Authors: Colleen Gleason
“I have something similar.” Though he was crumbling with uncertainty inside, he couldn’t keep from looking at her, devouring the sight of her. As if it might be the last time he did.
Unlike most everyone else in the area, Savina was not disheveled. In fact, she looked as if she’d just stepped out of a Paris café—except for the streak of blood he’d deposited on her cream-colored blouse. Unless it was from Grady, whom she’d probably embraced with just as much enthusiasm as she’d done Max.
That thought didn’t sit well with him at all.
“You’re not going to the hospital with Macey?” she asked, frowning.
He drew himself up. “I’ve got work to do—things to take care of.”
She shook her head, her attention falling away, her beautiful lips tightening with disgust. “There’s always work to do, Max. But maybe it’s time you took a moment to be a father, instead of a Venator. For once in thirteen years.”
Max stilled, glancing over to where the ambulance had been a moment ago. He thought about what people had seen, how they’d be telling stories and tales—and what that would do, heightening the fear and paranoia in a city that was already permeated with violent gangsters. Of the dreams the schoolgirls would surely have, the nightmares and terrors.
It was his duty: not only to protect the mortals from the violence of undead, but also from the knowledge and fear of them.
“It won’t take long. Macey will understand.”
Savina sighed. She looked utterly dejected. So sad, so disappointed. His already worn-out heart thudded like a death knell. “Right, then, Max. You do what you think is best.”
He wanted to say something else, but the words simply wouldn’t come. They looked at each other for a moment, then Savina reached up to touch his grimy, unshaven face. It felt like a farewell, especially when she said, “I hope you’ll find peace, now that Iscariot is gone.”
She gave him a small smile, then turned to go, back to—wherever.
“Wait. Savina.” He reached for her, and to his great relief, she paused, turning to look at him with big eyes, filled with some emotion he couldn’t quite define. Max released her and fumbled for something to say…something that would keep her there for a little longer. “How did you know Iscariot was dead?”
“One of the policemen told me—Grady’s uncle. He saw it happen. He…knows. He knew before. The uncle, I mean.”
Max tensed a little. “Right.”
She swept her gaze over him, her eyes lingering. “You could use a shower. Whether you go to the hospital or try and visit those schoolgirls and whoever else you feel you need to, you can’t go looking like you just left a bar fight.”
“Right. I— All my things are at Grady’s.”
“And…?” She tilted her head, looking at him like an inquisitive bird…but with challenge in her eyes.
But what was she challenging him about? He was so bloody weary and confused—and he should be exhilarated, now that Iscariot was gone and Felicia’s death was avenged. Now that the root of malevolence was gone, and the last of Judas Iscariot’s children had been destroyed. Now perhaps he could rest…a little.
Savina folded her arms across her middle. “Max…honestly. You don’t really think there was something going on with me and Grady when you came in last night, do you?” Her eyes were steely, dark as olives, glinting like onyx. Her lips were flat as a signature line.
Max didn’t respond immediately, because a welling of hope caused his voice not to work. She was tapping her foot—figuratively, not literally—glaring up at him.
“Grady is young enough to be my
“If you’d had him when you were
,” he said, finding his voice at last.
She paused, as if to calculate. Then, “Right, whatever. But—God, Max, how dense
His cheeks warmed and he glanced over at a trio of police officers who were looking at them curiously. Christ. Now he had an audience. “I…um…well, hell, Savina. It had been a—well, a difficult day. And it was cold and miserable and rainy, and all I wanted was—well, then I saw you two, all cozy—”
“Grady had just finished telling me how obvious it was you loved me.” Were her eyes glittering now? Could it be
.” He snatched up her hand and clasped it very tightly, pulling her close to him again. “You know I love you. I’ve told you.”
“So why are you being an arse?”
“Good God, I don’t
. I’m not
to be an arse.”
That made her laugh. Her eyes crinkled prettily at the corners, and her smile was joyous, and Max’s knees just about gave away at the beauty of it…and the hope that maybe at least one of the women in his life might forgive him for being an arse.
“Come back to Grady’s with me and get cleaned up. And then…you can decide what to do.”
He knew what he wanted to do—hell, what any red-blooded man would want to do, having emerged victorious from battle after having annihilated his archenemy along with half a dozen others, and with a gorgeous woman laughing up at him with delight and love.
But he had a feeling that was going to have to wait.
+ + +
Going back in time, Chas discovered, was less taxing on the body than going forward. But it sure was hell on the mind and heart.
Though it had been more than ten years in his physical lifespan since he’d been in Paris, it was more than a century earlier as far as the calendar was concerned.
There were no automobiles; he had to remember to watch so he didn’t step in horseshit. No electric lights. Definitely no aeroplanes. The female fashions were…well, they were surprisingly similar to the twenties styles in the sense that the skirts were straight, light, and loose, and unencumbered by hoops, crinolines, or much in the way of corsets. Though, of course, in Napoleon’s Paris the hems brushed the tops of the shoes instead of the tops of the knees, and few women would be caught dead with bobbed hair.
Not that it mattered. Chas was here, for one thing, and then he was getting the hell out—out of Paris, and out of this century.
Wayren had brought him back to Marais, where Cezar Moldavi had shrouded himself in a large mansion. The vampire lived beneath it in a warren of rooms and tunnels—a collection of apartments not unlike those attached to The Silver Chalice in Chicago. It was a necessity for a vampire to be shielded from the sunlight.
“What day is it?” he asked Wayren as the fiacre cab (surprising that the blond chatelaine would even use public transportation) pulled up in front of Moldavi’s house. The building appeared closed up and empty, but that wasn’t unusual for an undead’s residence. They never used the main floors. “What I want to know is…”
“What will you find inside? This is moments—and I do mean moments after they’ve left… Do you see that carriage there?” Wayren nodded at a retreating black prison carriage with shaded windows. There was not only a driver with a man sitting next to him, but also a sturdy footman riding on the back. “That carriage is the one taking Cezar Moldavi off to his new accommodations, a secure location in the Pyrenees arranged by Narcise. The interior of the house, and its apartments, has been emptied of people.”
The tightness in his chest released, and Chas nodded. He wouldn’t see Narcise—or Giordan Cale.
Memories would accost him, but nothing in the flesh.
“Are you coming with me?” he asked.
“Not unless you require my assistance.”
“No.” He’d rather face those memories alone. “I won’t be long.”
No, he shouldn’t be long. For though the time he’d spent under Cezar Moldavi’s “care” and “hospitality” had been filled with pain and anguish, it was nevertheless indelibly imprinted on his mind—down to the most minute of details. Once he obtained entrance to the house, he knew precisely where to go to find the stairs to the subterranean level, and then to breach Cezar’s private apartments.
Also known as his torture chamber.
The moment Chas stepped through the entrance to the chamber, he was assaulted by a wave of memories. Not only of the agony that had been foisted upon him by Moldavi, but also of the first time he’d met Narcise—a practiced warrior, with her sword at his throat—and of the times following. The times they’d spent here in Paris, hiding from her brother until Chas was well enough to arrange for their escape.
Those had been among the most beautiful—and difficult—times of his life.
Chas’s insides were in turmoil, but to his surprise, it wasn’t as difficult as he’d anticipated. The room where he’d been tortured looked hardly any different than he remembered it, and he immediately found the ruby-eyed skull and its so-called tongue.
The dagger that had been positioned inside the skull so that its blade protruded from between two rows of teeth was still, blessedly, there. Chas picked up the skull and saw that the blade had been permanently affixed in place, and so he decided to take the entire thing.
They’d figure out how to use or remove the blade so it could be used to—
He nearly dropped the skull at the sound of Narcise’s voice.
It took him far too long to settle his thudding heart before he turned to see her standing there.
Damn. It wasn’t a figment of his imagination. She was truly there, as beautiful and remote as always.
. Wayren had lied to him? Wasn’t that against the rules?
“I thought… I was told you went to America.”
“I did.” Oh, he sure as hell did. If she only knew how far he’d traveled to and from this damned location. But in her mind, he’d been gone from Paris for only a few weeks since their final escape from Moldavi.
“I was sorry you didn’t say goodbye.”
But I understand
. Those words were unspoken, but their meaning shivered in the tone of her voice.
“I didn’t think— What are you doing here? I thought you were gone. Taking Cezar off to…Spain?”
He couldn’t pull his eyes away. She was still as beautiful as ever, with her waterfall of blue-black hair, and the truest, most stunning blue eyes he’d ever seen. Her features were perfect, her figure incredible…and yet—there was something different.
Not about her. But about him. Something different about him.
“I wanted to check on one more thing.” She didn’t seem able to take her gaze from him either. “I have no intention of ever coming back here.”
“I had to come back as well…for something. I hope you don’t mind if I take this.” He gestured with the skull.
She laughed, but it was tinged with bitterness. “Something of Cezar’s? Take your pick. I want nothing to do with any of my brother’s belongings.”
“Thank you. It’s…well, it will come in useful.”
“Chas.” There was grief and apology in her eyes and in her voice—though why she should apologize for never having stopped loving Giordan Cale, he didn’t know.
Love was what it was, he realized suddenly.
She seemed to be struggling for something to say, and he held up a hand to stop her. “Narcise, you know I’ll always love you, and I’ll never forget our time here in Paris, but…that’s done. You’ll be happy now—and I’ve— I’m…all right.”
He realized as he spoke those words—words that, only days ago he would have believed were a lie—that they weren’t, in fact, dishonest at all.
He was standing there, staring at the most beautiful, bravest, and strongest woman he’d ever known—and an undead—a woman he’d fallen for like he’d never fallen for before or since…and he no longer hurt. He no longer
Somehow, sometime over the last ten years—or maybe it
a century—he’d let it go. He had moved on, even though he’d clung to his own self-loathing in the meanwhile.
“If it weren’t for you, I…” she said, her voice rough and broken. She looked around the chamber, sweeping it with her hand. He knew what she meant to say.
If it weren’t for you, I’d still be here.
He shook his head, suddenly realizing the truth. “No. That’s not true. Cale would have come for you.”
Her eyes filled with tears, and everything between them suddenly felt right and whole. No longer strained, no longer tinged with pain and regret. No longer awkward and tense.
“Thank you, Chas. Thank you for…that…and for everything.” She came into his arms, and he tensed a little, preparing himself, as he pulled her close.
But that old desperate desire to
her, to hold her, was gone. That old rush of possession had dissipated.
Now, he held her and was able to press his face into her hair and drop a kiss onto the top of her head…without wanting more.
He was actually
when he released her. It was as if a massive load had been removed from his heart and mind.
It was as if he had at last been liberated.
~ A Waste of Good Brandy ~
Grady opened his eyes to
find several people standing over him. None of them were the tall blond woman who wore the clothing of a medieval chatelaine, though he was certain he’d seen her again recently…or perhaps he’d only dreamed her while weaving in and out of painful consciousness.
Rest and heal
, she’d said, touching his forehead with a smooth, comforting hand. Warmth and white light had rushed through him.
The people gathered around Grady now weren’t angels, nor, thankfully, were they demons. Apparently he was still alive.
But damn, he hurt. Everywhere.
“Nice of you to join us,” said Linwood, who owned the face closest to him. “We’ve been waiting a while.”
Grady managed a smile to offset the gruffness in his uncle’s voice. “Fashionably late…to the party,” he managed to say.
Then he looked around at the others who circled his hospital bed, recognizing them as Linwood’s colleagues and peers, all four of them dressed in their police uniforms. Beyond the circle of visitors, he could see other beds in the ward. But none of the ones nearby were in use, so Grady had the entire end section to himself.
“Wanted to make sure you’d come out of everything all right,” said Officer Barnett. “You’re quite a hero.”