After all, Elemental Masters weren’t supposed to exist.
He took a few steps toward her. “I chased the shifter to an abandoned shop, but he managed to slip away.”
“Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me.”
He forced himself to keep smiling. Telling her that he could best just about anyone with his elemental magic was out of the question. Instead, he leaned in close and said, “Tsk, tsk, so dismissive. Give me a chance to pin you to the ground, and then maybe you’ll revise that statement.”
Cam rolled her eyes. “Spare me the flirting. You know you don’t have a chance in hell with me.” She moved toward her pack and said over her shoulder, “Unless you have something else to share, you can be on your way. I’m sure there are dozens of half-clad girls in bikinis on vacation somewhere in Mexico just waiting to drool all over you.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Camilla. I’m going to stick around and help you.”
Cam paused in tightening up her pack and looked at him. “This is my mission, Marco, not yours. You don’t get to tell me what to do.”
“Ah, but you see”—he moved toward her until he was close enough that he could grab her if she tried to bolt—“DEFEND sent me here to make sure your mission is a success.”
Cam went still, and he tried to figure out what was going through her head. But for once, he had no idea. She wasn’t happy, that much was clear.
Then she hoisted up her pack and strapped it on as if she hadn’t heard him. She started walking, and Marco gripped her wrist. “Ignoring me is only going to waste time that could be better spent combining our resources and devising a plan.”
Cam turned her face toward him, her eyes like ice. “If you’d cared to ask, then I would’ve told you that I already have a plan.” She glanced to his grip on her arm and back again. “You have five seconds to release me before I grab your balls with my claws. Five…four…three…”
He tightened his grip. “You didn’t notice the shadow-shifter tailing you back in Merida, Camilla. No doubt there are things you’ve missed or overlooked, and I can help with that.”
Cam’s eyes went cold, and Marco knew that he’d said the wrong thing.
Cam clenched her fist, her claws biting into her palm. Marco, like most every other male member of DEFEND, was playing the ‘I have a penis so I know better’ card.
If he’d approached her in a normal fashion, and had asked about her plans, she would’ve told him and seen what he had to offer. But she knew from experience that working with men who couldn’t see a woman soldier as an equal, let alone a superior, always ended badly. And every moment she spent fighting it out with Marco was time that could be better spent hunting down the Talents.
The rules of DEFEND prevented her from just knocking him unconscious and leaving, so Cam took a deep breath through her nose and hoped explaining things would convince the man to leave her the hell alone. “First off, Jacek would’ve gone after the man harassing my contact’s son if he hadn’t seen you do it first. And second, you know nothing about my plans or what intelligence I’ve gathered. Who the hell are you to judge me? I may be a woman, but I have more experience with missions than you.”
“This has nothing to do with you being a woman, Camilla.”
“Oh, really? Then do enlighten me, oh ‘Great One’.”
Marco was no longer smiling. “I have knowledge you need. Most Feiru don’t know shadow-shifters exist, let alone how to deal with them. There’s a reason they used to be assassins-for-hire.”
Cam watched him closely as she said, “Did you conveniently forget how I took one down in the States? You claim that you want to help, yet you dismiss me without a thought.” Explaining had done nothing, so she dug the claws of her free hand into his arm, but the bastard still didn’t let go. “If this is your idea of ’help’, then I don’t need it. Besides, I only work with those I trust, and you’re not one of those people, especially since you get distracted at the first sign of cleavage.”
He yanked her arm until her face was inches from his. The smile was gone from both his eyes and mouth. “I’m not letting you go until you accept my help. Jaxton Ward sent me here for a reason, and I’m not about to let him down.”
Cam shook her head. “You can say that the President of the United States sent you, but I still won’t believe you. More than that, we both know this—us working together—would never work.”
Marco’s expression was dark, but she’d dealt with far worse.
She raised an eyebrow. “Well, are you ready to put aside this silly notion and let me get on with my mission? I have a list of things to do, and standing in the forest with a disreputable man-whore isn’t high on that list.”
He let go of her and stepped back. But before she could walk away, a whoosh sounded behind her. In the blink of an eye, a stream of ice came around her and continued to circle first around her legs, and then around her torso. She tried to push her way through, but the ice nicked her skin and forced her to stand in the middle of the two twirling rings. With the pack strapped to her back, it was going to take finesse to get out of this situation.
Despite his showboating, Marco was a member of DEFEND, and wouldn’t hurt her.
Or would he?
The ice stopped moving, but remained suspended in mid-air. She kept her face expressionless as he walked up to her, until only a few inches separated them again, his gaze intent. “If I can help break into an AMT compound and escape alive, I’m more than qualified to watch your back and help search a bunch of Mayan ruins for clues.” The upper circle of ice moved, maneuvering under her chin and gently lifting her head up. “Have I made myself clear?”
Marco kept his mind partitioned; one side focused on maneuvering the elemental water particles in the air, while the other side focused on the reactions of the woman in front of him. Like any well-trained member of DEFEND, Cam was keeping her cool under pressure. But as he tipped her chin up with his frozen ring of elemental water, he saw something he hadn’t expected when uncertainty flashed across her face.