Page 40

“We are so happy to meet you! I’m Paradise, and this is my hellren, Craeg. Boone’s had the best things to say about you.”

“Yup,” the male agreed. “He’s wild about you.”

Paradise gave her male a look. “Let’s not make her feel weird—”

“I’m just saying.” Craeg shrugged. “Come on, leelan, he’s like I was with you. And there’s nothing wrong with her knowing it, either.”

Paradise looked across the table and smiled. “Listen, if we just blew Boone’s cover, we’ll apologize to him later. But it’s true. He seemed really excited when he texted us you were coming.”

“Lots of emojis.” Craeg took a drink of his water. “And he never does emojis.”

As Ruth arrived with the coffee and some menus, Helania felt her eyes sting with tears again. Blinking quickly, she exhaled in relief . . . and happiness.

Check her out. Meeting people. Making friends, possibly. And waiting for a guy who was “wild” about her.

All in all, the night couldn’t be going better.

As dull knives went, the assailant’s weapon of choice did a bang-up job. Well, slice-up job was more like it. Not to put too fine a point on things.

Har-har, hardy har-har.

And what do you know, Boone figured he must be feeling a little better if he were able to make bad jokes to himself. The human male, on the other hand, was feeling so much worse, for so many different reasons. Although, given the way that his chest was no longer going up and down, one could assume that he wasn’t feeling anything anymore.

Over so soon, Boone thought as he eased back from his kill. But he’d had to work fast—and now there was a lot of mess to clean up. So much red in the snow, so much red on the man’s skin, so much red—

Boone looked up. The entire dead end of the alley was bathed in a red glow, the strange light illuminating the wall, the backs of the buildings, the trash that had accumulated and been snowed upon . . . as well as the woman who was where Boone had left her, crouched down, tucked in, holding her palms against both her eyes.

Jumping to his feet, he switched the crappy knife into his other hand and unsheathed one of his guns with his fighting palm. The eerie illumination was radiating out of the depths of the shadows about thirty feet away, from two laser points—

The scent of a male vampire came to him on the cold breeze, and Boone frowned. “Who goes there. Identify yourself or I’ll give you a name you won’t like—”

“Tough talk from a trainee.”

Boone lowered his gun. He recognized that voice. Recognized the scent, too. And more than both of those, something was triggered in his mind, something . . . that he couldn’t quite place.

“Show yourself,” he said.

The tremendous figure that stepped out was dressed in the same kind of black leather Boone had on. But with the red light coming from what appeared to be his eyes, there was no seeing the face.

“Nice work,” the male drawled. “You could be a surgeon. Cleanup, however, is gonna be a bitch.”

Boone recoiled. “Syn?”

A high, keening whistle pierced the night, the sound coming from a number of blocks down the alley in the opposite direction.

Instantly, the red glow drained away, and that was when Boone saw the male properly: His Mohawk, his hard, harsh face, his broad shoulders.

“Give me the knife.” The Bastard came forward. “Quick.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I fucking say so.” When Boone didn’t comply, Syn cursed and spoke more slowly. Like he figured Boone’s hearing was broken. “Give me the human’s knife and go tend to her. Unless you think she’d rather it be me?”

Oh, yeah . . . that would be a hell-no. No offense to the Bastard, but anybody who’d just run for their lives did not need Syn in on their rescue.

Tossing the knife at the Bastard, Boone went over and knelt down by the woman. She still had her hands covering her eyes, and God . . . there was a lot of blood under where she was squatting. “It’s okay, you’re safe now.” He holstered his gun and went into his pockets. “We’re going to get you some help.”

Taking out a folded square, he ripped off its plastic wrap and flapped the Mylar blanket free of its folds. When he went to put it around the victim, she cried out and tried to shrink away from him. Without her hands for balance, she fell over into the dirty snow.

“No, no, you’re safe now.” He put the silver sheeting around her shoulders and gently righted her. “Here. This will help conserve your body heat.”

Boone held the blanket in place and glanced in Syn’s direction.

Someone was coming down the alley, and with the way Syn was standing over that bloody body with a knife in his hand? You could only pray it was another vampire—

“Jesus Christ,” came the annoyed voice. “What the hell did you do now?”

“Shit happens,” Syn replied.

“You know, it actually doesn’t when you’re not involved.”

As Boone frowned, he recognized Balthazar, another one of the Bastards. But what he didn’t understand was the conversation.

“You made a fucking mess.” Balthazar stopped at the foot of the human. “And now we gotta deal with it.”

Boone opened his mouth to cop to the sieve-like condition of the body, but Syn beat him to the punch.

“Look, the fucker deserved it. And do not pretend that you didn’t take your time with that slayer back there. Unless, of course, you think that cranial damage is the way to get lessers back to the Omega? Otherwise, it looked to me like you were having a nice time at that concussion party you were throwing—”

“Do not turn this back on me—”

“You could have just stabbed your prey, too. So try not to bitch at me for doing exactly the same thing you did.”

Boone opened his mouth to set the record straight, but both of them ignored him.


Balthazar pointed at the dead body—“is a human. No pop! and fizz! bye-bye . . .”

“Who are you?”

As the argument over the dead guy continued on, the question was posed softly, and Boone looked back at his victim. The woman had lowered her hands some and was staring out at him through two black eyes.

“I’m just here to help you.” He made sure he positioned his body so there was no way she could see what was lying in the middle of the alley. “We need to get you treated by a medical—”

“No,” she whispered.

“You’re bleeding. Internally.”

“Where did you come from? Is this a dream?”

Boone took his phone out and put a code into the group text of people on duty for the night. “I’m going to have someone come here—”

“No!” She jerked away. “I don’t want to go to the hospital—”

“It’s not a human ambulance. Don’t worry.”

“Human . . . ?”

Fuck, Boone thought.

“Listen, just stay with me,” he said as he repositioned the Mylar blanket. “You need to stay conscious.”

* * *

“He hasn’t gotten back to me.”

As the male half of the couple across from Helania put his cell face-down on the booth’s table, she was feeling the need to bolt again. Twelve-thirty, almost—and Boone was nowhere to be found.

The only thing that made this even remotely bearable was that it appeared he’d also stood up his friends. By thirty minutes. And counting.

“Well,” Paradise said as she sat back in her bench seat. “I’m starved. How about we order and hope he shows up?”

“Works for me.” Craeg opened a menu. “The cold makes me hungry. Plus, is anyone else smelling the cheeseburgers?”

As the female stared expectantly across the table, Helania wasn’t sure what to do. “Is there any chance Boone could be hurt?”

Although given that he’d told her he was off rotation? He was probably not seeking medical attention for a war wound.

“You mean hurt from being out in the field?” Craeg said from behind the laminated picture of a Reuben sandwich and a piece of pie, the front page of the menu. “You don’t have to worry about that. We’re all equipped with locators when we’re out engaging. But he’s off rotation. He’ll be here any second. I know it.”

Well, at least she knew he hadn’t lied to her about that.

Paradise nodded. “I think Craeg’s right. Let’s order and go about our business. He will show up. What do you say, Helania? Eat with us?”

The sense that she couldn’t breathe came over her, and she looked out the window again. Except just as she opened her mouth to nothank-you things, Ruth approached them.

“Still waiting for one more?” the waitress said. “Want some coffee to pass the time? You turned me down last time, but I’m feeling lucky tonight.”

“Actually, I’m ready to order.” Craeg put his menu down. “But females first.”

“Well, now, there’s a gentleman.” Ruth winked at him and took out her order pad. “Who wants what?”

Everyone looked at Helania.

She took a deep breath and pictured herself going back to her apartment alone. To sit and wait. And see what had happened with Boone.

Clearing her throat, she pushed the mug of untouched coffee to the center of the table. “I’d actually prefer some hot chocolate. I guess I should have thought of that before the coffee came. And I’d like two eggs over easy with white toast and bacon—a double order of bacon.”

“I’ll take that java off your hands,” Craeg said.

“It’s cold,” Helania warned.

“Caffeine is caffeine.”

Helania smiled weakly and pushed the mug farther in his direction.

“They have cream and sugar, if you like.”

“But none of that weird stuff,” Ruth interjected.