Page 20


"No. They gave me a disposable cell phone. It's got a single number programmed into speed dial, but they encrypted it, so I don't know where I'm actually calling."


"Let me see it."


Sullivan reached into his vest pocket and pulled out the device, then handed it to Dante. "What are you going to do?"


"We'll hang on to this for you. Right now you need to come with us so we can continue this little chat someplace else."


"What? No." He got to his feet, looking around anxiously. "Fuck that. I'm not sure I should trust you guys either, so thanks but no thanks. I'll take care of myself--"


Dante crossed the room and had the human's throat in his hand before the guy could blink. "It wasn't a request."


He released the Crimson dealer, shoving him toward Chase. "Get him out of here. Find a back way to the SUV and drive him to the compound. I'm going to go down and deliver his regrets to the assholes waiting at the curb."


As Chase took hold of the human's arms and started moving him out, Dante slipped through the doorway to the hall. He was on the rainy street in no time, coming to a halt in front of the idling sedan and glaring through the windshield at the two humans seated inside.


As Dante had suspected, they were Minions, mind slaves of a Gen One vampire who'd made them by draining them of their humanity while bleeding them to within an inch of their lives. Minions were living, breathing humans, but they were devoid of conscience, existing only to carry out their Master's orders.


And they could be killed. Dante grinned at them, more than ready to finish them off.


The bonehead in the passenger seat blinked a couple of times as if he wasn't sure what he was seeing. The one at the wheel had better reflexes; as his companion mouthed a bunch of useless curses, the driver threw the car into gear and stomped on the gas.


The engine roared to life, lurching the sedan forward, but Dante saw it coming. He planted his hands on the hood of the vehicle and held it back, sneering as the tires spun out on the wet pavement, squealing and smoking but going nowhere. When the Minion at the wheel dropped the car into reverse, Dante leaped onto the hood. He climbed up the length of it as the car made a swerving effort to leave the curb.


Balancing on the jostling ride like he was a surfer holding a wave, Dante brought the heel of his boot down and smashed in the windshield. The shattered sheet of glass caved in, breaking away from its frame. Pebbles spat in every direction as he swung himself into the car between the two Minions.


"Hello, boys. Where the fuck are we heading tonight?"


They went nuts, grabbing for him, punching him--even biting him, for crissake--but it was just a lot of annoyance. Dante threw the sedan into park, the hard change of gears sending them into a tailspin in the street.


He felt something sharp lance across his right thigh, then smelled the metallic flush of his own blood spilling. His fangs sprang out of his gums with his furious roar, his vision going sharp as laser beams as his pupils narrowed in his rage. Reaching over, he took the Minion on the passenger side by the hair at the back of his head. With one violent jerk of his arm, he plowed the human's face into the dashboard, killing him instantly.


On the other side of him, the driver was scrambling to get out of the car. He fumbled for the door handle and wrenched it open, falling out onto the wet asphalt and then bolting for one of the narrow passages between the three-decker houses.


Dante lunged after him, tackling the Minion to the ground. He fought hand to hand, knowing that he couldn't kill this one until he had a few answers about who he served and where that vampire could be found. Dante figured he didn't need the name of the one who made this Minion; after everything that had gone down a few months ago, he and the rest of the Order were well aware that the vampire they needed to eliminate was Lucan's own brother, Marek. What they didn't know was where the bastard had fled to after he escaped the warriors' attack last summer.


"Where is he?" Dante demanded, flipping the Minion over and giving him a punishing blow to the chin. "Where can I find the one who owns your sorry ass?"


"Fuck you," the Minion spat.


Dante threw another punch, then drew his blade and leaned it against the human's cheek.


"Go ahead and kill me, vampire. I'll tell you nothing."


The urge to oblige the mind slave was hugely tempting, but Dante hauled him off the ground instead. He slammed the Minion into the cinder-block wall of the nearest tenement house, taking dark pleasure in the audible crack of his skull as it bounced off the hard bricks.


"How about if I just cut you up piece by piece?" he hissed, his voice a low growl through his fangs. "I don't care if you talk, but I'll sure as hell enjoy hearing you scream." The Minion grunted as Dante's blade pressed into his fleshy neck. Dante felt him squirm, heard the click of a safety coming off a handgun. Before he could wrestle it away from him, the Minion's arm came up to the side of them.


He didn't raise the weapon on Dante but on himself. In a split second, the human had the barrel up to his temple, then he fired.


"Goddamn it!"


The explosion flashed orange in the darkness, the percussion ricocheting off the tall buildings around them. The Minion dropped to the wet ground like an anvil, blood and gore spread around him in a grisly halo.


Dante looked down at his own injuries, the sundry scrapes on his hands, the deep wound cutting across his right thigh. It hadn't been that long since he'd fed, so his body was strong and it wouldn't take much time for him to heal. A couple of hours, maybe less. But he needed someplace safe to do so.


Above him, lights came on in a few of the surrounding apartments. A curtain parted in a window across the way. Somebody let out a horrified scream. It wouldn't be long before a call went out to the police, probably already had.


Shit.


He had to get out of there, pronto. Chase was already long gone in the SUV, which was good, all things considered. As for Dante, he couldn't very well drive off in the busted-out sedan and not be conspicuous. Sucking up the pain in his lacerated thigh, he pivoted around and took off on foot, leaving the dead Minions and the abandoned car behind him in the street.


Chapter Twenty


Tess dried the last of the dinner dishes and put them away in the cabinet next to the sink. As she snapped the plastic lid onto the leftover chicken marsala, she felt a pair of eyes boring into the back of her skull.


"You've got to be kidding me," she said, pivoting her head over her shoulder to look down at the whining little beast at her feet. "Harvard, are you still hungry? You do realize you've been eating practically nonstop since you got here."


The terrier's tufted brows quirked over his chocolate-brown eyes, his ears lifting high as he cocked his head at an adorable angle. When that didn't get her to move fast enough, he tilted his head in the other direction and raised one paw off the tile. Tess laughed. "All right, you shameless charmer. I'll give you some of the good stuff."


She walked over and retrieved the small bowl that had been licked clean of its second helping of canned Iams. Harvard trotted along, following her every step of the way. He'd been glued to her side all day, her new shadow since she'd made the decision to bring him home so she could keep a closer eye on him.


It wasn't something she'd ever done before with her patients, but then she'd never used her hands to heal one of them either. Harvard was special, and he seemed to be equally attached to her, as if he knew she'd brought him back from the brink today. After a round of IV fluids, some food, and a flea dip, he was a whole new dog. She didn't have the heart to leave him alone in the empty clinic kennels after everything he'd been through. Now he had decided she was his new best friend.


"Here you go," she said, cutting up a few small pieces of cooked chicken and dropping them in his bowl. "Try to pace yourself this time, okay?"


As Harvard went to town on the food, Tess put the rest of the leftovers in the refrigerator, then turned and poured herself another glass of chardonnay. She strode into the living room, where she'd left off with her sculpting. It had felt good to be working with her clay again, especially after the strange couple of days--and nights--she'd had.


Although she hadn't sat down with any plan for what she would make, Tess wasn't surprised when the lump of light brown Westklay began to take a familiar form. It was rough so far, only the general hint of a face beneath the tousled waves of thick hair she'd worked into the clay. Tess sipped her wine, knowing that if she went back to continue, she would only obsess and be at it all night, unable to tear herself away until the piece was finished.


Like she and Harvard had bigger plans or something?


Putting her wineglass down on the worktable, Tess pulled her wheeled stool over and took a seat. She started shaping the face, using a wire loop to gently carve the slope of the strong forehead and brow, then the nose and the lean angle of the cheekbones. In little time, her fingers were moving on automatic pilot, her mind disengaged and gone into its own flow, her subconscious directly commanding her hands into action.


She didn't know how long she'd been working, but when the hard rap sounded on her apartment door some time later, Tess nearly jumped out of her skin. Sleeping next to her feet on the rug, Harvard woke with a grunt.


"You expecting someone?" she asked quietly as she got up from her stool.


God, she must have been really zoned out while she was sculpting, because she'd seriously messed up around the mouth area of the piece. The lips were curled back in some kind of snarl, and the teeth...


The knock sounded again, followed by a deep voice that went through her like a bolt of electricity.


"Tess? Are you there?"


Dante.


Tess's eyes flew wide, then squeezed into a wince as she did a quick mental inventory of her appearance. Hair flung up into a careless knot on top of her head, braless in her white thermal henley and faded red sweats that had more than one dried clay smudge on them. Not exactly fit for company. "Dante?" she asked, stalling for time and just wanting to be sure her ears weren't playing tricks on her. "Is that you?"


"Yeah. Can I come in?"


"Um, sure. Just a sec," she called out, trying to sound casual as she threw a dry work cloth over her sculpture and quickly checked her face in the reflection off one of her putty spatulas.


Oh, lovely. She had a slightly crazed, starving-artist look going on. Very glamorous. That'll teach him to do the pop-in visit, she thought, as she padded over to the door and twisted the dead bolt.


"What are you do--"


Her question cut off as she opened the door and caught a glimpse of him. He was drenched from the rain, his dark hair spiked where it clung to his forehead and cheeks, leather coat dripping onto his black combat boots and the tattered welcome mat in the hall outside her place.


But that wasn't all he was dripping. Splotches of blood mingled with the rainwater, falling at a steady clip from an unseen injury.


"Oh, my God! Are you okay?" She moved aside to let him in, then closed the door behind him. "What happened to you?"


"I won't stay long. I probably shouldn't have come at all. You were the first person I thought of--"


"It's okay," she said. "Come in. I'll go get you a towel."


She ran down the hall to her linen closet and pulled out two towels, one to dry the rain off him and another for his wound. When she came back into the living room, Dante was in the process of taking off his coat. As he reached up to unzip it, Tess saw that his knuckles were bloodstained. There were splatters of the stuff on his face too, most of it diluted by the water that was still running off his chin and wet hair.


"You're pretty banged up," she said, concerned for him yet more than a little unsettled to see him looking like he'd been in some kind of nasty street fight. She didn't see any cuts on his hands or face, so maybe most of the blood there didn't belong to him. But that wasn't the case elsewhere.


As the heavy leather came open in the front, Tess sucked in her breath. "Oh, Jesus... "


A long laceration ran across the width of his right thigh, clearly a knife wound. The injury was still fresh, soaking his pant leg with blood.


"It's not a big deal," he said. "Trust me, I'll live."


He peeled off the coat and Tess's sympathy turned to ice.


Dante was armed like something out of an action-movie nightmare. A thick belt went around his hips, studded with several different kinds of blades, not the least of which were huge curved daggers sheathed on either side of him. Strapped across the chest of his black long-sleeved shirt was a gun holster sporting a deadly looking brushed-stainless monstrosity; she didn't even want to imagine the size of hole that thing could blast into someone. He had another gun secured around his left thigh.


"What the hell... " Tess instinctively shrank away from him, holding the towels against her like a shield.


Dante met her stricken, uncertain gaze and frowned. "I won't hurt you, Tess. These are just tools of my trade."


"Your trade?" She was still inching backward, movement she wasn't aware of until the backs of her calves came up against the coffee table in the center of the living room. "Dante, you're dressed like an assassin."


"Don't be afraid, Tess."


She wasn't. She was confused, concerned for him, but not afraid. He began taking off his weapons, unfastening his leg holster and holding it like he didn't know where to put it down. Tess gestured beside her, to the squat coffee table.


"May I have one of those towels, please?"


She handed him one, watching as he carefully placed his weapon on the table like he didn't want to add another nick to the already well-worn wood. Even armed to the teeth and bleeding, he was still considerate. Polite, even. A real gentleman, if you could get past all the deadly hardware and the aura of danger that seemed to radiate in visible waves off his huge body.

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