Grounded (Out of the Box Book 4)

By: Robert J. Crane



Minneapolis, Minnesota

They say blood is thicker than water, and while this is literally true, it’s also really annoying. Take it from a girl who’s cleaned up way too much blood in her time. When you take this expression metaphorically, however, it’s actually even worse than laundering your clothes to get the red out, writing off that nice new pair of jeans because they’re sodden with—never mind. I’m getting off point here. What is the point? The actual point? That blood, the people you’re related to—the ties are thicker than with almost anyone else. Because the things you do for blood—for family—well, I think they cause most of us more problems than can be fairly called our share.

And the things you do for the people you call family who aren’t blood … some of them are even worse.

I was in the training room on the agency campus listening to Ariadne vent her spleen about another of our director’s aggravating decisions. It was an early Tuesday morning in the middle of June, and the heat of summer hadn’t settled on Minnesota quite yet. It was lovely outside, and I wanted to get out there, maybe take a flight, clear my head. But when Director Andrew Phillips—asshole extraordinaire—made a pain of himself on the administrative side of our agency, which Ariadne ran, I listened to her gripes. Because in return, when he landed on operations, my side of the agency, I got to yell and throw things in her presence. It was a fair trade, most of the time.

But on a nice day, when I was just trying to get through my training so I could take a flight? It didn’t feel fair.

Ariadne wasn’t blood, by the way. She was other kind of family, the found kind, which … well, even I have those people in my life that I’d probably choose over the ones I got born to. She was that to me, like a surrogate sister/mother/all-around useful person whose lover I kindasorta killed and have still living in my head.

Rivers of blood in my life.

That’s probably not a metaphor.

“If he could just …” Ariadne searched for words. Her pale face was inflamed, almost matching the color of her hair. Almost. I wasn’t positive she dyed it, but she had just enough lines on her face that if she didn’t, damn. Because that red hair of hers wasn’t losing an ounce of luster.

“Stop being an ass?” I was gently working over a heavy bag. By heavy, I mean about a thousand pounds of compressed sand hung from the ceiling by chains. It was specially made just for me and suspended from bolts fastened directly to the steel girders that made up the bottom level of the roof supports. The head of the construction company who built it laughingly assured me that it would hold up to anything I threw at it or my money back. As soon as it was finished I gave it about a quarter of my effort in his presence and he cut a check that afternoon. I never saw him on site again after that, even though the project went on for another month. Maybe he died of shame, I dunno.

“I don’t think Phillips will stop being an ass.” Ariadne was pacing, wandering back and forth in her navy suit, the V-neck of her cream-colored blouse revealing more mottled skin. She was clearly livid and had taken off her heels to walk over the uneven canvas mats that lined the floor. I paused, a little worried she might turn an ankle as she strode ten paces, turned, came back, and did it again for the nth time. “I just wish he could see this like we see it.”

“He’s not supposed to see it like we see it,” I said, giving the bag a jab. It was really pitiful how much I had to hold back on this thing. I felt like I was shadow boxing with a child, afraid to even let it have a tap. When I channeled the strength of the strongest soul I had within—a really nasty beast named Wolfe—I could hit hard enough to probably knock a train off its tracks. I hadn’t tried that yet, though I kept secretly hoping some grandiose ass would jack a BNSF freight engine just so I could find out. “He’s supposed to keep us quietly under the radar so that President Harmon can win re-election without having to answer for my various and sundry misdeeds.”

“And a fine job he’s doing of that lately.” Ariadne froze in place, mid-turn, and looked straight at me. I could see the regret pile up in her eyes as I watched. Her red skin flared brighter for a second and then drained. “I am so sorry, Sienna.”

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