When Alex Met Hailey
An Unedited Version of Parts of Special Offers from Alex's Point of View
Alex was tired of sitting in the stuffy car. I should have listened to the guy at the rental place and sprung for the upgrade, he thought as he tried to stretch his long legs in the cramped front seat. Sipping from a thermos, he scanned the front of the building, hoping she’d come out soon. The coffee wasn’t particularly hot anymore, but it gave him something to do besides just waiting for her to leave. It was past six p.m. and everyone else on the day shift had gone home an hour ago. In the short time he’d been keeping an eye on her, she was almost always the last to go, but this was later than usual.
He’d been parked in the strip mall lot across the street since he’d followed her to work. At least there was someplace close with enough cars so as not to arouse suspicion; it made his job that much easier. There was nothing worse than trying to look like you weren’t spying on someone when you actually were spying on someone. The popularity of the stores provided cover in plain sight during the day and now that it was dark, it was unlikely anyone would notice he was watching.
A small tap on the passenger-side window let him know Aiden was back.
“She’s still there?” the pale, redhead asked as he opened the door and climbed in. “What the hell is she doing?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Alex huffed. “Did you find out anything?”
Aiden smiled and shuffled through a file folder filled with pages of notes. “As a matter of fact, I did. Her name is Hailey Parrish, thirty years old, divorced. No boyfriend as far as I can tell. Get this: that place across the street,” he said, pointing at the brick building Alex had been staring at all day, “it’s a chinchilla dairy.”
Alex raised one eyebrow. “A chinchilla dairy? Who drinks milk from a chinchilla?”
“No one. They make cheese out of it.”
Humans, Alex thought as he shook his head. “Anything else?”
“Nope. Just cheese.”
Alex scowled at the fellow enforcer. “I meant about her.”
“I know, I was just messing with you,” Aiden replied, still grinning.
Alex’s clipped response let Aiden know his boss was in no mood for jokes. He should have figured as much. It had been weeks since Sebastian Kess—Alex’s mentor—went missing and the longer no one heard from Sebastian, the more the tension rose. Everyone feared the worst, that the Xyzok leader had been killed while trying to apprehend a particularly cagey criminal from the parallel dimension, Coursodon, where they all were from. The Xyzok made sure no Courso used their magical abilities on unsuspecting humans and the one Sebastian had been after was using his arcane talents to steal money and erase the victim’s memories of the theft.
“Sorry,” Aiden apologized, wiping any hint of amusement from his face. “She has no arrest record, no known association with any Courso—good or bad—nothing to indicate she has any connection to Sebastian’s disappearance.”
“Yet she said his name when she phoned me. She must know something, even though she claimed she never placed the calls.” Alex glanced at the still quiet chinchilla farm. “What are you up to, Miss Hailey Parrish,” he said under his breath. He knew she was involved. He felt it in his bones.
“Keep digging, Aiden. There must be something we are missing.”
Before Aiden could answer, the door to the building swung open. Even in the diminished light of a winter evening, Alex could see it was her. As a Courso, his eyes worked better than any human’s. He was stronger and faster, too. They all were.
She pulled her keys from her purse and walked to her car. He heard the Rav4’s alarm beep twice as she unlocked the door and climbed in. As the overhead light illuminated her, Alex noted the chestnut curls that cascaded down her back, and not entirely just for purposes of identification. He tried to not dwell on how wild and sexy her hair seemed, and was annoyed at himself for even thinking about her in that way.
“She doesn’t look like a criminal,” Aiden commented as Alex eased the car onto the road to follow.
“They hardly ever do,” Alex replied. “They hardly ever do.”
Alex spent the night in the shadows of the desert that surrounded her tiny house. He had used his magic to make himself invisible, so he didn’t really need to hide, but he felt uncomfortable out in the open. After she left work, she stopped at In-N-Out Burger , ate it in her car, and drove home. She didn’t go out again, no one came over and, according to Aiden’s phone surveillance, she didn’t make or receive any calls. Watching wasn’t getting them any closer to answers about Sebastian. He knew he’d have to try something more… personal.
It didn’t take long for Alex to find his opening. First thing in the morning, there she was, stretching in her driveway getting ready for a run. When she jogged off toward the running path alongside the nearby dry wash, Alex ran to the rental car, parked a couple of blocks away. Quickly, he changed into the running gear he always had available—one never knew when the opportunity to get in some exercise might present itself—and took off to intercept her along the trail. It wasn’t difficult; he was barely expending any energy and still moved like a world-class sprinter. In his head he calculated where she might be relative to his position and entered the path about a half-mile from there, but going in the opposite direction. He could already see her in the distance. She had a nice, fluid form as she ran, he noticed. Concentrate, Alex, she’s not a potential date. She’s a suspect.
As they passed, he sensed his mentor’s magical signature. It was sort of muted, but unmistakably Sebastian’s. Damn it, I knew she was involved, he seethed. He also knew that if Sebastian’s signature was on her, he had to be alive and she must have been with him very recently.
Was he in her house last night? he wondered ? In the chinchilla cheese place? He was about to turn around and figure out some excuse to talk to her when he heard her trip and then curse. That was opportune. Playing the part of the concerned fellow runner, he made his way to where she was sprawled on the pavement.
“Are you all right?” he asked, “You took quite a tumble.” He was impressed with how real his concern sounded.
She looked up and blinked at him. “I’m fine. Just skinned up and massively embarrassed. I must have looked ridiculous.”
“Not at all,” he said and offered her a hand up. “Well, actually, I didn’t really see anything as you were behind me. I heard you, but by the time I turned around, you were already down.”
This was the first time he’d seen her close up. Even with her hair tied back, curls still escaped around her face. The wisps accented her deep, brown eyes. He could tell she wasn’t wearing any makeup, yet her eyelashes were unusually long and thick. Even covered in sweat, with bloodied knees, she was beautiful. Concentrate, Alex, he reprimanded himself again silently. Keep the contact going, she must know where Sebastian is.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” he added, pointing to her scrapes. “You’re kind of oozing.” Now that they were stationary, any uncertainty about Sebastian’s presence was put to rest. She’d definitely been around him.
She winced. “Uh, yeah, I guess I’d better get home and clean these off. Thanks for stopping.”
“No problem. Do you run here a lot?” He mentally smacked himself for using such a hackneyed line. Try to be charming, Alex. Pretend you are Sebastian.
She didn’t seem to be put-off however, and answered with a small smile, “I live nearby, so this is one of my go-to morning jogs.”
She paused for a moment before asking, “Do you live around here?”
After she asked where he lived, he noticed she seemed perturbed about something. He wondered if she had found his question stupid. Or maybe she’d made him. Either way, he had to keep up the ruse.
“No, I’m here temporarily. I’m staying at a hotel about three miles from here. I figured I would go up ahead and turn around.” Alex gestured toward a bridge about a quarter mile further along the path. “Maybe I’ll see you again sometime.”
Even though the woman could be his ticket to finding Sebastian, he forced himself to jog away. He needed to process what he’d just discovered and decide how best to find his mentor. When he was certain she was out of site, he increased his pace to Courso-speed and went back to his car. Calling Aiden to let him know he was certain Sebastian was alive and nearby, they planned their strategy.
Once Hailey left for work, Aiden followed and kept her under surveillance while Alex broke into her house to look around. Any hopes of finding Sebastian there were dashed immediately upon entry. His signature was gone. He must be at her work, but how is she hiding him from her coworkers? He checked around for anything that might clear up what the hell was going on, but aside from a lot of books, tequila and a very overweight cat, there was nothing.
Searching the dairy was a bit more challenging, but nothing Alex and Aiden couldn’t handle. They posed as delivery guys, and when an attractive blonde let them in, they used magic to convince her they had every reason in the world to look around. Then they followed her into a small office and used the same technique on Hailey and two other workers. Xyzok policy prohibited toying with human’s memories unless there was no other option, but sometimes rules were meant to be broken. Alex didn’t plan to mention it to his superiors, anyway. Playing a little hard and fast with the rules might score me some points with Sebastian anyway.
Unfortunately, even after several hours of searching, the only place they found Sebastian’s essence was on Hailey. Neither Xyzok had any reasonable explanation, but they knew she was the key. Alex placed a suggestion in the pretty blonde’s mind that she and Hailey should meet that night at a local bar he’d seen them frequent. Based on his previous observations, he didn’t think Hailey would go alone, but he’d figure out some way to get rid of Blondie later.
O’Reilly’s was crowded, not unusual for a Friday night, he supposed. Alex waited in the shadows for Hailey and her friend to show up. Around eight-thirty, she arrived—alone—and made her way to the bar. The bartender was swamped, and while she waited for him to take her order, she swung around in her stool and surveyed the room. Probably scanning for cops, Alex surmised, making his way toward the bar.
“Hey, how’s the knees?” he asked, slipping into the open seat to her right. She looked surprised to see him, but not nervous. “I almost didn’t recognize you with your hair down,” he added, trying to sound flirtatious. “It looks good this way.”
The bartender came by and asked if she wanted “her usual,” and seemed surprised when she asked for a Glenfiddich. Alex noted that she, too, looked a bit flummoxed by the order. As it was his alcoholic beverage of choice, he ordered one as well.
“I never introduced myself this morning. I’m Alex. Alex Sunderland.”
She told him her name. “Wow. What are the odds that we would run into each other twice in one day?” she added.
He wondered if she was being sarcastic. She didn’t sound snarky, though. “Astronomical, I would think.”
Her phone started to ring, and she turned away slightly to answer it. He could hear both sides of the conversation and was pleased to find out her friend, Rachel was her name, wasn’t coming because her boyfriend was ill and, apparently, somewhat of a baby when it came to dealing with his malady. Great, now I don’t have to use magic to get rid of her friends.
Alex noticed Hailey seemed to gaze at him in an odd way. Not suspiciously, but not really amorously, either. He couldn’t quite figure it out. All he knew was, no matter how pretty and seemingly guileless she was, he would make her tell him where to find Sebastian. She’s quite good at this, he mused. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear she was just some innocent human, completely unaware of the existence of another dimension and not caught up in Sebastian’s disappearance.
They talked for a long time. Alex told her his standard story: he was an insurance adjuster from Portland, Oregon, in Tucson for training. She acted like she believed him. She was intelligent and funny, and if she hadn’t been involved in kidnapping Sebastian, he thought he’d be attracted to her. He tried to catch her in some obvious lie, but she was good. Too good. When she switched from scotch to tea, Alex knew she was ready to bolt and he had to come up with some way to get her alone, and fast.
He was about to suggest they go somewhere quieter, when Hailey downed the last of her drink and announced, “This has been fun, but I really should be getting home. Maybe we’ll run into each other again at the River Park.”
Shit. I’m going to have to follow her out. I’ll say I’m leaving too.
She slid off her barstool, and just as he was about to tell her he’d walk her to her car, she froze. Her eyes widened and she looked panicked, terrified, actually. She opened her mouth as if she was going to say something, but no words came out.
Concerned, Alex reached out and gently enclosed his hands around hers. As soon as their flesh touched, he felt an unmistakable surge of magic. While he was still processing how she, a human, transferred magic, he heard a voice in his head. Sebastian’s. What the hell is going on?
She pulled her hands away and ran through the crowd. Alex wasn’t at all sure what just happened, but he knew he needed to follow her. Nothing about this was going the way he planned.