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Authors: Sylvia Day

Tags: #Romance, #Paranormal, #Fiction

A Touch of Crimson (8 page)

BOOK: A Touch of Crimson
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She looked around and realized they weren’t alone. There were others with them: more muscular guys as well as some who were elegantly built like Adrian. A few women, too—all were stunning enough to rouse feelings of jealousy and possessiveness. All together, there were a dozen spectators hanging around the fringes of the room, sizing her up with examining and somewhat hostile glances.
She pushed her hand into her messenger bag and wrapped her fist around the hilt of a second blade. She was outnumbered by a huge margin and, as a human, definitely underpowered. Her pulse raced with foreboding.
“Lindsay—” Adrian’s hand encircled her other wrist and instantly her heartbeat slowed, calm radiating outward from the place where he touched her. “You don’t need those. This is the safest place on earth for you. No one will harm you here.”
“I would make it as difficult as possible,” she promised, speaking to the room at large. A possibly empty threat, considering she had no idea what the hell she was dealing with.
“Be careful. You’re mortal. Fragile.”
She shot him an arch glance. She could hold her own against any other “mortals,” even men triple her size. For Adrian to call her “fragile” reaffirmed her belief that, whatever he was, he was powerful in a way she hadn’t known existed. “We still haven’t established what
you
are.”
He exhaled, relenting. “You spoke of vampires. What other creatures do you know of?”
“Dragons. Thanks to you.”
He released her and stepped back. “If there were angels, would they be the good guys or the bad?”
Lindsay’s mind spun. Angels had a biblical connotation, and she’d turned her back on religion long ago. She’d had to. She got too pissed off thinking about anyone having the ability to prevent her mother’s death, yet doing nothing.
She forced her tense shoulders to relax. “Depends on whether or not they were actively killing the vampires and dragons.”
Sleek tendrils of smoke drifted up from behind him. The mist spread outward, taking on the shape and substance of wings—pure, pristinely white wings touched with crimson tips, as if he’d trailed the edges through freshly spilled blood.
Lindsay stumbled backward, barely catching herself with a hand against the wall. The purity of his true form threatened to blind her. Power emanated from him with a warm radiance that was tangible; she felt as if she was basking in the noonday sun.
Tears stung her eyes and her knees weakened. The hallway spun with a terrible sense of déjà vu, millisecond flashes of Adrian with wings. Different clothes . . . altered hair length . . . various backdrops . . .
For a moment, she feared she would pass out. And then it all coalesced into one thought:
an angel
.
Shit
. She was so far removed from piety, the concept existed in a totally different universe. Even now—presented with his wings and glorious golden glow—what she felt was less about reverence and more about primitive, sinful lust. If anything, she’d grown more enamored with Adrian as his wings unfurled, because seeing him without his facade exposed him as openly as she’d exposed herself in the store.
She’d been peculiar all her life. Faster, stronger, capable of sensing minute changes in the wind that told her when something
wrong
was nearby. As a child, she’d often felt like a mutant, always having to be conscious of how quickly she moved. The last decade had been spent trying to be “normal” while hunting dangerous things to kill. She’d given up hope of having a serious romantic relationship. The need to hide an integral part of herself had left her utterly alone in the most fundamental of ways.
Now she faced someone who knew she was different. Someone who just might accept her being that way because he was different, too. She’d been unable to confide in anyone about the underworld she knew existed. But Adrian knew . . .
“You were going to let that dragon walk away!” she accused, shielding her sudden vulnerability behind anger. Just by knowing that she hunted, Adrian
knew
her—in a deeply intimate way that no one else did. He was suddenly precious to her for that reason, this ethereal being of impossible beauty.
“Your safety was my primary concern.”
“I can take care of myself. You should have taken care of him.”
“I only hunt vampires,” he said smoothly. “And as I said, he was a dragon.”
The front door opened and her gaze flew to it. Elijah walked in, carrying the groceries. He paused on the threshold, his handsome face impassive as he took in the tense scene before him. A lock of his thick brown hair slashed across his brow, framing eyes like emeralds. Although she hadn’t seen him smile even once, she didn’t get an unfriendly vibe from him. He just seemed watchful and sharply curious. Definitely smart. He was canny, she bet, and hard to catch unawares.
She felt Adrian come up beside her. The scent of his skin teased her with her next inhalation.
He’s an
angel
. And he hunts vampires . . .
“I know you’re hungry,” he murmured. “Let’s get you settled, so you can come talk to me while I make dinner.”
The thought of a celestial winged being slaving over a hot stove for her was bizarre, yet there was an eerie sense of rightness in being with Adrian this way, as if the intimacy of him preparing a meal for her was recognizable.
God, she had to get a grip. She had to figure out the new rules and how to either deal with them or circumvent them. She couldn’t afford to be ignorant, and she certainly wouldn’t have anyone dictating where she would stay and when she could go. Somewhere out there, the vampires who’d killed her mother were certainly terrorizing someone else. They’d taken such pleasure from the pain and fear they had wrought; she couldn’t see them quitting until someone put them down. She wanted to be the one to do it, and she wasn’t going to stop hunting until she knew for sure they would never destroy another child’s innocence the way they had hers.
“Okay,” she agreed. “But, like I said, you’re the one doing the talking.”
 
“Who is she?”
“I don’t know.” Elijah leaned his forearm against a top bunk in the lycan barracks and looked at the men and women gathered around him. “I don’t see how Adrian knows. She just showed up in the airport and he’s been all over her ever since. I’ve never seen him glance twice at a woman, but he can’t take his eyes off her.”
“Maybe she’s just his type,” Jonas said, showing the limits of his sixteen years with his naïveté.
“Seraphim don’t have a type. They don’t have emotions like we do. They don’t lust or hunger or crave.” At least that’s what Elijah had been taught as a pup, and what he’d observed with his own eyes. But tonight, during the ride home from the grocery store, he’d felt a raw energy radiating from Adrian that betrayed an emotional response to the threat Lindsay Gibson had faced in the dragon. And there was a sharp, intensely possessive edge to the way Adrian managed her. He acted as if she meant something to him, while she clearly had never met him before in her life.
“Still, she’s hot.” Jonas shrugged. “I’d do her.”
“Don’t even joke about that,” Elijah snapped. “He’d shred you. He was ready to take down a demon, in public, just for looking at her wrong.”
“Which would’ve ticked off Raguel,” Micah pointed out, rubbing his hand over his jaw thoughtfully. “You know how pissy the archangels get over their territory, especially with the seraphim. Not to mention the possibility of irritating the demon’s liege. Adrian would have stirred up a lot of trouble for a woman he supposedly just met.”
“Why her? She’s human.” Esther’s tone was scathing, inciting the other females to nod.
“She slew a dragon like she was swatting a fly.” Elijah met the multitude of verdant gazes aimed at him. “She moved faster than I’ve ever seen a mortal move, but you’re right, Esther. She’s human. I can’t smell anything else in her.”
“But there has to be,” Micah guessed, catching on to what was left unsaid.
“Yes,” Elijah agreed. “I overheard her tell Adrian she can sense demons and vampires, and she’s been hunting them for ten years.”
A rumble of disbelief moved through the pack.
His mouth curved wryly. “Adrian was showing her his wings when I walked into the house. There’s a story there. It would be good to know what it is.”
“What should we do?” Jonas asked, looking to Elijah for the answer, as all the lycans in the room did.
The others turned to him too often. It was a burden Elijah didn’t want, one he couldn’t afford to bear. Everyone seemed to forget that he’d been transferred to Adrian’s pack for observation. He told himself they were simply used to him being bullheaded. He just needed to break them of the habit of letting him do things his way all the time. But even that implied a power he shouldn’t be capable of wielding.
“Keep your heads down,” he answered finally. “Keep your noses clean. Jason made the suggestion that Phineas’s death might have been lycan related. We don’t want to give them any excuse to keep thinking that way.”
Esther snorted. “Jason’s never trusted us”
“And he’s second-in-command now,” Elijah reminded. “His opinion matters.”
He looked down the length of the long, narrow room. It was a utilitarian space, filled with rows of olive green metal bunk beds and matching footlockers. Of all the packs, Adrian’s was the least comfortable. Most of the others were in the remote areas where the Sentinels kept the vampires contained, locations where a lycan could run and hunt and pretend to be free. But Adrian’s pack was considered the most prestigious. The Sentinel captain paid and fed his lycans well, but, more important, he hunted only the most egregious offenders, the most vicious, cunning, and dangerous vampires. And any lycan worth a shit hungered for worthy, challenging prey.
Elijah rolled his shoulders back. “My advice: listen carefully to everything said around you. Nothing is too unimportant to take note of. And, please, think twice before you do anything that attracts attention to you.”
Growling their assent, the group dispersed before they were discovered. Collusion and mutiny were serious charges none of them wanted to face.
Micah stayed behind, running a hand through the striking red hair that carried over to his wolf pelt. Before speaking, he glanced over each of his powerful shoulders to search for eavesdroppers. Then, he leaned in and whispered, “She could be our ticket to freedom.”
Elijah stiffened. “Don’t say another word.”
“Someone has to say it! We shouldn’t have to live like this—fighting against our very natures and repressing our instincts. I saw you carrying Adrian’s fucking
groceries
. You’re better than that. Better than him!”
“Stop.” Elijah turned away. There was nothing he could do. An uprising would lead only to the deaths of everyone he cared about. “He saved my life today.”
“He’d take it just as easily.”
“I know. But right now I’m indebted to him.”
“I can’t
not
try, and we can’t succeed without you. I know you see what an opportunity this woman is. If Adrian is attached to her, who knows what he might give up to see her returned to him safely.”
“He wouldn’t give up his control over lycans!” Elijah sank heavily onto a bottom bunk. “If you think our protection has made the Sentinels weak, you’re delusional. They’re seraphim trained to overpower other seraphim, the most powerful celestial beings aside from the Creator. Adrian lives and breathes his mission. The Sentinels train every day as if Armageddon is tomorrow. They would slaughter us all.”
“Better to die as lycans than to cower as dogs.”
Elijah knew Micah wasn’t the only lycan feeling reckless. Many believed the power struggle between the angels and vampires was no longer a lycan problem, and that a revolution was in order to secure the freedom they felt was their due. Elijah didn’t disagree, but he also didn’t have a mate or pups to fight for. He had only himself, and hunting vampires was what he lived for. Working for Adrian gave him the intel and resources to do what he did best.
“We’re not cowering,” he said quietly. “We’re responsible for containing former seraphim. That’s huge.”
“It’s servitude.”
“What would we do with ourselves if we didn’t have that? Where would we go? You gonna take a desk job? Have a commute? Have human toddlers over to your house for playdates with your pups?”
“Maybe. I’d be free. I could do anything I wanted.”
“We’d be hunted. Every day we’d be looking over our shoulders, waiting for Adrian to walk in the door and put us down. Running isn’t freedom.”
The redhead sat on the bed opposite him. “You’ve thought about this—a lot, it sounds like. Unfortunately, I have to pack—I’m heading back to Louisiana on a hunt—but we’ll talk more when I’m home again.”
“There’s nothing to talk about. Escape would be futile. Stop pushing.”
“I’m your Beta, El.” Micah grinned. “It’s my job.”
“I don’t need a Beta. I don’t have a pack.”
“Keep telling yourself that. Still won’t make it true. You control your beast, and somehow, that makes it strong enough to dominate the rest of us. I know you feel it, too, the way every lycan instinctively looks to you. We can’t help it. That makes you boss whether you like it or not. We can stir shit up on our own, but when it comes down to it, we need a leader, and you’re the only one who exerts the force necessary to become one.”
BOOK: A Touch of Crimson
13.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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