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Authors: Sylvia Day

Tags: #Romance, #Paranormal, #Fiction

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BOOK: A Touch of Crimson
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Elijah stood. His uniqueness might be their one saving grace. If they couldn’t band together cohesively without him, that might just save their lives. He knew what was said about him: his ability to rein his beast in at all times was an anomaly among lycans. Fear, anger, pain—they could all trigger an unwanted shift, but he never altered unless he chose to. As far as he was concerned, that might make him a mutant, but it didn’t make him an Alpha. It sure as hell didn’t make it acceptable to lead his kind to slaughter.
“You’re asking me to lead a charge into a bloodbath,” he said, “knowing it’s pointless. Not gonna happen. Ever.”
“It’s too late to avoid, El. Centuries too late.”
CHAPTER 6
 
As Lindsay licked a crumb from her lower lip, the thoughts sweeping through Adrian’s mind were unrepentantly sexual. She was a beautiful woman—a tigress with her golden hair and dark, watchful eyes—but what roused him at that moment was the gusto with which she ate. She alternated between using chopsticks with skill and eating with her fingers, her enjoyment evident in her soft hums of appreciation and hearty appetite.
“This is
really
good,” she praised.
Her fervency made him smile inwardly.
Sentinels were created to be too neutral to relish anything with such passion. The highs and lows of human emotion weren’t meant for them. They were the weights that balanced the scales, the sword that leveled the field.
She held a shrimp up by the tail. “My dad took my grandma out to a teppanyaki restaurant for dinner once. She totally dug the flames and flying spatulas until the chef did this fancy maneuver that ended with a shrimp flicked onto her plate. I thought it was
awesome.
The guy had mad skills But my granny just stared at the shrimp for a long minute—the stare of death, I’m telling you—then she
tossed it back
. She was so insulted. To her mind, the chef should have learned some manners before working in a nice establishment.”
Adrian’s brows rose.
Lindsay rocked back on the bar stool, laughing. “You should have seen the guy’s face. My dad bought him a couple shots of sake just to soothe his pride.”
Her laughter was infectious. The sound was so open and free he couldn’t fight a smile any longer. His mouth curved for the first time in centuries. He liked her. He wanted to get to know her better.
But he had to maintain the appearance of a calm, unaffected host. Both for her sake and for the benefit of his Sentinels. He could feel their wariness and distrust. Although they would never voice the accusation, they knew Shadoe weakened him. Their concern for his well-being could foster a dangerous resentment if he wasn’t cautious. His unit was comprised of seraphim who were better than him, angels who didn’t suffer the same emotional frailties he did. They didn’t fully understand what a vulnerability Shadoe was to him, because they couldn’t grasp the mortal love he felt. If a Sentinel came to believe their mission had been overly compromised by Lindsay, they’d kill her and be justified in doing so.
Focusing on deep-frying the vegetable tempura,Adrian resisted glancing at Lindsay too often. She sat on a stool on the opposite side of his granite-topped kitchen island, nursing her third glass of water. He found himself aroused by the way she swallowed. Two hundred years of celibacy had taken their toll. During Shadoe’s dormancy, he craved no woman’s touch. But when her soul returned, his repressed need and hunger surged to the fore, all the more voracious for having been contained for so long. He was aching to taste her, push inside her, make her writhe beneath relentless thrusts of his cock.
But that would have to wait. Lindsay needed to trust him first, then want him as much as he wanted her. When he finally had her, there would be no restraint. And he didn’t expect she would allow him any. Not as fierce as she was. When she gave herself, it would be with abandon, he suspected. This woman with the heart of a warrior and a soul radiating such pain.
He would simply have to be patient through the necessary prerequisite steps: keep her safe, make her strong, win her trust.
“You’re not eating,” she noted.
“I am, actually. Just not in the same manner as you do.”
“Oh?” Her tone was deceptively neutral. “What’s your way?”
Her grip on her lacquered chopsticks changed, became lethal. He could snap her spine with the slightest touch, yet her sense of right and wrong coupled with her need to protect others goaded her to prepare for an offensive move in a no-win scenario. He admired that fighting spirit and strength of conviction.
Adrian considered his answer carefully. It would do him no favors to have her see him as a parasite like the vampires. “I absorb energy.”
“From what? How?”
“There’s energy all around us—in the air, the water, the earth. The same energy harnessed by wind turbines and hydroelectric plants like the Hoover Dam.”
“Bet that comes in handy.”
“It’s convenient,” he agreed, returning his attention to cooking the last of the batter-coated shrimp and vegetables.
His energy levels were thrumming now, as they always did when Shadoe was near. Her proximity—the unique force of two souls in one vessel—allowed him to achieve the greatest levels of power of which he was capable. Life-force energy from souls was the primary source of seraphim sustenance and the reason why the Fallen had turned to blood drinking—they still needed life-force energy to survive, but the stripping away of their souls forced them to obtain that energy through direct means.
“So,” Lindsay began, “you hunt vampires.”
“I do.”
“But the guy in the grocery store, he was a dragon.”
“He was.”
She took a deep breath. “Are there also demons? I mean, angels and demons always seem to go hand in hand.”
He pulled the last of the tempura out of the oil with a strainer, then turned the burner off. “The dragon was a demon. There are other classifications of beings that fall under that designation.”
“Vampires?”
“There are some creatures who have fangs and drink blood that are demons. But they’re not my problem. My responsibility is other angels—fallen angels. The vampires I hunt were once like me.”
“Like you. Angels. Really.” Her lips thinned. “But aren’t demons everyone’s concern? They’re the bad guys, right?”
“My mission is sharply defined.”
“Your mission?”
“I’m a soldier, Lindsay. I have duties and orders, and I follow them. I expect those whose job it is to hunt demons feel the same way about their responsibilities. It’s not my place to intercede and I wouldn’t regardless. Frankly, I have enough on my plate.”
“But someone is taking care of them?”
“Yes.”
She stared at him a moment, then nodded slowly. “I didn’t know. If someone’s vibe is off, I’ve taken them out.”
Adrian’s grip on the counter tightened. It was a miracle she was alive today. “How do you sense this vibe? How does it feel?”
“Like I’m walking through a Halloween fun house and I know something is about to jump out at me. My stomach quivers and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. But it’s really intense. There’s no mistaking it for anything else.”
“Sounds scary. Yet you hunt the things that scare you. Why?”
Lindsay set her chin atop steepled fingers. “I don’t have aspirations of saving the world, if that’s what you’re asking. I hate killing. But I can feel the evil in these things for a reason. I can’t turn my back on that. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”
“You feel you have a calling.”
She took a slow, deep inhalation. The silence stretched out. “Something like that.”
“Who knows that you hunt?”
“You and your guards, and whoever you tell.”
“All right. This is a no-brainer, but I have to say it anyway: you’re going to have to trust me,” he said softly. “I have no chance of helping you otherwise.”
“That’s what you intend to do? Help me?” Her shoulders went back. “Did you know about me when you saw me in the airport?”
“Did I know you could sense demons and vamps, and were actively hunting them?” he clarified, deliberately narrowing the scope of her query so he could answer honestly. “No. I saw you, I wanted you, and you made it clear there was a possibility I could have you. I acted on that.”
Lines bracketed her mouth and eyes. A muscle in her jaw twitched with tension. “And that sort of coincidence just rolls right off your back?”
“I happened to be in the same place you were at the right time. After that, we met because you sensed I was ‘different,’ right?”
“Actually, I thought you were the hottest man I’d ever seen. The vibe came later. As for right place/right time, I should have been on an earlier flight. I missed my connection.”
“And I was attacked by a vampire this morning, which resulted in the crash of my helicopter and a need to travel commercial. See?” He shrugged. “Random chaos.”
“You’re an angel. Aren’t you supposed to preach about a divine plan or something?”
“Freedom of choice, Lindsay. We all have it. Today you and I were affected by the ramifications of other people’s choices.” He held her gaze. “But you don’t really want to get into a theological discussion with me. You want to avoid talking about the events that led you to hunt. I’m not going to push you—yet—but we’re at an impasse until I know what’s going on with you.”
She stared back. “You’re so sure I have a story to tell.”
“I saw you in action. It takes years of practice to learn how to wield a blade like that. Who taught you?”
“I taught myself.”
Fierce admiration heated his blood. “What materials are you using to forge your blades? You must use at least trace amounts of silver.”
“Yes. I figured out most . . .
things
have a negative reaction to it.”
“Dragons don’t. In fact, aside from two points of weakness, they have an impenetrable hide. Your blade would’ve bounced right off of him if he’d shifted.”
Lindsay held up her left hand and showed the pad of her thumb. A straight crimson line betrayed a recent injury. “Some creatures have a negative reaction to my blood, too. I always smear a little on my blades before I toss them, just in case. The blood by itself won’t kill, but it gives my weapons a chance to get the job done. Found that out the hard way.”
Adrian’s mind spun with the implications. She was mortal, but even if she’d been a naphil like Shadoe, her blood shouldn’t have any effect on others.
She continued to eat, blissfully unaware of his confusion.
Reining in his thoughts, he said, “So you dedicated what had to be a substantial portion of your free time to learning how to kill things that frighten you. You have a strong sense of right and wrong, Lindsay, but no one who’s sane begins killing things without provocation. No matter how evil you sense someone may be, you had to have witnessed that evil firsthand to resort to lethal force. Something tipped you off, and something else keeps you motivated. Vengeance, perhaps?”
“And you want to help me get it?” Her expression was wary and assessing. “How would you do that, exactly ?
Why
would you?”
“Why not? Our goals are the same. You’ve been lucky so far, but that won’t last. One day soon you’re going to take down a demon or vamp who has friends who’ll hunt you, or you’ll miss your target. Either way, your days are numbered.”
“Can you teach me the difference between vampires and demons?”
“So you have a preference.” He crossed his arms. “I can point you in the right direction and give you backup. I can train you how to hunt more effectively and show you how to kill without relying on surprise. Right now you’re floating aimlessly, waiting for random encounters. I can give you focus and specific targets.”
Lindsay leaned back in her chair. “You don’t even know me.”
Her proclivities, while deeply troubling, provided him with an ideal excuse to keep her close. “I’m holding the front line in a battle in which I’m outnumbered. I can use every soldier.”
“But this isn’t all I do. I have a regular life and a job.”
“So do I. We can work out the logistics together.”
She caught her lower lip between her teeth. After an interminable moment, she nodded. “Okay.”
Perfect.
He enjoyed a moment of sharp satisfaction. Then he heard the front door opening. A moment later, Damien stepped into view.
Adrian’s focus shifted to the expected report on Phineas’s death. “Join us.”
The Sentinel entered the kitchen. He glanced briefly at Lindsay, then turned his attention to Adrian. “Captain.”
Introducing them, Adrian made a point of identifying Lindsay as a recruit.
Damien’s seraph blue eyes returned to her. “Ms. Gibson.”
“Call me Lindsay, please.”
“Speak freely,” Adrian prompted Damien, giving the Sentinel a look that told him to hold his questions about Lindsay’s incarnation of Shadoe until later.
BOOK: A Touch of Crimson
12.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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