Chapter Two
Taking a deep breath to wash away the rush of raw hunger, she headed for the elevators, weapons bag in hand. Experience told her management would get a little testy if she walked in wearing her crossbow. “So? Security?”
“It sucks.”
That was her estimation, too. “It was the most convenient location for this hunt.”
Being stuck in an elevator with the man was an exercise in frustration. His smell; soap and skin, heated up from within to create something uniquely Deacon—pure male with an edge of steel—wrapped around her like an aphrodisiac. Since she couldn’t not breathe, she was overdosing on it by the time the elevator kicked them out on the third floor. “Stay here.” She held up a hand. “I need to check your credentials.”
He leaned his back up against the wall opposite her door. “Say hi to Simon from me.”
Keeping an eye on him, she swiped her keycard and entered the room. It was fairly basic—a double bed beside a small chest of drawers, a table with just enough room for the hotel phone and maybe a laptop, a couple of chairs. Really, everything she needed while on a hunt. The call to Simon’s cell phone from her own went through without problems.
“Deacon,” she said the instant he picked up. “Who is he and why is he here?”
“Give me a description.”
She did. “So?”
“Yes, that’s Deacon. He’s on a job and it’s something I want you on as well—I assume you’ve completed the retrieval for Lacarre?”
“Yeah.” Intrigued by what he wasn’t saying, she put a hand on her hip. “What’s the job, and does it have anything to do with vampires getting their heads lopped off?”
“Deacon will explain. We need to sort this out fast.”
“Will do.” She paused. “Simon. The other thing . . .”
“It’s all right, Sara. The decision doesn’t have to be made today. Or even tomorrow.”
But Sara knew it did have to be made. “After this job. I’ll give you an answer.”
“I’ll wait for it.” A pause. “Sara, Deacon’s extremely dangerous. Be careful.”
“I’m pretty dangerous, too.” Hanging up after a few more words, she went to the door and pulled it open. The man in question was standing on the doorstep. Her eyes drifted down to the duffel that had materialized at his feet. “Whoa. You’re not staying here.”
“I have a lot to tell you. I’ll crash on the floor.”
Her streak of curiosity was a pain in the ass sometimes. “Yeah, you will.” Waving him in, she locked the door. “So, let me guess—we have to find and neutralize this psychopath pretending to be a hunter.” There’d been five murders in the past week and a half that she knew about. All vamps. All killed by decapitation.
Deacon dropped his bag on the floor beside hers and shrugged off his jacket to reveal a rough navy shirt that threw his eyes into even brighter relief. “I’m not so sure he’s pretending. I’ve been on his trail since the day after the second murder, and all signs point to a hunter.”
“I don’t believe you,” she said, remaining by the door, arms crossed.
Putting his jacket over the back of a chair, he pulled it out and grabbed a seat before bending down to unlace his boots. “Doesn’t mean it’s not the truth.”
“Hunters don’t go around killing innocent people.” It wasn’t what they were, what they did. There was honor in being a hunter. “We make sure vampires don’t get killed more often than they already do.” Legend had it that before the formation of the Guild, vampires who dared try an escape were simply executed upon discovery.
Having removed both boots and socks, Deacon stretched out his legs and tipped his chair back against the table, eyes intent. “Bill James.”
It was a punch to the gut, a fucking knife to the heart. “How do you know about that?” Nobody but the three hunters who’d gone after him—and Simon, of course—knew about Bill. To the others, he’d died a hero, been given a full Guild funeral.
Deacon continued to watch her with absolute, unwavering focus, a calm that made her wonder if the man ever let go. “My name is Deacon, but most people know me as the Slayer.”
She stared. He wasn’t joking. Fuck.
Pushing off the door, she walked very quietly to the bed and sat down on the edge. “I thought they made you up. Like the bogeyman.”
“The Guild recruits and trains some of the deadliest men and women in the world. We need a bogeyman.”
She shook her head. “Ellie’s never going to believe I met the Slayer.” It was a joke, the name. Taken off a television show. “The Guild really has a hunter whose job it is to hunt our own?”
“Only when necessary.” He didn’t speak again until she raised her head. “And you know it sometimes is necessary.”
“Bill was an aberration,” she said. “Something snapped in him.” The other hunter had taken to killing children, savaging them with an inhumanity that made her gorge rise even now.
“Hunting our own is a rare thing,” Deacon acknowledged. “But it happens. That’s why there’s always a Slayer in the Guild.”
“Why didn’t you track Bill?” Because it was Elena who’d had to kill the older hunter. Sara had been determined to do the gut-wrenching task—Bill was her friend, but he’d been Ellie’s mentor. But Bill had attacked her with a tire iron in an ambush none of them had seen coming. She’d been unconscious before she hit the ground. And her best friend had had to knife her mentor to death.
He looked at me as if I’d betrayed him, Ellie had said afterward, her face splattered with Bill’s lifeblood. I know he had to die, but I can’t stop thinking that he was right. His blood was so hot.
“Sheer bad luck,” Deacon said, dragging her back to the present. “The situation went critical so fast that I couldn’t get back in time—I was on the other side of the world.” He didn’t move, a predator at rest.
“Business,” he said to her surprise. “The Slayer’s rarely called for. I’m a weapons maker by vocation.”
“Deacon? Wait a minute.” Pulling her bag across, she unzipped it and grabbed her crossbow. The familiar, stylized D stared up at her from the bottom of the stock. “This is your work?”
A small nod. “I make tools for hunters.”
“You’re the best there is.” This crossbow had cost her a mint. As had the bow she adored. “And you slay in your spare time? Nice.” Shaking her head, she put the crossbow back into the bag. “How come I’ve never heard of you personally?”
“It’s not a good idea to be friends with the people you might one day have to kill.”
“A lonely life.” She hadn’t meant to be so blunt, but she couldn’t imagine that kind of an existence. She was no social butterfly—not yet, anyway—but she had a core group of friends who kept her sane and balanced.
“Slayers are chosen from the loners.” Raising his hands, he undid the first few buttons of his shirt. “Do you want the shower first?”
She wanted to lick her lips, that’s what she wanted to do. The man’s skin stretched golden and strong over that muscular physique, and she could see dark curls of hair in the open triangle of his shirt. Her body tightened . . . expectant, ready.
Cold shower time.
“Thanks,” she said, getting up. “I’ll make it quick.”
Deacon just nodded as she grabbed her gear and hauled ass. The Slayer was delicious, no question about it, but she wasn’t in the market for a lover. Not when she was about to make the biggest decision of her life. A decision that might make her existence even lonelier than Deacon’s.
Male hunters were macho idiots—and she meant that in the best way—as a rule. Playing second fiddle didn’t come easily. And it didn’t get much more second fiddle than being the Guild Director’s man.
Deacon finally unclenched the hand he’d fisted the instant he sat down in the chair. Sara Haziz was not the woman he’d been led to expect. Simon had some explaining to do.
“Brown skin, brown eyes, black hair, my ass,” he muttered under his breath. The woman was an erotic fantasy come to life. Small, curvy, perfect. Gleaming coffee-and-cream skin, hair that probably fell to her waist when released from that tight braid, and brown eyes so big they saw right through him.
This was not the woman Simon had described as his “sensible successor.” That made her sound about as interesting as shoe leather. It didn’t even hint at the power beneath the surface, the strength in that backbone. He’d met her only a couple of hours ago, and already he knew she could bust balls with the best of them.
The woman would make a perfect Guild Director.
Which meant he should keep his hands, and his thoughts, to himself. No sucking on sexy Sara’s neck. Or other parts of her body. The office of Guild Director was a necessarily public one. Deacon didn’t do public.
“But she’s not director yet.” He tapped a finger on one jean-covered thigh, his eye on the bed.
He wanted Sara. And he didn’t want lightly. But seducing her wasn’t on the agenda.
“Keep her safe. She won’t accept a bodyguard, but you can accomplish the same thing by keeping her with you on the hunt.”
“I work alone.”
Simon’s face was granite. “Tough. She’s one of my best hunters—she won’t slow you down.”
“If she’s one of the best, why does she need babysitting?”
“Because the Cadre knows she’s my chosen successor. I wouldn’t put it past certain archangels to ‘test’ her.”
Deacon raised an eyebrow. “Were you tested?”
“They almost killed me.” Blunt words. “It’s tough to win against five old vamps on your own. I survived only because I happened to be with my wife at the time. Two pissed-off hunters against five vamps is much better odds.”
So here he sat, listening to water cascade in the bathroom as he fantasized about kissing a slow path down Sara’s body. It wasn’t doing anything to lessen his arousal. And if she walked out to find him hard as fucking stone, he knew damn well he’d be spending the night in the corridor outside.
That, he couldn’t chance—he had to keep her in sight. Simon had been very clear about that. If the archangels planned to test her, they’d do it when they thought her vulnerable. So he’d make sure she never was. Shoving a hand through his hair, he got up and checked the room. It was fairly secure. No outside windows—claustrophobic but safe, no entrances or exits aside from the door—which he jammed shut with a special tool of his own making, and no vents large enough for anything to get through.
By the time Sara exited the shower wrapped in a fluffy hotel robe, rubbing at her hair with a matching towel, he was confident enough of her safety to go have his own shower. A freezing one. “Christ.” He gritted his teeth and bore the onslaught. Pleasing his cock wasn’t as important as ensuring that the Guild went on.
He’d asked Simon about that. Why would the archangels potentially sabotage an organization that made their lives a hell of a lot easier?
“It’s a game,” Simon had said. “They need us, but they’ll never allow us to forget that they’re the more powerful. Attacking me, attacking Sara, isn’t about stopping the Guild—it’s about reminding us the Cadre is watching.”
Sara heard the water come on and quickly finished drying her hair before picking up her cell. She had no idea what time zone Ellie was in, but her best friend answered after a single ring.
“Sara,” she said, “do you know what a skill it is to wrap three-feet-tall porcelain vases so they don’t break in transit? And I did it! These gorgeous babies don’t have a scratch on them. Genius, thy name is Elena.”
“Do I even ask?”
“They were a gift.” Ellie sounded delighted. “They’ll look perfect in my living room. Or maybe one in the bedroom, one in the living room.”
Ellie’s preoccupation with her décor struck a familiar chord in Sara. Hunters made nests. It was a response to the fact that they spent so much time on the road, and in the gutter. Sara was worse than most—she loved her parents but they were feckless hippies at best. She’d gone to ten different schools by the time she was seven. A solid, stable home was as necessary to her as breathing. “Can’t wait to see them.”
“You sound funny.”
“I met the Slayer.”
A pause. “No shit.” The whistle was a long one. “Scary?”
“Oh yeah. Built like a tank.” If Deacon ever came after her, she’d have to make sure he never got within punching distance. A single hit with one of those big fists and her neck would snap. “Ellie, there’s a hunter going around killing vampires.”
“Fuck.” Elena’s voice changed, became darker. “You’re hunting him?”
“I’m in New York, landed a few hours ago. I can be on the next flight.”
Sara was already shaking her head. “I don’t know what’s going on yet.”
“You can’t go after him alone.”
“I’m not. Deacon’s with me.”
“The Slayer?” Her relief was open. “Good. Look, Sara, I’m hearing things.”
“All of us know you’ve got Simon’s position anytime you want. But I had a conversation with a high-level vamp on the plane home and he knew your name.”
Simon had warned her of this. “The Cadre takes an interest in the next Guild Director.”
Elena’s silence was long. “I know you can’t run and hide from this, so I’ll just say—be damn careful. The archangels aren’t anything close to human. I wouldn’t want to be within ten feet of one.”
“I don’t think any of them will bother to personally check me out—probably send some of their vampires to have a look.” And she knew how to handle vampires.
“Lucky you have the Slayer with you. Serious manpower when you need it.” A faint pinging sound came over the line. “Gotta go. I think the takeout’s arrived.”
Hanging up, Sara stared at the phone. Yes, it was lucky, wasn’t it, that Deacon had shown himself to her when he spent most of his time in the shadows. And how very convenient that she’d been posted on a hunt to the very city where the serial killings were taking place. Eyes narrowed, she waited.