Chapter Forty-one


"Stop here." O opened the Explorer's door before the SUV even came to a halt at the base of Thorne Avenue. He angled a quick look up the hill, then shot the Beta behind the wheel a real wake-your-ass-up stare.

"I want you to circle this neighborhood until I call you. Then I want you to come to number twenty-seven. Don't head into the driveway, keep going. There's a corner in the stone wall about fifty yards later. That's where I want you." As the Beta nodded, O snapped, "You fuck this up and I'll put you under the Omega's feet."

He didn't wait for the slayer to throw out some kind of bullshit, have-confidence-in-me babble. He hit the pavement and ran up the road's gradual incline. As he jogged he was a mobile arsenal, his body weighed down by the weapons and explosives he'd hung on himself as if he were a paramilitary Christmas tree.

He went past number twenty-seven's twin pillars and eyed the driveway that disappeared between them. Fifty yards later he was at the juncture of the stucco wall where he'd told the fool Beta to pick him up. He took three running strides and leaped into the air, all Michael Jordan and shit as he went for the top lip of the ten-foot wall.

He closed the distance with no problem, but then his hands made contact. The blast of electricity that shot through his body was a real hair curler. If he'd been human still he'd have been toasted, and even as a slayer, the jolt was enough to leave him breathless as he pulled himself up and then plunged down the other side.

Security lights flared, and he took shelter behind a maple tree, taking out his muzzled gun. If attack dogs came at him he was ready to pop them, and he waited for the barking. There was none. And there was no rush of lights going on in the mansion or the pounding feet of security guards either.

While he waited a minute longer, he assessed the place. Back of the house was grand, all red bricks and white trim and sprawling terraces with second-floor porches. Garden was a pip, too. God... The annual upkeep on a monster spread like this was probably more than average folks made in a decade.

Time to close in. He moved across the lawn toward the house in a crouch, running in a cramped shuffle with his gun up in front. When he got in tight with the bricks, he was elated. The window he was next to was fitted with tracks that ran down its long sides, and on the top of the thing there was a discreetly disguised boxy transom.

Steel retractable shutters. And there was a set on every window and door, it looked like.

In the Northeast, where you didn't have to worry about tropical storms and hurricanes, there was only one kind of homeowner who threw those puppies over every slice of glass: the kind who needed to be protected from the sun.

Vampires lived here.

The shutters were up because it was night, and O looked inside the house. It was dark, which wasn't encouraging, but he was going in anyway.

The question was how to do the breaking and entering. It went without saying that the place was alarmed up the ass and wired for sound. And he was willing to bet that anyone who ran electric current around the top of their fence wasn't going to ADT it. This was going to be some sophisticated technology.

He decided his best move was cutting the power, so he went hunting for the main electrical line into the mansion. He found the utilities spinal cord around the back of the six-car garage, nestled in an enclave of HVAC shit that included three air-conditioning units, an exhaust blower, and a backup generator. The main power line's thick, metal-encased vein came up through the earth and split, plugging into a series of four meters that were whizzing along.

He put a short-fused load of C4 plastic explosive right at the trunk and then rigged another setup like that at the nerve center of the generator. Stepping behind the garage, he triggered both remotely. Two pops broke out, and the flare of light and the smoke faded quickly.

He waited to see if anyone came running. No one did. On impulse he peered into a couple of the garage bays. Two were empty; the others had very nice cars in them, so nice he couldn't even tell what kind one of them was.

With the juice cut off, he jogged around and cased the front of the house, skirting behind the boxwood hedge that ran down the facade. A set of French doors was perfect for entry. He put his gloved fist through one pane, shattering the glass, and then sprang the lock. As soon as he stepped inside, he started to reclose the door. It was critical that the contacts for the security alarm were in their proper place if an alternative generator kicked in?em>Holy... Moses.

Those were lithium-powered electrodes on the doors?which meant the contacts didn't run on a current. And?em>shit¡ªhe was standing right in the middle of a laser beam. Jesus. This was very high-tech... as in Museum of Fine Arts, the White House, the pope's bedroom high-tech.

The only reason he'd gotten into the house at all was because someone had wanted him to.

He listened. Total silence. A trap?

O stayed frozen, barely breathing, for a little longer and then made sure his gun was good to go before he silently walked through a bunch of rooms that were right out of some glossy magazine. As he went he wanted to slash the paintings on the walls and yank down the chandeliers and break the spindly legs of the fancy tables and chairs. He wanted to burn the drapes. He wanted to shit on the floors. He wanted to ruin it because it was beautiful, and because if his woman had ever lived here, it meant she was way better than he was.

He rounded a corner into some kind of living room and stopped dead.

Up on the wall, in an ornate gilded frame, was a portrait of his wife... and the thing was draped with black silk. Below the painting, on a marble-topped table, there was a gold chalice turned upside down and a square of white cloth with three rows of ten little stones. Twenty-nine were rubies. The last one, in the lower left-hand corner, was black.

The ritual was different from the Christian shit he'd lived with as a human, but this was a memorial to his wife.

O's intestines turned into snakes, seething and hissing in his lower belly. He thought about throwing up.

His woman was dead.

"Don't look at me like that," Phury muttered as he limped around his room. His side hurt like a bitch, and he was trying to get ready to go out, and Butch's mother-hen impression wasn't helping.

The cop shook his head. "You need to go to the doctor, big guy."

The fact that the human had a point burned Phury's ass even more. "No, I don't."

"If you were going to spend the day on the couch, maybe. But fighting? Come on, man. If Tohr knew you were going out like this he'd have your head on a stick."

True. "I'll be fine. Just have to warm up."

"Yeah, stretching's really going to help that hole in your liver. Matter of fact, maybe I can get you some Ben-Gay and we'll just massage the shit out of it. Good plan."

Phury glared across the room. Butch cocked an eyebrow.

"You're pissing me off, cop."

"You don't say. Hey, how about this... you can yell at me while I drive you to Havers's."

"I don't need an escort."

"But if I take you, I'll know you went." Butch dragged out the Escalade's keys from his pocket and dangled them in the air. "Besides, I'm a good taxi. Just ask John."

"I don't want to go."

"Well... in the words of Vishous, want in one hand, shit in the other¡ªsee what you get the most of."

Rehvenge parked the Bentley in front of Havers and Marissa's and walked carefully up to the grand door. He lifted the heavy lion's-head knocker and let it fall, the sound reverberating. Immediately he was welcomed by a doggen and led into a parlor.

Marissa stood up from a silk couch, and he bowed to her while telling the butler he would keep his coat. When they were alone Marissa rushed over, her hands held out, her long, pale yellow gown trailing after her like mist. He captured both her palms and kissed them.

"Rehv... I'm so glad you called us. We want to help."

"I appreciate your taking Bella in."

"She's welcome to stay for however long she needs. Although I wish you would tell us what's wrong."

"Just dangerous times."

"True." She frowned and looked around his shoulder. "Is she not with you?"

"Meeting me here. It shouldn't be long." He checked his watch. "Yeah... I'm early."

He pulled Marissa over to the couch, and as they sat down the folds of his sable coat fell across her feet. She reached out and stroked the fur, smiling a little. They were silent for a time.

He was anxious to see Bella, he realized. Actually, he was... nervous.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, wanting to focus on something else.

"Oh, you mean, after..." Marissa blushed. "Fine. Very well. I... thank you."

He really liked her way. So soft and gentle. So shy and self-effacing, though she was one of the rare beauties of his species, and everyone knew it. Man, how Wrath had held himself back from her was anyone's guess.

"Will you come to me again?" Rehv said in a low voice. "Will you let me feed you again?"

"Yes," she replied, lowering her eyes. "If you will allow me."

"I can't wait," he growled. As her eyes flipped up to his, he forced himself to smile even though he didn't really feel like it. He wanted to do other things with his mouth at the moment, none of which would have put her at ease. Thank God for the dopamine, he thought. "Don't worry, tahlly. Just the drinking, I know."

She assessed him then nodded. "And if you... if you need to feed..."

Rehv lowered his chin and stared at her from underneath his lids, erotic images flashing through his mind. She pulled back, clearly alarmed by his expression, and he wasn't surprised. No way she could handle the kind of sick shit he was into.

Rehv lifted his head back to level. "That's a generous offer, tahlly. But we'll keep this one-sided."

As relief showed on her face his cell phone started to ring, and he took the thing out to check caller ID. His heart kicked up. It was the security monitoring people for his house. "Excuse me just a moment."

After he heard the report that an intruder had breached the wall, engaged a number of motion detectors in the backyard, and knocked out the power, Rehv told his people to turn all the interior alarms off. He wanted whoever was there to stay.

As soon as he saw Bella, he was heading straight for home.

"Something wrong?" Marissa asked while he clipped the phone shut.

"Oh, no. Not at all." Quite the contrary.

When the front door knocker sounded, Rehvenge stiffened.

A doggen passed in front of the parlor's doorway to go answer it.

"Would you like me to leave you two alone?" Marissa said.

The mansion's big door opened and closed. Soft voices were traded, one that of the doggen, the other... Bella's.

Rehv pushed into his cane and slowly rose to his feet as Bella appeared in the doorway. She was wearing blue jeans and a black parka, and her long hair was shiny on her shoulders. She looked... alive... healthy. But age showed in her face, new lines of stress and worry bracketing her mouth.

He expected her to race into his arms, but she just stared at him... insulated, unreachable. Or maybe she was just so numb after all she'd been through, she had no reactions left to show the world.

Rehvenge's eyes watered as he plugged his cane into the floor and went to her, rushing, though he couldn't feel the fine rug beneath his shoes. He caught the shock on her face as he pulled her against him.

Sweet Virgin. He wished he could feel the embrace he was giving her. Then it dawned on him that he didn't know if she was hugging him back. He didn't want to force her. He made himself let go.

As he dropped his arms, she clung to him, not moving away, but staying close. He embraced her again.

"Oh... God, Rehvenge..." She shuddered.

"I love you, sister mine," he said weakly, unashamed in the moment for being less of a male than he should be.

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