Chapter Four
“I expected Deacon,” he said in a silky soft tone.
“Shah Mayur, I presume.”
“Sara Haziz.” A lilt of surprise. “Since when are you a Slayer?”
“Call it a sideline.” She noted the gun in his lap. “You’re prepared.”
“Didn’t want my head lopped off before I had a chance to explain that I’m not a homicidal killer.” This time, the tone was wry.
She liked him. Didn’t mean he wasn’t a murderer. “So if I leave?”
“I’m not going to shoot you. Tell Deacon I’ll meet you both outside.” A pause. “And Sara, it’s not good form for the future Guild Director to be breaking and entering.”
“Why does everyone act like it’s a done deal?” she muttered and backed out, keeping an eye on his hands the whole time. If necessary, she could jump—it would break a few bones, but it wouldn’t kill her. Not like a bullet would.
Whether Shah replied, she didn’t hear. It was far easier to go down the pipe than it had been to come up. “He’s heading down to talk.”
Deacon’s face went very quiet. Dangerous. “He’s not supposed to be here.”
“He knew you were coming. And he knows your name.”
That made him go even more still. Sara found herself fascinated. Did Deacon ever let himself go? Or was he this contained even in the most intimate of situations? It was tempting to kiss him and find out, but with the way he drew her, she knew she wouldn’t stop at a kiss.
The whisper of Shah’s ladder sliding to the ground was a welcome distraction. She waited as the other hunter descended, his gun nowhere in sight. Of course, that simply meant he was good at hiding his weaponry. Elena would approve, Sara thought. Her best friend usually had spikes secreted in her hair, and knives strapped to her thighs. That was just for starters.
“Hello, Deacon.” Shah turned out to be tall, dark, and very handsome, with shining black hair that swept his shoulders.
“I’m impressed.” Deacon subtly angled himself so he protected Sara.
She stopped herself from rolling her eyes and used the chance to retrieve her own gun from the small of her back. Then she moved out of Deacon’s night-shadow so she’d have a clear line of sight.
“Spying’s my thing. I work intel for the Guild.”
The Guild had an intel division? Sara wondered how many more secrets she’d learn as Guild Director. It was temptation indeed for a woman as curious as her. But was she willing to give up everything she was, give up the possibility of a family, children? Yes, there were men who’d be more than happy to sleep with the Guild Director, but they weren’t the kind of men she’d touch with a barge pole.
No, Deacon was her type. Cool, controlled, strong. And about as likely to sleep with the woman who’d effectively be his boss—if she accepted the directorship—as he was to start spouting jokes. Reining in her wandering thoughts, she met Shah’s gaze. “And we’re just supposed to believe you?”
Shah shrugged, giving her a secretive smile. “Or I could tell you all about the time you and Elena decided to try out the stripper pole at Maxie’s.”
How the fuck had he learned about that? She scowled. “If you work intel, why didn’t Simon clear you?”
“Deacon runs his ops independently.” He shrugged. “I could’ve played hard to get, but I figure you two are a good bet when it comes to keeping secrets. The future director and the Slayer. Who’re you going to tell?”
Deacon suddenly had his hand around Shah’s neck, a knife to his abdomen. “Take off your shirt.”
Shah blinked, hiding his surprise behind charm. “Didn’t know you swung that way.”
Deacon pushed the knife a little.
“Fine.” Unbuttoning the shirt with rapid fingers, Shah shrugged it off.
“Sara, check his body for marks of a struggle. One of the vamps put up a hell of a fight.”
Sara did a close inspection, but all she saw was smooth, unblemished skin. “He’s clean.”
Shah rubbed at his throat as Deacon let him go. “You could’ve asked nice.”
“And you could’ve stabbed him in the heart.” Sara snorted. “Drop the act. You’re about as helpless as a piranha.”
“Can’t blame a boy for trying.” He smiled, revealing dimples he no doubt used as a tool. “If you want my take, I’d put my money on Tim. Have you seen that dog of his? Probably made a deal with the devil and got that as insurance. Now the thing’s possessed him.”
Sara shook her head, noting the gleam of amusement in his eyes. “I don’t think you should throw stones—I saw the teddy bear on your couch.”
Interesting. A suave, sophisticated spy could go bright red under cinnamon-dusted skin. “It’s my nephew’s. And if you don’t need to manhandle me anymore, I’d like to go to sleep.” With that, he turned and left.
“He didn’t hit on you.” It was a quiet statement.
She pursed her lips. “And you felt the need to point that out, why?”
“Shah doesn’t have any close hunter friends, but he’s popular with the ladies. He hits on anything with breasts, but petite dark-haired women are especially his type.”
“Thank you for crushing my self-esteem under your boot.” Restraining the urge to kick him, she grabbed her helmet and thrust it on.
Deacon took his seat, putting on his own helmet before starting the engine. They were ten minutes from Shah’s home and cutting through a deserted parking lot when Deacon came to a halt. “Fight or run?”
She’d seen the vampires in the shadows. How many? Five, no, seven. Seven against two. “Run.” Stupidity wasn’t what had kept her alive this long.
It was only as Deacon was peeling out of the lot that she realized he’d left the choice up to her. It was . . . unexpected.
Their third stop of the night was a gay bar. Sara stared up at the bar’s name. “Inferno.” She turned to the silent man by her side. “Is it me or are we seeing a trend here?”
A quirk of his lips. It was sexier than a full-fledged smile from any other man. “I’m leading you into sin.”
She couldn’t help it. She laughed. “Obviously, suspect number three is gay. Right?”
“Marco Giardes.” He nodded up. “Lives above the bar.”
“Owns the place. Bought it with an inheritance.”
Sara shrugged. “Doesn’t bother me. Bother you?”
A bit of red stained his cheeks. Her mouth fell open. “What?”
He blew out a breath. “You’ll see.”
“We’re going in?”
“Yeah. He doesn’t know about me—unless he’s another spy. We’re just two hunters who heard about his place and decided to drop in.”
Since hunters were known to do things like that to support each other, it was a perfectly believable cover. And despite the fact that it was close to four a.m., the bar was jumping. “Weapons?”
“No problem for hunters.”
“Then let’s go.”
They flashed their Guild IDs and got waved in by the heavily muscled bouncer . . . who gave Deacon a thorough going-over. Sara bit the insides of her cheeks when the big, tough Slayer shifted a little behind her.
The instant they entered the main floor, conversation stopped, then started in a huge rush. She was welcomed with smiles—there were several other women in the crowd—but the attention was most definitely on Deacon. So when he put his hand on her hip and pulled her up against him, she didn’t protest. “Poor baby,” she murmured. “They really like you.”
“It’s not funny.” She’d never heard a blush before.
A beautiful male with the slinky body of a catwalk model strolled over. “What a shame,” he murmured, noting their body language. “I hope you’re taking good care of him.”
Sara patted Deacon’s hand where it curved over her hip. “The best.”
“Will you let him dance with us?”
Sara could feel Deacon’s horror in the absolute frozen lines of his body. It was tempting to tease, but . . . “He’s not much of a dancer.”
Giving another mournful sigh, the blond walked away. Unable to keep it in any longer, Sara turned and buried her face in Deacon’s chest as her body shook with laughter. His arms came around her, his lips at her ear. “We’re going to a girl bar on our next date.”
That simply made her laugh harder. Tears leaked out of her eyes. By the time she got it out of her system, the scent of Deacon was well and truly in her lungs. The man smelled delicious. A little bit of heat, a little bit of sweat, a whole lot of dangerous. Perfect.
Hands flat on that gorgeous chest of his, she looked up. “I guess they know a manly man when they see one.”
His lashes, long and beautiful, shaded his eyes, but she saw the glint in them. “What about you?”
Her answer was interrupted by a discreet cough. She turned to find a man who could only be another hunter. His stance was easy in the way of someone who knew how to move in a fight, his eyes watchful . . . and at the moment, amused. “Welcome. I don’t believe we’ve met before.”
“Sara.” She stuck out her hand. “This is Deacon.”
“Sara Haziz?” The hunter’s smile turned dazzling. “I’m so delighted to meet you. I’ve heard of you, of course. Please, come in.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Pierre, prep a table.” Returning his attention to them, he gave a short nod. “I’m Marco. With the Guild but not for long.”
He smiled again, displaying a row of gleaming white teeth. “I decided this bar is my true love after all.”
Not many hunters retired. But it wasn’t completely unheard of. “You won’t miss the thrill of the hunt?”
“It’s a young man’s game. I’m in my late thirties now, but don’t tell.”
Deacon finally broke his silence. “Your bar’s doing well—we heard about it on the hunter grapevine.”
“Some of my best customers are hunters,” Marco said, genuine pleasure in his voice. “They bring their girlfriends, mates, don’t blink an eye. I’m very glad to have been a part of that fraternity. Please, come. The drinks are on me.” With that, he turned and led them to a table on the edge of the dance floor.
They all took a seat and drinks were ordered. Sara noticed that Deacon barely touched his—whiskey, of course—and neither did Marco. She took a sip of her cocktail and made a true sound of pleasure. “This is sinfully good.”
“Yes, the bar’s becoming quite well-known for its cocktails.”
She smiled and they chitchated for several minutes. “Does this place have a ladies’ room?”
Marco grinned. “Of course. I can show you.”
“No, just point me in the right direction.” She leaned in close and whispered, “I need you to stay here and protect Deacon.”
Marco’s eyes twinkled. “The big ones want to pit themselves against him, and the pretty ones want to take him home and give him a whip.”
Deacon’s face remained expressionless, but his green eyes held a distinct warning. Laughing, she got into the act and stroked his cheek as she left. His stubble made her fingertips want to go exploring, but she strolled to the bathroom instead, getting several approving looks from the crowd.
It wasn’t her fault she got distracted by a conversation with another hunter and ended up at a door that didn’t lead to the toilets. Unfortunately, it was locked solid and coded with a touchpad. Hiding her disappointment, she made a point of asking for bathroom directions again and went in to use the facilities before returning to the table.
“Get lost?” Deacon asked before Marco could.
“Yeah.” She laughed. “Someone dragged me off to ask if you really were as hard as you looked.”
Deacon flushed. “Keep going.”
She knew it was another warning. But the byplay had the effect of disarming any suspicions Marco might’ve had. He laughed and said a few more words before getting up to go mingle.
Deacon didn’t look particularly happy, but waited to speak until they were on the bike heading back to the hotel. “You didn’t make it to his apartment.”
“No need.” She grinned. “He crosses his leg like guys do.”
She took pity on him. “You know, one ankle over the knee, encroaching on other people’s space.”
“You got a transmitter on his shoe.”
“When I asked to go to the bathroom.” She felt exceedingly smug about that. “And that’s not even the best part—he was wearing solid hunter boots.” Increasing the odds that he’d use the same footwear if he decided to go out killing.
“My guess—the killer’s not going to move tonight. Not after Rodney.”
“Won’t he be frustrated by the fact that he failed?”
“Possible, but this guy’s not stupid. He does his homework, strikes only when he knows his prey will be vulnerable.”
“If you had more people, you could put watches on both Tim and Marco, and if necessary, Shah.”
“Ever tried following a hunter who doesn’t want to be followed?”
“Point taken.”
She thought of the three they’d visited. “Did you ask Simon to run background checks?”
“Might already have come through.”
He was right. He pulled out and turned on a PDA that looked as tough as he was as soon as they got back to the hotel—all three reports were waiting in his e-mail.
“Pretty standard stuff,” Sara said, as she lay flat on her back on the bed with the PDA in her hands. “Timothy had a hunt go bad, hasn’t been seen in public since, but we know he’s alive. Shah really is a spy. Doesn’t mean he isn’t a killer.”
“Gut instinct?”
“That if Shah was going to kill, he’d do it in a way no one would ever trace back to him.” She looked at the last page. “Marco is a solid hunter with a stable personal life—he’s playing happy families with a vampire, so he clearly likes them.”
“You ever been tempted?” The bed dipped as Deacon braced a knee on the bottom edge and looked down at her.