O-Men: Liege’s Legion - Liege
© Elaine Levine 2018
Music spilled outside the bar every time the doors opened. Liege stood by his bumper, waiting for a break in traffic so he could cross the street to join his men.
The Fort Collins college crowd was heavy now that the university was back in session. Tired of waiting for a break in traffic, Liege was about to force cars to a stop when something drew his attention.
A man was standing two lanes away, not entirely out of the road. Cars rushed by, driving through him, but nothing diverted the monster’s focus from Liege.
Chills like mini razorblades cut through Liege’s nerves.
They stared at each other on the dark street, hidden from the eyes of regulars. “Matchmaker” was a piss-poor name for the fiend. He should be the Reaper. The image he projected of himself was skinny and tall, at least seven or eight feet. His bright orange hair was combed straight upward so it stood a hand’s length from his skull. His red eyes, lit from within, glowed victoriously in the thickening shadows.
The late September night was overcast. A fog crept close, twisting about the Matchmaker’s feet. He slowly lifted his arm and pointed a long finger toward Liege, whose heart began to hurt. He rejected the monster’s message, refusing to accept its implications, but no shield any mutant had yet created could resist the Matchmaker’s truth.
Liege felt a wave of sorrow. The Matchmaker’s singular purpose was connecting a mutant with his mate, even if that meant the death of one or the other, as it always did.
Liege leaned against his SUV’s bumper. His lifemate was near; she had to be if the Matchmaker was here. Liege knew with perfect certainty that he would meet the woman, come to know her, love her, and then lose her.
Or so the legend went.
The only way Liege could avoid that outcome was to let the Matchmaker take his life.
The pain blossomed across Liege’s chest as he continued to resist the message. He flattened a hand over his heart, trying to halt the pain from spreading up his neck, down his arms. Tears welled in his eyes. He didn’t want to die, but better that than to live with the terrible price of the Matchmaker’s curse.
Liege couldn’t breathe, couldn’t support his own weight. He closed his eyes and hit his knees on the wet road, then slumped forward, his arms folded around himself, his forehead pressed to the ground.
He thought of the men he led. How would they get along without him? His mind went to the lifemate he would never meet, the woman his soul apparently already loved.
The pain ended instantly.
He gasped and pulled a ragged breath, then turned his head, shooting a look across the road. The apparition was gone. Liege collapsed on the pavement. The shield he had in place protected him from the rush of cars. Each one in his lane slowed then moved over to avoid him. He was making a traffic jam and none of the regulars even knew why they couldn’t drive near him.
He needed a minute to get his breath before getting out of the road.
The motherfucking Matchmaker hadn’t accepted his surrender. And now Liege’s fate was sealed.
A long few minutes later, he hoisted himself to his feet. Leaning against the side of his car, he took inventory of his body and mind. It seemed he was himself again, just wiped out.
Forget searching for Omni World Order operative Brett Flynn; Liege and his men should hunt the Matchmaker and send him to the other side.
Liege crossed the street and headed to the bar where his men waited. But instead of entering, he looked farther down the sidewalk where there were more shops and restaurants. For some reason, he felt drawn to that area. He couldn’t tell if he was operating under his own volition or via an external compulsion. There was only one being who could exert that control over him: the Matchmaker.
He had a bad feeling about what he was heading toward. Her. His lifemate. Fuck, he’d wanted to ignore the Matchmaker’s message. He’d survived the encounter. He wanted to just get back to the life he’d been living. He didn’t want to meet the woman, didn’t want the metric fuck ton of pain loving her would bring him—or the death that loving him would bring her.
He stopped outside a bar and grill that served reimagined American cuisine, resisting the pull to go in there. He told himself he had no intention of seeking the woman out, though he knew she was inside. Her energy called to him. He had to resist—he couldn’t destroy her by joining their lives.
Maybe he should just find out who she was so he could stay away from her.
He wrapped his energy in a mirage that caused anyone looking at the space where he was to see it as it had been before he was there, effectively making himself invisible. Inside the restaurant he shut his eyes and felt for the woman’s energy.
He heard a familiar female laughter at a table; his daughter was here.
He went over to her table. She looked happy, but he could also feel an undercurrent of tension inside her. She was with two friends. A pretty brunette and a white ball of light.
What the hell?
Liege glared at the luminous woman sitting on the opposite side of the booth from the other two. He forced himself to see beyond her brilliant light to the aura it hid, a bright pink with touches of gold and green. He looked beneath that to the woman herself. A white female with blond hair, blue eyes, and fading freckles on her nose and cheeks.
Aw, fuck. The Matchmaker was right. She was his light. Unless…she wasn’t. She was friends with his daughter. What if the Matchmaker and the Omnis had gotten together for this new trick?
If she was working with the Omnis, then his daughter was in danger.
Liege turned and stumbled out of the restaurant, only to slump against the wall outside. He wasn’t going to die because of the Matchmaker, but the Omni female was—and soon, before she could harm Liege’s daughter.
Yo. Liege. You coming in? Acier asked via their mental link. You parked fifteen minutes ago.
Liege had blocked out everything on the link he shared with his men from the time he saw the Matchmaker.
No, Liege said. Change of plans. Have fun without me.
Liege waited outside the restaurant for the women. Took another hour before they spilled into the dark night. They laughed and hugged, then went their own ways. Liege followed the ball of light, keeping himself from being seen, as he had all night. She got into a beat-up Subaru wagon. He got in too, sitting in the back, hiding from her the fact that he’d opened a door in her car and the dip it made when he got in. He wasn’t a small man. His legs were folded to his chin in the crowded backseat.
The woman shivered and waited for the heat to come on. It didn’t. Liege closed his eyes as he let his energy mingle with hers. Dammit all, the Matchmaker had chosen well. Her energy felt like a balm to his soul. And he loved her sweet scent.
What if she really was his light?
He could fight himself, but he couldn’t fight the truth of the way their mingled energy felt. The danger was that if the Matchmaker had been able to discover his light, Liege’s enemies could as well.
He didn’t like to believe in fate, but what if he couldn’t avoid what was coming?
* * *
The woman had an apartment over a garage in an older area of town, not far from the university. She was in there now, settling down for the night. Liege had taken a cab back to his SUV and returned, waiting for her to fall asleep.
He set an illusion that his vehicle was a large trash dumpster. He didn’t want neighbors to take note of his big SUV. There were no cameras to disable in the alleyway, nothing to do but wait.
After a while, when all was calm inside, he went upstairs then unlocked the deadbolt telekinetically, pausing to listen inside the apartment. Had the sound of the door being unlocked awakened the woman?
No. All was quiet and still. He opened the door and closed it behind him without ever touching it. Her energy hit him like a wall of water, surrounding him, drowning him. He spread his arms wide, absorbing as much of her as he could, like a starving man at a buffet.
She was his perfect match. Right now, in the quiet privacy of this dark apartment, he could give himself the peace of belonging to another, of having a lifemate, of feeling love that was reciprocated.
Only he knew what he indulged in, so it was safe to pretend for a few moments that this woman wasn’t an enemy here to harm him or his daughter.
And of course, it was that thought that sobered him. He focused on his purpose in being here: reconnaissance.
Any mutant could fake an energy signature. And though she was a regular, she could be under someone else’s control.
Her studio flat was filled with colors and clashing patterns of textiles. She had a four-poster queen-sized bed. Mosquito netting was draped down each poster. The ceiling was open to the rafters, giving the room a sense of greater space. Shiplap covered the exposed wood, painted a pale seafoam color on the walls and white on ceiling. The floor was a dark stained wood. A faded, antique flat weave Uzbekistan carpet in red and other bold colors—a style he’d often seen in Afghanistan—covered most of the main room.
A tall nightstand and a dresser, both antiques, flanked the bed. A futon couch sat between the bed and the kitchen, with a long coffee table in front of it. A flat screen TV took up a chunk of the opposite wall on top of a long credenza.
Set in a nook next to the front door was a small kitchen. It had a retro-looking turquoise fridge, a narrow four-burner stove and oven, and a sink. A short peninsula separated it from the rest of the room. Three tall barstools, made from wood and black iron, stood at the counter.
A small stack of mail was in a file holder affixed to the wall. He took out a couple envelopes. The woman’s name was Summer Coltrane.
Summer. The name suited her perfectly. Saying it reminded him of a warm, sultry breeze.
A short hallway led off the main room. To the left was a small bathroom, to the right was a long and narrow closet. He checked out the bathroom. There were no toiletry products that belonged to a man. The relief he felt actually hurt his chest. Geez, what the fuck would he have done if he found she was in a relationship?
Nothing. He wouldn’t have done a damned thing. She couldn’t be his, so it was best if she found someone who made her happy.
Reality check. He didn’t give a damn about her happiness. She might be an Omni operative, and if she was, he was going to have to end her.
Her long closet was half household storage, half clothing and shoes. Here too, nothing belonging to a man was stored.
He returned to the main room. The woman still slept. He’d learned what he’d come to learn, but he couldn’t quite make himself leave yet. This was the closest he’d been to her, and he wanted to linger.
When he concentrated, he could see through the bright glow surrounding her to the peaceful colors of her aura.
Humans had perfected their ability to twist the truth with their expressions, words, and even behavior, but only mutants knew how to extend that to their auras.
This close to her, Liege knew she was a regular, unchanged human. He slipped into her dream world. She was in a garden, tending to flowers. A spider crawled across her hand. He felt the deep revulsion in her reaction, which was quickly followed by a calm acceptance that each creature has its place in the whole of life. She moved her hand over to a nearby plant and let the spider slip away.
He pulled out of her sleeping mind, only to be broadsided by emotions and the uncomfortable knowledge that he wasn’t here for purely reconnaissance purposes.
He was here for her. For himself. For a future they could never have.
His enemies had chosen their operative with expert precision. Whoever was controlling her seemed to know all of his dreams and hopes and desires.
If he weren’t careful, his loss of control would have a devastating impact on his daughter.
He straightened and forced himself to leave the woman. He went out the way he came, locking her apartment behind him.
* * *
Liege sat in his SUV outside a garden center on the north side of town. He’d followed the woman here, where she apparently worked, which confirmed his suspicions.
The Briscoe’s Garden and Landscape Design Center was one of several businesses in the area that were fronts for the Omni World Order, the secret crime organization Liege and his team were fighting.
The Matchmaker only ever matched human females with warriors who were in the Omni resistance. Liege had long wondered whose side the fiend was on, and now that he’d connected Liege with a female employed by the Omnis, perhaps he had his answer; Summer’s bright glow wasn’t a natural occurrence but one manufactured by the Omnis to trick Liege into believing he’d found his light, a subterfuge that wouldn’t have worked without the Matchmaker.
Liege had learned long ago, in the mutant camps, to expect that any and all mind games were always in play.
Perhaps Summer Coltrane was a trick to distract him. Who knew what she really was or whom she was working for? Maybe she herself didn’t even know.
Liege watched her move around the outside the garden center. She was bright, like a free-floating ball of lightning. She stopped to talk to a customer near a stack of hay bales loaded with pumpkins. The man she was talking to didn’t glow. Nor did the other staffers who were watering the mums and rearranging outdoor displays. Only the woman glowed.
He could see the auras of the regulars. Nothing unusual in them. Nothing alarming, either.
Liege camouflaged his SUV with a blanket of energy, making it appear to regulars as one of the garden center’s utility trucks, parked and empty. Once again, he hid himself behind a compulsion forced on any who might look his way, causing them to see the space where he was as it had been before he was there—a small trick that took little attention to create. The electromagnetic pulse he emitted to interfere with the security cameras was more of an effort, but it was worth it.
Up close, he could see that his female was young. Those faded freckles that dotted her nose fascinated him. Chilled by the autumn air, her skin was pink and white. She wore a pastel pink cable-knit sweater with a heavy fold-over neck that draped over her chest and the collar of the pale aqua puffer vest she had on. A pair of pink earmuffs was hooked around her neck. Her long blond hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail. Her pink lips smiled often as she talked to her customer. Her fingers, poking out of tipless pink gloves, were long and unpainted.
Liege smiled. She had a thing for pink. And he had a thing for her.
He was so fucked.
She must have felt his intense surveillance, for she looked right at him. And though he knew she couldn’t see him—not through the energy he hid behind—gooseflesh rose on his skin as he wondered just how deep she was in with the Omnis.
He wasn’t certain he could extinguish the beautiful light that she was.
What was he going to do if he discovered she was an innocent caught in an Omni web? He’d looked up her social media footprint last night. It showed she’d worked here since graduating college with a degree in landscape design, six years ago. It even showed that she’d dated the owner’s son off and on during that time.
Were they off now or on?
Liege yanked himself from that train of thought. Mutants and regulars didn’t mix. Her relationship status was of no interest to him. They could never meet. He told himself his interest in her was because of her relationship with his daughter.
Kiera was always his first priority.
* * *
Briscoe’s nursery was dormant now in the wee hours of the night. Liege had come back so he could do some reconnaissance, maybe discover what the Briscoes and the Omnis were up to.
A dense fog obscured his view of the lower half of the building. The moisture in it had crystalized and was sparkling in the glow from the streetlights.
Something moved close to the main entrance, rising from the fog to stare at Liege. The Matchmaker. The hairs along Liege’s arms and neck lifted. He’d gotten the bastard’s first message; he didn’t need a reminder—he just wasn’t inclined to act on it. Too much was at stake.
He wanted to confront the redheaded monster, but knew there was no point. What he was seeing was merely a projection, not the fiend’s corporeal form.
Liege drew the fog around his Escalade and himself, using it for cover. He disabled the garden center’s security system and cameras as he approached the front door of the nursery, then telekinetically unlocked the door, opening and closing it behind him without ever touching it.
The front portion of the main building was a retail shop, filled with garden-themed chotchkes, books, and linens. On the left was a small greenhouse with potted and hanging houseplants. The air was thick with humidity and oxygen, rich with the scents of dirt and living organisms.
Liege moved toward the back where the offices were situated off an L-shaped hallway. The first office before the hallway turned a corner belonged to her. His daughter’s friend. The Matchmaker’s target. Light spilled from the small space—not light as a human would see it, but light from an energetic glow like that of an aura.
Hers was a rare energy indeed. A powerful one, something he sensed could change his life. How perfectly the Omnis had architected her for him. He was drawn to her space as if compelled to come closer. Was that because of the Matchmaker’s influence? The very hint of a compulsion made him doubt himself.
He stepped into Summer’s office, into the field of her energy. It surrounded him, slipped inside him, filled all the hollow places he’d kept hidden from himself and his team. The sensation was unlike anything he’d experienced as a mutant or a human.
A psychic’s pot of gold.
It was far too easy to believe she was his lifemate, but it was a mirage he had to resist. A gift of the heart was the best poison of all—perhaps the only poison—that could affect him.
Liege looked around the small office, wondering about its occupant. When he let himself move beyond the feel of her energy, his other senses kicked in. There was a faint hint of roses. The desk was cluttered with stacks of papers and books. A deep shelf nearby held large scrolls of paper. He wondered about the human female who used this space. He checked for any pictures of her that he could find, but there were none. There wasn’t anything of a personal nature at all in the space, other than the sweater that hung on a hook behind the door.
Liege lifted the soft knit fabric and held it up, realizing the woman who wore it was tiny—in comparison to him, anyway. He brought it to his nose, burying his face in it, scenting her own unique essence and the rose perfume she wore.
He stuffed her sweater in his coat pocket, then left her office to wander around the remaining offices.
The next door opened to a long conference room. No alarming residual energy lingered there. The next office was empty. He went to the next one and stopped cold.
His enemy had been in here. Recently. Brett Flynn. Liege shut his eyes, shocked by the confirmation that the Omnis were close to the woman the Matchmaker said was his.
Wait—she was not his woman. For all he knew, she was bait to get him here. She and the Matchmaker could be colluding with the Omnis. Liege would have to surrender and enter their game if he wanted answers.
Whatever the truth was, the Matchmaker wasn’t going to let Liege off with a warning. He never did for any mutant.
Liege looked at the nameplate outside the office door. Clark Briscoe. The son Summer had dated.
Fear was heavy in the room. What had caused so a palpable reaction in the kid?
Flynn liked fear. It sustained him, but he couldn’t manufacture that emotion on his own. Perhaps he hadn’t been able to even as a human. He’d been a psychopath as a human, a trait the mutant shift only intensified. Liege suspected that whatever a human was before being changed, he became more of as a mutant.
Liege knew Flynn went on binges of sex and fear, lusting for sensations he couldn’t generate himself, feeding off them from the humans he possessed.
Liege left Clark’s office and went into the last room at the end of the hallway. He felt the energy of many regulars in there, couples and individuals, all of whom had come into this room in the last few weeks. Standing still, he sifted through the residual energy signatures, searching for the ones that had attracted Flynn.
This office belonged to Douglas Briscoe, Clark’s father and owner of the Briscoe Garden Center. Flynn had been in here, but Douglas wasn’t his target. Clark was.
Why? What did Clark have to offer Flynn? Why didn’t he use Douglas too? And was it a coincidence that he had come to this garden center where the woman meant for Liege worked?
No. There were no coincidences. Flynn knew what he was doing. Liege expected he could feel the same thing the Matchmaker did—that Summer and Liege were lifemates.
Liege needed to come back when Clark was there to get a better read on what the kid was doing messing around with Flynn and the Omnis.
Summer’s former boyfriend would never survive them—no regular could.