“They’re already dead,” he says bluntly.
“Nay!” Jake forces the words out of his mouth. He tries to shove the foot off his chest, but he can’t budge it.
The man laughs. “No need to try heroics. It won’t work for you”—he glances off toward Jake’s home—“or for them.”
Jake growls. “You killed them!” he shouts at the top of his lungs. Still, he can’t move. Grief and anger choke his words. “Why?” He thrashes about, trying tae remove the man’s foot. “I’ve got tae get them!” Jake yells.
“Oh yes,” another, in the shadow, says. “He’ll be quite an addition.”
“Aye,” yet another agrees. “His size alone makes him worthy.”
All at once, the men disappear, save the one pinning him to the ground, and a cacophony of beating wings fills the night air. Jake canna tell if ’tis the wind or if they’re flyin’. They canna be flyin’. They’re just men. . . .
“Ah, good man, we’re much, much more than mere men,” the one holding him captive says. “As are you.”
Frozen in place by the man’s single foot, Jake stares with hatred into his emotionless dark eyes. There is no way he can possibly know what Jake is. No one does. Not even his beloved wife. Centuries ago Jake was sworn to secrecy. The rest were slain. He’s the only one left. “I am going to kill you,” Jake says, his voice eerily calm.
With one slender hand, the young man leans down, grasps Jake by the throat, and removes his foot and lifts him straight off the ground. “I know what you are,” he says, his voice even. “Because ’twas I who slaughtered your brethren. You’re immortal.” A slow smile stretches across his face. “And now you’ll become one of us.”
In less time than it takes Jake tae blink, the man transforms. No longer a man. Sharp teeth drop from his gums into long, pointed shards; his lips pull back into an exaggerated grimace. His jaw extends. And his eyes are now merlot red. Jake knows what he is. His brethren hunted them long ago.
Tightening his grip around Jake’s neck, Jake gasps for air. His limbs are paralyzed and he canna even strike out to defend himself. And in his next breath this monster has ripped open Jake’s shirt and exposed his chest. He sinks those sharp fangs straight into Jake’s heart. Intense pain rips through his body, and blackness begins to suffocate him. Jake allows it.
The last things Jake hears are their voices. Their laughter. But he doesna understand what they’re saying. In his recent memory he retrieves the sound of his children, his wife, screaming. They’re dead. He knows he’ll never see them again. A pain much worse than the physical one his body is experiencing takes over. Fills his mouth, his eyes, his soul, with an acrid blackness. And then he remembers no more. . . .
My blurry vision clears and I stare up into the modern-day face of Jake Andorra. I understand him a little better now. My arms are above my head, pinned by his extraordinary strength. He is smiling, proud that he’s pinned me so efficiently. Rendered me helpless.
So he thinks.
I’ll go easy on him. Sort of. I mean, he says he knows what I’m capable of, yet he shows no fear. Mocks me, even, with that silly grin. Dares me with that eye twinkle.
My stare fixes on Jake, and I concentrate on what I want his body to do. I tell Jake what to do. With my mind. Like before, everything around us goes silent. Turns hazy. Only Jake is in focus. I stare, concentrate, targeting his mind. It’s like being in a dark, winding tunnel. He’s at one end. I’m at the other.
Balls, seize like you’re being squeezed between a pair of vise grips. Breath, catch in throat. Eyes, widen. Pain, take over until I say stop.
Jake releases me, grabs his crotch. His breath catches and a little squeak emerges. His eyes widen, and he rolls right off of me. Groaning in pain. Clutching his ’nads.
I bask in the glory for only a second or two.
Immediate relief eases the lines of pain on Jake’s face. His body relaxes. A stare of intense curiosity and admiration fills his eyes. “That,” he says, pushing up and standing to face me, “was impressive. Dirty, but impressive.”
Drop to your knees and freeze. This is directed at Noah, who has eased up behind me, ready to grab me. He never makes it. Noah instantaneously drops to his knees behind me. Frozen in place.
Tell me I’m a goddess.
“You are a goddess,” Noah says involuntarily.
Chuckles fill the room.
And say, “I’m such a ding-dong.”
“I’m such a ding-dong,” he says.
Now it’s all-out laughter filling the dojo. I cover my mouth, trying be serious. Kinda hard when a centuries-old vampire is on his knees, calling himself a ding-dong.
Noah shakes his head and stands. Only then I notice everyone else staring at me, wide-eyed. Noah drapes his arm around my shoulders.
“Pretty sick trick, babe,” he says with a grin. He gently cuffs my jaw with his fist. “Glad you’re on our side.”
I can’t help but smile. It is a sick trick. Thanks, Julian Arcos. Word.
I notice Gabriel has his cell phone to his ear. He speaks in a low voice, then puts the phone in his pocket. “De Barre and Conwyk are close,” he says to Jake. “We’re ready for the swords?”
“Aye,” Jake answers, and as the others talk in groups, Jake inclines his head toward the far wall. “A word?” he asks.
I feel Eli’s gaze on mine, and I look at him. He’s standing next to Noah. I smile and walk to meet Jake. I already know what he wants.
Jake looks uncomfortable. With his arms folded over his chest, he bends his head close to mine. Green eyes—eyes I now know have seen more than their fair share of pain and heartache—study me. Hard.
“What did you see?” he asks. Jake leans close and he all but crowds me, he’s so big.
Without hesitation, I meet his gaze. “The night you were taken,” I answer. “You were jumped by several vampires. You didn’t know what they were at first because they attacked you from above.” His face flashes with pain as memories race through his head. “They killed your family,” I say quietly, and rest my hand against his forearm. “They turned you that night. I’m sorry, Jake. I know what it’s like to lose someone you love. I can’t imagine losing three at once.”
A waver of vulnerability flares in his fathomless eyes. A glimpse of his past rests there, and I can see it. I can feel his pain all over again, feel the love he still has for his wife and children. So many years ago, yet in those flash of seconds, he relives it as though it has just happened. His eyes soften as they stare at me. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of them. Time has eased the pain, though.
I narrow my eyes. Liar.
A smile touches Jake’s mouth. Somewhat.
“They’re here,” Gabriel says, interrupting.
Jake gives Gabriel a nod.
“Who is here?” I ask, looking between the two.
Jake meets my questioning gaze. “Two of the fiercest, most lethal swordsmen,” he says with a grin, “of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.” He slaps my back, and I buck forward. “Your new mentors.”
A grumbling voice catches my attention from outside, and I tune my acute hearing to pick it up. The accent is . . . odd. English with a little French, and old. Ancient.
“Andorra! Where the bloody hell are you, man? Damn me, this manor reeks of something chilling and evil. Don’t you think so, Conwyk? Conwyk, where are you? Damn.”
I glance at Jake, whose slow smile leaves me wondering if I’m in a lot more trouble than I initially think.
Oh, you most certainly are.
I resist the urge to smack Jake on the back of the head, and I anxiously await the booming, strange voice to enter the dojo.
There was something awesome in the thought of the solitary mortal standing by the open window and summoning in from the gloom outside the spirits of the nether world.
—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Selecting a Ghost”
It gives me some relief to know the extent—or at least most of the extent—of Riley’s powers will more likely than not keep her safe. I knew I’d made the right choice by inviting her to join the team. She’s invaluable. The Fallen will not be easy foes to manipulate, so hopefully she’ll have the power of suggestion as a complete surprise to the bastards. Otherwise, we’ll all be holdin’ our crotches.
The very second I think to myself that the dojo can’t become any more crowded with enormous, ancient, testosterone-filled otherbeings, I’m proven wrong. A man ducks into the dojo.
Swaggering. As if he owns the place.
His massive body alone nearly fills up the entrance.
“Andorra!” the man yells.
Jake laughs and walks toward him. “De Barre, you fool, I’m right here.” He walks over and grabs the big man by the shoulders and shakes. “Glad to see you, man.”
“Aye, aye, the same here,” De Barre answers, grasping Jake’s shoulders in return.
What kind of name is that—De Barre? I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough.
“Where’s Conwyk?” Jake asks.
“No doubt took a bloody wrong turn,” De Barre answers. He looks around. “This place. It gives me nightmares just standing here. There’s something unsettling about it.”
We have one thing in common so far.
Jake laughs. “The Crescent has its own particular . . . charm. And that’s funny, coming from you, my old friend.” He turns and eyes me. “Come on, man, and meet your new pupils.”
I watch the two big men cross the dojo, hugging the wall and making their way toward me. Even I, surrounded by unusually gorgeous otherbeings, have to admit that besides being massive, he’s one handsome guy.
And apparently old as dirt. Jake had mentioned twelfth and thirteenth centuries. I can see that, looking at this guy. He’s all of six feet, six inches. At least. He is taller than Jake, Gabriel, and Eli. Heavily muscled. Broad shoulders. Dark wavy hair to his shoulders, partially pulled back at the nape. Piercing eyes lock onto mine as he walks. Struts, rather. He definitely has swag. Definitely swagalicious.