Chapter Two
021
Once they hit the sidewalk, Geoff got his first look at Maggie Wren in four years. His first look in person, anyway. A little over three months ago, he’d seen her picture in the file his uncle had sent along with the rest of her history. He’d recognized the woman immediately, her pale eyes. They’d been impossible to forget, considering the last time he’d seen them it had been over the barrel of her gun just before she’d squeezed the trigger. She’d been a CIA operative carrying out a mission in Darfur—both of them a long way from home.
Where her home had been, exactly, he wasn’t sure. Abandoned as a child, she’d been moved around the foster system until she’d found a steady home at the age of twelve. From there, she’d gone into the military and had been recruited early into the CIA. For years, she’d been based in D.C., but had been away on assignments most of the time.
Her transition back to civilian life hadn’t been smooth. She’d lived in with her last employer, a congressman—and a demon. After she’d learned what the congressman was, she’d left his employ and taken a position with his uncle Colin.
Geoff hadn’t known her name until his uncle had sent over her file for his records.
And he didn’t know if she called the house she’d recently bought in San Francisco, not far from his uncle’s mansion, home. And whether buying it was defense against his uncle, or a signal that she was settling in for the ride. After all, she’d taken the job with his uncle, knowing what he was.
And so Geoff held out hope it wasn’t just another job to her.
Just going by appearances, the job suited her. Even Bils worth, the majordomo who’d lorded over the family’s British estate since Geoff had been in short pants, couldn’t have faulted the precise roll of pale blond hair at her nape, the starched white shirt, or the black waistcoat and jacket. The knife-edge crease in her black trousers had withstood travel and the New York humidity.
There was something inhuman about that sort of rigid neatness, but Geoff couldn’t call it demonic.
Calling her a Valkyrie might have fit, though. She was taller than he’d thought. Between her height and the hair, he understood why her fellow operatives had nicknamed her Bullet-Eating Brunhilda.
Rather, he understood the Brunhilda part. He assumed the bullets were another story, buried in a classified file that he hadn’t yet seen.
A man on the sidewalk glanced at Maggie’s face as he walked past them. Geoff couldn’t read her expression. Not once since they’d come outside had she shown any emotion.
She had been surprised by his blindness, but by now she’d covered it. He could imagine what she’d been thinking: What the hell was a blind man doing here?
There were two answers to that. The short explanation went: He wasn’t blind. He just couldn’t see through his own eyes.
The explanation for that was the long one, about Lucifer and the demons who’d waged a second war upon Heaven, and the man who’d brought an end to the battle by killing a Chaos dragon with his sword. The man had become a Guardian, an angelic protector. There were more Guardians, but it was the sword that had shaped the Ames-Beaumont and Ramsdell—and eventually the Blake—families.
That sword, changed by the dragon’s blood and imbued with the dragon’s power, had ended up in the home of Geoff’s ancestor. Two hundred years before, Uncle Colin and Geoff’s many-times-over great-grandfather, Anthony Ramsdell, had performed a blood brother ritual with it, and the sword had tainted their blood. Later, Geoff’s many-times-over great-grandmother—Uncle Colin’s sister—had also been cut by the sword. Both his great-grandparents had been slightly altered by the taint in their blood—and so had their children. Now and then, one of his relations was born with a bit of the uncanny in them, possessing empathic abilities, flashes of telepathy, telemetry, or foresight.
Geoff’s parents had been distant cousins; both could trace their bloodlines back to the many-times-over great-grandparents. So the taint had combined, multiplied, and he and Katherine had ended up the uncanniest of the uncanny.
Geoff had been born without pupils and with the ability to see through the eyes of anyone near him—but his connection to his sister was stronger. He could link to Katherine’s eyes whenever he wanted, no matter how distant she was.
But her eyes hadn’t been open since the evening before. That likely meant she wasn’t awake.
That likely meant she’d been drugged. Whether just to keep her quiet or because her abductor was aware of their connection, Geoff wasn’t certain. But considering that only their parents and Uncle Colin knew about the link between them, Geoff thought it must be to keep her quiet.
When Katherine woke up, she’d find a way to let him know where she’d been taken. In the meantime, Maggie Wren’s expertise would be useful.
If she hadn’t been involved in Katherine’s disappearance.
Since receiving the picture, he had been hoping to see her again, just to see. He’d been fascinated by her. Had barely resisted the impulse to pepper his uncle with questions about her like an infatuated schoolboy.
Not that it would have surprised anyone if he’d shouted his interest. The men in his family had a history of obsessing over women from afar.
Geoff was the first who hadn’t even met the woman yet.
And he hadn’t imagined their meeting would be like this. But it was probably best that he found out now if she’d betray the family.
He watched her through the hellhound’s eyes before he was forced to move on to someone else’s. Now that Sir Pup only had one head, the sensation wasn’t as bloody room-spinning as when Geoff had first connected with the hellhound’s mind. His vision was so clear and sharp, however, that it made Geoff’s brain ache.
Then there were Maggie’s eyes.
Geoff couldn’t keep up with them. He was used to taking in as much detail as he could in a quick glance, but this was beyond his scope. She constantly changed her focus; her gaze was continually moving. Everyone they passed was given a speedy head-to-toe examination, and she used every available reflective surface to keep watch behind them.
He had her eyes, but without her brain behind it, looking through them was almost as dizzying as seeing through the hellhound’s. And he could usually navigate busy sidewalks and streets by knowing his position relative to the people he looked through, but he couldn’t do that with Maggie. For the first time, he was grateful for the harness and the dog at his side. Uncle Colin had sent Sir Pup to protect him, but Geoff was just glad he wasn’t tripping over curbs trying to follow her.
He slipped into the eyes of the man walking behind them, instead.
The bloke was staring at her ass. Jesus, Geoff couldn’t blame the man. From the top of her head to her endless legs, Maggie Wren was worth a second look—then a third and fourth. But still, there were lines. You looked, then looked away. You didn’t stare down even the finest ass like a wolfhound at a dinner table.
Geoff stopped, turned. The man’s attention lifted to his own forbidding expression. Geoff waited until the pervert zeroed in on his solidly blue eyes before grinning. The pervert’s gaze snapped to the left, and he walked hurriedly on.
“Is something wrong, Mr. Blake?”
“No.” He used her eyes again. Her field of vision had narrowed slightly, and was shadowed at the upper edge, as if her brows had lowered.
She looked at Geoff’s eyes, then his mouth. Then she was away again, taking sharp, quick glances over his shoulder at the people walking behind them, focusing hard on their faces. She went back to him, then made a lingering—for Maggie—perusal of a man passing her.
The pervert, Geoff realized. She studied the back of the man’s neck, his knee.
Geoff jumped into another person, then another, until he found someone looking at her face. He saw her eyes, the gray cold and dangerous, before she slipped a pair of rimless dark glasses from her inside pocket. A hard smile touched her lips as the pervert looked back at her, met her eyes, and hastily glanced away.
And there she was. Geoff recognized that expression. There was the woman who could slip a knife into a man or put a bullet in his head. The woman Geoff had watched do both.
He pushed into her mind again as they resumed walking. Her shielded gaze ran over everyone she saw—and hesitated very briefly on their knees, their hands, their stomachs, and their necks.
Not just looking for threats, he realized. She was searching for their vulnerable points. Every person they passed, she lined up as a target.
But she’d been out of the CIA for three years now. Not enough time to unlearn what a lifetime had taught her?
Maybe it could never go.
The SUV she’d rented was black and boxy, and the back-seats had been removed. The harness disappeared from under Geoff’s hand when Maggie opened the rear door. Sir Pup hopped in, lay down, and then grew to the same size he’d been when Geoff had first seen him—through Maggie’s eyes—on the stairs. When the hellhound stretched out, his body took up most of the cargo area.
Maggie swung open the passenger door and took Geoff’s arm. He let her help him in. She was smart, she was observant, and she knew there were more things in heaven and earth than fit in the average human’s philosophy. If Geoff proved too capable, she might suspect that he wasn’t as blind as he appeared.
He waited until she’d climbed into her seat. “We need to return to my hotel—”
“It was on our route from the airport, so we’ve already stopped. Sir Pup has your things in his hammerspace.” Through her eyes, he saw his own puzzled expression. She continued, “It’s like a psychic storage space.”
Geoff nodded. He’d heard demons and Guardians had something similar. “Is my computer in there?”
He immediately felt a familiar weight on his lap. Geoff searched for his headset, his fingers moving along the edge of the laptop. “There was a microphone and—Ah, thank you,” he finished when the headset landed in his palm. A convenient thing, that hammerspace.
Maggie’s gaze left him as she pulled onto the street, but he didn’t need her eyes for this. With a combination of touch and voice commands, he searched the computer for the files he wanted . . . and was mildly surprised when he found them.
“Did they toss my hotel room, take anything?”
“If they did, they weren’t messy about it.” The car slowed. A look through her eyes showed a yellow traffic light before her gaze moved to his profile. “Did the one who drugged you say anything about Miss Blake? Anything about why he’d taken her, or who he was?”
“No. But a few hours before he grabbed me, hotel security e-mailed this to me. It was from the day that Katherine disappeared from her room.” He angled his laptop, showed her the photo he’d pulled up.
Maggie briefly glanced at the screen. Then she looked at the picture again and didn’t take her eyes away.
Through them, Geoff saw the same face a taxi driver had seen just before Geoff had blacked out. The same face someone outside the brownstone had seen, only moments after he’d taken Geoff’s blood and left him handcuffed to a radiator.
He saw the face Maggie did, but he had no idea what she saw when she looked at the picture. A friend, a former lover—an enemy? Or just a man she happened to have worked with in the past?
“This is the hotel elevator. He got off on Katherine’s floor,” Geoff said.
Maggie blinked once, slowly. Her voice was flat. “That’s a good lead. I’ll follow up on it.”
“While I’m flying out of here to safety? You might want to reconsider. When I didn’t check in last night, what do you suppose was the first thing Uncle Colin asked his fiancée to do?” When Maggie didn’t answer, he continued, “I’d bet he asked Savi to pull my phone records, then hack my e-mail accounts. She’d find out what I’d received in the past couple of hours, who contacted me, where I might have gone. And she would have found this picture.”
Maggie’s eyes closed, then opened. She stared ahead at a green light.
“And with Savi’s photographic memory, it wouldn’t take much for her to connect that face with the one in this picture.”
The second photograph was from a political rally in Washington, D.C., only a few months before Maggie had resigned from the CIA. The original photo had been enlarged to show Maggie—slightly blurry but recognizable—standing in the far background, wearing a dark suit and a military-straight bearing. Beside her was the same man from the first photo.
A horn blared behind them. Maggie tore her gaze from the computer screen and drove through the intersection.
Geoff pushed into the hellhound’s mind. Pain spiked through his head, but he was in luck: Sir Pup was watching her, and so Geoff could, too. He could see her indecision, the rapid beat of her pulse, the tension in the faint lines at the corners of her mouth.
But she wasn’t denying a connection to the man. And, thank God, she wasn’t trying to lie to him.
He asked quietly, “How did you know where to find me?”
She hesitated, then said, “I got a tip.”
“From . . .?”
Her gaze flew to the picture.
Had she forgotten he couldn’t see that silent admission? He wouldn’t remind her. “Do you think he’ll contact you again?”
“Yes.”
“Then you want me with you, Winters. Right now, I’m the only person standing between you and my uncle.”
Her lips firmed, as if in frustration, before curving into a reluctant smile. “Then let’s go find your sister, Mr. Blake.”