Chapter Four
“She’s awake,” Blake said quietly.
Maggie blinked away her highway stare and glanced over at him. A few minutes ago, he’d been asleep. His eyes were still closed, but he’d raised his seat from its reclined position.
“She’s moving slowly,” he continued. “In the bedroom at the back of the caravan. She’s not tied, but the door won’t open. They’ve left her a basket of food, bottles of water. There are windows, and they’ve been darkened with some kind of film. She’s waving. No one in the other cars is noticing. The setting sun is on the left.”
“Heading south,” Maggie said hoarsely. A shiver kept running up and down her spine.
He was seeing, she realized. He was looking through his sister’s eyes.
Blake nodded. “On a divided highway. Two lanes each direction. The car behind them has South Carolina license plates. So does the one passing it.”
And she and Blake were only halfway through New Jersey. The RV had at least twelve or thirteen hours on them.
But not as many hours as it could have had. Whoever had taken Katherine would have been farther if they’d driven straight through. They’d pulled over either to rest or to wait for someone.
“There’s a water closet. The window doesn’t open. She looks all right in the mirror. No bruises.” The monotone recitation broke for an instant, and he laughed. “That’s right, Kate, flip me the bird. She’s got an injection site in her neck, the same as mine. They took blood, too. And she’s looking at the toilet, so that’s my cue to head out for a bit.”
Maggie’s heart pounded. She couldn’t think of a thing to say.
Blake was silent for a few seconds. Then he told her, “She can’t see through mine.”
“Whose are you seeing through now?”
Maggie stared out the windshield. Sickness clawed at her stomach—she wasn’t sure why. Revelations like these were one of the reasons why she’d taken a job with a vampire. She couldn’t have gone back to normal life after finding out about dragons, or Guardians. She’d have always been looking, and wondering.
She drove and waited for the sick feeling to resolve. It finally did.
Her reaction wasn’t in response to his ability, but the implications of it. Blake possessed a form of remote viewing. What nation wouldn’t want to use that for intelligence gathering—or take steps to prevent it from being used against them?
Jesus. No wonder Ames-Beaumont was so obsessed with protecting his family. If he hadn’t been, every government in the world would have been trying to exploit them—or destroy them.
“And this is the reason Miss Blake was taken,” Maggie realized. “And it’s why they haven’t asked for a ransom. What can she do?”
She hadn’t really expected an answer. And she didn’t anticipate the ease with which Blake delivered it.
“She locates things,” he said. “Items, not people.”
That took a second to sink in. Once it did, Maggie frowned. “Then it could be anyone, looking for anything.”
“No. It has to be someone with resources, access to information, and organized. To begin, they knew she was on holiday in America.”
Maggie nodded. Yes, she’d have used the same opportunity—the target was alone and on foreign soil. “But not military. They wouldn’t be heading down the interstate in an RV. Probably not a vampire, because he wouldn’t need James to take Miss Blake, and he can’t drive during the day.”
“And there are at least two of them. Katherine was on the road when James was in New York last night.” His long fingers tapped against his knees, and a thoughtful expression creased his brow. “It could be a demon driving, if James was the one who drugged her.”
“You think it was a demon? We’ve got to call in the Guardians, then.”
Blake turned his head, met her eyes. Using her vision, she realized, to know where to focus his.
“No,” he said.
“We can’t go up against—”
“A demon has to follow the Rules—no hurting humans, no denying their free will—so he can’t do anything to us. If he’s got vampires with him, we only move in to find Katherine during the day. James is our biggest concern, and Guardians wouldn’t be able to do anything to him, because they’ve got to follow the Rules, too.” Blake paused. “And we’ve got Sir Pup.”
Which meant, Maggie guessed, that even though Ames-Beaumont worked closely with the Guardians, he hadn’t told them about his family . . . and he didn’t want to risk them finding out.
“Does anyone else know what you can do? What others in your family can do?”
“No one except Savi. A few others who’ve married into the family. Uncle Colin has kept it that way for two hundred years.”
Successfully? Maggie doubted that. Human nature was human nature; even someone like Ames-Beaumont couldn’t squash it. “No one has put it to use? Either for money, or for the government?”
“Some of us have put it to use. We just don’t tell anyone we’re doing it. As for the money, no one in the family needs it.” Blake leaned his head back, closed his eyes. “They’ve stopped. It’s dark. She can’t see much. Trees. A few small fires.”
“A campground?” When he nodded, Maggie said, “We can catch up while they’re stopped. Or at least get closer.”
“That’s—” Blake cut himself off, sat up straight. “They opened the door. There’s James. And another man, standing behind him. Tall, dark hair. The wanker looks right out of GQ.”
Blake flinched, once.
“The bloody bastard James drugged her. She’s out again.”
Around midnight, Maggie began alternating between a fixed stare at the highway and skipping her gaze around the interior of the car and searching the sides of the dark highway, all the while blinking rapidly. Her vision hadn’t been in such a hyperactive mode since they’d left the Brooklyn street.
She was keeping herself awake, Geoff realized.
“We’ll stop,” he said. “You’re knackered.” And so was he, despite the nap he’d taken earlier.
“I’m on West Coast time. I can go longer.”
“How early this morning did you get the e-mail?” Her silence told him it was very early. “We’ll get a hotel room.”
“Mr. Blake, I thought you’d never ask.”
Geoff smiled, but damn if he didn’t wish that he could see her face at that moment. She’d been overruled, yet was responding with humor. She’d held firm when he’d pressed for classified details about her orders to kill James. She was a woman he desperately wanted to know better.
And he might as well throw his cards on the table. “You only joke because you assume I don’t think about you that way, Maggie. You’re wrong.”
That apparently surprised her, because she didn’t reply—but he watched where her focus went: to his hands. She was a hands woman. And, remembering how her gaze had lingered on his bare stomach when he’d been handcuffed, and later, when he’d changed his clothing, he amended it to a hands and abs woman.
Her silence extended. She was looking at the road again, mostly. She glanced at the rearview mirror, once; Sir Pup lifted one of his heads and returned her gaze. The hellhound might appear lazy, Geoff thought, but was completely alert. Then her gaze returned to his hands, darted up to his mouth, and remained there until Geoff began to smile. Her attention flew back to the road.
He’d given her something to think about. And—thank God—she seemed to be thinking about it.
Unfortunately, he also had to push the issue in a direction that, if taken the wrong way, might spark her resistance. “And we are to share a room tonight.”
But, no—Maggie didn’t mistake him. “You don’t trust me,” she said.
“I don’t trust you to not try resolving this on your own. If we’re in separate rooms, you’ll likely run off in the middle of the night and attempt to find Katherine alone.”
“If we are in the same room, what’s to stop me from hand-cuffing you to the bed and leaving?”
Sir Pup pushed one of his heads between the seats again, his ears pricked forward. Unease crawled over Geoff’s skin until he heard the jingle of metal.
Maggie looked down and gave a short laugh when she spotted the handcuffs that had landed in her lap. “He thinks it’s funny,” she said. “And maybe even a good idea.”
In Geoff’s opinion, every good idea that involved Maggie and handcuffs wouldn’t include Sir Pup. “Would he let you handcuff me and leave?”
“I don’t know. He follows directions, but interprets them how he likes. If Mr. Ames-Beaumont told him to protect you—and Sir Pup agreed that you were safer handcuffed to a bed and away from James—he might not bite off my head for it.”
Geoff tried to see Maggie through the hellhound again, but had to pull out when the three perspectives pushed his vision into a nauseating spin. She was scratching Sir Pup’s ears, and his eyes were glowing with a soft red light.
Would the hellhound really hurt her? Or had the threat earlier been for show? Geoff had no doubt that his uncle had given Sir Pup orders to protect him—but the hellhound also apparently had a mind of his own. Like Maggie.
Suddenly, he liked the hellhound much better.
“Can you see through animals, Mr. Blake?”
“No.” It wasn’t a lie. Sir Pup couldn’t be included among normal animals, and Geoff had never seen through any dog, horse, or cat.
“Just through people?”
“Yes. And no more ‘Mr. Blake.’ I am not your employer.”
“Yes, sir.” She was smiling; he caught the edge of her reflection in the rearview mirror. “I plan to shower with my eyes closed, Mr. Geoffrey.”
“Right.” Geoff sighed. “And now I wish doubly that you hadn’t found out the truth.”
Blake took the first shower while Maggie set up her computer and called San Francisco on her encrypted line.
To her relief, Savi was the one who answered it. Though Maggie liked Ames-Beaumont, she loved the young vampire he intended to marry. Maggie had never met anyone like Savi—who was as genuine as Savi. In her profession, that quality had been hard to come by, and Maggie adored her for it.
Not that she would ever be so unprofessional as to admit it.
After a few friendly inquiries about Maggie’s and Blake’s status, Savi got to work. Within minutes, all of the files Maggie had requested were being downloaded to her computer. She engaged the speakerphone so that she could use both hands to type; in the background, she could hear Savi’s fingers flying at super-speed over her own keyboard.
After a few seconds, Savi gave a short “Woot!”
Maggie blinked. “What did you find?”
“Campground reservations. The entire state system is on-line. I’m in, so I’ll start running the registered plates.”
All of them?”
“Why not?” She could easily imagine Savi’s shrug. She’d seen it a million times, on both the young vampire and the brilliant geeks who made up the CIA’s tech support. “Something might pop. A plate that doesn’t match the vehicle make, or is listed as stolen.” Savi snorted out a little laugh. “Stealing a motor home. That takes some balls.”
“More brains than balls,” Maggie said. “If it had been kept in storage, weeks might go by before the owner reports it missing.”
“Good point.” The clacking stopped. “Hey, Maggie . . . Colin’s not here, but I can speak for both of us.”
Her chest seemed to freeze. “Yes?”
“Katherine’s still alive. Chances are, they’ll keep her that way because they want something.”
“Yes,” Maggie agreed quietly. Her tongue felt numb. If she looked in the mirror, she was sure her face would be pale, her lips bloodless.
“So we’re still cool now. And it’s not that we don’t trust—” Savi stopped. Started again with, “Geoff is good at what he does. And you were good at what you did.”
“Killing people?”
“Getting them out of bad situations,” Savi said. “Troubleshooting.”
Usually by shooting whoever was causing the trouble. But Maggie wasn’t going to argue. “All right.”
“You know we’ve got the pictures.”
She closed her eyes. “Yes.”
“We wouldn’t have hired you if we didn’t trust you, and it helps that James led you to Geoff.” The deep breath Savi took was audible over the speaker. “But if you betray that trust without good reason, I can’t—I won’t—protect you from Colin.”
What was a good reason? But she only said, “I know. Thank you, Miss Murray.”
“Jesus, Maggie, don’t thank me. Just make it back, okay?” She sighed when Maggie didn’t answer. “All right. I’m going to finish up here, and I’ll shoot you everything I find when I’ve finished. Give Sir Pup a kiss good night for me.”
Maggie disconnected and looked over at the hellhound, taking up one of the two king-sized beds. He lifted his middle head and licked his chops.
Maggie shook her head. “Not going to happen, pup.”
The bathroom door opened. Blake came out, rubbing his hair with a towel and wearing a pair of pajama pants. The muscles in his chest and stomach flexed with each vigorous rub.
Maggie glanced away. Dammit. She hadn’t even realized how often she’d looked him over until she tried to avoid doing it.
“Why ‘thank you’?”
She turned, stared at him blankly. “What?”
“Savi said she wouldn’t protect you. You said ‘thank you.’ How does that work?”
“I appreciate knowing where I stand.”
Blake nodded and tossed the towel onto the bureau. “She was lying, though.”
“She doesn’t trust me?”
“She would stop him. Talk him out of it, if she could. And if she couldn’t, she’d help you get a head start, complete with a new identity.” The shrug of his shoulders did gorgeous things to his chest again. “But, of course, she can’t tell you that.”
“And you can?”
Small lines fanned from the corners of his eyes when he smiled. “I just did.”
He didn’t answer immediately. From her seat by the desk, she watched him settle on the bed with his long legs stretched out, his ankles crossed, and his shoulders propped by the pillows. He laced his fingers over his stomach.
She dragged her gaze away again. “Do you need a shirt, Mr. Blake? I believe Sir Pup has several more in his hammerspace.”
“I’m comfortable, Winters.” He grinned, and she was suddenly looking at his mouth.
Dammit. She stood and stripped out of her jacket and weapon harness. “Why, Mr. Blake?”
“I was in Darfur four years ago.”
Though her back was turned to him, she could see him in the mirror. He was no longer smiling. “I know you were. And?”
“And there are times when I’m looking through other people, I see things I don’t want to.”
Maggie closed her eyes, suddenly unsure she wanted to hear this. “Yes, I suppose your parents kept their bedroom dark.”
“Unfortunately, no.” She heard the smile in his voice before it left again. “Four years ago, I slipped into the head of a man with a young girl. She was maybe ten or eleven. Tied up on a bed. She’d already been . . . He wasn’t done.”
Maggie faced him. “I get it. Go on.”
“He must have been nearby, but I didn’t know where the hell he was, so I started looking. And I knew by his surroundings that it was one of the government houses, because everyone else lived in shacks.”
The same way he was looking for Katherine now, she guessed. Recognizing surroundings, narrowing down a location.
“What were you going to do when you found him?”
“Get her out of there. Kill him.”
Probably not in that order. “Did you find him?”
“No. Someone else did. I don’t know what she was doing there, what trouble she’d been sent to fix—but she opened the door, and she looked at him. She looked at the girl. And she shot him. Just raised her gun and fired.”
Realization struck, made breathing suddenly painful. “You were in my head then?”
“No. His.”
Jesus. “You weren’t . . . hurt . . . by being in him when he died?”
“No. I just lost contact. So I moved into the girl, stayed with her after you helped her to the exit. She limped down the street right past me, and I made sure she got where she was going. I tried to find you again, but . . .” He shook his head. “I didn’t.”
“He wasn’t my target,” she admitted. Not her target, never reported, and not classified.
“He should have been.”
Maggie toed off her boots and tucked them beneath the desk. “If the girl had screamed, it might have compromised my mission.”
“Yet you did it anyway.”
“Yes.” She hadn’t even had to think about it.
“With a reaction like that, you were in the wrong line of work.”
Yes, I was. But she only asked, “Why tell me this?”
“I never got a chance to thank you.”
“I didn’t do it for you.”
“What does that matter? You did what I couldn’t, and I’m grateful for it. Just as it doesn’t matter now whether you’re helping me find Katherine because she needs to be found, or if it’s because you feel responsible for James after letting him go alive. Either way, I’ll be grateful for the help when we find her.”
Who was this man? Was he for real? Her fingers were clumsy as she unbuttoned the cuffs of her sleeves. What kind of person offered trust like this? Acceptance? She wasn’t family. Their only connection was one of the few impulsive acts Maggie had performed in her lifetime. She shouldn’t even matter to him.
And yet . . . his acceptance and trust had begun to matter to her, too. It must have, because her throat was aching, and she wanted to say “Thank you” in return.
But as she moved toward the bathroom, she only said, “You aren’t at all what I expected, Mr. Blake.”