Chapter Six
“Why did he choose ‘Winters,’ Mr. Blake?”
Maggie’s gaze was focused on the lighthouse filling the laptop screen in front of her, but Geoff immediately felt the shift of her mood. Her eyes had been in hyperactive mode from the time they’d arrived at the airport, so that Geoff’s reliance on Sir Pup’s guide harness was, once again, not completely faked.
And she hadn’t let up on the drive to Hilton Head, or after they’d entered the open-air café where they’d decided to have breakfast and look through the lighthouse photos Savi had compiled.
After Geoff mentioned his difficulty using her eyes, Maggie had made an effort to let her gaze rest on each photo. But she’d still managed to give a once-over to every customer, almost every pedestrian on the sidewalk, and many of the drivers passing by in their cars.
As she asked about the nickname, however, Maggie became too focused. Though Geoff had heard the hostess seating at least two newcomers, Maggie’s gaze hadn’t yet darted to them—which told Geoff that the answer was as important to her as their security.
And he wasn’t above using that knowledge to his own ends. “I’ll tell you, but only if there’s no more of this ‘Mr. Blake.’”
Her gaze lifted to his face. Christ, he hadn’t intended for his expression to appear that tense, that dark. ‘Mr. Blake’ didn’t anger him. It just . . . frustrated him.
“All right. Just Blake.”
No “mister,” and so no longer something she’d use with a superior, or an employer. He watched the line between his eyebrows vanish, saw how he eased back in his chair. Watched through her eyes.
And so Maggie knew, too, how much that had mattered to him. He began to push his hand through his hair, then realized how relieved the gesture seemed—as if he’d just fought a battle and won.
He was in the process of becoming completely wrecked by this woman. And seeing himself like this wasn’t helping his confidence.
He searched for someone who was looking at her, instead. He found one, two tables away, who was either staring blankly into space or fascinated by the platinum of Maggie’s hair in the bright sun. The focus wasn’t on her face, but Geoff could see her profile well enough to know her expression wasn’t giving much away.
And that she had a beautiful, incredible mouth.
With both hands, she brought her coffee cup to her lips. From any other angle, the ceramic rim would have hidden her smile, and he couldn’t hear it in her voice when she prompted, “Winters?”
“Winters,” Geoff said, “was the name of my uncle’s valet. His first valet, his second, his third, and his fourth.”
The corners of her mouth tightened. “I see.”
No, she likely didn’t. Not yet. She assumed that Colin, the son of a wealthy British earl, had lazily taken to calling all of his valets “Winters” so that he wouldn’t have to remember their names.
“They all were of the Winters family. Sons and grandsons. One a nephew. But it was the first who was in my uncle’s employ when he became a vampire. Whenever he traveled away from Beaumont Court, he took Winters. And it was the first Winters who was with him when he was cursed.”
He had no doubt Maggie knew of the curse. She would have noticed how few mirrors were in his uncle’s mansion. Every other vampire could see his reflection, but the taint of the dragon’s blood had erased his uncle’s. To a man as vain as Colin Ames-Beaumont, the inability to confirm his beauty truly was a curse.
“Oh,” Maggie said quietly. “Not just a valet. A gentleman’s gentleman. A man he trusted to do what he couldn’t—maintain his appearance, and protect him during his daysleep.”
“And, according to Uncle Colin, who remained one of his few links to sanity during those early years.” The family, of course, being the other. “There hasn’t been a Winters since the Second World War—not, at least, one who has served my uncle. His support of the Winters family allowed them to rise in class enough so that when my grandmother married a Blake, it didn’t raise any eyebrows. And Uncle Colin didn’t think it was appropriate for family members to serve as his valets, so he began to dress himself.”
With great care, she set her coffee cup on its saucer. “Your grandmother was a Winters?”
“Yes. And she hadn’t any more blond hairs on her head than I do.” He reached for his juice and raised it in a tiny salute. “And that, Maggie, is the story of the Winters name. You can infer what you wish from it.”
If she did infer anything, she didn’t share her conclusions. Instead, she slowly ate a piece of toast.
Geoff assumed her silence meant she’d been affected by it. Good, he thought. Very good.
Even if it meant that he was a bastard for telling her. He knew what she was looking for, what her psychological profile had laid out, describing a chain of events that had started when a young woman had given Maggie her last name, and nothing else. Then bandied about the foster system until she was twelve. She’d found stability, after that, with foster parents who hadn’t been able to have children of their own—and who’d taken in children not out of love, but to fulfill a sense of duty. The father had been a military man through and through, with a schedule for every aspect of the children’s lives. It had been constancy Maggie had desperately needed, but the sense of belonging she’d craved hadn’t been fulfilled until the service.
The CIA had known that, had used that when they’d brought her in. They’d depended on her loyalty—not just to her country, but to her fellow operatives. Whatever the CIA had given her, though, it hadn’t been enough after they’d told her to assassinate James.
And Geoff was a bastard for using that knowledge, too—but he was also determined to see that his family would be enough.
He lost sight of her a moment later. Damn, and double damn. The person he’d been looking through had come out of his reverie and glanced away from her.
When he slipped into Maggie again, she was studying his face. “Given how protective he is, I’m surprised that Ames-Beaumont hasn’t tried to force you out of the field.”
“You can be sure he’s tried. The first time I was shot, he threatened to break my legs every four weeks to keep me in bed.”
“The first time?”
“The scar you’ve seen was from the last—the latest one. That was eight months ago, in Colombia. And it was the first time I was too far from a Ramsdell facility. So I wasn’t patched up with vampire blood.”
By the movement of her head, Maggie was nodding. “Sir Pup carries blood in his hammerspace for emergencies. I haven’t had to use it yet—and I didn’t realize it healed that well.”
“It’s not completely miraculous. The others did leave a bit of scarring.” He wondered if his easy posture and the hint of his smile looked as casual to her as he hoped it did. “And it’s because of the blood that Uncle Colin will soon have his wish.”
Her vision darkened at the edges, as if her eyes had narrowed. “How so?”
“Ramsdell is building a new facility in San Francisco. The research will focus on the blood, which Uncle Colin has never allowed before—and so my focus will change, as well. I’ll head up security and operations, and only go out in the field when it’s necessary. And I’ll take a more direct approach when I do.”
“No more playing the doofus.”
He suppressed his wince. Even knowing “doofus” was true—hell, it had been deliberate—it wasn’t an easy thing to hear her say. “Yes.”
“And you’ll be living in San Francisco.”
“Why the change?”
“It’s time. I’ve been protecting the family so long, I haven’t had time to start one for myself.” Whatever form that family took. “And I came out of Colombia; Trixie didn’t.”
Her gaze returned to his face. “She was . . . your guide dog?”
“For ten years.” He felt the familiar twinge in his chest and pushed through it. “She spoiled me. And traveling doesn’t have the same appeal without her. So when Uncle Colin told me about the plans for the San Francisco facility, I told him I would help him out.”
Her gaze settled on his mouth before moving to the photo of the lighthouse on her laptop. “There’s no interesting story behind my scars,” she said. “I wish I had eaten bullets, because that would mean that I’d taken a calculated risk. But it was just a mistake. I went left when I should have gone right. And I can’t tell you who carried me out.”
She couldn’t, but she didn’t need to; her implication was clear. James had.
“In other words,” Geoff said. “You want to save him from the demon, too.”
He thought she shrugged, but he found someone looking at her too late to be sure.
“I don’t know if he needs to be saved. But I’m not sure I could kill him. Not if the only reason is that he knows too much.”
Is that what she thought her role here was? That they expected her to perform a cold-blooded assassination?
“We’re just here to get Kate out, Maggie.”
“And then?”
“Uncle Colin will step in.” Which wasn’t, Geoff reflected, the best way to put it. He shook his head, and tried again. “When Katherine was eight, we were visiting a neighboring estate, and the lady of the house mentioned a locket that had gone missing twenty or thirty years earlier. My sister told her where to find it. The locket was of some historical significance, so the story was written up in the local paper. Just a minor little piece. But within a fortnight, two government men arrived at Beaumont Court to talk with her. When they left, they said they’d be calling on us again. My mother rang Uncle Colin. We didn’t hear from them again . . . but they are still alive.”
From across the café, he caught the edge of her smile. “He scared them.”
Terrorized them, because their deaths would only raise more questions. But fear created an ally of sorts; those two men would forever deny finding out anything unusual about Katherine or seeing the need for further investigation.
“And so if James can be persuaded to remain silent,” Geoff said, “we have no problem. The demon, however—”
“Needs to be slain.”
“Yes. But we’ll not likely be handling that, either.” From beside his chair, he heard an eager chuff. He shook off the memory of the giant demon dog, its teeth closing over Maggie’s arm. “And, so. No murder required. Just a rescue.”
Maggie was studying his face again. Specifically, his mouth.
“Maggie,” he warned. “Don’t look at me like that.”
Her gaze dropped to his hands.
“Not there, either.”
She met his eyes. He’d known few people who could hold his sightless gaze for more than a couple of seconds.
“I look everywhere,” she said.
“Yes. But not for as long as you look at me.”
She closed her eyes; he saw darkness. He heard the scrape of her chair. Warm lips pressed hard against his. Her fingers raked through his hair. His shocked inhalation brought her into him. Christ, she smelled incredible. Tasted like heaven. He wanted more, wanted to see her, too. But the idea of finding another pair of eyes to look through had barely begun to form when every sensation that was Maggie left.
Then she was back in her chair, and he was staring at his own astonished expression.
She looked down at her toast, picked up another slice. She must have noticed that her fingers were unsteady at the same moment that he did—her gaze snapped to the street, to the sidewalk, and began its familiar skip from face to face.
“I shouldn’t have—”
His temper flared. “You’ll not apologize for it.”
“Your sister is still missing.”
Yes, she was. Bloody hell. Katherine wouldn’t begrudge either of them that kiss, but dammit—there were priorities.
He nodded, pushed his hand through his hair. It’d felt better when Maggie’s fingers had done it. “More lighthouses, then.”
Blake found the lighthouse half an hour later.The photo had been taken from a position nearer to it than Katherine was, but it gave them a direction: about thirty miles north.
They’d only been on the road for a few minutes when the demon came to see Katherine again. In the passenger seat, Blake’s shoulders straightened, his eyes squinting slightly. As if, Maggie thought, he were trying to urge Katherine to look at something more closely.
“He’s GQ again. And he’s speaking to her, but Katherine isn’t . . . ” Blake tilted his head, frowning. “She’s not looking at him, so I’ve no idea what he’s saying.”
She shouldn’t have been surprised, but she was. “Can you read lips?”
“Not perfectly. Enough to catch a word here and there, put it together. Come on, Kate, you know I need to see his face.”
Oh, no, Maggie thought. She glanced in the rearview mirror, saw Sir Pup gazing steadily back at her. A hellhound wouldn’t know, and a man might not realize what that meant—but Maggie could guess.
Katherine was attracted to the demon. Probably trying not to be . . . but still attracted.
Demons, unfortunately, could be charming, so that their lies dripped like honey. And the shapes they took were usually as gorgeous as sin.
“He’s holding out his hand to her. She’s not taking it, but she is following him down the stairs. The curtains are drawn at the front windows.”
“So that no one can see in,” Maggie said. “Or so that she can’t signal to anyone.”
“There’s James, standing near the doorway of a dining room. He’s decked out in black, wearing a shoulder holster.” Blake frowned. “There’s food. It’s a nice setup. GQ is smiling, pulling out a chair for her. What the hell is he doing?”
“Playing good cop, bad cop,” Maggie said. “In a few minutes, James will get pissed, start yelling, pull out the gun. The demon will be the voice of reason and put himself between Katherine and the weapon.”
And then there was the food, she thought. How hungry was Katherine by now? Even if she didn’t want to feel gratitude, she would be thankful for the chance to eat. It was human nature.
Blake frowned. “So he’s creating an express version of Stockholm syndrome? He’ll make her trust him, so she’ll give up the location faster?”
“I think so.” Katherine knew the Rules, and what the demon couldn’t do to her. She wouldn’t worry about him, but look for ways to get around James. “They’ll want to keep her afraid of James, but they’ll also give her a friend.” A handsome, sympathetic friend. “One who can convince her that as soon as she helps him, he’ll let her go.”
Blake was silent for a few minutes, then said, “You were spot on, Maggie.”
“The fight?”
“Yes. The demon is taking her back upstairs now.” He pounded his fist against his knee. “And she’s still not looking at him, though he’s speaking with her. Still not . . . Oh, but she’s taken a scone with her and heaped it with jam.”
Jam? Maggie glanced over, saw his wide grin. “What?”
He shook his head. “We’ve only to wait now, and we’ll know what it is he wants.”
As soon as the demon left her alone, Katherine used the jam to write “dragon blood” on the bathroom mirror.
Which, Maggie thought, was not as helpful as it might have been.
“Dragon blood?” Blake scrubbed his hands over his face. “How would she find that? There’s only been one on Earth, and it was killed thousands of years ago.”
By the sword that had tainted his uncle’s blood. And—
Maggie’s stomach sank. “Is that what happened to you? And Katherine? You were changed by the sword?”
“Not directly.”
Born different, not changed. “Someone else. Your parents or your grandparents were tainted by it.”
“No. But go back two centuries, and you’ll land on them. What are you thinking, Maggie?”
“The reason your uncle hired me was that a few demons found out he was different from other vampires, so he needed that extra protection from them. And that if your family has been different for two hundred years, there will be a pattern that shows up. No matter how hard he tries to hide it. If a demon looked at him first, then looked at his family . . .” Maybe Blake’s pattern wasn’t as easy to establish. But his sister—“Katherine’s cases-solved rate is incredibly high.”
“And they took blood from us both.” His grim tone matched the lines of tension beside his mouth and nose. “So that’s how they knew. But that still doesn’t tell us where she’ll find dragon blood now.”
Her stomach seemed to sink lower. Maybe Katherine didn’t have to find dragon blood. Maybe the demon thought she already had it. “Do you know about the grigori?”
That was no surprise. Ames-Beaumont, she knew, had only learned of them recently, too. “Demons can’t have children. But before the war with the angels—when the dragon was killed on Earth—Lucifer made some demons drink dragon blood. They were changed by it, and they mated with humans. The offspring are the grigori.”
She watched his face, and saw the horrified realization that his family had been changed by dragon blood. His voice was low and furious. “Is he trying to experiment with her? To see if he can impregnate her?”
“If he is, there is one silver lining: it has to be of her free will.” As in everything else, the demons’ Rules had to be followed.
“And so he does the nice-guy routine before he tries to—” He bit the rest off. Anger and horror battled for equal play in his expression.
“Yes.” She focused on the road again. “But maybe we’re wrong. It just might be . . . Oh, Jesus.”
The SUV sped past them, heading the opposite way, but she was certain she hadn’t mistaken the driver. James. Her heart began pounding, but she fought the impulse to slam the brakes, to whip the vehicle around and follow him.
She pressed the button that lowered the rear passenger window. “Sir Pup. It’s the black Land Rover that just passed us. Do you have your locator?”
“Is it James?” The fury hadn’t left Blake’s voice.
“Yes.” A tracking device landed in her lap. “All right, Sir Pup. Just lead us to him. If you can do it where no one can see it, detain him. But don’t shape-shift.”
The hellhound gave a disappointed whine.
Maggie slowed as soon as James’s vehicle was out of sight, then pulled off onto the shoulder. Sir Pup jumped out the window.
“Can he catch up at highway speeds?”
“Yes.” She watched the dark blur streak across the road. “If he’d run from San Francisco instead taking the plane with me to New York, he would have arrived before I did.”
“He’d have . . . Bollocks.”
Maggie met her own flat stare in the rearview mirror. “Do I look like I’m joking?”
“I don’t know. I’m with him. And he’s running . . . very fast.” Blake reached forward, braced his hand on the dash. “It’s a bad amusement park ride. Oh, hell. He’s purposefully running in front of oncoming vehicles.”
He probably was. Maggie pulled back onto the road and headed after the hellhound. And hoped that whatever chaos Sir Pup left in his path didn’t delay them too long.
And that he didn’t interpret “detaining James” as “eating his legs.”
At least, not yet.