad.” His eyelids fluttered and lifted to reveal the blue eyes I’d waited almost two months to see again. “Dad?” A crease formed in his brow, and I could see his eyes moving as he stared at the ceiling. I squeezed his hand gently, and he slanted a dazed look at me. My chest constricted when I saw no hint of recognition in his eyes, and I had to remind myself of what the doctor had said.

For a long moment, I stood beside his bed, holding his hand. I wanted so much to hug him, but I was afraid it would upset him in his current state. For now, I’d have to be content with knowing he was coming back to us. I looked around for the chair I used on my visits and saw it in the corner. Letting go of his hand, I went to pull the chair over beside his bed. A garbled sound from him had me running back to the bed. “I’m here.” He looked at me, and this time he tilted his head in my direction to see me better. My breath caught when his mouth formed a word. “Jesse.

” I leaned down for the hug I desperately needed. “I missed you so much,” I whispered against his chest. He didn’t speak, but a few seconds later, his hand came to rest on my back. The comforting weight made me feel like a part of me that had been lost had come back. Reluctantly, I let him go and straightened. Warmth flooded me when he gave me a weak smile and reached for my hand holding the bed rail. I grasped his larger hand and fought back the tears that threatened. I had to be strong for him and Mom and show them all they needed to worry about was getting better. “Mom?” His voice was barely audible, but the worry in his eyes said what he could not. “She’s right here.

” I stepped back and pointed to the bed behind me. “The doctor said she’ll wake up soon.” He strained to lift his head so he could see my mother lying in the other bed. I knew the moment he saw her because his face softened, and his whole body seemed to relax. He returned his gaze to me. “How…long?” I hesitated to answer, unsure if he was asking how long they’d been here or how long they’d been missing. His fingers flexed around mine. “How…long…gone?” “A month.” Shock flashed in his eyes, and I gauged his reaction before I added, “You were found two weeks ago, and you’ve been in the hospital ever since.” He frowned at the ceiling as if he was trying to remember, and I could see him getting frustrated when the memories wouldn’t come.

I squeezed his hand. “It’s the drugs. The doctor said it could take a while for your memories to come back.” The crease in his brow disappeared as he looked at me again. “You… Finch?” “We’re doing great. I’ve been sneaking him in to see you when I can. He’s going to give me hell for not bringing him today.” My father smiled, and it was in that moment I knew he would be okay. He had a difficult road ahead, but if anyone was strong enough to do it, it was him. I spent the next half hour reassuring him things were okay at home, carefully omitting anything about my new career and most of what had been happening in my life while he was gone.

When I left out the bounty hunting, my search for them, and Lukas, there wasn’t a whole lot left to tell, but he seemed too confused from the drugs to notice. After a while, his face took on a pinched expression, and I could see he was in pain. He would never admit that, so I told him I was going to get some water, and I left the room in search of a nurse. I found Gloria, one of the regular nurses on this floor, and she consulted with Dr. Reddy about how much pain medicine my father was allowed to have. I was waiting for her to end the call when I spotted a familiar figure emerging from the stairwell. “Tennin.” I hurried toward him. “You got my messages.” He arched an eyebrow.

“Yes, all twenty-eight of them.” I smiled. I’d called him twice a day for the last two weeks, and I didn’t feel the least bit guilty for filling up his voice mail. “Your messages didn’t tell me much beyond that you’d found your parents and needed a ward placed on them. Do you want to fill me in?” I nodded and looked around for somewhere to talk. The small waiting area wasn’t exactly private, but it was empty, and it would have to do. Keeping my voice low, I gave him a condensed version of what had happened at Rogin’s. After everything had gone down, I’d realized Tennin had known Lukas’s identity all along. Lukas was an Unseelie prince after all. I didn’t hold it against Tennin because I understood faeries were loyal to their royals.

And it wasn’t as if he hadn’t tried to warn me away from Lukas and his men. “Now you see why I need a protective ward on my parents,” I said when I was done. Tennin pursed his lips. “My wards are very strong, but Queen Anwyn’s guard is ruthless. If they do come after your parents, you’ll want the strongest protection available.” “Meaning what?” Fear sliced through me. Was he saying his magic couldn’t stop the royal guard? “Meaning, I’ll have to add several layers of protection.” He smiled. “Don’t worry. You think your mother and father would let me ward your home if my wards weren’t some of the best?” We walked to my parents’ room as Gloria came out and gave me a reassuring smile.

The staff here was wonderful, and I’d miss them when my parents were moved to the treatment facility. The agent posted outside the door put up a hand to stop us. “No unauthorized visitors allowed inside.” “Tennin is a family friend, and he’s here at my request,” I told him. The Agent shook his head. “No authorization, no entry.” I crossed my arms. “Then call your superior and have them authorize him because he is going to enter that room.” The two of us were locked in a stare down for a good ten seconds, until he nodded curtly and pulled out a phone. Tennin and I walked a few paces away while he made the call.

Tennin let out a low whistle when we were out of earshot. “You’ve come a long way from the girl who showed up at my place in November, and I feel compelled to add you’re hot when you’re bossy.” I ignored his “hot” comment. “I’m not that girl anymore.” “I think you are. A little jaded, maybe, but I still see her.” Uncomfortable with his scrutiny, I changed the subject. “My father doesn’t know about my hunting or my involvement in their rescue. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention any of that around him.” “You don’t think he’ll find out eventually?” “I plan to tell him, but not until he’s stronger.

” I glanced toward the room. “The drugs are messing with his head, and I don’t want to upset him.” “Understood.” The agent walked over to us. “You have permission to go in,” he said to Tennin. I smiled at the agent. “Thank you.” He gave his customary nod and went back to his post outside the door. I crossed the hallway and entered the room. Walking to my father’s bed, I found him sleeping peacefully, thanks to the pain meds Gloria had administered.

It killed me to know this would be his life for the immediate future, but there was no other way to recover from a goren addiction. I turned to look at Tennin, who was frowning in the doorway. “You can come in.” He waved a hand through the air, and a stream of pale green magic flowed from his fingertips and immediately dissipated. Taking a step into the room, he repeated the action with the same result. He pressed his lips together and finally met my gaze. “Your parents have already been warded.” “What?” Tennin nodded absently as he felt for the ward again. “And it’s a strong one, more powerful than mine.” “Who would do that?” Other than me, the only people determined to protect my parents were the Agency, and they hadn’t mentioned a ward.

He didn’t answer right away. “Your mother and father have many bounty hunter friends. Perhaps one of them hired someone to ward your parents.” My gaze swept the room as if I would spot the answer hiding in one of the corners. “It’s possible, but why wouldn’t they tell me? And how did they get in? The Agency has been guarding my parents around the clock.” “That I cannot answer.” He swiped his hand through the air again as if testing the ward. “But this is the best ward money can buy. It will stop any attack from human or faerie. A bomb could go off in this room, and your parents wouldn’t get a scratch.

” “But it doesn’t keep faeries out if you’re able to come in.” He put a hand to his chin. “It’s a very complex ward, made up of multiple layers. It would only allow me entry when you asked me to come in, and I suspect only you or your parents can invite a faerie in.” Shock mingled with my relief. My parents were safe, but I had no idea who would go through this trouble for them. Tennin smiled. “I guess my work here is done.” “Wait. The old ward you did at my apartment required an incantation to let faeries in.

This one doesn’t?” “This is far more advanced than that one. You only have to invite a faerie into the room.” “Like inviting a vampire in,” I said dryly, and he laughed. I walked over to him. “Mom and Dad will be moved to the treatment facility in Long Island in a few days. Will you ward their room at the facility when they go there?” “That won’t be necessary. When I said your parents were warded, I meant the magic is attached to them, not the room. The ward will stay with them wherever they go.” I gaped at him. “You can ward a person?” “If you know what you’re doing, yes.

It’s not common knowledge, but many of your world leaders have body wards to protect them from assassination.” “What about your royals? Are they warded, too?” I thought about the assassination attempt on Prince Vaerik that I’d help thwart. Had he been safe all along? “Our own magic interferes with other magic, so wards don’t work on us.” Tennin smirked. “Except to keep us out.” I digested this new bit of knowledge. “There is so much I don’t know.” Tennin looked past me at my sleeping parents. “For a girl who doesn’t know much, you’ve done well. I’ll admit I didn’t have high expectations at first, and I’ve never been so happy to be proven wrong.

” He lowered his voice. “Don’t tell your mother and father that I sent you to Teg’s.” I laughed at his look of mock terror. “Your secret’s safe with me.” He said he had to leave, and I walked him to the stairway exit since he hated to use the elevator. “Tennin?” I said when we reached the door. “What’s on your mind, Jesse?” “Do you know if…?” I pressed my lips together as I thought of how to voice my question. “Can you tell me if Faris is okay? I understand if you can’t talk about him. I’d just like to know he made it.” Surprise flickered in his eyes.

“I haven’t heard anything, but if he had died, it would have been announced at court.” I let out a breath. “That’s good to know.” He tilted his head to study me. “You’re not going to ask about Lukas?” “No.” “If that’s all then.” He reached for the door. “There is one more thing. Do you have time to redo the ward at my apartment while you’re in town?” He let go of the doorknob. “You have no ward at home? What happened to the one I created for your parents?” “It was kind of destroyed when Conlan created a ward on the apartment.

” “You should be good then. His magic is as strong as mine, maybe stronger.” I shifted uncomfortably. “His ward also lets him and his friends enter my home whenever they want.” “Ah.” “Exactly. I hired another faerie when I couldn’t get you, but he wasn’t able to take down Conlan’s ward.” “I’m not surprised.” He stroked his chin. “I’ll come by in a few days and see what I can do.

” “Thanks.” I didn’t ask him how much it would cost because I already knew it wouldn’t be cheap. A ward like his old one could run upward of five thousand dollars, but leaving things as they were was not an option. I tried not to think of my other expenses, such as the building’s intermittent water pressure problems that were most likely going to require a very expensive plumber. “Okay then.” Tennin opened the door. “I’m out of here. Prince Rhys is in town, and I found out where he’s having dinner tonight.” “Of course, you did.” He smirked.

“See you around, Jesse.”


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