“She was right about you. She told me this wouldn’t be easy, that you wouldn’t go like a fool. Can’t say I didn’t try.” The smirk grew, held, and then was gone. “Come on, Nolan.” She stepped off the sidewalk and into the empty street, turning to look at the boy. I should have tried harder to think of him as a man, but the fear radiating off him made it impossible.
He held firm to me and implored, “Secret?”
“Mmm?” My mind was overwhelmed, spinning in wild circles, trying to make sense of what Noriko had said. She who?
Nolan was standing beside me, staring at me. Brigit was snarling low and menacing at Noriko, but the petite Asian ignored the petite blonde.
“She won’t hurt you,” I said, watching Noriko, making sure she understood the promise of my words. “Will she?”
“Of course not.”
I didn’t see the harm. Wherever Nolan lived, whatever his life before tonight had been, it was shared in part with Noriko and no harm had befallen him yet. Her quarrel tonight had been with me, but I still couldn’t figure out why she would attempt to kill me.
Nolan followed Noriko out onto the street, but his gaze was all for me as they walked away. Brigit came to stand next to me, and we watched the pair retreat into the night. She licked her lips, hoping for any forgotten traces of blood and finding none.
“Who was she talking about?” Brigit asked.
“Beats the hell out of me.”
During our westward walk to Chelsea, I scolded Brigit voraciously about the etiquette of eating the unwilling.
“I told you to spook him, I didn’t tell you to feed off him!”
“But I did spook him,” she protested.
“You almost broke him.”
Brigit shrugged, and I found it disconcerting how easily she had adapted to the vampire mentality. Maybe there was something in the blood that made it easy to ignore the well-being of humans, or maybe it was something specific to her maker’s line. That I shared a dark and bloody history with Brigit’s sire wasn’t a secret. He’d turned her into a vampire to goad me into fighting him, which I didn’t view as fair play.
At the time Brigit had been inconsolable about the loss of her mortality. Now, only a few short months later, she had begun to conform to the vampire way of life. She was still new, and as such was still receiving her blood primarily from Calliope like I did. But in spite of her overzealousness tonight, she had proven she might be ready to feed on live humans.
We parted ways for the night, but not without a few more curses on my part about her toeing the line too closely. If I was going to be her warden, I wanted to be just as irritating and pushy with her as Holden had been with me.
I continued to walk north to Hell’s Kitchen, the night air as warm as a lover’s breath whispering dirty little secrets to me in the swell of each breeze. I closed my eyes, willing myself to fall into the dreamlike state where he could find me. I walked without seeing, guided by memory. He did not come to me in a dream.
I opened my eyes when I felt him physically.
“You look awfully silly walking around with your eyes closed, you know?”
I smiled at him, somehow unsurprised he’d found me.
“How long have you been following me?”
“I like to stay close,” he replied vaguely.
“Were you at Havana?”
He smiled but shook his head. “I want to keep an eye on you, Secret, but not to my own downfall. If I went anywhere near Havana, they’d have found me.”
I nodded, and we kept walking. I wondered about this ability he had to appear and disappear at a moment’s notice from my side, and how Sig seemed capable of the exact same thing. If the two of them had the same vampiric homing device on me, how was it they hadn’t accidentally crossed paths with each other this whole time?
My theory that Sig had no desire whatsoever to catch Holden gained a little momentum with that thought. Surely if a two-thousand-year-old vampire could find me in Central Park without a problem and my two-hundred-year-old warden could find me south of Hell’s Kitchen, one must be able to find the other.
“If Sig wanted to, he could find you, couldn’t he?” I asked out loud.
“But he can find me as easily as you can.”
Holden stopped walking, and I was forced to do the same if we were to continue our conversation. He asked, “How many times has Sig come to you?”
“He’s come to you enough you need to ask that question?”
“Twice, I guess. Why?”
“And he always knows where you are?”
“Well, to be fair, one time he hired someone to have me where he wanted me. But yesterday he found me in the park.”
“Secret, I need you to be honest. Have you given him your blood?”
I recalled how close Sig had been to biting my neck the night before, and how willingly I would have given in if he had. My cheeks flushed. “No.”
“Honestly.” His tone was accusatory.
“I said no,” I replied hotly. “And what does that have to do with it anyway? I’ve never let you feed off me, either, but you have no trouble finding me.”
“That’s because of our bond,” he said, referring to the warden-ward bond he’d recently revealed to me. “You shouldn’t have the same bond with Sig. Not unless he’s marked you somehow.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. “What do you mean marked?”
His shoulders sagged slightly. Between Holden and Lucas, I was getting tired of the men in my life pointing out how ignorant I was about things. Lucas had a valid reason to be irritated, because I’d spent my first twenty-odd years ignoring the werewolf part of my life. Holden, however, had only himself and his council to blame. The vampires kept me in the dark about a great deal of the inner workings of their world, so my ignorance was entirely their fault. So for him to be giving me the shoulder sag of disappointment pushed my buttons, and not for the better.
I scowled. “Either tell me, or bugger off. I’ve had my fill of vampire crap for the night, thanks. And I’d like to point out you’re to blame for most of it.” I felt the unfairness of my statement, considering how much of his situation I was responsible for.
“What happened at Havana?” he asked.
“Don’t think I don’t see how you’re ignoring me.”
We were walking down a quiet residential street somewhere between the good and bad of the city’s areas. It was the kind of place where you could still get mugged at night, but people would pretend to be surprised by it. Two boys in oversize sweatshirts and low caps swaggered past us, but Holden and I both ignored them. Had I been walking alone dressed as I was, I’d probably have had to deal with them in some fashion, but with Holden beside me they seemed content to walk past.
I didn’t know what it was about Holden that made thugs stay away from him. He was good looking, well dressed, and almost always on his own. Yet somehow they recognized the predator in him and avoided crossing his path. Maybe vampires gave off a pheromone that told others to fuck off, unless eating was involved. I wish I had a screw-off pheromone. It would have saved me a lot of hassle some nights in the city.
“Okay,” I acquiesced. “I spoke to a council elder named Rebecca.”
He sucked in a breath through his teeth.
“I take it you know her.”
“You could say that.”
“I did.” I was trying to get him to give me more to go on. I wanted whatever story was lurking behind his comment, but Holden was too savvy for my attempt.
“What did Rebecca have to say?”
“She doesn’t seem to think you’re guilty.”
“Well that’s something, I suppose.”
We were passing West 48th Street on 8th Avenue, so we were almost back to my block. Night had moved past its apex and was cooling with each passing moment. The sky had lost all the yellow tones of its former self and was now a deep, rich blue.
I was so tired of this night.
“Holden, Sig told me something about you last night.” I waited a beat, but he didn’t reply so I continued. “He told me about your journals?”
By phrasing it as a question, I left it open for him to decide how much of the blanks to fill in. To be honest, what Sig had told me about Holden’s journals left me with more questions than answers, so anything Holden himself could clarify might offer me some help.
“Yeah. He said you were meticulous. And then he said something about certain dates. One of them was December sixth.”
My cheeks flushed with a warm glow. Sure, my birthday had meaning to me, but dates rarely meant anything to vampires. That Holden remembered the day was my birthday flattered me more than I cared to admit.
“I don’t know what he—” I was thinking out loud as I started to walk ahead, but Holden stopped me.
“Secret.” He grabbed my arm and pulled me close to him. We were pressed face-to-face, he had one hand looped around my waist and the other held my arm. Breath whooshed out from my lips as my lungs compressed against his chest. My eyes were reflected in his, and for a brief, sweet second all we did was look at each other. My heart thrummed.
When I thought about the kiss we’d shared in my apartment, my stupid knees buckled a little. His hold on my waist was firm, and I righted myself before I fell. I wished I was still wearing heels so I could have blamed them.
“What did Rebecca tell you?” His lips were caressing my ear, but the intimacy of our embrace didn’t match the words coming out of his mouth.
“Wuh?” At the best of times I am ineloquent. I am especially challenged when in the arms of a beautiful man. Maybe I was human after all.
His voice was a low whisper, so low I understood now the meaning of our unusual position. He was holding me in a lover’s embrace, his lips brushing my neck, his fingers trailing a dangerous path down my spine. To anyone passing by, we were a couple in love. But that wasn’t his motivation.