“Ri, you coming?” Eli says from the doorway.
“Yeah, just a minute,” I answer. I glance at him. “I’ll be right in.”
Eli stares at me for a moment, then cocks his head. “You okay?”
I smile. “Yep,” I answer. “Just gathering my thoughts. I’m coming.”
More stares, then a nod. He follows the others inside and closes the door. Eli learned a long time ago to allow me space. This is one of those times I need it.
I hear the whimper again, and I turn my gaze toward the gates. I focus on the boy’s voice, and everything silences but him. The gates are crystal clear, and I head straight to them. In one leap, I’m over the wrought iron and am hurrying along the cobbles to the street. The boy’s voice, his whimpers, is closer. Clearer. I turn left and jog up the sidewalk. Another set of gates come into view, and, glancing around, I leap those, too. It’s a church. The whimpers are coming from behind it. I hug the wall, easing around the old stone building. A cemetery stretches out behind the church, and across the graveyard I feel it. Another presence. With the boy. No heartbeat, though. Not a good sign. At least I hear the boy’s heart. Fast, but strong.
Hurrying across the graveyard, I slip over the ground soundlessly. I see shadows coming from a hollowed-out tomb. Peeking inside, I find the boy crouching in the corner. Alone. His eyes widen when he sees me, and I press my finger to my lips, shushing him. The boy shakes his head, and his eyes dart behind me. I glance. Almost too late.
I leap high, bounding off the wall of the tomb, and land in a crouch several feet away. Before me, bathed in moonlight, an otherbeing. I’m guessing a vampire. Tall. Wearing dark jeans. Black T-shirt. Black jacket. Gray skully. Maybe midtwenties. At least, that’s how old he looks.
“Plus a few hundred years, darlin’,” he says in a heavy brogue. “You’re a nice surprise.”
I glance at the boy, still crouched in the corner of the tomb. “Run, kid. Get out of here. Now.”
The boy doesn’t move. He’s quivering in his shoes. And from the smell of it, he’s peed his pants. I use a stronger suggestion. “Get outta here, kid. Now. Go home to your family. Stay off the streets.”
This time, the kid scrambles out of the tomb and hauls ass out of the cemetery. When I turn back to the guy, he’s right in front of me.
His face suddenly blurs, shifts form, and his fangs drop. Not just two incisors. All of them. Jagged, sharp fangs that look like they can bite a head off.
He grabs for me, but I duck, leaping out of his grasp and rolling across the stone and rock. I jump to my feet and he’s staring at me. His eyes are opaque. And before I can blink, he’s got me by the throat. My toes leave the ground.
“Think you can escape me, little human bitch?” he says smoothly. He slams me on the ground, then pushes his foot into my chest. “You cannot.” Dropping to one knee, he draws close to me. “This will be . . . interesting.” Lightning fast, he kicks my jaw. My head snaps to the side. He’s damn fast. And he’s grinning at me. Pissing me the fuck off.
My hand slips to my waist, and I pull out my blade. Pressing the tip to his spine, I smile. “Yeah. It will—”
He’s suddenly off of me, his body slamming into the trunk of an old tree. Eli is completely morphed. “Babe, your blade?”
I leap to my feet, aim my blade at the newcomer, and throw. Hard. It buries to the hilt. Eli backs up, just as the body begins shuddering. The vamp drops to the ground. Dead.
Walking over, I kick my blade out of the vampire pile and pick it up. I wipe the blade on my pants and glance at Eli. “He was about to kill a kid. I heard him whimpering from the Crescent.”
Eli drapes an arm over my shoulder and we quit the cemetery. “I’m guessing he got away?”
I lean into him. “Yeah. He was scared shitless. But he finally ran.” We’re under a streetlight, and I look up into Eli’s face. “I had him.”
Eli chuckles. “I know you did. I might give you space, darlin’, but if you think I’m going to just let you run off into the city to fight bad guys alone”—he kisses me on the nose—“you’re crazy.”
Much later, we’re all in the study, going over maps of Old Town. In front of Eli and me, an intricate layout of the vaults. An entire network—no, an entire town—once existed beneath Edinburgh.
“With poor or virtually no ventilation and at times inhuman living conditions, many inhabitants died there,” Jake says. “Candlemakers, whiskey merchants, shoe cobblers; they all had businesses below the city. As I said before, the plague wiped out most of them, and the vaults were left untouched for centuries. Superstitious lot, the Scots, and for good reason.” He grins. “All those cold wisps of air and hair-raising spectral shoves are, in fact, real.”
I just stare at him.
“There are any numbers of places to hide down there,” Darius adds. “But we’ve a suspicion, based on what we know about these particular Fallen, that they use the vaults strictly as a place of torture,” he says, his face solemn. “For their victims.”
I shudder at the thought. “So where will we find them?” I ask. “And how do we keep them from knowing who and what we are?” Although one, I believe, already knows me.
“Once you’re spotted the first time, that’s it,” Jake says. “They already know of Gabriel, me, and Ms. Maspeth,” he says, inclining his head toward Sydney, who still pores over the old Celtae tomes. “Your element of surprise won’t last long.” He looks at me. “Use it wisely. As for us,” he continues, “Gabriel has charmed this place. They can’t reach beyond our gates.”
Well that’s a relief.
“Their tastes run exquisitely high,” Darius adds. “And in their search for the relics they seek out high-priced antique auctions, among other gatherings.”
“Charity balls, for example,” Gabriel says. He looks at me. “For the women.”
“If you are part of the brethren who killed the Celtae in the first place,” asks Ginger, looking up from her map of Old Town, “how is it you can’t read those tomes?”
Darius sighs and shoves his hand through his hair. “Because despite our daring overtaking of the Celtae, they were wily,” he says. “They used the curse of illiteracy against all of us.” He looks at Sydney. “The only way I could counteract it was to target Ms. Maspeth’s fate as the Archivist.” His gaze moves back to me. “She unwillingly sacrificed her entire life to become one of us. Left her home, her family, her job.”
“It is what it is,” Sydney says without looking up. “This is what I do now.”
Darius nods. “We’ve all sacrificed. Without it, mankind would be in peril.”
“You mean ‘serious shit,’” Noah says, looking up from his own map of the city. He scratches his ear. “I’m restless,” he says, stands and stretches, and crosses the floor to stand next to where I sit. “I need to go for a run.” He thumps my head and looks at me. “Ri?”
“Yep,” I say, and look at Eli. I crack my knuckles. “How ’bout you?”
“I need Miles to stay,” Jake says. “Gabriel and I have a few things to go over with him.”
I stand and pat Noah on the head. “Sorry, old boy,” I grin. “Maybe next time.”
Noah growls under his breath.
I look over at the lupines. “How ’bout you guys?” Then at Victorian. “Vic?”
“Pass,” they all say at once.
I shrug. “Suit yourselves.” I grin at Eli. “Race you to the monument?”
“Winner gets ice cream,” he says. “Vittoria’s.” A grin stretches his face. “Found it earlier.”
“You’re on.” I glance at my clunky boots. “I gotta change.”
“Me, too,” Eli says.
We both head up the stairs and are ready in two minutes. I pull on what I wore to train in, except I secure my silver dirk beneath the waistline of my Lycra pants. I pull on black Nikes and braid my hair into a long tail on the way down the steps. Just before we come into view of the hall, Eli pulls me to a stop. His body crowds mine, and I lean against the wall. With a knuckle he tilts my head upward to meet his stare. He says nothing, just . . . stares. Then he lowers his head and brushes his lips over mine. A shot of fire stings my veins as Eli’s tongue caresses mine and his hand slips behind my neck and holds my head in just the right position. He kisses me slowly, with intent. When he pulls back, I’m breathless.
“I love you, Riley Poe,” he whispers, and brushes a finger over my cheek. “My soon-to-be wife.”
I smile at him, slip my arms around his waist, and fall into his embrace. “I love you, Eligius Dupré.” I grab his ass and squeeze, and he laughs into my hair. “Forever.”
“I’m literally going to throw up this time.”
With a start, I turn. Noah stands at the bottom of the steps, his arms crossed over his chest. That crazy mass of dreads is pulled back into some sort of a ponytail. Contained anyway. “Jealous?” I ask, and bat my eyes.
Noah’s mercury eyes shine. “Absolutely.” He looks at Eli. “Lucky fu—”
“I suggest you take a left out of the gates to Parliament, then cross over to Carlton, then to Waterloo, past Waverly Station,” Jake interrupts Noah’s swear. “And stay to the shadows if possible. Too much gossip about a pair of crazed free runners may cause unwanted attention.”
Eli gives him a nod, then looks down at me. Wordlessly, he inclines his head toward the door. “We are masters at hiding our free-running talents.”
“Good,” Jake states. “Make sure it stays that way.”
“You wanna go, Andorra?” I ask, smiling. “Test your skills against a little ole human with tendencies?”
Jake grins. “Another time, Poe.”