"I don't know. Couldn't sleep."
"Uh-huh. I keep...seeing him. That bad man."
Renata sighed, hearing the hesitation in the soft admission. She thought about the warm bath that was only a few minutes out of her reach. It was a welcome solitude she needed more than anything at times like this, when the aftermath of her psychic ability - the very thing that had spared her life two years ago on this plot of remote, wooded land - seemed determined to kick her ass.
"Rennie?" came Mira's quiet voice again. "Are you still there?"
She pictured the innocent face through the knotted pine. She didn't have to see the child to know that Mira had probably been sitting there in the darkness all this time, waiting to hear Renata come back so she wouldn't feel so alone. She'd been pretty shaken up the past few days - understandably, given what she'd witnessed.
Oh, screw the damn bath, Renata thought harshly. Swallowing down the pain that ran over her skin as she stood up, she reached over and pulled a Harry Potter novel out of her nightstand drawer.
"Hey, mouse? I can't sleep right now either. How about if I come over and read to you for a little while?"
Mira's joyful shriek sounded muffled, as though she'd had to cover her mouth with her pillow to keep from alarming the entire household with her outburst.
Despite her pain and fatigue, Renata smiled. "I'll take that as a yes."
Sergei Yakut led Nikolai into a large, open room that might have been a banquet hall when the old hunting lodge was in its heyday. Now there were no rows of tables or benches, only a pair of big leather club chairs arranged in front of a towering stone fireplace at the far end of the room and a massive wooden desk crouched nearby.
The pelts of bears and wolves and other, more exotic predators lay spread out as rugs on the wood plank floor. Mounted to the stone above the fireplace was the head of a bull moose with a huge rack of broad bone-white antlers, his dark glass eyes fixed on some distant point across the wide expanse of the hall. His long-gone freedom? Niko thought wryly as he followed Yakut to the leather chairs at the hearth and sat down at the Gen One's gestured invitation.
Nikolai idly glanced around, guessing the lodge to be at least a century old, and built for human residents originally, although the sparse windows were currently rigged with crucial UV-blocking shutters. It wasn't the sort of place you might expect a vampire to settle in as his home. The Breed tended to prefer more modern, luxurious surroundings, living in family groups or communities called Darkhavens for the most part, many such places equipped with perimeter alarms and security fences.
As civilian Breed domiciles went, Yakut's rustic camp, while remote enough for a good amount of privacy from curious humans, was anything but typical. Then again, neither was Sergei Yakut himself.
"How long have you been in Montreal?" Nikolai asked.
"Not long." Yakut shrugged, his elbows braced on the arms of the chair he was slouched into. His posture may have been relaxed, but his eyes had not stopped studying Niko - assessing him - since the moment they sat down. "I find it to my benefit to keep on the move and not get too comfortable in any one place. Trouble has a way of catching up to you when you overstay your welcome."
Nikolai considered the comment, wondering if Yakut spoke from personal experience or if it was meant as some kind of warning to his unexpected guest.
"Tell me about the attack on you," he said, unfazed by either the flat stare or the obvious suspicious nature of the Gen One. "And I'll need to talk to that witness too."
"Of course." Yakut motioned over one of his Breed guards. "Fetch the child."
The tall male nodded in acknowledgment, then left to carry out the order. Yakut sat forward in his chair. "The attack occurred here in this room. I had been sitting in this very chair, reviewing a few of my accounts when the guard on watch heard a noise outside the lodge. He went to investigate, and returned to tell me that it was only raccoons that had gotten into one of the sheds out back." Yakut shrugged. "This was hardly unusual, so I sent him out to drive the pests away. When several minutes passed and he did not come back, I knew there was trouble. By then, no doubt, the guard was already dead."
Nikolai nodded. "And the intruder was already inside the lodge."
"Yes, he was."
"What about the girl - the witness?"
"She had taken her evening meal and was resting in here with me. She'd fallen asleep on the floor near the fire, but she awoke just in time to see that my assailant was standing directly behind me. I hadn't even heard the bastard move, he was so stealthy and quick."
"He was Breed," Niko suggested.
Yakut inclined his head in agreement. "No question, he was Breed. He was dressed like a thief, all in black, his head and face covered with a black nylon mask that left only his eyes visible, but there is no doubt in my mind that he was our kind. If I had to guess, I would say he might even have been Gen One himself based on his strength and speed. If not for the child opening her eyes and crying out a warning, I would have lost my head to him in that next instant. He brought a thin wire garrote down on me from behind the chair. Mira's scream drew his attention away for a crucial second, and I was able to bring up my hand to block the wire from slicing across my throat. I twisted out of his range, but before I could leap on him myself or call in my guards, he escaped." "Just like that, he turned tail and ran?" Nikolai asked.
"Just like that," Yakut replied, a slow smile teasing at the corner of his mouth. "One look at Mira, and the coward fled." Niko swore under his breath. "You were damn lucky," he said, finding it hard to reconcile that the sight of a mere child could cause such a distraction for what had to be a highly trained, expert assassin. It just didn't make sense.
Before he could point that out to Yakut, footsteps approached from the other end of the long room. Walking in ahead of the guard Yakut had dispatched was Renata and a delicate waif of a girl. Renata had shucked her weapons somewhere, but she strolled alongside the child protectively, her cool gaze wary as she brought Mira farther into the room.
Nikolai couldn't help staring at the girl's odd attire. The pink pajamas and bunny slippers were unexpected, but it was the short black veil that covered the top of her face that he found most jarring.
"Renata was reading me a story," Mira supplied, her soft voice chiming with a bright innocence that seemed so out of place in Yakut's crude domain.
"Is that so?" the Gen One asked, a slow reply that seemed directed more at Renata than the child. "Come closer, Mira. There is someone who wants to meet you."
The guard stepped back once Mira stood before Yakut, but Renata's booted feet held steady at the girl's side. At first Niko wondered if the child might be blind, but she moved without hesitation, walking the few remaining steps to where Yakut and Nikolai now stood.
The small head pivoted toward Nikolai without error. She definitely was sighted. "Hello," she said to him, and gave a polite little nod.
"Hello," Nikolai replied. "I heard what happened the other night. You must be very brave."
She shrugged, but it was impossible to read her expression when just her small nose and mouth were visible beneath the hem of the head covering. Nikolai looked at the young girl - the impish, three-and-a-half-foot waif who had somehow driven away a Breed vampire on a mission to kill one of the most formidable members of their kind. It had to be a joke. Was Yakut jerking him around somehow? What could this child possibly have done to thwart the attack?
Nikolai looked to Yakut, ready to call him out for what had to be a line of pure bullshit. There was no way in hell the attack could have gone down the way he'd described.
"Remove your veil," Yakut instructed the girl, as if he knew the line of Niko's thinking.
Her small hands reached up to grasp the edge of the short black strip of gauze. She swept the veil back off her face but seemed careful to keep her eyes downcast. Renata stood very still beside the child, her expression placid even while her fingers curled into fists at her sides. She seemed to be holding her breath, waiting with an air of wary anticipation. "Lift your eyes, Mira," Yakut commanded her, his mouth curving into a smile. "Look at our guest, and show him what he wants to know."
Slowly the fringe of dark brown lashes came up. The girl raised her chin, tipping her head up and meeting Niko's gaze. "Jesus Christ," he hissed, hardly aware that he was speaking at all as he got his first glimpse at Mira's eyes.
They were extraordinary. The irises were so white they were clear, as liquid and fathomless as a pool of colorless water. Or, rather, a mirror, he amended, looking deeper into them because he couldn't help it, drawn closer by the startling, unusual beauty of her gaze.
He didn't know how long he stared - couldn't have been more than a couple seconds at most - but now her pupils were getting smaller, shrinking down to tiny pin-pricks of black within the endless circle of silvery white. The color shimmered, rippling as though a breeze had skated across the tranquil surface. Incredible. He'd never seen anything like it. He peered deeper, unable to resist the strange play of light in her eyes.
When it cleared, Nikolai saw himself reflected there.
He saw himself and someone else...a woman. They were naked, bodies pressed together, sheened with sweat. He was kissing her heatedly, burying his hands in the dark glossy strands of her hair. Pushing her down beneath him as he thrust deep inside her. He saw himself baring his fangs, lowering his head and placing his mouth to the tender curve of her neck.
Tasting the sweetness of her blood as he pierced her skin and vein and began to drink -
"Holy hell," he ground out, tearing his gaze away from the startling, all-too-real reflection. His voice was rough, his tongue thick behind the sudden emergence of his fangs. His heart was racing, and farther down, his cock had gone stiff as stone. "What just happened?"
Everyone was staring at him except for Renata, who seemed more concerned with helping Mira replace her veil. She whispered something in the girl's ear, soothing words, by the soft tone of them. Sergei Yakut's low, rumbling chuckle was echoed by a few amused chortles from the other men.
"What did she just do to me?" Niko demanded, not the least bit entertained. "What the fuck was that?"
Yakut leaned back in his chair and grinned like a tsar making a public joke of one of his subjects. "Tell me what you saw." "Myself," Nikolai blurted, still trying to make sense of it. The vision was so real. As if all of it were truly happening just then, not the mirage it had to be. God knew his body was convinced it was real.
"What else did you see?" Yakut asked blithely. "Tell me, please."
Fuck that. Niko mutely shook his head. He'd be damned if he was going to lay the whole salacious thing out for everyone in the room. "I saw myself...some vision of myself, reflected in the girl's eyes."
"What you saw was a glimpse of your future," Yakut informed him. He motioned for the girl to come to his side, where he wrapped his arm around her thin shoulders and pulled her close, like a prized possession. "One look into Mira's eyes and you see a vision of events in your life that are destined to come."
It didn't take much to conjure the image back into his head. Oh, hell no, not much at all. That picture was as good as permanently burned into his memory and all of his senses. Nikolai willed his thrumming pulse to calm. Called his raging hard-on to heel.
"What did Mira show your attacker last week?" he asked, desperate to turn the attention away from himself now.
Yakut shrugged. "Only he can know. The girl has no knowledge of what her eyes reflect."
Thank God for that. Niko hated to think of the education she might have just gotten otherwise.
"Whatever the bastard saw," Yakut added, "it was enough to make him hesitate and give me a chance to escape the death he came to deliver." The Gen One smirked. "The future can be startling, especially when you are not expecting it, yeah?" "Yeah," Nikolai murmured. "I suppose it can be."
He'd just gotten a decent dose of that knowledge firsthand.
Because the woman who'd been wrapped around him, naked and writhing so passionately in his arms? It was none other than cold, beautiful Renata.
Those carnal, all-too-real images dogged Nikolai for the next couple of moonlit hours as he prowled the forested grounds of the lodge, looking for any evidence that might remain from the aborted attack on Sergei Yakut. He checked the perimeter of the main house but found nothing. Not even a single trace footprint in the loamy, muddy soil.
The trail, if the intruder had left one, was dead cold now. Still, it wasn't difficult to guess how the assailant might have gotten close to his target. This deep in the woods, without security fences, cameras, or motion detectors to alert the household of trespassers on the property, Yakut's attacker could have hidden out in the surrounding forest most of the night, waiting for the best chance to strike. Or he might have chosen a more brazen location, Nikolai thought, his gaze settling on a small barn that sat a few yards from the back of the lodge.
He strode over to it, figuring the outbuilding to be a recent addition to the property. The wood was dark, not from natural weathering like the rest of the place, but from a walnut stain that made it blend into its surroundings. There were no windows on any side of it, and the wide paneled door in front was reinforced with a Z of two-by-fours and outfitted with a large steel lock. Through the oily stink of the varnished wood, Nikolai could have sworn he caught a vague whiff of copper.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com