Bryson and I sat in a different conference room. Unlike the sterile metal table and chairs at the police station, this room contained heavy wooden furniture covered in handwoven blankets. The decor did little to ease my nerves. We were in trouble again, only this time, we had more at stake than criminal records.
Buck Oldham, the Chief of the local Cherokee Clan, glared at Bryson from the other side of the table. “You should have brought Dr. Hicks here. I do not understand why you allowed him to go free.”
“You’re right. I allowed my concern for her to get in the way of my better judgment.” Bryson sounded so contrite that I found myself fidgeting.
Why hasn’t he said anything about the conjurer?
Buck nodded. “Perhaps it’s time I assigned her another bodyguard. One who can be more objective.”
“It’s not his fault. Dr. Hicks was possessed by a conjurer. Bryson forced the spirit out of the doctor’s body, but it came after me.” I wanted to pull the words back in as soon as they came out, and that was before Bryson shot me a warning look that would have made a grizzly bear cower.
“Go on.” Buck cast Bryson a look of his own.
I hitched a shoulder. “I wasn’t strong enough to banish the spirit alone. Dr. Hicks got away when Bryson was helping me with the spell. ”
Bryson pinched the bridge of his nose.
“How did he help you?” Buck leaned forward.
Bryson opened his mouth to speak, but the elder raised his hand.
I would have given anything for a time-out. I needed to talk to Bryson alone. By explaining what had happened, I’d stepped in a steaming pile of crap. The question was, why?
I swallowed hard and willed my heart to stop racing. “He chanted the spell with me.”
“Is that all? He spoke the words with you?” Buck’s voice had a curious lilt, as if he knew the answer before I spoke.
What is he driving at?
“We held hands to combine our magic,” I said.
Bryson hung his head.
Buck laughed the laugh of a man with the winning lottery ticket. “Tla’nuwa, why do you look so defeated? You have found your flaming arrow.”
“So it appears.” Bryson glanced between me and Buck. “Do you know who the conjurer is?”
“I have my suspicions. You’ll need to capture him before I can be certain.” Buck stood and squeezed Bryson’s shoulder. “Once this is concluded, you will take Tessa’s great-grandmother an offering. If she accepts it, she and I will arrange the marriage feast.”
Bryson waited until Buck left the room to slump in his chair. “Shit.”
The talk of gifts and wedding feasts was just preposterous. Even in the old days, women had the right to refuse a marriage proposal.
“I thought we agreed I would do the talking.” Bryson didn’t sound happy. In fact, he’d barely spared me a glance since Buck had left.
“I was trying to get you out of trouble.” I stood, determined to find Buck and set him straight.
Bryson advanced on me, blocking my path.
“I wasn’t in trouble. Not until you told him we were able to combine our energies. Do you know what you just did?”
I planted my hands on my hips. “If he thinks I’m going to marry you, then he’s delusional.”
“It’s not that simple,” Bryson said. “Do you know the Cherokee lore about the Tla’nuwa?”
“No.” My temper faded from scorching hot to a cold ball of worry.
“They’re a mated pair. Some believe one is the bow, the other an arrow, a flaming arrow. Together, they’re deadly.”
“But they’re just myths. How can we be these Tla’nuwa things?” My newfound reality made my head hurt. Since I’d shifted into a flaming bird, my entire world had exploded.
“We aren’t Tla’nuwa in the flesh, but we are in the spirit.” Bryson turned my face toward his and stared as if he could force me to understand by will alone. “Like it or not, we’re a mated pair.”
I didn’t like it. Not one bit. “This is bull—”
Bryson cut me short with a fierce kiss. It stunned me senseless, and by the time my brain started working again, I found myself pressed against his body.
He pulled his face from mine and stared at the ceiling. I couldn’t tell if his pain or exasperation caused his expression.
“It’s not you. I mean…you’re a great guy, but we should have a choice on who we’re mated to.” To soften my words, I resorted to humor. “Besides, what ever happened to romance?”
“This will all sort itself out in time.” He cracked a half-assed grin and released me. “Right now, we need to find the bastard who’s trying to kill you.”