Chapter Seven
012
“Milady, you misunderstand me.” A serious expression. “I have need of the Guild’s services.”
Sara really didn’t feel like helping someone who’d tried to separate her head from her body not that long ago, but hunters existed for a reason. “Someone run out on a Contract?”
“No. One of your hunters has taken one of us captive. If you would please organize a rescue, we’d be most grateful.”
She squeezed Deacon’s shoulder. No way was this a coincidence. As she sat back down, Deacon maneuvered the bike to the side of the road. “Talk,” they both ordered at the same time.
“Silas,” the vampire said, shifting to stand on the sidewalk beside them, “had a relationship with the hunter. Unbeknownst to anyone, they went their separate ways two weeks ago.”
Around the time the killings started.
“The hunter’s name is Marco Giardes.” The vampire spread his hands. “I have no idea of what happened between the two of them. But I received a message from Silas a few minutes ago stating that Marco was holding him captive in the basement of his home.”
Sara wondered if Marco had guessed at her and Deacon’s true motives after all. Something had to have triggered this. “Did he say how long he’d been there?”
“Silas walked into the hunter’s bar an hour ago with his new inamorato.” He snorted. “He is young, thinks being a vampire makes him invincible.” A meaningful rub at the shoulder she’d wounded.
“Damn vampire wanted to rub Marco’s face in his new affair.” Sara almost felt sorry for Marco. Almost. Because if everything this vampire was saying was right, then Marco had gone out and killed five other men, none of whom had done anything to him. Not to mention how he’d terrified Rodney. “Do you have any other information?”
“Silas’s new lover is no more.” A shrug. “Silas got the message out before Marco realized he had a second cell phone. I’ve received no messages since, so the hunter has likely remedied that.”
Deacon stared at the vamp. “If you know where he is, why aren’t you mounting a rescue? You have a big enough group.”
A long pause. The vampire looked up, then down, lowered his voice. “Raphael was not pleased when he found out about the attack on Sara. We are not his people. He has forbidden us from doing anything in his territory except that which relates to our departure—even feeding.” A long, shuddering sigh. “We’re to leave on the first plane out of the country.”
“Silas is a tourist?” Sara asked, rapidly thinking through her options.
“Marco met him during a hunt. Silas came to be with him.” Another glance upward. “We would appeal to our archangel for help, but he doesn’t particularly care for Silas.”
Sara didn’t trust the vampire an inch, but she had a feeling he was telling the truth about Marco and Silas. There was a layer of concern in his voice that betrayed an obvious affection for the younger vampire. That wasn’t as weird as it sounded. Vampires had once been human, after all—it took a long time for the echoes to fade entirely.
“Fine.” She put her helmet back on. “I guess it’s time for the Guild to ride to the rescue.”
Deacon started the engine in silence and they headed off, leaving the vampire standing at the curb. “I think he was straight with us,” she said. “You?”
“It fits with what we know.” His voice was an intimate darkness in her ear. “Looks as if Raphael likes you.”
“I’ve never met him. Or even talked to him on the phone.” She drew in a deep breath. “I don’t think it has anything to do with me.”
“No?”
“No.” She knew exactly where humans ranked in the scheme of things as far as archangels were concerned. Somewhere below ants. “It’s the fact that some other archangel tried to horn in on his territory. He’s pissed.” And when an archangel got pissed, things got brutal. “Did you hear what he did to that vampire in Times Square?”
A slow nod from Deacon. “Broke every bone in his body and left him there. As a warning. He was alive throughout, the poor bastard.”
“So you see why I don’t ever want Raphael to take an interest in my welfare.”
Deacon didn’t say anything, but they both knew that as Guild Director, she’d have a much higher chance of attracting Raphael’s attention than an ordinary hunter. But still, how many times did an archangel contact any human directly? Sara had never heard of it. They ran everything from their towers.
Manhattan’s Archangel Tower dwarfed everything in the entire state. Sara had often sat in Ellie’s way-too-expensive apartment and watched the angels flying in and out. Their feet, she thought, likely never touched the earth. “You know, I think Ellie’s got a higher chance of meeting an archangel than I do.”
“Why?”
“Just a feeling.” A prickling across the back of her neck, a kiss of the “eye” her great-grandmother claimed to possess. “Think we should call her for backup?”
“If Marco’s in there alone, we can take him. Let’s check things out first—I don’t want to panic him.” A pause. “Though it sounds like Silas is no prize.”
“Yeah. But Marco hurt Rodney, who’s about as dangerous as your average rabbit.” She hoped his master hadn’t been too hard on him. And that Mindy the Bitch had gotten her head torn off.
“We’re here.” He pulled over and parked. “The bar should be closed.”
Stowing the helmets, they headed to the bar . . . only to come to an abrupt halt when a little old lady on her way down from farther along the street stared at them and backed away very fast. Sara looked at Deacon, really looked. Big, sexy, loaded up with weapons . . . and stained rust red. “Oops.”
He smiled, slow and with a glint that said he was thinking about getting naked. With her. “We better wrap this up before the police arrive and all hell breaks loose.”
Nodding, she shoved aside the thought of soaping up his delicious body and picked up the pace. “How’re we getting into the basement?”
Deacon raised an eyebrow. “We ask.”
“Wha—Oh, that’ll work. Two hunters, needing sanctuary and somewhere to clean up. I’m good with that.”
The door to the bar was locked shut, all the neon turned off. Deacon went to knock, but Sara grabbed his hand and pointed to the intercom hidden discreetly to the side. Pushing the button, she waited.
“Yes?” Marco’s voice. Sounding tired, but not the least bit aggressive.
“Marco, it’s Sara and Deacon. We need a place to clean up.”
“I can see that.” The door clicked open. “Come on through.”
They went in. Sara waited until the door had closed behind them to whisper, “Is it just me or does he sound way too normal?”
Deacon was frowning as well. “Either he’s one hell of a good actor or something else is up.”
Marco stuck his head out the door that led up to his apartment. He whistled when he saw them. “Must’ve been some fight. The bathroom’s big enough for two.” A sharp grin that tried to hide exhaustion and failed.
Again, nothing weird about that if he hadn’t yet had a chance to go to bed.
Then she saw the mess that was the bar itself. Bottles shattered, blood on the floor, what looked like bullet holes in the walls. A second later, Marco stepped out from behind the door, and it became apparent he was sporting the beginnings of a serious black eye. “Do I dare ask?” She raised an eyebrow.
Marco thrust a hand through his hair. “Come on up and we’ll talk.”
“Now would be better,” Deacon said, unmoving.
The bar owner looked from one to the other and said, “Shit.” Sounding like his heart had just broken into a million pieces, he sat down on the last step, head in his hands. “He set me up. The bastard set me up.”
Sara was starting to get a headache. She’d come in here expecting to rescue a hurt vampire from an unhinged hunter, and found a shattered lover. “How about we take this from the top?” she suggested, staying out of attack range in case Marco actually was that good an actor. “Where’s Silas?”
“Locked in the basement.” Marco’s eyes were bleak when he glanced at them. “I needed time to get my shit together before I called the Guild.”
“And the man who was with him?”
Marco nodded at the bar. “Silas came up behind him and . . .” He stared at his hands. “I couldn’t believe it. But the blood, God, so much blood.”
Leaving Deacon to keep an eye on him, she pulled herself up onto the gleaming wooden surface and looked down. A vampire’s bright blue eyes stared up at her. She sucked in a breath. If she hadn’t been able to see that his head was no longer attached to his body, she’d have thought him alive. “Dead,” she confirmed to Deacon. “The question is, how did he get that way?”
“Silas,” Marco repeated dully. “He came in here, strutting like a damn peacock. I should’ve left him outside but I—” He swallowed, hand fisted, pain apparent in every taut tendon. “I thought maybe he’d come to apologize. I didn’t see the kid till after.”
“Apologize?” Sara had the sinking feeling they’d all been drawn into one seriously bad lover’s tiff.
“For cheating on me.” Marco finally looked her full in the face. “Here I was, being a putz. I gave my notice at the Guild, set up this place, all because he said he hated knowing I was putting my life on the line with every hunt. I even asked Simon to talk to some of the senior angels, see if we could maybe get the rest of Silas’s Contract transferred to an angel in the States so we wouldn’t have to keep going back and forth.”
“Here.” Sara grabbed a dented but still whole bottle of water and threw it at him. “Breathe.”
“I can’t.” He chugged the entire bottle, then threw it aside. “He was just using me. Wanted out of his Contract—his angel doesn’t like him. I could’ve swallowed that. Hell on the ego, but I’d have swallowed it. I loved him. But the whole time we were together, he was with . . . who the fuck knows. More than one guy.”
“Marco, that doesn’t make sense.” Sara folded her arms. “Why would he set you up if he was the one cheating?”
“’Cause I dumped him.” And in that moment, Sara saw the hunter Marco was. Hard, lethal, certainly very good at his job. “I told him to get out and stay out.”
“Which meant he lost any chance of getting his Contract transferred.” Deacon didn’t move from his position by the door. “It sounds good. But all the evidence points to a hunter.”
“He took my stuff. My weapons, clothes, one of the ceremonial swords I collect.” Marco ground his teeth together. “I feel so fucking stupid. I knew he didn’t handle rejection well, but I never thought he’d go around killing people just to get back at me.”
Sara glanced at Deacon. He shook his head in a slight negative. She agreed. Marco was very, very believable. But it was his word against this Silas’s. If they backed him, the vampires would take it badly—unless they had proof. In which case, Silas would disappear to face angelic justice. Hunters could kill, but only in exigent circumstances, or when they had an execution warrant. It made more sense for angels to deliver any necessary punishment—they were faster, stronger, and far more cruel than the vampires they Made.
“Security cameras,” she asked Marco. “Did you record the fight?”
“No.” Self-disgust marred the handsome lines of his face. “I turned them off when I realized it was him—didn’t want anyone seeing how much of a fool I’d been. At least I wasn’t stupid enough to leave my gun behind. Shot grazed his head, knocked him out.”
That explained how Marco had gotten the vamp into the basement. “We need to talk to Silas.” Sara stepped forward, expecting an argument.
Marco got up. “I’ll take you—let’s see what the bastard has to say.”
Letting him go on ahead, they followed with weapons drawn. Silas was pounding on the door by the time they got there.
“Help me!” More pounding. “Help! I can hear you!”
“Quiet.” Deacon’s voice cut through the pounding like a knife.
Sara took the lead. “How’d you end up locked in the basement?”
They got pretty much the same story as from Marco . . . but with the roles reversed. By the time it was over, Sara’s headache had turned into a thumping monster. How in hell were they going to fix this? The wrong move and a lot more blood would spill.
She looked to Deacon. “Got handcuffs?”
He handed her a thin plastic pair. “They’ll hold.” Marco lifted up his hands without question when she turned. Clicking the cuffs shut, she led him back upstairs, stashing him on the stairway that led up to his apartment . . . after blindfolding him and tying his feet together, then redoing the cuffs to lock him to the railing. Hunters were extremely resourceful when it came to survival.
“I won’t run,” Marco told her, a broken kind of pain in his voice that hurt her.
“For what it’s worth,” she said, “I believe you.” If she was going to be Guild Director, she had to learn to judge her people. “But we need proof.”
“He’s smart. Part of his charm.”
Silas hadn’t sounded particularly charming to Sara, but then, she wasn’t in love with him. Patting Marco on the shoulder, she walked out, pulling the door shut behind her. “Rodney,” she said to Deacon.
“That’s what I thought.”
“But even if he can tell their voices apart, how seriously is anyone going to take him?” She pulled out her cell phone. Hesitated.
“It’s a start.”
As she waited for the phone to be answered, she found her eyes locked with Deacon’s. “I’m going to have to deal with messes like this all the time as director.”
A nod. “And you’ll care enough to find out the truth.” Bridging the distance between them, he touched her cheek. “We’re lucky to have you.”
The phone was picked up on the other end. “Yes?”
Sara dropped her head against Deacon’s chest at the sound of that voice. “Mindy, I need to speak to your master.”
“I got punished because you tattled.”